If you are reading this, odds are you are either running your own business or have interest in starting up for yourself.
You might be overwhelmed with all of the things you ‘should’ be focusing on. Conversions, validation, split testing, scale, design, pricing… the list goes on and on.
We’ve found a lot of the advice that we read online is only suitable for established companies. SaaS startups are different. Service startups are different. And self funded service startups, well.. they’re a whole new ballgame. There are only a few things that really matter and a lot that don’t matter too much… well, at least not yet.
Here are 10 things we are ignoring in our bootstrapped startup WP Curve.
It’s truly astonishing how many people tell us we should automate this and automate that. Bullshit. Automate things when they become a problem. And remember… don’t solve problems you don’t have.
We’re keeping it old school with our systems and processes. We’ve found our customers really enjoy receiving a personalized email when we solve their WordPress problem.
This goes against the grain of what a lot of automation gurus will tell you, but hey – we actually enjoy talking to our customers. Other examples of tasks that we could probably automate but haven’t yet are: creating valuable content, writing personalised welcome emails and customer service.
Even some of our WordPress development tasks could be automated, but those tasks become problems when we have thousands of customers. As Bane says… “that comes later”.
Because a customer service business is reliant on humans, we feel to build a sustainable company; we should provide excellent customer experience first.
Sure… it takes a lot of effort, but when you really think about it, who you would recommend to your friends? The telephone company that leaves you on hold for 30 minutes or Zappos, the customer service team who went down in service folklore by ordering their customer a pizza, just because they asked?
Don’t automate what you’re good at. Get better at it!
2. Passive income
Hey – we love the idea of a passive income stream. 4 hour work week? Oh yeah! As it turns out, a lot of folks get a bit confused between a recurring revenue stream and a passive income stream. A passive income stream will typically make you think of this:
What’s the difference? A recurring revenue stream requires effort. Passive means no action for monetary reward. Sounds too good to be true.
Passive income businesses are few and far between. Even passive income gurus run businesses that are heavily reliant on their input. There’s nothing passive about a business that dies when the founder gets hit by a bus.
So we’ve ignored passive income and are completely obsessed with recurring income.
A recurring monthly income stream is more stable and less stressful than relying on a project to project business, plus it makes calculating your customer’s lifetime value easy.
If you’re interested in building your own business, think about how you can deliver a product or service that helps you get paid every month.
3. Split testing
When you start having arguments over how a sentence is written, you need to take a step back and think about what you’re trying to achieve.
Dan and I both have strong opinions on what should and shouldn’t be on our site, but here’s the funny thing. While debating minutiae might seem productive and valuable in the moment, it’s a massive distraction and you probably don’t need it just yet. Go and get some customers!
We’re absolutely, positively going to optimize our site and test the bollocks out of our copy, but right now the priority is getting people interested in who we are, what we do and how we can help their business.
During the start up phase of your business, the colour of a button is not going to be materially impact your sign ups.
As much as this one hurts Dan (he’s a design tragic), we haven’t spent money on a red-hot designer. So we are making do with Dan’s Fireworks mockups, off the shelf themes, a few cheap PSD libraries and some stock images.
We would love an award winning design.
We were actually kind of jealous of WP Engine’s recent redesign, but we’d run for the hills when the bill arrives. The truth is – our customers care more about whether we can solve their problems. So we focus on the social proof, testimonials and spreading the word. Design takes a back seat.
Obviously, you don’t want a horrible design but we believe there is a minimum quality level you can reach without spending big on a pro design. Dan discusses this approach in his post How I hack excellence with 1 simple trick.
5. ’Pro’ copywriting
Dan’s been creating guides, producing podcasts and crafting blog posts that are extremely valuable for the last six years.
Meanwhile, I’ve been slaving away at uni and corporate jobs, compiling essays, documents and reports that would put you to sleep. But here’s the funny thing… we both love writing content!
There’s nothing quite like putting yourself out there, trying to help people out and getting feedback on what worked and didn’t. One of the best ways to generate traffic to your business website is to create valuable assets and give them away.
