In 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 correlated, and because I’m evaluating more than just the company. It’s easy to get caught up in always trying to do whatever it takes to make more money, but I want to make sure that I’m not doing that at the expense of things that are more important to me. Finding time for my friends and family, making sure I get to the gym, making sure I get enough sleep, making sure I have some time to relax each day, finding time to get involved in some new things. Those things matter to me as much or more than my company.
Yet those things are easily lost when all you can think about is next months sales or that new feature. After a not so good January, I really needed to trim my life back a bit and focus on getting our new e-commerce platform done. I did, we got it up on 5/1, and it’s since paid off more than we imagined it would. We’ve had a few huge months where we’re hitting revenue and profitability numbers that I could only dream of in January. Remember that huge Black Friday we had? That’s now a normal weekend. It’s nuts. We’ve turned a corner in the sense that we’ve become very self-sustainable. If things keep up like this we shouldn’t have any troubles meeting our financial goals for the rest of the year: have a profitable year, pay ourselves a bit more, expand to a few new product lines, and hire a few part-time warehouse workers (we have our first starting on Monday).
For the Biz
So what’s next? For every person and every company, the answer would be different. For us it starts with our personal goals, which pretty much all align, and then trickles down to the business. We don’t want to have 100 employees. We don’t want outside investors. We don’t want a 500,000 sq-ft warehouse, nor do we want to run fifty e-commerce sites. Other people would probably take our company in that direction. I think it could be done. But it isn’t the type of company we want.
We like not having set hours. We like emphasizing productivity over hours put in. We like going to the warehouse 2-3 days/week from 9 -3. We like working from home on the other days. We like having the flexibility to work more or less if we want to or need to. We like being able to do whatever we think is “right” for our customers. We like not having to deal with the HR issues that inevitably come along with having a lot of employees. Basically, we like owning all of our company so that we can make all of the decisions. To me, that’s what makes running a business fun. We can do whatever WE want. If we had a bunch of investors to answer to, it would be like a job to me.
We’ve decided that for the time being our main focus needs to stay with Detailed Image…probably through 2010. We went through our list of planned projects the other day. There is easily 1 year+ worth of work there, but each task is easily identifiable as something that will make us more money, save us more time, or eliminate common problems/mistakes. In addition, with a few part time employees, we should be able to knock each of us down to 2 warehouse days/week and get rid of most of the grunt work that is tiring and eats up time. We’re able to make those improvement claims with relative certainty because we’ve been in business for a few years now. We have data, we know our customers, and we (think) we know the direction that the web is going. DI is becoming a much more mature business. I’d imagine that by the end of 2011 we’ll be close to being the largest US based site in our niche, which in and of itself is a nice business, but not something that we’ll be satisfied with.
The other limiting factors are cash flow and warehouse space – we can’t just grow in e-commerce with reckless abandon because we don’t have the credit available or space available to risk stocking $30k worth or products that don’t move. Not to mention the other time and work involved in another e-commerce venture. At this point, I’d imagine that non-DI e-commerce expansion isn’t going to happen anytime soon (unless it’s done with a dropshipping model, which we *may* do on Tastefully Driven because of how much organic search traffic it pulls in).
Then the next logical question is: is Pure Adapt just Detailed Image? And if so, what happens when you do hit that wall in 2010 or 2011 or 2012? On the e-commerce side, we’ll have to start up again on the fitness and poker sites that we had planned, both of which have had success on TD and Amazon for us. But as I mentioned above, e-commerce expansion is tough and it might still be in a year or two.
To me, the key is SportsLizard. Not SportsLizard per se, but the SportsLizard model. I spend about 1 hour per month answering emails and maintaining the site. We spend $0 marketing it. We make money from eBay ads and Price Guide subscriptions (a web app I developed). It’s not enough to live off of, but it would be if you had a few SportsLizard’s. That’s exactly what I want to do – between Mike and I, develop a few more SportsLizard’s in the next year. Z.ips.ME doesn’t really count, but it might surprise me and make us a few dollars here and there. First things first, we want to expand Hotteeez, which despite not being updated in a year makes us pretty decent money. With a few new well-planned shirts each month, it could easily become a SportsLizard by the end of the year. Beyond that, we have two other planned projects that I think could do the same. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but over time some of them will hit. And hopefully one or two is even bigger than SL. If not, there’s really no loss for us and we can just try some more until something works. How fun is that?
On a more personal level, I couldn’t be happier with the first half of ’09. However, since I spent every waking hour through May working on getting the site up, I lost a little of the work/life “balance” that I had achieved prior. I followed the site up by moving, so I’m only just now getting the opportunity to get back to a spot like I outlined in my productive output post. I’m only checking email twice per day on weekdays, at 7 AM and 5 PM, and then once per day on the weekends. Since I’ve got everything filtered pretty well, my inbox is usually near empty when I open it.
I’m not really setting a time constraint on my working “hours”, but I just want to make sure that I spend a little more time with my friends, family, and girlfriend. In particular, there are a handful of people that I just haven’t had time for the past six months that I want to make sure I get back in touch with. An hour phone call or a night of drinks needs to be OK now, whereas in March it wasn’t unfortunately. It sucks, but there’s always a trade off. If you want to go balls out on a project something is going to suffer.
I LOVE the fact that with a few part-time workers I can get my warehouse days down to 2/week and eliminate things like stocking shelves and breaking down boxes. At this point, all of our time is much more valuable than that. The more freedom I have, the more driven I am, the more productive I am, and the happier I am. I feel like we’re really really close to hitting that point where my job is almost “perfect”, which is exciting. Instead of focusing on getting to that point, I can focus on achieving some higher level business and personal goals.
Hobbies are a different story. I realized something these past few months – my favorite hobbies are running my blog (and all of the emails and meetups that result from it) and working on web-apps. Which is great, because both are beneficial to our business. I just don’t really have the desire right now to watch movies or play video games or read fiction books or make a custom. I see so much opportunity out there and I want to “throw some shit against the wall and see what sticks”. Having the steadiness of DI allows me to just do whatever I want when it comes to the side projects without much financial risk. The only real non work related hobby (if you call it that) I still have is working out. I still am on my regular gym schedule and I enjoy going for regular hikes with my girlfriend. That won’t change. I’m constantly challenging myself to be in better shape and to eat better. But the other stuff really does nothing for me anymore.
I realize that for a lot of people the lifestyle that I’m creating for myself and that we’re creating for our business would not be desired. Or maybe more appropriately, not ideal. That’s OK, as long as you recognize what is important to you. I value time and freedom over money. I didn’t leave my job to make more money. I was making more than enough at age 23. I could have made that salary with a 3% bonus each year and been monetarily satisfied. It was everything else that I wasn’t happy with – the purpose behind the work I was doing, the lack of freedom at a traditional 9 -5, and the bureaucracy of a system that prevented people from doing their best. For you, the goals might be different. If you want to solve the energy crisis or buy the New York Yankees, you probably won’t be satisfied with a business as small as ours.