The Most Dramatic Decision of My Life and How I Became a Minimum Viable Product — Part 1

Thomas Backlund
Oct 25, 2017 · 4 min read

When I was a kid back in the early nineties, playing with computers was pretty taboo. Video games on console were pretty cool but using a PC was plain weird. This was tricky for me because I was understanding that my passion was coding, not gaming. I guess I could have been wildly passionate about something else instead of coding. Like maths. But a very sobering experience from primary school years made coding the go to option for me.

There I was an eight year old kid mesmerized by Commodore 64, copying code examples by hand from a book into the console. I had no clue what I was doing. Then came my dad’s totally awesome Victor 286 PC, and when he gave it to me a couple of years later, that’s when my coding explorations really took off.

In my office: The 286, 12 MHz, 16 bit processor, still working!

I taught myself to code in C and Assembly from books and from hours and hours of experimenting. I was determined to learn how to do proper computer graphics. So when I was around 15 years old I created a 3D engine in Assembly, nothing fancy but the basic features were there.

Fun times and the dotcom bust

During my teens I did some work coding for my dad’s company and others. My plan was to become a full-time coder after high school — and I did. One of the best jobs I ever had was at Funplanet (I coded the game Big Bad Boss). A company before it’s time. A lot of young talented people creating online games led by leaders who were proper leaders, inspiring and supportive.

When the dotcom bubble burst Funplanet went under. The drag of jumping from sinking ship to sinking ship in the busted IT bubble of the year 2000, and pouring so much soul into products no one wanted, left me with a lack of purpose.

Despite my aversion to school I was lucky enough to be working with a guy fresh out of university, who changed my views of formal education. Deciding to go back to school and what should be my studies proved a lot more difficult than it first appeared. The IT industry had made me sick of coding; the amount of lousy, lousy leadership I experienced after Funplanet was enough to make me loathe it all.

After seeing a heartbreaking advertisement for the Swedish Childhood Cancer Foundation, the decision came by itself — cancer researcher. This earnest decision got me a degree in biotechnology from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, but not a step closer to cancer research. Soon I was back to reading about database systems and had already taken up courses in entrepreneurship.

Better off on my own

Back in the loathed IT industry again although this time with an aim to create my own company, with my own ideas and with the inspiring culture inherited from Funplanet. Oh my. The naïvité of that time makes me cringe now.
All through 2009 to 2012 part-time consulting gigs helped to pay the bills and the remaining time was consumed by my own projects, which were about high scalability distributed storage and database systems.

During this time I met Micael, the future Blockie designer and my longest running supporter. Being on a self-employed path at the time meant money was scarce, so I (hesitantly) accepted a job with a company which really wanted me to come and work for them.

Turns out we were not a very good fit. I had already gone too far down the path of being my own boss and taking my own decisions. It is hard being a visionary trapped in the body of an employee. It took me altogether two weeks to know it was time to go and do something else.

But do what? At that point in my career I had not made any name for myself nor had I any particularly developed network. I felt stuck with no real options.

The logical conclusion was as follows: in order to quit my job, I had to give up my apartment and move out into the forest to live in a tent to be able to streamline my life into a Minimum Viable Product so I could be laser focused on one thing — my own company, Blockie, and my vision: to democratize coding.

It is like that famous quote: “Get out of the building”.

Said and done. Bye bye job, apartment and material belongings.

Hello forest, loneliness, adventure and weird and wonderful new experiences. Coming up in part 2.

One of my many forest offices, sitting beneath the soothing rattle of the birch tree’s leaves.
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