What I learned from starting my (parttime) company
In July 2019 I started my own company, called EEKAY ONLINE
Now, almost 8 months in, I want to share my first lessons learned. I want to remember this time and share my findings with others.
After working as a developer, technical consultant, and tech lead at a startup — resulting in 15+ years of developer experience — the urge to create a company to build my own ideas kept growing year after year.
Last July (1st of July 2019) this finally resulted in me walking into the Dutch version of the Chambers Of Commerce and registering EEKAY ONLINE.
I wanted to finally start spending time turning my ideas into products and apps that provide value for others and income for me to become more independent.
I started EEKAY ONLINE simultaneously with cutting back working as an employee for 27 hours. Three days a week, nine hours a day I work for a nice firm nearby home (20 mins drive) and the other days I work at home, combining this with caring for my kids (two seven-year-old twins and a 15 months old little lady).
Because cutting back on hours working for a salary also means getting less income, I’ve defined two objectives for EEKAY ONLINE:
I want to make viable projects that gain enough income to support working on them
as long as 1 is not providing sufficient income, make an income doing remote work (coding, consultancy, advisory tasks, ..)
Since I’ve learned it can take weeks (and months) before you have a product idea validated and its MVP in production with paying customers, I wanted to start out with something simple, like using my knowledge.
I started with consultancy, as it’s the most obvious thing to do when you’re an experienced software engineer: build for others or help them to build.
Via LinkedIn, I got my first consultancy gig from a Dutch app company that was interested in my objective advice for their Xamarin-based Mobile app development project.
After I started with an on-location presentation, we had a couple of remote knowledge sessions in which pain points and potential next steps were discussed.
This was an interesting and cool experience. They got value from the outcome of our sessions and I could earn my first money for EEKAY ONLINE.
During that same period, I had started to apply to online remote gigs.
My first online dollars came from working on smaller requests on several international remote development job platforms (like Codementor.io), and some Dutch variants.
Using this as a variable stream of income, I could (and still can) provide enough cash to supplement the cutback in hours I mentioned before.
Let’s get into some of the most interesting lessons that I’ve learned. Although I am a software engineer, I tried to pick those lessons that apply to every online maker, regardless of their specific background.
At first, you can’t afford to be picky about your work. If you want to gain income, you need to be flexible.
I was fortunate to start out with an awesome advisory gig for a cool company.
But I also did jobs I couldn’t imagine me doing before;
I consulted a horse-farming on editing their promotional videos in Final Cut Pro X (thanks to my experience with vlogging, I was more advanced and could help them out)
Via a remote session, I helped to debug mobile apps and web apps for others
I helped out someone who implemented an idea in Microsoft PowerApps to improve and expand his app
Do you know what was the best thing besides gaining the necessary income from these gigs?
I learned a tonne from them, my self!
From updating my knowledge about the Ionic platform to increased experience on C#, and learning how the PowerApps platform works has made my experience much richer.
Not to mention meeting a lot of professionals and people that are just starting out and helping them out, which feels rewarding on its own.
One thing I noticed though, was how fragile your income can become if you depend on one source too much.
There was a period at the end of 2019 where I was focussing on remote jobs via Codementor solely. But before the holidays, there weren’t a lot of jobs being posted that matched my skill set.
Since writing — specifically, blogging — is a passion of mine, I started to improve one of my blogs (www.eekay.nl), and became a Medium Partner & starting intensifying my writing.
Also, I increased helping people by answering more on websites like StackOverflow, Quora, developer forums, LinkedIn, etc.
I truly believe that by helping out others, you increase the value of your network, online presence, jeez even your karma gets an upgrade.
This helps to validate what you’re about and lets others learn about your mindset and skillset.
I’ve just started to make about $10 per month on these actions, but I learned in the past months, that consistent work and increasing your effort really work. Writing quality content and helping out others results in gaining more readers, and visitors.
I’ve talked about my company — even before I registered it — to everyone. Friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues, social-media connections, everyone got my story and promised to keep an ear and eye open for me.
But nothing came from that. At least, not initially.
Don’t take me wrong: I’m not blaming anyone here.
Its just reality:
I found out in the beginning that profiling yourself online via writing, helping out people online, and actively scouting for work are the best lead generators out there.
After finding out about the right online places like suiting LinkedIn- and Facebook groups, and the right remote job markets, I got my act together.
It’s not difficult but it does take commitment & dedication to go from potential leads to people willing to spend money on you.
This doesn’t mean that networks IRL aren’t valid. Not at all.
For me, I just found out that real-life interaction is nice, but it takes way more effort to find “the right people” over searching online.
The effort-results ratio is more fortunate when it comes to software engineering and consultancy networking online.
Especially with remote work, trust is everything.
And I mean trust coming to both sides.
I was worried that working for hours I could be scammed because people wouldn’t pay up.
The best way to handle this is to take advantage of online platforms (like Codementor) that provide payment assurance features like getting your money via an escrow company.
That way, your money will be paid upfront by your customer, and the escrow company holds on to it until you’re ready with your work.
When you’re done, the customer can approve and the money will be wired.
If there’s a dispute, the escrow company will check to find out who is right and if you met the requirements of the customer.
After my first go, I fell in love with this concept and it helped me to gain trust with a couple of recurring customers. Platform fees might be as high as 25% on some remote platforms, but at least you will be safe of the remainder of the income.
Once trust is built, you can always discuss alternative payment methods that don’t involve large service fees.
I once heard an old employer state to me:
And he was right.
There is something about working on something that you’ve created and breathed life into.
For me, the freedom in being able when I am going to work and how long really puts a smile on my face.
But it is also the diversity that comes with the territory of running your own company that grows you as a person.
You have to go beyond that single job subscription within a company and actually think about sales, strategy, opportunities, networking, time and cost to build and run your product or services in production, quality assurance, support, etc, etc..
I’ve read quite some interesting books the last years, af few of which I recommend to every maker, developer, and online entrepreneur to read in 2020. One of them was Paul Jarvis’ book called “Company of One” (you can find the audiobook here).
As the book states, a Company Of One is created to be small and self-managed. That means that you as a person can manage yourself and all the facets that come with your services and/or the products that you create.
Imagine how efficiënt a company would be if all your employees are self-managing and capable of looking both at their own job and fully comprehend the actions needed to fulfill that company’s strategy?
Gaining insights from entrepreneurial endeavors helps to get the right mindset that, in its turn, enables the shortest route possible towards viable products and services
I’ve learned a lot and gotten to the point where my mindset proves helpful in understanding where customers are coming from and how I — as the employee in a firm — can provide added value and solutions that help the firm and its customers.
Right now, I’m working on remote freelance projects to keep my income steady and use a fixed amount of time to work out an idea for my own product.
Besides that, I’m working at a nice firm for 3 days a week.
It’s a nice mix that offers many opportunities and learning possibilities. I can provide value to others.
And most important of all, it makes me happy and lets me provide for my family while working on things that I love.
Take care and never stop pursuing your goals! 🔥💪🏻