The first month

I thought I'd write a bit about how the first month on my own has been for those of you that are curious.

The Routine

Oddly enough, it's taken some time to get used to a new routine. One of the things I like the most about working on my own is that I don't have to adhere to a 9-5 schedule, and can make the best use of my time as I see fit. However, I can't just work when I feel like it because some days I'd work an 18 hour day and others not at all (probably more often the former than the latter).

I've been experimenting with different schedules, and think I'm getting close. I'm trying to split my day so I can work some during the normal business hours and also in the evening since I'm very much a night person. But then of course adjust that appropriately so I get to spend quality time with my family.

I've touched on this a little before, but along the same lines it's interesting how much time I've spent doing things other than development or support — filling out insurance paperwork, filing for an LLC, getting legal contracts together, working on web design, learning about search engine optimization, and so on. I knew I'd spend a lot of time on this kind of stuff, but underestimated the time. I could probably spend the next week crossing off things on my todo list and not touch a single line of code. I'm constantly trying to find the right balance with this because it wouldn't be prudent to spend the whole week coding or the whole week not coding.

Morale

One of the tough things about working on your own is dealing with all the emotional highs and lows. I've experienced it before, and was somewhat prepared to go through that again, but that doesn't mean it's any easier. While I'm happier with my work situation than I have been in a long time, I frequently beat myself up with questions about whether or not the business will work, if I'm doing the right things, and so on. A little bit of this is healthy, but I might cross the line sometimes.

But again, I'm happier than I've been in a while. The highs have been higher than the lows have been low. I still feel energized, and at the end of the day think I'm on the right track. I'm really having a blast for the most part.

Recursive Function

The custom development work is going at a steady clip. Acquiring new business is slow, but that's to be expected just because the normal time cycle for the kind of work I do is almost always measured in months, not weeks.

I'm still somewhat struggling with finding the balance between custom development work and working on products like Formstack. Long term, my plan is to use the custom development to fund such products, and then as the business grows make it a smaller and smaller piece. In starting out, I focused a lot less on developing and marketing the custom work than on Formstack — it took me a while to even settle on a name, build a website, etc. I frequently ask myself if I'm under-marketing and setting myself up for a long dry spell, or over-marketing and setting myself to over-commit.

Formstack

It's still way too early to see how Formstack will do in the long term, but I'm pleased with how things have gone so far. I set the very modest goal for the first month to acquire one paid customer that I didn't know personally, and met that pretty quickly. Traffic is still holding steady since the buzz a couple weeks ago, and new accounts (not necessarily paid) are being created daily.

Other Thoughts

  • I definitely don't miss the I-69 to downtown commute, especially when there's snow on the ground. It might even make up for the drop in income all by itself.
  • I've rediscovered my love for barefoot coding. The mind is so much freer without the restrictions of socks and dress shoes. I think there needs to be a study about this.
  • I really feel like I learn something new every day, and that's a lot of fun.

[Updated references to Formstack to prevent confusion about the name change]

I am not a designer

I finally got some copy up on the Recursive Function site and redesigned the Formstack site as well to integrate the new logo. It's funny how four people in the last two days have asked me when I'm going to add copy to the RF site. You guys are so impatient. ;)

Actually, I'm glad people kept asking because it spurred me to do it. I know I said it was a high priority, but that didn't mean it was what I was most apt to jump on at the start of the day. I've been working on the design and copy off and on for the last couple weeks and need to just go with something. I need to live up to one of my mantras, "release early, release often."

I am not a designer, but I've always enjoyed tinkering with website design. I've always been in awe watching the designers I've worked with crank out really incredible designs with ease. Me, I typically start by trying to find gold at sites like OSWD, hacking at a great template until it's completely butchered, then starting again at the beginning with a new template.

I am also not a copy writer. Though I've enjoyed writing creative fiction since I was a young kid, in my eyes writing website copy is akin to writing a self-evaluation during review time.

Part of the frustration with me doing both of these tasks is that I feel strongly enough about what I don't like, but don't quite have what it takes to produce what it is that I do like. And to make matters worse, I think I know enough to maybe get 75-95% of the way there, but don't quite have the skill to add that expert touch. This is quite unlike programming for me where once I know what I want, the head to code process is painless, and usually pretty quick.

But even though both don't come easy to me, I enjoy the experience. That's part of the MicroISV fun — wearing all hats in a business, and learning in the process. If I didn't ever have to play designer, copy writer, marketing guy, lawyer, accountant and janitor then work would be pretty dull.

