A year ago I killed over half of our business that had taken 10 years to build. It was probably the best thing I’ve ever done.
Here’s what happened since:
For a decade Silktide were a successful web design company – 15 staff, hundreds of high profile customers, and profitable to boot.
But I wasn’t happy, and believed we could be more. A year ago we gave half our business up to follow a dream of making our own products.
Within a year we’ve trebled our customers and income; we’re happier, independent and in the healthiest financial state we’ve known in 10 years. Here’s what happened.
What the hell I was thinking
Web design was an industry we’d had a lot of success with, but it wasn’t one I felt passionate about anymore. The market is seriously crowded: when we started there were 4 web design companies in our city – now there are over 50. It’s also largely limited to small players targeting their local niches, and we’d already become the largest in ours.
But ultimately, I wanted us to amount to more. If you were a musician – would you want to write jingles all your life, or record your own album?
How we did it
“I have come up with a plan so cunning you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel.” – Blackadder
I’m not quite as reckless as you might think.
Before we quit we had a software product that was doing fairly well – but not spectacularly so. It accounted for about 40% of our income, but about 5% of our time.
Most of our web design clients paid us for hosting and licensing our CMS, and I believed that most would continue to do so even after we gave up building new sites. That gave us a medium term financial cushion.
We also didn’t announce we were stopping overnight. We stopped selling new websites, which reduced our costs and still left 6 months of projects for us to chew over.
All this meant our income would go down gradually, instead of evaporating overnight. That bought us time to rebuild.
The initial results weren’t encouraging: our new business actually shrank.
One of the first things we did was build a free demo of our product. We’d got this far without one, and now we had more time we knew we needed something to drastically grow. Unfortunately, the initial side effect was some of our paying customers used that instead.
We started updating our product every month, sometimes every week. Things would break, but we improved rapidly.
Persistence won over. Here are our demo signups since we started last year:
Sitebeam demo signups since launch
What I learned
- Following your own passion is unmatchable.
My old job looked pretty awesome before now – but people mistake success for happiness. Doing what you love, with no compromises, is unmatched. And it gives you more energy than you can imagine.
- You must do this alone.
Making a big change like this scares or pisses off a lot of people. Two of my financial advisors told me I was stupid (they’ve since changed their minds). Follow your own heart, and don’t expect anyone to support you until you’re proven right.
- Choose rapid small refinements over big new features.
I made the mistake of going early for ‘big win’ changes – adding features which could double or treble our income if they worked out. The biggest improvements came from gradually and rapidly refining what we had.
- Your best marketing is giving stuff away
We’ve tried exhibitions, ads, public speaking, PPC and more. By far the biggest successes we had were from Nibbler (a free tool based on our product), Cookie Consent (a free solution we made to the cookie law), our blog and free videos, e-books and articles we’ve given away. They’re cheaper too.
- Cover your ass.
I made damn sure we’d paid off all our debts and had some cash before we did this. Spreadsheets had been pored over; scenarios considered, midnight oil burned. When it happens it may look reckless, but you’re a fool to put your faith in a miracle.
We often hear that winners never quit, but really that’s oversimplification. Winners never quit the right things. Knowing when to quit the wrong things is indispensable.
If you want the power to follow your dreams, you have to say no to all the alternatives.