I didn’t know whether I should celebrate or panic.
It was Dec 18, 2010 and my business partner and I had just signed our first development contract…ever. We were officially in the App business and we had landed a dream client: Stanford University. We had just signed a very detailed statement of work which we had negotiated for weeks and we closed the deal on the last day the University was open for the calendar year.
It was huge. And the check we were going to cash wasn’t anything to sneeze at either. I’m still not 100% sure how we did it, but landing this 5-figure with Stanford was a sweet deal. We wanted to celebrate.
There was only one problem: We had no clue how we were going to build this app.
We wanted to panic. Even though I’d done a little programming in MatLab while I was earning my Chemical Engineering degree, I definitely wasn’t a developer. I had no computer science fundamentals, no formal training, and we couldn’t find anyone to build it for us.
My co-founder and I scrambled to talk to any developers that we could find. We didn’t know anything about anything. We didn’t know design. We didn’t know database architecture. We didn’t know how to make the phone talk to the internet. We didn’t know shit. So we spent the next 6 months hustling to learn it all – or as much as we could. Somewhere in the middle we delivered the first version of our first app to Stanford. It wasn’t amazing but it got the job done, and we continued to improve.
Our team at Stanford was happy and we went on to do over $110,000 in business with the University and built some very innovative apps for students and the extended Stanford family. Of course, our success at Stanford led us to other universities around the country, conferences, and eventually start-ups & larger companies.
Even though we pulled it off, I think we did it the hard way.
It blows my mind that there are so many talented mobile developers out there who aren’t running their own businesses. If you have the technical skills and a little persistence, you have all you need to run your own business. The benefits are clear:
1) More Freedom
2) Better Money
3) Real Job Security
4) Constant Development of New Skills
It took me years to figure this stuff out the hard way and I want to make sure that folks in my shoes don’t have to suffer through all of the mistakes that I made along the way. [At the end of this post, I’ve got a limited time value-bomb for you.]
When people used to ask me how long my commute to work was I always replied with a smile and “my office is a barrel-roll away from my bed.” This certainly isn’t for everyone – you may want to work from a co-working space, your office, a client’s office, whatever. But the point is that when you’re calling the shots, you have the freedom to do whatever you want – especially once you learn how to provide your clients and customers with a structure that serves them well but doesn’t put you under their thumb.
One Friday when I worked at ExxonMobil I went to a retirement party for a co-worker who’d been at Exxon for over 35 years. The whole next week his office door was always open, the lights were off, and his name plate was missing. It was a strong visual reminder that John was gone. So when I saw his light on the following Monday, I was curious what was going on. I walked by and there John was. He’d returned to Exxon, but not as an employee. He was a consultant, making twice as much money, working half the time, doing the same work. The same thing is true for tech consultants and entrepreneurs. When you run the show, you take home your salary and the profits – whether you’re a consultant or entrepreneur. Stop trading “job security” for your profits and a higher salary!
Real job security is having a variety of income sources.
Real Job Security
Speaking of job security… it’s a myth. Federal labor law is crystal clear: the vast majority of people are employed “at-will” which means that you can be fired without “just cause” at any moment. It sounds terrible, except that you can also quit at any time without penalty. I know almost no one who isn’t an at-will employee. Real job security is having a variety of income sources, something that’s nearly impossible when you spend over 40 hours a week working for your employer.
Constant Development of New Skills
I was talking to a friend of mine who works at a major engineering firm and I asked her about the development of her engineering skills. She’s been a professional engineer in the real world for over 5 years now and she told me that she hasn’t learned any new engineering skills in over 2 years. That sucks. Fortunately, she has been developing a lot of new, non-engineering, skills. Unfortunately, the skills she’s been developing recently have centered around dealing with a few very difficult people in her office.
Entrepreneurs and consultants constantly learn both technical and non-technical skills because that’s what it takes to thrive in the world of operating your own business.
My Offer to You
There’s one thing that I want to be sure that I don’t ignore about my story: I got a lot of help along the way. Yes, friends and family were there of course, but I also got a ton of help from customers, competitors & complete strangers.