This is the final post of a five part series on how an IT professional can become an entrepreneur, based on my experience of doing just that. The previous post was about working out what to do once you become an entrepreneur.
You have built up your courage, gathered resources and have a plan for what to do once you quit. What's next? The actual quitting! Along with getting started on your new venture, which is what the final post in this series discusses.
Leaving your job
Once you feel confident enough, it's time to resign. The big thing everyone will want to know is, why are you resigning? To which the answer is - "I am leaving to pursue an opportunity". Followed by enthusiastically talking about it.
This is basic stuff, but worth saying: you are not leaving because your current workplace is boring, facist, slow, beauracratic, full of morons, or any other reason - even if it's true. The temptation might be strong to fire a parting shot, but you must resist.
There's an old maxim - you shouldn't burn bridges when switching jobs, and it's not without reason. You may need the contacts and references one day. You might even need contracting work from them. So remember this line: "I'm leaving to pursue an opportunity" - and stick to it.
Write a very short resignation letter, go and chat with your boss, and give them the bad news. Beware of them rolling out the red carpet on the way out. You should be prepared for your employer offering you incentives to stay, and you should have already rejected them in your head before talking to your boss.
You quit! Yay! Now it's time to put the structure in place for your new venture.
Education has been a recurring theme in this series, and now that you don't have to work every day, you can increase the speed of your learning.
You should already have some interesting people in your reading list, and now you can add more. Find those people on twitter and see what they're saying, as they'll often retweet stuff from other highly interesting people.
If you trust me, I made a twitter list of people I follow for entrepreneur education. Follow that list, or pick and choose from the people on it.
Note that while education is important, it's not your primary goal. I spend at maximum one hour a day on learning - after that, it's work time. You should put limits on the amount of time you spend learning as well, as it's far more important to be doing.
We incorporated our consultancy, Shoptime Software, just after I quit. As mentioned yesterday, it's not a hard process. One chat with our accountant, a few hours online and you'll be largely done.
Our accountant, after discussing with us the various options around company structure, simply pointed us at Xero and told us to have fun. Xero is great. I knew nothing about accounting before using Xero, and I've picked up what I needed to know just by clicking around .
We got a bank account, as you tend to need one. This involves hassling a bank until they give in and let you have one. The same goes for company credit cards, although even more hassling is needed. We have them now, but we got by without for a long time, and you can probably just ignore a credit card until you find yourself needing to pay for online services.
We spent some time and money on a website. In hindsight, that was a complete waste of resources - we should have spent that time on getting the business running instead. The website sits in storage for a day when we might need it (for example if our venture fails and we need money!) - but for now, it's totally unnecessary.
Having said that, I spent a little bit of time on this blog which has repaid itself in consulting income. In terms of return on investment, the time spent on my blog was much smarter than on Shoptime's website. We've made several mistakes like that since we begun, and you quite possibly will too. I only hope you don't make the same mistakes that we made :)
You need to do this. Networking is actually a special type of education for you. You'll meet a wide variety of people, both stupid and smart, relevant to you and irrelevant, helpful and unhelpful. You might find some consulting work, like we did. You'll bump into a journalist at some point. And maybe - just maybe - you'll find someone who is interested in your idea and offers to help in a way you haven't anticipated.
You can find out about networking events by having membership with an organisation that runs them. There are other ways, but networking events tend to be organised by someone, and there's no better source than the source, hur hur. In Wellington, one source is Unlimited Potential, another is Grow Wellington.
Another way to network is through user groups. There's quite an active Lean Startup group in Wellington, that I highly recommend. There's also a Hackers and Founders group that I haven't had the chance to visit yet. If you stick to the founder/entrepreneur type groups, you'll get the most value. While the PHP meetup group may have some interesting people, it's more likely to be populated with coders with day jobs.
Now it's time to really get started on your idea!
Traditionally, for an IT geek, this will mean non-stop hacking. Don't make this mistake.
If you're going to make a living out of this, or get insanely rich, you need to know whether your idea will support this. You should have already talked to some potential customers before quitting your job. Now it's time to talk to more. A lot more. Your aim is to validate your market - to prove there are enough people out there who will pay you more money than it costs you to find and support them.
You need to do this early on, because if you find out in three months of talking to people that your idea never would have worked, that's better than finding out in two years after you wrote a bunch of code and ate through all of your resources.
Having said that, you're a geek, so you'll feel compelled to code. This is just part of your nature, and I think it's ok. Just don't let the code drive your idea. There is zero point in implementing Facebook Connect on your site if nobody in your target market knows what Facebook Connect is, for example. Internationalisation? Forget it. The perfectly engineered system? No no no!
People who know me might struggle to parse that last bit. "No to the perfectly engineered system? But Nigel has such high standards! As do I!". However, the reason is simple - you do not want to spend months writing a perfect system that nobody uses.
Your first priority must be to validate your market. If that means that you hack together a shoddy system to see if anyone uses it, then so be it. Technical debt is something you can repay later (and hey, your last job probably gave you a bunch of experience in doing that anyway, right? :).)
Because your priority lies elsewhere, it's easy to justify writing crap code. Seize on this justification and use it. If you're really smart, you'll know when you can take insane shortcuts and when you should take your time and get something right.
For us, we decided that a good test framework was important. Not only is it the basis to continuous deployment - a technique you should pay a lot of attention to, by the way - but it also gives you the confidence to refactor things later when you need to.
If there's one thing you should take away from this series, it's that becoming an entrepreneur involves a lot of learning.
There's no magic involved, and anyone can do it. It just involves some soul-searching, decision making, planning and vision. If you're prepared to learn, and want to pursue an idea, you'll find the process exciting and stimulating.
Lastly: I hope I've mapped out one way of doing it, but it's not the only way for sure. We made a lot of mistakes along the way, and still have managed to do alright. You might have ideas about how you'll do things better - in fact I hope that you do!
Final-lastly: Good luck on your journey! Feel free to leave a comment or get in touch if you want - I'm happy to swap stories or answer any questions.
|||No, they didn't pay me to say that. The truth is, accounting is a hassle, and quite scary given that if you get it wrong, the IRD will come and take all your money and/or throw you in jail. Luckily, Xero integrates with your bank account, meaning it always knows things like exactly how you should fill out your GST return. This downgrades accounting from "dangerous hassle" to "minor hassle", and thus is defintely worth the $29/mo we are paying for it currently.|
Want to share this post? Tweet