Introducing Pistola

Building a passion project with radical transparency
Photo by Mike Bifulco on Unsplash

An (extremely brief) history-

If you follow me across the various other social networks I use, you'll likely stumble across my passion for cycling. For the past 8 or so years, road cycling has been my primary form of exercise. I love cycling; it keeps me sane, and helps me live a healthier life, while seeing the world. If you haven't been on a bike recently, you should give it a shot - I can't recommend it enough.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I recently started a passion project that involves cycling. Details are (intentionally) a little unclear at this point, but I'm putting together something which will help cyclists, runners, hikers (and athletes of many other sorts) understand data that they record using IoT sensors during workouts. Think this-and-that to do with GPS tracking, Heart Rate, speed, power, etc.

I'm guessing that many of the folks reading this right now may be thinking this sounds familiar. Products like Strava, Endomondo, MapMyFitness, Garmin Connect, Apple Fitness, and Google health all fit into a Venn Diagram that helps folks who track their workouts. It's true! I'm hoping I can carve out a small-but-mighty and impassioned audience from within those larger umbrella services. The trick, though, is that I have to figure out what that means - what's missing for the people who use those services that I can provide?

How the heck do I think I can succeed?

I can see how you might think takes some granite cojones to think that this kind of hairbrained idea could go well. I'll try to make the case for my plan:

Strava just added its 50 Millionth user. Hot damn! That's a ton of people. The way I see it, if I can manage to attract a few thousand paying customers, at a couple bucks a month, I can offset costs for a 1-man operation, and maybe have a chance at building something really exciting.

I just finished devouring Paul Jarvis' fantastic book Company of One, and I'm hoping to adopt some of the strategies outlined in Jarvis' book, which describes how radical transparency can serve a small operation well:

  • I believe that the right kind of customer for me is someone who appreciates the human side of what I'm doing. This isn't a venture-backed project with zillions of dollars pushing it along. I'm not working out of a SoMa loft, down the block from Facebook, Google, and Apple. This is an espresso-powered love letter to my passion, built from my basement office during the wee hours of the morning, and late at night.
  • I intend to be very public with what I'm building. Since I'm sourcing my feature list from the needs of real people (by way of surveys), I feel it's only fair to have a public roadmap of what I'm building. This will facilitate further feedback and discussion from the people using Pistola. I love that idea.
  • I'm going to make the formulas I use to calculate calories burned Open Source. As far as I can tell, there isn't a single product on the market that explains exactly how they calculate calories burned. It's patently crazy to me that this is something that the industry treats as a trade secret. Can you believe that? To boot, nobody really makes mention that the calorie numbers they show you are estimates -- which they are. It's an inexact science, but you're never made aware of that anywhere. We can do better.
  • I'm going to make my costs and earnings publicly viewable (at least to start). I'll admit, this one makes me a bit anxious. Precisely because I'm building this thing out of pocket, I'm going to ask users to pay for Pistola from the get-go. By leaning on the candor I'm using to build Pistola, I'm hoping that the people who will want to use the product will be empathetic to the cause, and -- for the price of a cup of coffee each month -- chip in a few bucks for access to Pistola. Their money will power the product, and they'll know what kind of margins I'm operating on.

Where does that leave me now?

At the moment, I'm a few steps away from having a very small MVP put together. This will allow you to create an account, upload workouts to pistola, and analyze your workout on a relatively simple timeline. To begin with, all workouts will be private, so you'll only be able to see your information. Shareable content will come later.

I'm going to use the blog at https://pistola.io/blog as a way to document my process.

I've also published the first episode of a podcast called Building Pistola. These audio-only vignettes will be published from time-to-time, documenting my process, struggles, and concerns. Can't get more out-in-the-open than that!

Last week I put out a user research survey, asking folks about their experience with Strava. I'm going to analyze those results and summarize them in a blog post. That information will be used to power the first version of Pistola's product roadmap.

Next steps

  • If you're with me still, I'd love it if you subscribed to the podcast (Building Pistola, and signed up for the pistola newsletter.
  • If you've got feature ideas, or you're a GitHub user and you want to keep an eye on things, check out the Product Roadmap.
  • It's time for me to get my nose back to the grindstone, and continue building the product!

Most of, all thank you for reading, and for your support. I'm hoping this crazy idea can grow some legs, and I won't get anywhere without support and encouragement from the design, developer, cycling, and running communities. I'd love to hear your feedback, criticism, and encouragement. I'm here for it, and I deeply appreciate it. My inbox is always open: mike@pistola.io

Thank you!

Early access

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