No Exit Plan

I’ve just returned from MicroConf Europe, an event I feel incredibly lucky to have been asked to speak at. An event where for the first time in a long time I really felt I was with “my people”. As Rob Walling said on Twitter,

#MicroConf – one of the handful of days each year when I don’t have to explain what I do for a living.

I ended my presentation talking a little bit of my future plans for the business that is Perch. We’ve just launched our second product, Perch Runway. We’re very much looking to growing the business.

However, my goals in growing the business don’t include getting a nice office to house a bunch of employees. Like many at MicroConf, bootstrapping a business isn’t just about business. It’s also about creating the life that we want to live while doing so. I love the freedom of not having an office. The fact that we are not tied to location due to premises or staff is how Drew and I were able to up sticks and move home and business to Bristol earlier this year. I am not interested in the traditional trappings of business success.

I think it’s an interesting thing for our community of micro businesses to discuss. Where employees and virtual companies are concerned there are already great models out there for remote working. Scott Berkun describes the Automattic Model in his book The Year Without Pants. It’s a great read for anyone who wonders how a distributed model might work. Remote from 37signals describes in detail how they have managed to make this model a success. As in many things bootstrapped, 37signals have perhaps forged a path here that the rest of us might aspire to.

Growing isn’t just about employees, it’s about us. Many of the people I talked to at MicroConf are single founders. At least in my case there are two of us. I’m learning to let go of some of the purely technical stuff I do in order to concentrate on the business side of things, yet Drew can remain the lead developer of the software. For a single developer/founder the sensible business decision might be to hand over the development to a programmer in order to manage the business. That’s a tough thing to do when so many of us built products because we love to build things.

It comes back to lifestyle once again. We don’t like the term “lifestyle business” when used to denigrate those of us running small, often unconventional businesses. Who wants to create a business that makes them personally miserable? You can be miserable in a job and at least close the door at the end of the day, get weekends off and be able to go on holiday without answering support tickets! There seem to be a lot of us who have managed to build our businesses to the point we need to have those serious discussions about what happens next.

No exit plan doesn’t mean no plan. I’ve got some idea of where we’d like to go with Perch but I’d love to hear how other people in the same situation are moving forward. What are the challenges of going from one or two founders to taking on those first employees? What about employing people in other countries? How do we reconcile the things we enjoy doing with the things we need to do for growth to happen? How do we stop ourselves becoming the sort of business that we never wanted to run? If you have any thoughts and particularly any experience of this, I’d love to hear it.

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