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If there’s one thing to be said for a corporate software developer career, it’s that it’s a cushy job. I know this because I’ve had a few of them in my time and done consulting work with a number of corporate software developers.

Don’t get me wrong, you still have deadlines to meet and work to do, but it’s not as if you’re in a constant state of total disarray because you have far too many responsibilities and not enough time in the day to deal with any of them. Corporate developers have something that entrepreneurs don’t and that’s a layer of management over the top of them.

Software developers need time to get their work done and so it helps to not be interrupted every 2 minutes with interruptive requests that suddenly take a higher priority. The managers help keep the distracting stuff out of your way so you can focus on writing code. They attend meetings so you don’t have to. And they talk to everyone in the organization so that you don’t have to. Basically, they insulate you from the rest of the company so you can do what you’re best at which is writing code.

As a result, software development in a corporate environment also tends to be very isolating. You might have a couple of meetings each week with a manager or coworkers to discuss the status of the project you’re working on or chat with someone for a few minutes when you’re getting a cup of coffee but generally speaking, you don’t get out much.

You watch as those “slackers” over in sales and marketing are constantly chatting it up about one thing or another while you hunker down and build the stuff that they’re supposed to be selling. But that’s not even the worst part and most people don’t realize it.

Hear me out on this. Let’s look at the attributes of a corporate job and compare them to the things that as an entrepreneur will help you succeed.

Corporate Developer Entrepreneur
Isolation Social networking with peers
Separation of responsibilities  Jack of all trades
Do one thing very well Constantly learn & work on new things
Write resiliant & tolerant code  If it “generally works”, ship it
Narrow scope of focus/visibility Has a view of the entire business
Follow the rules, be rewarded Break social norms and be a bit rebellious
Failure can hamper your career Failing helps you learn faster
You don’t need to know about sales/marketing You need to know EVERYTHING about sales/marketing

It’s pretty clear that as a corporate developer, your job responsibilities are probably limited to architecting and writing code. Yes you may be building a product, but generally speaking you do what the project/product manager tells you to do.

You have neither the visibility nor the influence into any other parts of the business which makes it very difficult to learn how to do anything other than writing code. And speaking of learning, have you ever asked to help the sales or marketing teams and been told no?

Let’s look at this from the company’s point of view and put yourselves in the shoes of management for a couple of minutes. What incentive is there to allow a developer to work on anything related to marketing? That developer most likely has no marketing skills and more likely than not, costs twice what an entry level marketing graduate costs.

So not only do you cost twice as much, you have half the skills, making it 4x more expensive for the company to have you work on marketing stuff. The same basic math applies whether you’re trying to learn more about sales, accounting, HR, customer support, etc. In relation to other positions in the company, software developers tend to be paid substantially more than other employees, with the exception of management or specialty research positions.

If you look at the list of attributes of a corporate developer listed above, it’s in the company’s best interest to keep you locked into a single position because it’s what you’re good at. In fact, it’s why they hired you to begin with. You’re good at something and they want to maximize their upside in that specific area.

Feeding you information about sales data or marketing tactics which aren’t directly relevant to what you’re working on today isn’t cost effective for them because it takes time away from building software. Since you don’t get to perform any other responsibilities, you’ll never get experience with them so you’ll never be as good at those activities as someone they would hire from outside the company or promote internally.

In addition, there’s a disincentive for you to attempt to do things that you’re not good at within the company. If you fail, then it can reflect poorly on your future at the company because you took a risk and failed. You weren’t able to come through and that loosely translates to the fact that you can’t be relied on to do things that are important to the business. The end result is twofold.

First, your reputation will suffer to some extent within the company. Second, you won’t be asked to do things that are important because of a perceived risk of failure. And third, when it comes time for yearly reviews, you’ll probably score lower because of “past performance”.

We both know that basing reviews on failures outside of your primary field isn’t exactly fair, but it still happens. There are reasonable ways you can stretch your experience at work without impacting your performance reviews, but unfortunately many HR departments don’t see it that way. The fact is that some initiatives just aren’t going to work out. That happens in every aspect of a business. But penalizing someone’s career for trying out something new in an effort to grow as a human being is just asinine.

Adding everything up, you quickly realize that the typical corporate environment isn’t set up to help people become entrepreneurs. And if you think about it… why would a company have any incentive for their workers to learn how businesses really work and then go out and set up potentially competing companies? Do you want to start growing competitors within your own payroll? My guess is probably not.

The end result is that when someone decides to take the leap from corporate developer to entrepreneur, they’ve been conditioned to not only do certain things, but to act in a certain way. You never payed any attention to sales & marketing in the past and you still got a paycheck every week. So why bother paying attention to it now? You never did it before so it couldn’t have been that important, right?

Most businesses are like icebergs. To the naked eye, there’s some subset of the company functions that are highly visible to any observer but the vast majority of it is hidden under the surface. Since you’ve never seen any of those pieces, you don’t know how they work. Even worse, you might not even be aware that they exist at all!

This leads to a neverending stream of developers who leave their cushy corporate jobs thinking that business can’t possibly be that difficult. Heck, if Adobe can make it work, then surely you can too, right?

Wrong answer.

There’s so much that goes on that you aren’t even aware of at a large company. Individually, most of those things don’t mean very much. But when you aggregate them, they create a substantial business. It’s a machine. A machine that generates money to pay its employees and generate revenue to the tune of six figures per employee. Even a small, 50 employee tech company probably has revenues exceeding $10 million/year.

This information is all well and good, but what’s a corporate developer to do? Is there a way around this seemingly stacked deck of cards? Fortunately, there is.

Don’t Ask Permission

One of my earliest jobs was at a wireless ISP called Clearwire. Someone bought the name and now they do something entirely different, but back in 1999, we sold line-of-sight fractional T1 internet access at ranges of 10-25 miles. It was pretty neat technology and while I helped a few of the engineers talk through some high level architecture problems, I didn’t write a lot of code for the product. Mostly, I was involved in working with the IT group to help support the engineers and make sure their desktops were always available.

One day while I was between jobs, I decided to play around with Perl. A very short time later, I built an internal webpage where engineers could request support for their desktops for things that weren’t working. Pretty soon, it was a company-wide tool.

Later, I was having a conversation with one of the field engineers about their jobs and he was complaining about how hard it was to keep up with the orders that were coming in via email because they always had to go back and forth to get more information that was inevitably forgotten. I threw together a couple of web forms and before long, the sales team and field engineers were routing all of their sales through the internal web portal I built.

Clearly I was young and naive, thinking that I could build an internal sales tool for the company from nothing within a couple of short weeks. But the fact is that I did it and everyone loved it. This wouldn’t have been possible had I done what most people would have done in that situation.

I didn’t ask permission. I just did it.

