It started a few years ago, when me and my friend Dries had an idea for a hosted e-commerce solution. At the time I was often looking for a solution to build out online stores for my clients, without having to go through the horror of customising Magento and the like.
At the time, the only thing that came close to what we had in mind was Shopify, but even their software was overly complex for most of my clients and it didn't feel like the way we wanted to build stores.
We decided to roll our own solution with only the features that were really needed and nothing else. We created SolidShops, a hosted e-commerce platform for people like us, wanting 100% design freedom and a simple UI for our clients to manage their store.
Dries focused on building a solid foundation and API as a backend coder, while I took care of anything related to the front-end and communication. Running a startup gives you the chance to learn and talk about so many interesting things from responsive design over conversion optimisation to deployment strategies for your servers.
That experience has been priceless. Thanks to running and building a large scale web application from scratch, I've learned an endless amount about setting up servers, deployment strategies, version control, sales meetings, pitching to juries and clients, doing support for clients, working in a remote team, marketing, money, ... the list is endless.
It's the kind of experience you can only get from starting your own thing and while it's tough, it's one of the best things that can happen to you as a web developer.
Not only were we having tons of fun building out the app, we also had a lot on our minds like paperwork, doing sales, managing support and many other things related to running and starting a business. This isn't bad per se, but I learned that the one thing I liked doing most was building stuff, something most web developers will definitely recognise.
The paperwork and management of a business need to be taken care of as well and in a startup, it will be you that needs to manage all that, especially when you're just starting out. SolidShops wasn't the only thing I was doing at the time. GoodBytes is my own little business I've got going here and I love it, always have and always will. Even though it's a small one person business, there's always client meetings,invoicing, development, workshops and other cool stuff that needs to be done.
When I'm not working for GoodBytes, I'm a web design and development teacher in college educating my students in a professional bachelor program called Interactive Multimedia Design. The combination of building web and mobile applications and teaching everything I've learned to my students, is definitely what I enjoy doing most in my professional life.
For most people - including me - the combination of those three jobs is a lot to handle in only 24 hours a day.
Even though the rewards are high, running a business is also something that has an impact on who you are as a person and how you behave. Some people can get carried away and have their startup become what they call in this article a "marriage destroyer". I'm not married, so that counts me out, but my girlfriend definitely saw me stressed out more than once because of things happening with the business. That includes weekends because you know, a server never sleeps.
I've noticed that things get ugly when you try to do too many things in a day. There will be a time when you feel that you need to make a choice in life and in business. For me, it became clear that I needed to focus more on what I liked most. That meant choosing between running a startup, running my own freelance business and teaching. Teaching upcoming web developers has been my passion from the first day I started giving lectures in college. That's my number one priority to get right. Web development changes so fast and students need to be taught by people who actively work in the sector.
For me, combining GoodBytes, building a startup and teaching about everything I learned the hard way myself is the perfect job. It's my dream job and I hope I can continue doing what I do for a long time to come. Running SolidShops as a business wasn't my passion after all. A startup requires closing a lot of deals and doing sales. I did it for the business. But it was not my passion. It's building things and perfecting them that makes me want to get up early every day so that I can teach my students how to become better web developers.
Life's too short to not follow your passion. In fact, life is so short that it doesn't make sense to do anything but what you like doing most, as much as possible. [No, playing Wii all day doesn't count, unless you can do that for a living, that's a whole other story]. For that reason, I say goodbye to SolidShops and I have sold my part in the business.
I owe you some tomatoes
The moment I decided to sell my part in SolidShops and leave the business, I felt relieved. It also felt a bit like leaving your baby behind [if I had one, which I don't, but you get the picture]. After all, I had been working my ass off for a couple of years in a row to build up the business. Right now, I am much more relaxed and I've started a number of side projects that I'm really passionate about.
One of those projects is building my own vegetable garden and grow house, together with a friend. Being away from my computer more often makes me even more excited and inspired to get back to work afterwards. We all need breaks and our vegetable garden [we call it "Petit Problème] is a place where I see friends and neighbouring gardeners from whom we receive growing advice. It's like Twitter but in real life! It may not sound glamorous, but it's definitely very rewarding.
In a way, it's like running a startup, especially the "building" part of it, just what I like most. Some of you have already asked me if I will ever start another web app or SaaS project. Chances are I will. I don't have a single regret of how things turned out and I'd do it all over again. Now is the time to unwind and focus on other things. That focus might shift from time to time and when there's something I can't resist building, I'll open up my code editor and hack away the nights.
Dries is now running things at SolidShops and he's set up a signup code for anyone willing to try out the application. If you'd like to give SolidShops a try for your next online store, feel free to use signup code "petitprobleme" and get an additional month for free.
I'd like to thank all of you who have supported me while working on SolidShops. Without your support, there would not have been a web app and there probably wouldn't have been a Petit Problème. Thanks guys! See you at the vegetable garden and keep an eye out for my next iPhone app that will come out somewhere later this month. I owe you some tomatoes. Joris