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Being a Sole Founder is hard

Before we arrived in Chile, and in the first few days after getting here, we were told by previous round entrepreneurs not to expect to get much done in our first month here. But there is a plan, I thought. I know exactly what I need to do. Of course I’m going to get loads done in the first month.

Wrong.

There are a number of factors for this. First is the highly stressful situation you live under for the week or two before you leave home to come here. Those two weeks were total write-offs for me, although Ian and Kyran managed to get a lot done. For them it was easier I think as they had a deadline at the end of January that they had to meet, therefore no matter how crazy, busy and stressful it got, they had to work. For me, however, there were no deadlines set so soon after arrival and so I became consumed by the process of visa obtaining, flat rental, car selling, packing and moving out of our flat. That’s OK I thought. There will be lots of stress-free time after we arrive for me to get on with some work.

Wrong

The first 5 days were simply spent reacclimatising, getting over the stress of the previous 2 weeks and getting our bearings in Santiago. The next week was a whirlwind of induction activities and social & networking opportunities. The week after there were a number of activities to get involved in and I spent a lot of time trying to get over my feeling of helplessness by teaching myself Spanish. Last week, was picking up Chilean ID’s, arranging meetings and RVA activities (I co-organised my first Girls in Tech Chile last week), networking, opening bank accounts and trying to get hold of a Chilean mobile data plan.

And before I knew it, 1 month is coming up. We will have been here for 4 weeks in 2 days time and that thought frightens me. Our time here suddenly feels perilously short and there is such a lot to do. To say that I have been wasting my time here would be wrong. I have been dealing with Universidad de Chile sorting out our Speech Recognition systems. I’ve been trying to get hold of the right person in CORFO to talk to about grant applications for the university. I’ve been coordinating my disparate team of fellow Tiny Ears collaborators and coming up with a plan of action from here. I’ve been reading an enormous tome dedicated to speech processing and a number of associated research papers. I have been reading and teaching myself the iPad game development & animation skills that I will need to develop the project. But in comparison with the productivity that I would have achieved had I not been here it’s not enough.

That is not to say that being here is worse than being back home. Not a chance. It just takes time to get used to being here, to fit yourself into a new routine and a new way of life. Those that I have seen making this transition well have been those with teams larger than one. They are able to help focus one another and they seemed to have created their new routines much quicker. Us sole founders with no local team members seem to be finding it a lot harder not to be cast adrift on the change of environment and the wealth of new opportunities.

I am now starting to gather a routine together. I wake in the morning, go for a run, have breakfast and then either set up work at home or make my way into town to CMI for the day. I am starting work at around 11am daily. The morning is spent catching up on correspondence and doing admin. Lunch is around 2pm. The afternoon is spent either programming, learning, reading or designing depending on needs. Come 6pm I stop do my hours Spanish learning then I pick it back up and work through until around 8 or 9. Dinner is between 9 & 10 normally and then I try and relax for the rest of the evening.

This routine is easily disrupted however. When at CMI there are people and meetings and chats to get involved in. There are events in the evening that start between 7 & 8, and the city is so large that it can take over an hour to get somewhere. I am having to learn to be far stricter with myself during the working day than I used to be. However, the meetings chats and people are often of incredible value. Tiny Ears is being presented as an example of a disruptive education technology this Thursday at an event down in ConcepciĆ³n. Sadly this is a little too far to go just for an evening, but it good that we’re getting some coverage already. Tomorrow I am being interviewed by the BBC (as are a number of other high tech and AI based startups) and I have made friends with some very well connected people who are eager to help however they can.

This afternoon is the first meeting of a new group of entrepreneurs who are meeting to discuss the particular problems around being a sole founder. I am hoping that from within this group I will find support, tips and advice about how to deal with the loneliness and lack of support that you get as a sole founder. If you have any advice about being a sole founder then I will gratefully receive it. I will keep you posted on how it goes.