Learning a Hard Lesson

Sorry for the long break in posts. It was not planned, but a lot has happened over the last month.

Last week the company I have been with for over 5 years had a massive layoff. My co-workers were told 40% of their overall employees were let go, though I have not been able to verify that anywhere. I do know I was let go, along with a lot of other good people. There were lots of managers and long term employees let go. It seems they were looking to cut costs so they cut higher costing employees, but really who knows. They obviously didn’t worry about losing all of that knowledge. I survived three other layoffs while I was there but I couldn’t get past this one.

They did give me a decent severance though. I am still technically an employee for 2 months (though I don’t have to work), so I get all of my benefits through September, and when they give out their bi-annual bonuses (yes, they are still giving bonuses along with the layoffs) I will still get it since I will technically be an employee at that time. At the end of my 2 months I get a severance payment of 6 weeks pay.

So I have 3 1/2 months to find other employment. My first thought was, hey! I have this idea for a startup! Maybe I can get someone to invest in it and I can start working on it full time. That would be incredible!

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I haven’t been looking into finding investors at all. My whole idea has been to bootstrap it, building it up with my own funds on the side. What are investors looking for? When are they willing to invest? Is there any chance I could find someone?

My wife has a good friend whose husband has a lot of experience in startups over the past 2 decades so I asked to meet with him and get his advice. I pitched him my idea, asking him what he thought of it, whether it was viable, and would there be a chance to find investors.

He liked the idea of it, but had some questions. One had to do with the business model. Would people be willing to pay to watch videos when they can watch videos elsewhere for free (or with ads which would just be paying with time)? I thought they would if they knew the money would be going to a charity or nonprofit, but looking at it more objectively I don’t think they would. So I have modified the model to something more realistic (more on that in a later post).

The big takeaway from this meeting was that investors want to see a product that already exists and has traction, already has a customer base that is growing and shows signs that it could grow a great deal more with investment. Where I am right now is still way too risky. I don’t have a product, no customer base in place, no traction at all. And who am I? (This part he didn’t say but I have read about this) I have no track record with startups. This is my first one so how would anyone know whether I would follow through? If it would be any good? Even for a minimal investment that would be too risky.

So the advice I got, which was very good, was to find another job, one that isn’t too demanding that pays the bills, so that I can have the time still to develop and build this business. Then keep at it. Get the site built, run some test cases to refine it, and start developing traction. Then I can look into finding investors and only then could I afford to hire myself and leave my steady job.

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So now I have a little over 3 months to find a job here in Austin, Texas. I’m in IT so this is a great market. I have just never had to go through the modern IT interview where you are tested at length, both online and in person on a whiteboard. I want to go back to having a software developer job but it has been years since I did any real development, and I don’t think I could get past the interviews.

So I plan to take the first month of my Vulcan exile (sorry, Star Trek reference) and study, study, STUDY! I bought a book a while back called Cracking the Coding Interview, by Gayle Laakmann McDowell. I am going to work through that, brush up on my Java and Linux skills, and whatever else I can find. During that time I will also survey the market and start tracking job postings and companies I might want to work for. When the time comes I’ll start applying and hopefully interviewing.

So if anyone has any advice, or needs a good Java developer, please let me know! I’m eager to hear!

I’ll have one or two more posts on bootstrapping my startup but then it will be all about finding a job. I have to keep my family fed and a roof over our heads, and in this weather I need that A/C too! Once that is settled I can get back into the bootstrapping.

 

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