Archives For entrepreneur’isms

Things I am learning as I become a wealthy entrepreneur

From this article in Vanity Fair

With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else.

Ever wish you could just say what is on your mind without consequence?

They say be true to yourself, be who you are.. I am overly cocky and an intellectual snob for better and mostly worse.

What if your business/startup really reflected you as as founder.  Page.ly’s Tag line might look something like this.

 

When you start driving any sort of volume with a company they are generally agreeable to discounting your price a bit. As an example last month I asked for a price review from our credit card processor whom complied and shaved a few 10ths off our transaction fees since we are driving higher and higher volume each month.

Today I reached out to another service provider of ours to ask for a review of our account to see if we can get better pricing. Sadly this companies sales guy countered with a pitch on how a new “technique” could boost our margins. I replied I was not interested in any “techniques” and just wanted to know if we qualified for better wholesale pricing. Again he dodges the question and says this technique is “guaranteed” to make us more money than a discount in pricing would.

I relented and agreed to at least hear the guy out so he could at least tell his boss he “tried” before relenting and giving me what I asked for. Load the gun, spin the barrel… and kill me please. His “strategy” was essentially forcing our customer to opt-out on a upgrade. He would gladly give me preferred pricing on this upgrade.. and boasted about 40-50% uptake on this opt-out.. in other words 40-50% of the people declined the annoying upsell, but the rest were too gullible to know better = higher margins for me.

WHAT THE FUCK!? Who the hell would run a business like this? Confusing your customers and forcing them to opt-out of your high margin product is a recipe for higher margins for you.. but also a whole bunch of�annoyed customers. Ask GoDaddy how that strategy is working for their brand equity. Sure they are printing money.. but come on. Have you no soul, no integrity, no sense of common decency? PROFIT BY CONFUSION is a long term lose for your brand and your customers in favor of short term financial gain.

I’ll give the service provider and the sales guy a break and not call them out. But I will send this note to their COO as food for thought.

Disclaimer: Yes we have a few addons at page.ly. However they are very minimal, and very secondary. They are also directly inline with our core product. Premium themes go hand in hand with premium WordPress hosting, but we don’t push it in your face buy it.

This brings me to my second point. We are moving into an economy based on intangible goods. Like the term Vapor-ware from the boxed software days many companies cannot point a tangible asset they sell. Banks sell this thing called credit, SSL providers sell an emotion called “trust”, marketing people sell whatever it is their customer is buying.. currently “likes” and “followers”.

When a business cant point to a tangible good like say a dishwasher or a car they seem to be more likely to fall into this profit by confusion model. Cable companies sell you service contracts and free installation: Sorry Cox it’s your job to put a guy in the truck and send him to my house to connect the cable as by law I am not allowed to tamper with your wires outside my house. If the box breaks you gave me.. why should I pay for you to replace it?

It’s a fine line out there. Page.ly sells security and automation of technical tasks dealing with server configuration and software installation. And we do so with a sense of responsibility that it is our civic duty not to bend our customers over and sell them useless stuff because they do not know any better. This is industry is some of the worst offenders as we deal in the black arts of technology that 98% of those over 30 are still scared of. You tell them they need to buy ID protect so that big bad spammers don’t get them they will. You tell them they need to buy credit monitoring services because people are going through their mail, they will.

If you cant point to a physical good that you sell, your customer has to buy based on faith you are not misleading them. STOP MISLEADING them people. Happy customers that can genuinely trust you are worth far more than those you duped. Sooner or later the gullible will figure it out and the backlash wont be pretty.

Thanks Lee, for the conversation today about “trust” from SSL providers. Thanks Ward for the thoughts on Profit by confusion.

Last April when we announced we were rebranding and relaunching the Managed WordPress hosting system we developed in 2006 as Page.ly we did a survey of the market and found that while there were traditional hosting companies offering plans for WordPress users, no one else was offering the unique set of tools and security benefits we had developed specifically for WordPress.

The market was wide open for our unique and specialized WordPress hosting solution.

Traditional hosts at the time were advertising a “1 click WordPress install” was using a piece of software called Fantastico that is essentially a library of web applications a cpanel user could install into their hosting account. While the concept was cool, Fantastico was notorious for lagging behind in updates and tying the hands of the user to some degree as the WP instance was managed by Fantastico and they had little control over updates and security. Even today this is the system that powers the vast majority of “1 click” installers you see advertised.

