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Experiment, fail and spread your ideas

experimentswithpurposeFirst of all, stop being a people pleaser. When you try to please people around you, it makes it hard to try experiments, to take risks, and to embrace change.

Failing isn’t popular, and it is scary for many people. Some people are OK with failing fewer times, as if there is a right number of times to fail. The more you fail the more you learn. If you aren’t failing often, you aren’t taking enough risks and not trying enough experiments.

Fear is the biggest blocker of change. It is the main reason people don’t experiment enough. There is fear of failing and being ridiculed. We have been thought all of our lives that failing is what irresponsible people do. By experimenting and embracing failure, you are already ahead of most people. After enough failures you’ll learn what most people don’t and eventually, you’ll find the successes that most people won’t.

Experiment, fail, and do it all with purpose. The best way to experiment is when you do it with purpose and when you measure the results. An experiment cannot be successful if you fail and then ignore what didn’t work. A successful experiment has to prove something, then you find out what worked and what didn’t and start again.

Experiment, connect, disturb, inspire, and keep learning. That’s the only way you can truly learn and spread your ideas.

How to build a software product in your spare time

I have been writing code professionally since the early days of .NET although I remember doing lots of classic ASP as well. As a student, I did some C++, BASIC and even some Pascal but not enough to be good at it. I consider myself a great decent developer and very enthusiastic about coming up with ideas to use new frameworks and platforms to design and build new software products. It is my idea of fun and have been doing it for quite some time now. Sometimes with the idea and ambition of building companies around my product ideas.

My guess is that most software developers enjoy testing new technologies and some even do it in their spare time, outside of work and probably late at night (it’s the best time to code, especially if you have children!). However, one thing that I get asked often is where do I get the time to think about products and more specifically where do I find the time to do it. You see, to me is not about building the next killer app or anything like it, it is about thinking of how I could use that cool new JavaScript framework, experimenting with a new platform or perhaps some mobile app that will finally get me into mobile development… and it all sounds good until you start finding excuses and convince yourself that you just don’t have the time to do it. If you are in my age group you will likely find excuses involving the kids, the wife, the house chores, the full-time job, etc… and if you are much younger than me then your excuses are going to be the friends, games, parties, or even a job or school.

Excuses are evil, they offer an easy and sometimes pleasant way to avoid doing something new. I hope some of the tips provided below can help you avoid excuses and get you motivated to build a new app or try out some cool new framework.

Originating ideas

Believe it or not, coming up with ideas might be challenging sometimes, one thing I find very useful is to just take a moment, walk, and think of the things I do on a daily basis that I could do better. This task will take you probably a few minutes and you’ll be surprised with the number of ideas you will originate. Some examples of things I have built doing this are, a translation app, a spam blocker, a profile finder and a useful contact merge tool, etc… all of these were created based on this procedure.

Another great way is to ask people around you, or better yet, observe them and find out what things they struggle with while doing their work, using the computer, etc… For example, years ago while at a customer’s site I saw how some people were doing data entry on their computers and getting the information from a piece of paper, after that they scanned the piece of paper and then named it manually… one page at a time, yikes! From this came the idea of creating an application that would allow people to scan all documents at once, then display the scanned pages on the screen along with the data entry fields right next to the image so they could then do the data entry and indexing needed, reducing the task to just a few steps, much quicker and the data entry more accurate. This eventually became a product for a company. Just look around you and think… how can I do this better, how can I reduce the number of steps and if you are brave enough go out and ask people these same questions and you’ll get plenty of ideas!

Designing your product

You have an idea, now what? it is really easy as software developers to just start writing code, this is both fun and common but if you start your application from scratch then it will take you more time, especially if you are using a new framework, etc… The assumption is that you are trying to build this in your spare time at 2 AM in the morning, so you need to plan and optimize for it. The advice here is not to write any code just yet, instead search for open source projects that are using the technology or framework you want to try, download it and build on top of it. It is not cheating, it is a great way to get started and building on top of an existing open source application or software sample will get you ahead and save you a lot of time. Remember, the goal is to build something fast and useful.

Forget about adding any features, focus on the one thing you are trying to solve and nothing else… do not worry about the look or adding extra functionality, first, make sure what you build achieves what you are going after and then you can iterate and add features and improve the look and feel of it.

