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Need Help. Going through late 20 career crisis.
63 points by reymook on Aug 1, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 44 comments
Let me first tell you about the current situation and the events leading to it. I did my B.Sc. in computer science in 2004. My dream since second year of my graduation was to have my own startup, my own company where we can develop quality software products. After my graduation I worked as intern(SAP ABAP Developer) at a large indian IT company. As I excelled in my work there and was better than most of the experienced programmer there, they offered me a permanent position in the company. I worked there for 2 more years and got tired of the boring corporate culture. There was no more real work left and I just got my salary doing nothing. It was frustrating as I always wanted to do quality work. I felt like my life was leading to nowhere. Besides that my ambition was to startup my own business. So, I played a gamble and it backfired.

I quit my job and started a company with one of my college time buddies. We developed Hospital Information System that took more than a year and half as we were only two guys. We sold our product to few hospitals but ultimately it was a big failure. We kept trying to improve it and re market it but it didn't worked and then we got frustrated. Out of frustration we tried our hands on other projects but we were not able to work with same enthusiasm anymore. Two months back we decided to shut the shop.

So here is my current situation. I'm 28 year old bachelor with a BSc in Computer science degree, 2 years of experience as SAP ABAP Developer, and 4 wasted years as director of a business venture that failed. I am good at both programming and designing and can do a lot of other things but currently in such a depressing mindset that I am unable to focus on it for more than 2-3 hours a day. I have many startup ideas that are really worth trying but now I doubt if I'm gonna complete it if I start working on those. I feel like I have the talent but not the mental toughness to do any meaningful work. Lack of success for 4-5 years have dented my self belief.

I don't know what to do in such situation. Having my own successful company was always my dream. I have the skills and ideas but no partner and finance. What should I do? Is there any way out of it?

Let us see:

  - You gained domain knowledge in an industry
  - Found a problem and proposed a solution
  - Developed a software to solve the problem
  - Sold the software to a few clients

I don't see how this is a failure at all. There are many reasons any venture will fail. Don't blame yourself for it. Your experience will definitely come handy in the future. Try hard and best of luck!


  >> "I am good at both programming and designing"
If you are based on Bangalore and are interested in joining a startup, please send me your resume. I work at http://zovi.com and we are looking for good developers.

We will help you get ready for your next plunge into entrepreneurship.

If you don't mind telling, what is the payment gateway you are using on zovi.com?

You need to stop focusing on the goal and start focusing on the journey.

If there ever was a cliché that's it but at the same time it really is true.

"Having your own successful company" is not what is important. Setting yourself small goals and then reaching them are.

If you didn't die your gamble didn't backfire. It just gave you one thing that most people lack. Experience with what it means to be responsible for your own faith.. That's never going to be a bad thing.

Next time take one of your smaller projects instead of things that take 1 1/2 year.

First off, if you have daily expenses like rent, food, etc. then you'll need a dayjob. You can choose to return to the SAP ABAP programmer jobs so you can pay your bills, and then work in your free time on your projects. Or, get a day job that complements your projects. Either way you're back into a day job for now. This is how a lot of entrepreneurs seem to do it.

Bottom line is that everything comes down to hustle and execution. Everything you "choose" to do in your free time should move your projects forward somehow.

If you need motivation, you could read a few books that inspire entrepreneurs, like Gary Vaynerchuk's 'Crush It' or Hugh Mcleod's 'Ignore Everybody'.

The thing to remind yourself of is that you are actually at a huge advantage compared to many. You've started and failed. Most people never even try. Use the knowledge you gained from failing to try again.

I'm in a similar position, although I'm still in year 2 of my startup and just exiting stealth.

It's a tricky one. I know I could be out contracting like my friends (the few there are, since I've been holed away for so long), earning £100k a year. Instead, I'm looking at minimum wage until this thing succeeds, or crashes and burns.

It's a rough life, this entrepreneur gig. On reflection, my advice would be to go save some money for a couple years, find a good woman, and have another go when you've got some more stability.

As a (hopefully "good") woman, I'm slightly offended by that - we might have career goals of our own, too. Heck, we might even want to be entrepreneurs.

But let's assume I misread you and got my hackles up over nothing - let's focus on the "some more stability" instead. I'd advise against that. The time to make mistakes that end in crash&burn is when you're young. As you wait, you accumulate obligations. There's a mortgage, there's (in the U.S.) the fact you might like to have health insurance, you specialize in a certain area, or you might even have kids.