When you ask permission from management to do something, you’re forcing them to make a decision based on facts. And the fact is that you have nothing to show them and you’re asking them to commit resources towards something that quite literally has no groundwork, no traction and nothing going for it. That’s a risky proposition for a manager.

On the other hand, if you just start working on something and show them the results after the fact, you’ve walked right by the gatekeeper and he didn’t even know it. Now you’re farther along and the manager will start to see the potential upsides rather than immediately thinking of all of the potential downsides. There’s still the risk of the project getting shut down but if you’re up to date on all of your other work, then there’s very little downside to allowing you to continue working on something in your spare time, especially if it looks as if it can significantly help the company be more efficient or make more money.

In addition, you’ve proven yourself as an individual who’s driven to and capable of contributing to other areas of the company. You’ll develop a knack for getting involved in other areas of the company and learning how they operate. Eventually, it will become clear to management that you not only have the skills, but the business knowledge to make these endeavors succeed and they will start asking you outright to contribute in those ways.

Most of the time, it’s not a matter of knowing how to write code. It’s knowing how a business operates. That’s one of the major chasms that exists between a corporate developer and an entrepreneur is that understanding of how the business operates and where it makes money.

Don’t aim for perfection. Aim for “good enough to learn from”

One mistake that many developer-turned-entrepreneur make is trying to make everything bulletproof. Some people simply aren’t capable of making their code bulletproof which is a “lack of skills” problem. But most developers have a hard time developing the ability to know what it would take to make your code extraordinarily resilient and consciously choosing not to do so. Developing this ability will help you as an entrepreneur because the first thing this does is allows you to ship a product faster.

That doesn’t give you a license to ship something that is barely functional, but neither does it mean that you need to have everything perfect before you do decide to ship something. This is an extremely valuable skill to develop because it translates very well to being an entrepreneur.

Many times, you simply don’t know the best way to handle a particular problem so going with a half-baked solution can help you to either learn that you’re on the right track or find out faster that you’re on the wrong track so you can double back before implementing a full-blown solution that isn’t going to solve the problem.

Learn as much as possible about every aspect of the business

Don’t get me wrong. There are some things that companies do which are more than a little bit dumb. But companies are in business to generally do one thing: make money. If a procedure isn’t directly or indirectly making money for the business, it will usually go away at some point.

What that basically means that everything a business does serves a function for the business. In aggregate, all of those things add up into creating profit for the company.

The fact that you don’t understand why something is being done doesn’t make it dumb nor does it means the actions are unnecessary. You probably just haven’t learned enough about it yet to understand the impact to the bottom line.

Ask questions and be inquisitive. Not in a “I’m going to rob this company blind someday” kind of way. Just pay attention to what’s going on around you and figure out how all of the different pieces fit together. More importantly, pay attention to why they fit together that way.

Most businesses are structurally like software. They tend to be modular and different parts of the business perform specific functions at different levels of efficiency. Those functions have an impact on other parts of the business and in how the company acquires sales leads, keeps existing customers happy, keeps employees happy, etc.

The role of the CEO is to identify individuals with the talent to oversee operations for different parts of the business. The job of those people is to eliminate errors (debugging) and increase efficiencies (optimization), which ultimately improve the bottom line for the company.

By learning how the different pieces of the business work, it will give you insight into the importance of each of those business functions. By virtue of that, you’ll understand how businesses work in general in such a way that as you’re building your own, you’ll have ideas about how to make things work and be able to identify the gaps in your own profit machine.

There’s no substitute for experience

You can read all the books on entrepreneurship you like but there’s no substitute for experience. This experience in the corporate world can put you in a better position when you decide to make the move into entrepreneurship, but only if you branch out and learn how real businesses work. There’s a big difference between looking at the cogs in the wheel and understanding how all of them work with one another.

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The Single Founder Handbook Public Launch

One of my life-long goals going back to my early days as a kid was to write a book. I remember spending entire summers going back and forth to the library checking out books. I was a voracious reader and would sit at home for days at a time, sometimes as much as 12-14 hours/day reading. Three 400 page books in a day? No problem. I’m sure that’s where my aptitude for reading, writing and the itch to be an author comes from.

The Single Founder HandbookBack in early December, I decided that I wanted to give this a shot. I started a mailing list dedicated to the book that I was calling The Single Founder Handbook, set up an autoresponder to ask people what their top 3 challenges were in building their business and started writing. The first few weeks of December and into January, I made a huge amount of progress. Then I sat down one day to review all of the responses I was getting to my question and categorized them.

The direction I was going wasn’t the one that people wanted to hear about. That meant some of my work would need to throw away so I could get back on track. *sigh* This isn’t a lot different than building a product before talking to customers to be honest. I tried to do the writing and customer development in parallel but just like building a software product, there are always things that you learn along the way that will invalidate some of your previous work.

Fortunately, I wasn’t dramatically off track and so I corrected my course and kept going. In March, I was essentially done writing and started on the editing and formatting process. I busted my tail for several weeks, getting all of that work completed and shortly before MicroConf ran a private launch to the people on my mailing list. Then I shut down sales for a month so I could get through MicroConf, mail out the physical books I’d sold to people, analyze what went right/wrong during the launch, and then gear up for the public launch.

This week is the culmination of that labor. The Single Founder Handbook is here and it’s available to the public. Head on over to the website if you want to pick up your own copy. It’s on sale until Thursday at 5pm EST for 20% off.

However, I wouldn’t expect that you’re quite ready to buy it today, even with the 20% discount. That being the case, you should at least download the table of contents and the sample chapter while you’re there so you can get a feel for it. I’ll follow up with you in the near future with a bunch of free information about starting down the path of entrepreneurship that I think you’ll find useful.

Cheers!

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It’s About Starting, Not Finishing

One of the more common challenges that many people have emailed me about over the past few months is the problem of motivation. It’s relatively easy for most people to get started on something new, but somewhere along the way, they get lost. They drop into a funk and it’s difficult to make forward progress.

Instead, they find themselves sitting at their desk doing not much of anything. They waste the one or two precious hours they had being “busy”, but not necessarily making progress. This is called thrashing. Lots of movement, but very little forward motion.

So what do most of us do? We search the internet and ask people we know about productivity hacks because we’re not being productive. But is that the real problem? I would argue that it isn’t. Not in most cases anyway. If you are being unproductive, that’s a symptom of the problem, but is not the problem itself.

If you step back and look at the situation from a macro level, you’ll see that the person has stopped moving forward. So it’s clear that they’re not making progress. It seems rational to assume that the problem isn’t getting started, but rather it’s finishing.

But that’s not the problem either. Zoom in to a micro level and analyze minute by minute rather than by weeks or months at a time and you’ll realize that finishing isn’t the problem. The real problem is getting started.

