Instead of a “year in review” post, I just want to pass on some lessons I learned in 2013 as a WordPress business owner.
Hopefully these help you out.
1. Failure Is Not The End
I failed at something this year that was a pretty big deal.
It sucked, and I was pretty bummed out. After a couple weeks of losing sleep and being frustrated, I decided to get pissed off and use that failure as fuel for my “success” fire.
It ended up leading me to become a better developer, dream bigger, and start something better.
All told I think I’m in a better place because of that failure. Failure is part of the deal as an entrepreneur, what you do because of it is all that matters.
2. Never Stop Learning New Skills
Early in the year I had a steady income from my business, and I went on cruise control. I stopped learning new stuff, and even though I was still constantly building stuff, I wasn’t really learning new things.
When I wanted to start a new business later in the year, I realized that I was lacking some skills I needed. I went on a learning binge and became twice the dev I was before, but I now realize that I will always need better skills.
3. Your Current Business Isn’t Your Last
When I started my first business, I thought that would be it for me. I would build it up, then retire off it.
After starting my second business, I realize that’s not true, and I will probably have more after this one.
If your current business is struggling, or you don’t see much of a future for it, it’s not the end of the world. It’s not all there is, just start something new.
In fact, if you’ve been struggling at something for more than a year and it hasn’t worked, it might be time to give it up. Fail fast, and move on. Being an entrepreneur is not a singular event, it’s a series of failures and (hopefully) successes.
4. Partnerships are hard
If you are thinking about going into business with someone, please take my advice here. I learned a lot about partnerships in 2013, hopefully you can avoid some of the mistakes I made.
Don’t do a 50/50 equity split
Everything is great when you are first starting out, no stress, only excitement. Splitting things 50/50 seems like a fair way to divide your business, but it could paralyze your business later.
In a 50/50 split, what happens when you come to a really big disagreement? If no one is willing to budge, your business is stuck. Nobody has the power to overcome the stalemate and move forward. Do 51/49, or anything but 50/50.
Set expectations in detail, and put them in a contract
What are your core business principles that every decision can be based on? What exactly is each founder supposed to do on a daily basis? Where do you see your business in 10 years?
Put all of it in full detail and in writing. Get it all out in the beginning, you don’t want any surprises later on.
Make sure your contract has vesting and terms if someone wants out.
If you do nothing else, read Founder’s Dilemmas
It talks about all this stuff in great detail, a must-read for any tech entrepreneur.
5. In Person Networking is Mandatory
Go to conferences and meetups, you can’t build a business if no one knows you personally.
It’s great to connect with people online, but meeting in person is the key.
As an example, I met Brad Williams at a WordCamp in the summer. Later in the year, I had a business idea that he (and Lisa and Brian) would be perfect partners for.
We are in business together now, and I’m confident that we wouldn’t be if I didn’t attend those WordCamps.
I’ve met countless other great people at these events, and the best part is that they are my friends now. I don’t go to WordCamps for business anymore, I go because they are fun and I like seeing my friends there.
The networking is really just a fun bonus.
6. Doing Something Different is Exciting and Terrifying
AppPresser has been exciting because we are doing something no one has done before. It’s also terrifying for the same reason.
Will this even work? Will Apple reject it? How do we get this feature to work?
There are no tutorials to follow, no stackexchange threads to reference. It’s fun when it works, but scary until it does.
My other business is something a lot of other people are doing, and I can tell you it’s a lot easier to get people’s attention when you do something unique.
Even if you are doing something other people are doing, differentiate yourself. Easier said than done, but so important.
7. Being an Entrepreneur Sucks Sometimes
There are a lot of stressors. Cash flow, partnerships, loneliness, emotional highs and lows, failing, feeling like a failure, jealousy of other’s successes, work-life balance, and on and on.
This year I’ve questioned whether I should just become an employee. The steady paycheck and lack of stress is very tempting.
Ultimately I think I’m addicted to being an entrepreneur, for better or worse.
If you are in an entrepreneurial low, hang in there. Don’t give up.
What did you learn this year?
I hope 2014 is a great year for you, cheers!