Making that leap and saying "ah, I'll just risk my savings and a few years of my life" becomes harder as life goes on. The risk/benefit ratio seems to be getting worse over time.

I think it was just a misreading. My suggestion was that being a part of a couple would provide stability, financial and emotional. I've been in both, and know i'm far more courageous with someone in my corner.

Plus, while I agree that this may affect his hunger for the business, I personally understand that my entrepreneurship is for the benefit of my loved ones, and not in-and-of itself valuable.

Conversely, I'm offended by your suggestion that for a woman to be in a relationship is somehow detrimental.

Glad I misread you, awesome you could return the favor ;) - we're going for the misinterpretation championships here.

I'm not suggesting it's detrimental for a woman to be in a relationship. I'm suggesting it's easier to go ahead, follow your dreams, and take crazy risks when you're not in a relationship, independent of gender. Simply because less obligations mean failure is less of an issue.

Note: This is about _starting_ as an entrepreneur, not being one. Obviously, there are many who make both their business and their relationship work just fine. (And I have no doubt many manage to start a business while in a relationship, too. It's just a little bit scarier/harder)

Ultimately, as long as both you and your partner are good with it, do whatever works for you :)

Funny, by reading the GP, I thought exactly the opposite - that in the context of the sentence, that would be a woman with a career to pay the bills. May be hard to have two entrepreneurs tho - Or only without children.

I understood it as "find yourself a woman with similar entrepreneurial goals so she can understand, be patient and support you". It is _really_ important to me, I just couldn't do it if I didn't have that support.

Hey reymook, great story.

A similar thing happened to me. The startup that I was building was going all right business-wise, but constant, relentless pressure from the financier was ruining my life (I programmed, he paid and did sales).

I had a nervous breakdown and left the business. To pay the bills, I told everyone that I know that I was freelancing back in the world that I came from - building digital advertising sites. I was embarrassed, broken and burned out.

It was the best move that I ever made. I ended up only working for small startup web production companies. One of those companies loved my work and we got along famously. They ended up offering me an equity position in their company. I brought sales contacts into the business that were too big to work on my own. The result is a booming business. We're doing just awesome work that I never thought I would be doing.

While it sucked (and still sometimes sucks) to do project work, we're paying down some debt and planning to pivot our services company and potentially add a product to the mix.

I don't know if you can do exactly what I did but my point is that you need to chill, do awesome stuff for small companies and have faith that you're doing the right thing. Like another reader said, something good will happen.

Life doesn't work out as you plan but if you let it take you where it needs to, it can work out better.

Hey man,

I was in your shoes about 2 years ago. After college I joined a biotech start up, then launched my own startup (dailysite.com) which failed. After those experiences I joined a lab and wrote code for them for two years and realized I needed an mba to understand what is going. So today im at mit's mba program.

I would be more than happy to chat with you on the phone with suggestions. Just email me your number (somid3 at gmail dot com). Here are my suggestions.

If you want to stay in the entrepreneurship world, you need to hook up with someone who understands an industry. I like the suggestion of consulting or getting into web design. Why? Because you will get to know 20-30 clients very well. And you will understand their needs. That is how 37signals got started for example.

If you dont have the setup to begin a consulting gig, I'd suggest go to technology conferences and get inspired. Tell people of your experience, and be honest about your previous experiences -- share the good and the bad -- and the folks at the tech conference will understand your shoes and give you better suggestions.

I hope this helps, but again, if you would like to chat shoot me an email.

Cheers! O.

Real name Omid?

The solution is rather simple, actually: take a break. Real break. Seriously. If you keep pushing it, you will only end up being in a much worse situation.

Do something light for a while. Spend more time with your family, close friends etc. Try something new and interesting. Then, after a time, ask yourself again what you really want to do and simply start over. By that time you should be level-headed and open-minded about your previous venture and use that experience to your advantage. Either bootstrap one of your ideas, join a start-up/company that you like or, well, do what you always wanted to do.

Naturally, take this advice, like any other, with a grain of salt. I'm not you; it's your life.

Cheer up - at worst you've got more experience than most late 20 year-olds I know, and there's not too many developers with both business and programming experience.

