I once made a product nobody wanted. Physically and mentally drained and lacking another real problem to solve, I decided to get into digital consulting to pay the bills. It didn’t take me long to find out that advising other people what to do wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. I’d rather implement my own advice myself.
Hence after 1,5 years I pulled the plug from consulting to try my luck finding a business problem once more, this time by residing in Tokyo on a 90-day tourist visa. I figured that if I would spend part time working to pay the bills, I would have plenty of time to get to know Japan’s culture and find at least one thing I could bring back to Amsterdam to turn into a business.
Two months in, my most promising ‘ideas’ were copying Genki Sushi ( no spoilers for anyone still planning to visit that place), and opening a shop at Utrecht Centraal selling onigiri*. Onigiri had been my favourite healthy and affordable snack for on-the-go, and it fit perfectly into the bio trend. However, only a few days after I’ve updated my friends on this brilliant insight, they told me Albert Heijn had just started selling those snacks, albeit for double the price and half the quality. Disappointed, I concluded that these were lousy ideas anyway, because really, when it comes to food I’d rather consume than prepare it. I also learned that if you specifically go out and try to find something, you won’t find it. Once this realisation dawned on me, I started wondering what the hell my life plan would be, if I wasn’t going to set up a new business.
My thoughts soon turned into one of my many quarter-life crises, and when asking myself what I would regret if I would be hit by a car, all I could think about was one thing: I would regret not having learned how to code! My reasoning: my startup hero Paul Graham once mentioned that he wouldn’t admit startups to the Y-Combinator program, if at least one of the founders didn’t know how to code. All of a sudden this seemed like a great alternative to launching a business! I traded my 90 days in Tokyo for 90 days in Prague, where Coding Bootcamp Praha taught me everything I needed to know to launch my own beauty website La Ravelle.
Excited about my newly learned skill, I figured that a job as a junior developer would prepare me to develop my own app at some point. I flew back to Holland and landed a job as Python developer at Zamro. I highly enjoyed learning another programming language, but lacking a real computer science foundation, I felt handicapped in my daily tasks and missed a connection to the business side.
During a visit to het Stedelijk Museum in the summer of 2018, I ran into some beautiful art by Studio Drift. When seeing its Franchise Freedom piece – an artwork of autonomous drones mimicking a flock of birds – I was so mesmerised that I knew right away what I should be doing: rather than development, I’d get into machine learning!
That same weekend, I signed up for the infamous Machine Learning course on Coursera, and for the next 11 weeks, I would live and breathe the cost function, gradient descent, supervised and unsupervised machine learning algorithms. At work I got my foot into an NLP project, where I could finally apply my newly learned skills. How cool was that!
Or was it?
During Christmas 2018, I evaluated the year and concluded that actually, I hadn’t enjoyed the year as much as other years. Something was missing…I thought back of previous years which I had enjoyed more, and could only conclude that I’d completely lost myself in machine learning and had given up on one of my coolest hobbies: testing problems for business viability.
It’s time to turn this around! I’ve decided to reintroduce problem testing. For the foreseeable future I will test problems and evaluate whether they are worth solving. For each problem tested, I’ll report my findings (under ‘PWS’*). Let’s fail fast!
Will 2019 be the year that I’ll find my true calling as an entrepreneur?
* Some of my other bad ideas:
– Introducing a kid’s game that would improve your kid’s communication skills (after randomly overhearing a guy talking to a friend about his kid’s bedtime routine). Decided not to pursue because I don’t know anything about kids, I don’t have ‘direct access’ to them, and I’m not too keen on having to rely on a friend for every single additional question that pops up. Read the full story.
– Producing a silent blender (after indirect feedback from Japanese roommate that my early-morning blender adventures disturbed other roommates). Decided not to pursue because silent blenders exist – albeit very expensive.
– Opening a pay-as-you-like all-round handy-man service (based on popular homeless guy in Tokyo who gets around doing a specific chore for someone, and getting food and a place to sleep in return). Decided not to pursue because probably not very viable.
– Sourcing the world’s best beauty products (because I became obsessed with J-beauty (Japanese beauty products). Same with K-beauty (Korean beauty products). Decided not to pursue because products become too pricey after import taxes to make it attractive for customers.
– Importing sake to Holland (after meeting a sake guy who told me he wanted to expand his business but didn’t know how to). Decided not to pursue because I don’t really like alcohol that much.
*PWS = problems worth solving