Finding the time to do it

This is by far the main reason people will never do something they say they want to do. The lack of time according to most is the reason a new language is not learned, a book is not read, a class is not taken and an app is not built! Time is a very valuable thing that we all protect because none of us seem to have enough of it. Let me tell you this, that is bull-crap. the idea of not enough time is overrated, we use it as an excuse to not do the things we need to be doing or worse, to avoid learning or doing something new. Also, I am against working super long hours, it is not healthy and not even productive, instead try to prioritize your tasks, and eliminate or avoid your time-wasters. All of us have a bag full of those.

I used to watch TV every evening, but haven’t had cable for about 5 years now and do not miss it. Yes, I do watch some shows but when I do it is usually using Netflix or Hulu and is usually playing in the background as I am writing or coding. The time I used to spend in front of the TV I now use to write blog postsbuild software, and organize meetups. I know many of you might say you lack the time to do any of this but I disagree, there are way too many hours in the day, spending just 2 hours every day to write that mobile app you’ve been thinking about for a while is very feasible. Above I mentioned I usually write software late at night, that is when my kids are in bed and the house is quiet – it is the perfect time! I don’t spend more than a few hours but sometimes I will spend more time learning about email marketing, writing blog posts, finding useful things on Twitter, etc… it is my hobby and I don’t see any of that as a task, it is enjoyable for me. At the same time, I help around the house, wash dishes, take the kids to school, to swimming lessons, etc. There is enough time to spend with the family since luckily I don’t have to travel much, having a balanced life is not only possible but very real, it is all about spending time on the things that really matter and avoiding the things that are neither useful nor productive.

There is also plenty of time while at work… and I am not suggesting you work in your personal projects during work hours but at times such as lunch. Yep, I love going to lunch with my co-workers but that does not mean I have to do it every day. At least twice a week I spent my lunch time eating a sandwich or cheap sushi and coding away (my own app), writing a blog post, or doing some marketing for some of my projects using email and social networks.

Are you in a different situation where you still cannot find the time to do this? if the answer is Yes then chances are you are not really motivated to do it… excuses are easy to come up with, and I am sure the next time you are watching a TV show, a movie or a game you’ll remember this and think… I guess I do have time if I really wanted to. Do not get me wrong… I love watching some TV shows and movies… maybe too much, but still find the time to do what I like which is developing software apps, sites and writing blog posts like this.

Finally, if you are lucky and use public transportation for your work commute… then use that time to do this, and perhaps, even more, things such as finish reading that book, learning that new language, etc…

Do you have any tips or ideas to add to the above post? please share them with everyone in the comments.

Should I continue with my idea?

These days the word entrepreneur, founder, start-up, small business owner are very common and so it is the idea of starting a new business, especially in the tech and internet industries. Many of us dream of creating the next big thing, an awesome application used by millions of people, a service with public APIs that thousands of developers will use, etc… we are wannapreneurs! that is a term I stole from Patrick Foley’s Confessions of a Wannapreneur talk at the Business of Software conference last year, and from a blog post he wrote about it.

This post has the intention to show you some of the most common things that demotivate people about their ideas and dreams of becoming an entrepreneur and start a business. Hope it helps you as it has helped me while I was thinking and writing about it.

The idea generator

There are some of us who are always coming up with ideas, we cannot stop it, it is something that we have to deal with and it is part of who we are. Some of us might actually convince ourselves that one of our ideas is worth pursuing, and then off we go. One big problem is following up and actually end up executing an idea. While it is fun to think and talk to others about our ideas, the possibilities, coming up with domain names, starting to prototype a user interface, and start thinking about the architecture of the application, etc…, there is always something we need to do first, it is what I call the real work, you know, the stuff that we don’t want to do because we don’t know how or are not good at. This work is something that needs to happen to make an idea become a reality. For example, you can come up with a great idea for an app that will absolutely disrupt some existing technology or industry, before you change the world you need to make sure that what you are about to build is something that people will pay you for it… yes, and to do this you will need to get out and actually talk to normal human beings to tell them about your idea. Get feedback, make decisions, and then start. Register a domain name, work in a prototype, create a landing page, etc. The idea is to have something out there so you can continue with the feedback loop. Are you done? not even close, because if enough people get interested in your idea of a product, it means that after you build it you’ll have to sell it, do the accounting, do some marketing, handle payments, add features, etc… if you are a software developer like me, the thought about doing all these things is scary and is something that you are not looking forward to, I am certainly not looking forward to it. When time comes to do these tasks, remember that doing the tasks you don’t enjoy doing is super important and these tasks needs to get done, they are the means to an end, and without performing these tasks reaching your goal is not a reality.

