September 18, 2014
We are both active developers that have, over the last few years, made the transition to operating successful product businesses. The transition was slow, sometimes painful, almost always challenging, but exceptionally rewarding. During this episode, we share some of our experiences making the transition from developers to business owners in the hope of helping others going through the same transition or looking to make a change in their work lives.
Every person that takes the plunge has different experiences. If you have anything to share or would like us to try and share some insight on an a challenge you’re facing, post it in the comments below and we will address it as best we can in episode 27.
This episode was sponsored by Prestige Conference, a premium interactive business and career development conference.
BRAD: Welcome to Episode 26. Today we are talking about transitioning to a product-based business, and we’re going to talk about our businesses and kind of where we started.
PIPPIN: Before we jump into that, though, we want to give a quick shout out to our sponsors for this episode. This episode was sponsored by Prestige Conf, which it’s a new conference. It’s going to happen here on October 3rd and 4th in downtown Minneapolis. It’s going to be — it’s a live event there. It’s also streamed live. And it’s a business conference for career development.
There are a lot of really awesome speakers that are going to be there this year. Actually, this is the first year. Lisa Sabin-Wilson, Matt Medeiros, Carl Hancock, Jake Goldman, Reid Peifer, and a whole bunch more. If you are interested in building your own business, which is exactly what we want to talk about today in our own history, go check out Prestige Conf. It’s October 3rd and 4th. You can find it at PrestigeConf.com, as well as the show notes.
PIPPIN: Brad, take us away.
BRAD: So – business. So this is new for us. We’ve really been just talking about WordPress development. You know, we obviously mentioned our businesses before, but we haven’t really dove into any of our business activities or where we started and stuff, so I wonder, like, so where did you start in business, Pippin? When was your first kind of professional experience with entrepreneurship after, you know, not including lemonade stands and mowing lawns?
PIPPIN: It was during college, I would say. Freshman and sophomore year of college, I was just doing a little bit of freelance development work on the side just to help pay for some bills. And, at one point, I just kind of realized that, hey, this could be a lot more than just bringing me a few meals a month. I think I could build a business here. I think I could do this full time.
I’d always kind of known that I wasn’t really interested in working for someone else or working, I don’t want to say, like a standard 9:00 to 5:00 job or anything, but I was interested in doing my own thing and building up my own business around things that I really love.
BRAD: Were you in college for computer stuff?
PIPPIN: No. I wasn’t in college for anything even remotely related. I went for linguistics, which is the scientific study of languages. I originally wanted to go down and do humanitarian work in Central America to help restore indigenous languages.
PIPPIN: Yeah, totally different.
BRAD: How far you have fallen.
PIPPIN: You know, it’s actually kind of funny because it was so unrelated, but actually, throughout the four years, I did end up graduating with a degree in that. I actually found a lot of correlation between linguistics and programming.
PIPPIN: Just because there’s — people may not realize this, but there’s actually a very, very rigid syntax to languages: very rigid syntax, grammar, etc. We may think, as English speakers, we have all these different dialects of English, and maybe some people ignore grammar or what we consider grammar, but it turns out that, scientifically speaking, there’s actually an extremely rigid grammar, even in other forms of English that you may not think of as grammatical, like Ebonics for example. So there was some correlation, which is pretty fascinating, but otherwise completely unrelated to what I ended up doing.
BRAD: Right, right. Crazy.
PIPPIN: Yeah. What about you, Brad? When did you decide that — I mean, I know you’ve been in development for a while, but when did you go from being a developer to being somebody that wanted to run their own business, build their own products?
BRAD: Yeah. I mean, I built my first website for a customer in 1998 for, like, a local marina when I was in high school. I’d consider that probably my first real gig as an independent developer.
PIPPIN: Was building that site, was it something that kind of triggered the spark in you that says I want to do more of this?
BRAD: I think I always had the spark, like the entrepreneurship spark. I had a history before that of doing weird things. I was kind of a weird kid. I was always trying to build some kind of thing. I remember I made this path through the woods by our house. We lived; we grew up in the woods, basically. And I was going to, like I had these plans. I put up signs, and I was going to get people to come and walk on this path. I think that was kind of in the same vein, right? I wanted to build this thing and kind of own it and be the custodian of it. I think that’s all kind of entrepreneurial, right?
PIPPIN: Yeah, absolutely.
BRAD: Yeah. So I think that’s when it all started. But, you know, I’ve come quite a ways since building paths through the woods.
PIPPIN: And I think I have kind of a similar history in that I’ve always been interested in doing my own thing and building things like that. But was there a certain point? Maybe it was the marina website that made you say, I want to build a business around Web development and Web products. Was there any specific catalyst for that, or was that just a gradual transition?
