In last month’s article, we saw how to get over mental obstacles for creative-minded people. This month and for the further articles, I want to share real stories from people who made it and took the leap, from quitting their job, to creating their own.
Stefan Wöhrer is the founder and CEO of Lean Coders in Vienna, a company that creates software and web solutions for passionate people. He has been a software developer for 12 years before stepping up to self-employment. Since then, things started running on high-speed for him: within less than 12 months, he joined a company as co-owner and CEO and within one more year the company grew from 7 to 12 people. After 6 more months, the team is about 25 people including external partners. He explains:
Our technical focus lies on web-based software. From basic web pages to enterprise applications. We are also working on the concept of a very simple to use and powerful online shop to empower small entrepreneurs and provide a platform to sell goods and services.
We have 2 main goals: Empower People and Maximum Freedom. Everything we do, every little program we code, has to follow the rule: Empower People. Our focus is to use technology to implement projects and create products that help people. Our software serves a meaningful purpose, and we also strongly co-operate with freelancers – that also empowers everybody who wants to become self-employed to have steady income and success by working on projects with us. For ourselves and our employees, we focus on “Maximum Freedom”. That means: Flexibility in working hours, working place (remote or in the office) and (as much as possible) in the projects.
What happened just right after you quit your full-time job?
Luckily, I had two projects to work on in my immediate pipeline that I started on a freelance-basis right after I quit. One of them was actually a project together with the company I formerly worked in. Although I kind of had this security (of having projects in the pipeline even before starting self-employment), I cannot deny that I was scared to the bone. Luckily, I had some good friends and “business sparring partners” and not to forget my wonderful fiance, who helped me through that phase. Especially when it comes to organizational and strategic questions, she was the best help I could ever get.
What do you say is the main difference, for you, between being employed and self-employed?
Every minute spent on the job is actually an investment into something I believe in. I cannot deny that the job has become more important than it was in the past. Also, I work more hours than before, but it doesn’t really feel that way. Working for your own company is a unique experience and time flies by like nothing. I still try to give enough attention and space to other parts of my life, though. You’re of no good if you let the job eat you.
There’s that nice analogy by Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca Cola Enterprises:
Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five balls in the air. You name them – work, family, health, friends, and spirit, and you’re keeping all of these in the air.
You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back.
But the other four balls – family, health, friends, and spirit are made of glass.
If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered. They will never be the same.
What were the difficulties you encountered?
Objectively spoken, it was not at all difficult, but from a subjective point of view, one of the most challenging moments was the first time when I got sick after quitting the job. If you are getting paid only for hours you really work, illness mentally kicks in as “unproductive” time. It was a process and I need to learn that it’s not the end of the world to be sick, but I was worried for every minute I was not actually on the computer writing code.
That said, the most important piece of the puzzle was actually the change of my mindset. I felt like I needed a change and I was extremely lucky to work in a field that supports self-employment. Yet, it was a long process before I even considered self-employment in the first place. Coming from an environment of “employment”, creating a business on my own was not on my radar for over 30 years. So the change of mindset was actually the most important factor for me. So the best “help“ I got was, believe it or not, motivational videos on Youtube. I highly recommend Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “6 Rules of Success“ .
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking to become self-employed?
First of all: You can do it! But don’t be foolish: It’s not enough to follow #ceomemes or whatever hashtag and think everything else will come automatically. There’s a lot of hard and smart work involved. Especially, you gotta think of your cash flow: what product or service can you offer that can earn you money? Because after all, it’s about the money: No money, no food on the table – simple as that. So whatever you do, focus on money-making activities.
In the beginning, I had a lot of doubts. What I did to counter those, and what I tell others is: “you surely gotta be motivated, but don’t lie to yourself”. Don’t just risk everything. Do it the smart way. Sometimes, you gotta risk something, but never everything. And most of the time, you gotta play safe. If you want to create a product or a service, either find an investor upfront or start your business besides a 20, 30 or 40 h/week job. Self-employment and laziness don’t go together, so befriend yourself with the idea of working extra-shifts.
How did your relation to your career evolve? Did you get a sense of purpose by having your own company?
To be honest, this is something that developed over time. In the beginning, I saw my job as a means to get food on the table. But over the years I realized that even one single person, or a small team, can make a difference. Softwares enable new processes and new functionality. I was lucky enough to be part of projects in various fields like multimedia & entertainment, medicine, or automotive. The more I realized that my work can really change something, the more I got the urge to do good stuff. And this can be done best by focusing on actual people and how to help people. Software can help sick people getting the right treatment. Software can help people learning new skills and educate them. And software can enable people to start new projects and businesses and build their future.
This is the one thing that really drives me, and also us as a company. We have lots of creative and “crazy“ ideas on how we want to empower people through software and new concepts, but there is still so much to do – we are just starting.
Did you happen to reconsider some of your decisions and asked yourself if you were on the right path?
I try to regularly reflect on my decisions and re-think twice. It is absolutely vital to learn from your own mistakes – in fact, this is one of the best ways to improve. I admit that I’m not a master in that, but I try to improve. As for my role in Lean Coders: Our decision-making-process is pretty solid. We are 4 Co-CEOs, so big decisions get discussed and options get analyzed thoroughly before realizing them.
Still, we did have a small setback: We crafted a “Franchise-Partnership-Concept“ that puts software developers in an “empowered“ situation where they preserve most of the perks of being employed while enjoying the freedom of being an entrepreneur. The goal was to remove all the anxiety factors of being self-employed. We have everything we need to go public with that, but we never launched this concept, because other things became more important after we finished working on that. I personally regret that we did not launch this concept as of yet, but I promise: We will!
As for my journey of getting self-employed: I had some moments when I asked myself if I did the right thing and I wished back the old “easy“ times of being employed. But that was only in the beginning. I am now 100% convinced that this was the right decision and the thing that I regret the most was that I didn’t start my own thing way earlier in my life.
If you’ve found Stefan’s story inspiring and you want to share yours, reach out to us!
ByeByeBoss is a monthly column whose purpose is to share inspiring stories and initiate change for those who always dreamt of being self-employed. If you didn’t get the change to read the previous post from this series: