Primoz Cigler on Business and Code

Getting retired at 30

I woke up today morning. My first thought was: what should I do today so when I go to the bed in the evening, I’m getting closer to my goal – getting retired at the age of 30. I had the same first thought yesterday when I woke up. And the day before. Actually, it’s this same thought that got me out of bed every morning for the past few months.

Today is my 28th birthday which makes my goal 2 years away.

But to understand where this crazy idea of retiring at 30 comes from, I first have to tell you a story.

Since starting my first real business in my early twenties, I was trolling the people around me that I’m working so hard because I want to earn enough money in couple years’ time to retire. ‘I’ll retire before 30’, I told them. But these were just jokes, without me putting any serious thoughts in my words.

The years passed by, the business model which I was so sure it will keep growing as it did initially (foolish me), started stagnating and then turned downhill. First, I was a bit worried but I kept it to myself and continued smiling to everyone I met, pretending everything is OK. Then it started irritating me. We kept the business going, doing the same things as always. I started looking for reasons outside my control which led to a situation in which I’ve found myself. Too much competition on the market. Race to the bottom. People “just don’t get” our products (hence we should invest in marketing/sales more). I went through months-lasting depression periods, burnout, twice almost sold the company. I started hating my job, my role there, I felt 10% as productive as in my best months.

The only reason I still kept going was our team. Despite everything that was happening to me and to ProteusThemes, they kept pushing forward, they were still happy to work here. I admit, tried to hide from everyone my real state as well. What’s my role if not to keep everyone motivated? Who will be excited if not the founders/CEO?

So I went over myself for too long, too often and for too many scenarios. In the process, I forgot why I’m doing this. Why I’m having a company.

In December, Jaka and I were debating if we’d sell the company. One Friday afternoon when we were alone in the office, I remember we fall into the discussion which went on for hours. At first, we were careful, but as we were debating, we started opening up to each other. It turned out that it wasn’t that just me having these issues, we both had them. The gist of it was how ridiculous it is that we’re the owners of the company where we hate to wake up in the morning to go to work. Even more ridiculous was the fact how we wanted to be acquired by another company because we anticipated that under the new umbrella we will have an opportunity again to be more creative and start everything from scratch.

We agreed that either we steer away radically or we quit. And as with any change, one has to start with himself.

I started reading books, articles, watching TED talks. I joined the local business accelerator program for entrepreneurs (CEED). I started going to the gym, working out regularly. I’ve started tracking my hours (to realize what a workaholic I am). We’ve sorted out our finances. Jaka and I started talking a lot to each other.

All these things tremendously helped. But I believe that the most remarkable turning point was when I accepted and fully internalize the fact that

a) I don’t want to have ProteusThemes if I don’t enjoy it and
b) I’m not responsible for nobody but myself in my company (i.e. we are all adults, responsible for ourselves).

The point a) I needed more context. I asked myself for the first time really, what does it mean that I enjoy having ProteusThemes? For many people I see around me, I notice they have big dreams. Some want to buy their dream house. Some travel around in luxury style. Others’ passion is supercars. All of them, they’re hustling for their business because all these things cost lots of money so the money they earn is their primary motivator (at least they are giving such signals ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ).

The longer I was thinking, the money couldn’t have been that same motivator for me. My lifestyle hasn’t changed much since I was a student, leaving on the monthly budget of 400 eur (including the rent) and two years later when ProteusThemes was making (gross) $40k/mo.

So what was it then? If it’s not the money, it must be the freedom, correct? Well, as a senior full stack developer, in I could get a remote job for a startup from [somewhere West] quickly. I’d move to SF or NY or London for a couple of months, apply to all job positions there, get my ideal employer, move back to Slovenia (or wherever I want) and enjoy the remote employment + all the perks (paid leave etc.) without much hassle.

So no, freedom in such sense of the world didn’t ring the bell.

Then it struck me. I was trolling everyone about it for years, yet didn’t recognize it. Could it be that my motivation, my carrot on the stick is getting retired by 30? Let’s dig in.

At first, it seems crazy idea. How can be a motivation for work to stop working? I sat down and defined what this ‘retirement’ thingy really means. Here’s what I wrote down:

I will organize my work around a single goal: on my 30th birthday, I will leave a company for one year. I want to spend a year doing the things most people wish they’d do in their lifetime but never find time to do them. Things like travelling around the world. Things like writing a book. Things like building my own tiny house with your bare hands. Things like opening the shop with Manca without the packaging and plastic waste.

My challenge is the following: when I come back (at 31), I want to find the company at least as successful as when I left it.

In other words, I’ll take a sabbatical year.

When I wrote it down I felt it falls into place. It’s the most inspiring thing I have ever planned for the future. It keeps me in a good shape and I’ve started pushing ProteusThemes (with the help of others in the team, of course) in the right direction.

For the end: yesterday, I had a presentation of the ProteusThemes Manifesto document in front of ProteusTeam (check it out on YouTube). Jaka knew about my plans for quite some time now, but I didn’t tell the others. Once I was done with the presentation I told them about my plans for going to the sabbatical year. What it struck me was the feedback – I got a huge approval. Marko even admitted that he’s alraedy been thinking about doing something similar.

Now I walk the talk.

2 exciting years to go.

Thanks to many who helped me bridge the periods when I was miserable. There are too many to list them all, but I got lots of the motivation and ideas from these sources (in no particular order): Alen Faljic who did an podcast with me and for monthly talks we have, Nejc Zupan for great discussions when we drive to windsurfing sports together and Niteo’s handbook, people from Basecamp for their blog articles and ReWork book, Ricardo Semler for his TED talk and Maverick! book, Simon Sinek for his TED talk and Start with Why book, mentors and people at CEED, Robi Spiler for great debates and his meaning of life, Jure Cuhalev for sparking up the idea of thinking how your life looks when you turn X years old, Zan Ilic for amazing conversations we had.

Thank you also my team and Manca. I couldn’t bring my crazy ideas to life without your support. <3

You should follow me on twitter, here.



A software engineer transitioning to a digital marketer and entrepreneur. Walking the talk. Windsurfer, digital nomad.