Taking the leap: How I became a full time entrepreneur

I took the leap. I made the jump. As of almost a month ago I'm no longer an employee. I'm now an entrepreneur! That's right, I'm now working full time on my startup Geomium. So how did it happen?

Even at University I was making small steps towards it, working on my own interesting tech projects and doing freelance development work. When I started work as a developer for Siemens I kept this up, making sure I continued to read up about new and interesting technologies, and to write about it all for this blog and others.

A great part of working for such a large company was that they had a fantastic graduate development program. I got to go on courses about communication, presentation, and negotiation. There were even team building exercises where we got to go rock climbing and tackle assault courses! The whole time I was thinking "How could I apply these skills to my own business?", and I got to take a lot from the program. Working for a large company certainly had its downsides though, and after I'd completed much of the graduate course and finished the project I was working on I knew it was time to move on.

The Run Up

I had a brief spell with a smaller company, and although I preferred the smaller company atmosphere I didn't feel I was learning much. I needed a challenge! That's when I moved moved to London to join Mendeley, a tech startup, as their second employee and first web developer. Who knew that a couple of years later that Mendeley would have over 40 employees in London and New York, and have won numerous awards?

Getting in early on meant that I really got to make a difference, and was able to play a critical role in making Mendeley what it is today. I found working for a startup so refreshing. Good ideas get worked on right away, there are no forms to fill in, or committees or procedures to get in the way. It requires hard work though. I remember the mad rush to get the first public beta of Mendeley ready, with several of us holed up in the office with vast amounts of Redbull. We ended up getting the first tube of the day home at around 6am, when most people were just getting up for work. Long hours, but lots of fun.

Mendeley not only gave me the chance to work on a large-scale high-traffic website, with all of the technical challenges that entails, but as the company grew I took on the role not only of technical lead, but also web team lead, so I got to learn first hand about managing teams, setting deadlines and targets, interviewing and recruiting people. It was an invaluable experience.

Being based in London also meant I could take advantage of its great tech scene. There are loads of monthly tech events, and annual conferences. I tried to attend as many of these as I could not only to keep up with the latest tech, but also to meet new people and to open myself up to more opportunities. It wasn't through one of these meetups that I would eventually meet my co-founder though.

The Jump

Around a year ago I was browsing a freelance job site and came across a post from Michael Ferguson. The post sounded really interesting, so I got in touch. We first met at Costa Coffee, and spent at least an hour discussing not only Michael's ideas for the project, but also about our backgrounds and interests. I think we almost immediately realised we were a good match, with complementary skill sets. By the time we'd finished our coffees we were both excited about moving forward with the project that would eventually become Geomium. At the time I thought it'd just be another interesting side project to work on though, little did I know that 12 months later I'd be leaving Mendeley to pursue it fulltime!

As the project progressed Geomium demanded more and more of my time. Not only on development, but also meetings with potential partners and investors, and going to events to try and get the word out. It was becoming clear that Geomium would soon need my full time commitment. It was at this point that I had to take the leap, and it was a time of mixed emotions. It was hugely exciting, but at the same time I was sad be leaving a company I'd cared so much about and put so much effort into for the previous couple of years. It was also scary to be leaving the relative security of employment, especially as I have a wife and baby to support. Fortunately my wife is hugely supportive, and just as excited about the opportunity as me. I took courage in the words of Tom Preston-Werner:

When I’m old and dying, I plan to look back on my life and say “wow, that was an adventure,” not “wow, I sure felt safe.”

It certainly is going to be an adventure, but with hard work and dedication from Michael and I, and support from our family and friends, I'm sure we can make a success of it. So far things are going well. Geomium recently took third in the TechCrunch summer pitch battle, and we've had some good write ups. It's still early days though, there's a whole lot still to do. The really hard work starts now!

Posted on 19 Aug 2010
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