Category Archives: Entrepreneurship Journal

Entrepreneurship Journal, 11/13/2017

In the last few months the following things have happened:

  1. I decided to put Angular on Rails on the back burner
  2. I started a new project called Landing Page Breakdowns
  3. I killed Landing Page Breakdowns and started a project called AWS for Rails Developers
  4. I killed AWS for Rails Developers and started trying to do Shopify consulting
  5. I decided not to try to do Shopify consulting anymore and decided to start a new website that teaches job search skills to developers

Here’s how the last thing happened. Some time after I decided to try to do some Shopify consulting, I realized how hard it was to get clients, or at least the right kind of clients. I also didn’t like the starting-over feeling of moving into Shopify consulting. It became apparently to me a little while after getting into the Shopify thing that it would take me quite a while to gain a level of genuine competence. To a certain extent I’m okay with a business idea that takes a long time to build but I’m not okay with an experiment that takes a long time to build.

Based on when I wrote the blog post about it, it looks like my decision to put Angular on Rails on the back burner came around July 2017. Then I spent July, August, September and October experimenting with various other business ideas, none of which ended up seeming very promising.

After all that time and effort and disappointment I asked myself, “Rather than trying to start a new thing from scratch, why don’t I just go back to the thing that was already working and make it work better?” Angular on Rails isn’t perfect but it does have revenue. And as of August through October 2017 it was even back to the $300-$400/mo it was doing around December 2016 to March 2017 (before it dipped sharply in June and July).

So I took a fresh look at Angular on Rails and even made a concrete list of things I might do to move the needle. One thing I wanted to think about was this: I have a $49 product and a $99 product. Is there anything I could create that would be worth, say, $499? Because it would sure be a lot easier to grow the business’s revenue that way than by just trying to increase volume.

In pondering this question I recalled that a good portion of the people who signed up for the Angular on Rails mailing list did so because they wanted to build side projects. I wondered if a large percentage of these side-project-builders were doing so because they wanted to try to get a better job. So I emailed my list of about 2,100 people and asked.

The response was somewhat overwhelming. Over 50 people responded, almost all of them with a yes. So I thought, it looks like there’s something here.

And then I thought: I could add a new product onto my Angular on Rails product ladder, or I could start a whole new product ladder. I decided that creating a whole new product ladder would make the most long-term sense. This decision was partially driven by the fact that a lot of the people who responded to my “Are you trying to get a new job?” email said that they were no longer interested in the Angular + Rails combo. There’s no reason why the skills of finding a new programming job have to be tied to any particular technology.

The name I came up with for my new endeavor is Six Figure Coding. IIRC I registered the domain on November 7th. By November 8th, I had set up a WordPress site (using WP Engine) and then I used Leadpages to connect my site with Drip, allowing people to subscribe to an email list. At midday on November 8th I emailed my Angular on Rails list and let them know that Six Figure Coding was open for business. I also tweeted about it and put a link on Facebook.

I would have been satisfied with 20 or so subscribers. I remember that I immediately got about 8 subscribers. Then later the number crept up to the mid-20s. Then the number passed 32, making it the second-biggest email list I’ve built after Angular on Rails. By the time I closed my computer for the day around 8pm, I had 67 subscribers. When I opened my computer the next day, I had 86 subscribers. By the end of that day, I had over 100 subscribers. Today I have 115. My expectations have been greatly exceeded.

At a high level, my plan is to come up with a product ladder with products at $0, $29-49, $99 and $299+. I plan to immediately sell access to a paid Slack org and see how that goes. I actually have that launch scheduled for Friday, November 17.

My plan for getting traffic early on mostly revolves around doing podcast interviews and guest posts.

I’ll of course continue to post updates here like always.

Entrepreneurship Journal, 10/16/2017

In the last few months the following things have happened:

  1. I decided to put Angular on Rails on the back burner
  2. I started a new project called Landing Page Breakdowns
  3. I killed Landing Page Breakdowns and started a project called AWS for Rails Developers
  4. I killed AWS for Rails Developers and started something else that doesn’t have a name yet

The reason I killed AWS for Rails Developers is because I realized that there are people who are just getting started with AWS + Rails who need help but don’t have much money, and there are established business who use AWS + Rails and have a lot of money and those two groups of people don’t really overlap. I’m capable of teaching myself how to help people get started with AWS + Rails but I’m not capable of teaching established businesses how to scale AWS + Rails. I believe that knowledge has to be gained experientially. I’m not really excited about the idea of doing something that requires super deep technical knowledge at this point, either.

