Why I quit a $500K job at Amazon to work for myself
I quit my 8-year Amazon job last week. I wasn't motivated to do another year despite promotions, pay, recognition, and praise.
In AWS, I built developer tools. I could have worked in that field forever.
I became an Amazon developer. Within 3.5 years, I was promoted twice to senior engineer and would have been promoted to principal engineer if I stayed. The company said I had great potential.
Over time, I became a reputed expert and leader within the company. I was respected.
First year I made $75K, last year $511K. If I stayed another two years, I could have made $1M.
Despite Amazon's reputation, my work–life balance was good. I no longer needed to prove myself and could do everything in 40 hours a week. My team worked from home once a week, and I rarely opened my laptop nights or weekends.
My coworkers were great. I had three generous, empathetic managers. I’m very grateful to everyone I worked with.
Everything was going well and getting better. My motivation to go to work each morning was declining despite my career and income growth.
Another promotion, pay raise, or big project wouldn't have boosted my motivation. Motivation was also waning. It was my freedom.
My motivation was high in the beginning. I worked with someone on an internal tool with little scrutiny. I had more freedom to choose how and what to work on than in recent years. Me and another person improved it, talked to users, released updates, and tested it. Whatever we wanted, we did. We did our best and were mostly self-directed.
In recent years, things have changed. My department's most important project had many stakeholders and complex goals. What I could do depended on my ability to convince others it was the best way to achieve our goals.
Amazon was always someone else's terms. The terms started out simple (keep fixing it), but became more complex over time (maximize all goals; satisfy all stakeholders). Working in a large organization imposed restrictions on how to do the work, what to do, what goals to set, and what business to pursue. This situation forced me to do things I didn't want to do.
Finding New Motivation
What would I do forever? Not something I did until I reached a milestone (an exit), but something I'd do until I'm 80. What could I do for the next 45 years that would make me excited to wake up and pay my bills? Is that too unambitious? Nope. Because I'm motivated by two things.
One is an external carrot or stick. I'm not forced to file my taxes every April, but I do because I don't want to go to jail. Or I may not like something but do it anyway because I need to pay the bills or want a nice car. Extrinsic motivation
One is internal. When there's no carrot or stick, this motivates me. This fuels hobbies. I wanted a job that was intrinsically motivated.
Is this too low-key? Extrinsic motivation isn't sustainable. Getting promoted felt good for a week, then it was over. When I hit $100K, I admired my W2 for a few days, but then it wore off. Same thing happened at $200K, $300K, $400K, and $500K. Earning $1M or $10M wouldn't change anything. I feel the same about every material reward or possession. Getting them feels good at first, but quickly fades.
Things I've done since I was a kid, when no one forced me to, don't wear off. Coding, selling my creations, charting my own path, and being honest. Why not always use my strengths and motivation? I'm lucky to live in a time when I can work independently in my field without large investments. So that’s what I’m doing.
I'm going all-in on independence and will make a living from scratch. I won't do only what I like, but on my terms. My goal is to cover my family's expenses before my savings run out while doing something I enjoy. What more could I want from my work?
You can now follow me on Twitter as I continue to document my journey.
This post is a summary. Read full article here
More on Personal Growth
1 year ago
I gave up climbing the corporate ladder once I realized how deeply unhappy everyone at the top was.
Restructuring and layoffs cause career reevaluation. Your career can benefit.
Once you become institutionalized, the corporate ladder is all you know.
You're bubbled. Extremists term it the corporate Matrix. I'm not so severe because the business world brainwashed me, too.
This boosted my corporate career.
Until I hit bottom.
15 months later, I view my corporate life differently. You may wish to advance professionally. Read this before you do.
Your happiness in the workplace may be deceptive.
I've been fortunate to spend time with corporate aces.
Working for 2.5 years in banking social media gave me some of these experiences. Earlier in my career, I recorded interviews with business leaders.
These people have titles like Chief General Manager and Head Of. New titles brought life-changing salaries.
They seemed happy.
I’d pass them in the hallway and they’d smile or shake my hand. I dreamt of having their life.
The ominous pattern
Unfiltered talks with some of them revealed a different world.
They acted well. They were skilled at smiling and saying the correct things. All had the same dark pattern, though.
Something felt off.
I found my conversations with them were generally for their benefit. They hoped my online antics as a writer/coach would shed light on their dilemma.
