An Entrepreneur, one year on …

It has been exactly one year to the day I founded Mobiusly and became an entrepreneur. The year has gone by quickly, but I couldn’t have hoped for a better first year for Mobiusly. I’ve earned more money this year than I’ve ever earned in any other single year as a working professional and employee. In addition to the financial rewards, I’ve also grown more as an individual and learned more about myself than I could’ve ever hoped for.

It’s been hard work

Upon reflection, I see I’ve had to work harder this year than I’ve had to before. Throughout most of the year, I’ve held 3 “jobs” simultaneously – one full-time contract at the Ministry of Transport, one part-time contract at the St Vincent’s Hospital and finally the tech founder of an online startup. It’s been hectic for sure so it’s a good thing I know how to wake up early consistently.

At the Ministry of Transport, Mobiusly has helped build an online Payments Processing System which handles over $1B annually for all Bus Operator contracts in NSW (Australia’s biggest state). I go to sleep every night knowing I make it possible for school kids to get to school on time.

At the St Vincent’s Hospital, Mobiusly has helped build an online Pathology Results system to provide timely information to doctors about their patients. I go to sleep every night knowing I help doctors help people get better when they are sick.

As the tech founder of an online startup, I’ve helped architect, develop and shape a great product that I’m really proud of. Also, we’ve just launched! It has been an awesome learning experience. The startup also happens to be congruent to Mobiusly’s credo and mission to help people do what they do better with great yet simple software. I’m pretty excited about it, and hope it’ll really take off.

I’ve had to make sacrifices

I’ll be honest and tell you now that it has certainly been tough going and I’ve had to make sacrifices along the way. Most weeks I work about 80+ hours. I’ve had to use every trick in my personal development arsenal in order to stay focused – including minimising distractions, fighting off procrastination, working in time boxes and keeping motivated with well defined goals.

Of those 80+ hours I work, I get to do 40+ from home. Thankfully, throughout all this, I’ve somehow still managed to make time for my wife and 2 kids. Needless to say though, I wouldn’t have been able to make this year such a success for Mobiusly without the support of my wife – who understands my passion and believes in what I do enough to put up with me.

My friends however have been neglected – for that I am really sorry! I seldom found the time to “hang out” or have drinks at the local pub. Whilst my friends went to socialise or have dinners together, I’ve had to go home early to take care of the kids and work on my second and third “jobs”. It is definitely with grim determination that I soldier on.

It is totally worth it

At this point, you’re probably thinking … You’re crazy! Maybe you’re right. But I made a conscious decision at the beginning of this journey that my dreams and goals are worth attaining and that in order to do so, I (may) have to work as smart and as hard as I could. I also realised I may not be the smartest, fastest, most good looking or most articulate person out there, but these shouldn’t ever stop me from trying. I refuse to acknowledge that my limitations are anything but self imposed.

So was it really worth it? For me, the answer is a resounding Yes! And not just from a financial sense. As I’ve followed my dreams, I’ve become a more competent person. I’m also happier. I’ve learned that I am prepared to work hard, have the ability to stay true to my tasks and can keep going when faced with tough choices. I’ve also realised if I work at it, results and success do eventually come.

Theodore Roosevelt from a 1910 speech puts it better than I ever can

If you value your dreams in any way, you have to give them a fair chance of success. What’s a little hard work in the pursuit of dreams? For me, I didn’t want to be that guy on his death bed 50 years from now looking back at his life and wondering what might have been if only he tried.

I’m reminded of a speech I came across recently by Theodore Roosevelt. I quote:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Dare to dream. Work hard for it.

In the end, remember that dreams give us reasons to be better than who we are. Without them, we are but walking empty shells. Don’t listen to that part of your brain that fears failure. Don’t listen to that part of your brain that tells you that you don’t have time. Because if you want it bad enough, you’ll do it anyway and you’ll find the time to do it. No matter how busy you are.

It doesn’t matter whether you have more or less skills, charisma, contacts or time than the guy in the next cubicle. It doesn’t matter at all whether you come from a poor or rich background. It certainly doesn’t matter whether you were a B/C or A student in school. What matters is daring to have dreams and working hard to achieve them. Yes, you might fail the first few times. But you’ll learn and you’ll get better.

Eventually, you’ll succeed.

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This post is about working on and finishing personal tasks and why getting them done on time is so hard. For the time starved, the lesson here is:

Create Self-Imposed Deadlines. With Punishment for Failure.

The longer version:

Many of you have commented about the lack of frequency in my recent postings. This is something I acknowledge to struggling with a bit! Trust me, it isn’t because of a lack of motivation or anything like that, because writing on this blog is something I would really like to keep going.

What’s wrong with Time Boxing?

I know I’ve been writing about Time Boxing, but it seems the strategies there alone aren’t sufficient to help me Get Things Done.

I don’t think there is any inherent flaw with the Time Boxing strategy. After all, if you want to finish something, you first need to allocate time to it, then work on it for a fixed period and finally judge if it is finished or not. The boxing aspect allows us to focus on the “time” or “duration” component of the task, without which we may aimlessly prod along without being conscious of how long something is taking.

The problem with Time Boxing however, especially for personal tasks, is there is no tangible effect from a delay. There is no accountability and no punishment for going over-time. Writing on this blog is a hobby, so if I don’t publish an article for another week or month, what’s the penalty?

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

In contrast, this is totally opposite when dealing with work related matters. We do it all the time. Homework is due next Monday, so let’s get to it now. The client demands a modification to a site or we don’t get paid, so let’s get cracking. Our boss is waiting for the status report, so we’d better launch the word processor and start typing.

