Funding your startup with a "one on / three off" setup
Now that StatusPage.io is participating in the summer Y Combinator class, we're in the process of winding down our consulting gig that funded development in the first place. The setup we used to fund development for StatusPage.io was unique in the contracting/consulting world, but it afforded us great periods of working full-time on StatusPage.io while still paying the bills each month. Cognitive overhead and context switching are vile, vile creatures, and systematically eliminating these will free up your physical and emotional energy to maintain a startup and a consultancy at the same time.
If you aren't going to raise money for your startup, transitioning your consultancy to a "one week on / three weeks off" model can give you a manageable balance of both"
Let's be clear: enabling this model is not easy, but it's heaven when it works. Since RoR developers can charge well into the $100/hr rate bucket, billing a continuous 40 hours for only one week every month provides for a modest salary while you pour your heart into what you want to be your full time product business, and actually works out best for both parties in the long run.
To make this successful, though, there are a couple rules that you must adhere to to ensure both parties remain happy with the development progress.
Rule #1: Get the perfect client
Selecting the right client is key. I can't understate this, so please reread the first sentence before continuing. There's an extremely limited subset of clients that will work well with you on a one-week-on-three-weeks-off basis, and it's your job to hunt them down wherever you can find them.
This mythical client will likely have the following characteristics:
- Mostly professional services type of business, with an increasing focus on productizing their business or launching a new software product.
- Funded, or doing a significant amount of revenue such that they won't mind paying $4k+ for the week you're actually working
- Knows what it takes to build software, and trusts you're good. Having only 40 hours leaves 0 hours for negotiation or discussion around anything. Don't even bother. They say what they want, you build it, they pay you.
- Is organized, and is available during the week that you're "on".
Rule #2: They do all the planning
Since you're only "on" for 40 hours at a time in one continuous motion, there's no room for planning and you should be spending all of your time executing. Getting a client on this setup means they won't be using your time to waffle on specs or get feedback on wireframes, that skill should be honed internally and they should only send you what they think are final mocks and specs. This is never a perfect process, and you're bound to answer ballpack questions like "is this possible" or "can we fit this into 1 sprint" type of questions, but they're usually quick responses.
Rule #3: Get them to do customer dev
When you're off building the next AwesomeCo, they need to be doing customer dev. This will inform the next sprint of work that you do, and keeps them active verifying that the newly shipped code a) functions properly and b) is accomplishing what you set out to accomplish by building it in the first place.
Rule #4: They're awesome clients, so be flexible sometimes too
Sometimes they need a couple weeks in a row, and sometimes they have deadlines, or showings, or are pitching at some launch conference. Be nice every once in a while when they really need you, and make it clear this can't be a pattern. Finding one of these clients is gold, and have some empathy where necessary.
Rule #5: Minimize the overhead of mental context switching
Set up a GMail filter, schedule any off-week calls for your car ride home, do whatever you need to do to get them out of your head when it's your startup time. 3 weeks will never seem like enough, and it's always hard to tear away after a solid flow session lasting 21 days. During these 3 weeks, turn off anything related to the contract client and let them know you're off limits for anything that doesn't 100% need your immediate attention and expertise.
On the same token, those 40 hours better be the highest octane hour you can give them, and they should be smiling when they go to cut you a check. You should be exhausted. They should be happy. You'll go home and sleep for the weekend as you gear up for another awesome 3 weeks. Use SelfControl.app or whatever other "self control" tools you can use to stay focused and alert. States of flow - learn about them and strive to be in them. The Zuckerberg "wired in" scene from The Social Network isn't a joke, and your client deserves this from you.
Rule #6: Exercise, sleep, eat well
This goes without saying. I put it here because it can take planning and explicit action to make sure you're doing it. Train your brain to reward yourself when doing these activities. The human side of your brain recognizes they're important, and it's up to you to force your lizard brain to accept it as well.