A ladder to what comes next

I’ve been thinking a lot about “what comes next.” After all, I genuinely don’t believe my job will exist the way it is ten years from now. So, I may as well prepare.

Some introspection

It seems to be relevant to ask myself “what do I want to be doing in ten years.” And, the fact of the matter is, I don’t know. I have some general ideas:

  • I’d like to be making meaningful decisions
  • I’d like a certain degree of social standing from my job
  • I’d like to be proud of the skills I have, and of the impact they’re having
  • I’d like to work with people in a collaborative (i.e. not customer-service provider) capacity

So, if I think I have time, I guess I should be using it to develop skills that I can sell in ten years. But, the only skill I’ve really worked on recently–in addition to teaching–has been coding and I’d really rather not code for other people. I just find coding too frustrating to do in the realization of someone else’s dream.

A plan of action

Where does that leave me? Well, it leaves me managing a business and a half–if you consider both my freelance teaching and my EFL worksheet generator businesses–while looking at how to move out and up to the next thing.

The move out and up is important, because I’d rather not make a lateral move. That’s where the word “ladder” in the title comes from.

So, I’m here with two businesses more or less under my control, and I need to figure out how to make the most of my experience now as I try to find something I can leverage to get out and up.

I could tread water in my teaching business as I do this, but I am beginning to believe that that would be wasting opportunities.

Learning skills

There are skills I can learn with both businesses, which may be valuable later. Here are a few that I’ve thought of:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Marketing
  • Sales and customer acquisition
  • SEO
  • Content marketing
  • Content generation
  • UI and UX (user interface and user experience)
  • And, yes… coding

At the moment, I run three websites as part of my “I’m an English teacher with a great online tool for English teachers” web presence. I think the combination of that–plus the idea that I can teach for myself rather than just for language schools–gives me plenty of leeway to learn skills.

The trick will be learning them.

No master plan, for now

I don’t really know where I’m going for now. I know that I’m going to make it a goal to start selling lessons on my own as a teacher–partly for financial reasons, partly for the experience–and I’m going to work on my businesses as planned, but I’m going to also keep two things in mind:

  1. What skills am I developing and using? And am I enjoying them? After all, if I find that I enjoy the challenge of sales, maybe I should look at a job there.
  2. Can I do the German thing of certificate collection? Part of my recoils at this thought. But, if I need to (or really want to) learn something anyway, why not do it in a structured way and get a certificate? It would help with a later job hunt.

Lastly: the unspoken option

In all of this, there’s one thing that’s not being mentioned: there’s a better than even chance that I–or future me–having gathered all these skills, will be able to maintain myself on my earnings from a lifestyle business.

So, maybe that’s why there’s no master plan: I’m hoping that, in building my safety net, I’ll learn the skills I need to never make use of the net.

Meeting with others interested in startups

This story starts the way a lot of things in my life start:

A lack of motivation

I’ve been struggling to get back into my amateur entrepreneurship since the summer ended. I have a few excuses for why time hasn’t been sufficient, but I’ve been struggling to get my motivation up. It’s a lot like getting back into music practice: knowing how much I’ll have to do, just to get back into the material is a bit of a hurdle.

Still, because the IndieHackers podcast emphasizes learning from other founders, I’ve been looking to get into contact with others. In spite of a lot of imposter syndrome, I wanted to start talking to people about the worksheet generator. I wanted people who would get excited about the idea as a business, rather than putting up with my enthusiasm.

So I organized a meeting

At first, I checked Meetup.com to see if there were groups for founders. There were, but they all seemed defunct (or, in the middle of some kind of summer break). I was discouraged.

Then, I rationalized: I have nothing to lose.

In each group–they were free to set up–I started a conversation saying “I want to meet other founders–and people interested in founding–to have a beer.” Then, I put all of the people who seemed interested into a group chat and we started working out a time.

Meeting with others

The meeting was just what I said it would be: people talking over beers. Of the four of us, there was a software engineer who was a dad, a recovering engineer, a student, and me. It was fun to get together and start talking about business ideas.

I was the only one with code written, and it was encouraging to hear them say “this sounds like a great idea,” and to tag on with their own ideas.

