Evolution as an Entrepreneur

  • On an internship in college, I partnered with another student to develop a revolutionary new quality testing device for consumer products. Upon being told our company wished to patent the device, we came to the conclusion that we should try to gain ownership of the device, patent it ourselves, and start an engineering design company. We were not granted that permission, but we decided to proceed and purchased “the big blue book” to learn about starting a new business.
  • After returning to college, we lost a business plan competition to a group that wanted to take Dunkin Donuts franchises to China (no lie, we were shocked…is that even an idea for a business? I mean, DD kind of already exists). My partner graduated a year before me, took a “real” job in Boston, and I was on my own.
  • I came up with the idea for SportsLizard in February 2004. Having taken an Information Systems class the semester before, I decided to try to apply what I learned and was able to teach myself enough PHP/MySQL and learn enough about starting a business to launch in July of 2004. I had a semester left of college, and I figured that if I could grow the site fast enough that I could avoid getting a real job upon graduation.
  • SportsLizard had some decent success and made some money right away (in hindsight, I’m actually more impressed than I was at the time…when I was expecting hundreds of thousands of dollars right away and “just” hundreds of dollars didn’t impress me). I figured I was in good shape…until I got a call from a recruiter offering me a great job, a lot of $, a signing bonus, and paid relocation to New Haven, CT to work as an engineer.
  • I took the job and figured I could run the site on my “free” time at work. That didn’t work out so well. In November 2005 I started this blog. In January 2006 I quit my job on the heels of SportsLizard winning Honorable Mention in the Microsoft Start Something Amazing Awards. I figured it would be easy to ride that success to enough revenue to support me, and that I’d never, ever want to become more than a sole proprietorship.
  • Just before leaving my job and moving back to NY to live with family, I came up with the idea for iPrioritize – a manager was constantly calling everything a “priority” and I jokingly told one of his employees that he needs to create a list of priorities for his employees so they’re not scrambling around with their heads cut off every day. I planned to spend my “free” time working on it on the side while I developed SportsLizard.
  • I made a series of mistakes my first few months developing SportsLizard – I focused on everything but getting sales. I learned a valuable lesson in what’s important and what is not. Ironically, the one thing I quasi-obsessed over was search engine rankings and I was gaining quite a knowledge in the industry.
  • iPrioritize launched in mid-2006. SportsLizard was showing growth in traffic but not revenue, so I focused on getting premium accounts for iPrioritize. Again, in hindsight I’m more impressed than I was at the time, because I did a pretty damn good job of getting a decent amount of revenue with $0 for a marketing budget. Around this time I started getting contacted about SEO consulting jobs because of a few articles I had written, and SEO-Playbook was born.
  • For Q4 of 2006 I spend 75% of my time on SEO projects and the remainder on my sites. The balance of revenue was great, and for the first time I was making more than enough money to live off of. I figured I had found my perfect balance and I would be good for 2007.
  • Towards the end of 2006, George and Greg asked me to help them out with some SEO for DetailedImage. The site was in such bad shape that I couldn’t do much, but they ended up hiring me to work on a site called FindAutoInfo. I brought Mike in on the project because he used the Yahoo Maps API on ChineseFoodAmerica and FAI needed some map work.
  • FindAutoInfo bombed, but it brought the four of us closer. George, Mike, and I purchased the now-defunct PaidPosting.net and decided to incorporate as Pure Adapt about a year ago. We were to be a web development company focused on acquiring and creating a lot of low-maintenance revenue generating sites, and performing client services (mainly SEO). I figured we’d always be a 100% virtual company. We had one hell of a celebration on our one month anniversary.
  • In January 2007, George was wilting under the pressure of running Detailed Image and Pure Adapt, and proposed a merger. Against our initial opinions, George managed to convince us all that it was a good idea, and Greg was brought on as a fourth partner. The steady revenue stream from DI allowed us to pay salaries and provide benefits to all four owners.
  • By Spring of 2007 Mike and I had started on Hotteeez and SportsLizard’s redesign (and subsequently Price Guide) as the companies “new” sites. We hoped to essentially eliminate client work.
  • By Summer of 2007 we saw the need for a new Detailed Image shopping cart, and decided to build the perfect SEO friendly cart from scratch. Mike and I immediately threw all attention to DI, and – other than the occasional SEO project – all four of us were working on Detailed Image.
  • After the launch of the DI cart, Mike and I went back to work on our sites. Realizing that both Hotteeez and SportsLizard are solid revenue streams that don’t require much time, we decided to take another stab at client work. Mike had become a WordPress master working on a site for a non-profit client of ours, so we decided to launch Faceup-Sites.com around the premise that small businesses that need simple sites will get a higher quality site for less money in less time. Immediately we reaped the benefits of our network of local professionals, doing a site for our lawyer in Albany and our accounting firm (still under construction).
  • After a few months, Faceup-Sites was bringing in great revenue, but the customer service was taxing on me and was hurting our margins. We decided to become stricter in the clients we take on, and to raise our prices to accommodate customer service time. The target client is still the same – lawyer, restaurant owner, non profits, etc – but we’ll inevitably get less work by being more picky. Which frees up more time…
  • At the same time, the Detailed Image cart proved to be the best thing we ever did as a company (ironically, it’s also the only project all four of us worked on together). In addition to the back-end automation, search engine traffic has directly accounted for over $10,000 in additional revenue the past few months…and that’s only a few months in, without much link building or even ranking top 20 for our big terms. Imagine the potential 🙂
  • Last week, we found the perfect warehouse/office facility and are wrapping up the lease this week. Thank God that our previous deal fell through.
  • NOW: SportsLizard and Hotteeez bring in enough money to cover our warehouse rent. Client work through Faceup-Sites will continue to provide steady revenue. Per my “figuring out how to be great” post, the Detailed Image business model – the technology behind our cart, our customer service, our marketing strategy, and our operations skills – is our greatest competitive advantage, and with our new warehouse we’ll really be looking to develop the cart further in 2008. Warehouse space will also give us an advantage over most web entrepreneurs (we actually have the ability to carry inventory and don’t immediately turn our backs on a business opportunity that requires inventory). With that, we’ll probably take the same DI model and apply it to similar industries. When you do something as good and as profitable as DI, it’s stupid to focus on client work or web 2.0 services when you can take that model to the next level.
  • 2008: ???