BRAD: Yeah. I mean, as soon as I started building websites and probably the first time, that was the first time, you know, I exchanged money for doing it. It was like, oh, wow. I could do this. I could see myself doing this.
But I went to college and everything and got a computer science degree and all that stuff and then went and worked at companies for a while and stuff. So it wasn’t until 2009, until I went out on my own, so four or five, five years ago now, I guess.
PIPPIN: Yeah, it would have been almost the same time for me because I was a sophomore and a junior in college, which would have been 2009/2010.
BRAD: Yeah, and it wasn’t — I don’t want to make it seem like I took the plunge or anything. It was really out of circumstance. I convinced my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, to move with me to Australia just for adventuring. And so I quit my job, and I thought maybe I’d get a job in Australia, and I didn’t. So I ended up freelancing, and it was the best thing that happened to me. I guess I should — I also started a Web hosting company while I was in college, so that was another; that was a pretty big deal. I had a business partner in that and everything.
PIPPIN: This is an important topic that I really want to maybe touch on a little bit more because I know it’s something that I’ve been asked before and I hear people ask about a lot is when somebody wants to transition from either freelancing or maybe a full-time employment somewhere else, and they want to figure out how to transition into whether it’s products or services, but transition into their own business model. Do you just take a plunge, or is it a slow transition for you? It sounds like, for you, it was a slow transition or kind of a slow transition, right?
BRAD: Yeah. I didn’t really have– No, I wouldn’t say it was a slow transition. I’d say it was really kind of a plunge because I quit my job. I was working at an agency in Vancouver, and I moved to Australia, and I had no job.
PIPPIN: So this was actually like a plunge out of need because you quit your job. You went to Australia and said, oh, I’ll get a job, and realized: oh, I didn’t get one. I better figure something out.
BRAD: Yeah. I mean I had savings, right?
BRAD: I wasn’t going to move to Australia with zero dollars in my pocket. That would have been foolish, but I didn’t have a ton of savings, so I had to do something, and the freelancing came. So where I was lucky there is that the work that I was doing at the agency was really high profile stuff. We were doing, like, McDonalds was one of our customers and Best Buy, so huge, national brands. And so my portfolio looked really good, so it was pretty easy for me to get into freelancing. I think, for most people, it’s probably more of a slow progression is the way to do it.
PIPPIN: Mine was definitely. Mine was a slow progression with a plunge at halfway through.
PIPPIN: I was in college when I decided to start kind of making the transition. As a student, I worked a couple of student jobs. I worked as a stagehand at a theater for four years doing Broadway shows. I worked as a Web developer in campus department. Then I was freelancing on the side.
During my sophomore year, I kind of decided: hey, I want to transition this over, and I think this is what I want to do full time. So, over the course of the next two years, while I’m in college, I can kind of live on nothing because I’m a college student.
PIPPIN: And you get that freedom, thankfully.
PIPPIN: Over the next two years, I’m going to see if I can build this up so that when I’m done, I’m not just suddenly out on the street and said, oh, I don’t know what to do. So I was working on it slowly, just kind of doing things at night, early in the morning, or whenever I had time for it.
PIPPIN: And then, during my junior year, I actually built a plugin, and it was the first plugin I’d ever built, and I put it up on CodeCanyon. I was expecting to maybe make $5 or $10. Over the course of its lifetime, it actually ended up making $10,000 or $20,000.
PIPPIN: No, granted, it was actually over a couple of years, but the point is that, at that time, I was a college student that was really happy if I could make $30 extra dollars in a week.
BRAD: Yeah, totally.
PIPPIN: And so I put it up, and the next morning I woke up with four or five sales. I was like, hey, that was really cool.
PIPPIN: And it kind of continued that way for a few months, and I did a couple of other plugins. Then, at one point, I put up a larger plugin, which was an image slider. And it did well enough that I really started thinking, I bet; I think I could do plugin development full time. I think plugin sales could sustain me with maybe a little bit of extra freelance work on the side.
I was dating my now wife at the time, and we’re engaged. It came to the end of my junior year and I told her. I was like, so this is an experiment. Over the summer, I’m going to do this full time, and we’re going to see if it happens. We’re going to see if I can make this happen. If I can pay for myself and I can pay for you, I can pay for our rent, and so I kind of took that plunge.
BRAD: How many customers or clients, I guess, did you have at that point that were coming back to you for more work?
PIPPIN: I was doing a little bit of freelance work along with more of some of the product sales, but I had two or three main clients that were giving me projects every month. I had a couple. I wasn’t on a retainer with them, but it was an informal retainer. Basically we just — I worked for them every month with all the projects that they had.
BRAD: Right. You would never say no, basically.