Every work session starts with the same basic pieces in place. You sit down in front of your computer, turn it on, log in, pick something to work on and then get started. Dating back to the beginning of any project, all of those things are in place every time you sit down except when you find yourself getting stuck.

The place you’re getting hung up might be occurring as early as sitting down in front of your computer, as late as actually doing the work or anywhere in between. This is a sequence of operations and each operation is almost entirely dependent upon the last. If you always leave your computer on, that’s one less thing to do in the sequence but you have to follow that sequence of events.

Where are you getting hung up? What are you having trouble getting started with? Because you can’t finish unless you get started.

Finishing is not an act. It is a byproduct of following the process. You need to consistently start up again day after day, week after week. You can finish anything if you consistently start working on it every day.

This is what productivity hacks are designed to do. They’re designed to force you to start working on things. For example, consider the Pomodoro Technique. Anyone can work on something for just 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. As another example, look at “Don’t Break the Chain”. This idea with this technique is to work on something a little each day and establish a chain of work efforts. Sooner or later, your job switches from getting something done each day to not breaking the chain.

These are what are called forcing functions. They create rules under which you must operate. Follow the rules and you will make forward progress. Disregard them and you won’t. Simple as that.

So we need to analyze the process of starting and restarting our tasks. It doesn’t matter whether you have one task or fifty to complete. You have to get into work mode as quickly as possible because you don’t have a lot of time to waste. What does that look like? There are three basic prerequisites for getting into work mode consistently.

The first prerequisite is that you have to have a good reason to get started. Human beings generally don’t like doing meaningless work. I remember back in my consulting days, I would work really hard for certain customers to provide great solutions, only to have them pull the plug at the last minute. It was a waste of my time and their money. What’s worse is that I could usually see it coming weeks in advance. Eventually, this happened too many times and I got burnt out.

So the work itself can’t be meaningless. In the case of building a product, you need to be reasonably sure that the work is going to pay off. If you’ve done marketing upfront and have an email list of 1,000 people, it’s much easier to justify starting to work on something again because you know that people are interested. If that same entrepreneur has an email list of just 10 people after six months, it quickly becomes a motivation problem. Deep down, you know the idea isn’t going to fly so you stop working on it and blame motivation, rather than poor marketing.

The second prerequisite is that you have to explicitly make the decision to start working. According to Parkinson’s law, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. If you give yourself all day to get something done, it will generally take you all day to get to it because you will wait until really late in the day before making any real progress.

To help solve this, set a specific start time. Even better, start a timer. This is part of why the Pomodoro Technique or time boxing strategies work so well. Without an explicit start time, you will waste the time that you do have until very little time remains. Then you either make the decision to quit for the day, or work really hard for the last hour, having wasted the previous three.

The third prerequisite is that you need to commit to starting the work. If you have good reasons to do what you’re doing and a specific starting time, then this part should be easier to manage. But you can’t fake this. If you do, the only person you’re cheating is yourself and it will be obvious that you didn’t by the lack of forward motion.

Every day is made up of a series of tiny steps towards your goal and its those steps that will help you reach the goal. Finishing is a result of starting each of those steps, each and every day. It’s not a to do item on your task list.

Get started.

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Free Landing Page Reviews

unnamedIn case you haven’t heard about it, I’m partnering up with KickOff Labs tomorrow to offer up some free, professional website and landing page reviews. This will be a live webinar that starts at 2PM EST/11AM PST.

If you’re interested in throwing your website into the mix to be reviewed, there’s still time. Click Here to sign up.

Oh… and did I mention that it’s free?

 

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The Death of Moon River Consulting

There are generally two reasons why a business ceases to exist. Either it went out of business or it was acquired by another business. In most cases, the founder would rather it be acquired rather than shuttered because at least that way you can say that you had a “successful exit”.

I’m in the former camp. The bad one, so to speak. And you know what? It feels freaking fantastic.

At the end of each year, I give thought to what I should do with Moon River Consulting and every year, I never seem to come to a solid conclusion so I end up simply thinking and thinking until the end of the year comes and goes. Once January 1st hits, it becomes significantly more difficult to shut it down due to tax reasons. Shuttering a business in the middle of the year is like stubbing your toe. For me, it’s like doing that twice.

The problem is that I have Moon River Software(MRS) and Moon River Consulting(MRC). Ideally, I’d move everything from MRC into MRS, thus combining the companies and it would be easy. But with taxes and the government, nothing is ever easy. In order for me to shut down MRC, I’d need to move my payroll to MRS. But if I do that in the middle of the year, then I have to pay unemployment taxes twice: Once for MRC and then again for MRS. So my best bet is to wait until the end of the year and then shut down the business.

What to do With That Business?

However there’s always been this lingering thought in the back of my mind: “what if I need that business entity?” Indeed. What if.

That nagging uncertainty is exactly the type of ailment that insurance is supposed to resolve. You buy insurance to help mitigate risk. If something bad happens, you’re reimbursed for it. And insurance premiums are based on the likelihood of that event ever happening. Funny enough, there’s no insurance for government ineptitude. Doubtless the insurance companies would go out of business.

But I digress. I’m here to tell you about why I’m happy to be closing my consulting business. The fact is that it has helped me to bring closure to a part of my businesses that I’m not particularly happy about. I’m not a huge fan of doing enterprise level consulting. I haven’t been for several years. The money was fantastic, don’t get me wrong. But the highs of any accomplishment are disproportionately tempered by the lows. Numerically, it only takes 1 low to outweigh 10 highs. I feel like I encountered more like 5 lows for every 1 high. Not a good ratio.

I suspect that part of this is to blame on the fact that I was good at what I did. More often than not, I was the resource of choice for overly challenging projects and overly challenging customers. Yes, they are different and yes, sometimes the two overlap to make for a “challenging engagement”. Not that I got paid any more for those types of projects, but that’s what happens when you make the choice to do independent contracting. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re getting into until it’s too late.

Starting in January of 2010 and ending in June of 2014, I would travel for work an average of 30-45 weeks/year. I generally would leave Sunday evenings to fly or drive to my customer location. I’d work from Monday to Friday and then fly or drive home Friday evening. On rare occasions, I’d stay the weekend but I can count (barely) on one hand the number of times I did that. Typically, flying home simply wasn’t worth it because I’d get home, do laundry, and then have to fly out again to the same customer. I did this overseas a couple of times and in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona due to the length of the trip home.

While all this was going on, I was building AuditShark on the side. Needless to say, my life was rather “full”. I felt like I worked constantly, yet never seemed to really get ahead. Near the end of 2013, I could feel myself starting to break. Some of it was product related and some of it was “challenging customer” related. In either case, I knew I was severely burned out. I was about to ask for an extended time off when suddenly, I found myself assigned to another lengthy project for what I knew would be a challenging project. I could feel my motivation and my entire sense of self-worth and motivation sink.

