12 min read

You heard me right. Asking, ‘can developers succeed at entrepreneurship?’ is like asking ‘if women should choose between work and having children’.

‘Can you have a successful career and be a good mom?’ is a question that many well-meaning acquaintances still ask me. You see I am a new mom, (not a very new one, my son is 2.5 years old now). I’m also the managing editor of this site since its inception last year when I rejoined work after a maternity break. In some ways, the Packt Hub feels like running a startup too. 🙂

Now how did we even get to this question?

It all started with the results of this year’s skill up survey. Every year we conduct a survey amongst developers to know the pulse of the industry and to understand their needs, aspirations, and apprehensions better so that we can help them better to skill up. One of the questions we asked them this year was:

Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?’ To this, an overwhelming one third responded stating they want to start a business.

Packt Skill up survey

Surveys conducted by leading consultancies, time and again, show that only 2 or 3 in 10 startups survive. Naturally, a question that kept cropping up in our editorial discussions after going through the above response was:

Can developers also succeed as entrepreneurs?

To answer this, first let’s go back to the question:

Can you have a successful career and be a good mom?

The short answer is,

Yes, it is possible to be both, but it will be hard work.

The long answer is,

This path is not for everyone. As a working mom, you need to work twice as hard, befriend uncertainty and nurture a steady support system that you trust both at work and home to truly flourish. At times, when you see your peers move ahead in their careers or watch stay-at-home moms with their kids, you might feel envy, inadequacy or other unsavory emotions in between. You need superhuman levels of mental, emotional and physical stamina to be the best version of yourself to move past such times with grace, and to truly appreciate the big picture: you have a job you love and a kid who loves you.

But what has my experience as a working mom got to do anything with developers who want to start their own business?

You’d be surprised to see the similarities.

Starting a business is, in many ways, like having a baby.

There is a long incubation period, then the painful launch into the world followed by sleepless nights of watching over the business so it doesn’t choke on itself while you were catching a nap. And you are doing this for the first time too, even if you have people giving you advice. Then there are those sustenance issues to look at and getting the right people in place to help the startup learn to turn over, sit up, stand up, crawl and then finally run and jump around till it makes you go mad with joy and apprehension at the same time thinking about what’s next in store now. How do I scale my business? Does my business even need me?

To me, being a successful developer, writer, editor or any other profession, for that matter, is about being good at what you do (write code, write stories, spot raw talent, and bring out the best in others etc) and enjoying doing it immensely. It requires discipline, skill, expertise, and will.

To see if the similarities continue, let’s try rewriting my statement for a developer turned entrepreneur.

Can you be a good developer and a great entrepreneur?

This path is not for everyone. As a developer-turned-entrepreneur, you need to work twice as hard as your friends who have a full-time job, to make it through the day wearing many hats and putting out workplace fires that have got nothing to do with your product development. You need a steady support system both at work and home to truly flourish. At times, when you see others move ahead in their careers or listen to entrepreneurs who have sold their business to larger companies or just got VC funded, you might feel envy, selfishness, inadequacy or any other emotion in between. You need superhuman levels of maturity to move past such times, and to truly appreciate the big picture: you built something incredible and now you are changing the world, even if it is just one customer at a time with your business.

Now that we sail on the same boat, here are the 5 things I learned over the last year as a working mom that I hope you as a developer-entrepreneur will find useful. I’d love to hear your take on them in the comments below.

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#1. Become a productivity master. Compartmentalize your roles and responsibilities into chunks spread across the day. Ruthlessly edit out clutter from your life.

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Your life changed forever when your child (business) was born. What worked for you as a developer may not work as an entrepreneur. The sooner you accept this, the faster you will see the differences and adapt accordingly.

For example, I used to work quite late into the night and wake up late in the morning before my son was born. I also used to binge watch TV shows during weekends. Now I wake up as early as 4.30 AM so that I can finish off the household chores for the day and get my son ready for play school by 9 AM. I don’t think about work at all at this time. I must accommodate my son during lunch break and have a super short lunch myself. But apart from that I am solely focused on the work at hand during office hours and don’t think about anything else. My day ends at 11 PM. Now I am more choosy about what I watch as I have very less time for leisure. I instead prefer to ‘do’ things like learning something new, spending time bonding with my son, or even catching up on sleep, on weekends.

Is data science important?

This spring-cleaning and compartmentalization took a while to get into habit, but it is worth the effort. Truth be told, I still occasionally fallback to binging, like I am doing right now with this article, writing it at 12 AM on a Saturday morning because I’m in a flow.

As a developer-entrepreneur, you might be tempted to spend most of your day doing what you love, i.e., developing/creating something because it is a familiar territory and you excel at that. But doing so at the cost of your business will cost you your business, sooner than you think. Resist the urge and instead, organize your day and week such that you spend adequate time on key aspects of your business including product development. Make a note of everything you do for a few days and then decide what’s not worth doing and what else can you do instead in its place.

Have room only for things that matter to you which enrich your business goals and quality of life.

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#2. Don’t aim to create the best, aim for good enough. Ship the minimum viable product (MVP).

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All new parents want the best for their kids from the diaper they use to the food they eat and the toys they play with. They can get carried away buying stuff that they think their child needs only to have a storeroom full of unused baby items.