The new idea I had was to build some sort of product for the Shopify ecosystem. I have no idea what this product might be.

My thought is that maybe I can do some consulting for Shopify store owners which would give me insight and visibility into the Shopify world. The consulting could potentially even be a good income source on its own. Maybe it could even be a replacement for my contract development income.

So far I’ve had calls with two Shopify store owners. Both expressed interest in working with me, at least on the free basis that I offered. Yesterday I had a call with a guy from Australia who I found on the Shopify forums. I plan to try to find more prospects that way.

I also have a friend joining me in the Shopify endeavor. We’re working on starting an email list for it too.

Entrepreneurship Journal, 9/20/2017

Product

Last time I wrote it was to say that I decided to back-burner Angular on Rails.

I had decided to move onto a new idea called Landing Page Breakdowns. The idea seemed good for a while but then I realized I didn’t know exactly who I was targeting with LPB or what exactly I was offering them. I found it really hard to even begin to gain traction for this reason.

Since then I’ve moved onto another idea that’s less of a radical departure from what I’ve tried before. I’m calling the new project AWS for Rails Developers. The idea is similar to the Angular + Rails idea except I’m of course applying it to AWS instead of Angular.

Here are some reasons why I think I can reasonably expect AWS + Rails to go better than Angular + Rails:

  • AWS changes at a slower rate than Angular, and the back-end world in general is less fickle than the front-end world
  • I personally enjoy AWS as a topic more than Angular
  • Unlike Angular, I don’t have a philosophical problem with AWS as a technology (although I might have some philosophical problems with Amazon as a company, but then again I definitely have some philosophical problems with Google as a company, the company behind Angular)
  • AWS costs money to use (sometimes a huge amount of money), so I think I can reasonably expect that the people I attract might be more closely tied to serious commercial activities than the people Angular + Rails attracted

All this is unproven and remains to be seen. I don’t even consider AWS for Rails Developers to be my official next business endeavor yet. I view what I’m doing as research. I’m asking the question, “Does anybody give a shit about this?” and trying to arrive at a reasonably confident answer as fast as possible.

So far I’ve put out one blog post which gave me a modestly good spike in traffic (~50 visits the first and second days of the post being live) and two email subscribers. I consider the email subscribers a stronger indicator of people caring about the topic than the traffic.

Right now I’m working on a second blog post that I think speaks more to the heart of the challenges encountered when working with AWS + Rails. My next goal is to get 10 email subscribers.

Service

I’ve decided to drastically simplify things on the service side. I’m not planning to take on any new training gigs anytime soon (unless on the off chance a wildly lucrative one falls into my lap). I started working with a new client full-time about 7 weeks ago. It’s a contract arrangement but for all intents and purposes it’s basically a full-time job. I’m okay with this. I’ve spent about 6 years experimenting with ways to get to a better place with freelancing and the only thing that has resulted from most of the things I’ve tried is disappointment, frustration and lost money. I’m glad I tried everything I’ve tried, though, because now I have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t. I’ve learned that freelance programming is basically a sham and it’s futile to try to have a good freelance programming career because “good freelance programming career” is basically a contradiction in terms. The vast majority of freelance programmers (like 99%+, I would guess) are just contractors, just a tiny notch away from full-time employment. I do believe it’s possible to create a lucrative and enjoyable service business for oneself, I just believe it has to involve selling a service other than coding. (The service itself can involve coding but the thing sold can’t be coding, the thing sold has to be a result that may or may not be achieved by coding.) So long story short, I plan to take a long hiatus from attempting to improve my freelancing business. I have a small amount of discretionary time/energy available to me outside of client work and family time and I plan to devote 100% of that discretionary time and energy to moving forward with product income. Oh, I also stepped down as organizer of Grand Rapids JavaScript Meetup and stopped attending all three of the mastermind groups I was part of. I’m really making it a point to concentrate my efforts and simplify my schedule.

Entrepreneurship Journal, 7/11/2017

Over time I’ve come to discover some weaknesses in Angular on Rails as a business. These weaknesses include:

  • Most of the people who subscribe to my email list seem to be interested in building side projects. They don’t come to my site because they’re part of a going concern that has suddenly developed an expensive problem. They’re interested in my site because they’re working on a side project which almost by definition doesn’t have any revenue associated with it. I’m selling to individuals paying with pocket money, not businesses paying with business money.
  • Angular moves and changes very quickly, meaning my content is constantly going out of date. I have to either live with the out-of-date content or go back and update it, which is very, very time-consuming.
  • The market size for “developers who use Angular + Rails” might not be great enough to support the size of business I want to build.
  • I actually believe that most web applications should not be single-page applications and that the single-page application craze is a force for ill in the web development world.
  • Unlike other people’s self-published books apparently did, mine never led to any real consulting gigs (I tried!), probably for the “side project reason” listed above.

