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What does it take to become an entrepreneur?

I interviewed Arnan de Gans, a young Dutch entrepreneur and developer of the famous AdRotate for WordPress plugin. What started as a (still available) free product for WordPress users became a business that helped him to fulfill his dream: a Digital Nomad life.

What exactly is an Entrepreneur?

The business dictionary teaches me that an entrepreneur is someone who takes initiative by organizing a venture and takes benefit of an opportunity. He decides when, what, how, and how much of a good or service will be produced and how it will develop.
An entrepreneur seeks or supplies risk capital and is not afraid of taking risks. He monitors and controls all business activities.
He is usually a sole proprietor, a partner, or the one who owns the majority of shares in an incorporated venture.

According to economist Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883-1950), entrepreneurs are not motivated by profit but they use it as a standard for measuring achievement or success. Schumpeter discovered that entrepreneurs value self-reliance, distinct themselves through excellence and are highly optimistic, otherwise, nothing would be undertaken. They always favor challenges and dare to take certain risks.

Interview with Arnan de Gans – AJdG.Solutions

Arnan de Gans, a famous Dutch entrepreneur
Arnan de Gans, owner of AJdG.Solutions

Q: Can you tell us a bit how it all started? Since you weren’t an entrepreneur at first. When and why did you realize you wanted to become one?
A: I don’t really see myself as an Entrepreneur but following the somewhat loose definition of the word I guess I am one. And since it sounds fancy I use the term here and there. I consider myself a web developer or a business owner. I started as a fulltime developer in April 2012 and have been active as a hobbyist developer since 2005 or so. I specialize in WordPress and WooCommerce plugins. But lately, a lot of my work has been around improving existing services and making my business more sustainable. Mainly aimed at increasing profitability. The extra revenue enables me to invest in new things.

Q: You have a lot of plugins available at AJdG Solutions, AdRotate for WordPress by far out the most popular I guess.
A: I currently have 8 paid plugins on my website and 4 free ones.  A few are recent additions doing specific things for WooCommerce in combination with other (paid) plugins. The market for those is really, really small. AdRotate (Pro) is my main product and will continue to be for the foreseeable future I think.

Q: How do you find the ideas for your products?
A: By being a user myself. If I can’t find a decent plugin for something or I think I can do better, I may consider making something useful myself. But only if I truly believe I can do better and make it fun for myself and others.
Sometimes users send me feature requests or mention things that start something interesting. A lot of the features in AdRotate were inspired by or requested by users of the product.

AdRotate for Wordpress interview
The AdRotate for WordPress logo

Q: With AdRotate for Wordpress being your biggest product, how do you see the future? How do you keep track of development in the advert business?
A: If you deduct the advertising market to what it really is, namely: showing stuff to people. There is not much to it. AdRotate is a great tool to help people show banners on their sites however and to whomever they want. There are a lot of features in AdRotate aimed at targeting specific groups or periods of time for when and how banners should be visible.

The actual focus of the plugin is very narrow. As long as the basic principles of advertising do not change, the trends in advertising are not really relevant. People will use more or fewer features to fill their needs. If a feature is missing or needs changing I’ll listen to the customers and respond to that with updates.
For example, A fairly common request is a payment module so publishers can sell banners themselves and more automated. Currently, such a system doesn’t really suit AdRotate. But I’ve been making changes to the plugin so that a payment system will make sense at some point.

Q: How many hours a day do you work? Since you have no staff and provide support as well.
A: Anything between 2 and 14 hours a day. Depending on the number of emails, sales, and my general mood. Currently, I don’t really work full days because not much development is going on. But once new ideas arise that’ll change. Sometimes I’ll feel wholly uninspired and do nothing but answering emails for days…

Q: In other words: income doesn’t come with the wind? Do you have to work for your money even as an entrepreneur?
A: Everybody has to work for their money one way or another. Anyone who says otherwise is nuts or has already worked long and hard. But if they worked already for their “passive income” how passive is it really?

Q: What does it take to become a self-employed entrepreneur. Any particular skills?
A: I’d say insight and creativity. Gain insight into whatever you’re doing. Make sure you have an idea that may actually work. And before you follow that idea make sure you have a direction. If the direction doesn’t involve a reasonable rate of success go back to start and try again. Repeat until you have something that works.

Q: Some scientists say that 37 to 48% of being an entrepreneur is in your genes.
Do you believe there is something like “ the entrepreneurial gene?”
A: No, that’s just marketing talk to make business owners feel special. Anybody with good wits and an idea can be an entrepreneur. You could argue that people without the magic gene wouldn’t have had that idea or insight, but anyone who thinks that ideas and insight come from genes probably shouldn’t try to be an entrepreneur.

Q: Do you have tips on staying focused and how do you handle that?
A: I can work for hours on end, but during those hours I’ll get interrupted with dozens if not hundreds of things. Email. Twitter. Cookies. Before you know it you’re on Facebook or YouTube. People on Skype. A fly in the room. Cake. Name it and it’ll distract me. But who cares… Just make sure you finish your goal within a reasonable amount of time. As long as whatever you work on doesn’t suffer from your distractions does it really matter if you’re focused or not?

Q: How important do you think it is to have a flexible lifestyle when running your own business?
A: It’s one of the most important things you can have. If it’s sunny outside and I don’t feel like working… I’ll choose the sunny outside with ice cream. For many, seeking such flexibility it’s the main motivation to become self-employed. Yet they end up working full days without variation and flexibility. Those people failed.

Q: Entrepreneurs are known for taking (financial) risks.
How do you handle risks? Do you just jump in at the deep end of an idea? Or do you calculate your risk first?
A: That depends on what the risk may yield me. Being a programmer and making a stupid product nobody cares for will usually only cost time. I generally don’t take big risks unless I have something to back up the potential loss. If you can’t afford to lose it, don’t risk it.

Q: What’s the most important lesson you learned from running your own business?
A: In the broadest sense – if something doesn’t make you happy or benefits you it’s probably not worth doing.

Q: So you are not a 9-5 kind of person and you freed yourself from that office mentality and thrown away the ‘got to go to work’ mentality, you have these wonderful products for sale, you have become very successful in your market: Is there, after all, a downside to it all?
A: Not yet. Unless you count the sleeping in, eating cake whenever you please, playing games all day (sometimes) and ignoring email when you feel like it has downsides.

Q: You are 30+ now, where do you see yourself and your business say, 10 years from now?
A: No idea, I’ll see where tomorrow takes me and next week is a distant future.
I expect to be starting something new in a few years. But no idea what or where that will be. I’ll let the world inspire me and who knows what’ll happen.

Q: Last question: Do you have advice for those coders out there with huge dreams and ready to launch a product?
A: Don’t copy my (or others) products 🙂

Interested in Arnan and his products? Visit his website AJdG.Solutions and snoop around, he won’t mind. Or visit his private website at Arnan.me

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