My love affair for entrepreneurialism dates back to high school. My first business was a development studio, entered into with a couple of friends in 2009, that produced two iTunes Top 50 apps. Years later, I transitioned to the web, founding two companies with my cousin. The first was an ecommerce store for sneakers — we stopped after Nike served us a cease and desist letter. Pivoting into legality, we then established a web design agency, building websites for people using WordPress and ThemeForest templates. I stopped after realising it was not sustainable to lie about your age over the phone to potential clients. From there, I started working on Backpack, yada yada yada.
Those early business ventures were born out of a genuine desire to have fun, and a complete disregard for making money. For me, the passion came from building and working with tech; everything I wasn’t interested in, I outsourced to my peers (e.g. sneakers).
So far in 2016, Fluid Education, has been defined by a number of rapid yet substantial business pivots, to the point where it’s become somewhat of a running gag amongst muru-D. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with switching direction; all the best companies do it. But, there’s a problem when you’re pivoting for the wrong reasons.
The truth is, I’ve been searching for the ‘next big problem’ to solve, without considering what I actually care about. Set to a grand fanfare, and echoed by the Sydney startup ecosystem, I haphazardly declared my passion was students back in March. Since then, I’ve tested a plethora of ideas relating to students, including:
- Can we help university students with their group assignments?
- How can we immediately answer burning questions students might have?
- Would high school students benefit from a social network just for them?
- What problems exist between students and tutors, that we can solve?
We tested the above ideas scarily fast. For the third idea, the Fluid team built an entire social network from scratch, put it in the hands of teenagers, and gathered results, all in less than 14 days. The latest idea, involving tutors, has seen me push the hypothesis-experiment-results cycle to ridiculous extremes. I put together a landing page, signed up 50 students and tutors to our non-existent platform, and facilitated an online tutoring session, all in close to 48 hours!
Again, there’s nothing wrong with quickly testing ideas and learning from them. The best companies are those that make all the mistakes they need to make before running out of resources.
Yet, I still didn’t consider what I actually cared about.
The tests were driven by external pressures, not internal motivation. Being surrounded by companies constantly landing deals, shipping both physical and non-physical product, and acquiring customers, made me hungrier than ever to compete in the same domain and ‘prove everyone wrong’.
Last week, in the midsts of conducing yet another rapid experiment, someone asked me what I’m passionate about. That’s when everything suddenly clicked:
I have no idea.
My biggest takeaway from the recent Sunrise Conference is that to go fast, you must first go slow.
Atlassian barely grew in the immediate years after foundation. Canva is a “nine year overnight success” according to its CEO. The founders of Vinomofo spent almost a decade screwing around with ecommerce before finding their stride.
These companies persevered through the tough, slow early days because the founders were bound to a purpose — to make development easier for developers; to change the world of graphic design; to have fun drinking wine. Unless I have a driving purpose, Fluid Education is a company destined for nothing.
That’s why as of today, I’m taking a temporary break from Fluid to try and clarify my purpose.
I spontaneously booked a flight to Melbourne, and made myself a bucket list of things to do:
- Read every single article saved to my Pocket;
- Learn how modern web development works (the most audacious goal);
- Go eight hours without checking my phone;
- Give mindful meditation a sincere try; and
- Eat Melbourne’s best burger, amongst others I’m yet to think of.
Maybe I’ll return with a renewed purpose, and a business case to drive me for the next 10 years. Or I don’t, and the search continues back in Sydney.
But, at least I took the time to slow down.
If you’re looking for more ramblings from a young entrepreneur, there’s always my Twitter. Be warned; I don’t take it seriously, and neither should you.