Suddenly, One Year Later

Tomorrow is July 16th and it’ll be a year to the day since I left my job at The New York Times. (More about why I left in this blog post.) I can hardly believe it.

Lots of people ask what I’ve been up to in that time. I admit I’ve been rather cagey about the specifics, but the outlines are more or less public knowledge. I spent the first several months finishing my book, “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design.” I also picked up a few freelance and part-time design consulting gigs, generating some transitional income while also spending a lot of time with my family.

What’s less well known is that I cleared away most of that freelance activity at the end of January, when I hunkered down to focus solely on a brand new venture that I started thinking about almost immediately after my tenure ended at The Times.

In the Privacy of One’s Own Startup

I’m still not ready to reveal the exact details of what I’m working on, but in the coming days and weeks, I promise to start revealing more. A little bit more. For now suffice it to say that this venture has received almost all of my passion and focus over the past twelve months, so believe me it’s been tough to avoid telling the whole world about it.

But the privacy has been useful, too, in that it was very good for me to be able to keep all my efforts more or less to myself. It’ll likely surprise very few readers that this new venture of mine is a technology startup, and as such it represents what’s basically a major career change for me. While I’m still spending significant chunks of my time as a designer, I’m spending a similarly significant amount of my time leading the business, talking to lawyers and investors, thinking about and doing stuff I previously never understood or never knew how to do. Sometimes, to my own astonishment, I pull things off with reasonable competency. And sometimes I fail miserably. But throughout, the privacy helped.

If I Knew Then What I Know Now… Well Thankfully I Didn’t

What I didn’t expect was that it would take a year to get where I am now. I’m actually proud of the milestones that my co-founder and I have hit thus far and the rate at which we’ve accomplished them, and really we’re only just getting started. But last year when I first considered my commitment to this long campaign to bring a new digital product into the world, I imagined I’d have launched this thing by sometime around January or February of this year. Oops.

I certainly never thought that we’d still be toiling away at the alpha stage as late as the one-year anniversary of my departure from The Times. If I’d known back then that would be the case, I’m not sure I still would have had the courage to quit my job. Every entrepreneur signs up for ambiguity, but juggling ambiguity with delay after delay is frightening. My income was erratic for a while, and the viability of the business I’m trying to build seemed like it would fall apart again and again. Everything is tougher and takes more time than you expect, it turns out.

But I’m still glad I jumped into this and feel incredibly happy to be on this path. Nothing may come of all this, and the business may just bomb and I may yet have to go and find another salaried job somewhere. But I’ve grown so much since I undertook this little adventure that I wouldn’t trade it in for nearly anything. In fact, I’m lucky that I underestimated the enormity of the undertaking from the outset, because one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that, once you’re really committed to something, once you stop hesitating and hedging your bets, then you find a way to make it happen. Even if you have no idea how you’ll make it happen, you find a way.

That’s it for now. More on this next week and in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading, everyone.

  1. I’m at a similar stage of life to you and it’s great to see that you’ve made the leap that some of us are still too cautious to make.

    Part of my own hesitancy is that need to still design. I’m somewhat afraid that by setting something up I’ll just end up being the manager, losing the creativity and the excitement of just making something. How is that balance for you?

    And thanks for sharing. Your work has been a massive part of my growth as a designer.

  2. Hmmm… I wonder if this is something to do with iPad app development? Just thinking out loud really, considering how you’ve been one of the sharper minds about the continuing problem of businesses transferring old school media onto the iPad. Curious to see what you’ve been getting up to.

  3. Ian: Yup, the iPad is a big part of what I’m working on. But maybe not in the way that you might be thinking, or in the way that my writings about the device might lead you to assume. More soon.

  4. very exciting, Khoi! can’t imagine that your endeavor wouldn’t be a success. i look forward to seeing what develops (all in due time of course). keep on keeping on.

  5. Congrats, Khoi. I’m very much looking forward to hearing more about your project.

    I have taken a vested interest in the no-client model of design, and I have faith that your entrepreneurial activity will not go unnoticed.

  6. I’ve been working on something privately for some time as well and while I’m sure (really sure) it isn’t anything as impressive as what you’ll be launching it’s interesting to read that both privacy & lack of foreknowledge of the time it would require have played such a role in getting you where you are now. I found the very same thing and wonder if these are key components in any such endeavor.

  7. Congrats and good luck with the project Khoi. I’ll be looking forward to updates in the coming weeks.

    Those few months finishing Ordering Disorder were time well spent. I ordered a copy about 5 minutes after it became available and am very glad I did. You cleared up a number of questions I had about working with grids online and I can’t thank you enough.

  8. Very exciting stuff, Khoi. I just recently made a similar decision to leave my salaried comfort zone for new adventures as well. Can’t wait to see what the future has in store for both of us.

  9. Congratulations, Khoi. Can’t wait to see what you and your partner are coming up with, and I am glad to hear it will be on the iPad as well. My partner and I are moving from doing client work to doing our own apps – should be a very interesting year!

  10. “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” Steve Jobs. Stay the course Khoi and I’m excited for the unveiling. Btw, I was gonna quote Ian Brown “Kiss me where the sun don’t shine, the past is yours, the futures mine” but I thought a Jobs quote was a little more on target.

  11. You addressed this in your original post, but I want to applaud you, once again, for taking this leap so soon after the birth of your first child. As a father of two young boys (ages 5 and 1.5), the pressure I feel to provide for them has overpowered all of my entrepreneurial ideas. I’ve joined the folk of young parents who risk less as their child need more. It’s inspirational to read about your journey.

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