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Choose where you stand

My friends and I built an online advertising platform that used machine learning techniques to select and place ads. We took a load of funding to help grow the company.

From the start, our core principle was to be privacy-safe and not track visitors.

At the time, this was unheard of – retargeting was the thing (where you search for some shoes and then ads for those shoes follow you). But we chose to say “no”. Today many share our concern, back then few people cared.

Our investor agreed – he liked that we were taking a stand. It scared him, but we believed in something and that’s why he chose us.

My inspiration for starting my own business was 37Signals (now Basecamp). They stood for building a company culture that put the people doing the work first and building sustainable profits. Silicon Valley tech companies were all about long hours, sleeping under your desk and getting users now, profit later.

37Signals made me start my own business because their principles shone through. And DHH now drives a $2m Zonda, so he’s done OK from it too.

You don’t have to do things the same way as everyone else. You don’t have to chase every dollar.

Choose where you stand.

It will be noticed and the right people will come to you.

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How do you stand out from the crowd?

So many people talk about customer service or their passion – that’s like going to buy a car and the sales sleaze saying “this one comes with tyres!”

Years ago there was a guy who was a Ruby on Rails Core Contributor (basically he was famous in my part of the tech world) and he used to come to our meet-ups.

One month he excitedly announced he was starting a new agency with this guy Zach – called Made in London. Except every time he said it, people replied “what? Like french maid?” He got angrier and angrier as the night went on.

The next morning I set up a site called Maid in London, photoshopped his face onto a saucy maid photo and then linked through to his real site. My friends and I had a laugh about this.

Weeks later Zach (who I didn’t know) asked on Twitter who had built this site – he had seen traffic from it going to the real site. I owned up and he thought it funny.

Months after that, Zach got a request for some work he couldn’t do. He remembered me, got in touch and I got a six month contract out of it.

All because I did some stupid stuff with a hangover to poke fun at someone I knew.

So you don’t have to be bland or corporate or slick to get noticed. Just don’t be an arsehole.

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Sick of freelancing?

It was the instability that was getting to me.

Clients ghosting me when I was following up.

Delayed start dates.

“Do this one cheap and there will be a whole load of work next year” Urg!

I was sick of it. Sick of chasing leads, sick of contacting leads, sick of dropping leads.

Sick of running out of cash.

I was having a series of FTMs.

Fuck This Moments.

Because working for yourself requires that not only are you technically skilled, but also you’re good at marketing, good at sales, good at finance and good at planning.

I was failing on all counts and I was jaded to say the least.

I clawed my way out of it by putting simple systems in place.

Marketing, sales, money, planning and actually delivering the work.

I call them the Five Pillars.

None of them complex. They just needed dealing with.

So if you’re having an FTM right now, remember there is a simple, easy to follow, way out of it.