When I started Those DeWolfes Creative, I had a vision, some goals and a history.
To create our own products to fill niche needs in the marketplace through digital means (niche websites; applications and plug-ins; and digital products).
Last year, I launched Meatsplit.com. That got a lot of attention and interest, but I’ll be transparent on this: no one has done a meat split. I need to re-think the marketing and the outreach. There’s interest, but I liken this to the high school dance where everyone shows up to dance and no one does because no one else has crossed the divide.
A friend and I have partnered up to build some niche management software. We will be deploying this for our second customer soon and then it will take off from there. The goal is to get it to 100 installs in one year; and 200 installs in the year that follows. There is no one doing this software in this niche and the market is much, much larger than 200 clients. We have a license purchase plus subscription agreement to generate the revenue. From a business perspective, our goal is to use this to build a cash engine: we use the revenue to pay for the infrastructure (staffing, hosting, continued development on the product) with some money available off the top. When this gets too big for us to handle the direct selling and client outreach, we will likely franchise this to other regions to spell off some of the workload.
A found another niche that isn’t being satisfied. When I asked, "Why don’t they have a website?" their contact said, "They don’t have any money." True. But the people connected to this outfit have eyeballs and on the Internet, eyeballs = money. So, after when get the aforementioned locomotive up to full speed, I will turn our attention to this project. Vague? Yes. But if you buy me a coffee, I will tell you what I have planned.
A few weeks ago, I was presented with a cool idea. Likewise, I’m going to be vague. But when I met with my partner on that venture, we found that it was something that was needed in the marketplace. It has some elements of Groupon in the mix (but in a good way); and some elements of Kickstarter; and a dash of Facebook. As demonstrated with Meatsplit, it’s clear that marketing is not my strong suit. My partner cannot program, but he can market like a hot damn. So we each have an easy competency and an impossible skill chasm, but together our traits cover over each other’s shortcomings. That idea is heating up and when I can talk more about it, I will.
I want to build applications and plug-ins. I have been talking with some friends who are web design veterans. Here’s what one said:
782 purchases at $20.00 = $15,640.00
1139 purchases at $25.00 = $28,475.00
A Sh*t Load of purchases at 99.00 = a sh*t load of money
A bigger Sh*t Load at $179.95 = a sh*t ton of money
He’s spent $100k+ on plug-ins for his clients. People are spending a lot of money on these applications and plug-ins. There’s money in them-thar plug-ins. Plug-ins need to fulfill a need. They need to work well. There needs to be a support system in place to allow them to flourish.
Did I mention that my coffee and lunches in the last couple months has been to collect stuff in a knowledge-based scavenger hunt? I had coffee with a colleague and we got onto the topic of Clickbank and digital downloads. If you look at the ads, there’s no shortage of “make money online” ads. It feels like a mirage. These other guys on the videos are making money-- money you cannot make when you try. My colleague did do it, though. He was offering a document for purchase to give people a cheat sheet for an online game. When the engine was going full tilt, he was making $5000 per month from this. This isn’t a huckster on a video. This is the guy with a coffee in front of me. How do you get something out there that rakes in the cash? That’s a deeper topic for me to explore, but in short: it can be done. It was done by a guy you probably never heard of (aside: he is a great guy; you should hear of him and see his work).
I want my business partner to stop her full time job. She works at a place that loudly demonstrates the vast gap that exists between well-educated and intelligent. I like good people. They don’t need to be intelligent or well-educated. But, I don’t like people who think that well-educated is the same as intelligent. I also don’t like people who think that intelligent is a surrogate for good. My goal is rescue her from this morass of academia.
I want time. The Internet is a 24x7 medium. People start to think that 24x7 is the workday of someone who works on the Internet. It’s not. Machines need downtime. People totally need downtime. In the last few years clients and contacts have become more and more needy. They’ve always been needy. I cannot count how many Christmas Eves were punctuated with “my site’s down!” panic phone calls. Really? You think someone is going to open their presents but drop them to go and see if your audio studio website is running? I have been all dressed up and ready to go out on a Saturday night to get a call, "I can’t send these emails! Help!" I can ignore the calls, but some people started calling all the DeWolfes in the phone book to get my help. Boundaries are nice, but they’re a Maginot Line. Mom’n’Pop sites get 50-200 hits per day. An hour down is costing you two to ten pairs of eyeballs who cannot see your site. The unfortunate truth is that the impact of your site being unavailable is very small. Likewise, the benefit from deploying something large and expensive on your website will also be small. Don’t fret. Don’t act like it’s the end of the world. Really, I cannot convey this message, so I accept the hand-wringing and the panic and I react to remedy stuff as quickly as I can. But I don’t want to do that. I want time.