PIPPIN: Yeah, exactly, and they were almost always rushed gigs, which was kind of our agreement, so I got to charge them like double what I would normally have charged at the time.
PIPPIN: And we had an agreement. Okay, you get a job Thursday night. It’s done by Friday afternoon.
PIPPIN: Which actually, as a college student, kind of worked out well because if you can slam everything into one night, you’re done.
BRAD: Oh, yeah. Totally, yes.
PIPPIN: And then you walk away with a nice paycheck.
BRAD: Get the 24-hour Energy out or whatever it is.
PIPPIN: Yeah. That was my summer, basically, saying let’s see if we can make this happen.
BRAD: Nice. What happened after that? Did you just continue building products at that point?
PIPPIN: I continued basically doing both, but I slowly transitioned out of doing some of the client work, even for those steady clients that I was working, doing several projects for a month, to just doing product sales. I convinced myself at one point, like, I was not making enough in product sales to sustain us.
PIPPIN: But I said, if I’m going to get there, I have to start doing less client work. So I started saying no.
PIPPIN: And that freed up time that I was then able to work on product sales. Luckily, they kind of evened out. And eventually … I said yes to custom development.
BRAD: Right. It’s a little unnerving to do that, isn’t it? Isn’t it, to turn down customers who have been coming to you and giving you good work, right?
PIPPIN: Oh, man. Telling — this guy’s name was Townsend at the time. To tell Townsend that, like, hey, I need to stop working for you when you’ve been my best client I’ve ever had, not only are you a great client, but you’re also a great friend, it was a little unnerving.
BRAD: Yeah. It sucks.
PIPPIN: It does suck.
BRAD: Yeah. I went through a very similar thing because, when I was freelancing, I had regular designers that I worked with. It was amazing because they provided a buffer between me and the actual customer.
PIPPIN: That’s exactly what this client was.
PIPPIN: I never dealt with the clients, which thank goodness because it was all corporate work based in New York City.
PIPPIN: I would hear about the discussions that they would have on their side with the client, and I’m just like, I am so glad I am not part of this because it was almost always legal stuff. It would be five lawyers sitting in a room arguing about one paragraph for like ten hours. I’m thinking: I don’t care. We can change that at any time we want. Tell me what I need to change structurally on the page and we’ll get it done.
PIPPIN: That was a blessing to not have to because, as a developer, I don’t like doing that part of things.
PIPPIN: That’s the side of business I don’t like managing.
BRAD: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
PIPPIN: Which actually, I think, leads into a really good topic for us on, as we’ve been transitioning into running our own businesses, both of which are product businesses, but this could also apply to service businesses as well, how have you dealt with those aspects of business that you have to do, whether it’s accounting, or legal, or copywriting, or all of those different aspects? How have you dealt with that? Are you doing them yourself?
BRAD: In the beginning, you have to do them yourself so that you can figure out the process, figure out how it’s done.
BRAD: If you don’t know the process, and you don’t know what’s going on, if you just offload that to somebody, they might botch it in the first place.
PIPPIN: You would have no reason to know if anything is wrong.
BRAD: Yeah, and that’s the other thing. Yeah. There are exceptions to that, obviously. It probably doesn’t do me any good to read a legal document that’s full of legal jargon because I’m going to miss something anyway. That’s been my experience anyway. I know lots of people who always read every legal document.
BRAD: And I’m just like, I don’t know. I don’t know what that means. They’re using words from the 1800s that I don’t know.
PIPPIN: But I think it’s still good for you to have an appreciation and an overall understanding of what’s in there.
BRAD: But that’s why you should seek a good lawyer that you can trust and make sure that they can help you understand what you’re signing, right?
BRAD: I think that’s probably the most important thing.
PIPPIN: I think another aspect of that is also having an appreciation for the value that that lawyer or whatever service they’re providing —
PIPPIN: — is for you. Let’s say that you’re running a business, and you just, from day one, you offload accounting to an accountant, and you’ve never done any accounting.
PIPPIN: To be honest, at that point you don’t really have an appreciation for the value of what the service they’re providing you.
BRAD: Exactly, yep.
PIPPIN: I started by doing all the accounting for everything. I did my personal accounting, and I did the business accounting as well.
PIPPIN: I gained an appreciation for how much work is involved with that and how meticulous you should be.
PIPPIN: At one point I just realized I should not be doing this, number one because I really am not qualified to do this. I don’t know enough about it. But also, it is more valuable for me to pay someone else to do it for me.
PIPPIN: Than for me to spend time doing it. But because I did it, I gained that appreciation for what I was paying my accountant to do.
BRAD: Right. Yep. Yeah, so what are the things that you outsource, besides accounting and legal? Is there–?
