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Intro: Software Engineer, My Learnings from Failure

Mission1

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Introduction to regular members

I've been lurking here since 2017. Haven't posted anything yet because I'm not going to start a business right now. But I would like to contribute to the next Fastlane Summit.
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Background

First job


My first job was delivering newspapers via bicycle. In the beginning I think I earnt $7 per day, for a couple hours work. Yes, I'm old.
When I got older and left that job I was doing 2 big routes per day. I think I earned almost $20 per day. The newspapers had to be delivered by a certain time but the business owner gave me 2 routes, even though I was the last paperboy to come back to the shop. Why? I was reliable and always showed-up for work (rain, hail or shine at 6am) and the customer (home owner) loved me because I provided a better quality of service. How? My father taught me that I should try to get to know the customers, like knowing when they came outside to water the garden, or deliver the newspaper to their doorstep or at least somewhere they would see it. In retrospect, it probably sounds crazy, it took lots of extra time, but I received a lot of extra cash tips.
Over the years I saw changes in the business, like increased automation (machines to process the newspapers), improvements in logistics (bicycles to cars), and the health deterioration of the business owners.
That job sucked but in the years later I saw it as invaluable experience.

Positive lessons:
- The job kept me fit and I learnt many things.
- Be a good worker, be friendly to your customers, and offer "old fashioned" quality of service.
- I learnt that if the customer wants something done differently to the business owner then the customer will win. The business owner might grumble but if old ladies with walking canes are taking the trouble to come into the store to tell you how great one of your employees is, then you'd have to be an idiot to try to change that.

Negative lessons:
- Your boss can tell you to do your job in a specific way, even if it's bad for customer service.
- Owning a retail business didn't look like much fun. The owners (married couple) had to be there 7 days a week and were literally working until they had a heart attack. How could they find someone if they wanted the weekend off?
- There was a limit on how many papers I could deliver, therefore a limit on how much money I could make.

Conclusion:
This might be controversial but I believe that many young people are ready to work from a young age. Some millenials never even had a job until they graduate from college. It's no surprise they have poor discipline.
So I will make my children get a job. Make them try 3 different jobs, including officework and something physical. Kids should know what adults have to trade in order to get a flatscreen TV. Show them that a lot of jobs suck even more than school. Show them that some jobs can be better than they dream of. (contradictory) You want them to learn about life when they're young, not half-way through college when they're $50k in debt.
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First business

My first business I started when I was 14 years old. The goal was simply to earn money for an expensive hobby.
I needed to figure out how to make money, so I read some books on making money and realised that I needed to sell something. I had some previous experience making craft products which were custom clocks. I made unique-looking clocks by converting an everyday item into a clock. For example, the clock face would be a CD disc, a pot plant or a nice piece of wood. I took some product photos and registered a business name in the state where we lived. I tried to sell my clocks at various local markets.
It didn't run for long, I realised that demand from family members does not mean other people want to buy it.

Lessons:
- I don't enjoy selling stuff for the sake of selling stuff.

Conclusion:
- In retrospect, all the lessons here are covered in MJs book and many other books.
- I will make my children start a business, like a lemonade store, a lawn mowing or car wash business.
.

Second business

My next business began when I was 15 years old and it was born out of my interest in computers. Once again, the goal was to earn money to pay for my hobbies. I knew more about computers than everyone around me so I taught other people how to use their computer and also did repairs/upgrades.
I started learning about computers at school and taught myself programming. I hustled, saved money and purchased my first computer second-hand. I paid for this by saving money from my regular job, buying and selling used items for a mark-up, and begging or trading for old parts. My work in this business paid for anything I needed as a teenager. There was always lots of work. If I needed money then I took some jobs and charged whatever price I thought sounded reasonable. But this business was like a "piggy bank", not a real business. My accounting was a mess and I had no long-term plans.

Lessons:
- Turning an interest into a job can ruin that interest.
- I hate teaching people who can't learn.
"For the 10th time Grandma, this is how you check your email!"
- People don't always value an expert. In retrospect, my price-point and market choice was bad.

Conclusion:
In retrospect I learnt many many things from this venture but most of the learnings I didn't fully comprehend or absorb until I was older. Most of these learnings are covered in MJ's book.
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Third business

My next business focused on registering domain names and building websites. You might call this a "pivot" but it occurred somewhat by chance. There was huge demand for computer repair and computer education, but there was an even bigger demand for anything internet related.
Let me describe how it happened...

I paid for my first advertisement in a popular computer magazine to advertise my various computer and I.T. related services. But I chose the wrong magazine! The audience was computer enthusiasts, so none of them needed help to buy or repair a computer. However, people saw "www.********.com" on my ad and were like "Wtf!, he's on the internet, how can we do that".
Heaps of people called me (at my parents house!) wanting me to build websites for them and I was totally overwelmed. Also the owners of the magazine contacted me and wanted me to work for them. In the end I just partnered up with the magazine owner. I built out the web platform for their business (magazines, newspapers and trade shows) and they fed me web-based work. I built loads of brochure websites and shopping carts. I used hand-coded HTML, PHP and Perl. But I didn't think about how to turn that code into a software system.

I became a very busy, very well-paid young person. I no longer had time for after school activities or my hobbies anymore. I would go out and visit a new client, fix their computer, upgrade their internet connection and collect information for their website. Then I had to go home and build the website. Then there would be weeks of iterative changes to their shopping cart.
The demand for building websites went "parabolic". Things were moving so fast, and there was so much media coverage, that there was a feeling in the air that something really big was happening. I imagine this is what a real gold rush felt like.
I almost quit school but my parents were really strict. I was staying awake until late working on my computer. Then I would help the staff at school with computer problems or maintaing their website. My focus was solely on working. I went from an A+ student to doing the minimum just to graduate.
Unfortunately the business was limited by how much time I could spend at the computer. I was nothing but a self-employed, highly-paid employee. My mentor and the people I worked for were also self-employed business owners. They were all working hard with no exit plan in sight.
In the end, after 2.5 years, it became too much and I got "burnt out". I wanted to throw my computer at a wall and I didn't know why. My parents didn't understand anything. My mentor didn't understand that I was an over-worked kid going through puberty and gave up on me.