They'd tell me they wanted more. When you're one position away from CEO, it's hard not to wonder if this next move will matter.
What really displeased corporate ladder chasers
Before ascending further, consider these.
As you rise in a company, your days get busier.
Many people and initiatives need supervision. Everyone expects you to know business details. Weak when you don't. A poor leader is fired during the next restructuring and left to pursue their corporate ambition.
Full calendars leave no time for reflection. You can't have a coffee with a friend or waste a day.
You’re always on call. It’s a roll call kinda life.
Unable to express oneself freely
My 8 years of LinkedIn writing helped me meet these leaders.
I didn't think they'd care. Mistake.
Corporate leaders envied me because they wanted to talk freely again without corporate comms or a PR firm directing them what to say.
They couldn't share their flaws or inspiring experiences.
They wanted to.
Every day they were muzzled eroded by their business dream.
Limited family time
Top leaders had families.
They've climbed the corporate ladder. Nothing excellent happens overnight.
Corporate dreamers rarely saw their families.
Late meetings, customer functions, expos, training, leadership days, team days, town halls, and product demos regularly occurred after work.
Or they had to travel interstate or internationally for work events. They used bags and motel showers.
Initially, they said business class flights and hotels were nice. They'd get bored. 5-star hotels become monotonous.
No hotel beats home.
One leader said he hadn't seen his daughter much. They used to Facetime, but now that he's been gone so long, she rarely wants to talk to him.
So they iPad-parented.
You're miserable without your family.
Held captive by other job titles
Going up the business ladder seems like a battle.
Leaders compete for business gains and corporate advancement.
I saw shocking filthy tricks. Leaders would lie to seem nice.
Captives included top officials.
A different section every week. If they ran technology, the Head of Sales would argue their CRM cost millions. Or an Operations chief would battle a product team over support requests.
After one conflict, another began.
Corporate echelons are antagonistic. Huge pay and bonuses guarantee bad behavior.
Overly centered on revenue
As you rise, revenue becomes more prevalent. Most days, you'd believe revenue was everything. Here’s the problem…
Numbers drain us.
Unless you're a closet math nerd, contemplating and talking about numbers drains your creativity.
Revenue will never substitute impact.
Incapable of taking risks
Corporate success requires taking fewer risks.
Risks can cause dismissal. Risks can interrupt business. Keep things moving so you may keep getting paid your enormous salary and bonus.
Restructuring or layoffs are inevitable. All corporate climbers experience it.
On this fateful day, a small few realize the game they’ve been trapped in and escape. Most return to play for a new company, but it takes time.
Addiction keeps them trapped. You know nothing else. The rest is strange.
You start to think “I’m getting old” or “it’s nearly retirement.” So you settle yet again for the trappings of the corporate ladder game to nowhere.
Should you climb the corporate ladder?
Let me end on a surprising note.
Young people should ascend the corporate ladder. It teaches you business skills and helps support your side gig and (potential) online business.
Don't get trapped, shackled, or muzzled.
Your ideas and creativity become stifled after too much gaming play.
Corporate success won't bring happiness.
Find fulfilling employment that matters. That's it.
1 year ago
Successful people have this one skill.
Without self-control, you'll waste time chasing dopamine fixes.
I found a powerful quote in Tony Robbins' Awaken The Giant Within:
“Most of the challenges that we have in our personal lives come from a short-term focus” — Tony Robbins
Most people are short-term oriented, but highly successful people are long-term oriented.
Successful people act in line with their long-term goals and values, while the rest are distracted by short-term pleasures and dopamine fixes.
Instant gratification wrecks lives
Instant pleasure is fleeting. Quickly fading effects leave you craving more stimulation.
Before you know it, you're in a cycle of quick fixes. This explains binging on food, social media, and Netflix.
These things cause a dopamine spike, which is entertaining. This dopamine spike crashes quickly, leaving you craving more stimulation.
It's fine to watch TV or play video games occasionally. Problems arise when brain impulses aren't controlled. You waste hours chasing dopamine fixes.
Instant gratification becomes problematic when it interferes with long-term goals, happiness, and life fulfillment.
Most rewarding things require delay
Life's greatest rewards require patience and delayed gratification. They must be earned through patience, consistency, and effort.
