Inside the Anthillz: The Team’s Blog

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Interview with Randy Schmidt, creator of iSepta and rockstar freelancer

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Randy is a very well known Philadelphia Freelancer who specializes in developing Ruby on Rails (RoR) applications and has founded umlatte, a web-app consulting company. He is most well known for the iSepta application which he co-developed. Randy is also very active in the local RoR community called Philly on Rails.

Randy, could you tell us how you took the plunge from being a structural engineer to becoming a rockstar freelancer?

I’m not sure I would call myself a rockstar freelancer, but while I was working as a structural engineer, I was doing some freelance web development on the side. I was also proposing some web apps to help solve some of the problems I saw around me. I was able to start a knowledge base that used MediaWiki and created a web-based sign-out sheet that would help everybody quickly know what people were up to.

That sign-out sheet is currently being rebuilt as a service called “up2app“.

After a while, I got really frustrated that the company wasn’t taking advantage of my motivation to make things better, so I quit and went out on my own.

How did your family react when you left a stable job and went the independent route?

My wife was extremely supportive and I wouldn’t have quit my job without her support. The hardest part was figuring out how parents and the in-laws were going to react. I had a feeling that they would read “freelancing” as “unemployed”. To my surprise, my dad was very supportive right away and was excited about the whole thing. The in-laws were a little different, they didn’t say much but I think they were waiting for us to ask for money.

A year later, I think they are comfortable now that I haven’t asked for any money :-). It also helped that we had a little nest egg so I didn’t have to make money right away to pay the mortgage.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about freelancing?

This may be kind of weird, but I don’t think I have received much advice from people until recently. I’m currently working to build a more complete business around what I do. Through that, a friend of mine has really pushed me to figure out exactly what I want to do.

I can change this as I move forward, but it gives me a direction to go in and then the direction can be adjusted going forward.

Who are your heroes?

Everybody at Independence “Indy” Hall, and of course… Buzz Lightyear.

Can you tell us what a typical day is like in the life of Randy Schmidt?

The routine lately has been to wake up to my alarm around 8 AM and then proceed to hit snooze way too many times. I then get up, take a shower, get dressed and head to the office (across the hall).

I then try to process my inbox until have 0 emails, following up or adding tasks to Highrise so I don’t have to think about them. I then realize it’s noon and I haven’t done anything billable yet so I try to keep my head down and work all afternoon.

Sometime in the evening I stop working and either spend some time with the wife or work on fun projects. I have been trying to limit how many times I deal with email to try to stay focused. I often turn off all forms of communication for hours at a time to keep the distractions to a minimum.

What are the strains of being an independent worker?

I think many independent workers realize after a while that doing everything yourself isn’t very efficient. One of those areas is cultivating business and trying to get work done at the same time.

It’s very hard to deal with the random access communication and focus on current projects. I’m working to build a small team where one of the key players is a business development/business guy that will handle clients up until signing a contract and getting to work.

Have you ever fired a client?

I’ve come close a few times but not yet. I’ve only been doing this for a year so I am only now getting to the point where I can pick and choose. Hopefully we can do more picking and choosing in the future as the quality of our work speaks for itself. I am really pushing to move to the point where we are working with our clients, helping them refine their vision, instead of just building whatever they say.

With iSepta’s success, how does it feel to be a celebrity?

Haha… I’m not sure I would call myself a celebrity, but it has been awesome and frustrating at the same time. Awesome because it helps to validate some of the ideas and projects we are working on… people actually like what we are doing. On the other hand, it is frustrating trying to keep up with it all and still get some work done.

After iSepta, do you have another killer app up your sleeve?

Jason, Chris and I are currently working with a couple startups helping them get to version 1 of their vision in a short period of time, 4 weeks. There are a lot of business people out there that have ideas, but don’t know who to hire or how to get to version 1 fast. The idea is we work with them through a few 4-week-long iterations and eventually help them find developers as they grow their business. I really believe startups should not outsource their own product, but then again someone shouldn’t have to hire a team before they know the idea will work.

The three of us are also evaluating some of our own ideas and trying to apply some of the same principals. Figure out which ones are most likely to make money or benefit society, and then execute to get to version 1 as fast as possible.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Wow, this is a hard one. Things move so fast that it’s hard to predict where I’ll be. I want to be working part time to help clients realize their ideas as well as build some of our own products.

Check out Randy’s Blog | See Randy’s Anthillz Profile

Written by bquinlan3

July 29, 2008 at 8:45 am

Posted in Interviews, Watercooler

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