The two biggest problems with doing personal tasks

I realised the other day, I don’t have well defined goals for blogging. This stems from the realisation that the two biggest problems with finishing personal tasks (like writing on a blog) are:

  • The absence of a hard deadline
  • The absence of punishment when failing to deliver

Seems obvious! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Without a concrete deadline, how can I judge if I’m behind or not? Also, how can I plan my time to ensure I meet it? Also, if there are no real consequences for not making a deadline, what’s going to stop me from playing on my Xbox? And, what’s to prevent me from procrastinating time and time again?

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Treating work and non-work tasks the same way

The lesson here is that we need to treat our hobbies and personal projects exactly the same way we deal with work and other important things in our life. If we don’t, then it’ll always play second fiddle and we won’t get the great results we hope or expect.

This means we have to elevate personal hobbies, tasks and projects to the same level as our work. Yes, they may not be life-sustaining activities (ie doesn’t pay the bills), but if we want the same kind of results we get from our work, then we have to treat them the same.

Make yourself accountable in your startup

This applies to all you aspiring Entrepreneurs out there.

Are you having trouble launching your latest startup? Is it taking longer than you thought? Are you spending enough time on it? Is time being spent on a piece of code which won’t matter for another year? Are you working on the right things?

If any of this sounds familiar, then you’d do well to head my words.

Make yourself accountable for everything in your business. Every action and delay must be defined and quatified. How long will it take? What’s the benefit? What’s the cost? Who will be affected?

If you don’t have anyone you are accountable to (eg no investors and customers), then you have to make something up. For example, perhaps donate $100 to a worthwhile charity for every week you are late. Now, that’s going to hurt. Are you feeling more motivated now?

With great pleasure, I can now say Mobiusly is back on track. I deviated a little over the last couple of months, but it’s all good now especially since I committed to a deadline and understood the consequences of being late. I’m hoping to launch the first product in 1-2 weeks time, depending on how well beta testing goes. I’ll post more details here or via Mobiusly’s official blog, so make sure you subscribe to it too if you’re interested in seeing what’s being cooked up.

In the meantime, examine your own lives. Are you getting things done?

UPDATE: A healthy discussion is emerging at Hacker News about the disadvantages of focusing on the negative as motivators. More about it here.

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What is a bootstrapper?

A bootstrapper is someone who uses his own time, money and resources to get a business launched and be successful – whether it is a small one-man shop or a big multi-million dollar company. Bootstrappers believe totally in the viability of their businesses and their ability to execute – otherwise they wouldn’t be doing what they do. After all, they’re risking their own money!

Some folks have emailed me asking how I’m funding Mobiusly and the products we are planning to launch in 2009. The answer is by bootstrapping. Here at Mobiusly, I’m funding the entire operation with no outsiders. Instead of raising finance from angels, venture capitalists, friends or family, I’ve decided to put my (and my wife’s) savings into it. It’s not because I couldn’t raise the money, it’s because I don’t want to raise the money.

That’s crazy you say!

Maybe, but there is a method to my madness. Raising money with outside funds may be appropriate for some businesses, but I don’t think it is right for Mobiusly. If I was starting a company which required lots of initial funds (eg massive infrastructure, marketing, people, tools etc), then I wouldn’t be able to bootstrap.

The good news is I’m not building that type of company

Mobiusly is a micro-ISV. We’re small and lean but super agile. We’re completely virtual and operational costs are low. We don’t need common office space, so we don’t have to worry about rent. We don’t need a shop front as our services are all Internet based. We don’t need to run massive advertising campaigns – we’re hoping clever use of blogging, Twitter and other social media outlets can get the word out as effectively as a 20 second slot during prime time tv. We don’t need to hire developers to get things done. We write our own code.

So why bootstrap?

The obvious answer is because we don’t need the money. We’re doing fine on our own, despite the current lows in the global economy. The less obvious answer is because we like to embrace constraints.

When you have less money, you have less bull-crap. We don’t have 10 people in meetings that last for 3 hours. We don’t spend 2 months writing design documents before we start coding. We don’t go on expensive trips to meet clients or chase a sale. We don’t need to appease investors.

Instead, we meet for 5 minute sessions when needed. We think about a problem, quickly discuss options and then implement solutions. If they are not right, we see that early so we can explore alternatives. We don’t try to chase after the expensive corporate enterprise clients who are hard and expensive to win over. Our products focus on small to medium sized companies and consumers.

We could have that 3 hour meeting, take our time with documentation or go on expensive trips. But we don’t, because we don’t have the size or money to do so. Instead we embrace our constraints and organise our teams and processes in ways that make us effective, responsive and agile. We cut through the red tape and bureaucracy – something our bigger competitors cannot do. We’re quicker to innovate and we do so more often.

Because we don’t have investors, we don’t need to answer to them. We don’t have to write a business case or go through an approval process in order to get funds released from the finance department. Instead, if we see a product or feature worth implementing that obeys our credo and genuinely helps our customers, we go ahead and just do it.

We’ve got what our bigger competitors don’t

Our competitors boasts expensive offices and their sales people wear expensive suits. They have teams of hundreds of developers, designers and business analysts – all cranking away at their keyboards. Tap. Tap. Tap.

By constrast, I do product design, write code, create graphics and work on the marketing myself (at the moment). We will also answer all support questions and emails ourselves. We like to think we’re more personable and pleasant to deal with. Also, because this is our business and our money, you can count on us doing our very best to make sure you are happy and you get what you need.

If you have to boil things down to a few words, we have a small and agile team, who can innovate quickly and often. We don’t have red-tape to slow us down and we cut through the bureaucracy to get to the underlying problem. We don’t have investors, so we can make decisions quickly. We have low overheads, so we can take risks our competitors dare not.

Ok, so we are the underdog. But don’t we all love rooting for the underdog? Check back soon for our first product announcement!

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