You can do everything (but you probably shouldn’t)
I thought I’d learned everything I needed to know about launching a business from my first venture. But my second business had other ideas.
This time it was different for two important reasons:
- I was entirely solo, whereas the first was a joint business with my wife, Charlie Brown.
- It was in an industry I had zero experience in — coding and app development.
It was a baptism of fire.
It turns out you never stop learning, especially if you make a career pivot. Here’s what I learned, applicable to all freelancers, entrepreneurs and solopreneurs.
We all come up against the same barriers — whatever industry you’re in.
I started building an app just as a way of learning some new skills.
But it grew in scope and started to show some potential to become a real thing that other people might enjoy using. So I started thinking of it as a business instead of a curiosity.
However, I kept the mindset that I wanted to do everything myself.
I took the ‘solo’ in solopreneur a little too literally.
I learned a huge amount, but to the detriment of the app as a business, as many things could have been done a lot better by someone else.
If you find yourself doing everything — don’t. No one is great at everything. Instead, identify your weaknesses and outsource them. I wish I had.
If there is one thing this journey from zero to app developer has taught me, it’s that getting something done is better than it being perfect.
Take the technologies I chose to build my app. They were far from perfect for my project. And coding can be snobby — there are a lot of know-it-alls on coding forums who believe every piece of code should be refined into one über-efficient line.
But perfection leads you down a rabbit hole of procrastination. It values the academic above the practical.
If I had listened to those forum-dwellers and attempted to be perfect, my app would never have launched.
There’s always a tradeoff. It takes time to optimize everything to the nth degree. Time that could often be spent on things that would bring more benefit to your business.
And in many situations, the simplest solution works plenty good enough.
As a novice developer, I worried that I was out of my depth and that my app wasn’t good enough.
But chatting with a highly experienced venture capitalist helped change my mind on these two things.
Over a few drinks, he confessed something to me. Even after investing in hundreds of startups, he told me that he constantly felt like an imposter. And many of the most successful startups he’d worked with have horrible code.
That’s what helped me get over (or at least come to terms with) my own imposter syndrome.
If someone with that track record can feel unsure of themselves, maybe you should give yourself a break too.
But no matter how seemingly obscure or trivial the issue I came up against, searching for help online would reveal hundreds of people who had also faced the same challenge.
There are no new problems, and it’s a relief to learn that you don’t have to solve every issue from scratch. You can learn from others who have already overcome it in ways you would never have thought of.
When you’re out of your depth, you’re constantly coming up against problems you don’t know how to solve. Solve one problem. Move on. Get stuck on the next problem. It can feel like you’re going round in circles.
But when you look back, you’re actually moving outwards in a spiral as your knowledge expands.
On some levels, my app could be considered a failure. It has been out for several months yet only has a few hundred users.
But that doesn’t mean that *I* am a failure.
I’ve learned a huge amount. I’ve built something I can be proud of.
I’m now working on a new project that has taken a fraction of the time the original app took because I’ve learned so many lessons from that first project. I’m working more collaboratively. I’m making quicker and better decisions. I’m more focused and not tinkering with little bits out of curiosity.
None of this would have been possible without making mistakes on my first project.
A project failure doesn’t make you a failure. It’s all just one big learning experience.
A Beginner’s Mind means having openness, eagerness, and a lack of preconceptions. It’s one of the reasons why a band’s first album is often its best. Or why a novice might beat an experienced game player.
Rather than being constrained to a certain “right” way of doing things, you are free to start with a blank slate. It is this mindset that can result in off-the-charts creativity. You don’t focus on all the potential pitfalls. Every day you are simply excited to have made progress.
My Beginner’s Mind kept me going, blissfully unaware of the road ahead. And it led me to add awesome features by thinking, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I…”
You can look at lack of experience in two ways. Either you dwell upon all the things you don’t know or embrace the knowledge that Beginner’s Mind can be your biggest asset.
This is a lesson I learned from my previous business and this new one.
On both occasions, I put together a list of potential customers to invite to a preview launch. And both times, most of those potential customers quickly fell by the wayside.
You can do as much work as you like to identify who your customer will be, but at the end of the day, some people get what you’re doing, and some don’t.
If you’re thinking of starting a business, the good news is that you almost certainly haven’t even considered the client or group of people who will be your best customer yet, and they’re out there impatiently waiting for your business to start.
Although I’ve done everything myself, I couldn’t have done any of it without support, especially from Charlie Brown.
You need someone to tell you the harsh truth when you need to hear it and someone to encourage you when you’re in despair — because a solopreneur is never really solo.