If there is one thing that graduating from Wroclaw University has taught me, it’s that if someone was smart enough to discover something, I’m at the very least capable of understanding it.
And if there is one thing that working for start-ups has taught me, it’s that their founders did not possess supernatural skills. Like everyone, they made mistakes, they ocasionally said silly things and didn’t, in fact, know what they are doing. They were regular humans, with regular human limitations. Yet here we were - they were running successful start-ups, and me trading my time for money, working for their success.
Growing up in post-socialist Poland an entrepreneur was a rare sight, the stuff of legend. The realisation that they’re regular human beings didn’t come to me immediately. I had to learn what makes them tick on my own.
One of the start-ups I worked for had a remote team scattered all around Europe. One week we all flew to London to get to know each other better and on Wednesday we went out for drinks…
Around 3:00 in the morning, after a lot of walking and a lot of drinking it was just me and the company founder in a cocktail bar. It’s when he shared his secret with me.
He told me that he comes from a business family. His father always pushed him to start a company and constantly made him study. He said that he didn’t really want to run a company, he didn’t enjoy reading business books and he was pressured into doing it.
That confession flipped a switch in my brain. This guy never even wanted to run a company, yet here he was, doing it! In my mind entrepreneurship stopped being a privilege reserved for the chosen few and became a career like any other. This thought turned into an obsession. I needed to know: what does it take? And how can I do it?
I started analyzing the businessmen I knew and read about the ones that I didn’t. As I spent more and more time thinking about them the breakthrough realisation began to materialize: what makes them stand out is their education and persistence. Two characteristics that are within my reach.
Ever since I remember I loved to build things. First it was Legos, then complex computer systems. Being a computer engineer seemed like the logical career choice - I’ll be building things and getting paid handsomely for it. But for some reason I couldn’t keep a job for longer than a year. Each time I’d start full of enthusiasm, I’d learn new technologies, build new things. And each time, as time passed, my annoyance with my boss, my coworkers and the technologies we used kept growing. Then I’d switch jobs, naively hoping this time it will be different, repeating the cycle over and over.
But with each new job I grew older and wiser. Gradually I started to realise that there was nothing wrong with my bosses, my coworkers or the technologies. What got to me was the feeling that the direction of my work is out of my control, that I’m just following orders. As a professional I was never a maker. I was a resource, and it was the company founders that hired me who were the real makers. I was fulfilling dreams, just not my own ones…
When my frustration with my job took its usual course I decided that this time I wont repeat the cycle. I quit and plunged head first into entrepreneurship. I had no product idea - because of that my friends called my decision foolish, hasty and irresponsible. I did however have a methodology of acquiring new skills that has served me well in the past.
I started by reading books on entrepreneurship. Some of them were a waste of time. Some were enlightening. After a few weeks I felt that I’ve had enough theory. It was time for practice.
My first few ideas were a flop. I made every beginner mistake possible, such as trying to sell to restaurants. In fact, if I think back about my journey, nearly everything I did was a mistake. Which, as it turns out, is to be expected. But as long as I was learning and moving forward I was fine with failing. You’re supposed to make mistakes. You’re supposed to learn what works and what doesn’t. You’re supposed to iterate.
Getting drunk with my boss that night in London changed my life.
As a salaryman I got a nice predictable paycheck for doing technical work that I mostly enjoyed. I was worry free, had plenty of vacation days and was pampered by the IT job market. But it didn’t feel right.
As an entrepreneur I constantly have a feeling that I don’t know what I’m doing or what the future holds. I’m stressed, angry, depressed, and have no time off. And for the first time I truly feel alive.