It was interesting to hear that they were plugged into a lot of English-language startup things I was interested in. Even more, it was interesting to hear about German-language “celebrities” in the world of startups and marketing… though I still haven’t bought any of the books mentioned. (I think I should, but where will I find the time?)

Next steps

It was nice to feel like I had an idea, I thing I wanted to get done, and that it happened. I even got one of the people at the meetup to signup for my worksheet maker, report a bug to me (oops!) and then start using it to help his girlfriend learn English.

Perfect.

Will it get me back to work on the worksheet generator as a business? I hope so. It got me to fire up the code editor and fix the aforementioned bug. That’s nice.

Will I organize another meeting? I’m not going to rule it out. But not this month.

The Amateur Entrepreneur

I’ve decided to combine several ideas under a single heading: “The amateur entrepreneur.” It should summarize the idea that 1) I don’t want to pretend to know what I’m doing, 2) I believe entrepreneurship is — like everything else — something that can be learned, 3) that it’s something I’d like to one day be good at.

Maker vs Entrepreneur

There was a time when I aspired to the title ‘maker’ (I still aspire to the title finisher). I romanticized — and continue to romanticize — people who can create (seemingly from nothing) the things they think up.

I think I’m good at thinking up. I’m constantly coming up with ideas that would be great, and I’ll talk them out with students and often they’ll end with “I think you have a good business case.”

But, seldom do I actually even start work on the things I’m interested in (have a look at my projects page). And, when I do, I have yet to declare anything finished.

maker, I think, would have stuff finished by now.

An entrepreneur is a level above a maker. An entrepreneur in my usage is someone who can not only make the things he or she thinks up, but fit them into a structure — whether social, or economic, or whatever — such that they serve a purpose and are adopted.

A maker makes. An entrepreneur makes meaning.

The short-term plan

I’ll write about the long-term plan soon enough. There’s one in the offing. However, as I look at this, an entrepreneur is the level above maker. And, before I can work seriously on the title of entrepreneur, I need to become a maker.

So, my short term plan is to turn Dynamic EFL into a finished product. Or, one that is finished enough to begin using it as the foundation of my entrepreneurial activities.

To that end, there are some things I need:

  • Better user management
    • User accounts should expire, and I should have the ability to prolong them. (The simple version of memberships)
  • Better resource addition
    • The way resources are added needs to be improved (it could be much faster)
    • The tools needed to add resources by location should be added. (So that I can add them as users from a location join — rather than preemptively adding resources for every location in Germany.
  • An updated (finished) landing page which makes it clear what the system does in as little text as possible.
  • A self-explanatory interface

None of those are big projects, and, when they’re finished, I’ll declare the system finished. I will have become a maker.

And then I’ll be able to begin taking my first steps on the path towards entrepreneurship.

The Public Dataset Business Idea

Here’s a funny fact about me: I like to come up with business ideas. Some of them I play around with for a while, others I know are outside of my own league. Until now, I’ve never actually started a business, though I’ve started (and abandoned) a number of themed websites.

Recently, I had a couple of good business ideas. One I might play with on my own, the other I’m happy to share with anyone who is looking for a project to play with.

The idea is to create a freely available dataset made up of a huge collection of survey data. Without looking into the feasibility of this, the idea is that people could take surveys on a website or via an app (and either get email invites or notifications via the app to try some more questions). Ideally, people would be motivated to take part in the project because it’s easy to do and it’s nice to think that you’re somehow ‘furthering knowledge.’ Additionally, there could be prizes or rewards provided (perhaps you’re entered to win something, or, if you’re in an important target demographic, you’re bribed outright.)

The business would make money by selling people and organization the possibility of including questions.

Do you want to know if people who own an xbox also play games on android phones? Pay x amount to have the survey include at least ten thousand participants with xboxes and their responses to the android phone question.

Are you a psychology student who wants to know if people who have watched a violent movie in the last 24 hours are more or less likely to brainstorm ‘empathetic’ keywords when they’re presented with an image? There will be an equation to figure that out, and the survey platform will ask enough people whether or not they’ve seen a violent movie in the last 24 hours to get enough responses to the second question.

I like the idea, because I’m a fan of public datasets. And because I think that people would be motivated to take part in a project knowing that the dataset would eventually be public.

I’m not going to pursue the project because the mathematics end of it is far beyond my own abilities and so I’m setting the idea free into the world. It’s yours if you want it.