“What makes us happy?” I have to admit I’ve pursued this goal for a large part of my life. I know that some form of success is linked to happiness, and I know that success is not that esoteric feature that only the gifted among us get to possess. Success, just like happiness, is something we all have.
Three paragraphs of background
I embarked on the “entrepreneurship boat” around the year 2010, when I built something that people actually paid for. They found value in my creation, and that brought me a sense of fulfilment that made me pursue entrepreneurship all the way. My creation was Monitive, the “purely awesome monitoring service” that, to this day, helps its customers keep an eye on their uptime and availability issues.
I had no idea where I was going to be years and years later, but the adventure was too appealing for me to resist. So I quit the nine-to-five job that I had and decided to go on my own adventure, you know… to boldly go where… well… not that many had gone before. And, obviously, I got lost somewhere in the wilderness, aiming for anything that seemed tempting to me at the time. I believe we all get to a point where we just have to sit down for a moment and admit to ourselves that we are lost. Because that’s the point where all the experience, both life and work, starts to fall into place and paint a rough map of where we might go. As a friend of mine used to say, throughout your life you have all these dots called experience, and probably sooner than later you start connecting the dots.
For me, that happened last year. When I built Monitive, back in early 2010, I saw it as a Lifetime Business. Something that pays the bills and allows me to live a healthy and happy life. Meanwhile, I’ve succeeded and failed at several endeavours, but what came out of it is knowledge and experience. And I know that because now, in 2018, I know exactly where I’m going, I know how to get there and, most importantly, I know why I’m going there.
Humanity seems to have this sense of a “bigger picture” or “greater purpose” that most of us want to be able to “see”, “feel” or “touch”, to do or build something that goes beyond our lifetime, beyond the “self”. I found out some while ago that someone actually looked into this, scientifically speaking, and called it “Immortality Projects”. It’s those things that we do, build or create, that outlive us, as a person. Event if it’s a house, a company, even children, they all give us comfort that after we’re long gone, they’ll still be here and people will remember us because of them. After all, why build a house that will be there for hundreds of years if you only need a place to stay for 40–60 years? Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to building a house someday, and I’ll probably spend an unnecessary large amount of money on it, but I believe it’s important to know why we’re doing what we’re doing, hence the “why”. Nevertheless, if it wasn’t for these “immortality projects”, cities would not exist, and we’d still live in caves and improvised sheds. However, I believe that these immortality projects aren’t the key to happiness, because their full effect is *after* our life-span.
But what about Now?
Coming back to the present day, I realised that all I want to do is to do what I love and make a difference in the world by doing it. And, opposed to the previous notion, I want make a difference NOW. Today! What the heck, tomorrow works for me just as well. Next month, too. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, but the best moment to do something significant is always now.
For me, this comes down to two things I’ve been doing for many years: entrepreneurship and web development. These are the things I think I got pretty good at, the two things that I can do, share and probably teach one day, the things that make me happy and that can also benefit others.
And this is exactly how Monitive came to be, back in 2010. Since I’m actually an engineer, I knew how to technically build an online service, and since I got promoted to team leader at some point in time, I’ve learned a great deal on how to run a business, in all its aspects, from budgeting to marketing, sales and customer support. So I just couldn’t help myself from putting these two things together to see what comes out of it. Especially because back in the days, uptime monitoring services were complicated and I felt a need for something simple. Simple to set up, to understand and to use. Hence, Monitive, and a lot of happy customers!
Fast forward seven years. It’s March 2017 and Monitive’s codebase has gotten pretty mature, not to say old. It was built on Kohana PHP, which is, by now, obsolete, the design looks outdated and even if it still works like a charm, it’s not something I’m truly proud of. I have always been enthusiastic about new technologies, and, truth be told, no technology that’s been around for 7 years is anywhere near “new”.
The main ingredient
Coming back to sales and marketing, I’ve always believed a great salesperson can sell pretty much anything, no matter how much they believe that the product will be sold or how confident they are about it. That’s definitely not me. I want to be proud of the service I’m marketing to our customers. If I am not proud of it, even my shy marketing techniques fail miserably and I’m not even surprised why. That’s why, in March 2017 I decided “no more”. I decided I’m going to rebuild Monitive from scratch, putting into it everything I have learned in the past 7 years. The latest technologies, concepts and simpleness that I came into contact with. I want to build a Monitive that I’ll be proud of again, for at least 7 years. This is the main ingredient.
