Debt Free

I turned 30 last week and as a birthday present to myself I paid off the last chunk of the nearly $60,000 in debt I accumulated trying to build a software startup. I thought I would write a little about what that’s like and whether I’d do it again.

In the Summer of 2011 — four and a half years ago… dang — I quit my job.

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Customer Support for Solo Founders

Customer support is a hard and important gig. There is a reason startups have begun upgrading the title (customer success, customer happiness guru) and trying to attract higher quality talent to these positions. Good support is critical to onboarding and retaining paying customers.

When you have launched a minimum viable product (MVP) and it is getting traction and attracting paying customers, your biggest challenge will be balancing good support with further developing the product. If you did MVP correctly, your product is horrible and currently lacks a ton of features and has more than a few bugs. You will be getting a lot of bug reports, feature requests from at times frustrated and confused customers. If you did really well, the backlog will be more than you can reasonably handle.

If you are building a Micro-SaaS product like me, then you are likely handling the support load all on your own, on top of the rest of your duties as a solo founder. Navigating support as a solo founder can be a minefield and I it’s important to have a strategy before waiting into the queue of emails and tickets. Here are a few rules that have helped me build a SaaS app on my own with happy customers and a churn rate that hovers around 1%. In a follow on blog post I’ll talk a bit about my transition from a one-man team to our first support team member, which deserves a post unto itself.

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Very large CSV import in Rails on Heroku

Update: Our current solution for this is working pretty well. Skip to it here.

Storemapper, like many many B2B apps, allows our users to create, edit and export records in bulk using a CSV upload file. I have spent a ton of time trying to find the best method to allow the upload and asynchronous processing of very large (10,000+ rows) CSV files. This post is a documentation of our work to date on this, a plea for collective help from the internet, and hopefully will be the public home of the best solution we can come up with.

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Thought Experiment: Revealed Passions

Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt often references his mentor, E.O. Wilson, the best ant scientist in the world.

He argues on several occasions that being passionate about your work is an immense competitive advantage. His mentor is the best ant scientist in the world because he absolutely freaking loves ants. He loves studying them, and he thus studies them more intently and more often that someone who’s just in the ant science game for the paycheck and the glamor.

Sounds pretty plausible to me.

Let’s leave aside for a minute the debate about whether “doing what you love” or earning a good paycheck so you can do what you love is more likely to make you happy. Being passionate about your job almost certainly will make you better at it. And finding work that you are uniquely more passionate about that anybody else is probably a good way to find work that you have an unbeatable competitive advantage in.

Here’s another little economics gem: Revealed vs stated preferences. Experiments have shown again and again that humans terrible forecasters of what makes them happy. When asked to state their preferences — purchases now or savings later, a new TV or a weekend in Paris, and so on — the choices they tell rarely match up to their actual decisions. Economics use the concept of revealed preferences, those trade-offs people express through their actual decisions, to determine what truly makes people happy… or if you prefer econonomist-speak: what maximizes their utility.

I think it’s not too far to stretch to say that humans probably are not great at forecasting what they are actually passionate about. So maybe we should use the same toolkit of revealed preferences to think about revealed passions.

So I’ve been doing this thought experiment over the last few years. What do my actions actually reveal about what I am passionate about? What do I consistently spend my idle time thinking about, tinkering with and improving without any obvious economic benefit?

The thought experiment is to think about this first as objectively as possible, then if you strike something interesting, contemplate how you could work or get paid from it.

Here’s an example for me. I freaking love travel bags. I’ve lived a large portion of my adult life out of a single carry on suitcase or backpack. I currently live out of one. I don’t have a home, just some flexible storage space with Makespace and I still personally own eight or nine different variations of backpacks and luggage. I’m constantly upgrading, constantly looking at reviews of new gear and constantly checking out other people’s bags in airports — taking notes, evaluating features and generally spending way too much time thinking about travel bags.

Maybe I should start a travel bag design company. Why not?

I don’t think this is some secret formula and I’m not dropping everything to start a travel bag company. But I never even considered it until I did this revealed passions thought experiment. So it was a useful 30 seconds of brain work.

And now I’m thinking about it! Maybe it is a good idea. That thought prompted me to start researching, learning about manufacturing and design. If anything it spurred me to learn a bit more about something I’ve never dug into before.

What are your revealed passions? Give it a shot.