The fear of competition

There are also some of us who will work and work not minding the boring work as long as it help us get a step closer to our goal. Then one day we realize that there are other people who are also working in the same or similar idea, or even worst (we think) an existing business offering the same type of application or service that we are working on. This usually causes many first-time entrepreneurs to doubt their ideas. In many cases, finding out that there are competitors might be enough for some people to stop working on their ideas or change it completely because their idea is not longer as unique or disruptive as they thought. I have felt like this before, it is hard not to, but feeling like this is foolish. When you want to start a company and there are already companies selling the same product or service that you want to sell, that just validates your idea and the market for it. Of course you’ll have a competitor or many, and that is OK, just make sure your company offers something that the competitors don’t, do a better job marketing your product and make sure what you offer adds value to your customers. Believe it or not, there is usually room for more players in almost any industry and market.

The day job

For many people, starting a company while having a day job is the only way to get started. Yeah many people will say that if you are really serious about being an entrepreneur that you should quit your day job and dedicate 100% of your time working in your startup, that is just crazy talk and usually comes from people who don’t have the need to have a full-time job while trying to become an entrepreneur. In the real world, when you have a family and a mortgage quitting your day job is not a wise idea and I strongly recommend against it. The good news is that you can still create a company, regardless of what naysayers tell you. For example, back in 1999 I was going to college, married, working full-time and we already had our first baby Jennifer, she was one year old. My wife was working for a big health insurance corporation and none of us were happy about the fact that our first child spent almost half a day under the care of someone else. We started a tax prep business, both my wife and I had some background in accounting and personal tax preparation having been preparing our own taxes every year for a while at the time. We asked our family and friends if they wanted us to prepare their income tax returns, a few of them agreed and so we started Sanchez Plus Services (it is now called TodoTax.com) and by 2001 we had a few dozen paying clients which was bringing enough money for my wife to stay home with our daughter. Today the tax prep business has become a life-style business, that is my wife’s home business and TodoTax has now over 500 paying customers all over the US, no office and no employees.

Having a day job while trying to launch a business gives you the option to take care of life expenses and support your business, people who do this usually work in their startup at night and weekends, and yes you can still have a balanced life that allows you to spend time with your family and friends, it is possible. The thinking that if you are not working on your idea 100% of the time is because you don’t believe in it, or at least not enough, is horse shit, each of us work with what we have and do as much as we can, do what works for you not what others tell you. Starting a company while having a day job is harder and it will take longer, yes, but it is not impossible and it is definitely the way to go when you don’t have the possibility to dedicate 100% of your time to your startup, if you need to keep your day job to pay the bills then keep it, and be very strict about spending as much time as you have left to your startup, without missing your life, make it happen. For example, I work on my startup at nights after my kids have gone to bed and dedicate some time during the weekends, usually very early in the morning and late at night. Do what works for you and remember that in then end, it is a personal choice, do what you think is best for you, follow your gut.

The naysayers

We all know them, they are in our family, our friends, co-workers, etc… these are the people who think you are nuts and can’t believe you are wasting your time trying to take a business off the ground. Usually these are the same people who are not ambitious, who don’t go the extra mile, and who work from 9-5 and are very happy about it. That is OK, do not try to convince them about your idea, just move on with it. The reason many people think of creating a business from scratch as a crazy and bad idea is because it terrifies them to just think about it, they cannot see themselves doing it and so they think is impossible for you to do it. Usually these people make very good employees, wannapreneurs do not, since we are not good at following directions, we question everything and are always trying to change things to find a better way, always.

Don’t get stuck with people’s feedback but do not ignore all of it either. If the feedback is just about your idea of creating a business you can ditch that. However, if people are actually giving you feedback about the idea, product or service that you are working on then ditch 90% of it and pay attention to about 10%, that is usually safe as most of the feedback is from naysayers who cannot see what you can. I am not implying to just go for it and create a product without doing some market research to find out if your product/service is something that people will actually pay you for it. Do your research, talk to everyone you can and make sure you get some people to say they will buy and not just like your product, Jason Cohen writes about this in a very direct non-bullshit way in this post, read it, it is good.

Continue with your idea, just working on it will help you learn more about yourself, it will push you to explore other ideas, and even meet people during your journey… the important thing here is that you keep the energy up surrounding yourself with people who will keep you motivated and always keep an open mind and be willing to change your vision, your idea and your goals. Good luck!

I am still working on my ideas (Webmica, StartupInterns), check them out and sign-up if you want to offer feedback and become part of the 10% that I pay attention to.

Most of my writing here is advice to myself and anyone who might need it, use it at your own risk. Cheers.