I've been trying to make my own products or services in some way or another since 2016 in the hope that one day I will earn enough money from them to never worry about finding a job, working non-remotely or being restricted to the same location due to work again.
I was reminiscing about my journey yesterday evening and realised that over the last 4 and a half years my motivations for, and approach to, achieving this have varied wildly.
Since I started this blog to share more I thought it would be a good idea to get you up to date...
A fire begins to burn
I have to be honest, my initial interest in switching from employment in development agencies to selling my own products and services was inspired by Ágnes, my girlfriend, who had (and continues to have) a huge fire and motivation to make it on her own as a young business woman. At 20 years old she had already created her first successful business running hiking tours for 50-100 hikers per event. I began to dip my toes into the water by offering to help her and over ta few months became more and more involved. Over time her fire ignited a flame within myself that I too could solve problems and create things of value for others.
The first step I took was to leave the safety of full-time employment for the first time in my adult life and instead earn a living contracting my services as a developer to clients. During this time I learnt a lot about sales, customer care and just how much work it really takes to run a business. I enjoyed the challenge of juggling the delivery of work (what I got paid for) with finding clients and spending enough time communicating with them so they were happy and aware of progress.
While contracting I spent a lot of time experimenting with making money from various niche aspects of my development experience to find specifically what I both enjoyed to do and could provide real value doing. I built a YouTube managed content system for TheLADBible to license their video content, provided conversion optimisation services to a major UK car leasing company and built custom web applications for startups.
Every month presented a new opportunity or skill to develop. Almost instantly I knew that I could never go back to my previous role and the flame within ignited into to a fire that began fuelling dreams of bigger things.
A startup incubator
One of my first steps into making for myself came after Ágnes and I had the idea to allow other community builders to create their own communities, host events and take payments online.
We got accepted into the fantastic Design Terminal incubator program with "Hiker Nations" and were excited and motivated at how much we could learn in the coming months.
The unfortunate thing about this great opportunity for me was that I was still contracting at the time and had already taken on a couple of big projects that I needed to deliver. I applied myself to juggling the demands of earning a living and devoting myself to the opportunity and I learnt a lot from experienced mentors and the other motivated startups but ultimately couldn't devote the time needed to feel like I was achieving as much as I could or really grasping the opportunity with both hands.
Turning down investment
After the excitement of our demo day and final presentation we were overwhelmed to speak to a Budapest based investor about recieving seed level funding to develop Hiker Nations for launch. At first we were obviously very excited but it made us think and ask ourselves a few tough questions that helped us to realise that we didn't fully believed in the product due to very established competitors in the marketplace such as Meetup and our relatively small niche of hiking communities.
Ultimately, we didn't feel that it was right or fair to accept investment to build something we didn't fully believe in so we politely pulled out of the process and began to search for other opportunities.
My first SaaS attempt
In 2016 I started to think of ideas and began to make my own SaaS products. One of the first of which was to be called 'Hashy" and was an Instagram hashtag finding tool. The concept behind it was to use AI to recognise the themes and items within an image and then find the hashtags with the most engagement for the image to increase engagement.
Again, whilst contracting full time I built the MVP and was began working on fleshing out the application and creating a brand identity. The process took several months for me as I consistently struggled to find the energy and motivation to put in the long hours required to make good progress after working so many hours to find enough clients to earn a living and deliver the expected standards to each one of them.
This process ended up going on for so long that Instagram relased some API updates several months later that greatly restricted API calls and made the app much less helpful to the end user. This ended up being the nail in the coffin for Hashy.
Back to employed life
A little after 18 months working as a contractor I was offered the opportunity to go back to my old agency, The Constant Media in the role of CTO. In the short time since I left my role as a developer I had grown from an employee who couldn't justify a pay rise into a CTO responsible for architecting, leading and delivering the development team of a small agency.
Andrew, the CEO of The Constant Media also had similar aspirations to create alternative revenue streams for his agency and we planned to use leftover resource to create new products for ourselves.
I really enjoyed this role because it provided me with challenges daily and gave me the opportunity to work with a talented team and huge clients such as Glenfiddich Whisky and Bundesliga while also promising to create our own products and services in the long-run.
