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In Allentrepreneur’s latest, discover how Rob Walling, a veteran software entrepreneur, paved his way towards micropreuneurship, his advice for those who aspire to break free of the traditional work ethos, and his newest project: The Micropreuneur Academy. Read on!
Allentrepreneur: Hi Rob! I recently got acquainted with your blog, Software by Rob, and had a seriously fun time perusing it. Could you tell us about yourself?
Rob Walling: I’m a web developer and Serial Micropreneur based in Fresno, California. I followed a typical developer career pattern until the last 3 or 4 years when I began building and acquiring software products and websites.
My blog has followed my career from corporate developer to consultant to Micropreneur. These days I write about Micropreneurship, microISVs, software startups, becoming a better developer and other topics that interest developers and tech entrepreneurs.
I’m re-opening the doors for new enrollments this week, in fact. If readers are interested they can visit www.Micropreneur.com for a video walk-through of the Academy and to lock in a discount by signing up for the pre-launch mailing list.
Allentrepreneur: There seems to be a motto you enjoy passing around your blog: Launch Your Product. Quit Your Job. Care to explain the what and why?
Rob Walling: I’ve noticed an undercurrent among developers who are tired of working jobs they hate, and who have made the decision to pursue something bigger. I’ve gone through this thought process and realized how many developers feel the same way.
“Launch Your Product. Quit Your Job.” has become a mantra for describing how these developers feel, and to provide motivation to keep us all going during those long nights before a product sees the light of day.
It’s also a mantra I used subconsciously when I was still a salaried employee looking to break free.
Allentrepreneur: You label yourself a Serial Micropreneur, or a one-person software business advocate. Just to name a few, you own an invoicing system, an online beach towel shop, and a software consulting firm. Moreover, you state that you’ve automated them to the point of autopilot. Sounds like a comfortable place to be. How did this all come about?
Rob Walling: I use the term Serial Micropreneur to describe an entrepreneur who crafts a lifestyle through a portfolio of one-person technology businesses (MicroISVs, SaaS websites, e-commerce sites, etc…).
I became interested in one-person technology businesses after I had a child and realized I wouldn’t be able to put in the 70 hour weeks necessary to do a big-bang startup. But I’ve always the burning desire to be an entrepreneur.
So in 2005 I built and launched my first web application, and acquired two more over the next two years. But owning a product (or three) is more time consuming than you think, and you soon wind up with too much work and not enough income to support the work.
After reading the 4-Hour Workweek I realized the key was automation and outsourcing, so I spent the next 3 years figuring out the best way to do that. Along the way I’ve bought and sold several online businesses, always keeping the most profitable and least time consuming.
Allentrepreneur: You have a great post titled “The Single Most Important Career Question You Can Ask Yourself”. In it, you make the difference between a consumer (one who hoards knowledge just for the pleasure of it) and a producer (one who hoards knowledge in the hope of one day creating something). Although you state both are fine, how would you counsel a producer to escape this potentially infinite loop?
Rob Walling: I think it should be an infinite loop, actually. You can’t produce without consuming something. The Beatles didn’t write their music in a vacuum; they had a myriad of influences. So it goes with creating anything.
But the key is to consume only what you can synthesize. There’s a huge difference between reading 100 blog posts and turning the information in those posts into something actionable. I know when I’ve drifted into consumer mode by the fact that I’ll read for an hour (whether it’s blogs, Digg, or Time Magazine), and I’ll have no memory of what I’ve just consumed.
Allentrepreneur: Perhaps the greatest roadblock to getting started is fear of failure. How have you dealt with this issue?
Rob Walling: Every time I’ve launched I feel fear. But it gets easier the more you do it.
In the early days it took me a long time to do anything risky. So it would take me 8 hours to write a blog post that should have taken 2 because I was so concerned that everything had to be perfect. But over time you get get better, faster, and realize that tiny errors don’t matter. It’s much more important to produce quickly, because it gives you a greater chance of success.
You’ve heard the expression “fail fast”? If you don’t learn to do this you will never do anything worthwhile. You will never get past that fifth blog post, or finish that web application you’ve been working on for 6 months.
Allentrepreneur: Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
Rob Walling: Definitely. Here is something I cover in the Academy:
Don’t become an entrepreneur because you have a product idea or to get rich. Figure out your goals before you get started.
A few years ago I found myself stressed out and wondering why I couldn’t get a startup off the ground. Then I realized a true 70-hour a week startup wouldn’t work with the life I wanted to lead (married with a child). So I had to completely shift my paradigm of what “success” is by defining my goals, which were to have time and location flexibility, work less than full-time and maintain a full-time income.
Once I figured that out I was able to make it happen within a year.
Travel. It’s on everybody’s mind. Yet when it comes to travel 2.0, the field is dominated mostly by discount websites. The likes of Tripadvisor are present, but few and far between. In Allentrepreneur’s latest interview, read about the vision Carl Sjogreen, co-founder of Nextstop, has for an industry that is long overdue for an innovative solution.
Allentrepreneur: Good to have you with us! First, tell us about yourself and your team at Nextstop. Is this your first startup together?
