Reflections on MicroConf Europe 2015

I go to conferences. That’s one of my quirks. I think there’s an evolution of a conference goers. You start with big, flashy conferences. Everything is exciting, new city, people, big brands, technology. But then you start noticing the cracks. Talks are just marketing hype for new technology – not too useful in everyday engineering. Big parties and participants that just want more free beer and to party. The stress of it all.

At some point, you start going to smaller events. Targeted, single track, speakers mingle with attendees. These are either a hit of miss. MicrConf was a hit.

MicrConf is a conference that’s targeted towards bootstrapped entrepreneurs. Because the focus it’s not on how to get VC funding, it significantly changes the discussions. 

Christoph already made good notes from the talks, so I won’t publish mine. What follows are more high level ideas that I got at the event.

Being inspired by success of others

It’s possible, the dream is real. People can actually make money by producing content that others want. While I have friends that have done it, it still doesn’t feel real. But talking to 10+ people, that make good money from WordPress plugins made it real for me. You can still make money by selling shareware!

I got a lot of nudges from people, to put all the online advice into practice. Just publishing that first WP plugin and making a paid upgrade is enough. You won’t get rich, but you’ll learn enough to improve on it.

That was an overwhelming theme of a lot of talks. Explaining how they were looking for a product/market fit, how they recognised it and what kind of challenges they faced.

Asking the right questions

At technical conferences, people don’t usually talk about their feelings. It’s easy to be unhappy about customers when you work for somebody else. When you are self employed, you can decide. Did you pick your customers because you want to work with them, or just because they had money?

The other way of thinking about this problem is – what is the natural size of company, that is solving this problem. A small plugin can be done by a single person, while more feature complete software as a service app, requires a team. The decision becomes – do you want to lead your own team, or would you be happier alone.

Forming good habits

It’s easy to dismiss business books as “nice story, but not for me”. Then you hear the stories from people, that actually followed their advice. Going to a retreat, where they rethought their strategy. Started writing down operating procedures. Hired people that actually wanted to do important things, that they were avoiding or were too stressful for them. Understanding your own shortcomings and working around them.

A new world

I think I burned out on startups. All that pressure to raise funding, get insane growth numbers and prove that you can get more funding, isn’t for me. But in this community, the focus is on every single user. Why did they join, what made them select this service and how does our service help them. There is still pressure to deliver, but you don’t the extra stress of unrealistic expectations. 

Talking to attendees of MicroConf, showed me that it’s possible to be an entrepreneur, without having to raise funding. Now to see what I can build in the next 12 months.

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