A fit, healthy body
A deep connection with your spouse
A thriving career/business
A healthy financial situation
These are some of life's most rewarding things, but they take work and patience. They all require the ability to delay gratification.
To have a healthy bank account, you must save (and invest) a large portion of your monthly income. This means no new tech or clothes.
If you want a fit, healthy body, you must eat better and exercise three times a week. So no fast food and Netflix.
It's a battle between what you want now and what you want most.
Successful people choose what they want most over what they want now. It's a major difference.
Instant vs. delayed gratification
Most people subconsciously prefer instant rewards over future rewards, even if the future rewards are more significant.
We humans aren't logical. Emotions and instincts drive us. So we act against our goals and values.
Fortunately, instant gratification bias can be overridden. This is a modern superpower. Effective methods include:
#1: Train your brain to handle overstimulation
Training your brain to function without constant stimulation is a powerful change. Boredom can lead to long-term rewards.
Unlike impulsive shopping, saving money is boring. Having lots of cash is amazing.
Compared to video games, deep work is boring. A successful online business is rewarding.
Reading books is boring compared to scrolling through funny videos on social media. Knowledge is invaluable.
You can't do these things if your brain is overstimulated. Your impulses will control you. To reduce overstimulation addiction, try:
Daily meditation (10 minutes is enough)
Daily study/work for 90 minutes (no distractions allowed)
First hour of the day without phone, social media, and Netflix
Nature walks, journaling, reading, sports, etc.
#2: Make Important Activities Less Intimidating
Instant gratification helps us cope with stress. Starting a book or business can be intimidating. Video games and social media offer a quick escape in such situations.
Make intimidating tasks less so. Break them down into small tasks. Start a new business/side-hustle by:
Get domain name
Write out a business plan
Approach first potential client
Instead of one big mountain, divide it into smaller sub-tasks. This makes a task easier and less intimidating.
#3: Plan ahead for important activities
Distractions will invade unplanned time. Your time is dictated by your impulses, which are usually Netflix, social media, fast food, and video games. It wants quick rewards and dopamine fixes.
Plan your days and be proactive with your time. Studies show that scheduling activities makes you 3x more likely to do them.
To achieve big goals, you must plan. Don't gamble.
Want to get fit? Schedule next week's workouts. Want a side-job? Schedule your work time.
1 year ago
Negative Effects of Working for a FAANG Company
Consider yourself lucky if your last FAANG interview was rejected.
FAANG—Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google
(I know its manga now, but watch me not care)
These big companies offer many benefits.
large salaries and benefits
high expectations for both you and your coworkers.
However, these jobs may have major drawbacks that only become apparent when you're thrown to the wolves, so it's up to you whether you see them as drawbacks or opportunities.
I know most college graduates start working at big tech companies because of their perceived coolness.
I've worked in these companies for years and can tell you what to expect if you get a job here.
Little fish in a vast ocean
The most obvious. Most billion/trillion-dollar companies employ thousands.
You may work on a small, unnoticed product part.
Directors and higher will sometimes make you redo projects they didn't communicate well without respecting your time, talent, or will to work on trivial stuff that doesn't move company needles.
Peers will only say, "Someone has to take out the trash," even though you know company resources are being wasted.
The power imbalance is frustrating.
What you can do about it
Know your WHY. Consider long-term priorities. Though riskier, I stayed in customer-facing teams because I loved building user-facing products.
This increased my impact. However, if you enjoy helping coworkers build products, you may be better suited for an internal team.
I told the Directors and Vice Presidents that their actions could waste Engineering time, even though it was unpopular. Some were receptive, some not.
I kept having tough conversations because they were good for me and the company.
However, some of my coworkers praised my candor but said they'd rather follow the boss.
An outdated piece of technology can take years to update.
Apple introduced Swift for iOS development in 2014. Most large tech companies adopted the new language after five years.
This is frustrating if you want to learn new skills and increase your market value.
Knowing that my lack of Swift practice could hurt me if I changed jobs made writing verbose Objective C painful.
What you can do about it
Work on the new technology in side projects; one engineer rewrote the Lyft app in Swift over the course of a weekend and promoted its adoption throughout the entire organization.
To integrate new technologies and determine how to combine legacy and modern code, suggest minor changes to the existing codebase.
Most managers spend their entire day in consecutive meetings.
After their last meeting, the last thing they want is another meeting to discuss your career goals.