So I’ve decided to move on and start a new business. Unlike when I killed and shuttered my previous business, Snip, I plan to leave Angular on Rails up for the time being. It doesn’t cost that much to run and it doesn’t require any meaningful level of customer support.

Ideally, my next business has the following characteristics:

  • My customers are spending company money to buy my products and services, not personal money
  • The domain of the business is something I personally can write about intelligently
  • The domain be written about in an evergreen way
  • It’s conducive to building an audience
  • It touches on an area where I already have some expertise

I have an idea which I believe checks most if not all of these boxes. I call it LandingPageBreakdowns.com. It’s somewhat inspired by UserOnboard. I first conceived of the idea a few weeks ago, although in a somewhat different form. Today I kind of finalized the idea, registered the domain name, and put up my first breakdown: I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

My thinking is this: over time I expect to build some traffic and get some email opt-ins. Once I have enough subscribers—1000 or so—I can think about putting together an info product, perhaps just an ebook aggregating my breakdowns and discussing what the good ones and bad ones have in common. Then, like Samuel from UserOnboard does, maybe I can offer training. I also plan to do interviews with some of the people behind the businesses whose landing pages I examine.

And maybe throughout the course of doing all this I’ll come up with a software product to build.

In any case, my first goal is to get my first subscriber by the end of the week and to get 25 subscribers by the end of August.

Entrepreneurship Journal, 6/25/2017

The work experiences I’ve had in the first six months of 2017 have been pretty different from anything I’ve experienced before this. I’ve learned some interesting things.

The main way the first half of 2017 has been different is that most of my income for this period has been from training as opposed to from coding. It seems that I generally enjoy training more than coding. To put it more precisely, I enjoy training more than I enjoy most of the real-world coding experiences I’ve had so far. Hacking away on leisure projects is more fun than either coding for money or doing training for money.

There are pros and cons to training as opposed to coding. One of the main pros of training is that it can be more lucrative. I know multiple people who have charged $10,000+ per week for training. It’s pretty hard to get that kind of compensation for coding. One of the main cons of training is it typically involves travel. Travel itself actually has pros and cons within it. The main con of travel is that it’s hard for my wife and two young kids for me to be away as much as I am.

I actually made a decision yesterday to be more judicious about what training gigs I take on. My strategy up to now was to take any training gig that came my way, no matter how low the pay was (to an extent), how inexperienced I might be with the subject matter (again, to an extent), or how ill-suited the timing was. From now on I only plan to take on training gigs that are some attractive combination of a) lucrative, b) prestigious, c) convenient and/or d) in alignment with my career direction (e.g. I wouldn’t want to try to teach a .NET class since I have no plans to do anything with .NET in the future).

Part of what made me decide to scale back on training is that I just finished teaching week 2 of a 5-week coding bootcamp I’m teaching in Detroit and my absence is really hard on my family. In addition to that, I’ve been volunteering at our local Eagles club and doing some coding work. This means that even though I’ve been coming back home on the weekends I’ve barely seen my family since the bootcamp started. I also decided today to step down from my position at the Eagles club.

I actually drove down to the Eagles club this morning and put in my resignation in person. Afterward I felt a great weight lifted off my shoulders as well as an instant flood of clarity. In addition to all the other crap I have going on, I’ve been talking with a major publisher of programming books about writing an Angular book. Before today I was imagining that I’d do my training/coding work, volunteer at the Eagles, write a published Angular book and continue to grow Angular on Rails. For some reason it wasn’t until after I resigned at the Eagles club that I realized how nuts that was. So now I think I’m probably going to tell the publisher nevermind. So rather than trying to do the Eagles thing, do a bunch of training, and write a published Angular book on top of coding and Angular on Rails, I’m going to say no to most training leads and focus on just coding (because I have to make money somehow) and Angular on Rails (because my #1 career goal is supposedly to create a successful product business). I feel good about this new focus.

Within Angular on Rails, what I’m working on right now is improving the design of the site. I’m working on both the aesthetic aspect of the design as well as the structure of the site. These things are perhaps not the highest priority growth-wise. The reason I’m making design the current top priority is psychological. Right now when I look at angularonrails.com I think, what a piece of shit. I’m not proud to show it to people. I can’t point to it and say, “Here’s a site I made that’s a good example of a well-optimized website.” So before I resume my previous top priority of building traffic for Angular on Rails, I first plan to make it look good, and also make it a little more navigable.

