The Trek of a Solo Founder by@padenfool

The Trek of a Solo Founder

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Alex Paden HackerNoon profile picture

Alex Paden

All my TL;DR is AI generated

The first time I’d considered working at a startup, I was still in college, commuting from my parent’s house to save on student loans.

At the time, I didn’t know what a startup was, I knew what a business was, I knew that you sold things to make money, but I didn’t know its purpose.

It was around my second year of computer science when a friend reached out; he was starting a company to build stores on the internet—stores for digital products. I would love to claim that he recruited me due to my technical prowess, but that’s not the case; I was recruited because I sold digital products. My purpose was to outline the product I needed.

Of course, I had no idea what I was doing; probably the product wasn’t very good at all.

It wasn’t until years later, after college, when I was ready to do more- push the boundaries of what we had built and where it could go, that I found myself alone.

It turns out not all founders would instead pursue the grandiose visions compiled by their imagination. Me? I would love to, but when the company was offered to my leadership, I lacked the experience to continue it safely. I lacked the experience to be the only one left.

Thus began my journey. The trek of a solo founder was an adventure like none I had ever or likely will ever replicate. An intrinsic experience that is either impossible to or without a purpose of describing.

It is that experience of life when you are the deterministic variable between success and failure.

To pursue your dreams, or to behead them in the sake of comfort.

What is solo founding?

If I were someone of successful means, I feel it not unreasonable that my answer would change.

The obvious shortcoming of a solo founder is to lack the experience that comes from a team of well-diversified and intelligent people. To take the journey of bringing your creation into the world alone, you must be willing to identify your failings to face a relentless wave of inability and foolish failure.

The result is the means to plan, design, build, and secure your mark in humanity.

Or at least that sounds like a fun adventure to trek.

Where did it begin?

At the start of 2019 I had just finished my first and second college majors (ok, technically I’m a class short of a second major). I knew I wanted to pursue a new venture, my own venture, but I didn’t know how or where to start.

Well, I knew I had to leave the small part of Pennsylvania I’d grown up in. I knew that if the technical experience was what I wanted, there is only one place in the world. So I hopped on Airbnb and booked a trip to leave the life I knew behind and to begin anew… or rather atop, someone else’s bunk.

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I wouldn’t ever really be able to summarize the experiences I had in those 3 months, a world of people and mentality that I had never known, but it was badass and I was hooked.

After checkout, I went back home for a little, I had to decide what was next.

Shortly after, some friends I’d met at the hostile got an apartment together in Mountain View.

I split half a bedroom with one of them, got in my car, and drove across the country with everything I had. A suitcase and computer.

One of them lent me a mattress topper; I was on my way to becoming a true silicon valley icon.

Just kidding, but I had decided I wanted to work in the problem space of Identity at this point. I knew what I wanted to build, but I didn’t know how to build it.

Becoming a technical founder

I’m the greatest engineer in the world.

Okay, for real, when I moved, I had a computer science degree from a local college. The limitation of my abilities was basically using Weebly to build a website.

Luckily one of my housemates was a great engineer, happy to suggest the most difficult course of building my (then) imagined MVP.

You know those people… who could be like, yeah, you should learn react and node?

Well anyway, my friend convinced me to learn about vue, .net, and building OAuth services from scratch.

BTW, I still haven’t launched anything.

But that is not to say the simple path wasn’t noted. It is to say that the understanding which came out of lower-level thinking is… worth considering.

It is this deep, difficult, and meaningful knowledge that contributes to the ability to imagine directions you never thought possible.

It was around this time that a little-known virus, named after my then-favorite beer (disgusting right?), was just beginning to make itself known.

To foreshadow the future, that house I mentioned moving into at the beginning, now…

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My housemates, feeling at risk in America, fled to Taiwan before the news broke.

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Luckily, they kept paying rent for their empty rooms at the house.

Lucky to me as I had no money-- besides a little bitcoin.

That is its own journey, love or hate.

It is, without a doubt, what made years of developing technical experience possible for me.

How solo is your solo founding?

I like to imagine founders of the past have really terrible days, really terrible days, and then going out to grab a beer with friends.

Well, I didn’t know anyone besides the people I lived with here.

They left and covid sent the world into isolated submission.

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See where this is going? My coping mechanism became more work.

This went on for about a year.

Then I got fed up, hopped in my car, and drove off.

Where to? Don’t know, past SF, onto some road.

I parked my car and fell asleep on the side of the road somewhere after a while.

The next morning I’d traversed through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana, I ended the night sleeping at a motel in “Wall” which had lured me in with promises of free coffee.

The next day I was on the road again, I detoured into mt Rushmore where a road sign convinced me to smoke a joint and rent a helicopter + pilot. Part of that experience was a focus on humanity, not documentation of the experience (putting your phone down).

While I have no pictures to offer, we saw a white buffalo, followed a herd, and experienced the top-speed of little ‘copters. All amongst many magnificent rock flowers of the South Dakota Black Hills.

Seriously, I didn’t even know what Crazy Horse was at the time.