PIPPIN: Development and design even, I mean we’re talking from the perspective of developers, and so we’d think, okay, so we’ll do all the development on our own. I think, early on, that works really well because you’re in control. You’re going as fast as you want to go, whether that’s 2 mile an hour or 200 mile an hour. But as you grow and you get larger, and you expand out, you will figure out that you can’t do all the development or the design or all the planning. There’s just not enough of you to go around. So you either stay at a certain level or you outsource.
BRAD: Yeah, absolutely.
PIPPIN: Outsourcing might also — it could be like outsourcing to other developers on a contract basis. It could be hiring employees. But basically you’re getting other people involved to do more work.
BRAD: Right. I mean, there’s probably documentation and processes that you want to put in place as well, so doing it yourself in the beginning and writing that documentation and figuring out those processes, I think, allows you to then hire someone and just point them to those things rather than having to send them 1,000 emails, right?
BRAD: Yeah, so that’s — I think the other part of that for me that’s important is what if I want to take a vacation, right? If I have someone to fill in for me, then I can actually relax during my vacation.
PIPPIN: Yeah, I remember the first time that I wanted to, or my wife and I were planning to take a vacation after doing, like after everything was kind of in motion. This was actually right when we got married. We wanted to take a honeymoon to Italy for ten days or so.
I remember stressing for like three or four months beforehand. I was like: I don’t know how I’m going to do this because, number one, my wife will kill me if I’m working on our honeymoon for good reason. But, at the time, I didn’t have anybody working with me to handle things while I was gone, so product support is just dead while I’m gone. Any projects that we’re working on are dead. Any updates that need to be done are just not happening for two weeks. And that’s kind of a problem.
PIPPIN: But, at the time, it ended up working out because we were still small enough that I could just put up canned replies and said, look, I’m on my honeymoon. Don’t like it? Too bad.
PIPPIN: But once you get to certain size, you can’t do that. By expanding out, getting other people involved, that’s how you do it. I’m sure you’ve probably experienced the same thing when you wanted to go out. Having an employee or two or a contractor onboard is what probably allowed you to do that, right?
BRAD: I’ve only had — I’ve had an employee for about two years now. But before that, when I was freelancing, I didn’t have. It was just me, right? I was like a hired gun kind of thing, and so the way it worked then is just I scheduled my projects around my vacation. That worked out pretty good.
BRAD: The thing about freelancing that’s different is that usually projects have a start and end, whereas in a product business that we’re in now, it just goes on and on and on and on. It never ends, right? So you kind of have to have a support team around you.
PIPPIN: Did you have a time, after you got into products or really once WP Migrate DB Pro or, I guess, even the WP App Store, did you have a time when those were running, but it was just you that you wanted to go and take a vacation?
BRAD: I think so.
PIPPIN: I guess, were you able to, and how’d you make that happen?
BRAD: Yeah. Actually, I don’t think there was a time like that, actually. I don’t think there was a time where I — and if there was, what I would do is I would just work on my vacation. I mean, what else can you do, right?
BRAD: You answer emails from your vacation, handle support, whatever. Whatever needs to be done, you do it, right? That’s kind of like the entrepreneur’s curse, right?
BRAD: Because, I mean, even now, the business can’t run without me 100%, right, at 100%, right? There are going to be gaps because I’m the one filling those gaps right now. But I’m always asking myself how can I fill those gaps with someone else so that it’s not dependent on me.
PIPPIN: Yeah, definitely.
BRAD: And so I try to ask myself that question every month or whatever.
PIPPIN: That’s kind of been an ongoing goal for me as well. Let’s say I want to, in the next six months or in the next year, I would like to get to the point where I can walk away for a week and 100% walk away and have things still run.
BRAD: Yeah. Yeah, I think a week — I think I would be able to do that fine. I’m just about — I’ve got two other developers on trial right now for a full-time position, so I’m hiring another one or two full-time developers. Once those guys are in place, it’s going to be much, I think, more self-sufficient, the business, and it could probably run for well over a week on its own.
PIPPIN: That’s great!
BRAD: Yeah. These guys, I’m training them to do everything, like all the support, billing, and everything. Just — do you have a bookkeeper, someone that does all your bookkeeping?
PIPPIN: I do. I have someone that does all the bookkeeping for me. The only thing that she doesn’t do, financially wise, is she doesn’t handle refunds or anything like that.
PIPPIN: But she does all the overall bookkeeping.
BRAD: You use some Xero or QuickBooks or something?
PIPPIN: She uses QuickBooks.
BRAD: Right, right.
PIPPIN: And then she sends me monthly, quarterly, and annual reports.
BRAD: Right, right. Bookkeeping is really time-consuming, and it basically gives you almost nothing in return.
PIPPIN: Yeah, but you need to do it.