This summer has proven to be the Summer of Security meltdowns (Sucuri has been tracking it) at the big traditional hosting outfits. Everyone from NetSol, GoDaddy, and MT where hammered with security breaches affecting hundreds of thousands of customers. The big hosts tried to blame the malware outbreak on outdated versions of WordPress running on their systems. Question: Why were they outdated? Because again many hosts were using Fantastico which was lagging behind current releases. Ultimately most of the big hosts admitted faulty server configuration as the reason for the outbreak after trying to blame it on WordPress when called out by Ma.tt himself.

While the term “1-click WordPress Hosting” that referred to Fantasico powered installs by the economy hosting companies has been around for many years, the term we use and coined “Managed WordPress Hosting” is how we refer to our unique system of fast setup, automated backups and upgrades, and uber secure environment.

Our Managed WordPress Hosting system has been custom built from the ground up to specifically focus on 1 single application, WordPress. We understood the common frustrations users had installing the application, and the common problems users face keeping their sites updated and secure. Page.ly was designed to address these pain points, yet allow near total freedom of the user to customize their site. We took a very holistic and unique approach to manage the technical details for the user without interfering with their ability to customize, and it has paid off with the success we have seen with our product.

Prove the model, and others will follow

When we opened for business and began accepting customers in August of 2009 we had more than our fair share of people thinking we were crazy. Why specialize in one platform they said; You are too expensive they said; Along with all the other bits naysayers like to say. Over a year later we have an ample and growing customer base, strategic partnerships with others vendors in the WordPress space, plans to fit all types of sites, and recently booked our best month to date with 55% growth for September over August. (A sweet 3x since May)

So it did not take long after we started gaining some traction and success to see the wake behind our boat beginning to fill with other companies trying to make a go at their own take of WordPress hosting service. Some have put their own novel spin on the idea, others have sadly thought a bad attempt at cloning was the way to go. Even worse many have chosen to use Security as a positioning point with little or no track record of security or explanation of how their leased servers are any more secure than the other servers by that hosting outfit that was just in the news for massive security exploits.  For Page.ly we have chosen to hire the most secure datacenter around to manage our server infrastructure and have a perfect record of zero successful malware or hacking attempts; ever.

The moral of the story is though that as any company proves the existence of a viable market, others are going to follow. Ask Groupon about the 500 or more clones of their very successful product. People are going to like the idea, think they can do it better than you, and it is inevitable that your new company will soon have a plethora of eager competitors.

Competition is healthy for business. Personally I stress cooperation over competition even speaking on the topic often about reducing duplication of efforts within communities. But good old competitive capitalism is vital and essential for your company. It helps you position you product in space and helps educate the market as a whole to the available options they have.  The arrival of competitors in our space did more to validate our business model than we could have done with a year of marketing and education. We no longer look crazy when someone else is crazy enough to agree with us.

Those companies that enter your space may choose from a variety of means to distinguish or call attention to themselves. Some may offer a legitimate unique spin or improvement over your service, some play Walmart and undercut you on price, some go negative and trash you, while others consolidate offerings going for the super store approach.

One such newcomer to the WordPress hosting space has taken the “go negative” approach vocally trashing us as a company and as persons at community events. We have not even met this person yet they somehow feel compelled to impugn our character. Unfortunately par for the course for many in business that think that is the way to get ahead. Maybe if they had a novel idea they did not get from us, they could compete on their own track record instead of this tired approach.

The recent announcement of the StudioPress-Copyblogger merger is a good example of the super-store approach. The new mega company is pooling their WordPress resources and expertise together to make a play at the “everything you need under 1 roof” type business. What they have also eluded to is a distribution channel to get this bundle into the hands of their customers. StudioPress is a theme vendor of ours and we have spoken to them and with Clark (when he was with Thesis; but shelved due to the Thesis GPL issues) about a hosting vertical in the past. However we are not involved in their future plans, so in essence they will join the ranks of those coming into our space in the near future.

Page.ly specializes in and will continue to focus on the Managed Hosting aspect of WordPress. We have no plans to move into the plugin or theme space as there are so many solid offerings there already that our model is much better suited to partner with and promote these companies then to attempt to duplicate their efforts.

The first to market moniker is a coveted one and also one that paints a large target on your back. This article explains nicely some of the pitfalls of being the first mover. How you use the opportunity, timing, and luck all play into the success or failure of your business if you are the first to define and enter a space. We have had our share of luck, and the timing this go around has been been near ideal, and thankfully we have been able to innovate and push the momentum at such a pace that being first to market has been a blessing for us. It’s up to us to keep it. ;)

Image courtesy: http://jfcbookstore.org/

work ethic

September 21, 2010 — 1 Comment

I will out play you
I will out run you
I will out smart you
I will out hustle you
I will out work you.

