A year (just over) in the life of a Lead Developer / Startup Burnout

After more than a year of not writing much content at all, I felt it was about time I put pen to paper. What more natural way to ease me into it than a year in the life roundup.

It's been a year where I honestly lost a lot of motivation/appetite for development or writing. I can finally put down on paper as I finally understand why this happened. I'll quickly explain why then I will get into what I have been up to this past year.


  • Startup burnout is real; it's taken me a year to get through it.
  • I now have a baby boy who has made family life even more important.
  • I have worked on two major projects for large clients
  • A new side project broke me out of the burnout cycle
  • New things on the horizon are very exciting

Startup burnout

Please take all of this with a pinch of salt; it definitely might not happen to you, this is purely my experience and what happened. The startup world is a beautiful place, but there is as with everything a dark side. I have purposefully left out company names, as I don't feel its needed.

I started working for said startup very early stage, our first beta was yet to be released, but from the off, it was something that I knew would be a hit with users worldwide. I was the fourth full-time employee, the CEO, COO and CTO being the other three. As with all startups, options were part of the deal, something that with this being my first foray into this world, I took my package with a low salary. (Lesson learnt!)

We built a product that was very successful regarding users, getting to 1.5 million in just over two years. Many features in Apple's app store as best in education, etc. We were going from strength to strength as a team.

As two and a half years came around we were looking for more investors to come on board; we had started monetising the product which was going better than expected. We had terms agreed with an investor and gone through a very complicated due diligence process, which from a tech perspective we had an outstanding success. One of the best the person in charge had ever seen whilst carrying out this procedure. We took a lot of confidence we were ticking the right boxes as a team at this point.

Unfortunately, as happens at these times, something went wrong, the deal was off, we had a week worth of run rate left. At this point, the team was to down tools while the C level staff tried to save the business. It was a buyout in the end, but part of the deal was everyone is made redundant. My shares that had been vesting handed over in the redundancy (they would have worked out less than my settlement)

This whole process completely drained me, I was so passionate about the product and team, that when it was gone. I felt like a part of me had also done the same. My passion for development and product going with it at the same time. It's been a long year from a professional point of view; I went back into the freelance game which has been successful. However, something just has not felt right, and I got to the end of my day wanting to just be at home with my family.

Lessons learnt from this process

  • Don't ever take shares as a repayment for a low salary. A salary is what you are worth as an employee; equity is a way of paying you for your hard work making the product what it is. They are two very different things.
  • Dream big but don't lose sight, your new venture may be very successful and make money, don't however, let that takeover being realistic about the short-term goals you must hit.
  • Monetise early, gone are the days where VC's will purely give money to get lots of people using your product. Make your own money, and only take on VC money if you have to.

What I've been doing

In short quite a lot. My wife and I welcomed the birth of our son to the world in February 2016, being a father is the most amazing experience. Word's can't describe how much I live for my family and love every experience we have. He's changed our world for the better, and I couldn't be happier.

I released a side project that went well for my first foray into cycling clothing. Running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the launch of our first range of Jerseys and Bib Shorts. Click here to find out more about it.

Image of T Cycling Clothing

The rest of my working week has been taken up by my freelance work as a Lead Developer/Engineer. I have had two primary clients that I have been contracted to for 12 months combined. Both of which are huge in their markets.

Contracted to lead the development of an In-Store Experience to promote and sell products for a large, well-known client who was releasing new home automation products. We knew from the off that the application would run on a mobile/tablet device. However, the operating system was unknown at the beginning; this was due to the hardware team yet to figure out which they were going to use.

Due to what we thought would be limited performance, we initially built a hybrid native application that could work on any device including web using Cordova.

The application made use of high-quality video content which this approach we quickly realised was not performant enough. At this point, we finally had a device and OS of the tablet the experience would be displayed. We decided to build an entirely native android app. Working to our advantage, as the performance was far superior to the hybrid app.

The other client was Kingfisher in the UK, who since finishing my first work for, I have come back to do more and help them moving forward.

It has been a mixture of being a lead developer and a consultant; they have a digital team which is trying to transform the way the company approaches it. As part of this, we have done a lot of work on trying to create a stable platform where the team can build reliable and stable applications, be it web or mobile. Eventually with plans to move into store applications too. The majority of the apps written in Angular 2 (Now 5 at the time of writing this article). We did a lot of work with Ahead of Time compilation before it was adequately available, which was a very trying and exciting time. Now that state is becoming more of an issue as the applications grow we are introducing NgRX to the teams to solve that problem. Part of that has been nurturing the team with the other lead developers coming up with what we believe is essential learning content and running courses on NgRX to bring others up to speed.

A side project reignited the fire

Around two weeks ago I finally committed myself to a project I had been contemplating for a long time. The reason for putting it off so long was literally down to what had happened over a year prior. It had burnt me out, and for some reason, my mind wouldn't let me commit to putting in the effort of something new.

Making this decision changed my mindset almost instantly, I had signed up for a few separate curated learning lessons for different development practices I wanted to understand thoroughly. I got my passion back; I'm finding an hour almost every day to work on the side project.

A little sneak peak

My future as a lead developer feels bright once again, I want to pursue more, I want to create more, I want to find more. I am finally looking forward to my professional future, not just feeling like I'm getting by.

The new side project is being created for writers, whether it be professionally, or university students submitting essays. If you would like to be notified when it is released, please sign up here.

If you are interested in working with me in the future, please do get in touch.