The slow approach
I vividly remember the moment I first thought “I’m going to start my own company.” It was 2009, I was in my university dorm room and I had just finished reading Paul Graham’s essay collection. I was neither a software developer nor did I have a great idea. Still, I was certain I would soon need Paul Graham’s sage advice. While I didn’t start my own company immediately after graduating, I was inspired to apply to startups and lucky enough to be hired by one.
The dream lived on. The earliest spreadsheet in my recorded history, aka my Google Drive, has this as one of my 2012 goals:
“Learn a framework to build a product”
I was working in product and sales during the day and at night I was learning to build apps. This was also the year I read Rob Walling’s Start Small, Stay Small and I began to write down business pain points.
Three years later, in 2015, I built my first landing page. It was for an API validation tool, one of the problems I noticed while working as a sales engineer. I wrote the copy, bought a domain, slapped on a sign-up mailing list, and.... didn’t market it at all. Yes, I had the technical chops and a real problem to solve, however, I didn’t have the courage to launch a company.
I needed help but didn’t know where to turn. Then, in May 2018, I had the good fortune to read a Hacker News post about Sidepact, a weekend program for employed engineers to start companies. Little did I know, less than a year later I would quit a great job to work on my new venture.
The quick takeoff
I wasn’t sure if I would be a good fit for Sidepact. I even mentioned this to Sharon and Kevin, the program founders, during the application interview. They smiled and reassured me Sidepact would be perfect for my background.
Once I was accepted into the program, the pieces began to fit together. Every Sunday (and usually weeknights and Saturdays) from August to November, I would meet with my Sidepact cohort and get to work! The cohort was composed of a group of 20 like-minded individuals working for coveted tech jobs but looking to do something different. We spent time on ideation, customer interviews, prototypes, and company pitches.
Most importantly, I marketed my first product. My initial idea for Sidepact was a mobile device rental company for developers- “Test your app on a different phone each month.” This was the first time I received feedback on a landing page and talked to potential customers and it was exciting!
Each Sunday, we also got to ask a slew of inspiring speakers every newbie entrepreneur question imaginable. The speakers were in all stages of a company life cycle: from first-time founders to serial entrepreneurs, from first-year bootstrappers to post-acquisition CEOs. These speakers spoke about their struggles and dispensed innumerable hints based on their first-hand learnings.
On top of all of this, I met with multiple venture capitalists I never would have had the chance to know prior to Sidepact and learned how they approach funding a company.
All of this work culminated in a Demo Day at Silicon Valley Bank in November 2018.
By December, I was ready to make the jump.
The view from above
With my background in mobile application development over the past five years, I knew the space and I knew the business problems. And now Sidepact gave me the confidence to launch my own company to build and sell tools to solve those problems. As one speaker reminded me, “Don’t worry, it’s your company, you are in control of your future.”
Leaving my employer wasn’t easy. Not only did I enjoy the day-to-day work as a mobile developer, I was rewarded well and I truly enjoyed working with my team. It is hard to say goodbye to a stable job and not know where the next rent check will come from. It would have been impossible to make the switch without the support of my loving wife, family, and friends.
My new startup analyzes app reviews and user feedback to help app companies understand and identify the root cause of user issues. Shameless plug: if you work at company with lots of app reviews and user feedback, get in touch at haystackreviews.com
After a ten year journey from reading Paul Graham’s essays in 2009 to starting my own company in 2019, it is exciting to finally make the jump. I look forward to the year ahead and writing down in my journal, “2020- Company still alive and doing great!”
Hopefully I’ve inspired you if you are an full-time engineer in the Bay Area looking to start your own company. Visit Sidepact.com to learn more and sign up.
If you have any questions about quitting your job or what it’s like to attend Sidepact, add a comment below and I’ll do my best to respond.