2 weeks back I turned 30, which has put a few things into perspective especially as, once again, I am on a solo founder journey to build something great with SprintDock (website is minimal right now, more to come). With that, I have been reflecting on my 10+ years in the industry as a developer, employee, founder / co-founder, etc, and all the failures along the way in the hope my brutally candid and somewhat ridiculous tales can help someone on their journey avoid some of these same mistakes.
I want to preface that many of these mistakes made me who I am today - a mentally level and more chill individual, the polar opposite to who I was in my early and mid 20's. I now live a fantastic life thanks to the support of great people around me, like my wife Michelle. And because of all the lessons learned and where life eventually led me, I am not bitter, angry or resentful of any of the following... Except for Scott, he can go fuck himself in a volcano, but we will get to that...
When leaving school, with terrible grades, I was told by teachers and family alike that my options were to get a job or go to university. I didn't know what job I wanted to do, but I did know after releasing a semi-successful app, that eventually got me in trouble with Sony Entertainment's legal team, that I loved to code. However, all CS schools rejected me. So I applied to schools to study Film & TV Production, in the hopes that maybe there might be a cross over of technical skills... There wasn't and the course was terrible. 2 years later, I dropped out to pursue a full-time freelance career in iOS Development.
In those 2 years I was still able to spend time learning how to code and I made some great friends.
In my humble opinion, unless you want to be a Lawyer or a Dr., traditional school can be a waste of money. There are so many online resources, boot camps and self-paced courses that are less than half the cost, or just free. I learned everything about media, UI/UX design, business & full-stack development via YouTube, Googling and just doing.
Budg£t was an app that I started building in University, it was an app for budgeting (obviously), and at the time there was only 1 other budgeting app. Yes, I am showing my age here. After pressure to get an 'actual' job and ever-growing self-doubt (a common theme), I gave this up and it still gathers virtual dust on an old hard drive... somewhere.
I learned a lot of development skills and how to design and build UI / UX. Admittedly, it looks like 💩 now.
If you know what you are working on will work, that's all that matters. It may not work, but it also may work out great and change your life! At the end of the day you have to believe in yourself and know what you are doing is right for you. If you can't convince yourself what you're building is amazing, how are you going to convince anyone else?
While working as a freelancer, I built All Hours, an app that allowed you to discover local bars and restaurants quickly on the map. It also used scraping data to find menus, links to book tables, and social channels to ultimately aggregate all the data into an accessible and simplistic UI. Unlike Budg£t, All Hours launched and was featured by Apple the next week. It grew in the charts quickly and resulted in a huge amount of downloads. A huge win, right? Well, it was until 2 weeks later and I got the bill from Google API and I couldn't afford it. When I didn't pay the bill, of course, the API errored out and the app became nonfunctional. A week later it had fallen off the charts and I removed it from the AppStore. That, and what followed after, was one of the lowest points of my life.
Something I made could be seen and used by tens of thousands of people and I could be successful in this space, eventually. This helped me with my self-doubt. Plus, saying I had an app featured by Apple in an interview would usually land me the job. I worked with some great companies over the years because of that.
Be prepared for the unexpected, in this case, success, who fk'n knew?! And also, how to build for mobile. Sure, I knew how to code, but I now had the foundational knowledge to know how to build great product, something I have continued to master to this day.
After 3 years working for other people for various sized startups in London, I had the itch again to start working on something that was my own. But knowing that the solo-founder journey was a lonely one and knowing my strengths and weaknesses, I looked for a co-founder that I could build something with.
Scott and unnamed girl wanted to build a B2B app that could be used to connect people. We called it Lynker, and the deal was that I would build it and they would build up hype, get us VC funding, and everything else that start-up founders are supposed to do. However, my eagerness to build something made me overlook a lot of things. I started to form a friendship with them both and became quite close which only made that worse. Foolishly, I allowed myself to be easily manipulated. I later found out that Scott and unnamed girl were once dating, but not anymore and that became clear as they both started to resent each other over time. Unnamed girl never bad-mouthed Scott and remained professional. Scott however was the opposite and eventually bullied me into forcing her out.
Following her departure, things got drastically worse. I was not only now taking on all the app development, but the website, the design and even trying to market the app, amongst other things. I was working 14 hour days. After doing that for a while I started my asking myself, why? And more so, what was it exactly he brought to the table? I started to do my own due diligence and found all the meetings, all the documentation, and pretty much everything else was a fabricated lie. He had done nothing over 18 months, other than blow smoke up my ass. Shortly thereafter I left Lynker. He didn't take it well and tried to get me arrested for 'Stealing'.
Knowing that walking away sometimes is the best thing to do. I know that slightly contradicts what I wrote for Budg£t (above). But a business is like a romantic relationship, if it's continuously toxic you have to get out before it takes even more from you emotionally, even if it means giving up so much.
Don't trust anyone on their word alone, at least in business. Contracts, accountability, and transparency are your friends. Also, always do your homework on the business and founders before joining a startup, either as an employee or as a co-founder.
I joined [redacted] comany as their second employee and eventually became CTO, well, at least in name. This time the roles were mutually even in the business and the company bar a few poor management decisions was destined for great things, in fact, it still is! But the constant hustle / chaos was also very real to the point I would often work crazy hours with no help. I was frequently drowning and the more I raised issues about the business, lack of resources and how I was stretched so thin, the more I was ignored or seen as a problem. I eventually started to burnout and that lead me into a depression, which caused me to make a lot of mistakes and how I handled myself professionally. Eventually, I realised it was only gonna get worse, and once again, after 2 years of amazing work, I had to walk away.
I got to learn much-needed management skills as well as a whole bunch of other skills right outside of development. But most importantly that mental health is so very important.
Burnout will lead to anger. Anger leads to pain. Pain leads to suffering, amongst other things. I learned to recognise what burnout looks like (this is a great read, if you don't know the signs). Because if you don't and it happens, it can ruin you.
If you liked my sarcasm mixed with partial-wisdom, there is plenty more of it on Twitter