Surviving the startup Trough of Sorrow

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Looking down a long empty road in the middle of nowhere with double yellow lines. Leading to distant snow capped mountains.

Kiss goodbye to another year

This time last year I was announcing to the world how I was really pleased to kiss goodbye to 2017. 12 months on to the day and I am making the same announcement. Not because 2018 was bad. As it turns out, it was quite the opposite.

The back end of 2017 was not my finest moment. The family business which kept the roof over our heads was coming to its natural end of life and the startup had come to a grinding halt. Investors were interested enough to talk, but nothing more. I was holding onto the vision of a product that needed to be built. But I couldn't keep chasing a dream with no income and no money to pay for a team with the expertise needed to make it happen. It was my entrepreneurial end of the road, I'd run out of fuel and found myself located deep within that fabled trough of sorrow.

It's really hard to try and keep headspace when financial pressures are mounting. Those pressures become all consuming, and are a surefire killer of creativity. Yet creativity was exactly what was needed to find a way out. I needed to earn and a job was the answer, but not just any old job. It had to be one that counted, a developer position that would teach the missing technical skills needed to push the startup forward. But as 2017 drew to a close I'd lost count of the number of recruiters and interviewers who told me I couldn't cut it as a software engineer.

Just as well I don't give up that easy. Maybe it's down to my French background that stubbornness is built into my DNA. Because the first month of 2018 led me to Skills Matter and that one 'yes' that gave me that much needed title of 'Full Stack Developer'.

The past 12 months have not been easy stepping back into the workplace as an employee after a twenty two year break. I've been way out of my depth and the learning curve has been huge.

There was the prospect of the daily commute into London and I'm not sure you ever get used to playing sardines on the underground. It took some time to build up concentration stamina, many of those early meetings led to a state of what I can only describe as information overload followed by incredible of waves cognitive fatigue. But it didn't take too long to adapt to a new routine of daily standups and developer life, even as a non caffeine drinker.

So what did 2018 bring?

I've discovered that a tech team doesn't often have the solution immediately to hand. It's ok to get acquainted with Google and explore at the start of a new feature sprint. The crucial part is understanding the problem correctly in the first place. That only comes through engaging with the end users to understand their pain points and discover the hacks they use right now to work around those issues. This information is all-important in the design sessions that come before any code is written. Communication with stakeholders has to be a continual process to keep pushing valuable feedback into the development cycle. Skip understanding user needs and risk shipping a product nobody wants.

I've had the opportunity to dive into tech conferences and absorb information from across a multitude of tech related disciplines. My biggest take from those is that 'Done is better than perfect' I have Florina Muntenescu to thank for that at droidcon London. It's not something I find easy to accomplish, partly because of a fear of failure in how a piece of work will be perceived, and also what I can now acknowledge as an unsustainable desire to achieve perfection. But shipping early and often is the only way to keep that valuable user feedback flowing.

I've also been thrown into public speaking, which has proved to be a fantastic opportunity to network. It's daunting at first, and I'm still finding my speaking style but it has provided a platform to share ideas related to my startup work. It's brought connections and offers of support that I wouldn't have otherwise found, and sparked conversations that help to keep motivation high.

Embracing 2019

We hear all the time how founders have to be committed and working on their idea full time for it to work, but is that really the reality? I do wonder just how many founders do opt to work the side hustle instead, and why not?

That stubbornness stood me well and I've come to see that perseverance is a beautiful thing. At the start of last year I worried how the startup would suffer, and would someone else beat us to it? After all, this job detour has added 18 months to my startup journey time. I've kept a close eye throughout on the food tech scene and no-one has, yet. But given the current climate in the wake of 2018's tragic news around food allergens, I don't think it will be too long before someone else does pick this up.

Over Christmas I watched 'The Founder, the true story of how Ray Kroc met the McDonald brothers and created what we now know as the McDonald franchise multi-billion dollar empire. My ears pricked when Ray (Michael Keaton) talks of his 'overnight success thirty years in the making'.

I've since dug a little deeper into this. There's Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon, “All overnight successes take about 10 years”. Theres' more, Brian Chesky, CEO of Airb&b says “Our overnight success took 1,000 days”. I know full well that success does not happen on its own. It takes time, hard work, determination, grit, focus, learning, and plenty of sacrifice.

But this isn't just work, TreatOut is my passion and a personal challenge. It's thrilling, it's exciting. It's pushing boundaries and bringing about a shift in mindset, to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. There's no time to waste wallowing in self pity, nor on procrastinating over how things could be. I'm going to be back at my desk this morning fully committed to the day job and fired up to work the evening side hustle.

There's a growing fear of ingredients emanating from both the restaurant customers and the chefs themselves. That fear has heightened awareness and started to open doors. I am acutely aware that the timing is now, and I'm fully equipped with all the experience and learning the past twelve months has brought. 2018 has given me all the fuel I need to wheel spin right on out of that trough of sorrow. So hello 2019, I'm ready for you. Let's do this.