This week is conference week in Edinburgh.
What I took away most from ScotlandJS is that you get out of a conference what you put in – and what I put in was a sleep-deprived idiot. I missed the last two talks entirely, and while I had an excellent time and met some great people, I’m pretty sure I could’ve got a lot more out of it than I did. Note this too, ’cause it’ll be important later.
Overall, I’m looking forward to next year’s ScotlandJS, which I suspect will be a lot bigger.
Wednesday was Bootstrapd, an ‘open space’ conference for bootstrappers – people who are doing the ‘tech startup’ thing but without taking investment money. I’ve worked for two startups in the last couple of years, one funded and one not, and while I’m mostly trying to settle into consulting now I definitely have ideas that I want to turn into a business.
I’ve not been to an open space event before, and I found it really good. I’m often reluctant to participate in group discussions, but I had some fantastic discussions at Bootstrapd. At one point a session ended up just being four of us discussing one guy’s issue, which might sound shite, but actually gave me fascinating insight into how a moderately successful business works and the problems they have.
The core focus of the event was how to build a community of bootstrappers. People who take venture capital funding don’t just get money, they also get hooked into a network of highly talented people. If you need a brilliant iOS developer to knock out your company’s new iPhone app, you can turn to your investors for a recommendation and you’ll quickly get back someone who is perfect for the job.
Bootstrapd wanted to see if it’s possible to replicate that network without the funding aspect. There was also an emphasis on community as a source of strength and feedback – people you know you can trust for advice when things are hard, and honest feedback. The metaphor of the day was ‘nobody tells you your baby is ugly and smells of shit’, but perhaps as a distinct community we can make a choice to suspend that rule, and let people get useful accurate feedback without worrying about hurt feelings.
Personally, one of the biggest things I’ve taken away from Bootstrapd was the need to Do Things Now. Reading, and planning, and thinking are all good things, but eventually you reach a point where you need to take action. A repeated message at Bootstrapd was the need to have validated learning (a critical part of the whole ‘learn startup’ thing), and the only way to validate your learning – or ideas – is by implementing them.
Another issue raised was the concept of ‘upgrading yourself’ instead of (or alongside) upgrading your computer. This is basically a reaction against the traditional view of the solitary hacker – working all day, sleeping under your desk for a couple of hours, and eating junk food. Living like that isn’t sustainable and inevitably leads to burn out and failure. I’ve noticed that over the last 18 months of working at home, I’m definitely becoming (even more) unfit, and I think that then gives me less energy to spend on my own projects – and possibly even eventually on the ‘day job’ and daily life.
I need to turn that around, and I need to stop waiting to do it. I need to take more control over my sleeping habits, so that I don’t waste opportunities like ScotlandJS by being half-asleep, for no good reason. I need to get more energy for my personal life and my professional life. I need to stop reading HackerNews and I need to start hacking.
And I need to do it now, because for all my stressing about money, the one resource you can never get more of is time. I’m 32, and I’m staring down the barrel of a reduced life expectancy and death unless I make changes now. I have a limited time to make things and be awesome, and I’ve more-or-less wasted most of it. I cannot afford to keep on the same path.
I have some ideas on how to actually make the changes, but I’ll talk about those after I’ve done them, not before.