BRAD: Yes, and you need to do it because you need it for taxes because that’s what your accountant will require at the end of the year.
PIPPIN: See, and that’s the other thing. I actually have an accountant, and I have a CPA. My accountant, she does all the day-to-day bookkeeping, and then she just sends everything to my CPA, and I don’t do anything.
PIPPIN: To me, that’s amazing.
BRAD: That’s gold.
PIPPIN: I remember last year it was during tax time, and I was sitting down in, like, March. I was working through trying to figure out, trying to file all of my personal and all of the business taxes. At the time, I didn’t have a very good separation between business and personal finances because it had always been just me.
For a while it was like, why does it matter? But I was sitting there doing taxes, and I was kind of struggling through it, but I was doing it. I had done it the two years before that as well, and I sat there. I was thinking this can’t be right. Something is wrong here because this is telling me I owe $127,000. Something has got to be wrong! I know what the business made, and I know, like, I have an idea of what I should pay, but it is not $127,000.
It was that moment I decided this is dumb. I have to hire a professional to do this for me because, if I don’t, this might be costing me thousands and thousands of dollars. It turns out, it would have. If I hadn’t hired the accountants, I would have paid $100,000-and-some in taxes from the business last year.
PIPPIN: Instead, I paid a fraction of that because I actually had somebody come in and do everything right. At that point, the bill that they sent me for their services was like, I don’t care if you triple it. You have no idea how much money you just saved me.
PIPPIN: From your service, from knowing what you’re doing.
PIPPIN: Ever since then, I don’t care what their bill is. I mean, I care because I don’t want them to be, like, screwing me. I don’t want them to be charging me twice as much as they’re supposed to.
PIPPIN: But they’re honest people, and I don’t worry about that. But overall, if their bill was twice as high as it normally is for a month because they did a bunch more, I don’t care because —
BRAD: You’re probably doing better.
PIPPIN: — when I look back at how much it saved – oh, my gosh!
BRAD: You’re probably doing more business if it’s twice as much work.
PIPPIN: That’s the other thing. Now I’m not sitting there doing that.
PIPPIN: I want to jump back to — we started jumping into vacations. What do you do? Okay, I think everybody who runs their own business has that kind of entrepreneurial spirit and is building their own thing, whatever it is. Eventually they lose their fire. They get burnt out, or they’re just tired and they have a hard time getting motivation. How do you keep yourself from losing your fire? How do you keep going? What do you do?
BRAD: For me, I guess a big motivator for me moving from freelancing to products was my first-born son was coming along. I was like, okay, so if I get hurt playing ultimate Frisbee or something else and I can’t be at a keyboard, you know.
I have a friend that has to sit in the dark most of the day because he has a concussion, and he’s an IT worker. He’s having a hard time working because he can’t look at bright lights, that kind of thing.
That kind of stuff was going through my head. I was like: I’ve got to start a business that’s more, that can run more on its own. It’s not so dependent on me, right?
PIPPIN: It’s not — your revenue is not directly tied to the number of hours you work.
BRAD: Exactly, exactly, and so that was my main motivator. It was pretty easy for me to keep — well, I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it was a pretty strong motivator, so I kept reminding myself this is why I’m doing it. This is why I’m doing it. Whenever I would feel like I was losing motivation or I was feeling down, I’d keep reminding myself that’s why. That’s why I’m doing it. There’s a good reason why I’m doing this and why I’m working at night instead of watching television or on the weekend when I could be out playing golf or something.
For me, that’s how it worked. In the past, I’ve been very wishy-washy about starting product businesses or anything like that. I’ve just mainly built them for the fun of building them and never executed any marketing or any business development stuff. And so this time is different because I had that big motivator, I think.
What about you? What was the — I mean, what kept you motivated to build, built out your product stuff?
PIPPIN: Honestly, it’s almost an identical story in terms of I had my first-born was coming along. My wife and I had gotten married a little bit before that. And I said I don’t want our income to be dependent upon the number of hours I can work in day.
I also had some family history with that. My dad is very similar. He has run his own freelance business for a long time. He’s a software developer as well. But he had never really managed to achieve a product business that would mostly run, not necessarily run itself, but wasn’t directly tied to his hours.
I had seen some of the struggles that that can cause, whether it’s because you’re having personal issues and you don’t want to work today or having trouble with work, or you’re physically unable to work because of maybe an accident or something like that. I had actually seen that happen a couple of times with him, and those were pretty hard times.
PIPPIN: For our family growing up, like there were times when they were definitely struggling. To me, that was a really strong motivator. I want to do better. He is amazing, and he has done all of these things. I want to do that and more. I want to see if I can, not to one-up him, but I want to learn from his challenges.