Carl Sjogreen: Yes, its our first startup together, but several of us worked together previously at Google or know each other from school, so its a pretty tightly knit team. I previously led the team the built Google Calendar and then went on to run Product Management for the Google Australia office, my co-founder Adrian led the Picasa team at Google for several years, and our other co-founder Charles was Adrian’s CS partner at Stanford.
Allentrepreneur: Travel 2.0 is a crowded arena with its fair share of flight and hotel discount startups. Nextstop, however, is a solution to travel guide books. What was the problem you saw with the traditional guide books and how did you come up with the idea for Nextstop?
Carl Sjogreen: Nextstop really grew out of our personal experiences traveling (I lived overseas for 18 months and my co-founder Adrian was just coming off a 6 month trip around the world). There are lots of websites that help you book a flight or hotel, but very few that help you know what to do after you arrive. We both found it extremely frustrating to find interesting and authentic things when visiting somewhere new, and realized that all the best travel experiences we had were when we had the benefit of recommendations from a friend or a local that could really help give a sense of what a place is all about. nextstop was really based on this simple idea, that if we could build a place where people could share the places and experiences they love most where they live and where they’ve been, the collection would be a super useful way to discover new things.
Allentrepreneur: Other startups such as Offbeat Guides, Where I’ve Been, and each offer an interesting solution to the question: what should I visit? What would you say makes Nextstop unique amongst its peers?
Carl Sjogreen: From a product perspective, we’ve focused on letting people share short, positive recommendations that are easy to make and easy to browse. We’re really trying to optimize for the case where you’re looking for something fun, but not quite sure what, and want to see a bunch of possibilities until one “sticks”. That could be browsing based on your friends (we import your Facebook friends), based on tags or keywords, based on what’s most liked in the system, or based on geography (we have a map that lets you easily find nearby things). The common theme though is that our content is all from people who are excited about sharing a place they love, not aggregated content from people trying to sell something or a watered down editorial version of what’s good to do somewhere.
We think we already have some very unique content from locals that is just very hard to find other places. From hidden places in london (http://www.nextstop.com/guide/cRysGNMPId8/hidden-london/) to the best architecture in seattle (http://www.nextstop.com/guide/HfCniKfqQ1o/seattle-architectural-tour/), our members have made recommendations that span the globe and lots of different interests.
Allentrepreneur: Would it be fair to say you are in direct competition with traditional printed guide books or do you view yourselves as a complementary tool for travellers?
Carl Sjogreen: I think people will continue to use many different tools to learn about places they are going. Guidebooks are great for background information, but I think more dynamic online resources that let you really hone in on the things you’re most interested in, are up to date, and from real locals and fellow travelers will be more and more useful for actually figuring out what you’re going to do when you get somewhere.
Allentrepreneur: I recently came across an interesting article by John Graham-Cuming titled: If you build it, they will ignore it. The article talks about the importance of promotion. How have you dealt with this issue and what would you say is the best way for budget-restrained startups to go about marketing themselves?
Carl Sjogreen: Absolutely — the internet is a huge place, and its always important for startups to spread the word about what they offer. We’re keenly focused on growth at this stage, and are really experimenting with all sorts of tools to spread the word – from press to SEO. At the end of the day though, you need to build something people love. I think if you do that — and make it easy for them to tell their friends — you will get the best kind of promotion, rather than spending time and money promoting something that people aren’t genuinely finding useful.
Allentrepreneur: Nextstop’s strongest feature surely must be its seamless integration with Google APIs. How hard has it been to work with them?
Carl Sjogreen: We’ve had great luck using Google APIs — we’re using them for just about everything. The team there has been extremely responsive and helpful any time we had issues. Its really enabled us to do a whole host of things that we otherwise couldn’t have done.
Allentrepreneur: Are there already plans for Nextstop to evolve from social travel platform to some sort of business model in the near future? If so, would you care to give us a preview of some of the features to come?
Carl Sjogreen: We definitely think its important for us to have a strong business as well as a strong community — if for no other reason than servers and engineers aren’t free, and nextstop can’t be useful if it isn’t around for years to come! Right now we’re focused on building a useful product and a strong community. We think if we build something that people really can use wherever they are in the globe to find a great experience we’ll have a number of ways to make money.
Allentrepreneur: Finally, give us your thoughts on the future of travel 2.0 and where you would like to see Nextstop in a few years.
Carl Sjogreen: I’m not one to pontificate about the industry as a whole, but I do think in general people want better information (whether that’s personalized to them, more correct / up-to-date, more rich (photos, video, etc.) in easy to consume ways. Right now there is just so much information that its really overwhelming to cut through the noise and get to what you really want. I think any tools that help people deal with that information overload will be successful.
As far as nextstop, our goal is to help someone discover a great experience anywhere they are on the globe, no matter what they are interested in — art, restaurants, hiking, whatever. Its a very ambitious objective, but we’re excited to build a product that really helps people discover the world around them, and are hoping that enough people out there share our vision that they’ll help make it a reality.