’08 Grade, ’09 Goal

While I was working on the time line the other night I began to notice that I wasn’t all that happy with what I accomplished for the business in ’08.  Don’t get me wrong – we had a great year and I was super excited to see the growth laid out in numbers during our ’08 company review this afternoon.  I’m very very happy, content, and proud at what we achieved as a business.  Our goal was to double in revenue from ’07.  Instead, we doubled plus an extra $50k.  In a down economy, I’m not so naive that I don’t recognize that ’08 was special for us.

But on a personal level, when I compare strictly my business output vs 2007, 2008 doesn’t look all that great.  Part of that is because moving to the warehouse and launching Tastefully Driven were very arduous tasks that took much more time and effort than anticipated.  Part of it is because of our increased volume and the increase in customer service and overall BS work that comes with that.   We also had a string early in the year where one catastrophe followed the next (heating system failing at the warehouse, firing our accountant during tax season, server crashing for a week, etc).

Mostly though, it was the more balanced approach I took towards life.  I spent a lot of time intentionally downshifting and getting involved in the fun things I’d shut out for the prior two years.  In terms of my “quality of life improvement” I give myself an A+ for 2008 whereas ’06 and ’07 were probably C+ at best.  So all in all, I’m very happy with how things have turned out.  They could be much, much worse.

All of that said, I want to return to that mentality I had in 2007 where I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder.  I did A+ work that year.  I’d wake up every day with an extremely narrow focus:  complete the days tasks to make us a better business.  Back then it was stressful because we weren’t sure if we’d be able to make payroll from one week to the next.  Thankfully, that stress is gone.  What I enjoyed most though was the feeling of comfort that came with blocking out a lot of the other insignificant BS that goes on around me and focus on something I passionately wanted.

Whereas goals for last year involved more life-balance type of things, this year I only want to maintain what I’ve started when it comes to that stuff.  In my efforts to do more socially, I think I over did it a bit and let a little too much of the useless drama back in.

There is only one goal this year:  complete our overhauled e-commerce platform.  To a large extent, ’09 is a step back to re-invest in R&D.  We’ve proven our business model.  It works.  We’re growing fast and we all are making decent salaries.  The next step is to take all of what we’ve learned, everything that works and doesn’t work, and combine it with best design, UI, and programming practices to build the foundation for our company future.  For the most part, the rest of the business will be status quo for the year.

We’re not just talking a better design for DI (which is sorely needed) or some new features, but a completely scalable solution that is as good as or better than the absolute best e-commerce platforms on the web.  Mike and I have studied what we consider to be the best-in-class – Newegg, Overstock, Amazon, Buy.com, Best Buy, Circuit City, the unique Old Navy/Gap/Bananna Republic site, and hundreds more – and plan on taking the best features from each to give us a platform that we can grow with.  Both the user experience and our back-end experience need to be improved ten-fold, and I’m not exaggerating.  The platform needs to be scalable so that we can add a new e-commerce site in a matter of days using the existing code base that all of the sites share (a technique introduced to me by Anthony from Xonatek).

Sure, I want to do more cool little web apps like Music Alerts.  They’re so much fun.  I have a list of about 50 of them, some of which could potentially make us some decent money, but those will have to wait.  This year is about one goal and one goal only.  It’s an extremely challenging goal, and a very ambitious goal considering the infinitely superior resources of the companies we’re trying to best.  It’s almost impossible.  That’s how I work best.

12 comments on ’08 Grade, ’09 Goal

  1. Sameer says:

    Hi Adam,

    I discovered you blog six months ago by accident and have been following it ever since. Congrats on all your success, and keep on blogging honestly as you have done in the past. This post caught my eye, because I have reached a point in my career & life that I need to refocus and be very goal oriented every day. I will surely find motivation in your blog this year.

    Cheers!

  2. George says:

    Adam,

    Great post, I feel compelled to comment on this one (I’m going to make a much better effort in chiming in on your blog on a regular basis since I love reading every post).

    Today’s meeting and our chat at the apt really helped motivate me to do exactly what you posted about, get the day-to-day stuff done and over with, then focus on stuff that betters the business. As you said, with the increased revenue and growth we experienced in ’08, it’s easy to lose focus on projects and things to better the company since customer service inquiries or sale opportunities appear regularly throughout the day. As long as you clear that e-mail inbox, PM box, scan new posts on forums at least once a day, then there is no reason to go back for more. The new stuff will still be there when you check the next day and nothing gets overlooked.

    I’m so confident about our game plan moving forward in ’09, it is scary. Looking forward to reading about your 2009 grade and 2010 goals! Let ’09 begin!

    George

  3. Leigh says:

    Adam:

    Thanks for posting about your goals here. I can honestly say I have been more focused and productive since I started reading your blog and learned more about productivity, the benefits of napping, and work/life balance. I was able to sit down at the end of December and develop an entire plan for 2009 – every single project I want to work on, milestones for each project, and final project goals. In the first few days of 2009, I’m on schedule and on target with what I’m working on, and it feels great.