BRAD: Absolutely, yeah.
PIPPIN: That’s definitely the huge motivator.
PIPPIN: I think it goes beyond just what is motivation though because we have this motivation that keeps us going, the reasons why we’re what we’re doing, but sometimes that’s not enough. Sometimes you still just get to a point where you’re like: I can’t focus today. What is it that helps you day-to-day to get through?
For me, I found that it was a couple things. Number one is acknowledging that it’s okay to take a break. I think, okay, there are all these different things that I want to do. There are these different places I want to reach with the business, and I need to work, work, work. I need to put in 18 hours today and 19 hours tomorrow. I did that for a long time.
At one point I realized it’s okay to actually take a break, and it’s okay to sleep eight hours a night. And I found that that actually dramatically improved not only my productivity, but also just my day-to-day mentality about working. I guess just taking a ten-minute break to go walk the dog, to me, makes all the difference in the world.
BRAD: Yeah. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve walked away from the computer because I was frustrated with a problem, then came back and it was just like magically resolved itself.
BRAD: I think that’s like the micro example of that, right?
PIPPIN: I actually have kind of specific routine that I kind of do for that. Every morning, I usually either jump into support tickets, or I’ll jump into building a specific feature or fixing a specific bug in a plugin. I know that, before lunch, I am likely to run into a problem of some kind. Either it’s a customer that’s just difficult to work with. Maybe it’s a difficult problem to solve or something, and I need a break.
And so this is kind of silly, but I won’t take a shower in the morning a lot of times because then I know that by the time I run into my problem, I need a break, so I go take a shower. I feel physically better, and that makes me feel so much mentally better too because I take that break. I recharge. But also it’s like walking out of the room and coming back in as a different person.
BRAD: Right. Hmm.
PIPPIN: Kind of silly, but it works.
BRAD: What you’re saying is that people shouldn’t take showers.
PIPPIN: Tell you what. I don’t know.
BRAD: Until they’re feeling like they need a break.
BRAD: I don’t know if that’s a good rule for everyone. Maybe.
PIPPIN: No, no, definitely.
BRAD: You mentioned. When we were talking earlier, you mentioned the long game. What did you mean by that?
PIPPIN: Okay. Let me preface this with something that I’ve been asked before. People will say, “How do I get into building a product or service? How do I run my own business?”
Something that I think a lot of people anticipate if they’re going to do this is that they’re going to launch their business, and it’s going to be not necessarily immediately successful, but immediately sustainable. Like they’re going to see the immediate return. Sometimes that’s true. We hear about these overnight successes of mobile games, of plugins, all these different kinds of businesses where people, whether they make hundreds or thousands or millions of dollars overnight. It happens, but it’s really, really rare.
But I think that’s the overall mentality when somebody says, “I’m going to. I have this entrepreneurial spirit. I’m going to build a product. I’m going to go, and it’s going to take care of me.”
PIPPIN: But I think that’s wrong because that’s not really the way it works most of the time. I think people need to change that mindset and instead think about: I’m going to work on this, and I’m going to continue working on this because I know, in the long run, it can be a success. It might take a year. It might take a month. It might take six months. It might take ten years.
Going back to a little bit of family history for a moment, my father has been actually, as a software developer, he’s been working on a product that is specific to pest control companies. He’s been working on it for 10 years or more, maybe even 15 years. It’s successful. It’s not out of this world successful, but it was not at all overnight. He’s worked for 15 years, and he’s slowly made it better and better.
He slowly built up the customer base and made it bigger and bigger and bigger, but it was the long game. He knew. He works for three hours on it every single morning because he knows that, over the course of a couple of years, that’s all paying off.
Now obviously there’s times when that doesn’t work because something just fails, and that happens. But I think you have to have that attitude of playing the long game. You can’t just anticipate launching your store tomorrow and realizing, like, I’m set. I’m good. This is what I’m going to do for the next six months. Yeah, it might be what you’re going to do for the next six months, but it’s not necessarily going to pay your bills for the next six months.
PIPPIN: But after six months, it might.
BRAD: Yeah. I completely agree with this. The things you hear about in the tech news or whatever about an app that made $1 million on day one or whatever, I mean these are the outliers. To me, it’s akin to hearing about the person who won the lottery, right?
BRAD: How many app developers launched an app the same day that that guy did, right, or the same week, or the same month?
PIPPIN: Also look back and realize how many did they probably build before that.
PIPPIN: One of my favorite examples is Clash of Clans, which, if it’s not still, it was for a long time the number one iOS game in terms of overall revenue. At one point they were bringing in $8 million a day in revenue. I mean, it’s a smashing success. But what people a lot of times miss is that the studio that built that app, which was a small team of like eight guys from Finland, had built 10 or 20 games before that that all flunked. The company was going bankrupt.
