Almost one year ago I left my software development job at Amazon.com in order to pursue a more entrepreneurial life. If I were still at Amazon I’d currently be preparing for my annual review. This process involves comparing my achievements against my goals for the year, identifying things that I could do better, and setting goals for the upcoming year. This post is my annual review of my first year as an entrepreneur.
When I left Amazon, my plan was to spend about six months exploring potential business ideas, learning a bunch of new technologies that would be helpful for building web applications, and developing my personal network among Seattle’s startup community.
After the first six months, my hope was that I would have found one or more projects that seemed like viable startup candidates. If I hadn’t yet become fully engaged in my own startup at that point then I would also consider joining an existing startup or finding work as a consultant while continuing to experiment with my own ideas.
Shortly after leaving Amazon I was presented with an opportunity to help out at TeachStreet. They were looking for someone to tackle some of the development tasks on their backlog and I was looking for an introduction to Seattle’s startup scene. The time I spent there proved to be a really great transition for me and because they were really open about how everything worked I was able to gain valuable insight into the daily operation of a successful startup.
While working inside a large company I often felt that I lost sight of advancements in the outside world of software development. In order to regain this perspective, I wanted to begin attending conferences and events where I’d get a chance to meet developers with different backgrounds and hear about the challenges and opportunities that they encounter. In addition to getting to my first SXSW this year, I was also able to enjoy a couple of trips to SF and Boulder for conferences like TechCrunch Disrupt, GoGaRuCo, and Defrag.
I met developers from all over the world at these events and one thing that really became clear to me during these conversations is that software development is splitting in two directions: prototyping and building for scale. I’d had several opportunities to do the latter (everything at Amazon needs to be built for “web scale”) but until this year I really didn’t have much experience with the former.
In order to improve my prototyping skillset I also began regularly attending “rapid development” events (e.g. hackathons and Startup Weekends). I discovered that I really enjoy the process of delivering a working version of an idea during a compressed timeframe and I have a strong feeling that this ability will become increasingly important so one of my goals for the next year is to spend even more time honing these skills.
Hackathons are also significant to me because it was during a hackathon event that I built the first version of Kindlegraph. Although Kindlegraph began in much the same way as many of my other projects, for some reason I couldn’t simply put it aside. As my six month self-imposed deadline approached, it became increasingly obvious that there was something compelling about the Kindlegraph product as more and more authors continued to sign-up for the service and promote it to their readers.
I’ve now incorporated a business (To the Reader, Inc.) around the general idea of building software for e-books and e-readers and I’m actively working on Kindlegraph as the first product.
Areas for Improvement
Now that I’m running a new business, I basically need to learn everything there is to know about running a business. As an example, I haven’t yet found a great way to manage all of the things that I need to do and as a result I’m constantly shuffling my priority list (although I don’t know if that is always a bad thing).
Another thing that is really difficult for me is asking for help. It’s not that I’m too proud but rather that I don’t want to bother other people with (what will certainly appear to them as) trivial and inconsequential challenges. However, I recognize that in order to be successful I will not be able to do it by myself and so over the next year I’m going to make a dedicated effort to enlist the help of others.
I feel like I’m still just getting started on the entrepreneurial path but I’m pleased with what I’ve accomplished this year. I continue to be encouraged by all of the opportunity that I see around me and I’m really focused on making progress everyday.
The best way I can describe the transition from working for a large company to becoming an entrepreneur is that when I worked for someone else, I sometimes wished the days were shorter. As an entrepreneur, I always wish they were longer.