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Business Impostor

by Jeffrey Way
Oct 06.2023

#podcast version of this article available!

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When it comes to business, I - like many developer-turned-small-business-owners, I’d imagine - am really quite green. Not just green, deep green. What’s the fancy color name for that?

Shades of Green
Shades of Green

How about seaweed green or pine green?

No MBA in sight. I’m not even sure what that stands for, to be honest. Master of Business Administration? Is that it? Yep, a master of business… yours truly is not. I was instead thrust into the schools of “business acronym Googling” and “fly by the seat of your pants.”

Can you relate? Many developers can. One moment, you're a nighttime hacker, and the next, you've released your first product. Congratulations! You're now a business owner. Sure, you're not sitting at the end of an absurdly long rectangular conference room table, but you're still CEO...even if it's just you and your... cat.

They're Gonna Laugh At You

The year is 2013, and I’m months away from launching Laracasts. Weeks earlier, I spent $1,000 on the laracasts.com domain name, which was, let’s say, a very painful purchase. Worse, I had already collapsed into my first business pitfall. An expense like that shouldn’t come out of your personal account. Use your business account, silly!

Okay, sure, but easier said than done.

Remember folks: this is before the days of “ask AI all of your embarrassing questions.”

So how exactly do I create a business account? Do I just walk into my bank like a fool and say, "Umm, I need to set up a business checking account"? Won’t they see right through me and know that I have no business running a business? If I want to pull this off, I should probably have a vanilla folder in my hands when I walk through that front entrance. It seems like business people in nice suits often carry those. Hmm, and maybe one of those big, fat rubber bands wrapped around it to keep the documents from falling out.

Still, though, won’t they condescendingly laugh at me? "Umm... sir, hehe," he or she chuckles. "I think you're in the wrong place. The frozen yogurt shop is down the street."

I return to reality just in time for them to ask, “Articles of Incorporation?”

“Why yes, I have it right here….oh, wait." I mentally prepare my getaway excuse. "It seems I've misplaced it. I’ll need to check with my attorney, good sir. My people will be in touch.” Then, I'll attempt my best nonchalant speed-walk / escape out of the bank.

But, of course, no such escape was necessary. The only embarrassment that took place that day was inside my head. People are never quite so evil as our imaginations might suggest. Instead, a friendly older lady sat me down, and provided a document that listed all of the various forms they’d need to see.

I proceeded to drive home and subsequently Google each of the documents and acronyms she referenced.

Articles of incorporation refers to the documents filed with the government body that signifies the creation of a corporation. They generally contain information such as the corporation's name, street address, and the amount and type of stock to be issued.

A week later, I had my business account. Success!

I’ve since repeated this awkward cycle of ignorance countless times over the years. In the early days, it proved to be a bit of a sensitive spot. I treated my business illiteracy as something worthy of apologizing for - or even concealing, if possible. Fake it. Don’t let them see that you’re an impostor.

Maybe I can outrun their suspicions. I could take accounting classes in the evening, and read every business book I can find. If I can flip the jab enough times, I just might pull off this magic trick on my peers.

My best efforts aside, naturally, no such business experts were fooled. I've embarrassed myself no less than a dozen times in a variety of not so insignificant ways. ...Still do, in fact. There’s only one difference.

Too Old to Care

As you grow older, previously locked doors - figurative doors - suddenly become ajar. Give them a tug, and a world of “ohhhh” realizations come flooding out, like ghosts from the Ecto Containment Unit.

  • Wait, all of this worrying was a complete waste of time? Nobody ever cared in the first place?
  • Wait, that person I looked up to was also faking it the whole time?
  • Wait, Jane runs such a great business! You’re telling me she also had no idea what she was doing?
  • Wait, actual MBA holders are often just as clueless as I am?

Perhaps it has become trite at this point, but the old “you stop caring what others think as you age” adage is nonetheless real. Though, it’s not exactly an issue of caring. It’s more that you subconsciously press cancel on the endless desire to impress others. Nothing happens when you admit your ignorance. If anything, it probably makes you a bit more attractive and relatable.

Comedians make a living by pointing out the things we all think, but rarely share. Suddenly, a room full of people are laughing and nodding their heads in agreement. It's not just you who feels this way.

You'll Figure it Out

You're a programmer, not a master of business. There's no need to outrun that fact. And no matter how many books you read, you'll probably never flip the script. But, rather than feeling anxious, try re-framing it. It's not a weakness.

Like any project or challenge, leverage your programming strengths. Whatever business hurdle you're currently struggling through, break it down! Just like every bug you've ever encountered, you'll figure it out. Eventually.

...Sort of.

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I can still remember it. Eight years old, second grade, Mrs. King’s class, and I’m openly stressing to my friends about a particular embarrassment that I’m hoping to conceal from the other students. To tell you the truth, the one thing I can't remember is what this embarrassment exactly was. But, hey, it was second grade in the 90s; it could have been anything. Even a jean length that didn’t adequately cover your ankles was cause for ridicule in 1993.

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I’ve given this a good bit of thought. Late at night, when I can’t sleep, I imagine a potential variation on my life; one in which I commute to work each morning before my kids wake up. I spend 8-10 hours at a desk writing code, and return home around 6pm. I step out of my car, and approach the front door, slowly reaching for the keys in my pocket. I release one of those fatigued sighs that only I can hear, and then unlock the door to my two young kids, excited to see me. The best part of my day.

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