Just before last year, I set forth my Goals for 2006. I haven’t yet formally done that for 2007, but I’m only about a month late so lets get to it. I think we need to start off by taking a look back at the goals for 2006 and see how I did.
Goal 1: New logo and new web site by January 9th, 2006
Goal 2: Start advertising ‘Milestones‘ on January 13th.
Goal 3: Design a new product by January 20th.
Goal 4: Complete Beta 1 for the new product by the end of February
Goal 5: Launch new product by the end of March.
Goal 6: Design new products in April and July. Launch these products at the end of June and September, respectively.
Goal 7: Become completely self sufficient on software sales by the end of 2006.
I accomplished Goals 1 & 2, but didn’t come close on any of the rest of them. I think the entire plan pretty much went to hell on January 2nd when I received a phone call from a company I was being subcontracted through that the client was shafting us both. I didn’t write about it until months later when the dust settled, but it completely blew apart my forecast and all of my business plans. The bottom line is that things failed pretty miserably right out of the gate. I’d have done well to adjust the goals on January 5th, but I didn’t. By that time, my goals slid back to simply staying independent and making ends meet.
Today, things are much better than they were exactly one year ago but that just goes to show that even the best laid plans and goals can be shattered by a single wrong move. I know for a fact that I’m in a similar situation right now, where a single client could blow me out of the water, but I’m much more comfortable with where things are today than last year. So, with that in mind, I’m going to go ahead and set forth new goals for this year.
Goal 1: Launch a new version of ChitChat by the end of Q1.
Background: In January/February of last year, I purchased some forum software called ChitChat.net from a fellow blogger named Rob Walling. I received all rights to the ChitChat.net code, all rights to a product called SPROC Function Builder, and the clickcess.com domain name. In many ways, this was an experiment of sorts to see what I could do with someone else’s software. In other ways, it was a quick and dirty way to test the waters of a new line of software products without investing a whole lot of time into it. Over the course of the past year, a number of different marketing tests and various customer inquiries, I believe that I’ve found a place in the market for the software. Unfortunately, the software is written with a slightly older version of Visual Studio and there have been a lot of inquiries about converting it to work with Visual Studio 2005.
Now the easy answer would simply be to use Visual Studio’s conversion wizard to upgrade the project and call it done. But realistically, that simply doesn’t cut it. The fact is that ChitChat.net had a lot of shortcomings. For example, the installer was an msi file only. There was no ‘zip’ version of the software for those people who didn’t own their own servers. Also, the setup of the software was a bit messy. For example, even with the msi installer, you still had to browse to a web page and do all kinds of funky stuff to get it working properly, after which you had to upload a new web.config file. Last, the error messages simply blew chunks like Lardass Hogan. As an example, when you try to create a new account, if the SMTP server wasn’t set correctly, the user would get a cryptic “Internal error: Please contact the system administrator” error. And if you were the system administrator trying to create a personal account, this created either a support call if the person was patient, or a lost sale if they weren’t.
Most of these things were relatively simplistic fixes, but they would still take time and the code was sort of a mess. No fault of Rob Walling, as he acquired the code from someone else. But over the course of 2006, I learned a lot about what people were really looking for in ChitChat.net and it gave rise to the idea of a rewrite. It’s nearly time for that rewrite to come to fruition. For the past few months, I’ve been working with an old friend of mine who used to work at Clearwire with me back in the late 90’s. He still does a lot of web based programming, and was more than enthusiastic about helping out with the project. The fact that I was paying him for his time certainly didn’t hurt, I’m sure.
Within the next couple of weeks, the final version of this rewrite should be feature complete. We’ve got some cleaning up to do, and some bugs to fix, but overall the project is coming together pretty well. It makes use of a lot of Visual Studio 2005 constructs like master pages, and data adapters, etc. All of the front end code is separated from the business and data logic layers. It’s very well organized, and documented pretty well. The database uses consistent naming conventions, as do the controls on the various pages. It’s quite the upgrade.
The goal is to relaunch ChitChat.net by the end of Q1 under the Moon River Software name rather than the older ‘Clickcess’ name. New code, new name, new product. Short and sweet. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of this little gem. I have a good feeling that this is going to corner a niche of the market pretty well.
Goal 2: Stop doing consulting work as Moon River Software.
Background: This one is straightforward and is largely complete. A previous subcontracting arrangement has been terminated, largely due to differences of opinion on what is and isn’t fair and how a ‘potential partner’ should be treated. On March 3, my contracting agreement runs out with the last of my clients and it will not be renewed with Moon River Software, which is entirely my choice. There’s a distinct business plan behind Moon River Software and it in no way, shape or form coincides with consulting. There are other, more sinister forces working behind the scenes, but this isn’t the time or place to discuss them. I can’t give away everything, can I?
Goal 3: Turn a profit with Moon River Software on software sales alone.
Background: Last year, Moon River Software turned a healthy profit though mainly from the consulting business. This year is going to be much harder. Without the consulting income to prop up the company, the rewrite of ChitChat.net is going to need to pull its own weight. If it doesn’t, the business will likely tank. This is technically a huge risk, but it’s one that I’m willing to take. The software sales model absolutely must work. If it doesn’t, then I don’t have much of a software company now do I? I do have plenty of money to help get me through the next several months, but March 15th is coming up fast. That’s when business taxes must be filed. My estimate is that my business taxes are going to take roughly half of what I have in the bank, possibly two thirds as I turn away consulting income and prop myself up in the meantime. We’ll have to wait and see how all this pans out.
