from freelance to products

A journey from freelance thoroughbred to product novice

Until 2013 I was a freelance thoroughbred. I revelled in the leap from project to project and the ever changing work that this brought. But time ticked by, my hair started to grey and I began to wonder where all this would end up. Where would I be in 10, 20 or 30 years?

I felt my consulting days were drawing to a partial, if not complete close.

The easy life

When I began life as a freelancer I was living with my girlfriend in a rented apartment where my biggest expense was rent, closely followed by beer. But things changed all too quickly. I’m now approaching forty, have a family to support and a desire for something a little more future-proof.

Project jumping lost its appeal, and what started as an alternative to unemployment or bar work was no longer the life I wanted.

But it went deeper…Underneath it all I’d always kind of resented working for others, I just didn’t realise it at the time. As a freelancer you help others make money for their business, and if I’m honest I probably resented this a little. I wanted something to call my own too. Feeling like this about freelancing was never going to keep me happy for long.

best time to plant a tree

The boat got rocked

Back in 2011 I attended my first conference, MAD in Spain. It was my first experience of being around other designers, listening to creative folks from around the world and my first taste of what seemed like freedom. It really got me excited again.

I needed more, and MAD showed me there was more to be had.

No sooner had I left the conference, than my buddy and I Pablo built a productised service for startups. (back then it was just called a service :). Like most great ideas that come from a sudden burst of inspiration it bombed, completely. Over it’s lifespan we received a sum total of zero enquires.

It took me 4 years to learn why that first venture fell flat on its face.

We knew nothing about marketing, validation, testing, pricing…You name it. We just pushed “go” and waited for the phone to ring.

But, this was enough. I’d caught the bug. We had built and launched a product.

I started digging more into this new world and discovered the “Four hour work week” by Tim Ferris. I devoured this book. My creative energy levels shot through the roof and I knew another world was waiting for me. Tim’s book was so crammed with real world strategies that I couldn’t possibly not react. It was basically a recipe book for wannabe entrepreneurs.

I began a few side projects, mainly based on Tim’s ideas, but again nothing took off.

For the next 4 years or so, freelance life continued and I jumped from project to project. After all, nothing had really changed except for my desire for change.

execution is hard

Finding virtual mentors

A couple of years later, maybe in 2013 I began listening to “Startups for the Rest of Us” hosted by Mike Taber and Rob Walling. Mike and Rob are two serial entrepreneurs who impart product wisdom show after show after show. I was instantly hooked and compulsively worked my way through the episodes, feeling more inspired with each new episode and lesson. I’d discovered a new world, and they called it “Entrepreneurialism”.

It was through the podcast that I discovered Rob Walling’s book, “Start small stay small”. This was the game changer. It showed me how I could change my life. Even a clueless freelancer like myself had it within his grasp to build products and make money.

Even a clueless freelancer like myself had it within his grasp to build products and make money.

The first product

By this point I’d been blogging for several years. I’d written, much the same as I do now about personal struggles and triumphs. As the posts grew and interactions with my readers increased I knew I wanted to write something bigger, and there seemed to be a logical next step. By this point I’d been freelancing for 8 years, and I knew that chapter of my life was drawing to a close. What came next seemed like a fitting epitaph.

I wrote “The Designer’s Guide to Freelancing”

You know how much money that book has made me since December 2013? Less than $2.000! Not a financial success by any stretch, but it did something else for me, it became a big-ass business card.

All of a sudden people kind of knew about me. I’d drop by a forum and someone would say, “Ah, you’re the guy who wrote the freelance book”.

I got emails from readers saying how it had given them the guts to make the jump from the day job they hated. And it introduced me to people who were previously outside my circle of influence. It opened the proverbial door. It was my entry piece.

make ideas happen

So why products if I made no money?

There’s something about owning about a product that is hard to quantify, but given this is the written word I’ll do my best.

If you’ve seen Silicon Valley you’ll know all about the vomit inducing ideals of many startups who claim to be “Making the world a better place”. But it’s a strange thing, no matter what your reasons for building a product, the moment you see you’re actually helping people succeed, your perceptions of your product change. Even if you built the product to make money (Nusii began as a side project), as soon as you hear a customer say the following;

I just landed a client with the very first proposal sent from @nusiiapp! This will save me a ton of time! Stunning design and easy to use! – Marko Vuletič

Everything changes. Suddenly you’re in the business of giving a damn and making the world a better place (cue vomiting)

quit talking and start doing

All this comes at a price

Building products is where I want to be, but it comes at a price.

I wake up thinking about Nusii, and I go to bed thinking about Nusii. I desperately hope this wears off as the product matures, but given my track record I doubt this will be the case. An obsessive disposition doesn’t disappear when you launch a product…

This means I’m rarely as present as I should be.

You can usually find me in Nusii land, the problem being that my family lives on Earth. I’m so intent on making Nusii a success that I often duck out of the real world altogether. A partner can understand this for a time, but a little girl not so much. It’s something I desperately need to rectify and don’t currently have an answer to. Hell I even wrote about Technostress back in 2011, so I guess I haven’t gotten much better.

try something new

So what’s next?

For the moment there is no next. Nusii is here for a good while. Until we can continue to grow to a point where Michael and I are no longer as central to it’s success as we are right now, then it’s all hands on deck.

Does this bother me? Yes, and No. I want to build a successful product that is truly the best it can be. I want to be able to support my family, be able to spend more time with them and maybe, finally, find a place where I feel comfortable enough to relax…at least for a while. But who knows if that place exists.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the man himself, Steve Jobs.

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.

Good luck!

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