Last week I missed my two year anniversary

A strange thing happened last Thursday, December 6th. I missed my two year anniversary. My wife didn’t notice either. And now that I realize it… I feel great.

Yes, two years ago I quit my job at IBM to venture out to “become an entrepreneur”. I still remember how crazy (and crazy short) that first year was on my own. There was a tremendous amount of pressure, confusion, and insecurity. Despite all of that, my goal in that first year was to establish some sort of direction. I wanted to lay a path forward to prove that leaving my day job was not just a temporary experiment; it was a fundamental change in the way I would lead my life.

The fact that December 6th passed by this year without hardly a notice is a fantastic sign. It means that I was successful in my 2011 goal. I am no longer counting the days “without a real job”. Instead, what once seemed crazy is now my normal; I absolutely can’t imagine having spent 2012 doing anything else. My company, ArchiveSocial, has made tremendous progress over the course of this past year. I made my first hire and brought the product to the market, and we now have a significant number of customers who enthusiastically believe in our solution. There is, of course, a lot more that I can share about my business experiences this year, but I’ll leave that for another set of blog posts (and yes, I’m serious about keeping up with my blog this time!).

Beyond the business, 2012 was also significant in another major way. I am now the proud father of a two-month old boy. I can’t even begin to express how that feels. Yep, you can imagine that this was an especially crazy year with both a startup and a baby ūüôā¬†Again, since my goal is to post a lot more frequently to this blog, I’ll save the details for another time.

So yes, what happened last Thursday was significant. December 6th, 2012, was not a day that I spent reflecting on the past. Rather, it was a day in which I was intently focused on the present, and the future.

2011 on my own

Today is officially the one-year anniversary since I left my day job in order to start a company. Wow. What a year.

First off, I can confirm that working on a startup is like living in a time warp. This was easily the shortest year of my professional life. It is funny thinking back how much time I thought I was going to have without my day job “in the way”. Heck, I even thought I would have enough time to keep up with this blog (I’m still working on that!). It is a very strange feeling to know that you’ve worked so hard and been through so much, and yet have barely gotten started.

To that extent, it is worth acknowledging that starting a business from the ground up is truly hard. This is as expected but, having been through it for a year now, I must admit that it is a very different kind of “hard”. On one hand, you have to literally create something from nothing; you start with no concrete direction, no momentum, and virtually no resources. On the other hand, it is painfully obvious that the world is full of opportunity and it is up to you to make the most of it. The odds are completely stacked against you and yet there are infinite ways to try to cheat them.

So how did things go this past year? In short: as well as I could have hoped. I learned an incredible amount about myself, starting a business, and — believe it or not — even software development. There are so many blog posts I could write about what I learned this past year, so stay tuned! I spent a tremendous amount of time and effort on activities that seemed to go nowhere but I was also fortunate to have a few great opportunities come my way — including one that came very close to generating a substantial amount of income. That opportunity didn’t work out, but another did, and I think it will actually turn out for the better in the long term. In the end, I am happy because I achieved my most important goal for the year: I was able to find my direction and lay a significant amount of groundwork for a long-term, sustainable business.

Moving forward, I am building ExactByte (my company) into a social media technology company. Thus far, we’ve created products that make social media more accessible. I am also very interested in leveraging social data for business applications. Our first solution will enable businesses who deal with compliance and legal concerns to better embrace social media. We’ve built some amazing technology and have a really exciting market opportunity ahead of us. I can’t say much else about that for now, but if you are in the RTP area, please come out to the Launch Day event in Durham on January 12th to learn more.

So… one year. Wow, I still can’t believe it! People often ask me, “How long are you going to try starting your own business?” I usually respond nicely with a vague answer, but here is the honest truth: I’ve known from day one that this is not just some experiment to try to escape the real world for a little while. It is an opportunity to fundamentally change the way I spend the rest of my life. Things are off to a good start and for that I am very thankful.

One year down, and many more to go.

First few lessons learned as an entrepreneur

It is ¬†hard to believe that it has already been three weeks since I left my day job. Although I have yet to start on what I would consider to be my real startup, these past few weeks have been really busy. I’ve been working on an existing project, my email-to-Twitter service, and trying to figure out how to maximize revenue without continuing to spend a disproportionate amount of effort developing and maintaining the service (this is both fun and frustrating). ¬†Now that I am on “Christmas vacation” (mandated by the big boss), I thought I would take a moment to reflect on a few things I’ve learned during my first few weeks as a full-time entrepreneur:

It’s tempting to move too fast

My last day as a full-time employee was on a Monday and I immediately hit the ground running on Tuesday. Since then I’ve been trying to move at a break-neck speed. There is an enormous sense of urgency and I’m now able to move fast without other commitments or distractions in the way.¬†¬†Sounds great, right?