Lessons:
- Know who your market is. Go talk to people or knock on some doors before paying for expensive advertising. Most of these things about marketing you can learn on this forum.
- Just because someone is "in business", or even if they run a company, doesn't mean they are good at business or good at mentoring.
- In retrospect, I learnt the difference between me having a business (self employed) Vs. the guy who starts a company and has empoyees and trucks.

Conclusion:
I will teach my children the difference between a business and a company. What's the difference between a highly-paid lawyer and someone who employs other people.
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Fourth business

My next business ... wait, another business?! Yep I was burnt out, but the demand was huge, and it took 6 months for my new partner to convince me to get back to work. It took even longer for me to fully recover.

My next business, I was co-founder in an internet startup company. We did online advertising in some niche B2B markets. I was the tech guy and my partner was the business guy. We had learnt that building websites should be an add-on, not the primary product.
Our strategy was that because demand for internet advertising was so hot, we could simply capture some % of that demand. In retrospect it was a horrible plan because we didn't understand that the existing offering had a huge network effect that was (and still is) difficult to penetrate. Many other similar companies tried and failed also.

Our company was a small success from a financial perspective, due to how "frothy" the market was. We took on a lot of external funding so the remaining slice was not very big. And I didn't know much about business so my co-founder screwed me down to a tiny share. Therefore it wasn't a life-changing event for me like MJ's internet business was. But it allowed me to take it easy for a long time, do some travel and buy some nice things that I didn't need.
Later, like most dot-com companies from the 2001 boom period, the company imploded due to lack of revenue. I think I read about it while snowboarding somewhere.

Lessons:
- If you have confidence, connections and know how to talk to people, infinite success is possible. Some of the investors and CEOs I met were the most successful people I had ever met in my life.
- I learned lots and it was a crazy fun time.

Conclusion:
The argument of "It's a x-billion market, lets try to capture y-million" is not good. This is a common mistake and I forget which book explains this.
In retrospect, you want to get the product-market fit right before you scale or spend lots of money. People still make this mistake. A company should not be making "pivots".

Funny story:
One day we hired a new girl. We needed someone to help with some lead generation and she came highly recommended from one of our investors. She was fun to work with and easy on the eyes. I never got suspicious when that same investor would magically appear at lunch time and declare that there was some important work he needed help with in the other office. It was only much later after his wife started divorce proceedings did I put all the pieces together. The investor did have an office nearby but he had also purchased a loft apartment next door in which he setup this employee (his sugarbaby) :-D
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Fast forward to today ...
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Currently

I am focused on building specialized knowledge in a completely different industry.
I work as a software engineer. Yep, I'm trading time for money. I love my job. I don't think most people can say that, but there are some doctors/lawyers/engineers who truely love their work.
As an engineer or scientist, you get real satisfaction from solving problems and trying to make the world a better place.

Plan for the future

I'm going to start a company in the future.
Until recently I didn't truly understand the difference between a business, a startup or a great company. I didn't understand the difference between trying to make money Vs. providing value. When I stumbled across MJ's first book, what I learnt was like finding the missing piece to a puzzle. That's why I included my own story above, for context.

For me personally, "fastlane" is not about escaping from the "rat race" of a salaried job. It's about having the power and control to do the things that need to be done to make the world a better place. This takes reputation and money. The "fastlane" is the road I take to get to my final goal.

That's all for now. I've read lots of the popular threads and hopefully I will get a chance to meet some of you in the near future.

Feel free to ask me about:
- Stay in school or drop-out
- Go to college or not
- Engineering. Software*, mechanical or electronics.

*You can ask me about traditional software written in C, C++, python. I don't do online web-based stuff anymore.
 
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MJ DeMarco

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Bump, an incredible intro with some great reflections.

Needs to be seen (And read) by more.

Welcome aboard. (I might move this thread into a new category as it has some insight and might not be seen by many in the INTRO section.)
 
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markochoa

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I read this post. It had some good nuggets. He mentioned the Fastlane Summit. What is this?
 
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Mission1

Mission1

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@MJ DeMarco wrote:
"Welcome aboard. (I might move this thread into a new category as it has some insight and might not be seen by many in the INTRO section.)"

- Thanks for the kind feedback.
I saw that you improved the post title. Should I could cut-paste this into a different thread and then link back to here? Or is it okay?


@markochoa wrote:
"the Fastlane Summit. What is this?"

- Happy that you found some nuggets here.
The Fastlane Summit is an event (conference) where people give talks.
The most recent was held in 2018.
There's lots of threads about it in the "meetups" section:

Mark, do you have some personal experience or knowledge that you could share with other people in a 20 minute talk?


@JR
"... Which (programing language) do you find yourself using most often?"

I use "python" the most.

You inspired me to start a more general thread here:

.
 

MJ DeMarco

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I saw that you improved the post title. Should I could cut-paste this into a different thread and then link back to here? Or is it okay?
It's fine, I just moved it to a new category.
 

markochoa

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Mark, do you have some personal experience or knowledge that you could share with other people in a 20 minute talk?
Hi @Mission1, thanks for answering my question. I think we all have personal experience and knowledge in a 20 minute talk. Hopefully it will happen in 2020!
 

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