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I don't want to start my own company again.

It was an interesting experiment for the five years I was self-employed - three of which, it was my sole source of income. I don't regret a single minute of it.

I also discovered many things about myself during that time.

  1. I work best between 11pm and 3am. When all the distractions of day-to-day life have wound down, and my brain is on that perfect edge between full wakefulness and sleep, my mind opens up and the ideas just start to flow.
  2. If I found the right people in the community to bring on as sub-contracters, some pretty damn amazing things could get accomplished. Of which, the best example is the C#/ColdFusion/Flash application that I built with a Flash expert that got distributed throughout the entire Carnegie Library system in Pittsburgh. This was in 2003... before Flex.
  3. I hated, with all my being, doing quarterly small business taxes, yearly business taxes, personal federal taxes, personal state taxes, and personal local taxes, and then having to handle payroll for myself and anyone else that I brought onto a job. If I could impart one, and only one, thing to someone who's considering going solo, it would be save up enough money to pay for an accountant.
  4. I have a thick skin. Rejection is the vast majority of experience when trying to get work as a solo contractor. I quickly took it all in stride and was able to keep going to find work.
  5. When it was all said and done, and I filed the forms to end the corporation, I knew I'd likely never start another one.

Finding Kindred Spirits

In the 7 years since I shuttered Orbwave Corporation, I've discovered that there are plenty of businesses in the world that need someone who can provide an entrepenurial spirit, and a drive to create new things, within the context of someone else's grand vision.

The two are not mutually exclusive.

I have plenty of ideas for new businesses, or enhancing existing businesses, and a huge chunk of them are throw-aways. None of them are worth putting myself, or my family now, through the horrible process of starting up a business again.

I also really like being around creative, open minded, educated and curious people. There were many, many, MANY long hours spent in my old apartment alone in front of the computer. I found any excuse to visit friends, family or go to community events. I'm just not wired to spend countless hours alone in solitude. A day or two here and there is fine, but there would be entire weeks where the only people I saw were at the convenience store and the local pizza shop.

Finding an established company that has an interesting idea, with plenty of challenges to realize that idea, provides plenty of stimulation and enjoyment, without requiring me to worry about where I'm going to get group health insurance, how I'm going to pay those two sub-contractors because the client messed up their payment to me, or worst of all, how am I going to feed and house my wife and children because I didn't have enough time to focus on acquiring work this month.

Open Source

There's also been a revolution that's been happening over the past seven years or so that was only in its infancy when I was running Orbwave. That's the world of open source software (OSS). My current employer, Digital Reasoning, owes much of its success to the contributions made by the myriad OSS communities that are active and thriving today. Apache, Github, Mozilla, and even all the for-profit companies that are releasing internal projects into the OSS community are making it vastly easier to realize complex, technical concepts.

It's a feeding frenzy right now. You can build a company that builds bleeding edge software that no one's ever dreamt of before with nary a penny spent on licensing fees.

This new era in software development feeds that overwhelming need in me to help people. By contributing my time to OSS, I can directly impact the lives of others without being beholden to some behemoth corporation.

The Y Combinator Effect

Entrepeneurship has also been in a kind of Golden Age for the last five years or so, especially in the tech sector. All the wonderful stories that come out of incubators, like Y Combinator in the Valley and Jumpstart Foundry here in Nashville, really shows how fast businesses can iterate when friction between investors and young people dreaming of the "next big thing" is limited.

I think it's amazing, but there's also nothing wrong with finding an existing team of great teammates and working together to make the world a better place. Unless I hit the lottery, there's no way this former entrepeneur will ever do that dog and pony show again.

I'm now an "Anti Entrepeneur", and I'm happy with that.

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Steve Brownlee

Head Coach at Nashville Software School. Evolving software development education.


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