Entrepreneurship Journal, 5/18/2017

Product

I started doing Facebook ads. So far I’ve spent $52.29 for 21 subscribers for an average of $2.49 per subscriber. My average sale for April was $52.52, and about 8% of my subscribers buy something, so I believe that means a subscriber is worth $4.20 to me ($52.52 * 0.08). This means $2.49 per subscriber makes sense. For every 100 subscribers I buy ($249) I’ll make 8 sales, resulting in $420.16 ($52.52 * 8) of revenue and $171 of profit.

This is all assuming that subscribers who came to me via Facebook ads convert the same as subscribers who came to me in other ways. So far none of these 21 subscribers I’ve bought have bought anything from me.

Revenue for May hasn’t been very good so far. I’ve made just $257.25 in sales so far and it’s already the 18th. At this rate I’ll make less than $500 this month, which would be lame. That $257.25 even includes a sale when somebody accidentally bought the book twice, so it’s really more like $207. I’m reminded of this tweet:

We’ll see how things shake out.

Training

I’m in Detroit right now teaching a 5-day class. It’s going well. (By the way, Chris Cornell died here in Detroit last night. Crazy.) Next week I’m teaching a 3-day class in Amsterdam. Then I’m off for two weeks, then I’m teaching a five-week bootcamp in Detroit. Nothing planned after that yet.

I have some potential work in the pipeline. I taught a one-day class last week and the client was happy and wants to do more classes. This is through a training company so I don’t have much control over the sales process. All I can really do is make suggestions to the training company and then wait. I also have some other prospects but they’re much earlier-stage.

Development

I haven’t done any development work in a long time. The soonest I could possibly do any development work is after July 14th when my bootcamp ends. So I guess I will have gone four and a half months without having written any production code, which is totally crazy to me. I’ve been trying to line up some development work in what little extra time I’ve had but nothing has panned out yet. I don’t expect to have any more time between now and July 14th to find something. It actually seems more likely that I’ll line up some training work before any dev work. I kinda hope I find some dev work though because I have a somewhat long vacation planned for August and it would be nice to have some location-independent work to be able to do during the vacation.

Entrepreneurship Journal, 4/24/2017

I’m going to separate this Entrepreneurship Journal entry, and maybe every entry for a while, into three sections: Product, Training and Development.

Product

I recently came up with a four-step plan for Angular on Rails:

1. 3X opt-ins/mo
2. 2X average sale size
3. 2X traffic
4. 2X average sale size again

I realized later that my plan has a flaw. When I was talking about 3X’ing my opt-ins per month, did I mean 3X the opt-in rate or the absolute number of opt-ins? I think I meant the absolute number of opt-ins, which is problematic. The absolute number of opt-ins could be doubled by simply doubling traffic, which would make the goal of increasing opt-ins kind of irrelevant.

I don’t care that much anymore, anyway. Look what I recently did to my opt-ins:

drip opt ins

You can see that my opt-in rate had been kind of falling for a while and then in the last two weeks it shot back up. I think this is because I added an “ad” on each page for my Free Guide. If you click the ad, it takes you to the home page, where you can opt in.

free guide ad

I also did some certain things to try to 2X my average sale size. Previously, I had three product tiers: $39, $89 and “custom”. My average sale was something like $37. (A lot of my products are bought at a discount with a coupon code. That’s how the average can be less than the cheapest product.) The sales page really steered people toward the $39 product, too, because I felt like the $89 product was out of date and I didn’t really want people to buy it.

Then I refreshed my $89 product and changed the prices to $49, $99 and $250+. I also steered people toward the $99 product. Two times $37 is $74. My thinking is that if most people buy the $99 product, that can get me up to a $74 average.

So that leaves just two steps of my plan:
– 2X traffic
– 2X average sale size again

Doubling traffic is no big mystery. If I write more blog posts, I’ll get more traffic. 2X’ing the average sale size again will be a little trickier but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

But hang on. Something weird got thrown into the mix. My April started off really strong but then I went 10 days without getting a single sale. This made me step back and re-evaluate things. I figured something might be really wrong.

stripe april

Well, I checked some numbers and ran them past some people and it looks like my conversion rates are fine. Here’s what they are:

– Site-wide opt-in rate: 2.45%
– Opt-in rate from my home page: 24.07%
– Sales page to checkout: 6.45%
– Checkout to purchase: 45%
– Sales page to purchase: 2.9%

According to some people I trust, these numbers are fine. They say what I should focus on is traffic.

