Starting Out: I want to tell you a story

I want to tell you a story. The story of Thom Bruce, entrepreneur. Of Thom Bruce, author of that book you’re reading, owner of that store you frequent, creator of that app you love. I want to tell that story, but it hasn’t yet unfolded. So I’m going to tell you it in real time. Welcome to page one. We’re just starting out.

One Broke Dev

For the past seven years, I’ve worked in web development. It isn’t something for which I’m formally educated, but the resources existed online to pick up the basic skills. Everything else I’ve learned has been on account of facing challenges headfirst along the way. And I’m good at it now, really good. Not as disciplined in computer science as some, but adept when it comes to creative problem-solving and knowledgeable in more web technologies than most.

I write Ruby, JavaScript, PHP, SQL and Cypher; I’ve worked with relational, document and graph based databases; and I’ve provisioned, configured and maintained more than a few server configurations along the way. I’m what’s known as a full stack software developer. I’ve built user interfaces, backend APIs, and apps for both desktop and mobile. It sound like a prolific and lucrative career, so far. It hasn’t been. There have been more than a few pitfalls along the way.

Like right now, I’m temporarily unemployed after the San Francisco based company I had been working with had a pretty lousy year of sales. They let go of more than 60% of their development staff, as well as other relatively new hires across the company. I had the misfortune of not being their most senior developer (a lot of us did), and so was made redundant last month. Since then, I’ve had a bunch of interviews, travelled a fair distance in doing so, and spoken to one too many recruiters, the last of which was describing a job to me for which I was already in the running thanks to another. And I haven’t landed anything yet.

This is unusual, since it really has only taken me a matter of days to secure every previous role. I guess my luck is running out. Or perhaps the relatively short time spent with my most recent company before redundancy is affecting my prospects. I don’t know exactly. But I remain optimistic.

The thing is, I know this circumstance can happen again. And I know it can happen again and again after that. It would take some incredibly poor luck, but one can’t exactly place faith in probability. It can happen, therefore it might. And, in fact, it is happening more and more. Companies are struggling against automation, employment of UK citizens is an uncertain bag until Brexit is resolved, and there are new EU regulations too which make Europe a less attractive prospect for certain businesses. Things are just a bit… confusing for the time being. It feels a lot like everybody is just standing around, waiting for the dust to settle. Well, I don’t have time for that.

Here’s what I want to tell you, so I’ll just come right out and say it: I am broke. I had a certain amount of runway after losing that job, but it’s disappeared fast. And I still don’t know exactly where my next pay is coming from. These are shitty circumstances. I’ve been here before, but I absolutely do not want to be here again.

Another thing I want to tell you: I have wanted to be independent - to be an entrepreneur - for a long time. I always just kind of thought… work for now, and when the time comes you can still do that. So, I did. I have worked with several companies over the years, all the while still managing to develop my own ambitious applications in my spare time. I was going to work with these companies, and work on my app, and when the time came I was going to launch and eventually turn that app into my business. That was the plan. I just didn’t realise until recently how little of a plan that was.

I had thought that when the app was ready, I would launch it and I would be able to work out just how to market it. I didn’t know how wrong I was until, after having some trouble finding my next gig recently, I started looking at side hustles and online opportunities to keep me ticking over. It was then I discovered how much effort goes into even just promoting a small side business. People really are devoted. And time and again in my research, it was stated that the best marketing strategy involved fostering long-term trust and relationships with a lengthy, ever-ongoing campaign.

It should have been obvious to me sooner. In fact, I have tried to launch two apps previously to little furore. One did a little better than the other, but neither took off in a way that would make them sustainable. Hence, I’ve always moved onto the next job and continued working on my own projects in my spare time. The one thing I didn’t do much of - because hey, the projects weren’t ready - was marketing. Little did I know that this is long after a marketing effort really should start. Little did I know that a market could be built independently of the product I was aiming to sell.

I’m sure this is painfully obvious to salespeople, but to me it comes as a revelation. I almost want to bellow it from the top of a mountain so that everybody knows, because I feel like everybody should. Everybody should be thinking in these terms to some extent.

So today, I don’t know exactly what the immediate future holds. Long-term I intend to be that creator, owner, author and entrepreneur I spoke about in the opening. And I know now that despite having put in a lot of hard work, I actually haven’t been doing all that much to help myself get there. The missing piece is actually knowing how to sell… myself, my confidence, my product. Whatever it may be.

Looking into opportunities for working online has opened my eyes to maybe the most crucial part of any business: relationships. In my next entry, I want to go over what those opportunities for making money online actually are. So stay tuned.