Sorry Elon, see ya Sergey, bye Zuck: the real super heroes of the startup world are micropreneurs.
The startup world is full of dangerous distractions. There are accelerators, incubators, meet-ups, competitions, conferences, trade shows. But mostly there is the schizophrenia of having to build a product and a company, while at the same time the need to win at a radically different game that requires totally different skills: fundraising.
If you get rid of all this startup crap, funding included, the job of the entrepreneur looks something like one-two-three. 1) Find a market 2) Build a product that the market will buy 3) Grow the market and the product. While everybody and their lean startup consultants says that you should behave this way, micropreneurs are actually behaving this way. And they are great at it.
In this article I want to tell you what I saw at MicroConf Europe 2015 about not only entrepreneurship, but also about life. I want to show you how micropreneurs are different, how they are more powerful than regular entrepreneurs and how they are not just winning at business, how they actually have the potential to win at life.
I think that they are achieving success where it not measured in gross revenue, but in net happiness. I will also reveal how – just like superheroes – their main weakness is also the source of their strength. And by the end of this, you will want to be one of them.
I came back from Barcelona completely exhausted, with a notepad full of to-dos and my head spinning with ideas. I’ve never met such a cohesive group of doers that are also so eager to share what they found along the way and to help each other out. Two days and three nights of conversations over beers, of talks and mainly little nuggets shared during the breaks of the conference now cloud my long term judgment.
This micropreneur kind is not a new breed. They’ve always existed. 50 years ago we would have called them artisans. They draw from a large body of work that starts from The Four Steps to Epiphany, from Lean Startup, goes on to include the work of companies like Basecamp (formerly known as 37 Signals), but brings all these learnings to an extreme.
Micropreneurs want to bootstrap. They don’t want external funding. They actually want no funding at all: they wish to find the right market and the right product thanks to their abilities alone. They’re mostly engineers, but – unlike most engineers – they can be commonly found calling customers, making sales or other “extroverted” activities. They would love to spend the day and the night coding, but they know that their job doesn’t end at a computers terminal.
But the character that most intrigues me is what the micropreneurs have drawn from the concept of lifestyle design. They love the idea of passive income, but they would never allow that to the be the end goal. What they want to “design” is a company that will make their life better. The goal is not “income,” rather it is “belonging.” You see: a lot of micropreneurs are – in a way – a waste of traditional society. They don’t fit in the system. They would be – in other times – seen as rejects.
You should care about micropreneurs as you should care about all the outcasts, the rejects and those who are different, because these kinds of people are the agents of innovation. They are the builders of the future in every society. Instead of accepting that there was no role for them in the system, they are creating smaller and better systems, where they not only fit in perfectly, but they thrive and attract similar people.
You should care about micropreneurs because the most brilliant minds that you have around will take this path in life in the next few years. You should care a lot if you’re a recruiter, a regular entrepreneur or just looking for a job, because micropreneurs are in the process of changing recruiting and the job market.
Another aspect that struck me observing the attendees and the speakers of MicroConf, is that they have a tremendous power: they have agency. They run experiments, they apply theories, they commit code, they publish, ship, deliver at an astounding rate. They are focused, committed, invested. They enjoy the process, they love the journey.
While there are a lot of new theories of management, of product development and design floating around, I’ve never seen them alive, in the bones and the muscles of a community like it happens with these people. They don’t just run SaaS businesses, they have deconstructed, hacked and rebuilt the foundation of this type of companies and they do it all the time.
You may think that what I am talking about is just growth hacking mashed with lifestyle design with a bit of customer development on top. I’m telling you it’s not just that: these people have something more. They’ve put the human, not the company, at the center of the equation. And this changes everything.
Instead of building a company that investors would like, they can build a business that nurtures their soul. Instead of wasting time with useless competitions, pitches and incubators, they can focus on their costumer, their product, their growth. They can focus. They build distraction free companies. I would go as far as to say that their first super power is focus.
They don’t care about silos. I’m marketing, you’re sales, he’s a developer. That is total bullshit to them. Yes, they may say growth hacking, instead of marketing. But their second super power is being unashamed marketers and business people, even thought they are mostly engineers by trade. They are not scared to take on new roles. Flexibility is their second super power.