What’s the point of this post?

  1. Don’t be too close minded because if you do you’ll likely miss some great opportunities – in life and in business.
  2. You can’t predict the future…so stop trying to come up with all the answers and do the best you can to have a great day today.

10 comments on Evolution as an Entrepreneur

  1. Nev says:

    Excellent post Adam!

  2. Adnan says:

    Wow what a post mate – great read! And well done on all ur successes so far.

  3. Adam says:

    Adam,

    Great post as always. I think I might do something like this in a future blog post. Great idea.

    Funny that you lost in a business plan competition to that idea. My sophomore year I had a NEW idea to take our existing meal cards and make them work off campus so students wouldn’t only be limited to on campus eating and it would also spur the growth of local businesses.

    I came in second place and lost to a cleaning service.

    Go figure.

    Keep it going bro!

    -Adam

  4. Adam McFarland says:

    Haha thanks Adam. Yea I pretty much think business plan competitions are total crap based upon my experiences. I’d rather spend a few hundred hours starting and growing a business rather than writing a plan that a group of biased board members are going to pick apart.

    In most cases you can self fund a business if you’re creative, but there are obviously some businesses where you need a lot of capital and you’re stuck spending years trying to win competitions and get grants and VC funding to get started. Not fun at all to me.

    Your idea is a perfect example. Oh well, guess you showed them 🙂 Wonder if that cleaning service is still around….

  5. Amazing! Keep up the awesomeness!

  6. Edward says:

    Wow you did so much in that short amount of time.

    I am also a student, and I also have started a small company with a partner. This post is very inspirational. Maybe someday I can be where you are haha.

    Thank you
    -Ed

  7. Adam McFarland says:

    Thanks Ed – that’s the thing: when I step back it looks like a lot, and if you told me a few years ago that I would have to accomplish all this I wouldn’t know where to start.

    If you work hard and take advantage of the opportunities you get I’m sure you’ll be successful with your biz.

    Contact me anytime if there’s ever anything I can do to help.

  8. Adam says:

    Haha. The business was never started. The kids took the $5000 in seed money and bought computers and never did anything.

    Ridiculous.

    -Adam

  9. Adam McFarland says:

    What a surprise.

  10. […] this isn’t one of those corny posts where I rattle off a list of accomplishments. Earlier in the year I read The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris and it instantly became my […]

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