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How to Survive as a Small-time Tech Entrepreneur

Working as an entrepreneur in any industry can be a monstrous life-sucker. As entrepreneurs, it can consume our lives and severely damage our relationships with our friends and family. I am a little over a year into this journey, and I can already see the effects of work-life taking over. I have been developing my tools for creating a healthy work-life balance. In that development, I’ve sought out the wisdom of other people in my position. Why reinvent the wheel? I am a software developer, after all!

In my search for the wisdom of others, I found a lot of articles that don’t quite get into the nitty-gritty of time management, particularly in the context of software development. A substantial challenge is working as the sole employee (or co-employee) of a company performing tasks ranging from full stack development, graphic design, marketing, research, and so on. To be a jack of all trades, working 5+ roles and still manage to meet self-imposed deadlines as quickly as possible. As an entrepreneur, it feels like everything needs to be done all at once, and that can create a lot of stress.

Meet Tickit co-founder Alex Dunae ( ). Alex has been a developer and entrepreneur in Comox Valley for over ten years. I’ve been scouring the internet for the wisdom of entrepreneurs in my situation, and it turns out I only had to walk a few blocks from my house! I sat down with Alex at the Union Street Grotto in Courtenay and asked, in a few different ways, how he manages his time.

I did not record our conversation, and I’ve already wasted enough of your time with the introduction, so here’s a summary of his answers to each of my questions:

As a father, business partner, entrepreneur, boyfriend, and someone who has to take showers and eat, how do you divide up your week?

  • Four days/week dedicated to the kids with 4 to 6 hours at night assigned to work.
  • Three days/week devoted to work. These days are where the bulk of things happen.
  • Around 55 hours per week of week total work, with about 5 hours per week with his business partner, hanging out and talking shop.

How do you tackle tasks that you know will take more than a couple of hours?

(This answer is in the context of software development)

  1. Create an issue on your version control platform of choice
  2. Let the significant change/feature percolate for a few days/weeks
  3. Justify why the change/feature is necessary. Find where you messed up. Be critical of its need – try to shoot it down.
  4. Write pseudo-code – this will sate your trigger-happy coding fingers and give you a better idea of how to tackle the solution.
  5. Think about how your program will interact with this feature. What is your ideal API? Continue to percolate.
  6. Wait for components to reveal themselves. Find flaws in the logic.
  7. Think about what may be affected by the change. What kind of work is involved in addressing that? Start laying the groundwork for those components.
  8. Implement!

How do you set deadlines for yourself?

Priority-based with the following on a scale of 1 to 5:

  • Customer demand
  • Difficulty
  • Customer pains
  • Customer gains

What are customer pains/gains? Read about value proposition design here.

This priority system is trumped by:

  • Major bug fixes
  • A customer needs a specific feature (this is more applicable to the kind of app Alex is working on)
  • Preparing for crunch times (Again, specific to Tickit, which relies on seasonal traffic)

How much time per week do you spend on interaction with your customers?

  • A minimum of 8 hours per week
  • Because of the nature of Tickit, there are about three weeks spent with in-person meetings with clients, on-site.

How do you know when to prioritize coding vs. behind the scenes work like research?

  • When you don’t know how to do something (Needs driven – know when it’s time to learn and when it’s time to work)
  • When you feel like technology is leaving you behind, it’s time for professional development
  • At least twice a year, spend time on marketing position (research), this leads to ideas for new features
  • When wanting to code a new feature, remember that percolating is necessary! Actively push off coding. Write pseudo-code if you need to be sated. Spend days/weeks/months developing your idea before you code it.

What have you learned about your journey that you feel is worth sharing?

Alex jokingly replied to this, “Nothing!”

He contorted for over 30 minutes trying to answer this question in an attempt to come up with a profound answer, but I think his joke is profound enough. I’m going to close with a few words on the assumption that it is true.

The internet is riddled with blogs glamourizing entrepreneurship, boasting a lifestyle and work ethic that is suited to very few people. Even for the people that it is suited to, it is still a tremendous challenge, and at the end of the day, the journey is not all that glamorous or worth sharing. It’s about working your ass off trying to get rich (or at least make a comfortable living and the ability to retire at a reasonable age) while attempting to create value where there was none before. This lifestyle is for us, entrepreneurs, people who are relentlessly obsessive. It’s in our nature to chase the white whale, and it’s important that we are careful about how fervently we pursue it. I hope these not-so-glamorous tidbits of information can help myself and other entrepreneurs tweak our schedules in a way that makes us more careful, and overall, healthier. For me, I think they will.

Thumbnail Photo by

Uroš Jovičić

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