I suggest you do some freelancing or consulting while you get your head together (plus finances in order!) and plan your next move.

You always have (at least) two options in life when it comes to hard experiences.

1) Allow yourself to wallow in your failure and keep yourself there by constantly focusing on the negatives of what happened.

2) Focus on the experience that you had. Think about what you learned, good and bad. And use that to help you form your path towards the future.

I know it sounds really cliche to say that "failing often" can lead to success, but I have known many people who have gotten laid off or failed miserably at something and instead of dwelling on the fact that they were a failure, they bounced up and took the lessons they learned to do something different or change directions in their life or career.

Personally, I've also had a few experiences with failure that devastated me at the time, but after a few days of mind numbing woe is me, I picked myself up and did something about it and I am much more successful now than I was back then because I reflected on what happened in those instances and it helped me redirect my efforts.

So cliche or not, your attitude matters and if you start focusing on what you've learned instead of what you've lost I'm sure you'll bounce back.

First off, you should hold your head high for the things that you have already accomplished. As for it not working out, welcome to the real world. You can either let that eat away at you, or you can get back on the horse. My first venture failed and I took about 1-2 weeks as a mini-mind vacation but then I immediately started brainstorming for what my next project was going to be. Failing is inevitable. It's what you can accomplish through the failure that is the true question. Identify the mistakes you have made so that you don't make them again, and then do it all over. Genius is merely persistence in disguise. (Oh, and BTW, as I am in a very similar situation to you in terms of 1 failed venture/age/experience, shoot me an email sometime - robertajohnson83 [at] gmail.com.)

Here is what I read to keep me going each day

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

credit to Teddy Roosevelt for the quote

If you really need the money, then a good compromise may be to go work for another startup for 12-18 months. You will get a meaningful salary (depends on the startup, but it should at least cover your basic expenses and allow you to save a little), but more importantly, it will hopefully allow you to work alongside other talented, motivated people and learn from the founders. After you have "recharged your batteries" from a financial and emotional perspective, you may want to give it another try to launching your own startup.

An alternate plan would be to consult on SAP for 'x' amount of months, make a pile of money and use it to fund your next startup. However, the consulting life can be very stressful.

good luck!

Good advice. Don't bet all your chips on one hand. Keep on trying your startup, but don't make it the only thing in your life. As with investments, diversifying is less risk.

Here you are, commiserating over a failed business venture in your late 20's. Clearly your life is over. I mean the next 50 years of your life is utterly worthless, right?

Did you ever wonder why so many internet startups in the US are built by people in their 20's? It comes down to a few reasons, but the primary reason is that very few people want to take a risk once they get into a lifestyle with kids, house payments, or private school. People with health issues couldn't get health care coverage once it they left a company (the pre-existing condition clause), and others don't want to leave a career or reputation that took 20 years to build at the company they work for.

You're young, and presumably healthy. You took one risk and failed. Consider it an education more valuable than your schooling. It's time to take another. Figure out why the first failed and don't repeat the same mistakes. Easier said then done, I know. It's also true. Why didn't hospitals buy your system? Do you know? Was the market locked up by a big data company?

Build something, start off small. Show it to a few people. Get some feedback. A lot can be done in a weekend with python and django. Listen to the comments. Incorporate the best ones into your project, show it to a few more people. Wash, rinse, repeat. If you're project is a failure, you won't have wasted a year and a half working on it, but rather a few weekends.

The cliche here is that the real test as to whether you can start your own successful company hinges upon what you do now that you've had your first "failure."

If what you truly want to do is to change the world through software that people love, then it's never a waste, eventually you will strike on something that people need and want, As long as what you're doing pays the bills in the meantime, then great.

Now, I don't know your full background, but here's a few more thoughts:

1) I personally would never attempt to do a startup in a highly regulated industry without some serious investors. Software for regulated industries carries substantially more overhead for development than "less regulated" industries.

2) Find someone that is as excited about an idea as you are. Work on the idea together (it's all the better if that person is technical, and can appreciate the work you're contributing). You may spend a great deal of time finding this person.

3) Talk about your ideas with your friends and family, anybody that will listen, simpler ideas are better than complicated ideas, your pitch will get better each time you explain the ideas, you will get honest feedback.

