After writing this post about the 10k Pound Boostrap Challenge, I decided to reach out to Rob Fitzpatrick and see if he'd like to answer a few questions about his project. He was kind enough to agree and below is our conversation:
What made you decide to start this Bootstrap Challenge?
I was spending too much time talking and not enough time building. I was feeling a bit cynical about how I made my money and unexcited about my days, so I decided to get back to products.
As for why I chose to publicise it... So it's definitely a perk that more people will hear about what I build. Visibility is always good. But at the same time, I just want to leave an honest case study of how it went, regardless of whether I succeed or fail.
Lots of people have bootstrapped successful companies, which usually happens behind closed doors. If I can peel back some of the hand-waving and mysticism about starting a company, then that's a win.
Do you have a particular school of entrepreneurial thought, ie Lean Startups or something else?
It's changing as I go. I've studied most of them and have learned a ton from founders of all different perspectives. I'd say lean startup is my core perspective, but I didn't get real value out of it until I started tempering it with other bodies of knowledge. Any business approach tends to become a caricature of itself when you go completely "pure".
As a coder, what percentage of success in entrepreneurship do you attribute to your coding talent versus your business talent?
A little coding and a little business are both necessary. Though you'll get farther as just-a-hacker then you will as just-a-business-guy (unless you have a great team, a ton of cash to burn, or are willing to work on non-tech businesses).
How do you choose a niche to build a product for?
I prioritise things which are fast, and then things which are fun, and then those which might be profitable. I'm not exactly approaching this as serious business though. If I was, I'd basically follow Amy Hoy's approach of finding a customer segment who makes money and who you like, finding out their problems, and then building subscription software to address those.
Why only 3 hours per day?
I would love to be able to productively code for 10 hours a day, but I just can't. However, I can be extremely productive for 3 hours of coding a day. Plus, there's all the other junk. I spend an hour a day updating the blog and my financial reports. Two hours a day talking with other founders. I spend at least a day a week at events and conferences and whatever else. I kind of think 3 hours isn't so bad, all things considered.
It's so easy to get into the hours-worked-spiral-of-guilt where you spend more and more hours staring at the screen, getting less and less done because you're too tired to focus. Or you work real hard, but end up doing the wrong thing extremely well.
I heard about a "luck test", where people were asked to count how many pictures were in a newspaper. The people who considered themselves lucky ended up averaging like 10 seconds to finish the test, whereas people who thought of themselves as unlucky would spend 100x as long. On the second page of the newspaper was a big square which said "There are 55 pictures in this newspaper". Were they lucky to see that? Na. They were just relaxed, so they were able to take in the unexpected.
And finally, the whole point of this challenge is to see if it's viable to build my dream business. My dream business doesn't involve me coding for 8 hours a day 😉
Has your mindset changed over the course of the first few weeks?
I initially thought I would build a new product every week. I don't really think that's viable anymore, but I haven't quite figured out how to cope with it.
Do you have any suggestions for people who want to start their own web/mobile company?
Start building stuff with your friends. Projects turn into businesses. And if you're like me, choose small projects you can finish in a weekend or they'll never get shipped!