Okay so some time went by, the earth was rotating around a ball of fire in the sky, I hopped back in my car and started heading toward Colorado.

Colorado

I usually like to imagine myself cooler than I am, I’ll call it imagined confidence as a coping mechanism for perpetual exhaustion of self-improvement.

So anyway, the one housemate left with me at the time, the one I split a bedroom with, had a sister. She lived in Colorado and I was waiting for him to send me her number so that I could show up and be like “Hey”. I thought it was really hot that she worked in aerospace and liked to fish.

So anyway, for you single guys out there, I googled “5-star motel”, and an expensive hotel that shared her name prefixed with “St” or “Saint” popped up. I rented a room, showed up with the clothes on my back, and a flat tire (sidelining the story of hill climbing a Volkswagon up a twisted cliff overlooking a lake I’d somehow found myself waking up near the bottom of in prior days).

Long story short I hung out in Boulder for a few days, we really liked talking to each other. After I drove back home, I realized that I had found someone very special to me, truly inspiring in her own journey. But really, I found a sort of human (actually founder) superpower.

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That is, to not be alone, having someone encourage you even through the most exhausting of failures.

We formed our relationship in a long-distance manner, that is to say, I drove back to California and eventually moved to a new (cheaper) location outside of Stockton.

As time went on it became obvious I wanted to spend more time with her, that she accelerated instead of slowed my progress, even if I left the (then dead) home of Tech.

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So I moved to Boulder, Colorado.

I would describe it as sort of a remote, pseudo-hippie town with continued boujee development.

I would have loved it in another life, but climbing rocks and riding horses is not the adventure I’m seeking these days.

I will say, this same view is out my living room window.

There is something existential about the mountains.

The size and evolution of nature have a sort of mystic yet humbling experience to them.

Founding

If you haven’t realized yet, the endeavors I’ve been talking about, I wasn’t actually a founder in them. I was a student trying to become the founder I wanted to be.

One thing I realized in this now 3-year journey is that life doesn’t stop. For anyone. Being a founder is one of the most enlightening and selfish experiences that I could think to have as a human.

It is rather simple to justify this belief; I have had an incredible experience in which I felt truly aligned with life and purpose. Yet, on this same journey tragedy was striking those around me. Including my own relationship- in which my partner not only faced the tragedy of losing a parent but her own existential mortality in an accident which I can only attribute the survival of as luck.

It is that obsessive focus that one yearns to achieve when entering this field that can leave those around you feeling isolated or alone. To find a partner who recognizes and accepts you for that is a priceless thing. If I ever found a co-founder, I would be hard-pressed to not see many similarities in the relationships.

RE: What is Solo-Founding

When I decided to pursue a second startup, I began the journey wondering how I could operate things if I was alone.

If you don’t know what an operator is, let me reference my time in sprint car racing.

Founding the creation of a new product is like designing and building a chassis + engine that has never existed on the track.

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Founding a competitive business requires an operator, that is to say, the driver of the car.

In racing, it is great to build the fastest car, but if you’re not also winning, it doesn’t really matter.

Operators are drivers. It is rare that a driver would also build their own car.

With special cases such as Carroll Shelby- though that car was operated by Ken Miles.

I believe it is important to balance the understanding that the creation of everlasting companies (plastic of humanity) is not something done by one person.

What one person can do is outline a vision, to do it correctly and beautifully.

To build the fastest car is to build the fastest car. But to prove it as the fastest car, that is to take part in the great game of life.

FIN

I am writing this article as a documentation of my own journey- whose purpose is considered wisdom only if I succeed. In truth, I am the same person either way.

These days, I have designed what I want, learned how to develop it, and am now attempting to bring into existence that which I desire. A user agent of online identity.

Skipping the cop-out answer, I have spent the last month or two falling back on design and iterating possible product routes. Although I made new designs for digital identity, pseudo-identity, and social cyberverse; I ultimately decided to put my full focus on recreating an electronic mail user agent from the ground up.

I’m still not where I hope to be as a UX/UI designer, but my goal is to make the mail client multi-dimensional and more friendly to user-operated spam filtering.

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I find thought-provoking comparisons to email and instant messaging, where they are destined to go. As my best analogy, I find the future of email to be likened to that of package delivery and love letters.

Unexpectedly, I found the most exciting possibilities and difficult UX in the sub-fields of pseudo-mailbox, “nft” address and mail signing, publisher aggregation, and the conversation market (earn.com).

I was a bit surprised to learn that most people I spoke to in the field had heavily focused on “speed” and “privacy” as competitive advantages. Although, I never had much issue with either, I think the innovation in this field should be focused on increasing the value of mail received. If speed has ever been my issue, it is the speed that it takes me to switch from one inbox to another.

Well, that is all. I will try to write more as I go. Otherwise, unless I fall on my face, the code will probably be on Github😁

re:

I quit and decided to get a job again (for the first time as a non-founded career actually). 5/21/22

It seems dreadful to continue bootstrap as the market is heading down. Though it is a relief, I am primarily sad; it feels like an injury needing recovery.

Of course, I’ll continue my pursuit of Online Identity in my own time, but for now, the easy life.

-alex

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