Are You Solving Problems You Don’t Have?

July 5, 2007

FreshBooks was founded by me and Joe in January 2003. We built the service in our spare time over the the course of about 14 months while holding down our day jobs. Those days were so exciting – they were some of the most inspired, impassioned and tumultuous days of my life.

Yesterday, I spoke with an entrepreneur who is living those kind of days himself. He is seeking financing for his web app. In speaking with him I was reminded of those days: So many ideas, so many directions we could take things and so many directions things could go. I still feel this way, but I’ve learned some lessons that make the ride smoother.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned (for my mental health if nothing else) is to ask myself, “Is this really a problem?” when an issue pops into my head. If you possess an entrepreneur’s mind, or you are part visionary, it’s really easy to envision problems that are coming down the road. This is important and it’s a strength…except when you are just getting started. When you are getting started you don’t have any problems. You think you do, but you just don’t.

I remember spending time and energy trying to mitigate problems of scale when building the first version of FreshBooks. I spent a lot of energy on “What ifs?” That was a mistake. Instead my whole focus should have been getting the product to look and work wonderfully, building a team and growing a group of people to use my product once it was released.

As time goes on it’s important to spend more and more of your time managing potential risks, but I still ask myself, “Is this really a problem?” My role has changed – and so it should – so that one of my key functions now is to foresee risks and prepare for them. Even if no action is taken today we have an understanding of what the risks are, their timelines and their scope. I’ve learned that if we just keep our heads down and keep doing what we are doing well, things will take care of themselves, but as you grow there is less and less of an excuse to work in a vacuum.

So, for anyone who is moonlighting and building a business – or just getting a business off the ground – don’t spend energy on the what ifs. Focus all your energy on what you can control and keep your feet moving…it’s a wonderful period in an entrepreneur’s life and it should be enjoyed as such.

about the author

Co-Founder & CEO, FreshBooks Mike is the co-founder and CEO of FreshBooks, the world’s #1 cloud accounting software for self-employed professionals. Built in 2003 after he accidentally saved over an invoice, Mike spent 3.5 years growing FreshBooks from his parents’ basement. Since then, over 10 million people have used FreshBooks to save time billing, and collect billions of dollars. A lover of the outdoors, Mike has been bitten so many times it’s rumored he’s the first human to have developed immunity to mosquitoes.