Ever since high school I kinda knew I wanted to do stuff for myself. In fact, many of my classmates made various apps under make-believe company names – Waspsoft, Cavrom etc. They weren’t actually sold anywhere, just bragged about around the high school.
My first big thing was a fake Telnet client to collect email passwords around the computer lab. This was in 1995-1996, so I wrote it in Pascal. Yes, I was phishing back then, but that term wasn’t coined until much later :). It was a relatively innocent idea, meant to “Tinder” people by writing fake love letters from one another. I was so proud I even showed it to my programming teacher. He just said “You’d be better off focusing your energy on doing good stuff”.
So I did. Thanks to an NGO (the Soros Foundation), I got free Internet access at home. Free, as in no subscription. But being a dial-up connection, the phone costs were huge. My dad yelled at me when the monthly invoice came (I can understand that now – the invoice was probably 10-15% of his wage). But I was so eager for information I kept digging online. I moved on from Pascal to Delphi and started developing various shareware apps (this was a thing before subscriptions ruined them). This was around 1996-1998.
Among the things I worked on back then were: a tabbed web browser with dual panes (no, Internet Explorer, Netscape and Mozilla didn’t have this), a better Windows Commander (it’s Total Commander now), with support for web views, tabs and anything I could think of. Anywhere I thought I could improve, I tried. Unfortunately, I didn’t finish any of them (I still have them in my archive though). In 12th grade, a friend convinced me to work on a 3D game with him, I think it was called Excalibur? I can’t really remember the idea behind it (Vali, if you’re reading this, feel free to comment). I abandoned it as well. Do you see a pattern here?
I have no ideas…
This is probably the most used excuse when you ask someone to start his own business. The absolute truth is, everyone has ideas from now and then. They just don’t write them down and explore them further. Some (most) of them are rubbish after a 2nd look. But even if 1% of them is worth digging into, you should just do it. I think the main reason why people don’t pursue them further is simple: fear of failure. This is so deeply rooted in our minds it’s really difficult to get over. Remember “if you fail this exam, your life is ruined” speech from your parents and teachers? I do. And I did fail exams (among other life tests). Yet, I’m still alive and well.
My first money
I got my first job as a web developer in my first year in college 2001. It was a part time thing. I got paid enough for Romania (300 EUR). We were 3 employees, the owner was an Italian who had other businesses as well. I somehow found out the price his clients paid for the websites we made: 1000 EUR each. This were simple 1-2 page static websites, nothing fancy. We made lots of them per month. So I did the obvious: I quit 🙂 I continued to make money from other freelance gigs, this time on my own terms. It felt good.
My first company
It was 2002, I was 22. I hooked up with some people I met working for the Italian guy. We had this cool idea to do VoIP. At that time, a lot of Romanians already started leaving the country to work abroad. And they called home. A lot. It was expensive for them, so we thought we could make it cheaper, earning some money while doing so. So we contacted an Israeli company who made VoIP equipment (side story here, the device costed 30.000 EUR. We didn’t have the money. I’ll get back to this story some other day). We leased some ISDN lines and tried to sell minutes to the state phone company. Bad idea. It turned out, they still had monopoly over international phone calls.
Lesson learned: check state laws BEFORE investing time and money in an idea.