From being a young developer to getting stuck in a boring job and finally becoming an entrepreneur
I always liked to build, to make stuff. When I was a teen, I use to spend all my free time studying networks and computers. I wanted to be a cyberpunk, hack things and write sci-fi novels. I was the typical shy geek. One day, I met a guy at school who was working at Microsoft during the summer and he started to develop aesthetic websites. I also had done web development for companies and startups during unpaid internships at the age of 13/14. To be honest, it was not my cup of tea. But I saw the possibility to build something for other people to help them share their knowledge, while building something fun at the same time.
My friend had launched a website which went viral in France. “ProfduBahut.com” was a platform where students could audio record their teachers and spread their best punchlines. I started to spend more and more time to coding/building websites. My biggest fear before every launch was the reaction of the people. It made me anxious to see how my friends would react to what I’ve build. I think it’s a serious problem in our generation. As a young entrepreneur, you can spend a lot of time learning to code or reading books. Sometimes it’s easier and reassuring to avoid the reaction of others by postponing your deadline.
This hesitation and the fear pushed me to wait a long time, to mute my ambitions. Instead of launching products, I tried to do normal things and have a normal job. I wasn’t as shy anymore but I felt sick about what I was doing with my life. Somehow I knew I wasn’t on the right path.
A mid-sized town in France has usually one or two life-paths for young people. If you are lucky, you either go to college or pursue medicine. Being an entrepreneur is definitely not something people would pursue, or even consider/support. All I know of entrepreneurship was from my parents’ experience. They ran several flower stores and their business failed. I felt pain from financial issues early on. While the flower stores of my parents weren’t successful my brother opened a restaurant. He showed me the positive impact a successful business can have on the people’s life.
France is a country where failure is a taboo. People see it as unwise to start anything and will try to discourage you. The government isn’t helping by painting a very one-sides picture of entrepreneurs who go on television or get press coverage about the big money they raised. Sometimes this attention can be helpful because it gives you some courage to do what you do. You feel validated. You think you have a proof that what you do is important. You can show it to your family and friends. But this is not real. And with this strategy, toxic people are attracted to it and want to be a part of this hype.
It’s absolutely fine if you don’t want to connect with these people. You’ll find more than enough sparring-partners entrepreneurs on the Internet than at any tech conference worldwide. You don’t need to take selfies with Emmanuel Macron or be invited to the station F (the largest European startup incubator founded by a famous French entrepreneur, Xavier Niel) to be a true startup. It’s fine (and probably better for your business) if you prefer to stay focused on your product while others prefer charming investors.
Nowadays, some people put a lot of effort into letting people think this is the only option. But there are actually others. And take money from other people don’t make you a more credible person. This doesn’t mean I don’t respect entrepreneurs who are VC backed. I want to work on hacky things and ship cool products. With Marie, my partner in crime, we decided only bootstrapping our startups could give us the freedom to create and build what we believe in, make our users happy and earn a living from it.
Our very first product
At the very beginning, we worked on our first project for over one year. “Many” was a messaging app allowing you to automatically record short videos when opening the app. We had big ambitions and our goal was very clear: build something better than Snapchat or Instagram. We wanted to prove that two people in a little apartment could build a better service than billion dollar companies. It was our first mobile product and by far the hardest thing we built.
After the launch, Many got featured by Apple. Our hashtag was in the top trend of Twitter. We saw a huge spike of downloads. But, as so often in the app space, the user retention was very low and we lost the motivation to fix this at the end. Honestly, we felt we’ve spent too much time on the app. Shipping it was our last move to get rid of it.
We were kind of exhausted actually, for several reasons. I mentioned the time spent on it, that’s the first one. We also knew that there is basically only one business model for social networks and we didn’t want to raise money after all, even though that was our objective at first. We also discovered a field where the founders of these messaging apps don’t hesitate to spam address books or inflate their growth’s numbers. It seemed like this was actually pretty common and this was definitely not on our roadmap. We always cared about the privacy of the users and always made clean products.
It’s also difficult when you’re talking about the same project every day for more than a year, we were a bit tired of it. You could think that after finally launching it we would be ready for the next step. But we couldn’t. We both needed change. And I think it’s actually fine. “Many” was probably a necessary step so we can continue our journey. We never launched it on Product Hunt or other platforms. Heavy-hearted we decided it was time to shut it down to be able to move to something new.
In July 2017, while “Many” was live, I saw a guy on the Internet shipping a project named Hoodmaps in public. He live streamed all his work on Twitch. I was deeply impressed and couldn’t believe my eyes. You can see a 2 minutes time lapse of this work here:
This is how I discovered Pieter Levels, which I guess most of you know. His lifestyle and work methods promised an alternative to my way of doing things. Paris felt more and more like a prison where I didn’t see any future. A few weeks later we decided to leave Paris. We sold and stored our furniture and began to plan a road trip to discover our country.
One important takeaway of this trip is you can improvise things. You can start without knowing how to do everything. Learning as you go is possible and often the better approach. You don’t need to have all the skills to make it work. You’ll learn on the way. Two Makers will be the place where we share our story of being digital nomads. We will share what we are working on and what we have learned.
You can follow me on Twitter: @yesnoornext.
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Lastly, I’d like to thank Peter Thaleikis for his precious help. He built startup name check, an awesome service to check the names for your next startup faster.