4) I don't know how much you're varying the platform you're working on, but take some time to learn a new platform/language that is different from what you currently know. Watch as your brain warps and sees your old code in a totally different light.

No risk, no reward. Don't give up.

I'm surprised nobody has asked this, but do you know why your company failed?

1.5 years in development is too long to be in a silo without getting feedback from prospective customers; read about Customer Development (Steve Blank's "4 steps to the Epiphany" book) and Lean Startup methods (Eric Ries - The Lean Startup). And yes, you do not need to write a single line of code to get feedback from prospective customers. "Hey Mr. Customer, I was thinking of building X to solve your problem Y. What do you think?" is the cheapest thing you can do before you write a single LOC, the simplest question you can ask to gauge their immediate reaction.

Steve Blank says the difference between successful and failed startups is that the successful ones truly understand why customers buy. If people are buying from you but you don't understand why, you just got lucky and you won't know what hit you when your luck runs out, could be a market shift, or induced by a competitor. I'd humbly assert, if you failed, try to understand why you failed, so that you don't repeat your mistakes. If you don't know why you failed, then you just might repeat them - and thus that 1.5 years may very well just be useless (although I'm positive it's not). Write it down in words and internalize your lessons.

Also, reasons for failure could be further divided into things under your control and things not under your control. If it wasn't under your control, don't beat yourself over it. If it was, now you're that much wiser. Without a great wave, the best surfer in the world is still just some guy on a surf board.

Good luck and all the best!

I'll echo a few of the other responses, but with a slight twist.

I think you should look at Product Management in software. It is a field that requires a broad range of skills, including a very good understanding of how software is really made. But you also have to understand business, and then balance trade-offs between business needs and the amount of software that your team has time to crank out.

You will have to be both bold and humble. Bold in that you will have to be brave enough to try something new: You haven't been a Product Manager officially before, but your startup experience counts for a lot. Humble in that you can't say that you know exactly how to do Product Management, but it is such a multi-disciplinary role that is different for each team that you might work with that it is a place where you can go, and learn more and more for the next 10 years in your career.

Of course, that said, I'm talking about Silicon Valley. There are tons of jobs both for Product Managers and Programmers. So go interview. Go check out Monster, or Craigslist, and go find a few interviews for Product Manager positions. I know just about every startup in the valley is looking for both, and they also prefer people with previous startup experience.

I wish you the best of luck.

Don't you have to worry about Visa?

My advice is no matter how good are your programming skills or your product, if you're not selling, it's useless to be that good.

Get some good selling skills and human skills. The only reason why that other crappy software that you're competing with sells for millions is because the guy is better than you at selling it.

Maybe you should study and invest in learning how to sell and then give another chance to your software (that should be a good one after 4 years).

Stop developing, start selling.

Or find a business partner who can do the selling for you.

Nothing says you have to give up your dream or stop doing what you love, just make sure you have the right people around you.

Most startups fail. The fact your company failed doesn't mean you are a failure. Make sure you know why the company failed, though, so you don't make the same mistakes again.

I doubt if your experience as an entrepreneur would be counted when you go back in the job market and here in India I won't be surprised if you have to start again at fresher level (this is sad but true sometimes). You can get a stable job perhaps with less salary for your experience if it’s about paying the bills. You can consider freelancing for some local companies which is a less promising option. If you get a job meeting new people at a new workplace can help you come out of this state of mind. Take a break from technology for a month. Travel without Internet that should give you some perspective on things. I don't think there is any recipe someone can tell you here, you have to try things on your own and see what works for you. Key is to move on then keep on analyzing your past mistakes or experiences. I believe whenever you work hard you create energy of some form and once this energy is created it always give good results may be not immediately but perhaps later. Where are you based in India? Add some contact info.

I feel down sometimes, letting things that are outside my control, control my happiness. But then I take comfort reading HN. Because I find here a community of like minded individuals, all trying to take their little sparks of creativity, nuture them with passion and hard work, and someday hope to create Lightening. So many of us fail. But I think it is a bigger injustice to our souls, to shut out the sparks, every time they buzz a little in our brains. Instead of thinking of the end result, relish the times you spent genuinely Loving what you were doing, long nights spent in the service of the Gods of code, meals forgotten because of ingenious ideas being hashed out on whiteboards. Because you were truly Alive then, and no one can take that feeling away from you. Close your eyes, think about the good times, take strength from the rest of us, some who have struggled just like you. If you have financial or societal pressures, get a day job and 'fit in' for a bit. But NEVER shut the sparks out!