Do it yourself and your writing will improve. Rapidly.
Do the best you can with what you have.
6. Complicated analytics
Analytics and tracking tools like Kiss Metrics and Crazy Egg are great and can have a big impact on your business. But for an overworked co-founder, it can become way too easy to get bogged down in the numbers.
We see value in analytics, but at the same time things get messy when you get carried away. For an early stage startup, there is rarely enough data to draw conclusive outcomes or real statistical significance.
There are only a few metrics we worry about. These are very easy to track and we track them in a Google spreadsheet (remember what we said about automation?)
- $ revenue and profit
- Monthly growth in signups
- Customer satisfaction – NPS means nothing, we talk to our customers and take action on what they say
While there is a need and value in using analytics tools, when you focus on your growth and keeping customers happy, you can look at the details later.
Keep it simple, start-up founder!
7. Accepted expenses
Events, meet ups and conferences are a mixed bag.
Sometimes, you’ll feel like no-one there even has a business. Other times, like at last week’s Ontrapalooza, you’ll have a blast and cover the cost of your travel, accommodation and expenses through business generated directly from new clients you meet at the conference.
So how do you attend a conference at a fancy hotel for three days and nights and keep your expenses under $1,000? Here are a few tips.
- Use Craigslist rideshare to travel from San Francisco to Santa Barbara. $200 saving!
- Share a room with someone – thanks Jake Hower. $535 saving!
- Order the biggest pizza you can get your hands on and eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner… mmm. $40 saving!
- Take full advantage of open bar events and stock up just before the bar closes. Two Long Island Iced Teas, to go, please. $1,000 saving!
- Force yourself to find a cheap way to get home. Thanks for the lift, Caleb Hodges. $200 saving!
Just because everyone else is paying top dollar, doesn’t mean you have to.
Have some fun and see if you can hustle a ride, a cheaper conference ticket or even a free overnight stay.
8. Office space
Another thing you don’t need is a fancy office, which is an enormous overhead. Especially when you live on the Gold Coast or in San Francisco, like we do.
Maybe, just maybe you could use a co-working space. But if you need to take client calls and work silly hours, a home office is going to do the trick. Dan works from his garage (Jeff Bezos style) and I work from my home office / bedroom.
As an added bonus you’ll save money on food by being close to the fridge and if you’re a big procrastinator, you’ll find that your house is spic and span while your startup flails in the background.
We are looking forward to having an office or joining co-working spaces, but for now it’s garages and bedrooms.
Don’t use excuses like ‘I need an office to be legit’. You can do it from home.
9. Fancy computers
When I relocated from Sydney to LA, I found my wife’s old computer under the lounge, gathering dust.
It was abandoned for a shiny new 2012 MacBook Pro. Instead of returning the favour and buying me a new machine, my wife bought me a $3 Despicable Me decal to make it run quicker.
The decal works. It’s like a racing stripe!
Plus I downloaded every single Mac cleanup app on the market and ran them twice each. Now it purrs like a kitten.
Dan runs a 2 year old, 13″ MacBook air and has had the keyboard replaced twice as a result of his furious typing. Both times, Apple have replaced the top half of the laptop no questions asked.
A 2008 MacBook will do the job for you. It does for me!
There’s something about unkempt facial hair that screams scrappy startup founder.
It’s part of your identity, like a hipster with a funky hat or a basketball fan who wears their team’s jersey so much, they had to buy two.
Save a few pennies on razors and get your beard on. Here’s a few variations to get you started…
This is Dan’s ‘Abe Lincoln’.
This is Claff’s ‘Magnum PI’.
* For female founders, if dodging razors doesn’t appeal to you, you can try wearing the same clothes for a few days, skipping a few showers or being a bit of a slob around the house. You’ll get that gritty startup founder feel in no time.
OK. What do YOU think? Are there areas of your business that you’ve wasted way too much time on? Are there important points we’ve missed?
Please tell us in the comments!