A little over a year ago today I had the pleasure of founding a company with two of the brightest in the business. It’s not the kind of opportunity that comes along often and I was remiss to watch it pass by. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was three short months from abandoning my full-time job.
It is interesting now to look back and reconsider my mindset during the founding days of the company. You worry about a lot of things when starting out on your own and, in my case, almost none of them were valid.
I would wager, at the beginning, most are focused on failure. The fact is, we should be worried about success.
The Fall Doesn’t Kill You.
I started off like most educated people: I spoke with my accountant. His advice was simple, if somewhat predictable. I needed to save money. Lots of money.
So there I was, chasing my dreams that were comfortably off in the distance. There were many that suggested I was “saving too much”; or that I just “needed to make the leap.” But I was determined not to fail.
As you’d expect, this conservative thinking transferred as I started the company. With the fear of failure engrained in my psyche I pursued any and all jobs available. I was concerned with filling a pipeline instead of sculpting my company’s story. Instead of planning for the reality (mobile business is booming) I was trying to solve an imaginary problem.
Failure is Easy.
Turns out that failure is easy to manage, when you get down to it. Sure, the stress and uncertainty are terrifying, but without work there isn’t much else to manage. There are few manpower issues without work to do, no accounting kinks to work out of a system with little money and few capital expenses beyond the idle hands you’re paying. A failing company is a ripe situation for innovation and great ideas because you have the most precious commodity available in abundance: time.
There is also little risk involved in strategic shifts, when there is little at the onset. And once you’ve completely failed, the business decisions make themselves. What other choice do you have, but to shut down shop and start looking for stable employment?
In contrast, a successful company has problems of varying colors. Success doesn’t happen steadily over a protracted period—rather, success attacks you like a rogue wave. One day you have one client, the next you have ten! Suddenly you need more time, more manpower and more infrastructure to handle the ten-fold increase in overhead costs associated with each project.
Or consider a company selling software. A featured app in the App store can create the same type of ten-fold increase in customers of your app. 10 times the support email, 10 times the feature requests. How do you account for the added time and material cost to support the incoming deluge of communication?
In hindsight, failure was the least of my concerns.
Plan for Success, Protect Yourself from Failure.
In less than a year, MartianCraft transformed from an experimental coalition to a full-fledged consulting service, with an extended staff and Fortune 50 clientele. We didn’t get there without trying; good work is often rewarded with more work. However, to sustain the success and keep our standards of quality high, it required a change of thinking.
I’ve returned my focus back to what drove me to start MartianCraft: building great software for our clients. Failure is no longer defined as financial ruin and a dismantled business, but the failure to deliver the highest quality product to our clients. Instead of planning against worst-case scenarios, I’m pooling resources and talent around a successful future where the company continues in stride. In short, by preparing for success, I prevent failure.
But don’t take this as a vindication for ambitious thinking. A business is wise to plan for it’s next Big Thing™, but it’s important to avoid over-indulgence during the successful years. Remember your accountant’s advice and plan for a rainy day… just don’t forget to take some risk.
Just as MartianCraft has transformed, so have I. A year ago I was plotting the grand adventures of an indie. Now I’m plotting the course for the next year and a successful business strategy for the next five years. As MartianCraft’s success continues, my influence and role for the company approaches a disgusting three-letter acronym for any indie: CEO.
Cry not for me. Being the CEO is a role that any indie carries regarding their business, it’s just not often celebrated. It’s necessity, however, is no less relevant for an indie business than it is for a multi-million dollar company. The fact is, one of the three founders of MartianCraft needed to step into the role. Someone needed to direct our efforts so we could ride the wave of success instead of being crushed under its weight.
Unlike a traditional CEO, the role I’m describing rises out of need, not out of title. What sets apart an indie CEO from other’s is the fluidity of their actions. I am to MartianCraft whatever is needed at the time. If a project needs hand-holding, I become a project manager. If a contract needs negotiating I become a business developer. And if a toilet becomes clogged, I’m there with a plunger.
On any given day, I will negotiate a contract price, work with a developer to determine a release schedule, mentor another developer on the basics of memory management then fire up Xcode to clean up a project that needs to go out the door.
In other words, I’m still an indie, just one whose focus is on developing a company not just developing code.
I guess that makes me an indie CEO.