Failure is the road to success, grasshopper;)

If you don't have any family, you should take some time off (months) doing something else. Preferably nothing at all (ie. travel).

You need to put your experiences into perspective. When you do that, you'll probably value those 4 years highly.

You now have 4 years experience you can draw on when you start your next venture!

Look at it this way, I'm in the same situation you are (26 though), but don't even have the experience of starting my own venture and failing. I've been saying I'm going to launch something, anything, but it's too convenient to just keep going to work, earning my salary and not really pushing myself out of that comfort zone a lot of us fall into.

Best advice I can give is to tell you that you're certainly not alone, and from an experience and skillset perspective you're ahead of A LOT of people out there. This can be tough to keep in the right perspective when you read about 25 year olds closing huge rounds and killing it on HN, but those guys are the exception and not the rule. The fact of the matter is that you're 28, with solid skills and experience, so there's literally nothing stopping you.

I think if you're really sure, that you wanna be an entrepreneur, then there's no way around it. you might consider your current work as a means to acquire enough funds to get your next venture start. and that might at least help you focus a little more on your current work.

Take a break! (If you can)

I've often found that doing some kind of 'reset' helps. Sometimes this means completely stopping any kind of computer or business related effort. In the past, I've done things like traveling, etc.

As for failure, don't be too hard on yourself. If you do a little bit of searching about Silicon Valley stories, you'll see a repeated theme: people fail a few/many times before their big success. I'm on my fourth 'failure' already. ;) Bottom line is pick yourself up, dust off, and try again. You have plenty of time still - trust me.

Another suggestion might be to go to some kind of code/programming meet ups. You'll met all kinds of people there and that chance meeting that could spark it all to happen, you gotta be out there among other creative people.

Good Luck!

SAP and ABAP will suck the life out of anybody! I started in the same boat, first as an employee and later as a consultant. None of it was rewarding - so I started businesses on the side and it eventually panned out into a full time successful company.

Just do something on the side that you are passionate about. Doesn't have to be a huge undertaking - just something. Keep the job to pay your bills, but the rest of your time work on your project, get customers, build stuff, etc, etc. You'll find it rewarding and if you put the right effort into it things will work out for you eventually.

It sounds to me like you're stuck because you don't think you have the drive to try another startup but believe that there isn't any interesting corporate work. Both of those beliefs may be wrong:

- you should be able to find work in the healthcare sector and use your experience to really improve things or join a startup that is past the grueling early stage

- you might be able to find a different environment or a different partner for another try at a startup. Taking on a day job for a while might expose you to other people with energy to start up a new venture

Facebook likes to hire entrepreneurs (successful or not -- you've learned a lot (and that rhymes (and now we're triple nested))). Anyway ...

Hit me up with your resume at apansari@fb.com and see if there are any positions that are interesting to you on our careers website.

You are demoralized right now -- all entrepreneurs have been there when our pride and joy fails. It's okay and it will be better.

Take it as a learning experience and keep plugging.

Also, I think it is important to find a good co-founder or team to keep you going. Doing a startup is emotionally tough especially if things don't work out initially. You need a strong partner to share the experiences.

Also launching early is important and can prevent you from wasting years developing a product nobody wants.

The business venture is not a failure. It takes balls to do that, and it all counts for good experience and something you can talk about ...

You're obviously a talented developer, try learning something new like node.js and get some employment with it ... the answers will come ... I can definitely relate to this

You really need to look at this as what it really is: an early attempt at success. That is it. The only thing left for you to do is to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. You are actually quite young to try several more times.

Brother, you need to be surrounded by people that believe in you and get a good, could even be a quick, win under your belt. Then you'll look back on this post and wonder why you ever made it.

Go to business school. Seriously.

What is it with the anti-MBA attitudes around here? The OP is at a point in his life that is extremely common to people who go to b school. Right age. Right motivation. Right skills. It would be a great option.

I've been through the same stuff including a failed company and burn out. You need to do something else for a bit and determine your realistic priorities rather than ambitions. Get a stable job, get paid, go on holiday and get some hobbies - it'll all come back to you when you are ready.

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