Money. Sorry, is that crass? Well, it’s the truth. I want money. I want too much money. When I get to too much money, I am going to get people on board who can work with me and give them money until they also get too much money and then we’ll find more people to hire on. I worked for an outfit who, in essence, helped poor people. They made a lot of money doing it. They would jet-set around. They paid me well. I had a moral quandary: how can I take this money when our target audience is so poor? The truth is: if I suffered financially that wouldn’t uplift them out of poverty. If anything, it would spark in me the need to make more money somewhere else and remove me from my role of helping them. So, I learned not to fear and despise money. Loving money is the root of all evil. Money is power and you can choose to channel power responsibly only if you have some to channel.
Saving the world. Okay, I cannot save the whole world. The best I might end up doing is saving 1/2-billionth of the world. But if I can get things going that allows for prosperity, the ventures will flourish. They will employ people who live better lives because of this. As a technocrat, I think I can earn money disportionate to the amount of time I invest by the standard measure. I think I can help others to do the same. I want what I do to uplift people and make them feel better and give them leg room to be able to be the best they want to be. I don’t want them to be eroded by the tribulations.
The titular question: Why are you working for someone? It’s a common refrain I hear when I hear someone wants to be self-employed. “They want to be their own boss.” That’s crap. When you are self-employed anyone you take money from is your boss. They call the shots. They have their own pre-Magna Carta playbook they are are working from. Your boss cannot walk into your office five times concurrently and give you conflicting demands at the same time. When you are self-employed that can and will happen. You are a receptacle selected from the marketplace. You’re one of a dozen designers. You’re one of a dozen bakeries. You’re one of a dozen lawyers. They may interact well with you; or poorly. That's the life of being self-employed.
In our economy, we’re part of a financial ecosystem. Someone gets money from someone else by turning their labour in a valuable commodity and exchanging it for portable cash.
When I had lunch with my friend and we talked about all of the plug-ins he has purchased, I put out the question, “Why are we working for these people?” (our client base). I know what the client-consultant model works like. I know what average developers can turn out. If you can code, polish and market a product of any size, why would you stick with the consultant model? My work experience tells me that it’s time to accelerate my move away from the consultant model and towards a consumer model.
In the consultant model, you’re one-on-one with a client. They can pop open any particular point of a project and try to get water to run uphill. I had one client who repeatedly tried to swap what “AND” and “OR” meant in search functions. He wanted it to be different and we implored him to let it stand as the set-up that everyone (but him) understood it to be. Clients will push a design around and sometimes ignore best practices to satisfy their wishes. Have you been to a site where the search box has the word, “Now!” on a button and no sign of the word “search” in the mix? That’s there to satisfy someone’s pet peeve. Too often do clients work to satisfy their own interests instead of catering to their audience. They can be adamant on this and ultimately, it’s their dime and their dance. Personally, it’s unsatisfying. I want their sites to reach out to their audiences. I want the sites to achieve their goals. I will press for best practices but I cannot go over the line and ignore the client in the consultant model.
We do not want to drive custom built cars. We do not want to have custom built TVs. We want mass-produced, we want proven and we want reproducible. When two technicians look at your equipment, you want them to have a grounding in how the technology works. This is why I work with Drupal, Wordpress and Moodle. But there still is a large sum of custom work in any website build. That means you have something that can misbehave in a way no one else can fathom.
I am planning to move towards a consumer model. We will issue products used by a number of people. They will get their version of something meant for use by a number of people. There will be a built in way to customize a product for each usage, but the features will be consistent for all users. When one customer wants a change the system, we will consider it and potentially roll it into the next version of the product. If the request flies in the face of best practices, it will not be introduced.
What about my present list of clients who are with me in the consultant model? I like them. I’m keeping them. I have no sunset date for when I will discontinue my work with them. If they want custom work, I’ll deliver. If they want to depart from best practices, we will have a frank discussion and I will try to convince them, but ultimately, it’s their dime and their dance.