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A Year in the Life of an Entrepreneur

Most entrepreneurial retrospectives are written at the point of success. Once you’ve made your millions it’s easy to be introspective and say where you went wrong. I haven’t got to that point yet, but I will. I’m one year into what I hope I’ll spend the rest of my life doing. If you’re about to jump off the same cliff then maybe you’ll find some of this useful?

Don’t Give Yourself A Year

My wife and I agreed to a one year runway in which to find a repeatable business model. This is far, far too long. In hindsight, we should have said three months or even just one. Given a whole year to do something, you’ll spend most of it doing the wrong things. The fear of failure is a very powerful driver. That’s why people study harder the nearer they get to an exam. Without that imminent risk of having to pack your bags and go home, you won’t push yourself enough.

Don’t Go It Alone

Ideally, this would be a co-founder – someone equally invested and equally in fear of the game ending. But there are plenty of other alternatives if one can’t be found. I have two sets of people that I rely on. Firstly, a number of superb, brutally honest advisers and, secondly, my wife. You need people, who you respect, who can beat you up on a regular basis and really challenge you about what you’ve done today / this week / this month. The reason you need these extra people is covered next …

Recognise Your Abilities

Your technical, sales, business or marketing abilities are as nothing compared to your ability to lie to yourself. Left to your own devices you will convince yourself that:

  • users need that feature
  • it’s not ready to ship yet
  • it’s OK to code all day
  • you need to build a platform for X

You cannot see the lies you tell yourself. Let someone you trust help you recognise that.

Assumptions Will Kill You

The reason Lean Startup is so essential is that it requires you to confirm your assumptions. Not with yourself or someone on your team, but with your customer – someone who might actually pay money for your product or service. Here’s one of my biggest assumptions:

Early on I had a prototype application that, essentially, worked. Trouble was, it was slow and wouldn’t scale to more than a few users. I assumed that nobody would pay for that version because it wasn’t quick enough. What an idiot. I never tested whether people would be happy for the product to email them when complete or even if it ran overnight. Bottom line: I could have had revenue from as early as February.

The Wrong Location Can Be Hard

We don’t all live in The Valley or within walking distance of Silicon Roundabout. In today’s global economy it’s always been possible to work remotely and run a successful business. The problem with start-ups is that you need a network around you. Companies are formed, founders introduced, investors intrigued and future users ignited by face-to-face meetings. I live just outside Cambridge which holds an admirable number of events. However, London is where it’s at and it costs me £50 every time I ‘pop’ in. This is not impossible, but it soon ads up. So, if you can, consider making your geography easier.

Know Who Your Customers Are

I have spent a lot of time talking with the wrong people over the past year. This is in no way disrespectful to them, it’s just that they weren’t my customer. For far too long I concentrated on the technology of my product and spoke with those who understood it. This was wrong. Figure out who your customers are as early as possible and spend a disproportionate amount of time engaging them.

Work Hard

I hope this goes without saying? However, it took me a long time to re-jig my working hours for maximum effect. For months I struggled to work evenings before I made a change. We have two young boys and, after stories and bedtime talks, I was falling asleep myself. Now I start work at 5am every day. It means my evenings are shorter and I watch significantly less TV but, hey, make the choice. You can, genuinely, work 14+ hours a day for prolonged periods.

Give Something Back

I was surprised how early it’s possible to give something back to the startup community. Part of being an entrepreneur is learning to learn fast. Within weeks I had some knowledge that some of my peers didn’t. Because we’re all trying to do something unique we all have experiences we can share – almost immediately. I mentored at Startup Weekend Cambridge in March, less than three months into my free-fall, and it was a hugely rewarding weekend. BTW: you’ll find that you can critique someone else’s ideas much more honestly than you can your own!

Attend Lean Startup Machine

Seriously. Go. Now.

I went to the London boot camp in September and the results were astonishing. Being forced to step far outside your comfort zone for 2 days was the best money I’ve spent all year. After the event I came away with a defined, validated customer segment and problem. The next London event is on February 3rd 2012 – you won’t spend better money.

Finally, I look forward to meeting more of you in 2012. I love being part of this pay it forward community and I believe that what we’re all attempting to do can have profound effects on, well, everything.

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Posted by on December 21, 2011 in Startups

 

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Time to Move On

For the last 9 months I have been a part-time entrepreneur. From 1st January it’ll be full-time.

I have now worked at the same software company for 10 years. I started as a developer and worked my way up to become the Development Director. Over the past 2 years I have transformed the company’s development department with changes that will continue to help it deliver working software long after my departure. I moved us from a classic waterfall model, with manual deployment, to an Agile process (Scrum) incorporating SOLID principles, unit tests, continuous integration & build servers and, nearly, fully automated deployment of a dozen commercial websites. I am very proud of the changes I have made and I leave a company which now scores 9/12 on the Joel Test.

I’m giving all that up.

My own, personal, transformation didn’t stop there though. Over the last year I have become more and more excited by the business side of software development. I spent countless evenings and weekends consuming all I could find from such luminaries as Dharmesh Shah, Seth Godin, Geoffrey A. Moore, Eric Ries etc. The possibility that a ‘simple developer’ could expand his horizons and create something more than just an application was exhilarating. During 2010 I had, and still have, a hat-full of ideas; one of which bubbled to the top of the stack quite effortlessly. After the creation of an MVP, a few public demos & pitches and some incredible user feedback I’m now ready to go for it. I’ve learnt all I can without taking that final step off the cliff.

In 2011 I’ll be looking for more people to come join me in helping change the way people interact with social media – starting with TweetPivot. If you want to know what that involves you’ll have to follow me on twitter or even just come talk with me!

Finally, I’d like to thank some local groups (e.g. Pitch and Mix), some global groups (e.g. Microsoft’s BizSpark program) and an innumerable number of individuals who have supported and encouraged me thus far. Almost any hour of the day can feel like a lonely 3am when you’re an entrepreneur and having people that can help you refocus is priceless.

So, wish me luck. 2011 is going to be scary-as-hell but, wow, what a sweet looking ride!

Thanks,

Chris

 
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Posted by on December 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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