December is the month of reflection and review. It’s our time to stop and think about where we are now in comparison to the plan set forth back in January. I’m taking a few minutes of your time today to talk about my business year. What went to plan? What just flew out the window? And what lessons did I learn?
My 2016 Goals
My goals for 2016 centered around WordPress developers, as they were in the previous years. These included:
- Create an educational platform that helps WordPress developers master proper web development.
- Disrupt the education market by introducing an adaptable approach that starts where the developer is at and then helps him/her make the leap from what is taught to making it his/her own.
- Build a business that supports my family and me full-time.
- Continue growing WP Developers’ Club.
- Continue supporting and giving back to developers.
- Write my first book.
- Attend and speak at a WordCamp.
Let’s talk about these goals and see how I did. Spoiler alert: The year did not go in the direction I thought it would.
First Quarter – It sucked
I’m going to be very frank. The first quarter just sucked. We came into 2016 with an incredible team of some of the most respected people in WordPress development. We were ready to startup a formal Developers’ School, which we called DevSchool. We had the right people on our Advisory Boards and our team. We had a growing community of volunteers. We thought the interest was high. But I made a series of mistakes.
My first mistake was letting the voices around me overshadow doing a proper marketing study to measure interest and reach. Prominent people were telling me how this idea would change our Community. I gave in to the voices, instead of doing the work.
In mid-January, we finally did the market research. Upon doing so, it was clear the market was too light to support a formal school. [picture me banging my head on the desk] I own that mistake. Me, I screwed up.
Lesson Learned: Do upfront market research. I should have done the research upfront before recruiting our team.
Lesson Learned: Know thy Customer Even though I surrounded myself with people of the Community who knew the Community, honestly, I don’t think any of us really knew the needs of the entire software Community. As I’m writing this, I can hear Chris Lema’s words in my head: Know thy Customer.
Second Quarter – Know the Code is Born
Developers in our space want a path to continuously grow and level up; however, it has to quickly deliver results and help them with today’s work and needs. They don’t have time to commit to a long process of formal education. They are trying to build a business and put food on the table right now. They need a faster solution.
One of our team members suggested that we repackage our podcast into that solution. What if we took the Laracasts’ model and applied it to WordPress? I’m a big fan (and lifetime member) of Laracasts. The idea of a Netflix-like environment, where you can pick and choose what you want to watch and learn. It looked like a good fit.
The idea was to infuse proper software principles and fundamentals into the entire platform, but deliver it in bite-sized morsels wrapped around active building projects. Think about that. Goals 1 and 2 on my list fit into this idea. Use the hands-on approach by having the member build a plugin or theme while learning deeply about the “why”, when, what, and how. Bingo, Know the Code was born.
Lesson Learned: Do the Pre-Launch Marketing. We were working day and night to build the site, write the content, and record, edit, and publish all the video content. I didn’t make time to do pre-launch marketing and build the buzz. As a result, the launch was light. Signups were steady but disappointing.
Goal Review In this quarter, Goal 1 was achieved and, I dare say, Goal 2 was in process.
Building Trust In order for people to trust their teacher, they needed to know who I am and what my intentions are. I bared my soul and shared why I’m here with my HeroPress essay: Finding Your Purpose in Life. I started doing interviews and podcasts.
At the end of May, my family and I received devastating news, as my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was given two weeks to live.
Third Quarter – I’m Lost
My personal life took much of my time during this period. We lost my father in August. I was lost. I questioned everything. Self-doubt crept in and disabled me.
Looking at the data, the reach was so small that I questioned if I was just kidding myself. Was I making a positive impact and helping the Community? Or was I just wasting my time? I knew I was helping a handful of people, those loyal members with whom I frequently chat. But how about everyone else? I wanted to disrupt the Community and let software principles and methodologies come flooding into the masses. That wasn’t happening.
Growth was steady but very light. Why?
Was it me? Was it that I again underestimated what the market wanted?
Analyzing the Data I went back to the data, as the answers are usually right there. I poured over the comments both in WP Developers’ Club and Know the Code. I looked in the forums of several sites including Stack Overflow and WordPress.org. Yes, of course, folks want to learn and grow in this profession. They want the ability to build anything in code. But their immediate need of satisfying today’s project for today’s client trumps everything else. Folks need answers and the code right now in order to get projects out the door and get the revenue flowing.
Products? From that realization, I had the idea to expand out into products. I used to build machine learning and AI systems. Oh boy, having one at the ready today would definitely help our developers meet today’s needs with Know the Code helping them to grow for tomorrow’s needs.
This time, I learned from my past mistakes and did the upfront work. I met with Chris Lema who helped me to flush out the idea and position it for our market. Then I built some static landing pages and started a social media campaign to measure the interest. What were the results? Light and disappointing.The problem: I’m not growing the membership.
Lesson Learned: Grow your market. I realized that the problem is market reach. I am not doing enough marketing to grow outside of those who know me now. I’m marketing to my followers and not the entire Developer Community. Most people have never heard of me or Know the Code. They have no idea what I’m doing. That’s the problem. I’m so focused on producing content for members that I’m not growing the membership.
Goal Review During this period, I did publish my first book on Leanpub and called it Refactoring Tweaks. And I attended my first WordCamp and gave a presentation.
This Quarter – Refocusing
This year I tried to do too much. I got distracted from my goals and the value I can bring. I realize that now.
This year I tried to do too much without enough focus on marketing and strategy.I paused the product initiative for now. Why? Because to do it right, I need cash and a team. Quite honestly, I don’t know if I want to start up a product company. My heart is in helping developers grow. That’s where I’m focusing myself.
I’m spending time focusing on the marketing and business strategies. I’m slowing down the content publishing to give me the time to properly position each piece to ensure it’s adding value for the Software Community and WordPress.
Goal Review: I did not achieve Goal 3 this year of building a business that supports my family full-time. That goal will carry over into 2017, but only indirectly. It’s not really a goal, but rather a result of growing a business.
Goals for 2017
My business goals for 2017 are:
- Focus all of my energies on empowering developers to grow their marketable skills and their revenue.
- Make Know the Code the GOTO resource for WordPress developers.
- Research opportunities to further develop developers, such as personal roadmaps and holistic web development guided courses.
- Transform the Insights (blog) into a written (not video), value-add hub.
- Grow Know the Code’s market reach and organic traffic.
- Grow the Sponsoring Partners.
- Continue to grow the WP Developers’ Community.
- Dive more into the Community, listen to what you want, and then position both Know the Code and WP Developers’ Club to better serve you.
- Network and align with other educators.
Whew, that’s a big list of goals. I can’t wait to dig into them and make them a reality.
Wrap it Up
Startups are hard. They are risky. Every startup that I’ve done has proven one thing: you must be adaptable. Seriously.
Look at the year I just laid out for you. We started building a formal school and ended up with a completely different business model. Wow, it’s been a crazy year. But Know the Code has a viable market and positioning. Now it’s time for me to drive its growth.
I’m looking forward to 2017 and getting more involved with WordPress, the Community, and you. Thank you for supporting me. Thank you for helping our Community.
I wish you the very best always. <happy coding>