When I was registering for my first semester of high school I got to choose one elective. My typical tiger father insisted that it be Computer Science. When I asked what that was, he told me that all the people who studied it were getting free BMWs in California when they accepted jobs.
8 years later, I graduated from college with a Computer Science degree and started my full time job as a Program Manager at Microsoft. Sadly, no BMW was involved. I learned a lot of things about how to manage projects, how to practice user-centered design, and how to work with all kinds of people with all kinds of opinions. I also realized that my life plan had been to get to Microsoft and I hadn’t thought much beyond that. Did I actually want to be a lifer there? What could I work on that would make me feel like I had contributed something meaningful to the world? (Cue Avenue Q’s song about purpose)
I tried a few different teams within the company, and took a look at a few outside the company but I still had this nagging feeling that it wasn’t quite right. I wanted to be able to do more – design, project management, and coding. I wanted more influence and I wanted to be able to build the design that was right, not just the one that fit all the constraints. In the middle of a particularly grueling (but still awesome) project where the whole team worked nights and weekends for months, I really had to ask myself – “is this what I want to be spending all of my time doing?” I signed up for a Startup Weekend, hoping to meet some interesting people and learn a bit about startup culture. I ended up not only doing that, but also growing confidence that I could be an entrepreneur. For the first time, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I should be working on it full time.
Over the next few months, I worked on my own project after work and on weekends. My brain felt stretched and engaged again and I got back the excitement of actually building something- from a simple idea, to actually working code. Still, the idea of quitting seemed almost impossible. How could I manage with no income? What was the right time to go in to it fulltime? Should I wait for my next stock vest? Review? Bonus? For the next feature I own to ship? What if my idea failed or if I didn’t have what it took to get all the work done?
I talked to lots of people, read a lot of books and articles, and thought about what I wanted and soon it turned from an “if” to a “when” question. One weekend I flew down to San Francisco for Y Combinator’s Female Founders conference. I heard a lot of really inspiring women tell their stories, of how they struggled and how long and hard it felt, but how they had eventually, slowly, become successful. Over and over it was stressed that there is no perfect time to quit, and that the only reason you fail is if you give up or run out of money. I realized that my situation, with no family depending on me, money saved up, and a working idea was actually about as good as it gets for anyone. I wrote my formal resignation letter at the airport on the way home.
I spent the first three weeks or so post Microsoft coding almost every day, seeing my idea come to life. I took some time to travel, to spend time with friends I hadn’t seen much for the last 4 years, and catch up with ones I had neglected during the hard push of the last project at Microsoft I worked on. I felt productive. I reveled in the idea that the hardest part had been making the decision to quit and the rest would be easy because I was doing what I loved.
Once I got home from my trips and sat down to work again, and realized that there was not much work left to be done before opening up my project to real people and trying to get users, I started avoiding it at all costs. This is the part I don’t know how to do.
So, here goes my next adventure, where I will be accountable to you for pushing myself into what feels like the wildly uncomfortable unknown. I need to go from 0 users (1 if you count me) to at least thousands, learn about business, marketing, user acquisition and all the tricks and terminology that go with them. I need to do a ton of networking and research and getting to know my user base better. I need to figure out how to get funding, hire employees, and start making money. It all feels very overwhelming, especially after already having written so much code and having come so far from the original idea, but with a goal of building a product that people use and love, this is only the very beginning.