PIPPIN: They were about to shut down, and this was kind of their last go at it.
BRAD: That reminds me of artists as well, like musical artists.
BRAD: Like when Apple chose Feist’s song for one of their ads, and everyone was like, oh, who is this new Feist character? Feist had been making music for over a decade before that happened.
BRAD: It’s a similar kind of situation, right?
PIPPIN: Yeah, and that to me is an example of playing the long game. It’s not necessarily playing the long game with one product or one service, but you’re constantly working, and you’re getting better and better. You’re building up your audience. You’re building up your customer base. You’re building your product, your own skill sets. It’s all a very long process. If you don’t anticipate working on it for a long time, you’re not going to make it.
PIPPIN: If you want to say that you’re going to do products for a year and then move on, good luck.
BRAD: You’re setting yourself up for disappointment if you’re expecting a short-term win, you know.
BRAD: Instead, you should be — I think, if you’re thinking about it in a different way maybe. If you’re approaching it like I want to learn how to do this, I want to learn how to build a business, and by failing and by making mistakes is the way I’m going to get there, I think that’s probably a better attitude to have than to say I’m going to build an app and make a million dollars like this guy.
PIPPIN: Absolutely. I really want to learn how to be a great brewer of beer. I really want to learn how to brew really good beer, and I would like to open a brewery. I’m not going out tomorrow to buy a loan or to get a loan to build a brewery because, you know what, I don’t really know how to brew.
PIPPIN: I’m doing a little bit. I’m starting to do some home brewing. But, to be honest, I still know nothing about brewing. But that’s my overall end goal is that I would like to get really good at that, and it’s going to take time. This is, to me, a 10-year, 20-year goal. Over the course of 10 or 20 years, I would like to get to learn how to brew really good beer and maybe open a local brewery. It’s not going to happen overnight.
BRAD: Right. Yeah, that sounds awesome, by the way. I wish I could drink beer so I could try your beer.
PIPPIN: You’re not — oh, well.
BRAD: I have a gluten allergy.
PIPPIN: Well, maybe we’ll make gluten-free beer.
BRAD: There you go! There’s a market that is underserved. I could tell you that.
PIPPIN: See! There we go! Make it happen. Tomorrow, we’ll have a successful business.
BRAD: Your market is a lot smaller, but I think it’s 1 in 100 people have Celiac.
PIPPIN: To be honest, that’s still a pretty large market overall.
BRAD: Yeah, it’s pretty good.
PIPPIN: Number one, those people are determined to find things that they like that they can eat or drink.
BRAD: Yes. Yes, I am.
PIPPIN: All right.
BRAD: One thing I think that’s important for people that are transitioning to products from a full-time job or freelancing is time management. That’s something I think a lot of people struggle with and don’t do very well. They get distracted easily. What were the things that you did to manage your time effectively to kind of conquer that whole thing?
PIPPIN: There were a couple of things. Number one was I had to. When I started building my business, and when I was determined to really make it happen, I was in school full time. I was taking 19-1/2 credit hours, which, for anyone who is not familiar with the U.S. college system and what credit hours means, that’s basically means that I’m sitting in classes for 7 or 8 hours a day. Then you have an hour or four hours of homework on top of that almost every day. Then trying to build a business at the same time. Assuming that we’re trying to sleep at least a couple of hours of night, that doesn’t leave you a whole lot of time to do other things, especially if you still also are trying to convince someone to marry you, which is quite time-consuming.
PIPPIN: Basically, I had to be good at managing my time. I had to figure out I have a free hour. Instead of sitting in front of the TV and just sitting there, I’m going to be productive and I’m going to make this happen. I’m going to stay up an extra hour tonight, or I’m going to get up an hour earlier. Basically, I had to be good at time management. I had to figure out how to make this happen because it wasn’t going to happen otherwise.
After that, after college, I actually kind of struggled for a little bit because suddenly I had all the time in the world, and I had no idea what to do with myself because I was used to working a few hours a day, but I was really used to working 18 hours a day because I would be going to class. I’d do the schoolwork. Then I’d go to my part-time job that actually paid my bills, and then I’d go home and work on what I was trying to build for the future. Suddenly I had all the time in the world, and I had no idea what to do with myself. Honestly, actually I think it was more difficult figuring out how to manage time when you have all the time in the world then when you have no time.
PIPPIN: To be honest, having no time is a pretty damn good motivator.
BRAD: Yeah, yeah. I found it really — I found it pretty tricky to go from freelancing to pushing myself to work in the evenings and weekends and stuff because, when I was freelancing, I was very good at making time for family and stuff, so not working evenings and weekends, and not scheduling too much work so that I was too busy. Going from that to kind of pushing the envelope, I found pretty tricky.
