August 9 #CodeNewbie Chat

Bootstrapped. Profitable. Human-centric.

Business owner. Given that I’ve worked independently (sometimes via strategic partnerships) throughout my entire career, I’ve technically always been a business owner. But these days, I look at that title a little differently.

A few years ago, when I was in a tough spot, Derek Sivers pointed me at his Delegate or Die essay. In particular, the part where he said…

To be a true business owner, make sure you could leave for a year, and when you came back, your business would be doing better than when you left.

I’ve never reached this point in my career. In fact, I’ve never truly gotten close to it. I thought at first this meant leading a team and then training the team to make myself redundant… but now I’m not so sure that’s the right path for me.

Then I look at my own background, and realize that my most profitable work has been my own consulting and training work. But that is work that if I’m not working, doesn’t generate new business.

So… now I need to be thinking about products. With a product, I could potentially develop something to a certain point, and then it’ll keep creating value even if I’m not constantly hacking away on it every single day. Then I can gradually reinvest, either through my own efforts, or by paying others to help me.

Being able to “leave for a year” and come back having the business do better is interesting to me, not because I want to take a long… long.. vacation, but because it means that for example, I could go learn a bunch of new skills, or do some exploratory research, or make some great connections with other people, and then bring the benefits of that back to the products that have been mostly humming along without a continuous, round-the-clock development effort.

I’ve taken baby steps down that path of becoming the kind of business owner Derek described in his essay. I need to do a lot more to get there. The hardest part is keeping in the right frame of mind… especially when it’s so much easier to sell development or training time by the hour.

This is a big question, one that I’m not sure I’ll be able to give proper justice in the few minutes I have left to write for tonight.

The somewhat obvious answer is… in order to be a product developer and owner of a business that is bootstrapped, profitable, and human-centric… I need to sustainably develop a product without relying on external investments, and the product’s theme must be centered on making people’s lives better in a meaningful way.

I’ve actually started on a product that fits that theme, and will talk more about it in the weeks and months to come. But the less obvious challenge is using the bootstrapping process to build up the financial stability needed to reclaim lots and lots of time to invest (in small chunks at first, and then more over time) in product development.

This feels a little bit like the curse of our field. There are lots of ways to get paid well for what you do as a software developer. But they tend to either come in little tiny batches, or in big giant batches, and it’s really tough to find “just enough” work to keep your expenses covered while you focus on some side project that you think might be promising. In theory this would have been easier earlier on in my career… in practice, I spent most of that time going to conferences, working on open source, attending meetups, writing, and developing skills.

It’s kind of interesting that you get this whole new wave of being a newbie about 15 years into a career. I mean that both in the slightly complaining, and the slightly inspiring sort of way. That’s where I feel I’m at right now… I’ve got all these various skills and resources… but I’m trying to figure out how to tie them all together to make something that sticks. And it’s both hard… and exciting.

I’ve released a couple free sample chapters from my book here on this blog:

Chapter I: Using Prototypes to Explore Project Ideas

Chapter II: Spotting Hidden Dependencies in Incremental Changes

Saron Yitbarek was one of the tech reviewers for the book, providing a ton of helpful feedback and suggestions. So I have that to thank her for, in addition to #CodeNewbie!