I committed to the project but took the steps I needed to clear out my schedule once that project was over. At the end of June, I took an official sabbatical from consulting. For the next six months, I worked on getting AuditShark to the point that it was a marketable desktop application, rather than the unmarketable cloud based application it had been the previous year.

Coping With Burnout

Unfortunately, I was still recovering from severe burnout. I took time off. I stopped working. I started working again. I spent time with my family. I took a personal retreat. I did some independent projects. I started going to the gym. And various other things.

Coping with burnout isn’t nearly as easy as I thought it would be. It seemed like time was the only thing that might help.

Recently, things have gotten significantly better. My motivation has started to return. My will to persevere has strengthened. However, I still felt something was lacking but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

About three weeks ago, I began giving thought to how I would handle the problem of multiple business entities yet again. This time, I decided that I needed to make an intentional decision, rather than simply accepting the current situation. Was I going to move forward with two businesses or was I going to shut one down?

Ultimately, I made the decision to shut down Moon River Consulting. I didn’t see enterprise consulting in my future any longer. It wasn’t something I was interested in pursuing or continuing to do in the future. I checked with my CPA about the logistics and tax implications, knowing that anything worth doing, the government is going to make painfully obscure to do. Fortunately, if you do the homework and know what to do it doesn’t take all that long to do.

After filing the paperwork and paying the fees, Moon River Consulting was no more. But even before filing the paperwork, something interesting began to happen. My burnout seemed to be withdrawing rapidly and my motivation began to not only return, but to increase quickly. Previously I could spend days making relatively futile attempts to do work, only to have the end of the day come with almost nothing to show for it. Since making the decision to shutter my consulting company, what I want has come into focus in sharp contrast with what I didn’t.

Quite some time ago, my wife and I were reminiscing about how we ended up together. I remarked that when we got together, I was at an age where I didn’t really know specifically what I was looking for. But I was fairly certain about what I didn’t want.

It occurred to me that in shutting down Moon River Consulting, I was closing down a business that I knew that I didn’t want. It was like a bad relationship that I was ending. It was something I didn’t want. It was closure. And that act of closure created a sense of well-being and focus on the path forward. It’s something that I’m incredibly happy about.

Today marks the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015. Many people use the end of the year as an opportunity to reflect on the previous year and set their goals for the new year. I’ve done that recently myself. But it’s interesting that I also did the opposite by considering exactly what I didn’t want and feel like I came out better for it. I’m really looking forward to the new year with a lot of renewed invigoration because the path forward is a lot more in focus than before because I know what I don’t want.

Know What You Don’t Want

It’s documented that knowing what you want can be a powerful motivational factor because you have goals to work towards. Surprisingly enough, knowing what you don’t want can be just as powerful. So if you haven’t set your goals for next year, think about what you don’t want. It will help you focus on what you do.

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Announcing The Single Founder Handbook

This past August, I took a trip to my cottage in Edwards, NY. The trip was primarily intended for me to be on-site to show the place off to potential buyers and was successful in that regard. However, I also took it as an excuse to do a 3 day personal retreat. As part of this retreat, I gave a lot of thought to what I liked about my life, what I didn’t, what I wanted to do in the future, and how to get from here to there.

One of the things that came out of that personal retreat was the intense, burning desire to teach people some of the things I’ve learned over the years that have really helped move the needle to help save them from some of the painful experiences I’ve endured.

It took a long time for me to get here, but I realized that teaching, writing, and making a living are not mutually exclusive. Writing a book doesn’t mean a career change out of computers, any more than running a conference like MicroConf makes me a professional event planner. I can do different things and still be the same person.

So I’m officially announcing The Single Founder Handbook.

My challenge in the past hasn’t been the writing itself, rather what to write about. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before now but writing a book isn’t really much different than doing customer development for a new software product. Ask what people want and tailor your offering to what they need. Simple, but astonishingly effective. *facepalm*  So here it is.

How can I help you? Do you need help finding a product, getting started, are you somewhere in the middle, etc. What processes would be helpful for you to know about or better understand? What are you afraid of and why do you think that is? What are your biggest challenges and what have you done so far to get over them? What’s worked for you, and what hasn’t?

All of these questions and more are fair game. But I can’t write about them if I don’t know more about you. If this is something you’re interested in hearing more about or want to help give me some direction regarding what YOU would want to see, sign up for the insider notifications and reply to the questions in the email you receive.

That’s it for now. Hope to hear from you soon.

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Losers Have Goals, Winners Have Systems

I blatantly stole this line from Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. So if you can get past my thievery, I think we’ll be ok for the rest of the day.

My philosophy is that losers have goals and winners have systems.

– Scott Adams

One of the most common mistakes I see entrepreneurs make time and time again is that they set goals for themselves and somehow expect that by setting these goals, it will get them where they need to go. They won’t. Let’s not beat around the bush about that.

This isn’t to say that goals are useless. Quite the opposite. Goals are a necessary part of the equation. However, in and of themselves, they’re sort of useless. Think of it this way.

No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, you need three things:

1) A mechanism for moving in a particular direction
For physical travel, this could be a car, a dirt bike, a boat, a plane, a rocket ship, horse, etc.

If you’re driving traffic to a website, you need to determine whether your ideal vehicle is going to be paid advertising, SEO, blog posts, email newsletters, social networks, etc.

Whatever the mechanism is, it is your “vehicle”. In many cases, you will need more than one vehicle to reach your destination because it’s unlikely that the same vehicle is going to get you everywhere you need to go. Some vehicles are more suited to particular types of motion than others.

2) A destination
This is your goal. It’s where you’re going.

3) A feedback loop
The feedback loop tells you if you’re going in the right direction or not. If you get off course, you measure where you are in relation to your goal and make adjustments to get back on track. Without a feedback loop, you’re not taking into account your current location and use it to adjust your direction or velocity towards the goal.

I won’t bore you with any mathematical equations involving 3D vector-based math or control systems theory, but the problem with goals should be obvious at this point. Goals only tell you where you should eventually end up. They’re your destination and a single point on the map. They tell you nothing about what vehicles you should use to get there, nor do they give you an idea of whether you’re on the right track or how fast you’re getting there… or not getting there, as the case may be.

The Feedback Loop Is Not the Problem

In most cases, the feedback loop is rather obvious. If it’s related to physical directions, a GPS (or *gasp* a map and compass) can tell you whether you need to go further north or south. If your goal is 10,000 website visitors/month and you only have 2,000/month, then clearly you need more. Again, the measurements are the obvious part.

