It's been a month since I left my job at Coupa and co-founded Outspokes with my friend Arthur. I read a lot of blogs on entrepreneurship and technology, but actually diving in and floundering around myself has been quite a rush. Many of my experiences match up with what the blogosphere says, but just as many have caught me off guard. Looking back, my first surprise was how big a difference my co-founder made.
I wanted to do a software startup. This was surprising to me because none of my closest friends were into startups; I graduated from a school that didn't have a huge startup community; I also had a cushy job with a team that I really enjoyed working with. All of this was outweighed by the fact that I met one person who saw startups the same way I did.
I knew I wanted to do more than build other people's ideas. I've been working since I got my first part time job at Starbucks at 15, paid for my college with a short full-time stint at the USDA Forest Service, worked as an ExtremeBlue IBM intern in Austin, a programmer at Rescomp, and a programmer at Coupa. With the exception of ExtremeBlue, I've always been building to spec or adding to an existing legacy project. This certainly pays the bills and hones the skills, but I always built pet projects on the side. I didn't make these because I wanted money; I made them because they were useful to me and I had a blast making them. I didn't rush my projects, I didn't have to clean up after incompetent coders who cared less about their work than as I did, and I got to try new code techniques and explore new ideas.
Fast forward to now, my latest pet project was Outspokes. It came out of a class that Arthur was in, and I had a good time hacking on it in my free time. Only this time, I met someone who felt the same way I did. We reviewed each other's code, we called each other out on bad habits, and most importantly, we both cared deeply about the project. We were proud of what we made, and we wanted to make it useful for everyone else too. What was new about this pet project was that I hadn't met anyone who had wanted to work on my other pet projects before. Similarly, I never felt much interest in other people's projects except to have a weekend hack session here and there. Working with Arthur was different because we talked about everything related to Outspokes. We talked code, we talked features, we talked about who would use it, and we talked business. I found myself thinking about Outspokes way too much, and I knew that the more I thought about it, the more it got Arthur pumped up.
Now one would think that in heart of the startup-saturated tech-mecca of the world, it shouldn't be very hard to find a like-minded person to work with. But one would be completely wrong in making this assumption. If anything, the valley is torn apart by so many different interests that it's almost impossible to find someone compatible to work with. First you have to filter out the people who only cared about making a quick buck. Then you had the people who only loved to be in the spotlight will jillions of page-views, and also the people who only cared about the next big tech framework. This leaves you with a handful of cool sane people who really believed in their ideas, but unfortunately, since they were passionate about their idea, it meant that unless you were also passionate about their idea, you couldn't work with them.
So I was really lucky to have met Arthur. Honestly, even if Outspokes wasn't an amazing idea that I believed in, I still would've wanted to work with him in the future at some point. It made my decision that much easier that Outspokes happens to solve a problem I've experienced, and also a problem that I know peers feel daily. For all the startup advice that I saw on the internet, I think that having a co-founder who you can talk to day-in and day-out on all aspects of your life is probably the key to a successful startup. Even in these brief few months, I know that if I had worked with anyone else on this startup, they would've jumped ship and given up already. But having a partner who reminds you about the big picture at the low points and celebrates with you at the high points really makes a huge difference.
Stay tuned for my next post about the nasty nitty-gritty bits of how I figured out the art of not starving, and what the actual TechCrunch50 Demopit launch taught me.