Bootstrapping in a Pandemic

Just chillin'
Dog with swag by Linda Segerfeldt

I don't need no angels

It’s been only five months since I regained my independence but it feels like years. I’ve been setting up the foundation for a little project of mine, partaking in online communities, and enjoying the thrill of working at my own pace and having a purpose. I’ve got plenty to do and no intentions of going back to the stale world of normalcy.

Fancy a vicarious peek? Here’s what I’ve been up to.

The worst horse to bet on

A mere seven seconds after burning the ever fragile bridge to comfortable employment and salary, I panicked. Even knowing I’d got the chops and experience to make a living out of designing and writing software, I fretted about running out of money. So, with the bleak memories of a servile past hanging over my head I spoke with a couple of acquaintances to entertain the idea of raising funds. As a pawn in the startup game for years, I was familiar with its rules but had never been the one making the pitch. Brrr, just writing the word makes me tremble with disgust.

It didn’t take long to confirm what I suspected: Nobody’s going to invest in the loon who strives for a good life, despises hustle culture, and opposes showing off and licking boots. “What do you mean you don’t care about making millions? How else do you expect to pay for your espresso machines?”

I get it. Venture capitalists must bet on businesses promising to earn a trillion dollars in six months, businesses led by buzzword-spitting flamboyant dudes—or emotionless humanoids, who cares—willing to utilize whatever means necessary to snatch the attention, data and money of the feeble masses. “I want to create a simple, albeit useful, service. A sustainable, honest job, you dig?” is not gonna make it.

That’s a lifestyle business, motherfucker!,” they’ll cry aghast pointing their manicured fingers at you. “Phyllis, tell security to remove this piece of garbage from the premises and get me an expensive salad.”

That’s the end of my peek into the world of high finance. On to the interesting bits.

No, not show you, show me the money

I’ve tracked every cent I’ve earned and spent for the past two decades and, like most people who do this, I started with a spreadsheet and then switched to specialized applications, both free and paid. Eventually, I settled on GnuCash.

GnuCash is solid and free open source software that has served me well for years but I find the interface antiquated and I’d like to simplify how I run my numbers so I’m building my own solution, an application to manage a budget, my budget.

My goal is not only to streamline income and expenses tracking but also to answer questions such as can I afford a mortgage, which credit card should I pay off, or when is a good time for the next vacation. I’m also interested in knowing how my magic coins (wink) are doing. Nothing new, nothing spectacular, but it’s an experiment I want to run nonetheless.

If you aren’t chained to a payroll—you are an artist or an independent knowledge worker—and have similar requirements I’d like to enlist your help in a future beta. And that’s all I’m going to say for now, it’s way early and developing good software takes time.

Even the score

I’ve put hundreds of hours into this project, scraping the time over late nights, holidays and weekends as I sold the bulk of my productive days to cheap merchants and marketers, but now that I’m free I want to do things the right way and at my own pace for once. I didn’t get out of one trap to fall into another of my own making—to hell with the arbitrary deadlines, the constant pressure and the disorderly rush.

With no more middle managers interfering or big shots shifting plans whenever their golf buddy sputters jargon heard on Bloomberg, I can focus on what’s important for my application and its users. So far I’ve completed the basics for a scalable and reliable infrastructure, a suite of tests, and a simple but secure user authentication framework, and now I’m working on the initial design and data visualization elements. There’s a ton to do and I’m taking all the time I need to produce a useful piece of software that I can be proud of.

Security and usability are my priorities now that I no longer have to put up with the individuals at the helm of scrappy operations for whom those are an afterthought residing at the bottom of delusional nice-looking roadmaps. “You can do that later when we get more money and people but today we need to get customers and show something, anything, to investors. Fake it till you make it.” I won’t be a part of such charlatan schemes anymore. Why would anybody use software that not even the creators care about?

I want to make a tool that saves you time and money, that does exactly what it says it does, and if I can’t do that I won’t release anything at all. No gimmicks. You are already swamped by too many services with opaque agreements that nobody reads handing the history of your life to the highest bidder. “Get out of debt with a loan from our shark—we mean, banker—friends.”

Bootstrapping and going solo is risky, taking all the time you need to do it right, even riskier, but I prefer it over the forty weekly hours—if lucky—of interactions with incompetent cultish sycophants for whom turning a profit and appeasing the masters are the ultimate goals.

Doing it with gusto

I’m not banking on this project to sustain me; hence I have the luxury of taking detours to learn and explore—it’s work but not a job, just how I like it.

One of these detours got me deeper into the NFT world. “You mean the jpegs that sell for millions but you can right click to save?” Exactly, and if you have to ask you are probably in the wrong place. Those who follow me on Twitter should have noticed the shower of acronyms and copious yakking about vampires, space bears, and colorful—some may say, wonky—charts. I had been delving into blockchain software development for some time but joining the crypto and NFT communities brought back the fun of being online. To make it clearer: IYKYK.

Oh, like Slack with my stiff coworkers?”. Such a joker. No.

It’s now evident that even if old white males who never seem to die continue to accumulate money and influence, the blockchain has already broken many barriers. Those in control of centralized industries are crying variations of “somebody do something” to their daddies in power while designers, programmers, writers, musicians—crafters and artists with brains and passion—realize that they don’t need the complex apparatus of money suckers and inefficient institutions to make a living.

It all reminds me of the early 1990s when just having a modem gave you access to a future that few forsaw. What happened with the Internet back then is now happening again but at a much faster rate.

My other detours have to do with writing and art so I’ll let those tell the story later.

And that’s my 411 so far.

Bereft of any obligations to follow some curmudgeon’s inane wishes, lest they tell accounting to hold my paycheck, I’m just chilling and I regret fucking nothing.

Published in bootstrap, writing, business and life

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