Goal 4: Evangelize the single founder startup
Background: This is something of a personal goal, rather than a business goal, but there’s a lot of merit to publicly stating it. There’s a lot of talk about how it’s so much harder, bordering on impossible to build a technology company as a single founder. With the guidelines that most people enforce on what constitutes ‘success’, I would tend to agree. To many, if you build up a company but never sell it, then you have somehow failed. That line of thinking is thoroughly flawed in the sense that it doesn’t take into account what counts as a success. If I quit my job, and am able to build a business that has supported me financially for the last 18 months and is still going pretty strong, have I failed? I should think not.
<BEGIN RANT>I have absolute control over my future. I decide what I do and don’t do. I make the decisions about what constitutes a work day. I decide the chairs that I buy for myself and my coworkers. (Aeron’s if you’re wondering) I decide where the business goes and the future directions. Is that not considered a success? Just because I didn’t sell my company to Google for $1.65 billion doesn’t mean I’m not successful. I am master of my own destiny. And in my book, that’s what constitutes a success. I’m pretty sick and tired of people telling me that ‘it’ can’t be done, or it’s so much more difficult without a partner. It’s only difficult if you let it be difficult. Make a clear vision of what you want, then determine how to get it. I want freedom from the corporate BS that rules most companies. I’ve built it here at Moon River Software, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to leave it to be another cog in the wheel at some visionless company where the employees are treated like interchangeable parts in an assembly line. Kapiche?<END RANT>
I see a lot of people out there who want to start their own companies but simply don’t know where to start, or they’re thoroughly smitten with the idea that they need a partner to somehow be successful. No, you don’t. You need the drive. You need the passion. You need to want something different so badly that you’re willing to work all hours of the night doing what it is you do best to get it. Wake up, smell the coffee and get out there. Trust me, if I can do it, you can too. I’m a reasonably intelligent person, but I’m definitely not the smartest person I know. Far from it in fact. I have a friend who is a bone fide rocket scientist with a PhD in Aerospace Engineering from Virginia Tech. Yes, he’s that smart. Far smarter than I am. But he’s driven to learn about B-splines and heat transfer on the wings of a rocket traveling at supersonic speeds. I’m driven by the passion to live my life on my own terms, away from the corporate world where the dollar is king.
I could say so much more about the subject, but I’m going to stop there for now.
Goal 5: Hire 2 more employees by the end of the year.
Background: I’ve already hired one employee and he’s working for me full time. I have a consultant working for me (my friend from Clearwire) who came out to my office a couple weeks ago. I put him, his wife and their son up at a nice hotel nearby. She toured the area for the week, getting familiar with it while he and I worked our tails off trying to finish the next version of ChitChat.net. I think they’re convinced that it would be a good transition. It’s just a matter of making it financially feasible for them. They live in Buffalo, NY so the cost of living is a bit higher. I also have another Senior developer waiting on the wings to join my team. That will round out my team of 4 total employees, including myself. I expect that would take us to the end of the year and don’t forsee the need for any more employees, but you never know what will happen. At a minimum, I’d like to see them both join my team before May. So long as I can make ends meet and pay their salaries, I don’t think either one of them will have a problem joining the ranks.
Goal 6: Look the part of a full fledged business
Background: The Moon River Software website needs an overhaul. It was initially built from a web design template, and that shows. It doesn’t look nearly as professional as it could, or as it should. Up to this point, I’ve been using a combination of 2Checkout and PayPal to process orders. I think this is turning away some people. I just don’t think that some people appreciate that it’s really a business behind it, rather than looking at it and thinking to themselves that it’s some guy working out of his basement. That was true at the beginning of last year, but I’ve had an office in downtown Worcester for the better part of 6 months now and things are growing substantially.
A lot of things have changed, and the website needs to reflect that change. First impressions mean a lot, and a website is no exception. It needs to be more than functional. It needs to look and be professional. No ifs, ands, or buts. This is something of a top priority, although it will likely take some time to complete and get it right.
Goal 7: Review current products and future product ideas
Background: SPROC Function Builder and Moon River Milestones are both products that are also sold under the Moon River Software name. These aren’t exactly breadwinner products at the moment, and decisions need to be made about what to do with them. It will take market analysis and hard work to figure that out.
In addition, there are half a dozen other product ideas floating around that need to be reviewed for feasibility. Whether any of these product ideas come to fruition is a decision that needs to be made from a financial and marketing point of view. If they stand a chance in the market, then they could be some pretty serious contenders for full fledged products.
Summary: Well, that’s about all I have for my 2007 goals for Moon River Software. I think it’s always good to put these kinds of things down on paper… or bytes on a hard drive connected to the internet by loads of transistors, as the case may be. None of these goals seems so far out there that I think it’s in any way unachievable. I’ll keep everyone posted with the progress of them, and you can be sure I’ll check back on these goals in 2008.