#NoCode #Officeless #WTF
Nobody asked for a review of a 10-year-old-book but here it goes.
A Lot of Things Change. Most Don’t.
It was late 2010 when I got my hands on a copy of Rework, by @JasonFried and @dhh. ICYM they are the creators of Basecamp, a 2-decade sustainable, independent top-shelf software. The latter developed Ruby on Rails, a framework used to created Twitter, Airbnb, and Shopify. I didn’t know yet but I was about to leave the last job of my life after a 10-year-career as an Art Director and Creative Director to start Contra, our Product Design company. The book had nothing to do with that at the moment. At least I’d thought so.
Find the Wrong People
It was when I met my first partners. We have never been organized, hard-working nor raised to be businessmen. Lucas and I have this idea of living out of our own projects while having a support network of paying gigs that would make us independent creatives. LC was just bored of wasting his talent in advertising and wanted to do more out of it. Without too much planning, we launched Contra in 2011. A company born in that awakening raging moment when you discover that what you do can be converted into an assorted array of things you never thought you could do.
Everything is a Startup
Back then we created a social network for our city. Then a card game where should have been a night club campaign, a false newspaper to launch a real newspaper, and so on. We wanted to create things just like Breakfast NY. We were more into stuff like The Yes Man Fix the World and Czech Dream. It was when we heard the word “Startup” for the first time. We dug more to understand how kids like us could create a million-dollar business out of their dorms.
Mind Your Own Business
At that time I was building an app called Rango which would be a food e-commerce platform that I started with Lanusse Castro, a friend, advisor and Senior Designer at Huge who introduced me to User Experience and Interface Design. Lucas had this music project which turned out to be Glue Trip while LC runs a soccer TV show called Arquibancada Sol since. It was the beginning of the Contra experience: bringing our ideas to life while working on projects that would teach us all we needed to know in order to run our businesses.
Back to that provocative book. Rework just didn’t make sense in the startup world, where everyone was getting funded by someone. Apparently, all you needed was an elevator pitch and an elevator with a VC inside. Startup programs and investment funds were popping everywhere. In its turn, the book advocated for independent bootstrapped businesses that would grow in the long-term, rather than taking the skyrocket all-or-nothing path of the traditional startup funding circuit. Focus on building a great product. Find profitability early on. Avoid outside funding as long as you can. Keep it small until you really need to scale. Go remote. Get real. Don’t give it away for free.
The Startup Wheel of Misfortune
Then we’ve been selected for Startup Chile. Just like that, I had a 1-year entrepreneurial Visa and $40,000 USD in funding for Dodo – a science crowdfunding platform nearly founded along with Vinicius Maracajá and Marcelo Jardim. 2014 was ending. In about 60 days I dropped everything I was doing and flew with wife and daughter to live in a foreign country. This experience changed my life greatly. I wasn’t feeling special anymore. It was a global community of people with big world-changing ideas. There was this guy from Russia turning on a lamp using only the power of his mind. A startup saving lives in Africa just using SMS.
Most of them failed. We ended up among the bests of our batch, get selected for an Incubator and received even more funding. We connected backers, donators, and supporters with scientific researchers. We built a community around the idea of people self-funding their own science projects. We started discussions and created movements that still persists. We contributed to the academy sharing our path for science crowdfunding. The business thrived while it lived. And it died, eventually.
We already knew what we should have known
Later we realized how painful would be to develop a legacy system to process donations from several countries and currencies. Manually retain the funds until the crowdfunding campaigns reached the end. Automatically refund people if the goal was not accomplished. Deal with endless international taxation and regulations. We weren’t in the science industry anymore but in the payment industry. We didn’t get the right timing. If only we have Stripe at that moment… We had all the excuses. Hey, that’s okay because fail fast, learn faster right?
Or Maybe we should’ve started small. Collect local donations. Build our business organically. Get ourselves profitable early on. Not following the hype. It was all there, written in Rework stone.
Failure is not a rite of passage
When I moved out people started to ask if I had left Contra. How could I leave something exactly designed to allow me to do that, in the first place? While struggling to establish a business in Chile things were running pretty smoothly at home. Lead by Lucas and LC Contra had just released things like El Concursero and Los Chicos de Filipéia among other cool projects. Wasn’t I necessary anymore? Or it was our original idea just working as we thought?
By 2015, more people onboard: Diogo Carvalho, our one-and-only coworker at the time, was made a partner. Newly arrived from a Hyper Island season in Sweden, brought his knowledge in administration and strategy that ended up materializing the work system we use for everything we do today. The next year Carlos Vidal came in from the energy industry to lead our Hard Problems Initiatives, which lead us to create PING – the drop counter for blind people, consolidating our current position as a full product-agnostic design company.
The Industry of the Unknown
Setting foot in many innovation fronts made us realize we didn’t belong to any particular industry. Startups are in the Industry of the Unknown. Their pain is to sell ideas in a market saturated with failed ones. Having a great product isn’t enough. It needs to stand out and make people trust it will last in a world that thinks about exits even before existing.
Since then we helped founders build, launch, and grow startups in many countries leading us to launch Startup Kit to help accelerated startups convey their vision into Product Design.
Nocode, Officeless, WTF?
Things changed for good. You can build and launch a crowdfunding platform overnight using Webflow, Stripe, and Zapier without a single line of code. Get funded by your own users. There are vast early adopters communities like Hacker News and Product Hunt ready to test your product for free. I work from home using Notion, Figma, and Dropbox, running a small yet global business without setting a foot out of home while making school lessons with the girls.
So What Didn’t Change?
Rework is not about the wonders of modern work-life balance at all. They even have two books dedicated to it: Remote and It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. It’s about the fundamentals of economic dynamics and the basics of doing business out there. A timeless mindset framework that worked back then, still works now and will continue to work whatever the trend is because it was made to last. Building a path to independence, following basic work ethics. Pursuing your own ideas, dropping the existing manuals (including the very book that states it). Make it in your own way. Just like a legit, good ol’ business person should do. Well funded startups often fail spectacularly, especially with their own users. A sustainable long-term thinking business thrives and only gets better with time. But don’t take my word for it.
Go on and scratch your own itch.
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