It’s pretty rare for people to set a goal and then do the exact opposite of what you need to do in order to reach that goal. Most people who set goals have a general sense of how to measure whether they’re moving in the right general direction and that makes sense because the vast majority of the time, the direction is fairly intuitive.

The Vehicle Is the Problem

Figuring out the direction you need to move to get closer to the goal is the easy part. Knowing what vehicle to use to move in that direction tends to be more difficult and thus, what is more common among entrepreneurs is to not move in any direction at all.

You see, when setting a goal, there’s a mental image we’ve created in our heads about where we want to be. The problem is that we haven’t given any thought to what we need to do to get there. And all too often, we procrastinate or don’t take the steps we need to in order to get to where we need to be because we haven’t put a system in place to achieve that goal.

Not having a system makes us think about our options and too often, those options are overwhelming. It’s more commonly referred to as “analysis paralysis”. When we set goals for ourselves, they are often perfectly reasonable. However without a system to move towards those goals, you don’t have a chance of meeting them.

Your System Should Move You Towards Your Goals

If your goal is to lose weight, set up a system to ensure that the calories you scarf down don’t exceed the calories you burn.

If your goal is to get more traffic to your website, then build a system to blog more often, do regular SEO & keyword research, create new pages, etc.

Want to make $10,000/month from your product? Put a system in place to regularly generate new sales. Bring people to your website, get them on a mailing list, email marketing, soft sales pitch, more emails, hard pitch, more emails, final pitch, and then fill the funnel.

Profitable Businesses Are Made Up of Systems

If you’ve ever looked at company X and wondered “How in the hell do they stay in business?”, then chances are really good that you’re overlooking the systems and systems they have in place for generating money.

It’s very easy to do. I’ve often wondered myself how companies like Oracle, Sun, and various others ever manage to make ends meet. But if you start to dig, you’ll see that there are a lot of systems in place that have been developed over the years to help those companies extract revenue from their customers. These systems may not have been perfect when they were first implemented, and may not be perfect years later. But over time they are tweaked and they get better at gathering that revenue.

Pretty soon, they’re extracting far more dollars than you could ever hope to out of a similar system. Building a business doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an incremental process and you need to start somewhere. It’s a lot easier to tweak an existing system after measuring how well it’s doing than to try to jump in feet first and bang out the perfect system for doing X.

Good systems take time. They take mistakes. They take feedback from those mistakes and make incremental improvements. Over time, they get better.

So now that we see that goals and systems fit so closely together, what should you do?

Build Your Systems

Start with your most recent set of goals and evaluate what systems you need to build to meet those goals. If you haven’t set forth any goals recently, then that’s probably the place to start. Once you’ve done that, look at each goal and ask yourself two questions:

  1. What are 3 things that I could do that would move me towards that goal?
  2. What are 3 things that I should be repeatedly doing to move me towards that goal?

These are wildly different questions, and here’s why. In general, the first question tends to be something that you can do once or twice but isn’t generally repeatable in the future to the same effect. The second question tends to be things that you can do over and over and will continue to yield the same or better results repeatedly.

If you’re trying to lose weight, then the answers to #1 might be:

  • Skip today’s morning latte, which is an extra 300 calories
  • Go to the gym on Friday after work because the kids have karate after school and won’t be home until later
  • Talk to a personal trainer to get some advice on losing weight

While the answers to #2 might be:

  • Skip my morning latte every day
  • Eat periodically throughout the day so I’m not so hungry at dinner time
  • Go to the gym 3x each week

If you’re trying to drive traffic to your site, then the answers to #1 might be:

  • Send out an email newsletter
  • Submit my application to a startup directory
  • Issue a press release

And the answers to #2 might be:

  • Hire a writer to send out regular email newsletters
  • Hire a VA to submit my application to every startup directory we can find
  • Build a content creation calendar so that we can identify when we should be sending out press releases for the next 12 months

Silver Bullets Only Work in Hollywood
(And possibly Transylvania…)

When it comes to business and launching products, far too many people pay attention to the answers to #1 because they’re looking for the quick wins. The easy scores. The silver bullet. As someone who runs three different businesses, I can tell you that without a doubt, there are none.

There’s no single thing you can be reliably done that is going to make your business an overnight success. Got an expo on TechCrunch? I’m sure you got tons of traffic. What about tomorrow? Landed on the front page of Reddit for a full day? Awesome. What about tomorrow?

This is essentially the difference between short term wins and long term wins. Question #1 identifies the short term wins. The things that can help move you forward quickly, but they’re not sustainable. They are short term speed bursts but don’t tend to last particularly long. It’s a one-time bounce.

Examples include: submitting your website to any of the various “Site of the Day” type websites, going on podcasts, or sending out an email blast. These kinds of things will give you an immediate boost, but it’s not sustainable and it’s really hard to build on it unless you’re constantly on the lookout for more, but even then this is going to eventually taper off.

Question #2 helps you to identify the things that will increase your overall momentum and even if you stop doing them for a while, you’re still going to see some of the benefits after you stop. If you continue doing them, they will help to maintain that momentum, potentially making it exponential. This is more of a flywheel. Once it gains momentum, it keeps going even if you stop for a little while.

Examples include: putting out new content on a weekly basis, building a mailing list, building links back to your website, building a following on Twitter, etc.

The reason you want to do both instead of just concentrating on the repeatable things is in part, to give you moral support for the long haul. It’s great to concentrate on the long term wins, but not all of them are going to pan out. So if you spend all of your time on the long term stuff, it can take too long to tell whether or not it’s working or not and therefore, a bit depressing. The short term bounces helps to give you an ego boost to help get you through the tough times when the long term flywheels don’t seem to be gaining momentum. This method of leveraging both short and long term wins is also a system! (It’s all systems and ball bearings these days)

Another reason for working on some of the short term wins is that it can get you bursts of publicity that can help you to understand whether or not your business is capable of handling large spikes in traffic. Problems you garner because of success are good and all, but if they compound and you’ve never had to consider how to handle them or that some things might even become a problem until it’s too late, they can sink your business.

Great, I’ve built a bunch of systems… Now What?

You have one job left: Fire yourself.

That’s right. Once you’ve built the process and have tested it to be sure a) it’s doing what it’s supposed to and b) has a feedback loop that lets you monitor it’s progress, you need to fire yourself from executing that process. Outsource it, hire someone part-time, hire an employee, use a virtual assistant, automate it with code, etc. Whatever the case may be.

If a process you’ve developed is functioning properly, then as the business owner, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

Your job is not to build products. Your job is to build systems.

That’s how profitable companies are built.

Have a comment? Leave it below. I’d love to hear it.

{ 6 comments }

The Biggest Threat to Your Bootstrapped Business

When you’re building a new business, there are a lot of things that can go wrong at any given point in time. Only a small subset of these problems have the potential to completely destroy your business, bringing it to a total halt. Most of these are obvious.

