New chapter in freelancing ?

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I have been running my own business or living the life of a solo developer for the last 15 years, in fact the majority of my working life has been spent in this capacity. I take pride in the fact that my work has been my signature and that often past customers would introduce me to new customers with the words this man will make it happen.

I actually started my working life in a corporate environment but I found out very quickly that the corporate life of politics, meetings about the meeting and the self preservation over the companies own progression is not really for me. The later is the one that really irks me the most, for a business to grow it needs people to take risk exposing themselves to failure for the opportunity to grow. When I ran my own business I would always promote the concept of getting it done efficiently and make sure all customers got value for the money they have spent.

One of the problems of being solo though is finding the time to market your skills to the right companies that are looking for them and having a global reach can be extremely hard to maintain when your head down in delivering code. Recently I stumbled over Toptal and they seem to scratch that itch and provide the connections that I am looking for on a global scale, Toptal is more than just a freelancing site instead its a growing a network comprised of the most thoroughly screened, talented freelance engineers in the world. In the past I was part of the Microsoft MVP community so I understand the importance and value of the networked community of highly skilled developers with the ability to share and be apart of something strong.

When I was a regular speaker at Microsoft events through out the world I would come across many extremely talented developers and I would often think about how this pool of developers could be harnessed. Many different concepts have come over the years but it appears that Toptal has been able to do just that. What seems impressive is that they have managed to do this not with just Microsoft technology but all brands of technology. No doubt if your company is looking for some development resources for a short term or a long term project then I would think Toptal would be well worth the look.

Toptal’s strength comes from its ability to screen it developers and even somebody with my history of project success and coding skill has no automatic entry and has to go through the same screening process as the many developers that has come before me. Initially I will looking to be part of the Toptal ASP.NET MVC developers group but hope to also prove my skills in the Angular and MEAN stack when the opportunity comes.

If you a developer then feel free to drop me a line and I would be happy to share my experience as I start this journey with Toptal over the coming months.

BLOW: Working is digging holes

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This weeks lesson is brought to my attention by a friend after I was making comment about how busy I was. He replied with “Busy doing what ?”, to which I quickly responded with “Working of course !!!”. His response stopped me a tad in my tracks with “Nah digging holes is working, I have no idea what you do is called but I can suggest your busy having fun.”.

Now I dont think everything I do is working but I can tell you one thing I love what I do and I think I would be very surprised if I do anything else. So this weeks lesson for me is to celebrate the fact I love what I do and everybody should aim to enjoy living and not working. Simply enjoy chasing your dreams.

BLOW: Being Number One

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I watch a very interesting documentary this week on Phil Spector, now Phil has had an amazing life worked with some incredible and talented people like John Lennon and Tina Turner to name but a few and made a bundle of cash to boot. I am sure it would seen as a success in a lot of peoples eyes except for the recent events of course. Now what was interesting was his personal destructive focus on what other people had achieved in way of recognition and he had not, there is no doubt that he made some valid cases in querying the facts and he was putting it down to the fact that he had upset the wrong people which of course could be very true. In the end your feeling sorry for a man that seemed bitter.

It also brought forward a quote I once heard from Dolly Parton, now I usually dont go around seeking wisdom or guidance from the words of Dolly Parton so I was a tad shocked when I heard it. The reporter asked her what was the secret to being at the top for so long and her response was that she never cared about being no 1 or the best. She went on to explain that No 1 or the best is very subjective and there would always be somebody better based on the criteria used ie no of albums, no of sales last month etc and even if you managed to get a high enough consensus in that claim of ranking you would find no happiness or feeling of content until you are no 1 and only then while it lasted which would be a sad way to live. Instead her goal was just to get better by trying improve herself and finding happiness in that she has improved.

So the business lesson here is just be happy with the successes of your business and celebrate them with much vigor, of course try and pick up some industry and peer awards but in the end they are just fuel for the marketing machine instead real happiness comes from finding your own success.

BLOW: Know when to fold them

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Thought I would startup the old “Business Lesson Of the Week (BLOW)” posts I used to do but stopped for some unknown reason. I think this will be a good personal discipline again to review my week as we should really never stop learning.

This week really enforced to me that launching is a great word for a startup because its exactly like a rocket launch once started there is no wait button and no reverse. Its forward only with the ability to make some minor corrections in flight path but thats all so if things go wrong no doubt a bang will result. You other goal of course is to minimise the collateral damage from the ensuing explosion. So make sure the chips your putting on the table are cashable and you can bear the costs of any resulting damage. Its also important to be honest 100% to the company investors to make sure the risks are understood and where the company is heading. Those liquidators/receivers sure dont mess around and I am glad my conservative approach over the years has never seen me on the end of one of those companies.

Its also important for us entrepreneurs to keep our reality distortion fields in check make sure we dont let our employees be affected too dramatically by our those explosions that we can make from time to time, as its never acceptable to gamble with other peoples money without their knowledge.

Startup Snake Oil

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I am 100% addicted to the startup world, there is no doubt I love the excitement of selling a deal, the freedom of chasing your passions, the option of spending time with family when you want to, the ability to sit in your underwear and dressing gown (I apologise to those that I might have just induced horrific visions too) and of course the money you can make.

