Planting a flag in the sand

Over the last several weeks, an idea has crystallized in my mind—something I’ve known for a while, but just never put words to. Usually I keep these kind of things to myself but since it’s not something I can do by myself, this is an attempt to plant some seeds, solicit feedback, and hold myself accountable.

I have long known that I am not the stereotypical lone genius programmer (no matter how much I might delude myself into wishing that were the case). That’s not news. At best I see myself as a tenacious problem solver, a skill which up till now I’ve been able to employ gainfully in the art of coding. However, I am starting to wonder if being good with computers has become a crutch that’s preventing me from taking some bigger risks.

The fact is that I have these other hard-to-quantify, non-technical skills that I enjoy exercising. I know how to talk to both engineers and non-engineers (and translate between them). I actually enjoy meetings. I find that I frequently ask (what I think are) dumb, obvious questions (that no one else is asking, to my surprise), and watch them unlock a discussion. I like making order out of chaos, simplicity out of complexity. I love documenting standards and processes and systems in a way that makes it easier for the next person to absorb what I puzzled over. I like email and wikis and IRC. I really enjoy working with people. I get bored and distracted when I’m all by myself. I hate working from home. Collaboration tends to bring out the best in me—I’m amazed at what I’m able to accomplish when I’m working with others. I find it essential to know that someone depends on something I’m doing.

So here’s my idea, my realization: I want to start a company. But I can’t do it alone. No, more important than that: I don’t want to do it alone. My dream is to gather a small group of like-minded people with complementary skillsets and start a company together. I’m not looking for a big payday or expecting to change the world. I just want to work on something that makes me happy every day. I want to have control over quality. I want to have more freedom and flexibility over the types of things I work on. Heck, it could be something online or off. The “what” is almost immaterial, as long as I go home happy and look forward to working every day.

This, I think, is one of the first effects I’ve recognized to come out of the year I spent traveling. I’m no longer afraid of failure. In fact I find lately that I’m easily bored unless I’m taking a risk. Returning to San Francisco and buying a condo and assuming a mountain of debt was one exciting expression of that.

Ok, next…

10 Comments

Fortunately you have a fairly large wealth of talented folks to poll regarding this. Obviously this requires proper a discussion outside a blog comment format. Therefore, I think I may be speaking for many of your friends when I say- thanks for priming the pump. :)

Anton

Fantastic. Whatever you do, you’ll succeed!

Robert

Nicely said. I’ve long admired folks like you and people like the folks at 37signals.com for example, who are opinionated and are focused on making a great company to go to work to every day. (i.e. They’re concerned more about running a great company they love rather than creating a flash-in-the-pan start up focused solely on selling out.)

I too would love to create a business that’s not steeped in politics and egos or focused on just selling out or making a buck with cheap tricks. I’d love to be a part of something that makes people a little happier and fulfilled and does the same for everyone in the company. I envision creating a B-corporation: a business that can make a profit, but do it transparently and with a sense of social consciousness that exceeds typical corporations.

It’s not too much to ask. It just takes planting a seed and then lots of watering and weeding and harvesting.

I’m open.

Thanks for the feedback and your interest Robert. I had to look up B-corporation (or Benefit corporation) to make sure I knew what you were referring to. I’m kind of partial to how Matt Haughey described the virtues of a “lifestyle business“.

Robert

Thanks for the link to the interview of Matt Haughey, the “lifestyle business” approach is right on the money for me. I just want to create something useful and simple and apply my talents to running a nice low-drama business.

Also, I should’ve included a link to the main B-corporation site: http://www.bcorporation.net/.

Can’t wait to see where this leads you :) Besides Matt Haughey, I highly recommend following—if you aren’t already—Marco Arment (Instapaper) and Maciej Ceglowski (Pinboard).

Jackson, I can’t wait to either. Not expecting anything to happen over night. I see this as a long term project with many possible outcomes. Right now all I have is a flag.

And thanks for the links. I end up reading a fair bit of Maciej through other people’s links (in fact I just read his Don’t Be A Free User the other day…). Marco seems maybe a little too close to the Daring Fireball side of the blogging spectrum for my tastes. But maybe I’m wrong.

Plant that flag! Happy to chat about this in email/offline.

Webb

No computers/programming for a week!! That would bound to stimulate something up!

Bri/Dad

“I find it essential to know that someone depends on something I’m doing” I call this being ‘externally-driven’ (versus ‘internally-driven”). I feel that someone, like a scientist, who works long hours seeking some esoteric goal looking for something that they internally sense is useful is just not me. I need the external request and then I’ll work myself to death to achieve a result to the requestor. That’s why I take a running course or go to weight watchers – it helps me focus and accomplish more than if I were left alone.

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