“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work." - Steve Jobs
After a decade working in software writing code, managing projects, and a stint of road warrior consulting, in 2010 I left the software industry to start my own business. I loved software, but I had an itch I had to scratch. I needed to graduate from want-repreneur to entrepeneur.
The business I started (along with a business partner) wasn't a fancy, technological business. It was a brick-and-mortar sporting goods retail store that focused on triathletes. Tri Shop served a niche within a niche. We knew nobody was going to get rich.
That was the beginning of 9 years of 60+ hour weeks at Tri Shop. All the usual "it was really hard work" anecdotes apply. Every weekend was work. I wore every hat at one time or another, and sometimes I wore them all on the same day.
Every day I pushed and stretched and honed that business to be better.
After 5 years of solid growth, business plateaued. We tried just about everything (save taking on a lot more debt) to get to the next level. We expanded. We improved our inventory. We built a great eCommerce solution. We marketed well. We created a fantastic atmosphere. We cultivated a tremendous community. We compiled a fantastic staff with world-class expertise. We provided really, really good customer service.
We did all of the things we were supposed to, but none of that moved the needle enough to get where we wanted to be. We talked to some of our peers in the industry and found that our "flat" business was good compared to most others, but that's not what we wanted. And after my wife and I added children to the mix and our business partners did the same, we realized it was time for Tri Shop's run to end and new adventures to begin.
After pursuing a few sale options, we found it more lucrative (and much simpler!) to just sell through our inventory and close shop. We paid our outstanding debts to vendors, banks, and the landlord. We turned off the utilities. On May 31, 2019, we shut the doors for the last time.
Those 9 years taught me a lot. About business. About patience. About leadership. About myself. And looking back I know we did great, satisfying work. I think we even did a good job of going out of business!
I was recently asked, "why did you leave technology in the first place?" Honestly, I didn't really see it that way.
It's easy to get lost in discussions about development stacks and design patterns and how to best twiddle bits, and that's all important. But in my experience, the technology is almost never the hard part. The business problems were always the hard part, and that's what I did every day when I was writing code. I solved business problems every day at Tri Shop, just usually with different tools.
I got to deal with supply chain problems, inventory management problems, staffing problems, customer relationship problems, marketing problems, and on and on the list goes. I often got lots of things wrong. Sometimes I got lots of things right. But I always worked to make things better.
And I still wrote a lot of code! I modified and extended an open source eCommerce platform (nopCommerce) using .NET Core. I built a service to marshal and synchronize sales and inventory data between our online store and our in-store point-of-sale system. I built a web application that crunched data to help with our bikes sales process. I wrote queries. I built websites. I wrote modules for an open source CMS (Orchard). I even came up with an excuse to build and use a few Raspberry Pis!
I've been back in the software world ever since we shuttered Tri Shop. Back to writing code every day. Back to managing software projects. But I'm armed with new knowledge, new skills, new experiences, and the perspective that comes only with the ass-kicking of owning your own business.