The nice thing about being an entrepreneur is that you never stop learning; you have to figure out how to work without a map and to find your own path. The result of this is a weird feeling that just a few months ago I was ignorant, and that I certainly am now.
Here’s a quick recap of the recent events and things I’ve learned.

January 2010 — The Fall

In late January I released Teamly—my second attempt at building a successful web-application¹—with high hopes that it will bring me my first customers. To my disappointment, I realized soon afterward that doing business isn’t as simple as incorporating a company and building a product.

The most obvious requirement for a company to do business is to have a merchant account and payment gateway. But the fact is, I was unable to provide the required documents because I am not a US resident.

I mistakenly believed that America shares Europe’s vision, where the market ensures the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. Far from it, America’s borders are closed and the country has strict immigration controls. Although there are ways to overcome these legal issues, they usually involve spending a lot of money.

Should I have incorporated in France? No, because I gained much experience, especially dealing with lawyers. However, I should have taken the prudent approach and waited until I had both a finished product and real users. I was eager to prove myself; I got slapped in the face.

The biggest problem really was, how do I get real users. Again, I made a major mistake. I knew I couldn’t succeed in complete isolation from the outside (startup) world, yet I didn’t do anything about this until very recently. Procrastination is a dangerous evil; while you do nothing, things get worst and change is made even more difficult.

I’ve grown with a completely different mindset than my friends and schoolmates (entrepreneurship is not very popular in France), so I didn’t fit in very well in school and the community around me. The consequences were very bad. First, because I had no external support. Second, because when I reached the point where I needed to tell the world about my product, nobody was here to listen.

So I learned that when you feel like people around you aren’t like you, that you’re not in sync with your community, you should move out to a different place immediately.

Overall, I thought that building a successful business was all about the product, that if I built it they would come; I was utterly wrong.

Shortly after releasing the free version of Teamly I started looking for a co-founder, fully aware that I couldn’t do it all by myself.

February 2010 — Fate or Luck?

In February I pushed hard to get me out of this mess. I had a few drawbacks, and then I stumbled upon the Cofounder Wish List and sent two emails. Surprisingly, one of them was to Scott Allison, who is now my co-founder.

As with most entrepreneurs I didn’t think you could partner with someone on a business venture without having him or her as a close friend. But I was desperate so I kept looking anyway, and eventually found someone friendly, competent, who shares my values and vision for the company—something I would have found hard to believe before.

To answer the above question, I don’t think it has anything to do with fate or luck. I believe that opportunity comes to those who actively seek it, that if you wait for it to come to you, you might very well wait for your entire life.

I’ve heard people say that in order to be successful you have to (among others things) stay alert, recognize the good opportunities, and take them. I don’t think that’s enough, I think you have to go and get it, relentlessly.

Back to the co-founder thing, I would advise you to never give up (as with everything), and more importantly, to start working on your personal network as early as possible.

March 2010 — A New Beginning

Shortly after meeting for the first time in Paris we decided to act upon Scott’s product idea. Unlike my original idea for Teamly², this one is simple, clear (it fixes an actual problem), and part of a greater vision.

For many years I’ve taken the wrong approach at building websites. Instead of trying to figure out something new and useful I thought that if I took a proven concept and built it better, the users would automatically come. If this were true Mac OS X’s market share wouldn’t be as little as 5%.

I think this idea of mine is the result of me being both curious and perfectionist—not seeing the world as everybody does. When you pay attention to all details and try to understand how everything works, you notice what’s done wrong, what could be better (in your opinion), and you wish you had the opportunity to prove yourself by building it better. Beware, this is not the right approach and won’t lead you anywhere good.

You have to build something that customers want; this is the hardest thing you’ll have to figure out if you are to build a successful business.

So here I am, with a new set of goals and better understanding of the world around me, ready to try to make a difference.

Notes

If you’re a software developer looking at starting your own company, I highly recommend you read Eric Sink on the Business of Software.

[1] My first product was called Widea and is now in the dead pool.

[2] The current Teamly project will be shutdown and we’ve decided to re-use the name. This is—at least—an area where I’m happy with himself, because I believe I’ve found two amazing names for my products (the first one being Widea).