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Working for a small to large-sized tech company as a web application developer has some very appealing perks: You can expect good hours, benefits, paid time off, and a host of other niceties such as meal services or gym memberships, depending on the company.
So, why leave all that behind and strike out on your own? And why start a company instead of merely freelancing?
Those are great questions! I'm glad you asked them because it's what I want to talk about in this post. This post is about why (and how) I started MachineServant. It is biographical, so I hope it doesn't come off as some guy talking about himself for several pages. But I think there are some universal truths about how life can take us down one path and then take an unexpected turn to deliver us somewhere even better.
First, though, let's examine what else there is to like about working directly for a company.
In the past, when I was working directly for others in a small to a large tech company, one of the things that made me happiest was the camaraderie between myself and my co-workers. There is a sense of being on a team and feeling like I am part of something bigger than myself. Water cooler discussions, in-office jokes, and fun after-work activities all make the job feel less like a job.
When working for any company, it's possible to get laid off. Barring that, though, you know that if you show up, get your work done, and do a good job, you'll get a paycheck at the end of every two weeks. The peace of mind this brings may not be evident to someone who has not spent much time out of work or who has not attempted freelancing. It's a big bonus, though.
Look, I'm not going to go on a rant about our health insurance system in this country #keepitcivil, but the reality is that unless you or your spouse work for a company that provides health insurance, your options are not great. I'm a diabetic, so I need some reasonably expensive medicine to keep me from, you know, dying. Working for a company that can get you a low health insurance rate can be a literal lifesaver.
Sounds pretty lovely. So, why did I give it all up, start freelancing, and eventually form MachineServant?
About six or seven years ago, I worked for a medical scheduling system startup company in the Cleveland area. I was at the company nearly from the beginning and had taken on leadership responsibilities for a large portion of our product. I enjoyed working there for the first three or four years when the company was overcoming the challenges that all small startups have to deal with: finding customers, constant iterations and changes to the product, changing the wheels of the car while it's moving.
I discovered that once the company started to see stability and grew ever larger, my role was less and less critical to our overall success. I was beginning to feel like a cog in the machine.
The team dynamic that I loved was also fading. Gone were the after-work social hours at the local bar, replaced by company outings and organized events.
I felt, and still feel, a great sense of accomplishment and pride when I think about my time at that company. And while I never wanted or expected to leave, it was just time for me to do something new.
I wasn't quite sure where to go next and felt that what I wanted was a taste of new experiences, new technologies, and new challenges. So, I signed up with a contracting agency and started working for different companies on small to medium-sized projects in various industries such as the medical insurance industry, and the financial tech industry.
After the first few contracts, I felt pretty good about my decision, but I missed that feeling of ownership one gets from working on a project as a collaborator rather than a consultant.
Then, out of the blue, my contracting agency put me in touch with someone who wanted a new banking regulation management application built from scratch and needed a developer (or a team of developers) to get the job done. I was intrigued and excited to get the chance to work on a project that I could manage, design, and implement myself.
I jumped into the project with enthusiasm. I spent weeks working with the founders to determine the design and functionality of the product. I designed and implemented the server architecture; I managed the project; I researched business requirements; I built the API and the front end. All while working hand-in-hand with the founders to help them achieve their vision.
The result remains some of the best work I've ever produced. It is also the proudest I have ever been in something on which I have worked.
About halfway through the project, the founders bought out my contract from the agency I was working through, and, like that, I was a dedicated freelancer. As long as I could find contracts, I discovered that there was no need for an agency to come in and take a considerable portion of my pay. And, since I'm good at what I do #humble, I could undercut the competition's rates while still producing excellent results.
That project scratched nearly every itch I had. It was engaging, challenging, new, and exciting; it allowed me to work on a project and feel like an integral part of a team. It gave me the kind of satisfaction I was missing from the corporate world.
In working on that project, it became clear that I would need an LLC through which to do my work. For tax purposes and liability reasons, it is a good idea to have a business between you and your work. So, I started MachineServant. (By the way, MachineServant is an apt anagram of my full name: Evan Micah Stern).
After that first project, I've been able to work on several other application-level products. Each of them has been a thrill to work on and has exposed me to new people and new concepts.
My long-term goal for MachineServant is to become a development shop with full-time employees working on many projects for different clients and producing the best quality available at a competitive price.
So why did I decide to start MachineServant?
I did it because I like working on new things with new people and learning about new businesses and new ideas. I did it because I found that I enjoy the feeling I get when a client is happy. I did it because I like to take a nap at 2:00 in the afternoon, sometimes. I also did it almost accidentally.
There are certainly times where I have less work to do, and the stress of not getting a regular paycheck can be exhausting. Finding clients can be demanding, and that process comes with ups and downs. But whenever I can start on a new project, no matter what the project is, it's always a thrill to get to know the people I'm working for and with. That is honestly one of the biggest reasons I started MachineServant.
In the end, I started MachineServant because I think there are a lot of people out there who want to work with someone they can get to know and can trust to get the job done well.
Great ideas require great implementation and a personal touch, and MachineServant exists because I want to provide that kind of service.
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