Sometimes a manager has 15-20 reports, making it hard to communicate your impact.
Misunderstandings and stress can result.
Especially when the manager should focus on selfish parts of the team. Success won't concern them.
What you can do about it
Tell your manager that you are a self-starter and that you will pro-actively update them on your progress, especially if they aren't present at the meetings you regularly attend.
Keep being proactive and look for mentorship elsewhere if you believe your boss doesn't have enough time to work on your career goals.
Alternately, look for a team where the manager has more authority to assist you in making career decisions.
After a certain point, company loyalty can become quite harmful.
Because big tech companies create brand loyalty, too many colleagues stayed in unhealthy environments.
When you work for a well-known company and strangers compliment you, it's fun to tell your friends.
Work defines you. This can make you stay too long even though your career isn't progressing and you're unhappy.
Google may become your surname.
Workplaces are not families.
If you're unhappy, don't stay just because they gave you the paycheck to buy your first home and make you feel like you owe your life to them.
Many employees stayed too long. Though depressed and suicidal.
What you can do about it
Your life is not worth a company.
Do you want your job title and workplace to be listed on your gravestone? If not, leave if conditions deteriorate.
Recognize that change can be challenging. It's difficult to leave a job you've held for a number of years.
Ask those who have experienced this change how they handled it.
You still have a bright future if you were rejected from FAANG interviews.
Rejections only lead to amazing opportunities. If you're young and childless, work for a startup.
Companies may pay more than FAANGs. Do your research.
Ask recruiters and hiring managers tough questions about how the company and teams prioritize respectful working hours and boundaries for workers.
I know many 15-year-olds who have a lifelong dream of working at Google, and it saddens me that they're chasing a name on their resume instead of excellence.
This article is not meant to discourage you from working at these companies, but to share my experience about what HR/managers will never mention in interviews.
Read both sides before signing the big offer letter.
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1 year ago
Yuga Labs’ Otherdeeds NFT mint triggers backlash from community
Unhappy community members accuse Yuga Labs of fraud, manipulation, and favoritism over Otherdeeds NFT mint.
Following the Otherdeeds NFT mint, disgruntled community members took to Twitter to criticize Yuga Labs' handling of the event.
Otherdeeds NFTs were a huge hit with the community, selling out almost instantly. Due to high demand, the launch increased Ethereum gas fees from 2.6 ETH to 5 ETH.
But the event displeased many people. Several users speculated that the mint was “planned to fail” so the group could advertise launching its own blockchain, as the team mentioned a chain migration in one tweet.
Others like Mark Beylin tweeted that he had "sold out" on all Ape-related NFT investments after Yuga Labs "revealed their true colors." Beylin also advised others to assume Yuga Labs' owners are “bad actors.”
Some users who failed to complete transactions claim they lost ETH. However, Yuga Labs promised to refund lost gas fees.
CryptoFinally, a Twitter user, claimed Yuga Labs gave BAYC members better land than non-members. Others who wanted to participate paid for shittier land, while BAYCS got the only worthwhile land.
The Otherdeed NFT drop also increased Ethereum's burn rate. Glassnode and Data Always reported nearly 70,000 ETH burned on mint day.
1 year ago
From oil to attention.
Oil has been the most important commodity for a century. It's sparked wars. Pearl Harbor was a preemptive strike to guarantee Japanese access to Indonesian oil, and it made desert tribes rich. Oil's heyday is over. From oil to attention.
We talked about an information economy. In an age of abundant information, what's scarce? Attention. Scale of the world's largest enterprises, wealth of its richest people, and power of governments all stem from attention extraction, monetization, and custody.
Attention-grabbing isn't new. Humans have competed for attention and turned content into wealth since Aeschylus' Oresteia. The internal combustion engine, industrial revolutions in mechanization and plastics, and the emergence of a mobile Western lifestyle boosted oil. Digitization has put wells in pockets, on automobile dashboards, and on kitchen counters, drilling for attention.
The most valuable firms are attention-seeking enterprises, not oil companies. Big Tech dominates the top 4. Tech and media firms are the sheikhs and wildcatters who capture our attention. Blood will flow as the oil economy rises.
Attention to Detail
More than IT and media companies compete for attention. Podcasting is a high-growth, low-barrier-to-entry chance for newbies to gain attention and (for around 1%) make money. Conferences are good for capturing in-person attention. Salesforce paid $30 billion for Slack's dominance of workplace attention, while Spotify is transforming music listening attention into a media platform.
