A look back at my first year as a solo founder

Sharing all of the things I have learned over the last year as a founder. The good, the bad, and the unexpected.
Written by
Published on
July 9, 2024

Over the weekend, I officially hit one year of putting in consistent effort on emailemu.com, a platform to streamline your email research and provide content and design ideas.

Since launching eight months ago, I have managed to get 500 users creating accounts, 50k page views, and 10k unique users.

It all started with me taking a long weekend in a cabin, vowing to start reading every day. A year later, I’m in a cabin again, finishing my 14th book and writing this recap.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I would ever achieve this after starting and stopping so many times, but I did.

This has led me to reflect on what I have learned in the past year during the process of building a side hustle. Here are my takeaways in no particular order.

You’ll Have Good and Bad Days

Not every single day will be effective. There are days when I’m super productive, plan my entire day, and accomplish everything I need to, but these days are rare. One awesome realization is that my worst days now are still better than my best days were a year ago.

You’ll Have Good and Bad Weeks/Months

Sometimes I feel burnt out or lack the drive to work on my side hustle. This can stem from overthinking my business model, having nothing work, or needing to step away to recharge. I've come to realize this will happen repeatedly, and I need to learn to roll with the punches. Consistent effort over a long period always wins out.

You Never Feel Like You’re Working on the Right Thing

Remember your first career job and the insane imposter syndrome? That’s how it feels trying to build your own thing, but every single day. I constantly feel like I have no idea what I should be working on or if I’m working on the most impactful tasks. Now, I just take my best guess and get after it, rather than letting it paralyze me.

Excitement and Frustration Come in Waves

When starting a new project, I always get excited with all the energy in the world. Then, when the initial excitement wears off, I struggle to keep going, usually leading to me giving up. Over the last year, I still had lots of waves of excitement and frustration, but what I did differently was not give up during the lulls. Instead, I worked on putting in a little effort each day and realized the waves are part of the game.

Getting Started is Hard, Making Your First Dollar is Even Harder

I always heard that getting started is the hardest part of doing your own thing, which I found to be true. However, what’s even harder is finding that first paying customer. Over the last year, I’ve had many people express interest in the premium product and say they would be willing to pay, but then don’t follow through. Many founders face the same issue.

Sticking to Goals Feels Hard Without Clear Direction

I’ve gone back and forth more times than I can count. Should I do this or that? Is this the right direction? Is this what people will pay for? I changed my goals probably four times in the same month and then realized I would never make any money or achieve progress if I kept moving the target.

Getting into a Rhythm is Important

When I have a good morning routine and keep working on something fun and challenging, it gets me into a rhythm where I thrive. It’s almost like getting into a flow mode of life. It’s great, and I try to do this whenever possible.

Taking Time Off is Needed, But Not Too Much

I was resistant to taking time off during the last year because I had given up so many times before. I told myself it was “ok to just work on this tomorrow,” and then tomorrow became the next day, a week, and eventually, I’d give up. So, I forced myself to keep working. Once I built up a routine, it wasn’t that hard to maintain it. Taking time off now allows me to come back refreshed rather than break my working chain.

Fall in Love with the Process, Not the Solutions

This advice stuck with me after reading “That Will Never Work” by Marc Randolph. I made it a point this year to strive for that. Even though I haven’t had the success I want with emailemu.com yet, I enjoy trying to figure out the problem and provide value to people.

Still Make Time for the Things You Enjoy

I had ups and downs with this over the last year. I spent so much time working on the side hustle that I forgot to do things I loved that didn’t involve working. Eventually, I realized I need to make time for seeing and spending time with friends. Even if I achieve all the freedom I want, it would be nothing without people to share it with.

Take Care of Your Health and Fitness

Some aspects of my life needed to take a back seat to get this rolling, but that doesn’t mean they should be neglected. For a few months, I did the bare minimum at the gym to get by and not gain weight. I soon realized that being healthy and active fuels me and gives me the motivation and confidence to keep going. I can’t neglect what helps me keep going.

Reading Daily Creates Good Habits

Reading every day, something I hadn’t done for years, built a foundational pillar that allowed me to be more consistent in other aspects of life. I mainly looked for inspirational stories like “Shoe Dog,” “Hangry,” and “That Will Never Work.” Self-help books all start to feel the same after a while and could be much shorter. They’re great for some, but not for me.

Listen to Podcasts When Feeling Lost

Listening to podcasts helps guide you by hearing others’ stories. I love “Indie Hackers” and “How I Built This.” Similar to books, these podcasts helped me keep going. They provided ideas on navigating the early days of the project. When feeling down or lost, I would put on a podcast to hear about the phases different successful founders went through, knowing that the feelings I faced were normal.

Share Your Idea with Anyone Who Will Listen

The more people I shared with, the more people learned about my tool. When it resonated with people, they would share it, often out of the blue. When I later talked with those same people, they would organically ask about how the project was going, providing me with a boost of energy. It allowed me to stay consistent. I didn’t want to have to say “I gave up” again.

I Should Have Spent More Time on Direct Outreach

Becoming a solo founder involves becoming good enough at sales to get people to use your product. Over the last year, I did maybe two sales calls resulting in no sales but interest. I should have done more cold outreach. This is probably part of why I haven’t yet found the success I’m looking for. This next year will focus heavily on outreach and refining my ideal customer profile.

By Just Starting, You’ll Inspire Others Around You

I didn’t realize how much just starting something and constantly talking about it online would inspire others. My whole life, I’ve been good at influencing people and leading by example, something my father taught me years ago. He said it’s always easier to start doing something well, and then people will see how well you’re doing and follow your lead. When others tell me directly that I’m inspiring them or ask how I got started, I know I’m having a positive impact.

It’s Going to Be a Long Haul

When I invest so much time into something, I naturally want it to work out because it becomes part of me. But I know it could be years before I make enough money to support myself or it may be the next thing I try. I’ve been working this year to level set my expectations now that I’ve come to terms with the long journey ahead.

I Need to Be Kinder to Myself

My brain is wired in a “proud but never satisfied” mindset. It’s funny because now that I’ve gotten into a rhythm, things that used to make me feel super accomplished take less time and brain power, making me feel like I’m doing less and becoming lazy. But in reality, it’s just because I’m getting better at those things. When I’m not doing more, I get frustrated and mad at myself. This year, I realized that beating myself up takes a mental toll and takes away the fun in my journey. So, being kind to myself is actually more helpful.

Weekly Writing Has Helped Me Educate Others and Act as a Form of Journaling

This was an unintended outcome. Originally, I started writing articles to share my story, spread the word about my product, and improve my SEO. Writing allowed me to reflect on my journey and learning lessons, see how I feel, and think about problems in a practical manner. Sometimes, it helped me think about the problem I was facing in a way that would be helpful to others.

I’m Proud of How Far I’ve Come

It’s super cool to reflect and know that I have it in me to be consistent and not give up. I’m so glad I started this journey, and it’s just getting started. I’ve learned so much about marketing, writing content, spending money, building, providing value, and more. Here’s to another year of focus.

I hope everyone reading this learns something and gets the inspiration to go for what they’ve been thinking about. You won’t regret it.

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