  • Problems with cofounders
  • Running out of cash
  • Natural disasters/Loss of data
  • Death of a founder

Disagreements among cofounders is one of the most common causes of business failure. If you’re reading this article, chances are good that you’re a solo founder. *phew* Dodged a bullet there, didn’t ya!

Running out of cash is also a common problem, but it’s not often one that comes as a surprise. If a massive, unforeseen expense comes up, then it can be really hard to deal with. If the business is sound and the expenses are “small enough”, you can sometimes float the business on credit cards until you come through to the other side but that’s not always an option. Cash flow problems can usually be seen months in advance. There might not be anything you can do about it, but at least you see it coming.

Natural disasters or data loss of any kind really sucks because you have little or no warning. Maybe a water main breaks and floods your office or your hard drive crashes Maybe hackers broke into your server and deleted all of your customer records. Hackers trashing your server isn’t as common as a hard drive crashe, but it still happens often enough to be a concern. ( *Blatant pitch*: I have a security product called AuditShark that helps detect whether hackers are messing with your servers. Only if you’re into that kind of thing of course.) If your server dies and you thought you had a backup but you never tested the restore, you could go out of business in a hurry.

With the exception of dying, these are all known problems with solutions that you can apply. It’s hard to solve dying, but I hear Google is working on that one too. But hang on a second. There’s one problem that’s more devious than all of the rest for two reasons. First, you almost never notice until it’s too late. And second, it’s incredibly common in single founder businesses.

You Might Be Treading Water

You’re probably familiar with the term “sink or swim”. It’s the idea that when you are thrown into the thick of a problem, either you’re going to drown in the depths of that problem, or make your way out of it. Those are reasonable assumptions, but it’s an overly simplistic and inaccurate representation of the situation because there’s a third possibility.

The worst outcome is that you might simply tread water.

Sometimes that’s enough. But in a bootstrapped business, there are lots of different aspects of the business that are constantly vying for your attention. It could be anything from engineering, customer support, bug fixes, new ordering systems, scaling your marketing, hiring, building new features, responding to customer inquiries, sales demos, etc. At some point, you’re going to find yourself overloaded and instead of doing anything to move the business forward, you’re simply treading water.

Business Overhead

As your business becomes successful, you end up doing a lot of work that is what I like to call “business overhead”. It’s the work that needs to be done to keep the business running, but none of it moves the business forward. These include things like:

  • Any type of government paperwork (Please people, let it stop!)
  • HR functions, such as payroll, retirement plans, taxes, health or dental plans, etc. (Show me the money!)
  • Paying bills, accepting payments, dealing with taxes, or other financial transactions not directly related to making sales. (No, just the inbound money!)
  • Desktop, server or infrastructure administration. (A defrag here, a software update over there.)
  • Purchasing hardware, software, office equipment, etc. (New iPad. WOOT!)
  • Employee or contractor management (I have minions!)

These things tend to be necessary to keep the business running. If you don’t do them, the business can grind to a spectacular halt. But none of these things move the business forward in any way. It’s busy work. Business overhead. You’re doing nothing more than treading water.

But it feels like you’re working on the business. Let me be clear about something here. You’re not.

The work is necessary. But it’s not important.

Let me clarify that, lest you misunderstand. It’s hard to dispute that some jobs are important for you to do, and others are not. Paying bills is necessary. Do you have to be the one to do it?

Of course not. Unfortunately, this kind of work can really creep up on you. Over time, there’s more and more of this business overhead that starts getting in the way of moving your business forward. As it creeps up, you will have a tendency to spend more and more time working in your business rather than on your business.

It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s an important one. If your business can’t live without you, then you haven’t created a business. You’ve created a job. And that’s probably not what you want.

The biggest problem is that many people don’t realize that they’ve done this to themselves. They keep plodding forward, thinking that they’re making progress and they’re not. Anyone who’s ever been employed full-time at a regular company will recognize the difference between showing up and moving the business forward. Between treading water and doing things that matter.

Step 1: Admit you have a problem

If you realize that you’ve been treading water, that’s the first step in solving the problem. Because unless you recognize that it is a problem, there’s no way out and you will tread water until you drown. But once you recognize it, you can take action to turn things around.

Here’s the process for turning things around. First, figure out where you’re spending your time. Personally, I’m a big fan of identifying the things that I procrastinate until the last minute to do. For example, I hate, hate HATE paying bills. It’s not that I don’t have the money, or that I have a bizarre aversion to seeing money fly out of my checking account. Actually I do, but that’s not the real problem.

My problem is that I have three businesses and I get a LOT of paperwork in the mail. There’s a separate set of financials for each of the three businesses, plus I have all of my personal finances to manage. The paperwork alone takes at least four hours every month and sometimes as much as 10-15. If I procrastinate on reconciling my checkbooks for too long and make a mistake somewhere, it can take quite a while to find.

It’s also mentally draining to switch back and forth between the different businesses. Is this receipt for my consulting company or my software company? Can I write off this expense or no? Do I get reimbursed for this expense on my personal card and if so, which account should reimburse it? One month, I had a $54,000 credit card bill from American Express. If you have one, you know those need to be paid off at the end of the month. And while I had the money, it’s still depressing to see $54,000 come out of your bank account all at once in addition to all of your other expenses.

Step 2: Outsource like it’s your job… because it is!

So now that you’ve identified the problem areas, the solution is to outsource them. Find someone who’s qualified to tread water for you and get those jobs done. Your key to outsourcing those types of tasks is to thoroughly document the process. I like to use Google Docs for this, since I can embed screenshots, add videos via my Wistia account, add detailed instructions, and share the instructions across multiple contractors. Another nice advantage is that Google keeps a detailed revision history so if you ever need to go back in time, you can.

Your goal is to document it in such a way that anyone off the street can do the work, but clearly there are certain types of work that you need to have some domain knowledge to perform. Book keeping is one example. Tax preparation, reviewing legal documents, doing payroll, IT administration, etc. These all fall under that umbrella and it should come as no surprise that this umbrella tends to also cover nearly everything that I previously listed as things that fall under the heading of “business overhead”.

Once you’ve documented the process, identify someone you can hand it off to. Hiring someone is a little bit trickier. Fortunately, there are a lot of great resources for hiring contractors. Can’t find any good ones? Here’s three from my podcast:

Step 3: Resist the Urge to Do It Yourself

This one is HARD. The problem is that you are already doing these tasks and have been doing them for a long time. You’re pretty good at them and you’re teaching someone else how to do them now. It’s easy for you because you’ve done it a hundred times. This new person hasn’t ever done them before so it’s natural to want to jump back in and take over when they inevitably make a couple of mistakes.