Conferences, newsletters, and even music streaming are artisan projects. Even 130,000-person Comic Con barely registers on the attention economy's Richter scale. Big players have hundreds of millions of monthly users.
Even titans can be disrupted in the attention economy. TikTok is fracking king Chesapeake Energy, a rule-breaking insurgent with revolutionary extraction technologies. Attention must be extracted, processed, and monetized. Innovators disrupt the attention economy value chain.
Attention pre-digital Entrepreneurs commercialized intriguing or amusing stuff like a newspaper or TV show through subscriptions and ads. Digital storage and distribution's limitless capacity drove the initial wave of innovation. Netflix became dominant by releasing old sitcoms and movies. More ad-free content gained attention. By 2016, Netflix was greater than cable TV. Linear scale, few network effects.
Social media introduced two breakthroughs. First, users produced and paid for content. Netflix's economics are dwarfed by TikTok and YouTube, where customers create the content drill rigs that the platforms monetize.
Next, social media businesses expanded content possibilities. Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit offer traditional content, but they transform user comments into more valuable (addictive) emotional content. By emotional resonance, I mean they satisfy a craving for acceptance or anger us. Attention and emotion are mined from comments/replies, piss-fights, and fast-brigaded craziness. Exxon has turned exhaust into heroin. Should we be so linked without a commensurate presence? You wouldn't say this in person. Anonymity allows fraudulent accounts and undesirable actors, which platforms accept to profit from more pollution.
A new entrepreneur emerged as ad-driven social media anger contaminated the water table. TikTok is remaking the attention economy. Short-form video platform relies on user-generated content, although delivery is narrower and less social.
Netflix grew on endless options. Choice requires cognitive effort. TikTok is the least demanding platform since TV. App video plays when opened. Every video can be skipped with a swipe. An algorithm watches how long you watch, what you finish, and whether you like or follow to create a unique streaming network. You can follow creators and respond, but the app is passive. TikTok's attention economy recombination makes it apex predator. The app has more users than Facebook and Instagram combined. Among teens, it's overtaking the passive king, TV.
Now we understand fossil fuel externalities. A carbon-based economy has harmed the world. Fracking brought large riches and rebalanced the oil economy, but at a cost: flammable water, earthquakes, and chemical leaks.
TikTok has various concerns associated with algorithmically generated content and platforms. A Wall Street Journal analysis discovered new accounts listed as belonging to 13- to 15-year-olds would swerve into rabbitholes of sex- and drug-related films in mere days. TikTok has a unique externality: Chinese Communist Party ties. Our last two presidents realized the relationship's perils. Concerned about platform's propaganda potential.
No evidence suggests the CCP manipulated information to harm American interests. A headjack implanted on America's youth, who spend more time on TikTok than any other network, connects them to a neural network that may be modified by the CCP. If the product and ownership can't be separated, the app should be banned. Putting restrictions near media increases problems. We should have a reciprocal approach with China regarding media firms. Ban TikTok
It was a conference theme. I anticipated Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner to say, "We're watching them." (That's CEO protocol.) TikTok should be outlawed in every democracy as an espionage tool. Rumored regulations could lead to a ban, and FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr pushes for app store prohibitions. Why not restrict Chinese propaganda? Some disagree: Several renowned tech writers argued my TikTok diatribe last week distracted us from privacy and data reform. The situation isn't zero-sum. I've warned about Facebook and other tech platforms for years. Chewing gum while walking is possible.
Is TikTok the attention-economy titans' final evolution? The attention economy acts like it. No original content. CNN+ was unplugged, Netflix is losing members and has lost 70% of its market cap, and households are canceling cable and streaming subscriptions in historic numbers. Snap Originals closed in August after YouTube Originals in January.
Everyone is outTik-ing the Tok. Netflix debuted Fast Laughs, Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, Snap Spotlight, Roku The Buzz, Pinterest Watch, and Twitter is developing a TikTok-like product. I think they should call it Vine. Just a thought.