We’re social beings
Second, I want to build a small team of people that are genuinely happy to come and work, to be at their best, and to work with passion. Because I know how this feels, I have been there before, I had led a team and I’m confident that I can definitely do it again. After all, what’s the most satisfying aspect of one’s professional life than to learn, grow and have fun by passionately working on building a high quality product that he or she believes in. That famous quote about “love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life” totally makes sense for me.
Now, this might look like a startup, or a startup re-do. Although it has never been easier to start a business, I never went the beaten path of startups, and I’ll tell you why. Yes, it has a lot to do with my personal vision of what a successful company looks like.
#1 Feature: Outstanding reliability
Monitive still has some of the clients that first became paying customers back in 2010. Since I had to be 100% focused on my nine-to-five job, I managed to build the service so failsafe, that other competitors and even service providers that we used back in 2010 don’t exist anymore. I started with the assumption that any external service that I use, be it mail or SMS sending service, and including the hosting companies, will fail early and often, and since my customers relied on my service letting them know a.s.a.p. when their monitored services are going down, I decided that stability was my number 1 core feature, making the system keep on running, no matter what. In seven years, I actually had just one particularly nasty outage that stopped Monitive from alerting customers.
The “standard” way to start a business
Back to entrepreneurship, I believe whoever said that “There is no try, there is only do” was right, because so many entrepreneurs try. And some succeed, some fail. I found myself failing a few times because I didn’t actually get into something, I just tried. But here’s how “standard startup” success looks like. Say some team has an idea for a product or service. The teammates have a rough idea of what they want to build or do, but they lack all the resources and probably knowledge they require to build a working business. So they find a business angel that can pour in some $50 — $100k into the business idea, for a merely 10% of the future company. Being inexperienced, both the team and the business angel, most likely burn through the funding pretty fast, ending up with either a half-made product or a small iteration that validates their idea. What’s the main interest of the team? To build their dream and become successful entrepreneurs. What’s the main interest of the business angel? To get 10x more money back from the service with a smart exit at some point. See the difference?
So, the next funding comes in, this time a bit larger, probably between $100k and half a million, probably enough to grow the team a bit, support running and marketing expenses, for another 10% to 20% of the business. What’s the team’s main interest? To do what they love to do, have fun and build their dream product. What’s the business angel and the other investors’ interest? Obviously, to make a money making machine so they can get their money back. And since growing a startup is all about exponential growth, with each round of funding, the chasm between what the founders dream of and the investor’s goals gets bigger and bigger. The investor’s main concern is profitability, not the team, not even the product itself. It’s all about Customer Lifetime Value, Monthly Recurring Revenue, Churn Rate, Average Customer Income and some other metrics. None of these have anything to do with the team behind. They are just a means to a purpose. They are the “human resources” fuelling their desire for success. Of course they’ll listen to the founder’s concerns, thoughts and desires. Because they’re all on the same boat. But the investor’s main goal is to happily exit the business with a big, fat, paycheck, way fatter than the ones they handed out when entering the business. And this is the main reason why I have never sought out external investors and investments for Monitive.
When it’s not about getting filthy rich…
Opposed from the “successful model” of a modern business, I’m into it for the experience itself. I want to put focus on the team, on the process, on the product, and I’m truly confident that this is a rather dangerous but fulfilling road to success. I’m not dreaming to come out a wealthy founder, although I’d be a hypocrite not to admit that I do dream about a lifestyle pretty much above the average. But that’s the same dream I have about each and every one of my employees.
I honestly see no reason not to build a workplace where teammates are eager to come to work, every day. This, for me, means a small team of people that are truly passionate about what they do, with a burning desire to learn and grow, with the certainty that this company is the key to fulfilling their career dreams and desires. After all, what better way to live a life than to honestly admit that the work that you do brings you all the satisfaction you’ve ever wanted. Moreover, what if that same job also supports a healthy, above-average lifestyle?
I had all this in my head, when I stumbled upon an article from the former 37 Signals, now Basecamp called Reconsider. This happened a few weeks ago. I never knew what their philosophy was, aside from “under-do your competition”, but that was back in 2010 when it actually inspired me to build Monitive. Nevertheless, I totally agree with their business philosophy and it seems it’s quite the very thing that I’m working on here.
This is, pretty much, the answer to why I am doing what I do, every single day. If I’d to answer “why am I doing what I do” in a tweet, it would be:
“I want to work in a place that puts emphasis on the team, and not EBITDA, building a product that we’re all proud of, proactively helping out our customers to increase their uptime, building meaningful relationships and having fun along the way.”
Good thing tweet’s length increased to 280 :-).
And since I haven’t seen one of these places lately, I’m making this my goal for 2018, doing everything I can to see this come to life.