When you hand these tasks off, you need to set aside your expectations for two things: 1) Quality and 2) Response Time.

When I say that you set aside your expectations for quality, what I really mean is that you should recognize that this task is not likely to ever be done as well as you would do it. That’s ok. You’re the business owner. You’re supposed to care about the business more than they do. Mistakes will happen and there will be a learning curve. But given enough time, the person will learn what to do without your oversight. Eventually, it frees up your time and lets you swim, rather than tread water.

There are a few tips I’ve learned over the years here that I want to share:

  1. Make absolutely sure that you provide the person with not just the process, but the direction and ability to add comments, notes, and the authority to MODIFY the process. That’s right. You’re handing this off to someone else to make the decisions. They will need to make updates. So if you’re using Google Docs to manage the documentation, then make sure this person has read/write privileges.
  2. Stop worrying about it. You’re paying someone else to worry about it for you. I haven’t really said it until now but part of what you’re doing isn’t just freeing up your time. You’re freeing up space in your brain so that you don’t have to pay attention to this task anymore, or even remember that it needs to get done.
  3. Give the person a chance to learn, but have the guts to pull the plug if it’s not working out. I find that it takes at least 3-4 passes through a task for someone to get it right. Back in high school, I worked at a store where I trained for a few weeks and then was on my own. The next day that I came into work, the owner would take me aside and tell me all of the things that I either forgot to do, or didn’t do correctly. I hated that part. But I learned quickly that if I didn’t screw up, we didn’t have that “chat” and I was ecstatic the day he said “Good job, Mike”. I still made mistakes here and there. Speaking of which:
  4. Mistakes are going to happen. When we make mistakes ourselves, we don’t care so much about it. In fact, we simply correct it. There’s nobody sitting over our shoulders telling us the things we did wrong. In fact, quite the opposite. Your own employees and contractors will almost never point out that you screwed up! When someone makes a mistake, simply correct it and move on… EVEN IF IT COST YOU MONEY! Now if they ripped you off, then obviously you need to fire them and maybe get the authorities involved. But everyone makes mistakes. It’s not a big deal, nor is it generally a reason to take back a task that you’ve outsourced to someone else if they’re doing it in a reasonably competent manner.
  5. Don’t dive into outsourcing head first. If this is your first time outsourcing, then you should only outsource one task. It will seem like a waste of time, but I promise you it’s not. It’s an investment in learning how to effectively outsource and delegate tasks in your business.

Step 4: Review Progress For Several Iterations

A big mistake that I see a lot of people making when outsourcing is that they expect things to be perfect the first time. That’s not going to happen. You’re building a new process and putting someone else in charge of it. They need to learn how to do it and you need to provide guidance. They can’t do it alone. Expecting perfection out of the gate is a surefire way to disaster. You’ll end up firing the contractor and doing the work yourself, which is exactly the opposite of what you should be doing.

It should take anywhere from 4-6 iterations through the task, followed by a review of the work and corrections from you for the person to get things right the first time. If the process is complicated, it might take longer. If it’s simple, it might take less, but you get what you pay for so be careful.

Step 5: Walk Away

Once the contractor has started becoming comfortable with the process and the number of corrections after each iteration is almost zero, you can remove yourself from the process. If you’re still doing the approvals, stop doing them and have the contractor do it. Or better yet, get another contractor to issue approvals and have them work together.

By the time you’re done, hopefully you’ve been able to build a series of good systems for your business, some of which are fed from one contractor to another, and all of which free up your time to work on the business, rather than in the business. And you know what that means?

No more treading water.

Have some outsourcing tips of your own to share? Add them to the comments. I’d love to hear them.

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My Preemptive Strike at Google

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve had to consider whether or not I wanted to host my own solution or use a cloud provider of some kind. When I was first getting started as an entrepreneur, there simply weren’t choices to be had. You hosted your own solution, or you didn’t have a solution.

This included even the basic things we take for granted today, like mail servers, databases, and websites. Well, maybe not websites. I’m exaggerating my age a little bit here. But if you wanted a database, either you paid through the nose for a hosted solution, or you ran a dedicated server. This was back when SQL Server Express didn’t exist, and mySQL was still just a baby.

Mail servers could be funky. Sometimes hosted solutions worked great, sometimes they didn’t. But in those days, you would change website hosting on a pretty regular basis as different hosting companies experienced growing pains that were so profound, that the benefits of changing providers outweighed the benefits of sticking with the same provider. I still remember buying iMail from Ipswich software so I could host my own mail server. Yes, I’m old. I know.

Unfortunately, it simply got too complicated to deal with spam at one point so the cost of a self-hosted mail server eventually outweighed the management cost. It became easier to simply forward all your email to GMail, set up account aliases, and let Google handle the details of filtering out spam.

Thanks G!

…But…

You knew that was coming, right? But, then there are times when using hosted solutions simply doesn’t work out as well. Maybe you need some customizations that your provider simply can’t do. Maybe they just won’t do them. Maybe they’re so big that they just don’t care about your needs and even the $19/month you’re paying doesn’t justify the effort it would take on their part.

In the best cases, you outgrow their ability to provide for you. That sucks in some ways, but if you’re growing quickly, at least you have the money to move to another solution.

There are also times when it’s just not working out anymore and someone pulls the plug. I would normally steal a line from George Costanza and proclaim “It’s not you, it’s me!”, but this isn’t one of those times.

Sorry Google. It’s not me, it’s you.

Some time back, Google announced that they were going to stop supporting Google Reader. The collective internet sort of freaked out. It didn’t matter that people were provided with plenty of time to move to new RSS readers. The problem for people who publish content was that RSS has always been something of a drive-by mechanism for picking up new readers and it’s not a lot different than the problems people encounter with TODO lists.

For every person out there who loves reading articles via their RSS feed, there are plenty of others who try it out for a while and then get overwhelmed by all of the incoming content. Their RSS feeds turn into a bunch of TODO lists that they never get around to. Eventually, they just cut their losses and give up.

The effect is subtle, and misleading. Since Google presumably doesn’t want to kick people off of their mostly free services, these accounts stay open. So when a user abandons their RSS reader, the software still goes back and pings the providers, making them think they still have active readers, when the reality is that they don’t.

Next, there’s not a decent mechanism for determining whether people are reading what you’re writing based on that RSS feed. I’ve seen some pretty wild fluctuations from one day to the next in my RSS subscribers and I know that I don’t lose thousands of subscribers one day, only to gain that and more the next.

In some ways, it’s kind of like paying a college kid $100 and asking him to spend half of it to print 500 flyers and hang them up around his campus. How do you know he didn’t just pocket the whole thing and go throw a keg party instead? Sure there might be telltale signs, like the complete and utter lack of flyers. But who’s to say that he didn’t spend $10 on flyers and pocket the other $90?