I will never give up
I will never rest
I will never settle
I will never stop.

I built the stadium
I planted the grass
I painted the lines
I recruited the players
I filled the stands
I invented the game.

I am the champion of haste
I am the unstoppable force
I am the disciple of diligence
I am more powerful than pain
I am the will to succeed.

I am the of triumph intention.

Just something in case you folks needed a rally cry to hustle. Go get it, no one can stop you.

…and it is just getting started.

The days are bleeding together. One day flows into the next and the religion of strong late morning coffee to drive away the fogginess of sleep depravation has claimed another late night as a convert. My spine aches from seemingly endless hours in this chair slouched under a desk to low for my long legs. Fighting the lure of distraction I check my email, answer 3 or 4 support tickets that have come in since 4am when I finally carefully made may way into bed as to not wake Sally.  As the coffee takes hold and my tired brain makes an effort to assemble the mental checklist of the days tasks ahead the inevitable smile of content creeps across my unshaven face as I look at the sales numbers for the day before and behold the miracle that is the graceful sweeping arc up to the right of month over month sales.

So begins another day in the life of my bootstrapped startup, our budding overnight success 8 years in the making.

The red pill

In 2003 months after college I embarked on a journey with a single minded purpose; retire at 35. After reading the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad I knew that working for someone else was not going to bear the quantity of fruit I was seeking. I started a web design agency using the only non blue collar skill I knew and enjoyed a measure of success through 2006 ramping to as many as 7 employees for a time. Dumb luck and crystal ball like timing got me in and out of the booming Phoenix real estate market with a tidy profit. I made the first attempt at moving from service work to a product based business with a party planning social network we developed. Shortly after we doubled down with our own seed money and tried again with the prototype that would later become page.ly. In early 2009, burning up savings but long on hustle I forwent all but a few consulting clients to focus strictly on the product. November 2009, a few months after page.ly was launched and barely earning enough to cover the cost of the single server it ran on we were at a crossroads.

I knew with time the little seed of a business we planted would blossom but there was a fear we might bust before the harvest. Low on energy, and very low on patience with this our 3rd go at a startup we set a deadline for April 1st 2010. If this business didn’t cover it’s existing expenses and have enough for me to take a small salary we would pack it in and I would do the very last thing any entrepreneur wants to; admit defeat and get a “real” job.

Spring came with a good vibe that proved the adage: patience is a virtue. Taking a salary from the business now we had to double down and reinvest everything else. May thru August delivered consistent 22-45% growth month over month. Hot Damn I think we are on to something.

Some days I focus on business administrative tasks, most I write code in 12-15 hour unbroken blocks improving the system and automation.  If our first year was all about the product our second year now is all about driving exponential growth.

Lessons so far from the rabbit hole

Along the way I have learned some lessons and have been disappointed by some friends and blown away by the willingness of complete strangers to offer to help and evangelize our brand with everything in between.

The greatest thing about doing a startup, is choosing one people like to like. They love  it and do everything they can to help others love it. These people are a godsend to a startup or any business for that matter. They may not even know you as a person yet they saw value in your product or service and they evangelize it like a missionary on a pilgrimage. We are so fortunate to have created a brand/product that people seem to like to like.

The second greatest thing about doing a startup I have found is converting a hater into customer. There is always that person that just wants to hate your product, because they cant understand why you would charge money for something they feel they could do themselves or some other reason they pulled from their box of troll tactics. That conversation with them (perhaps after some of your community has extolled your products virtues on your behalf) where you take their hand and walk them through your value proposition with personal attention and patience where they do that 180 turn around and become your newest customer and community cheerleader is something I cannot get enough of.

The third greatest thing about doing a startup is the direct line between your efforts and the thickness of your wallet and the total freedom of the entrepreneur to do as they chose. You have absolute control over your time, how you chose to spend it, and the rewards you reap from it. The personal discipline it takes to stay focused and not be distracted is measured on a scale that sadly most do not possess. The traditional moving away from pain motivation people utilize will only keep them at even, or in this economy less than even. Every successful entrepreneur I know leverages moving towards pleasure motivation to carry them up and above that even mark. That new Audi or that coveted inc.500 listing, something is pulling the successful person towards the goal. If you only do enough to keep your ass out of the fire, and not find the internal fortitude, motivation, and discipline to consistently reach for the next step, your ass will always be getting burned. Some people never learn to take control of their own time as they are so conditioned to be told how to spend it.

