Starting up

A long time ago...

Back when I was a teenager in Kastrup, Denmark, I came across an old calendar book in my dad’s shelves. R.W. Bauer's "Calender for Aarene fra 601 til 2200", was first published in 1868, and includes calendars from the year 601 to 2200 as well as information about how to calculate different numbers involved in the calendars. My dad's version of the book was a later reprint, but it retrained the original's language and spelling, which made it quite an intriguing read.

After consuming the old book I created a Window's application that displayed calendars and exposed much of the information from the book. I reached out to the Danish historical association (Dansk Historisk Fællesråd) that sold reprints of the physical book and they ended up publishing the application. I got to experience the thrill of having an application published and real people using it. I also earned a bit of cash, which was enough to be nice for a teenager in high school at the time, but the real joy was realizing that somebody actually wanted to pay for the application.

I went on with my teenage life, the calendar application soon became old news and eventually I forgot about it.

Starting something

Some years ago I read Rob Walling's book "Start small, stay small" about finding a niche and building a targeted service for it, without needing a lot of outside funding. The author argues that rather than trying to build the next big tech company, one may try to run a small collection of services and make an okay living from it. This really resonated with me and got me interested in potentially starting something on my own.

Since finishing university and starting cooperate life, my own software side projects like the calendar application have become fewer and fewer and further and further apart. The last several years I've been working in startups and the only programming projects I have done in my spare time have been work related; either trying out some technology, creating tools for work, or building prototypes to illustrate something to colleagues. The last one and a half years I worked on an intensive project, but am now having a period of more 9 to 5 type of work and some more time to reflect on my life and work. I've read some more micropreneur books, and I've started loosely following the indie entrepreneur site Indie Hackers, which is all building up an urge in me to start something on my own.

I've considered various ideas and remembered the calendar application I once build. I even googled it a bit and stumbled upon a review in an old magazine from a genealogy association. This review gives feedback and even describes the main use-cases and benefits the reviewer is looking for in the application. Many of the micropreneur books and forum posts, I've read, advice getting something out to an audience quickly and getting feedback to guide further development. In the review there is already some feedback and requests for specific features, so the task of creating a first version of an online calendar service, does not seem that daunting.

Getting there

I feel enthusiastic about creating an online calendar service based on the feedback from the review as well as what other information I may be able to gather. I started brainstorming the service and features and also started thinking about related tools that may be build on top of the calendar functionality. For instance, storing events, timelines, information about people, ancestry, etc. and providing interesting visualizations as well as perhaps extracting this information directly from source documents.

I hope to soon start on the calendar service, continuously develop and improve it and eventually start on one of the other tools for historical research and information organization. I have to do the work in my spare time and although I have more time at the moment, I don't expect this to continue for long. Partly therefore I hope to be able to monetize the calendar service somehow and use this to fund and/or speed up the continued improvements and starting up on a new tool. A more long-term dream is to be able to actually live of the work as an independent micropreneur.

I don't have any clear cut idea about monetizing the service and utilizing it to speed up improvements and development of new services. Will I be able to earn anything at all? Will it be enough to quite my day job and still be able to pay my mortgage? Will it be enough to continue on the side of a day job an get a little freelance help instead? Will it be enough to cover expenses? Coming from a technical and not business background, many of the real challenges for me probably lies in this space. But fired up on micropreneur books, forums and enthusiasm, I find it a good time to embark on the adventure.

Feedback

Before I get carried away with great dreams of independence, let me get back to the calendar service. As mentioned, I've created an application before, which was heavily inspired by an old book, R.W. Bauer's "Calender for Aarene fra 601 til 2200". I've also come across a review of that application that spells out the features the reviewer wants as a genealogist.

The reviewer wants to be able to translate named church days to regular calendar dates. In some old Danish church books, events are recorded with the named days. Translating these to regular dates, makes it easier to get an idea about when a person was born, married, buried, etc. The reviewer also wants to be able to calculate a birth date from a death date and an age, as it may be recorded in Danish church books in this way. Finally the reviewer doesn't want to worry about Julian and Gregorian calendars and the switch between the two done in Denmark in 1700.

I'm considering to create an online service that covers these use cases as a start, with a focus on the Danish calendar and church books. However, I'm really interest in getting feedback on other use-cases to improve the service. If you are a genealogist (family history researcher) in Denmark, in another country or a history researcher in another field than genealogy, I would appreciate any answers and comments you may have to the following questions:

  • As a genealogist (family history researcher) do you need other features?

  • As a genealogist in another country than Denmark, what could you use a historical calendar service for?

  • As a history researcher other than a genealogist, what could you use a historical calendar service for?

If you have any comments, answers, or requests, please let me know in the comments below or a direct message to feedback@estorical.com.  

To be continued...

I will finish up some bits and pieces on the website and get started on building an initial calendar service. I'll return to give an update on the progress on this blog. I hope you enjoyed this initial post and will follow along the journey.