They are quick as hell. They turn around really fast, learn everything at the speed of light and are always connecting to an ever wider network of knowledge. They analyse every loop, and they make every feedback loop quicker and shorter so that they can learn faster. For them the feedback loop of a regular corporate life is way too long. They need it to be shorter and shorter. Speed is another of their superpowers.
What happens if you increase the speed of learning? Quite simply you get to the important questions quicker. So once you solve the question of the market, solve the one of the product and solve growth, what do you do? You start asking the really important questions: the questions about the meaning of life, happiness and everything. You know what I’m talking about. Micropreneurs, after a while, realise that their goal is not revenue, not profit margins or growth: they are in it for the journey, they are compelled to create.
And here lies their most important super power and super weakness. These people will never be satisfied by their creations. They enjoy the journey above anything else. They enjoy learning. They enjoy failing. And they enjoy even the existential part of the question. They aren’t afraid of their humanity. They know that what really makes us tick has nothing to do with success, and they are grounded enough to be able to share this within the group.
What I am telling you is that this combination of focus, flexibility, speed, capacity to learn and attention to the human component of the equation creates a heavy load, create the conditions for a lot of fragility. But this is also the strength of this community.
These guys and gals are the real thing. They share not only their success stories. Microconf is also a conference of struggle, fight, discomfort, depression. During the talks, founders (that make 68% of the participants) shared with peers and aspiring founders how they need to make sense of it all, how they find and lose their motivation. How sometimes it’s bloody hard and you fall face first, how sometimes your mind says yes – rationally -, but your body falls ill and tells you something quite different. How achieving success can be a horrible curse.
Micropreneurs are just pure humans that have decided to step on the gas of their lives so they accelerate all the normal human cycles by continuously doing stuff, altering the reality around them, learning from what they have done. They have agency, power over their lives. And they make a ton of mistakes.
The biggest? Thinking that success will cure their greed. Yes, micropreneurs are greedy. But I think they don’t really want money, rather they have a different hierarchy of needs.
- Recognition and belonging: yes, like everybody else they need to be seen, recognised and they need to belong somewhere. But they require this recognition to happen outside of the fucking system. Don’t ever try to give them job titles, bonuses or reviews. They have a bullshit detector that works through planets.
- Fill the void: they want to fill the void that existence leaves in most of us with knowledge, technology, experiments, software. They are totally greedy, but not for money, for the journey, the steps, the hurdles, the milestones.
- Change up: once they can attack a corner in second gear they want to do it in third, and so on. This leads them to – among other corners – attack the one of revenue and that’s where their greed lands them money.
I have a coming out to make and message to give to my fellow micropreneurs.
Yes, I’m one of you. I’ve been abiding by your rules for the last 5 years. I have my deal of failed projects in the past and now, even though I am still mostly a consultant, I am seeing the first results in the world of products. And I have great news. Talking to you guys I’ve noticed what could very well be my next product. Not sure what it is exactly but it has to do with how storytelling can help entrepreneurs, hackers and marketers build better websites, better landing pages, write better emails and craft better presentations. If you’re interested in Storytelling for Entrepreneurs I’ve created an early interest list you can signup to.
Now here’s my message!
Your future is not made of achievement. It’s made of a journey. Your journey is the quintessential philosophical journey. It’s a path were the destination does not count. Your journey is the best thing that could happen to you.
You need to rejoice that you found your community. Fools like you. That will not be satisfied, not ever. That will continue to tinker, toy and hack until there is no tomorrow.
I hope you encounter all the tinkering, trying and hacking that your hearts need. And that success along the way never clouds your judgment. Cause for you powerful agents of change there is no destination, just a never ending travel.
Enjoy it. Don’t stress. I’ll meet you soon, I hope.
In the meantime:
Stay healthy: I mean it. Keep your mind healthy and your body healthy.
Get a standing desk, hit the gym. Caring for the body is easy.
Ask for help, talk to people. Caring for your mind is bloody hard, you’re precious superheroes, you need super helpers and sidekicks. Summon them, require they travel along with you.
Stay greedy, keep learning a ton. Next time we meet you’ve got to tell me everything you learned.
Matteo blogs at La Fabbrica della Realtà.