Is the “Startup Game” Fundamentally Different as a Developer?

As a developer, I’m in a unique position as someone who could be a “founder” or “creator” of a startup. For instance, if I decided I wanted to create the next greatest Tennis Court Finder that would let you locate the nearest public or private tennis court, conditions, availability of lights, and prices if any… I could just do it. I could take a week or two out of my schedule, focus all my efforts and attention on writing this web or mobile app and simply launch.

That’s not how most startups work because I think typically it’s not possible. Typically, a startup is dreamed up by someone with an idea. It’s scribbled down on a napkin and “has sex” with other ideas as this person discusses it with people and lets it change and evolve into a feasible plan. Then strategic partners are brought on board, usually for their expertise in a relevant field or technical ability to help produce the idea, and then one of two things happen:

1) The founders decide to put in some amount of their own money to jump start their idea.

2) The founders pitch their idea to VCs and Angels in hopes of getting their idea funded.

This is widely known as the “Startup Game”, and it has a very “sexy” appeal thanks to websites like TechCrunch and magazines like FastCompany. People will play this game by coming up with ideas continuously and endlessly networking until they “hit it big” by getting their idea funded.

The problem I see is that this seems to work almost like the lottery, and in some ways it’s just like trying to convince other people to let you play with their money. In the short amount of time I’ve been exposed to this model of launching a company, I’m seeing it as a huge gamble, even if you are able to make it past the initial hurdles of actually getting funded, because you need to actually make money and have your idea work out in the end like any company. And what happens when it doesn’t work out? Lets say you take $100k to develop your product, and it goes bust in 6 months from that investment. In 6 months, you don’t really have anything to show for what you’ve done, and you probably did not make that much money yourself to live on during that time.

Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this however. Entrepreneurs are driven by more than just the big pay off at the end of the road. There is also the desire to creatively find and build solutions to problems in a market, industry, or the world. They would rather create these systems instead of just conform to a simple job because they’re passionate about something. So even though after 6 months there’s not much to show for the work in monetary means, there’s great value in the lessons learned from a failure.

But my point is that this conundrum exists, and as a developer I think there’s a unique opportunity to turn this model on it’s head. Instead of jumping through hurdles of the “Startup Game”, I could instead focus efforts on producing my startup ideas myself or collaboratively with others and it comes with a lot of benefits:

1) You don’t have to stick with your idea exactly and can easily pivot if needed when you see something not working because you’re not tied to investor interests.

2) You can launch as fast or as slow as you want.

3) If the idea starts generating revenue, you have less people to share in the value, so the entire thing is worth more.

As a developer, I’m starting to focus more of my time on personal projects because I see huge opportunities in a mobile market where something you build has the potential to grow into something big. And I see this not just limited to developers. It’s all about being a creator. If you write, design, develop, market, or even connect essential people together, you’re a creator because you can build something where there was nothing before and you have an amazing opportunity now to take your idea and see it come to reality with the technology we have available. Tools like Facebook, Twitter let us directly interact with our market, and niche blogs have the ability to showcase our product that was typically only possible with large budgets and big media buys by large companies.

So what project are you going to start?

Book Review: The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau

The Art of Non-Conformity

There are a few books I’ve read in my life that dramatically changed my perspective on the world, and Chris’s book, The Art of Non-Conformity, was one of those that I read last year. I don’t remember the exact moment I heard about the book, but after a few months feeling stuck in a cubicle at my 9-5 job, I started reading a lot about entrepreneurship, freelancing, self-employment, and somehow got linked to his blog. What really drew me in was how bluntly he spoke about current societal norms and how most people accept them with no questions. A part that really stuck out to me in the beginning that I feel really explains the core message of the book was: When we’re growing up, a common expression used to let us know we shouldn’t succumb to peer pressure is “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you also do it?”. He asks why this same principle does not seem to apply after we’re adults and how we all seem to conform to the same steps of: getting a job, then a house, then a car, etc. and in the process racking up debt that keeps us in this cycle where we’re always dependent on the current job we have. Instead he offers simply peeking over the cliff, and walking back because what’s there to really lose by following a non-conformist path? Worst-case scenario you just join a job you dislike after awhile and you will end up in the same position you would have been in, so you actually have more to lose by not attempting to pursue something you truly enjoy doing in life first.

The book first and foremost is about finding enjoyment out of life and then finding a way to make a living out of it. It’s better to be doing what you love rather than making lots of money doing something you hate. And life is too short to be hating a large chunk of it. A big point he brings up is the idea of “deferring life”. This is the whole concept of retirement. Essentially retirement is a big form of deferring your life because the idea is to keep working hard now so you can live comfortably later on. But the problem is how much can you really enjoy later in life when you’re older and physically unable to do many things? And by the time you retire, do you really know what you want to do with your life then? That should be something you already know and are taking steps towards every day. Too many people wait for this imaginary time to retire, but have no idea what they would truly enjoy doing at that point because they’ve spent so long deferring what they are passionate about in life.

Chris’s book helps you wake up to seeing life as something precious which you have limited time to fully experience and so to start making the most of it. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for an inspirational kick in the arse to start living your life to the fullest.