07 March 2011

I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to devote my career to starting and building companies. As part of my preparation, for the last five years, I’ve been writing down all of the ideas I had which I thought were viable businesses. At this point, there are a whole bunch of ideas written down; some terrible and some amazing.

One of the toughest things for me over the past few years has been watching people become successful with “new” ideas I had been thinking about for years. Part of me should be happy, because it means that I was right, and that the idea was a good one.  However, I mostly felt upset with myself that I saw a great opportunity, but didn’t have the courage to act.

A specific example of this is with a company called stackoverflow.com. Back in 2006 I was studying for the CFA examinations. I thought that it would be great if there was a place for people taking the exam to go online and be able to ask questions to other people also taking the exam. It would be an incredibly helpful resource for people taking the exam, and a job board would more than pay for expenses. I then thought that this model could be extended to any community with specialized knowledge, and that the quality of a question and answer site would increase exponentially if it was a group of specialized people asking questions of each other. There could be a site for every exam (SAT’s, GMAT, LSAT, CFA), every profession (legal, accounting, programming, engineering), even every religion. My plan was to start with the big tests, and with programming, and then keep expanding to more niches as fast as I could.

The only thing was; I never executed on my plan. I had a million excuses: I didn’t have time, didn’t know how to program, didn’t have a friend who would be a good technical co-founder, didn’t have enough savings, and a bunch of other excuses that don’t seem sufficient in hindsight. About two years after I had the idea, someone started a question and answer site for programmers, called stackoverflow.com, that has subsequently grown into an amazing site and an amazing company, doing exactly what I wanted to do.

I’m very happy that from now on, I’ll have a legitimate reason for not working on things: I was too busy putting all my efforts behind my number one idea.