That’s how long I can last with my savings when I quit my job. I suppose some succeeded with less than this.
Today, one year and three months later, I only have enough savings to last three more months… and still no success in sight.
I have made a lot of mistakes along the way and a lot was learned, but I can’t go back in time.
What I can do, however, is share my story so that others can maybe avoid repeating my own mistakes.
Takeaway from this story
- What happens if you start working without unavoidable deadlines?
If you see words in this color, you can mouse over them for more details.
The first thing I decide to do when I leave CDProjekt is to take some holidays.
As I have two years ahead of me, I figure I can take a month to prepare, rest a bit and get used to my new lifestyle.
I believe that these companies can afford to make such unique games because they have other sources of income. What I am aiming for is to make money so that I can make games, not the other way around.
I also know that failure is almost unavoidable, so I make peace with it: I will start as many projects as possible during my first year as an entrepreneur. Most will fail but the most important is the lessons I will take from them.
By the time I start my second year, I will have gathered enough experience to actually launch a successful project.
A quite sensible plan. Now that I have more experience, I know for a fact that this would have worked…
If only I had not spent a whole year on my very first project.
While I was still working at CDProjekt, I started to work on a small side project. I was exploring web development and was impressed by how easy it is to have something online and working.
Compared to developing a game, building a website is amazingly fast. It obviously depends on the complexity of the page, but you can basically have an idea in the morning and have it online and available to everyone by the end of the day.
I start to work on this side project for a few reasons:
- I want to try something a bit different from games.
- I am thinking that if it goes well, I might make some money on the side.
- I can hardly rest if I don’t try it out.
I get the idea for my project from the Unreal game engine.
This tool has an amazing filtering feature that lets you access thousands of functionalities with one click.
If you have a vague idea of what you want to do, you can start typing and the tool updates in real time so that you only see options related to what you are trying to do. It’s so damn convenient that I want this to exist for everything.
As a designer, I have to deal with a lot of documentation, so I naturally begin to think about how to apply this to writing.
I want to build a tool that would remove the need to read through tons of pages to access just the info I need: as I start typing, the tool would show me all the pieces of documentation that are related to what I am writing.
I grow more and more fond of the idea and decide to test it out with a note-taking web application that I call Notecompanion.
I would work on Notecompanion, after work hours, for about a year and a half before starting my business.
In December 2016, I am all by myself just after quitting my job.
Nobody to point me in the right direction, no tasks assigned, no clear path to tomorrow.
I do have a simple plan in mind, though.
First, I will finish Notecompanion. The project is quite advanced so it should take about two months, until February. After this, I will think about another six months project to get on with. This should give me the experience of two separate projects by the end of 2017.
Nothing short of a perfect plan there, so I am getting to work.
My days go by quite simply. I wake up at 9.am, go about my business until 10.am, then sit down at the computer to develop for the rest of the day. For months, there is not really much more to it.
Having the opportunity to spend whole days on your own project and at your own pace is just amazing.
I remember the first time I decided to hit the gym in the middle of the day. It was about 2 pm, and here I was taking a break from my work to go around town, in the middle of the week.
The thought is still ringing clear in my mind: “This is what life should be like for everyone”.
Mistake #1: No deadlines
Notecompanion didn’t take 2 months to finish. It took a whole year.
Working without deadlines is a slow and silent death.
I am talking about unavoidable deadlines. Things you cannot walk away from.
If I knew, one month in, that it would take me 11 more months to go through the project, I would have changed the scope immediately and found a way to put it out there faster.
But it just doesn’t work this way.
Without deadlines, you are dealing with a much more dangerous, imperceptible threat: the never-ending last week.
For a year, I am constantly “2 weeks away from release”. I remember having conversations with friends, where I would say “I just have a couple more bugs to fix and one feature to finish. I think I will be done by the end of this week”.
What happens after such a conversation is that I go back home and sit at the computer to fix these bugs, add this “one feature”.
The week goes by, the bugs are fixed and the feature is added. The new functionality does come with its own set of bugs, so I just need one more week to fix those.
As I work on that, I usually realize I am missing another critical – but simple – functionality. It will only take 2 or 3 days to implement it so, worst case scenario, I will push the project’s release to next week.
How bad can it be?
When I look at the situation from the outside, I can easily figure out what is wrong with this process… But when I spend my whole day focused on fixing tiny bugs, I just can’t see the whole picture.
Every week, I genuinely think that I am almost done.
Weeks go by so, so fast… and there are only 4 of them in a month. It’s ridiculously short…
It is almost impossible to notice that you have fallen into this trap. Adding few more days to a project is so harmless.
How can you consciously think “No, I won’t spend two more days to add this critical feature to my product”, when you have nothing that forces you to release now and not at the end of the week?
I spend months spiraling into the never-ending last week before I finally have the conversation that would kick me out of it.
Months navigating through a wide range of emotions that would consume me, make me doubt my work and eventually redesign my social life;
but this, I suppose, is a story for another time.
Next time, I will talk about the consequences I had to face for not doing research before launching myself into a solo project. How this had the unsuspected consequences of eating off my morale and feeding the feature creep responsible for the never-ending last week.
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