Hi, could you introduce yourself?
Hey! I’m Danielle. Three years ago I left the UK to travel full-time, work remotely, and pursue my dreams with my best friend and partner James. While on the road together we founded our web development agency Squarecat (squarecat.io). We spent some time backpacking around Southeast Asia in the first year but now we spend winter hopping between Thailand and Indonesia (Bali), and summer in cheap European cities.
For the past eighteen months we’ve been working on Leave Me Alone - our service to easily unsubscribe from unwanted marketing emails and newsletters. Prior to that we created a handful of other products, including one that failed and two that were acquired. We occasionally freelance to fund our travels, but our main goal is to make enough money from our own products to fund our lifestyle.
How did you get into your current field?
I wasn’t a computer whizz kid or even much of a nerd, but I did spend a lot of my childhood playing cracked computer games and making downloaded music CDs for my friends. My interest in studying computing or programming however was non-existent.
I went to University to study Law and Criminology because I thought it sounded cool and I wanted to impress people when I mentioned my degree - yes really. Unlike everyone else in the class I had never studied law before and I soon realised that the path to success in the legal system is long and hard - something I didn’t have the passion or desire to achieve.
I dropped out, moved back to the village where I grew up, and spent a year working at a large coffee chain in the UK as a barista (not quite a barrister, but close!). I was bored out of my mind so when a friend suggested I study computers because I’ve “always been good with computers” I submitted a last minute application to Computer Science at a University in Wales.
This time I still had very little experience with programming, but I really enjoyed it and quickly became very good at it. During my degree I did an internship with the UK Government and when I graduated they offered me a job. I spent a year working for them but there wasn’t enough freedom and too much bureaucracy.
We decided to quit our jobs, sell all of our belongings, and leave our lives behind to travel the world in search of our own dreams. As we are both full-stack web developers we are fortunate to be able to work from anywhere, which is what we are doing now!
What are your goals?
Inspired by Steph Smith I actually shared my goals publicly in 2019. This was a great way to actually document what I wanted to achieve and stay accountable. It also proved a great way to show myself that I had achieved more than I believed. For example, I would always assume I was way down on my reading or writing goals but when I checked my progress I was doing fine!
I have written a few for 2020 but I haven’t been keeping them up to date as much. You can see my goals for last year here. I have an ongoing goal of reaching ramen profitability with our own products, which we will achieve when we get to $2000 a month!
Leave Me Alone has gotten a lot of traction. Could you tell the story of how that got started? (What did you do right/wrong?)
We built a few products before we found the right path but none of them gained any traction. One of the biggest mistakes we made with previous products was building too much of the functionality before we had validated the idea. One of our failed startups is a SaaS that we spent six months working on was “finished” when we launched it - as in every feature and possible user interaction was coded. We launched, cold emailed, and even paid for marketing campaigns but we never got any customers!
The second biggest mistake we were making was trying to solve problems that we weren’t having ourselves. If you do this, then you can’t fully understand the needs of your customer.
Leave Me Alone was born because we learned from our previous mistakes and focused on solving our own problems. Our first version was incredibly simple and lean. We only coded the core functionality and made sure it did that really well before even starting to flesh out the rest of the product. Learning how to hold back on features is an important skill because we all want to feel like something is finished before we let people see or use it. But in software development nothing is ever finished, not really, so you can keep on putting your head in the sand and coding forever without any users to develop for!
You sold your service MakerAds. What advice can you give for selling a business?
I’m not sure I have much advice on this topic. In our attempt to find something that sticks we ended up working on too many projects at once. Our attention was spread too thin and what we really wanted to do was focus on growing Leave Me Alone. We decided to sell so we put an advert on 1k projects (which has now been rebranded) and we received a few offers.
We wanted someone to continue developing and growing the product, so we vetted the buyers to find out their motives, and we found someone who had values that were aligned with ours. We drew up a sale contract that specified what would be handed over (definitely recommend always doing this), we all signed it, and the money was handed over!
Do you have a mentor or role model?
I don’t have anyone specific! I enjoy following people’s founder journeys and I try to keep up with and learn lessons from people on the same path, even if they’re further along than you. It’s good to keep yourself accountable, but it’s also a great idea if you can find people who are honest about how hard the founder journey can be to keep you grounded and sane!
Do you mentor anybody?
I try to help people when I can but I’m not an active mentor or part of a program. I am a member of several Telegram communities where people often ask for help and share their expertise which is very rewarding and has led to some long-term friendships :)
What advice do you have for people breaking into tech?
Just do it! Seriously though, the hardest part is getting started. No-one knows everything. It doesn’t matter how many years you have of coding experience you will always have to ask questions and look things up.
Like many women in tech I suffer from imposter syndrome. Something that helped me with this was writing down my achievements and reflecting on them often. I often think I haven’t improved at something or learned anything in the last few months, but when I look back over the last few years and think of how far I have come - even that people are asking for my advice and to be interviewed - it’s a good confidence boost.
What could the tech industry do better to foster female talent?
They need to keep creating safe spaces for women and girls to find each other, and their passion for tech. We need more coding groups and meetups for women, more successful women sharing their stories, and more women in leading roles.
Who do you follow?
On Twitter I follow a lot of founders, indie hackers, and makers as I like to follow along with their progress!
What’s the best way to keep up with what you are doing?
We also have a Leave Me Alone blog if you’re interested in our product.
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