Recently I have made critical comments both publicly and privately about roles so called mentors/advisors and community leaders play, some people may say its a personal vendetta or maybe jealousy but I would like to put forward a complete argument for debate and express why I care and speak out about these things ?

The simple facts are that startups can destroy peoples lives, I have seen people lose their homes, cars, savings nest eggs and recently seen marriages breakup because people believed in clichéd advice and never stopped believing in the startup snake oil that is dispensed via some blogs and vidcasts. Then again thats probably ok because we can wheel out the story about Chris Sacca coming back from 4 million in debt so I am sure it will work out for those people in the long run. I pretty sure I have an example story to motivate you for what ever business situation your in.

When people give advice when themselves dont have the experience or depth knowledge I find this frustrating and annoying. I meet people monthly that are following this weak advice and chasing dreams manufactured by these so called mentors and leaders. They will give advice about how simple things can be done but wont caution about legal and financial exposures because they themselves dont know this information but hell thats ok because thats what startups are meant to be right ? Thats why companies like pollinzer are great to work with because they will have the right level of experience, guidance, streetsmarts and most importantly ability to generate exposure that any startup would benefit from. Its a company that one day I hope I can grow to match with experience and knowledge.

What I see regularly are people reading some great information such as the lean startup ideology then they rewrap the information as their own and call themselves a startup advisor/mentor. If you find something like that interesting and then simply make comment and send people to the blog of Eric Ries as thats where the depth of knowledge and experience is and what is really worth the read. I think I may have just painted over my own foot with that brush but it is something we all need to be thinking about. I simply advise anybody who takes in information from a so called mentor or blogger, including myself, to ask whats in it for them and what experience do they have.

A long time ago I started a vidcast series called “Getting to know” the idea was to create a awareness of bizspark partners that I thought was cool idea for the community, unfortunately bizspark people didnt agree with the format and didnt get any support and it was rarely reblogged so without eyeballs I couldnt make the change in these startups that I really wanted to do so energy was spent elsewhere being more productive which I find sad that I failed to help those people.

Companies that run these programs should invest the right effort, if I want to learn about .NET I dont want to listen to some guy who just installed visual studio, read a Scott Hanselman blog post or watched a Phil Haack MIX talk give me Andrew Coates or Mitch Denny any day please or if I wont to learn about Windows phone dev give me Nick Randolph. Microsoft does do this which is great but the same respect should be given to startup community give me the true experienced mentors that they have access to and give exposure to the great startups using the great Microsoft technologies.

So I would like to challenge any leader in the startup community to increase the awareness of a startup they know and stop the self promotion and ego stroking of friends and colleagues. If your a community leader you have the ability to make a real difference, probably much more than I do, to a startup by giving them awareness or assisting them to connect with vertical influences and leaders. Hell give that awareness to your friends only for all that matters at least your doing something positive. A startup is more than something that is knocked up over the weekend and or spent a few hours moonlighting over, these are companies that people have put their livelihoods and passions on the line and we should be promoting those people and companies not the so called mentors or experts of this world.

I really do hope this brings out my point of view but then again what the hell do I know.

The goals for the year ahead

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Goodbye to 2010 which was not a great year in a few ways for me but the great thing about life is they always make another year to fix last years problems, except for the last year but then you have a whole different set of problems :). So it’s time to put things into action for 2011.

1. Fix housing issues
2. Get my eyesight fixed
3. Be happier
4. Go on a holiday
5. Release a new web site
6. Learn more about tea

my motto for the year: I want to be known for what i have achieved this year rather than what I have said.

Why founders should love the pain of giving share options to developers

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This post is my reasoning why a web startup founder should make sure they feel the pain when it comes to share options with their new business and love it.

A web startup has some key ingredients for success: the quality of the development, speed of entry to market, stability and support are some of the key areas you will have to nail. So how can you make sure your developers are focused on the same deliverables ? Simple offer a good share option and lower then market rate. Its amazing how much this is a good thing for a business. I love sitting around a planning table hearing developers say “We have to get this to market” and “how does that get us more money”. These are things that helps entrepreneurs keep themselves on track as well.

A great benefit of share options is it makes you as a founder truly test the value of your ideas, its funny when you here developers say “Im not sure if this will work” but at the same time happy to send the invoice each month to get their money. I wouldnt want developers that dont believe working on my projects ever. So when a developer does take the shares it means they believe in your dream and you should be using this as the first investor pitch to test your idea. If you cant convince developers to invest then maybe you will struggle at getting angel investors at a later date or maybe you shouldnt be investing your time and money as well.

Dont forget share options can have vesting clauses, which means they will only get them when certain conditions are met such as length of employment. These clauses has two benefits, firstly it makes people stick around so you dont lose key people too early which helps with the support and stability issues we talked about earlier and second it also sounds a warning when staff has lost faith in the business. If an employee wants to leave and hence loses what you perceive as hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shares, it sends the very strong signal they dont believe and other staff may feel the same they just never tell you.

As a developer and I own a small stake in a business, I can tell you I want the major stakeholder to make millions because then so do I. Can you say your development team thinks the same about your project ?

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