Just last month we celebrated 10 years of Nozbe and today, I'd like write about a few learnings from this experience. I’d like to share my experiences and advice on how not to let anyone convince you that you “cannot” do something and pursue your own goals to achieve success. You deserve to be successful and when somebody tells you that something "cannot" be done, you should pay attention and instead of giving in, find the ways you can make this work. Here are the 5 "cannots" people have been repeating to me over:
Note: The following article appeared first in the February '17 issue of iMagazine - the leading lifestyle magazine for Apple enthusiasts in Poland. I'm a regular contributor and write my monthly productivity column there. That issue of iMagazine was really special for me as we celebrated Nozbe's 10th anniversary at the time. On that occasion apart from my regular column February edition featured a special Nozbe cover and the following article.
1. You “cannot” develop a business “after hours”
As I wrote in the article about Nozbe’s 10th anniversary and my interview, my app was created as a side project. It was just a hobby: I wanted to test GTD principles (the “Getting Things Done” (Amazon|Audible) time management methodology developed by David Allen) and Web 2.0 technology in real life. Even after launching the project in February 2007, I still developed it after hours, working on Nozbe in the afternoons. Even though I acquired my first 100 customers in May of the same year, I still wasn’t sure about the future of the project. I continued to develop it, hoping that it would succeed but it wasn’t until 2008 that I decided to make Nozbe my main source of income and quit my job.
Many wise people argue that in order to achieve success you must drop everything and focus solely on your new venture. I disagree with this and my story proves that if the new project really has potential, you have to give it some time, work “two jobs” for a while and develop the project to such an extent that you are really able to devote 100% of your resources to it.
I’m not the only one who thinks this way. My friend Michał Szafrański, author of the blog “How to save money” did the same and he’s achieving even bigger successes.
OK - so obviously you CAN develop a business "after hours". But there are 4 more "cannots" to go:
2. You “cannot” achieve global success from Poland
The most popular language used in the world and on the web is English. Knowing it will let you start building a global business even today. What really matters is whether you speak the same language as your potential customers and users. I knew from the start that Nozbe could help busy and stressed Polish users but I also realized that the "Getting Things Done" methodology was a lot more popular in the US than in Poland. I decided to launch Nozbe in English as I knew that my fellow American GTD-enthusiasts will "get" my tool and will understand the problem I'm trying to solve with it.
The first Nozbe users didn’t care that the app was created by an unknown guy from Poland. What was important was that the tool solved their real time-management problems and helped them get organized. And that it “spoke” in their language. That's it. This is how my global company started and this is why we have more than 400,000 users from all over the world using Nozbe. And we natively support 10 languages now, not just English.
3. You “cannot” start a business without external funding
Every startup struggles to obtain financing through Venture Capital funds. Even though my company was also called a startup, I never fought for any money that didn’t come from paying users. My initial budget wasn’t very big and I was dreaming about my first Mac. As a consolation I put an Apple sticker on my old Thinkpad, and I didn’t buy my first MacBook Air until the end of 2008. I hired my first developer earlier than I got my Mac - I just reinvested the money I got from the first paying users into the business. My paying users became my investors :-)
As I said above, I didn’t decide to drop everything and focus exclusively on Nozbe until a year of business had passed. At that time, I also hired my first developer part time. One year later, I also hired my first customer support representative. Over time our team grew to 12, and later 24 people. Now, apart from over 20 people on the core team, we also have a dozen or so people with whom we cooperate on a regular basis.
What’s best about 2017 is that you don’t have to hire that many people. We have access to apps and solutions that automate many processes. There are also plenty of freelancers who will happily take up jobs. In this way, we cooperate with translators, voice artists and many other specialists. Thanks to this we’ve been able to grow and develop our company within our budget and at quite a rapid pace.
What’s more, we don’t need to dominate any market – Nozbe operates in the time management tools industry, in which our competitors are counted in the thousands! But that doesn’t mean that hundreds of thousands of people in the world can’t use our tool. And they do!
It's not like there's "one time-management app to rule them all". One app doesn’t have to die so that another one can live. And it’s not like anyone can “kill” us. Only we have the power to do that if we start neglecting our product and users.
4. You “cannot” be a real business without a professional office
When I started Nozbe, I was alone. It took some time before I hired a developer from a city 200km away and a customer support employee from 30km away from where I lived. We didn’t have an office then. Today our team is 10 times bigger... and we still don’t have an office. I often hear that at some point “we'll have to grow up” or start “treating our business seriously” and get a nice office like Google or other Internet companies. But how would we even do that if our team consists of people from all over Poland and many other countries? Where would it be located?
That’s why we’ve all been working from home for the past 10 years. We use Nozbe and other great apps apps (I wrote a book about it - get it, it's free), and meet twice a year for “Nozbe reunions,” during which we stay in a hotel for a week and work together, have fun and get to know each other better.
We don’t need a central office. We have “NoOffice.” We work remotely, which allows us to hire great professionals without worrying how far away they live and to enjoy life without commuting or traffic. It’s all possible.
5. You “cannot” conquer local markets without a local office
This last point is related to the previous ones. We don’t have an office in Silicon Valley, yet thousands of people in the US know and use Nozbe, and they're very satisfied with it. As I wrote in the article about Nozbe’s 10th anniversary, we were able to conquer the Japanese market in a completely non-standard way – thanks to contact with a local blogger and a Japanese PR company.
Today, we support six currencies and offer Nozbe in 10 languages. All of our materials are translated into these languages, and we offer professional customer support in these languages as well. For a Japanese user, Nozbe works like a Japanese product – he or she may open Nozbe through the Nozbe.jp site and see the site in Japanese, pay in Japanese Yen and, in case of questions, submit them directly through the app to get a prompt reply... in Japanese of course. What more is needed here?
Don’t let “cannots” block you!
This is my ultimate piece of advice related to productivity, time management and achieving success for you: don’t let “cannots” block you. Do everything your own way and learn from people who achieved their goals in non-standard ways.
Very often in life the winner is the one who does things differently than they’ve always been done, because they find their own unique path to achieving their objectives… which I wish to you as well!
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