Of course, sometimes I have to concede and let someone else do the work that a) I'm not very skilled at and b) is critical to the success of the business. But there's been no shortage of people who have accurately pointed out that I'm a control freak and a tightwad, so it's sometimes a struggle to let go. :)

[Updated references to Formstack to prevent confusion about the name change]

Announcing Formstack

It's time to launch one of the projects I've been working on for the last few months — a web-based service at Formstack. The service provides you with the ability to easily create, host and process data collected from any kind of online form.

There are a lot of people still pushing paper forms around in the workplace. Even though most of them would tell you they'd rather process forms electronically, they find there aren't very many easy and inexpensive solutions to create online forms. What Formstack offers is a completely web-based interface for someone to quickly create and host forms without needing any knowledge of HTML or scripting.

While online forms are nothing new, webmasters typically setup online forms to receive submissions via email. That may work for "contact me" forms, but it's not a great way to manage the data if you want to collect information from hundreds or thousands of users. When you create and host a form at Formstack, all the submitted data can be stored in a database so you can search and view the information online, or download it at a later date to use in applications like Microsoft Excel or Access.

Take a tour of the application, read more about the other features, or sign up for a free account if you're interested. I'd love to hear feedback (positive or negative) from you if you give it a try. Feel free to post your thoughts on the blog, or email me directly.

[Updated references to Formstack to prevent confusion about the name change]

Leaping off a cliff head first

... and not knowing whether there's water at the bottom or large jagged rocks. And if there's water at the bottom, not knowing whether you'll find the elusive Jaguar Shark lurking below.

On Jan. 30th I sat down with my boss and handed him my letter of resignation. I was a manager in the IT department of the Indianapolis Star, a Gannett company, working with a great team of people and earning a respectable salary.

I had been given a lot of great opportunities there, and will always be grateful for that. Three years ago I was promoted and managed a team of people, 7 of 8 who were older than me, and 3 of the 8 who had worked at the Star longer than I'd been alive. I was the project manager or technical project manager for several 6-figure capital projects, learning a great deal about deploying and integrating enterprise systems. I was able to attend a 20-day management training program at Harvard, with speakers such as the CEO of Knight-Ridder and classes taught by Harvard Business School professors.

But even with opportunities like that, I still wasn't happy there. Sure, there were little things that I didn't like about the Star, but there wasn't anything major making me particular unhappy about the place either. I'd been doing a lot of soul searching over the last year trying to figure out where I wanted to be, and sign after sign kept pointing to one thing — it was time to leap off the cliff.

Before I came to the Star I was a partner in Bottled Software, a small software company in Indianpolis, and for about 4 years before that I had made most of my income from freelance software development. I went to the Star after Bottled closed because I wanted something more steady and wanted to experience working for a large company like Gannett. But I've never been able to shake the entrepreneurial bug, and I eventually realized a few months ago that I wasn't going to be happy in my career unless I was back working for myself full time.

So on Jan. 30th I took that leap, and yesterday, Feb. 24th, was my last day. I've been fortunate to have a couple freelance projects to start with, and have dusted off some product ideas, one of which I hope to have a beta launch of next week.

I'll let you know if I find my Jaguar Shark.

Do we really need more blogs out there?

If you would've asked me that question two months ago, I probably would have said no. But I'm swallowing my pride and jumping on the bandwagon even though I promise to never ever use this word in conversation.

So why did I change my mind? A few reasons:

  1. I'm writing a new chapter in my career life (more on that later), and see this as a way to chronicle my adventures. I've journaled in the past, but I think putting my thoughts together in a blog will only help me strengthen my thoughts and processes.
  2. I've seen the light — blogs are a great tool to keep in touch with people. Since I'm setting out on my own, I want to use this tool to keep in touch with former colleagues, and get in touch with potential partners and clients.
  3. I wouldn't be able to embark on this adventure if it weren't for the great resources out there for small business owners and software developers. The growing number of Micro-ISV blogs have invaluable in helping me point to all these resources. I want to contribute back to that community by sharing what's working for me and what's not.
  4. My brother has one. I love him like ahem a brother of course, but we're competitive that way. I've already ceded that he's the slightly more attractive brother (to some people at least), but I've always been the technology guy in the family, and I'll be remiss if he's going to have a blog and I'm not. :)