There’s a big difference between zero and one.

As a self-proclaimed geek, I can assure you that computers are nothing but one’s and zero’s. If you’re not that into computers, you’re just going to have to trust me on that.

Similarly, it’s easy to distinguish the difference between whether zero flyers were hung up or whether at least one flyer was hung up. But was it 50 flyers? 100 flyers? 500 flyers? Without that feedback loop, it’s almost impossible to be sure. That feedback loop happens to be super important.

Unfortunately, RSS is closer to an open loop system with a mediocre feedback mechanism that is fundamentally broken more often than it isn’t. You don’t have any way of knowing whether people connected with what you had to say, or didn’t. There are plenty of indicators that tell you that it’s a non-zero number, but how close is it to your subscriber count? Are some people counted twice because they switched from one reader to the next? Have people abandoned their accounts and are no longer participating in the system? Nobody knows. And to be honest about it, I don’t think Google even cares.

Google has a tool I’ve used for years called Feedburner, which helps track some of this stuff, but it’s heavily dependent upon counting the number of unique, incoming RSS requests from various RSS readers. They used to do a decent job, but I think they’ve gotten bored. I’ve seen subscriber numbers fluctuate by more than a thousand from one day to the next. When it dips to triple digits, you know there’s a serious problem. Who knew that counting by 1’s was so difficult? I have a 5 year old who manages to get to 100 pretty well, but I digress.

Clearly I don’t lose 1,000 blog subscribers one day and acquire a different 1,000 subscribers the next. It just doesn’t happen. As the problems have gotten worse, I’ve felt that it was time to move on from Feedburner, but much to my horror, I’ve realized that I can’t. You see, Feedburner takes over your RSS feed so that the URL that people are subscribing to is Google’s, not mine. In a sense, Feedburner has artificially injected Google between me and my readers and I didn’t even realize it.

I trusted Google.
I said: “They’re not going to let me down. Their mantra is don’t be evil. What could go wrong?”

Survey says!!! *bzzzzz*

I’m sure we’ve all gotten into at least one relationship that we regret. Don’t lie. You’ve been there too. This is certainly one that I regret getting into, and like many other bad relationships, it’s one that’s difficult to get out of.

You see, my data feed has been pointed at Google’s domain servers for years. Anyone who has subscribed over the years currently has their RSS reader pointing at Google’s domain. And while I can use the “My Brand” feature to regain control of future users, there’s not a lot I can do about people who have subscribed in the past. In fact, I’ve already done that but as I said before, I think it’s already too late.

If Google arbitrarily decides to pull the plug on FeedBurner in six months, I lose every RSS subscriber I’ve ever had before today. Given the Google Reader fiasco and Google’s movement towards Google Plus, it seems like the writing is on the wall. But after digging a bit deeper, I feel like I should have gotten a letter from Google.

The Feedburner Developer API’s are no longer available, AdSense for Feeds has gone away, and they’ve said Goodbye on the Feedburner Twitter account. As someone who primarily uses Feedburner to stay in touch with my readers, clearly this is a concern.

The underlying issue is really that Google was offering me a free service and I took it, without stopping to think about how they were making money from it. When a company isn’t making money on a product, not even indirectly on that product, there had better be a good reason for them to keep it around. If there’s not a good reason, eventually it will go away and you’ll need to find an alternative.

So I’m letting you know that moving away from Feedburner. If you’re fan of me or this blog, and you want to continue hearing from me, I highly recommend that you subscribe to my newly created Bootstrappers Mailing List by visiting the site directly. You’ll see a popup near the bottom of the page where you can enter your email address.

If you received this post via email, then you’re all set. You either signed up to the mailing list already, or I’ve migrated you from the Google RSS email into my mailing list.

In the meantime, I’ve changed the RSS feed for this blog to point to: http://feeds.singlefounder.com so if I decide to do something with it in the future, I’ll have control over it again.

I still intend to be pushing stuff to my blog, so RSS will still technically work, but I’ve decided that that not everything I push to my email subscribers is going to end up on the blog. If you’re only subscribed via RSS, I can guarantee that you’re going to miss some things. If you’re familiar with my work on the Startups for the Rest of Us podcast and MicroConf, you’ll know that you can trust me when I say I won’t spam you.

I know I’ve slowed down a lot over the past couple of years in part due to my work schedule, the SaaS product I’ve been working on called AuditShark, and some previously undiagnosed health reasons. (More on all of that in a future email. *hint* *hint*). Since that diagnosis and ensuing treatment, my productivity has increased dramatically. I have the graphs to prove it.

And along with that resulting productivity increase, my writing is back on track again. I’ll be publishing a new article roughly every two weeks or so related to bootstrapping a startup or various other things that I think you might find interesting.

To get started, just add your email address to the popup near the bottom of any page on http://www.SingleFounder.com, confirm your subscription, and you’re good to go.

As a special thank you for subscribing, I have a new article waiting to be sent to my email subscribers with the first one starting the day after you subscribe with three more that I’m working on scheduling.

Until next time, here’s a homework assignment. Take a hard look at each of the services you’re using and ask yourself just one question. Am I a user, or a hostage? If you’re a hostage for any of them, then you’ve got some work to do my friend. Thanks, and take care.

PS: Have an RSS provider you would recommend? Let me know in the comments.
PPS: Since I’m moving towards an email newsletter format, do you have any friends you think might benefit from being on my mailing list? If so, please share this article with them and tell them to subscribe at SingleFounder.com.

{ 6 comments }

MicroConf – Prague

For the last three years, my business partner Rob Walling and I have put on a conference for self-funded startups in Las Vegas called MicroConf. Something we resisted for the longest time was doing a second conference, but it seems we have no choice any longer. Early this year, we announced MicroConf 2013 in Vegas and put tickets on sale. It promptly sold out in under 52 hours.

We could make the conference larger, but we know that would change the dynamic and when too many people are there, it makes it difficult to meet everyone. Running a second conference is also problematic, primarily due to the fact that Vegas is cheap to host conferences, while the rest of the country is not. That’s disappointing, but even hosting a second conference means that you have to have a second lineup of speakers, another venue, etc.

Our solution was to host another MicroConf anyway, but to do it on the other side of the world. On October 5-6th, we’re having MicroConf -Prague. We’re keeping it small, and expect to only be hosting about 110-125 people, including speakers and attendees.

Interested? You’ll need to act fast.

Go to http://www.microconfeurope.com and enter your email address into the textbox at the top of the page to get on the Early Bird list. We’re selling tickets this week, so don’t wait until next week to sign up for the notification. Tickets could be sold out before they go public. Take care, and I hope to see you there.

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