    I look forward to reading more from you in ’09.

  4. Adam McFarland says:

    For everyone who doesn’t know, George is one of my partners (and my roommate). One of my objectives for this blog is to have my partners do a few more things this year (i.e. guest posts, collaborative posts) so that you guys get to see their perspective on the same things I’m writing about.

    @ Sameer – glad to have you as a reader and I’m happy you chimed in. Good luck in ’09!

    @Leigh – thanks for the kind words. Glad to hear you’re off to a good start so far. Good luck!

  5. Tim says:

    Adam,

    Great post, business is often a funny thing and is sometimes doesn’t make a lot of sense. Logic would say a feeling of unfocused work productivity would yield lower results, that’s not always how the cookie crumbles, as you’ve found out! I’ve experienced some anomalies over the years, huge marketing plans that fail miserably, but a cheap ad in a local church produced almost unbelievable results, consistently. In short even the most well laid plans can fail, or disappoint, and little things sometimes yield enormous results. The joy of the growth you guys are experiencing is you can try a number of things and really maximize your efficiency as you see how the dust settles.

    Managing the balance between life and business is one of my greatest weaknesses. I simply can not multitask, I excel at life personally or business, I cannot make both happen. For me it’s a vicious dichotomy and both my personal life and businesses have suffered because it. Fortunately, for my businesses at least, I’ve spent most of my time on work, the flip side of this coin is my personal life has often been the price.

    Keep doing what you guys are doing and you’ll continue to see similar growth and development, organic growth from a bootstrapped company typically yields lasting results and strong values.

  6. nethy says:

    “It’s an extremely challenging goal, and a very ambitious goal considering the infinitely superior resources of the companies we’re trying to best.”

    Hey Adam,

    Great post. I’d like to say that I wouldn’t be so sure about what you say above. You were in the consulting game before weren’t you/ I suppose you know what the bottlenecks are for companies 1 or 3 steps up in size from you. They can’t clearly define what they actually need, they are held back by needing to simplify processes (can’t get away with CP database access), etc. etc. What would it cost them if they came to you (as a consultant) with the feature list you put together? How much would it cost? How good would the result be? And we know that they will have put together the wrong feature list. It is pretty unlikely that they wouldn’t be better off with a site built on an existing platform.

    The companies that have resources to dedicate to a platform (consultants, programmers, designers) are probably big enough to have other problems. The team designing the system doesn’t actually have a feel for the marketing side & misses on a bunch of easy wins. They have a vision of how x y & z will speed up the warehouse, they code it in but never get backed in the warehouse. They have scale issues to worry about. Basically, most big companies are too big for 1 person to actually understand all of the business & see how stuff comes together. Small businesses can be understood in principle by every person working there.

    You wrote previously that knowing how to program is powerful for a business owner. Maybe that is part of a bigger principle. It’s known that understanding finance & accounting is powerful. I’d say understanding the shipping process is too as is understanding your advertising channels. Probably can’t market via forums if you don’t actually read them. Knowing how to work your own pc is powerful. As is understanding other parts of a business that often get kept seperate.

    You have all sorts of case studies in business textbooks about auto companies choosing between engineers or salespeople to run things. They are choosing between evils. You don’t have to.

    Happy new year.

  7. Adam McFarland says:

    Tim/Nethy – thanks for the awesome comments guys.

    Tim – I’ve always looked up to you and how you were able to grow and sell your business. I’ve learned as much from you as from anyone else, especially in trying to figure out the elusive “work/life” balance.

    Nethy – very very good point as usual. I always look at us from an “underdog” mentality, but you’re probably right. I/we are in the unique position of understanding our entire business and being able to communicate it to each other. Believe me, it took us a long time to get to the pt where we can communicate and understand. Other businesses probably never get there, whether it’s due to the wrong ppl being in place or the egos of team members, or just too many layers of management.

  8. […] about work as much as possible.  Hopefully I’ll come back refreshed and ready to attack my ‘09 goal.  The holiday season wore us all out so it’s nice that we’ll all be able take a little […]

  9. […] I wrote the post outlining this goal a few weeks back, we hadn’t yet started on developing the project.  We’d meticulously […]

  10. […] to have a work-life balance. 4. Gives thanks to people that he admires and learns from. 5. Through the art of routine find a better way to do task or implement solutions to existing problems …. 6. Does not apologize for his decision to start his own […]

  11. […] I remember back in January when we made it our goal to rebuild our e-commerce platform. At that time we had nothing but a set of ideas, a bunch of data […]

  12. […] January I was a little hard on myself when evaluating my ‘08 progress and my ‘09 goals. I try to somewhat separate myself from the business because they’re not necessarily […]

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