- Being an entrepreneur changed my life as an employee
Just now·6 min read
Back in 2014 I co-founded a startup. It failed like 90% of them tend to do but the experience of going through this changed my perspective forever.
At a high level, the idea was to create an app that would allow people to use their phone instead of the public transportation ticket. The business model was to get a share when people conveniently buy their tickets through the phone.
I live in Stockholm which has an excellent public transport system which is the preferred mode of transportation for the majority of people. The ticket in use at the time was an NFC card. My Android phone at the time had an NFC reader. I worked at an online payment company at the time. My co-funder had a PhD in logistics and had connections to fund the company.
You can see how the dots connect!
The thing we didn’t know at the time was that for NFC to fulfill our requirements, it needed the so-called “secure element”. After 3 months of prototyping we learned that we were too early to the market — a classic startup mistake.
Today Stockholm is using that exact app idea and I was an avid user of it until they made it even simpler: today you can use your contactless credit card to directly pay at the bus or train station!
Nonetheless this post is not about the actual failed idea. It’s about how being in charge of my income changed my perspective when I went back to being an employee.
In our 2-man startup, my official title was the CTO but in practice I developed the first prototype for product/market fit. However, in practice a big part of my time went to discussions about funding, customer acquisition and legislative matters.
For me, the technical aspects of the job was the most interesting part. Anything else was the chore I had to do at that stage. This experience helped me know my own interests and strengths better.
I was expecting my first child around this time. I caught myself stealing family time for the startup. I wasn’t OK with that. I hate to turn into a rich workaholic because as most people on their deathbed say that’s regretful.
For the 3 months I worked on my own startup, I didn’t get paid. As we failed to secure a funding, it became more evident that we should either go the VC route and become some rich person’s slaves or we have to live on a budget. It may sound crazy but my experience as an employee gave me more freedom. I could change company when I felt like it, no strings attached!
Being early to a market is a luxury. We could use this time to do a kick ass product and dominate the market. At least in theory we could, whether we had the power and money to execute is another issue.
Those 3 months however were a great chance to reflect on my core values about money, family and freedom.
Working as an employee will rarely make someone rich but I get to choose where I work and when to quit. Plus, there’s no point in sacrificing personal life for the job because I’m still going to get the same salary as if I worked “normal hours” at the end of the month. I didn’t want to miss my child’s development: her first step, her first word, going out to the park and playing without any worry about what the investors dictate to us or whether the stocks or market share is affected by this or that crisis that is out of our control.
I have respect for anyone who has a startup but I’ve accepted that it’s not for me.
You need to keep in mind the environment I’m operating in. I’m in Sweden where the more money you make, the more tax you pay. The healthcare, education system, mainstream media and unemployment benefits are paid by that tax whether you use it or not.
Had I been in the US where you are in charge of all of those and the rich enjoy a certain respect and freedom, my priorities may have been different.
So I decided to go back to being an employee but this time with more awareness and confidence about my priorities. My first job was to join a radiotherapy planning company. They made a Windows desktop app for doctors to plan the radiotherapy. Each copy sold for about a million USD.
They needed a piece of software which connected their cach caw to the actual radiotherapy machines, doctors and patients. This class of software is called Oncology Information System or IOS.
A small group of people including CTO have been working on this new initiative for 18 months and all they had war a login screen.
Anyway, they decided that they’ve reached a point when they need to hire a proper frontend developer. That’s when I came to the picture.
They wanted me to help implement the software that nobody knew how it looks like. There was no mockups. Just a Bootstrap login screen!
Coming out of entrepreneurship recently, I went straight into asking the important questions: What problems are you going to solve? How is it different from what’s already in the market? Who are the users? etc.
I didn’t ask a single question about the tech stack or setting deadlines. Fast forward to a few months after, I made the first hi-fi prototype and a year after we had our first beta rolled out in a hospital in the Netherlands.
Honestly I was personally surprised at my own performance and how it impacted the organization.
My next job was a technical product manager TPM. This followed with some more development which was followed by a tech lead and later a staff engineering position.
What I’m trying to say is that once you’re in charge of everything at a startup, it will give you a new perspective about how to be an employee.
So far I’ve had the chance to have an impact at telecom, fintech, medtech, robotic, media, online retail, streaming and a few other sectors. That startup experience marks a milestone in my career.
To distill the difference:
- I stopped working for others and start working for myself
I stopped working for money and start focusing on the business model and end user needs.
I stopped solving large problems individually and started taking the lead and motivating others to work together.
I stopped focusing on being rich and started focusing on being happy.
I stopped overworking and started working smartly.
I can’t claim to be 100% on all of the above but certainly this is the trend before and after.
- Date of publication:
- Fri, 01/14/2022 - 09:45
Click on the link - it will be copied to clipboard