Meta's internal documents show that users spend less time on Instagram Reels than TikTok. Reels engagement is dropping, possibly because a third of the videos were generated elsewhere (usually TikTok, complete with watermark). Meta has tried to downrank these videos, but they persist. Users reject product modifications. Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner posted a meme urging Meta to Make Instagram Instagram Again, resulting in 312,000 signatures. Mark won't hear the petition. Meta is the fastest follower in social (see Oculus and legless hellscape fever nightmares). Meta's stock is at a five-year low, giving those who opposed my demands to break it up a compelling argument.
TikTok's short-term dominance in attention extraction won't be stopped by anyone who doesn't hear Hail to the Chief every time they come in. Will TikTok still be a supermajor in five years? If not, YouTube will likely rule and protect Kings Landing.
56% of Americans regularly watch YouTube. Compared to Facebook and TikTok, 95% of teens use Instagram. YouTube users upload more than 500 hours of video per minute, a number that's likely higher today. Last year, the platform garnered $29 billion in advertising income, equivalent to Netflix's total.
Business and biology both value diversity. Oil can be found in the desert, under the sea, or in the Arctic. Each area requires a specific ability. Refiners turn crude into gas, lubricants, and aspirin. YouTube's variety is unmatched. One-second videos to 12-hour movies. Others are studio-produced. (My Bill Maher appearance was edited for YouTube.)
You can dispute in the comment section or just stream videos. YouTube is used for home improvement, makeup advice, music videos, product reviews, etc. You can load endless videos on a topic or creator, subscribe to your favorites, or let the suggestion algo take over. YouTube relies on user content, but it doesn't wait passively. Strategic partners advise 12,000 creators. According to a senior director, if a YouTube star doesn’t post once week, their manager is “likely to know why.”
YouTube's kevlar is its middle, especially for creators. Like TikTok, users can start with low-production vlogs and selfie videos. As your following expands, so does the scope of your production, bringing longer videos, broadcast-quality camera teams and performers, and increasing prices. MrBeast, a YouTuber, is an example. MrBeast made gaming videos and YouTube drama comments.
Donaldson's YouTube subscriber base rose. MrBeast invests earnings to develop impressive productions. His most popular video was a $3.5 million Squid Game reenactment (the cost of an episode of Mad Men). 300 million people watched. TikTok's attention-grabbing tech is too limiting for this type of material. Now, Donaldson is focusing on offline energy with a burger restaurant and cloud kitchen enterprise.
Steps to Take
Rapid wealth growth has externalities. There is no free lunch. OK, maybe caffeine. The externalities are opaque, and the parties best suited to handle them early are incentivized to construct weapons of mass distraction to postpone and obfuscate while achieving economic security for themselves and their families. The longer an externality runs unchecked, the more damage it causes and the more it costs to fix. Vanessa Pappas, TikTok's COO, didn't shine before congressional hearings. Her comms team over-consulted her and said ByteDance had no headquarters because it's scattered. Being full of garbage simply promotes further anger against the company and the awkward bond it's built between the CCP and a rising generation of American citizens.
This shouldn't distract us from the (still existent) harm American platforms pose to our privacy, teenagers' mental health, and civic dialogue. Leaders of American media outlets don't suffer from immorality but amorality, indifference, and dissonance. Money rain blurs eyesight.
Autocratic governments that undermine America's standing and way of life are immoral. The CCP has and will continue to use all its assets to harm U.S. interests domestically and abroad. TikTok should be spun to Western investors or treated the way China treats American platforms: kicked out.
1 year ago
Startups are difficult. Streamlining the procedure for creating the following unicorn.
New ventures are exciting. It's fun to imagine yourself rich, successful, and famous (if that's your thing). How you'll help others and make your family proud. This excitement can pull you forward for years, even when you intuitively realize that the path you're on may not lead to your desired success.
Know when to change course. Switching course can mean pivoting or changing direction.
In this not-so-short blog, I'll describe the journey of building your dream. And how the journey might look when you think you're building your dream, but fall short of that vision. Both can feel similar in the beginning, but there are subtle differences.
Let’s dive in.
How an exciting journey to a dead end looks and feels.
You want to help many people. You're business-minded, creative, and ambitious. You jump into entrepreneurship. You're excited, free, and in control.
I'll use tech as an example because that's what I know best, but this applies to any entrepreneurial endeavor.