My first sale
While working as CTO I began to notice the opportunities in client problems more than before and as a result I saw the opportunity to sell a plugin in the Hungarian market while solving a technical challenge for my girlfriend's business.
You can read more in another of my posts that explains how I had this idea but ultimately "accidentally" sold it for the first time.
I still sell this product and although the money is not enough to live off on its own it provides just under €1,000 per month on average which I am extremely grateful for.
Hiring some help
My new role as CTO was enjoyable but extremely demanding. It meant that I literally had no time left to develop my own products and services. Luckily for me the higher pay combined with my new revenue stream from my first product gave me some extra money to reinvest into developing more ideas.
I hired a part-time developer and began to work with him on several new projects. At first things went fairly smoothly, we created a "sister" product of my first product that sold relatively well for a year or so and a couple of other small products that failed to sell at all.
After a few months as CTO and some additions to our tech-stack to upskill the team in custom application development we began to find and win new projects and opportunities. We helped William Grant & Sons to create and launch a new whisky brand, Aerstone as well as planning and creating a monthly Whisky subscription platform for Whisky-Me.
The agency was going from strength to strength and our development team doubled size in just 6 months which was both exciting and challenging. Unfortunately this meant that I just couldn't put enough time into planning and managing my own projects to make real success and I ultimately ended up wasting quite a lot of money of the course of the next year trying to deliver projects that never materialised.
Self funded making
Approximately 18 months after starting my role as CTO (I'm noticing a pattern here), I realised that although the role of CTO was challenging, exciting and very educational it just wasn't what I wanted to be doing.
As most agency people will know the "leftover resource" that we had so optimistically planned to use to build our own products rarely existed and I knew that to really focus on making I had to make a change. I thanked Andrew for the amazing opportunity and asked to find an appropriate time to leave so that I could refocus my attention on creating my own products and services. We parted ways very amicably a short time later and I hope we'll have the opportunity collaborate again in future.
I began working on a new project called Polkadot Tiger with co-founder Stephen, that I was extremely passionate about and I wanted to fully commit to the project after some extremely positive industry feedback and an early feature in Forbes.
Thanks to the last year or so of work and the extra income from my product I had some savings so I didn't have to worry about finding clients for a while and I immersed myself into the project.
I spent a month or so upskilling in various development technologies and then a couple of months developing the Alpha version of Polkadot Tiger followed by three months of travelling South East Asia with Ágnes. It was after this that my savings ran out and I needed to re-focus and find myself a new way to continue funding my journey.
Part time, product based work
I decided that I needed to switch things up. I couldn't go back to a full-time job and hustling on the side but I also couldn't continue to fund myself.
One of the main lessons I had learnt in the 3 years since I left employment was that I enjoyed product based work infinitely more than agency based roles and as a result I decided to only accept product-based roles (with the exception of helping out The Constant Media with small contracts from time to time). I was very lucky to have the money from my product sales to keep me going through a few tough months while I spent time searching the right challenge.
I also decided to only search and apply for part-time remote opportunities which are extremely hard to come by. The competition for remote jobs in general is extremely high, and part-time roles that allow remote workers the freedom to travel or create for themselves as I desire to do are even more competitive.
A happy middle-ground
Once I found the right project to join, I was happy to finally discover a comfortable balance between delivering a great product for my client and finding the time and energy to really progress on my own projects.
By working in a great team on an interesting product for my client I find myself challenged regularly whilst also gaining motivation from seeing real progress on my own products too.
I unfortunately can't talk too much about my part-time role as we're in the process of launching a new startup and until we fully launch I am under an NDA. I can say that the product is interesting to build and comes with its own unqiue set of opportunities that I hope to be a part of for years to come.
The return of Polkadot Tiger
After turning my attention away from Polkadot Tiger for a while to recover savings by finding a part-time role and earning some money I finally had combination of time, money and energy to commit myself to Polkadot Tiger.
Now you're up-to-date
In the last couple of months I've had an almost perfect 50/50 balance between my part-time role and my own projects.
The Polkadot Tiger team has expanded to include Klaudia, our creative director and we're almost ready to launch our beta to 100 eager beta users.
The next few months are going to be extremely challenging but I'm excited to have found a balance that allows me to make real progress on my own projects while having financial security and career opportunities.