PIPPIN: Yeah, definitely.
BRAD: That’s why I needed that motivator and to keep reminding myself because I was like: why am I working at 8:00 p.m. again?
PIPPIN: Did you ever–? One of the things that I found that worked really well for me was to actually set a schedule. I basically set a schedule that says I’m going to work 9:00 to 5:00 or 9:00 to 6:00, on average. Not necessarily a hard-set schedule. There’s no one clocking me in or out, but I found that that helped me a lot because I just eventually got to the mentality of, well, it’s during normal working hours, so I’m going to work. Did you ever do anything like that? Did you…?
BRAD: Well, not really. I pretty much just– I should clarify. I don’t want to make it seem like I work nonstop. I don’t. I have my evenings and weekends, and my schedule is super flexible right now, and that’s the way I like it.
The times where I was working evenings and weekends, that was the time when I was still freelancing, but wanted to get to a product business. So I had to still do the freelancing to make the money to do, you know, to pay the bills while I was building the product business, right?
BRAD: But that period doesn’t last forever. If you want – if you don’t want that lifestyle, you build a product business. You can scale back, and that’s kind of where I am now. I do have a schedule now, so now I work from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and cook dinner for the family and that kind of stuff, generally speaking. But, like I said, it’s very flexible, so some mornings I’ll play tennis from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., have a couple matches or really just one match. Then, in the evenings I’ll work after I put the kids to bed, right?
BRAD: So it’s nice, nice and flexible that way. Yeah, I don’t want to make it seem like, if you start a product business, you’re going to be working nonstop for the rest of your life.
PIPPIN: Well, and ultimately, I think that’s kind of the end goal. We can look at it and, again, it’s the long-term goal that, after a certain point, we want to be able to step back and not work.
PIPPIN: I have been really focused this last year on trying to figure out how to work less, which has actually made me work better. Now, there are still times that I work more hours in a day than I want to or than that my family wants me to, but that’s the goal is to be able to work less. I think, over time, that’s what we’re striving for, and that’s where we’re going to get.
I think we’re getting close to needing to wrap up, but I think I would really like to, unless everybody tells us not to do this next time, we’d like to continue this conversation next time because I think, especially for developers that have that entrepreneurial spirit, figuring out how to make your business successful, how to keep going, is definitely challenging. One of the topics that we really wanted to touch on that I think we’ll hit next time is inspiration sources. I know, Brad, that you definitely have a lot of things that you consider to be inspiring, people that you look up to or resources that you turn to to find motivation or to find knowledge, etc.
PIPPIN: I think I’d love; I think it would be great if we could talk about that some more next week.
BRAD: For sure.
PIPPIN: Between now and then, any feedback that people have, let us know. It would be a really great opportunity since this is going to be kind of our first set of episodes where we continue the same topic over a couple of times. If anybody has anything they would like to ask, this would be a great time to do it, if we can try to get some input on that. Brad, anything to add to that?
BRAD: No, I think you covered it. But just before we wrap up here, I just want to mention that Big Snow Tiny Conf tickets already went on sale, and we’ve got one left.
PIPPIN: Awesome! Somebody, jump on it.
BRAD: Yeah, so jump on that.
PIPPIN: That’s great.
BRAD: Yeah, I just want to echo what you just said, and I’d love to hear it. If you really enjoyed this episode, you know, it’s quite different than what we’ve been doing, so yeah, let us know. If you enjoyed it, just send us a tweet or whatever.
PIPPIN: It’s something that we’ve actually been talking about doing for a while of kind of changing, not changing it up every time, but every now and then backing away from a little bit of development and getting into a little bit more business and other things that still are integral to our day-to-day development life on what we’re building, things that influence our development. There are so many different aspects of business that influence your development.
PIPPIN: I think it’s good to look at it from a well-rounded perspective, so we’ll be doing this every now and then. If you love it, let us know. If you hate it, let us know.
BRAD: Yeah, for sure. I’d just like to say thanks again to PrestigeConf.com for sponsoring this episode.
PIPPIN: Yeah. They’re super generous, and it looks like it’s going to be a really awesome event.
BRAD: Yeah, I’m jealous.
PIPPIN: I’m not going to be able to actually make it, but I am definitely going to be live streaming it. They do have a live stream, so if you’re not able to travel to Minneapolis October 3 and 4, check out the live stream because it’s going to be pretty awesome. Honestly, all of these people that are talking, hearing just one of them speak is worth the conference, worth the ticket price.
BRAD: Definitely. All right.
PIPPIN: Thanks, everyone, for listening.
PIPPIN: Catch you soon.
BRAD: Thanks, everybody.