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Cory Zue, Software Developer & Entrepreneur, Talks Books & Business Advice for Young Entrepreneurs

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Cory Zue is a software developer who publicly shares his solopreneurship journey.

Between 2007 and 2017, he served as CTO of Dimagi, a software social enterprise that develops technology to help underserved communities. Cory led the team that builds Dimagi’s flagship product, CommCare.

In late 2016, after feeling burnt out, he realized he needed a change and took a six months sabbatical from his day job. He used it to pursue solopreneurship and build products that would generate a passive income.

Cory documented that journey, writing about his progress and self-education through launching software products, hoping that he’ll inspire other burn-out developers or aspiring entrepreneurs.

Among the products he launched, he invested most of his time and energy into an online place card maker called Place Card Me.

After the sabbatical, Cory took on a more independent, part-time role at Dimagi. He’s currently splitting his time between Dimagi and his own projects, but also does a very small amount of freelance consulting work.

Keep on reading to find out more about the books that helped Cory in his entrepreneurial journey, balance his time between building and promoting, reframe how he perceives humanity, but also how phsyical activity improved his day-to-day life.

Estimated reading time for this interview is 8 minutes. If you'd rather listen to it, you can do it on iTunes, Google Play or Stitcher.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

Hoo boy this is almost impossible to answer. I feel like – especially with business books – the book that will speak to you is the one that closely reflects the stage you’re in.

The business book I find myself recommending the most often is Traction, which is an excellent practical and high-level take on strategies for getting traction for your products. I found it particularly helpful because it prevents a framework and strategies you can actually execute and follow yourself instead of just pontificating about ideas.

Likewise on the non-business side, I feel that what books will resonate with you is so dependent on where you are in life that it’s impossible to declare a favorite. In high school my favorite book was probably Ender’s Game or Catcher in the Rye, in college I went through an Ayn Rand phase and might have said The Fountainhead. More recently books like Godel, Escher, Bach and Sapiens have influenced my thinking a lot.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

The best thing I took away from Traction was that founders should to try and split their time evenly between building a product and promoting it. This balance is typically very skewed towards building for inexperienced developer-founders, and remembering this forced me to invest in promotion in a way that ultimately led to more success than I could have achieved from building only. I continue to track this time spend carefully and course-correct if I’m spending too much time on product.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

Most recently it’s been Sapiens. Sapiens takes a ridiculously high-level view of human fiction/story and does an amazing job reframing how we perceive humanity and culture in a way that makes current-day society feel a bit silly. It’s also a phenomenal history book and chalk-full of really interesting information. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys musing on their/our place in the universe.

What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

Can I pass on this one? I think young people interested in starting their own online business should start their own online business. Once you get going you’ll figure out what you should read to teach yourself what you don’t know.

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

I used to mostly binge read a) during flights / vacations, and b) when I got hooked on a fast-paced (usually) fiction book/series. Since 2018 started I’ve tried to develop a habit of reading every day.

How do you make time for reading?

I heard a great hack on a podcast I’m a fan of (Art of Product) which is that if you want to set a daily goal for something you need to set trivially attainable goals – else you get behind and inevitably give up and fail.

What they recommended doing – and what I did – was set a goal to read one word of a book a day. The idea is that it should be so easy that you have no excuse to not do it, but once you read one word you’ll usually stick around and read a lot more!

There have been a few days where I literally opened my kindle, read a single word, and shut it off, but for the most part this has increased my reading substantially to anywhere from 5 minutes up to an hour a day.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

Only if something really sticks out. I do like to discuss the ideas in books with my wife, friends, or even myself (typically via my blog) just to try and help the ideas gel and evolve into my own thinking.

How do you choose what books to read next?

Mostly through recommendations I encounter from friends or people I admire. I’ve got a very long list to work through.

Do you prioritize the books recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

I find that people whose opinions I trust / align with (through knowing them, Twitter, podcasts, blogs, whatever) are usually full of good book recommendations.

What book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

Principles, by Ray Dalio. I’ve been on a bit of a “finding meaning in life” kick lately and Ray’s self/inward focus of coming up with your own principles you want to live by is an interesting mental exercise to go through. I also find that I agree with most of what he says.

Last year you started to focus more on physical activity. What triggered this? And what impact did it have on the other aspects of your life?

Mostly quitting my job and having loads of free time. 🙂

It was great! I view it as one of several things I was able to change that really improved my day-to-day health and happiness. Other contributing factors included working less, slowing down, intentionally avoiding situations that didn’t make me happy, and creating a lot of time and space for reflection.

What rules did you set in place in order to prevent yourself from burning out?

I completely burnt myself out leading up to leaving my job last year, so not burning out has been a major priority of the last year.

I don’t have any hard rules, but I generally try to work somewhere between 35-45 hours a week and do something active and outside at least 5 times a week which ends up being quite a cushy lifestyle with what feels like very low burnout risk. I’ve actually been wondering if I should start allowing myself to work a little harder!

Links where you can follow Cory Zue or find out more about his projects:

All books mentioned by Cory Zue in our interview:

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