A less than awesome thing about doing a startup is the toll it takes on you physically and mentally. I offer daily thanks to the body shape defining genetics I was blessed with as my lack of exercise and poor eating habits have not added more than the 10 extra lbs. I have amassed since college. Sitting in a chair in front of glowing led screen for hours a day is not going to win you any Mr. Universe titles or burn off the calories from the beers you had at dinner. The stress that comes with making the gamble of a lifetime is not easy to bear for some either. We were all (nearly all of us anyways) taught to go to work, collect a paycheck, and pay your bills. This system has been the backbone of the American economy since the industrial revolution and our schools are agents of indoctrination into that mindset. Trying to unlearn that is not easy for many. Wonder where your next paycheck as an entrepreneur is coming from to pay the mortgage? See the third greatest thing above. That uncertainty is not for the feint of heart.

Sadly I have found that some you may think that would be most solidly in your corner and ready to help you succeed seem to offer little more than dismissive reminders of your possible failure. I had a business/personal coach I worked with for a year or so and he always preached that “when you are moving forward those around will likely try to hold you back”.  They don’t consciously want to see you fail, they just subconsciously don’t want you to succeed before they do. In my life I have changed my friends and colleagues many times, each time moving toward a group that offered a new level of business saavy or encouragement. I think it’s normal and just something you do as you grow as a person.

Get your fix.

Why bootstrap? Why not? We gave a half-hearted effort early on to seek some capital and have at least done a mental exercise every quarter since revisiting the idea but always come back to the same place; it just takes too much time to chase the money when instead we could be earning it (building/promoting the product). That and no one bets on an unproven horse. Fact. We have to succeed before anyone is likely to invest and by then we don’t need it. In addition Sally and I have talked about it a length and we are not sure we want to be that kind of business. When did lifestyle business become a bad word? If your lifestyle is financed by a few million a year in high margin recurring business revenue how is that a bad thing?

We are just boarding the express train heading up the curve looking back at the chasm we just crossed. The mainstream customers are coming daily in increasing numbers and I see this manifest from the types of support questions we are fielding now. These next 2-3 years will see us climb up that bell curve towards the peak. We’ll have options along the way to exit early or keep going, either of which we have decided are to far in the future spend many mental cycles on an exit. Early on we measured things in terms of days, then weeks. Today we talk about metrics in 90 day cycles, with a eye out on the horizon beyond that a bit but not too far out as that seems like a loss of focus on what’s in front of us.


Everybody’s doing it

Depends who you run with I guess but everyone I know is working in or for startups. Well not everyone, some are still in the service/consulting business but I know their heart is the product space. While it may be in vogue it is more a matter of necessity I think in this economic climate. If this recession and bubble burst has not proven that the game is rigged against the working man to everyone with a brain cell I don’t know what will. People are taking their future in their hands and making a go of it for better or worse because the consequences of failing cant be any more damaging than standing in an unemployment line as a 99′r with a foreclosure notice under your resume.


And finally

This has been a brain dump of thoughts bouncing around in my head for a while as I have been feeling introspective and reflective of late soaking in this small taste of success from our 8 year grind.

There have been times I wanted to give up. Times I wanted to cut someone. Days I shake my head in disbelief at the high school games people play in business. Moments of sheer ecstasy and marathons of stress. Minutes spent in disappointment of those to show the smallest bit of respect and gratitude in return for my time and energy given to them. Hours of great conversation with smart and well meaning mentors. And a whole lot of time in between those other moments where I just had to dig deep and grind it out hoping someday it would pay off.

A friend of mine measures his day in mental cycles, so whatever he can get out of his mental computer and down to paper or crossed of his list saves cycles that can be applied elsewhere. I have done that here. Took a short moment to breathe.

2.5 years to go until I am 35.  My life is a relentless push towards my goal. My motivation to succeed is unwavering. Time to get back to work.

I LOVE WHAT I DO.

This ‘thing’, this crazy entrepreneur-hacking-startup-think-about-it-all-day-and-night-never-stop-pushing-for-growth thing is like a drug. It’s been a trip indeed.

Preconceived Notions

May 25, 2010 — 6 Comments

I was in a roundtable the other day with some smart folks and mentioned that I have never worked “for the man”, besides a short internship after college I have been self-employed my entire professional life.

Afterwards someone asked me if I felt it was a positive or negative not having the corporate experience. I gave some quick answer about not missing out on fluorescent lights and cubicles. But a minute later while walking to the car I gave him another answer after processing the question a bit more.

