Today I entered an office building for the first time in months. As I approached the building, I saw the standard group of smokers gathered near the entryway. They stood shivering in their business casual collared shirts and slacks. While talking and puffing, they all stared in one direction as if dreaming they had a reason to venture further from their desks. In the lobby was a Starbucks; a middle-aged man leaned against the single pane of glass like an aging fish in a pet store that didn’t stand a chance of escape. I shared an elevator with two cheerful and energetic employees returning from an early lunch. One complained about a 5PM meeting. The other mentioned a possible promotion. In my jeans and a short-sleeve polo shirt, I felt like a visitor from another world.
It’s natural over time to take a good thing for granted. This simple walk into a building and elevator ride was a slap in the face. “There’s no way in hell I can go back,” I thought.
Recently, I started taking my freedom for granted, and I lost focus. This week I have been returning my full attention to LazyMeter after 6 weeks focused primarily on consulting. While I have absolutely enjoyed working 20 hours a week as a consultant, it was more distracting than I expected. I have a newfound appreciation for consultants. Twenty hours a week is not as simple as it sounds. The problem is it’s almost impossible to set aside specific working hours, as customers may request things at any time of the day. 20 hours a week of billable hours is also very different than 40 hours at an office complete with meetings, breaks and distractions. While it has been a very rewarding experience, I now understand why consultants charge such high rates. It’s a lot of work to manage customers and exceed their expectations, and simple projects can easily drag on. The idea of consulting was to expand the amount of time available to develop LazyMeter. But in reality, we made about 1 month of living expenses while falling at least a month behind in development. We also made valuable connections, built our portfolios, and contributed to a promising new business – but was that the best use of our time?
Startup lesson: don’t lose focus. There are so many events, conferences, and opportunities like consulting out there. But ultimately, a startup is about having a product. Until you have a working product, development should be 99% of your focus. As soon as I realized this, I cut down on blogging and networking. And since this change, we have made huge progress on our product. If you do take on another project such as a consulting, be sure to be very specific about what time you will spend on each project.
Some people are very effective at managing multiple large projects. I’m not. I only work on projects that I feel passionate about. It turns out it’s very difficult to be passionate about two things at once. Based on my commitment to consulting, I let my passion shift to another project at the expense of my own. It’s the same reason I couldn’t develop LazyMeter while still at Microsoft. This week I spoke to a friend at Microsoft who was also starting a business when I left. He said “I’ve learned that it is impossible to work on your own company while working full time. All it did was make me do a shitty job on both.” I asked him why he couldn’t do both, and he responded that Microsoft is too demanding. This may be partially true, but I wonder if the difference between people that can work on the side and those that can’t is how they are driven by passion. Those who work for passion will always struggle to focus on multiple projects because they’ll always feel like one or the other is being cheated of its true potential.
Fortunately, the consulting work is slowing down and we have a very satisfied client. As I’ve turned my attention back to LazyMeter, my passion has returned in full force. And thanks to a visit to an office building today, I won’t be taking my freedom for granted again. It’s easy to feel free when you are your own boss. But until LazyMeter is released, I’m not free at all – the clock is ticking.