The problem is that it is really easy to get sucked into task after task and feeling like you can’t waste time by doing anything else. Should I ¬†take 30 minutes to catch up on RSS feeds and my Twitter stream? No way. Take a shower and eat lunch? Maybe later. Can I just stop and think? Ah, when I have more time.

Obviously, this is not the most effective mode of operation because there are valuable benefits (both direct and indirect) to those other activities. I have to keep reminding myself: Move forward as fast as you can but don’t lose your balance.

Time truly is money

Perhaps the biggest shift in perspective when moving from a salaried day job to self-employment is the realization that you make money based on how you spend your time. This may sound painfully obvious — and it is — but it’s not something that I fully appreciated ¬†as a salaried employee. After all, I had no way of measuring the impact of my contributions to the bottom line, and even if I did, it would not have affected my compensation in a meaningful way.

Now, everything ¬†I do involves an ROI calculation. This is both good and bad (see point about “moving too fast” above), but overall I think it makes sense to operate in this way. There’s no denying it: my income is a measure of how well I convert time into money.

Multi-tasking is necessary but inefficient

Our intuition tells us that being able to do multiple things at once will make us more efficient overall. The truth, though, is that most of us are *not* able to work through multiple things at the same time: there is just too much cost associated with task-switching. We are often more effective when we focus on one thing at a time and move through our tasks sequentially.

This is not necessarily a new realization for me but it is certainly a much bigger problem. As an employee of a large organization, I always had a lot of different responsibilities but they fell within the general scope of a software engineer. As a solo entrepreneur, on the other hand, I am responsible for everything: understanding the market and competition, keeping up with news and trends, prioritizing features, designing the look and feel, writing the documentation, composing and sending marketing emails, reaching out to potential business partners, acquiring press coverage, monitoring analytics, supporting existing customers, and — oh yes — developing the software itself.

Figuring out which activities to prioritize and when to work on each them is tough.  It is very tempting to continually switch between tasks to ensure that I am making progress on everything that is important, but ultimately this tends to slow me down. For now I am approaching this problem like a software engineer: Schedule tasks as meaningful but atomic activities (i.e. must be completed from start to finish) and execute them in sequence.

In many ways, the issues I’ve described above are not unique to self-employment; everyone has to deal with time management and task prioritization. How do you deal with your insanely busy day? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Call me crazy. I just quit my job.

More than six years ago, I graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in Computer Science and took a job at IBM. Today is my last day. So where am I going next? Good question…

When I was twelve years old, I came home from school one day and decided I wanted to create a video game. I found an application on our home computer called QBASIC and discovered that I could use it to program my game. After a few hours of looking at the built-in help file and scouring the list of commands, I had my first program. Over the next few years, I had an insatiable desire to create. I programmed everything from a 3D basketball shoot-out game to a utility that allowed you to copy large files using multiple floppy disks. I even created my own version of Microsoft Windows (minus the actual operating system) complete with a start menu, control panel, built-in screensavers, and the ability to install other applications.

At this point you should be picturing a little Indian boy with nerdy glasses and a fuzzy mustache. Yes – there was something that kept me glued to that computer. It wasn’t simply the satisfaction of being able to program; it was the opportunity to figure things out and turn ideas into reality. And somehow, over the years, I’ve lost touch with that.

Now don’t get me wrong: These past 6 years of working at IBM were extremely valuable. Working at a large company provided me with a tremendous amount of experience in terms of collaborating with a variety of teams and delivering complex software. I worked on a number of interesting projects and I am very proud of what I accomplished there. I also continue to have an enormous amount of respect and admiration for IBM as a company. That said, I always knew that I was not doing what I really wanted to be doing. I didn’t feel like I was exercising my full potential. And I constantly felt like I was waiting for something big to happen.

So back to the original question. Where am I going next? The answer is nowhere. I am going to start my own software company.

I can’t tell you exactly what my company is going to do because I don’t know yet. Like that 12-year-old kid, I just need to figure it out. Instead of geeky little games and utilities, though, I’m going to search for a real problem and solve it. Don’t expect the next Google or Facebook, or anything remotely close. I just want to create software that has a positive effect on peoples’ lives.

As you can imagine, the decision to leave my job was difficult. I must thank my wife, Varsha, for two reasons: 1) Being incredible in general, 2) Being incredibly supportive. The night before I announced my decision to leave IBM, I asked her if what I am doing is crazy. Her response:

“Yes, but it’s the crazy people who change the world.”

So here I am with the opportunity of a lifetime. To get back to what I love doing. To take control of my own destiny. And to change the world – even if only in some small and immeasurable way.

Wish me luck!