I feel I am at an advantage because I do not have any preconceived notions.

Notions like how a company should be run

Think about it. Sure I had to learn some things the hard way. But overall I was free to create a company that was not weighed down with baggage brought with me from a previous experience.

What’s your experience? If you left a corporate job to go out on your own.. did you feel free to design the company of your choice, or did you have  a “this is the way it is done” mindset? Good and Bad.

Under the Radar

April 29, 2010 — 3 Comments

Old Adage it is who you know and the circles you run in..

Saw this post and it started me thinking.

We have had some conversations about seeking investment for our company page.ly, but are really too busy growing it to spend much time on it [raising capital]. We are profitable, acquiring new customers daily, and have a steady up and to the right revenue graph, and we are doing it all bootstrapped with next to $0 in marketing outlay.

Actual Snapshot from our page.ly dashboard

Since we have not really dedicated ourselves to seeking investment, this is is really just me thinking out loud: Seems the techstars and Ycom‘s of the world are the way to get a startup funded these days. I wonder how they would work for a company like ours that is perhaps a bit further along path.. (moved past the idea stage into a cashflow business) but not as sexy a model as the next whatever. I would be happy for the advice and mentorship, but really seems  the “street cred” and connections/introductons that come with going through a program like that are of the most value.

We are flying under the Radar… I kind of like it.  But I struggle with the question of what could we do with a money injection, how far could we go, and how fast.

I see some of these companies getting funding, and of course I am not privy to their board meetings but I ask if the world needs another 1 of those, or how do they plan on making money. As far as I am concerned the “we need 10 million users then we can monetize with ads” model is dead.. but some folks are still investing in those ideas it seems.

Just random thoughts.. back to work.

SXSW was sic.

Got a little refresher course in networking. And here is my take-away:

Dont talk about business, or ask “So what do you do?”.

It seems like a natural question.. you are at a business conference with lots of others from out-of-town. So asking what someone does or where they are from seems logical..

All I can say is some of the best interactions I had with folks had nothing to do with business. Example: I met someone in the VIP area of a party I was at and we spent the better part of 10 minutes having a great and engaging conversation about Magic and Bird (for you kids.. best NBA sports rivalry of all time). Never caught his name… because at a pause in the conversation I asked what he did.. he deflected with a nonsensical answer and bailed. Oops.. Not going to namedrop but later I find out he was bigtime.

Also I spent the better part of 20 minutes talking with a prominent VC about our shared passion of road racing our cars… He mentioned we should connect later and I went into business mode talking about investment for our business, he went cross-eyed on me and said “Who cares about business, I was talking about cars.. We should go out to the track together sometime”.

Lesson Learned..  I should have known better. I have been an entrepreneur selling my services, and now my product (pagely) for the better part of 8 years and in that time have learned that personal relationships come first, before the business. Seems I just forget that point twice over the weekend.

Business Machines

December 6, 2009 — 3 Comments

MoTown was machine, a solid gold hit making machine.

Talent + Creative/Catchy Musical Hooks + A marketing/promotion machine = solid gold hits for 40+ years. Just from 1961 to 1971, Motown had 110 top 10 hits. They developed a repeatable hit making process, a formula, a hit machine. Talent goes in once side, Hits exit the other.

MoTown also led the charge integrating black music mainstream. They launched acts like Stevie Wonder and The Supremes.. exposing “black” music to white listeners everywhere.  This was pre civil-rights. Can you say Disruptive? Game changers.

Is it possible to find a similar formula for business? A process that put’s smart talent and ideas in one end, and cranks out hit companies on the back side? Is this what the likes of TechStars, and Y Comb are doing? I dont know. Just asking the question.

Say a startup business formula does exist. Can it exist here in the desert?

Could the Fractals, Dojo’s, Gangplanks, organize the technical and creative talent? Can the AIGA’s and AZIMA’s lasso in the hardcore creatives and digital marketers? Can we entice the TIEAZ’s and other business development, management, and sales people away from their Paradise Bakeries to co-mingle with the other parties? Could we get the ATIFs, Arizona AngelsSociallLeverages of the valley to invest? Finally can we get the local governments to understand their future tax base will be built on upon the jobs created by these these other groups working together?

Can these moving parts and energy forces be harnessed into some sort of formula, where each feeds off of and feeds into the other?

Smart people with solid business ideas, partnered with and advised by smart business people, with their ideas refined and executed by smart technical and creative classes, funded by local money, and supported by local government.

Could such a machine exist in Arizona? Naw, Lets build more houses.