What I’ve realized is that babies actually need very less stuff. They just need basic food, regular baths, clean diapers (you could even get away without those if you are up for the challenge!), sleep, play and lots of love (read mommy and daddy time, not gifts).

This is also true for developers who’ve just started up. They want to build a unique product that the world has never seen before and they want to ship the perfect version with great features and excellent customer reviews. But the truth is, your first product is, in fact, a prototype built on your assumption of what your customer wants. For all you know, you may be wrong about not just your customer’s needs but even who your customer is. This is why a proper market study is key to product development. Even then, the goal should be to identify the key features that will make your product viable. Ship your MVP, seek quick feedback, iterate and build a better product in the next version. This way you haven’t unnecessarily sunk upfront costs, you’re ahead of your competitors and are better at estimating customer needs as well.

Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication. You need to find just the right elements to keep in your product and your business model. As Michelangelo would put it, “chip away the rest”.

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#3. There is no shortcut to success. Don’t compromise on quality or your values.

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The advice to ship a good enough product is not a permission to cut corners.

Teacher helps young student with math. Student pays attention.

Since their very first day, babies watch and learn from us. They are keen observers and great mimics. They will feel, talk and do what we feel, say and do, even if they don’t understand any of the words or gestures. I think they do understand emotions. One more reason for us to be better role models for our children.

The same is true in a startup. The culture mimics the leader and it quickly sets in across the organization. As a developer, you may have worked long hours, even into the night to get that piece of code working and felt a huge rush from the accomplishment. But as an entrepreneur remember that you are being watched and emulated by those who work for you. You are what they want to be when they ‘grow up’. Do you want a crash and burn culture at your startup?

This is why it is crucial that you clarify your business’s goals, purpose, and values to everyone in your company, even if it just has one other person working there. It is even more important that you practice what you preach.

Success is an outcome of right actions taken via the right habits cultivated.

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#4. You can’t do everything yourself and you can’t be everywhere. You need to trust others to do their job and appreciate them for a job well done. This also means you hire the right people first.

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It takes a village to raise a child, they say. And it is very true, especially in families where both parents work. It would’ve been impossible for me to give my 100% at work, if I had to keep checking in on how my son is doing with his grandparents or if I refused the support my husband offers sharing household chores.


Just because you are an exceptional developer, you can’t keep micromanaging product development at your startup.

As a founder, you have a larger duty towards your entire business and customers. While it is good to check how your product is developing, your pure developer days are behind. Find people better than you at this job and surround yourself with people who are good at what they do, and share your values for key functions of your startup.

Products succeed because of developers, businesses succeed because their leader knew when to get out of the way and when to step in.

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#5. Customer first, product next, ego last.

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This has been the toughest lesson so far. It looks deceptively simple in theory but hard to practice in everyday life.

Capture. The Game Go

As developers and engineers, we are primed to find solutions. We also see things in binaries: success and failure, right and wrong, good and bad. This is a great quality to possess to build original products. However, it is also the Achilles heel for the developer turned entrepreneur. In business, things are seldom in black and white. Putting product first can be detrimental to knowing your customers.

For example, you build a great product, but the customer is not using it as you intended it to be used. Do you train your customers to correct their ways or do you unearth the underlying triggers that contribute to that customer behavior and alter your product’s vision? The answer is, ‘it depends’. And your job as an entrepreneur is to enable your team to find the factors that influence your decision on the subject; it is not to find the answer yourself or make a decision based on your experience.

You need to listen more than you talk to truly put your customer first. To do that you need to acknowledge that you don’t know everything. Put your ego last.

  • Make it easy for customers to share their views with you directly.
  • Acknowledge that your product/service exists to serve your customers’ needs. It needs to evolve with your customer.
  • Find yourself a good mentor or two who you respect and want to emulate. They will be your sounding board and the light at the end of the tunnel during your darkest hours (you will have many of those, I guarantee).
  • Be grateful for your support network of family, friends, and colleagues and make sure to let them know how much you appreciate them for playing their part in your success.
  • If you have the right partner to start the business, jump in with both feet. Most tech startups have a higher likelihood of succeeding when they have more than one founder. Probably because the demands of tech and business are better balanced on more than one pair of shoulders.

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ow we frame our questions is a big part of the problem. Reframing them makes us see different perspectives thereby changing our mindsets. Instead of asking ‘can working moms have it all?’, what if we asked ‘what can organizations do to help working moms achieve work-life balance?’, ‘how do women cope with competing demands at work and home?’

Instead of asking ‘can developers be great entrepreneurs?’ better questions to ask are ‘what can developers do to start a successful business?’, ‘what can we learn from those who have built successful companies?’

Keep an open mind; the best ideas may come from the unlikeliest sources!

Read Next:

1 in 3 developers wants to be an entrepreneur. What does it take to make a successful transition?

Developers think managers don’t know enough about technology. And that’s hurting business.

96% of developers believe developing soft skills is important


Managing Editor, Packt Hub. Former mainframes/DB2 programmer turned marketer/market researcher turned editor. I love learning, writing and tinkering when I am not busy running after my toddler. Wonder how algorithms would classify this!


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