Friday, September 07, 2007

Doing this at 42

Ok, I'm not the normal web startup guy, as I'm 10 to 20 years older than your typical startup geek.

Who else out there falls into the category of 40+ web entrepreneur? Leave a comment & share your experience.

Some of my thoughts:
  • Prior business experience helps in some ways, but actually hinders in other ways. I won't make some of the same mistakes I made with GHM; but some of "business as usual" in the non-web-commerce world has little relation to or analogy with the web-commerce world.
  • Learning new technology, a new platform, and new programming languages takes more work that it seems to have taken when I was 20-something. What I thought I could accomplish in 3 months took 5 months. Has anyone else experienced something similar?
  • It seems that everyone around you can code more quickly and produce output more quickly than you. Darned kidz...
  • The business "learns" are as exciting as the technology "learns"; an opinion that doesn't seem to be shared by many of the under-30 geeks I've met. Anyone else find this as well?
Most of my complaining and kvetching* is about how long it is taking me to produce good code and the website/product. I'm not easy on myself, and my expectations are high. It probably doesn't help that the guy I really admire and look up to is one of SV's most notorious workaholics! I get that everyone has their own pace of learning, but I have no point of reference here. I hear of people picking up RoR in a week and launching a website six weeks later. And why the hell am I worried about this? Why is this an issue? Is my hour over already? You take checks, right?


*it's like complaining but much, much more.

Things they don't tell you, and some things they do

When I asked a friend for advice on how I could better monetize my music publishing business, he responded by telling me to get out of it and start, or join, a web commerce startup. And since I can code and have been hacking in some way or another since childhood, I took his advice and did just that.

We then discussed what I was in for, and he described some of the consequences of the life I was about to choose (again).

Here's a list of stuff I was warned about, or have already experienced in my other business, or am discovering and experiencing now as I put all of my time and energy into making something useful, beautiful and cool for the web:

  1. Your social life will come to an end. Yeah, well, something has to suffer when you spend a lot of time working, and social life is it. To be honest, when I was getting a music catalog put together at the start of Gearhead Music (GHM) I was in the studio all day, every day, and had little social life then. So this isn't new to me.

    What I'd forgotten about this time around was that your friends & family don't really understand that yours is not a M-F, 9-5 lifestyle. Some don't seem to take it kindly when I consistently cancel Friday-night pub meetups, or can't talk on the phone for a few hours "after work". My solution is to find friends who "get it", or who have businesses of their own. And, when I am spending time with them, they have my 100% attention.

  2. Advice. Boy, you get all sorts of advice. Luckily for me now, with GHM I listened to and took all sorts of bad advice from all sorts of people. I learned my lesson then, and painfully. This time around I listen to advice from people in the business whom I respect and from other entrepreneurs. Uncle Freddie the plumber? Not so much.

    Examples of bad advice? "Don't ever quit the day job!", "Make sure you write a full business plan before you do anything", "You can't start with less than $2mil", and my favorite "Don't do it. Find a job somewhere that's safe." Excuse me while I go puke now.

  3. The emotional roller-coaster. Yeah, well, be prepared. But it's not different than working for a corp - the experience is just compressed in time. While working in a cube-farm, you may be depressed for a week or two, then content for a week, and excited for a day or a few hours. In business for yourself? A month's worth of emotions in a 12-hour period! Ecstatic at 9am, mood indigo at 3pm, excited at 10pm, exhausted at 1am. Rinse, repeat! Neato! Hey look Ma, I'm bipolar!! And I'm told that the amplitude of the emotional sine-wave only gets greater from here. Coool. That being said? No complaints. I still love what I'm doing.

  4. Do what you love. This one is easy.. if you love it, do it, and have fun. Ask yourself the hard questions: Do I love this, and am I having fun?

  5. No more assholes. Make a decision to minimize assholery in your life as much as possible, lest #4 above become impossible and you can't have fun.

  6. No more idiots (corollary to #5). There are plenty of idiots out there. Stay away from 'em. My favorite is the coder-as-couch-potato idiot. The one whose idea of "working from home" or "starting a business" is to turn on the TV, poke at the laptop a few times, troll for hotties on MySpace, and then walk out for a smoke every ten minutes. Followed by a deafening volume of advice. Followed by a litany of excuses in pseudo-tech-speak about why his web project isn't complete yet. Obviously, don't hire these buffoons. But in addition, get away from them as quickly as possible. While they might be tolerable in doses when you're not trying to start a business, they're utterly intolerable on the days when you feel slightly like Sisyphus. There is no room for morons, and this becomes painfully clear when starting a company - as I have discovered. And the IT world is fill of them. Don't believe me? Take a job at a large mainframe or midrange shop.

  7. One thing I wasn't warned about - my wine consumption has increased. Wow. Gotta be careful with this one, of course. Start a business, drink more wine. If it isn't a law of nature, it oughta be. However, slow-burning money means fewer trips to Bev Mo, or Sam's. So at least there's that control in place!

  8. Do Not think from extremes, and don't work with anyone who does. At the end of iWoz, Steve Wozniak's autobiography, he mentions that engineers should, and must, see things in shades of gray. Most people it seems see and think in black-and-white terms. This is what a colleague of mine calls "Thinking from extremes". Drives me nuts, frankly. It's is also called building a "straw-man argument" when in discussion. I'm tempted to file this under "no more idiots. And as far as I know my experience with straw-man conversations might be due to my working in the music and music-related business for so long - a biz that hardly attracts the best&brightest minds. Regardless, it's a habit that's deadly to engineers, or anyone in a creative field. Absolutist thinking, extreme positions, incorrect inferences, misrepresentations.. leave that to the gossip bloggers.

  9. Back up your work.

  10. Don't abuse coffee. Oh hell, NOW they tell me. By the way, did you know Peet's delivers?

  11. People you meet will not understand what you do or why you do it. This is close to #1, but as I've heard it from multiple sources, it bears repeating. They'll admire you and think you're nuts - all at the same time. Deep down, they might be thinking they wish they could do it if they only had the knowledge/guts/$2mil "everyone" knows you need before you can get started. I dunno. I do know that, outside of other geeks, the #1 questions I get are "Aren't you scared?" and "What are you doing for money?". Why, using the green paper stuff everyone else is using.. I tried using oak leaves, but Ralph's didn't seem interested in them.

  12. There are days it will feel incredible. That's great. There are days it will feel hopeless.. just keep going! Also from multiple sources. Enough said.. and good advice this one.