Disclaimer: This is written by a developer, for developers. And maybe dog lovers.
Building your own startup from the ground up is a journey, an adventure dare I say. It’s something that changes you, makes you better and worse, gives you excitement and disappointment, it’s a whole different experience than your day to day job, you know where you start, but not where you’ll end up. So we should start at the beginning.
You’re a developer, you’ve built up your skills over the years (ok, months, you prodigy) and you’re working in a stable company. You have a boss, you have the business guys coming up with stories for you to work on, you have your colleagues, everything is alright. Except for those moments. Those moments when the colleagues seem to write bad code and ruin your vision of how it should be modelled, when the business comes up with a stupid idea that won’t work and you feel you are working on something useless, when you have that pointless deadline, when you spend an eternity in traffic, when you get up and just don’t feel like working that day.
Bad day at the office
Then you get an idea. It’s something cool, something you would use each and every day! You start making plans, you start pouring code into a prototype, you build a roadmap, you stop counting the hours spent on it. It’s great, you’re all worked up, so you decide to show it to a friend.
– It’s rubbish! — he says
But you’re lucky, he knows what he’s talking about. And he explains to you how you should start thinking about your target audience, and how the average user might think. And suddenly, you get a whole different perspective. That would be
Lesson #1: You learn to think differently, you start emulating different perspectives, your horizon gets wider and wider. By starting to see “the other side” you’ll start thinking differently about what and how you write code, and you’ll be better prepared for future modifications.
By now you started working more with your “users” always asking friends to test your app and give you feedback. You know what you have to do, you have a new feature in mind. Be it push notifications, messaging, bots, crawlers, whatever, you’ve seen it before, but you will now twist it, make it better than everyone else. And you know exactly how, but also… LOOK! There’s a shiny new framework/library/programming language that’s all the hype now and you will definitely use the latest tech in your project.
So you start working on it. It’s so nice, you get why everyone is praising it. Trial and error, trial and error, trial and error, and 3 months later you have the new feature. And of course the new tech had it’s problems and quirks. And of course you could’ve finished the new feature in two weeks if you would’ve used the tech you already knew. But, live and learn:
Lesson #2: The cost of new technology. Most certainly at some point you were very excited about some new something and wanted to use it at work and you were rejected. Well, now you lived the repercussions of that choice on your own. I’m not saying you should always stick to the same tech, by all means experiment with new stuff, but for sure you were unhappy when your “new awesome tech” idea got shot down, and now you know why.
But it’s alright, it took longer, but the new feature is here, and off you go to the next one. You were waiting for so long to get to this one, so you start munching on it. And you realise it fits with your previous work like the wrong piece of a puzzle. Ever got yourself working on incomplete specifications? It’s not always the fault of the guys in the business department. Circumstances change, you get new ideas, you get new feedback, new info, things don’t stay the way they were, so you have to think fast. Pay attention, plan ahead, but reiterate often, to check everything still fits. That would be lesson #3.
Developer looking for new technologies
I keep telling you what went wrong and how you learned from it, but the truth is, a lot of it went well! You got through all your initial ideas and you brought them to life! You learned a lot on the way, listened to everybody who had suggestions, some were good, so they got into the product, you tested, and tested, and tested, and.. It’s done!
You finished the app, you use it, you love it, your friends say it’s awesome, you have the website online, you share it on your social accounts, the big moment is here. You ride the initial wave of visitors, things look quite good. A week goes by, then a month, and you see how there are hardly any new visitors, and you realize…
Lesson #4 is about marketing! You should’ve thought about that early on. How do you sell what you have? Who are your clients? How do you reach them? How much will it cost you to reach them? Will they be interested in your product? These are hard questions for a developer, and they hit you out cold.
The sucker punch
But you’re strong, you weren’t born yesterday. You get up, dust yourself off and think about the solutions. You start reading, start asking, gather knowledge, build up a plan, maybe get some cash in the bank, and you put things in motion. You’re lucky, you’re a natural! And you’re double lucky, the product actually fits your clients needs.
You start making money, and soon you discover your ideas of developing the business have seriously outgrown the ability you have to put them in action. You quit your full time job, keep doing your thing for a couple of months and confirm everything is in order. So you decide to go big(er). You start hiring people, you need someone on marketing and social media, a couple of developers, someone in accounting maybe, and surely enough, renting an office. Two months in, everything is great until you swipe the card, and it gets rejected. How could it be, you have thousands of paying customers by now! And you discover it’s one thing having an inflow of money, and another one to have them at the right time.
I’ll buy a plate of “All the steaks I can have” dear sir
Lesson #5 Pay attention to the cash flow. It’s easy to lose track of money when you’re growing and you have your mind set on a thousand different things. This is surely manageable, you can always get a credit, but then it depends on how quickly you can get it, and anyhow, it’s not a nice feeling hitting 0. Pay attention.
But in the end, this is just another lesson under your belt. You sure learned a lot over the years, you grew as a person at the same time your business grew. You’re successful, and that’s something! You now split your time between meetings, managing your employees, your finances, thinking about market trends, market share, growing bigger, maybe opening a branch in another country. You can’t say for sure when was the last time when you opened the code editor, or when you truly disconnected from your business. There’s no more 9 to 5, is it? Exactly as you planned, you don’t have a strict program anymore. Ehm… except that it’s not a 9 to 5 now, it’s a 7 to… forever, cause closing the shop when you own the shop is a whole different business.
Final lesson: Put yourself out of your comfort zone, try to build something by yourself. You might be successful, you might fail, you may even decide that it’s not for you, and that’s totally fine. There’s a whole bunch of things you’re going to learn along the way, and in the end, you’ll either have a successful business, a failed one that counts as good experience for the next try you’ll have or, if you decide ownership is not your thing, the happiness of knowing how many things you don’t have to care for while working for someone, and a good reference for your CV as it shows you are ambitious, motivated, and autonomous, as building a product/business in your free time is no small feat.
It’s like bringing the first stick back all by yourself!