Let’s play a game: You have two lenses on the table in front of you. If you pick up the lens on the right and examine a random business you see it from the techpress/VC/SV point of view. If you pick up the lens on the left you see it through, I’d argue, a more realistic point of view reflecting that of the vast majority of entrepreneurial businesses out there.

With the right lens, the unicorn lens, you may see things like:

  • Latest $ valuation
  • Amount of money raised
  • Steep hockey stick growth curves (or not, surprisingly)
  • Customer acquisition pace, churn and ARPU, MRR, ARR, etc.
  • A Culture “statement”

With the left lens, the everyday business lens, you may see things like:

  • Growth of any kind (sustainability)
  • Employee engagement/satisfaction/turnover
  • Founder engagement, happiness level
  • Customer acquisition pace, churn and ARPU, MRR, ARR, etc.
  • A cultural vibe that shapes the tone, voice, and operations of the co.

So now that you know the parameters of the game we can look at our business through each lens.

I was chatting with a long time friend of mine this evening and we traded a few bits about cars, the Phoenix Suns, and work. I gave him an update on our progress at Pagely.

Pagely is a revenue-funded, founder owned and controlled, SaaS technology company that offers high scale, high performance, even bespoke at times, managed hosting solutions for WordPress.

This is our 18mo MRR graph.

  • We are clearly growing, but at an even pace vs. a dramatic hockey stick
  • We’ve passed on acquisition offers in the tens of millions, so we can use that as a valuation.
  • We have raised $0 in funding
  • We have next to zero turnover as a % of our headcount. And by all feedback our staff is happy and healthy.
  • Founder engagement is high, and very happy
  • The other business metrics are pointed in the right direction. CAC is falling, churn is falling, Acquisition pace is slightly accelerating after our target market change, ARPU is way up as we go up-market, MRR and ARR of course are growing steadily.
  • Culture. Found in spades that reflect’s and re-enforces our core values.

With those basic details in mind.

The viewer with the right hand lens, may look at our co. and see a ‘lifestyle’ business, or label it some other term, and move on. Techcrunch won’t even notice it, and by most measures in that world it’s not even a conversation.

The viewer with the left hand lens will see ~285% MRR growth in the last 18months, an engaged and active founding team, an engaged and growing diverse group of employees, and when peering deeper a solid business unit going in the right direction on all KPI’s.

Mind you, it’s the same business. Only the vantage point (lens) has changed.

Confession: I’m a left hand viewer. And so is my friend I was talking to. As we were dialoging about building our businesses and sharing status updates he offered up to me:

What’s more impressive to me than the trajectory is the way you are going about it- family first, take time for yourself, focus and dedication.

Which from my POV is a ringing endorsement as I replied:

…goal was to build something, even if it was not a unicorn, that we owned 100% of, spun off cash, and still had residual value come exit time.  Basically we win in every outcome.

We win in (nearly) every outcome. 

We built something from nothing, it has real value unto itself that we may realize at some point in the future upon an exit. Our team is energetic and committed. The business spins off cash. And the best part: My co-founder wife and I became parents, 2x, while building this co. and spend the day, every day, with our 2 young boys in the house with us giving them the love and attention they need and deserve.

Not every co. needs to shoot for the moon in an attempt to deliver 10x-100x returns for the money guys. Not every co. should be run as a personally held sustainable ‘small’ business.

Pick the lens that works for you when evaluating your next opportunity.

More, and likely better reading on this topic: http://www.inc.com/magazine/201510/bo-burlingham/built-to-last-and-last.html

2 thoughts on “Looking through the looking glass”

  1. What I’m amazed at is how are you both working from home and getting everything done to not only run a business but constantly improve it with two little boys running around? I feel like this is a secret!

  2. Pingback: Looking through the looking glass – Joshua Strebel · Japh

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