Sunday, September 04, 2005

Pulling the Rip Cord

Ever since I've been in the US (I'm a transplantee from the UK), I've bounced from contract position to contract position. Some have been challenging, some have been incredibly stressful, some have even started off being interesting. The problem was that after a not inconsiderable amount of time I started getting bored. Very bored. Bored to the point of looking at the clock every 10 minutes to check to see if it was anywhere near time to leave. To stave off the boredom I'd typically change contracts, by waiting until one reached a decent conclusion point and then move on. It was pretty easy to justify in my mind... "employer X sucked", "employer Y has put me on deadend project Z" and so on. But after a while the pattern was becoming increasingly obvious even to me. There wasnt really that much of a problem with any place I worked at (ok, with a few exceptions), the problem was me - I just wasn't motivated enough to get my butt into gear to solve someone elses problem. There was no personal "buy in", the projects were designed to meet some obscure functional/profit goal of the employer in question so I found myself sitting in endless meetings with the sentence "...and I should care ...why?" continually firing through my synaptic pathways. In my mind, such apathetic thoughts quickly lead to poor, or barely adequate levels of professionalism - so it was time to consider a better alternative - actually going ahead and working for myself, inspiring myself... oh and whining a lot less about life!

As I have stated, I want to write software. Software that is of interest to me, myself and I... Software that I'd like to sell to like minded individuals, that would be cool enough to inspire a passion to build and maintain, and hopefully inspire similar emotions in my customer base. So, to meet this objective I finally started to write my product last December. Its entering a beta phase now. Its called "LibraryScan", it runs under windows, and is designed to provide a catalog of all the geek acquistions I have, movies, games, books (especially books!) I have accumulated. It joins a number of other luminaries out there in the market, in that it can scan barcodes on the back of items using a "run of the mill" USB WebCam, and place it in a repository - along with nifty full color pictures. I wanted to build an app with a degree of cool appeal to me (and I hope others!), but something that *I* would use in my day to day life, not something to sell or manage stuff for other people (incidentally I need beta testers - please drop me a line at if you'd like to join a short public beta, and get a free copy at the end... and the undying gratitude of millions! :-).

Anyway, armed with this near-finished product I decided to pull the ripcord and establish myself as an independent. Before I go on, I should mention that I have the advantage of having a wonderful wife who actually has a decent career in her own right - so there was and is, at least some degree of financial and personal security in the background. However I felt that I should establish a revenue stream to keep some money coming in, while I make the final push to get my product ready for consumption. So I called up some previous contacts and decided to do some contract training and course development. In a previous life I had done (and enjoyed) some contract training, as well as having a long spell in academia in the UK - so it was something I could leverage to keep the income spigot at least dripping... So thats what my primary income source is going to be for the near future - build courseware, and doing training ( This has the advantage of keeping me at home, and gives me some time to work on my product - and to develop new product ideas. Basically to do the grunt work necessary to turn my company into a fully fledged micro-isv. I just have to be careful that the side work doesnt completely consume the free time I have marked out for myself!

So I went to my employer and told them of my plans. They were good about it, sorry to see me go and all that good stuff, but there was an interesting subtext of "you are completely insane for trying this!". One boss (who I actually like and respect a lot) went to the trouble of asking me to state my software ideas and then one at a time saying things like "that won't work", "that'll never sell" and so on. A little discouraging, but wonderful fuel for that terrible cliche where the successful entrepreneur triumphantly proclaims "...and they told me it could never be done!". Well, my objectives are a little more modest. Rich is good, but achieving an adequate income is really all I want, and really have the right to hope for at this point.

In preparation for making the final step, after securing my income has been to do a decent level of research, see what others have to say and what they have personally experienced. I have to admit I hate self-help books, and usually scoff when I see people on aircraft reading "How to get that corner office", or books of that ilk - if you need the book, if it doesnt come naturally, then you dont have a chance! Well thats arrogance, pure and simple on my part. I read Guy Kawasaki's "Art of the Start", and yes, it's is full of those annoying peppy phrases and buzzwords that you probably should repeat to yourself every morning when you leap out of bed. But its good. Its hilarious. Its inspiring, and definitely worth a look. I have also found that (linked on this page) is an awesome resource - and really was instrumental in convincing me to "have a go".

So I've quit my job, have a pretty reasonable income from building training resources (and thats pretty interesting in its own right - I get to learn lots of good stuff!) and am currently just about to push my first offering out to public beta. So its a reasonable time to pull the ripcord. I don't need a golden parachute to unfurl, just one enough to keep me afloat will do.


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