So you start learning the basics of your field, say coding/software development. You read books, take courses, and may even join a bootcamp. You start practicing, and the journey begins. Once you reach a certain level of skill (which can take months, usually 12-24), you gain the confidence to speak with others in the field and find common ground. You might attract a co-founder this way with time. You and this person embark on a journey (Tip: the idea you start with is rarely the idea you end with).
Amateur mistake #1: You spend months building a product before speaking to customers.
Building something pulls you forward blindly. You make mistakes, avoid customers, and build with your co-founder or small team in the dark for months, usually 6-12 months.
You're excited when the product launches. We'll be billionaires! The market won't believe it. This excites you and the team. Launch.
Some people may sign up out of pity, only to never use the product or service again.
You and the team are confused, discouraged and in denial. They don't get what we've built yet. We need to market it better, we need to talk to more investors, someone will understand our vision.
This is a hopeless path, and your denial could last another 6 months. If you're lucky, while talking to consumers and investors (which you should have done from the start), someone who has been there before would pity you and give you an idea to pivot into that can create income.
Suppose you get this idea and pivot your business. Again, you've just pivoted into something limited by what you've already built. It may be a revenue-generating idea, but it's rarely new. Now you're playing catch-up, doing something others are doing but you can do better. (Tip #2: Don't be late.) Your chances of winning are slim, and you'll likely never catch up.
You're finally seeing revenue and feel successful. You can compete, but if you're not a first mover, you won't earn enough over time. You'll get by or work harder than ever to earn what a skilled trade could provide. You didn't go into business to stress out and make $100,000 or $200,000 a year. When you can make the same amount by becoming a great software developer, electrician, etc.
You become stuck. Either your firm continues this way for years until you realize there isn't enough growth to recruit a strong team and remove yourself from day-to-day operations due to competition. Or a catastrophic economic event forces you to admit that what you were building wasn't new and unique and wouldn't get you where you wanted to be.
This realization could take 6-10 years. No kidding.
The good news is, you’ve learned a lot along the way and this information can be used towards your next venture (if you have the energy).
Key Lesson: Don’t build something if you aren’t one of the first in the space building it just for the sake of building something.
Let's discuss what it's like to build something that can make your dream come true.
Case 2: Building something the market loves is difficult but rewarding.
It starts with a problem that hasn't been adequately solved for a long time but is now solvable due to technology. Or a new problem due to a change in how things are done.
Let's examine each example.
Example #1: Mass communication. The problem is now solvable due to some technological breakthrough.
Twitter — One of the first web 2 companies that became successful with the rise of smart mobile computing.
People can share their real-time activities via mobile device with friends, family, and strangers. Web 2 and smartphones made it easy and fun.
Example #2: A new problem has emerged due to some change in the way things are conducted.
Zoom- A web-conferencing company that reached massive success due to the movement towards “work from home”, remote/hybrid work forces.
Online web conferencing allows for face-to-face communication.
These two examples show how to build a unicorn-type company. It's a mix of solving the right problem at the right time, either through a technological breakthrough that opens up new opportunities or by fundamentally changing how people do things.
Let's find these opportunities.
Start by examining problems, such as how the world has changed and how we can help it adapt. It can also be both. Start team brainstorming. Research technologies, current world-trends, use common sense, and make a list. Then, choose the top 3 that you're most excited about and seem most workable based on your skillsets, values, and passion.
Once you have this list, create the simplest MVP you can and test it with customers. The prototype can be as simple as a picture or diagram of user flow and end-user value. No coding required. Market-test. Twitter's version 1 was simple. It was a web form that asked, "What are you doing?" Then publish it from your phone. A global status update, wherever you are. Currently, this company has a $50 billion market cap.
Here's their MVP screenshot.
Small things grow. Tiny. Simplify.
Remember Frequency and Value when brainstorming. Your product is high frequency (Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok) or high value (Airbnb for renting travel accommodations), or both (Gmail).
Once you've identified product ideas that meet the above criteria, they're simple, have a high frequency of use, or provide deep value. You then bring it to market in the simplest, most cost-effective way. You can sell a half-working prototype with imagination and sales skills. You need just enough of a prototype to convey your vision to a user or customer.
With this, you can approach real people. This will do one of three things: give you a green light to continue on your vision as is, show you that there is no opportunity and people won't use it, or point you in a direction that is a blend of what you've come up with and what the customer / user really wants, and you update the prototype and go back to the maze. Repeat until you have enough yeses and conviction to build an MVP.