Now that I look at it, 10 days with no sales isn’t that crazy. In January 2017 I went 11 days with no sales. I had a 7-day stretch in February with no sales. In March I went SIXTEEN days with no sales. So yeah, I think I just need more traffic.

Training

I have two training engagements coming up soon: one week-long class from May 15 to May 19 and a 5-week bootcamp starting June 12. Preparing for those two classes will fill up the majority of my open time between now and June 12. So I’m not really trying to take on any new work between now and then.

I do need some work for after the bootcamp ends, though. Right now I have two concrete training leads in the pipeline.

Development

I haven’t written any production code for a client since the end of February. This is probably the longest I’ve gone without writing code for money since 2009 when I quit my job in Austin and moved back to Michigan. It’s great.

Having said that, I wouldn’t mind picking up another development gig as long as it were the right kind of project. It’s easier to find coding work than training work and at some point before long I’m going to need some money. I’m planning to reach out to people in my network over the next several weeks to see if I can rustle something up.

Entrepreneurship Journal, 4/10/2017

My venture into training work continues to be successful. I’ve completed two classes so far this year and I have three more coming up. I haven’t done any actual development since the end of February and I don’t plan to do any more anytime soon. My training schedule has me fully booked through mid-July. (The prep work is time-consuming.)

My hope/plan/expectation is that from here on out I never take another development gig out of necessity. I might take one because I want to, but my plan is to do enough sales in training and products that I never have to take a development gig just to pay the bills. And I especially don’t want to have to take a shitty development gig just to pay the bills. Luckily it’s been quite a while since I’ve had to do that.

Like I said, I have a fully-booked training schedule through mid-July. After that I’m planning to take a vacation with the family and then after that I don’t know what happens. What would be ideal is if I could get Angular on Rails to the point where it’s making $10K+ a month so I don’t have to worry about lining up any client work. This, of course, has been the whole objective of my now nine-year-long effort to build a successful product business. So far Angular on Rails has worked better than any of my previous tries.

I have some stuff to say about Angular on Rails but I’ll save it for the March 2017 Angular on Rails Income Report.

Entrepreneurship Journal, 12/18/2016

I’ve been taking care of a number of things lately that at one point would have been premature but are no longer premature.

When I first started selling my book I used Gumroad. Gumroad was a fine way to get started but it has a drawback in that it’s impossible (as far as I can tell) to measure conversion rates because the visitor is redirected off your site and onto gumroad.com after they click the purchase link. There’s also the drawback that you can’t control the layout of the Gumroad checkout or anything like that.

So, at the behest of my business coach, I’ve been working on moving from Gumroad to something more controllable. It’s been surprisingly hard.

First I switched to the “Gravity Forms + Stripe” WordPress plugin which seemed to work okay but I later discovered it doesn’t seem to support coupon codes. That’s a deal-breaker for me as my business depends heavily on the use of discounts.

One of the other solutions I tried was WooCommerce, which looked like the de-facto standard for WP e-commerce. I found WooCommerce to be pretty bad. The main problem I had was that after I created my product and indicated that it was a digital product as opposed to something that gets shipped, I went through the checkout process and discovered that all the address fields were still present.

I spent what felt like a very long time trying to get past my WooCommerce frustrations which were compounded by the fact that everything to do with WordPress development is so dumb. In WP, apparently every entity is shoehorned into a “post” type, and so when you edit anything, you get the same fields you get for a post for the most part, which in most cases only makes a very small amount of sense. I could rant about WP forever so I think I’ll just cut myself off right here.

Anyway, the WP e-commerce solution I ended up being pretty happy with is Easy Digital Downloads. Since I use Stripe, I had to pay for an $89 EDD Stripe plugin, but that will probably end up being cheaper than it would have been to use PayPal and pay their fees.

I also re-themed AngularOnRails.com. I finally found a WP theme I don’t passionately hate and I think I paid $69 for it.

Next steps include adding some certain addition opt-in offers to the site with the idea being to increase my rate of acquiring new subscribers.

I meet with my business coach again in a few days. I’ll be looking forward to hearing what he thinks I should do next.

Entrepreneurship Journal, 10/27/2016

It’s been about a month since I last wrote.

Two days ago I did a big launch. I came out with a new video product on AngularOnRails.com.

It’s always been my intention to create a product ladder for Angular on Rails. Here’s what the product ladder looks like now:

  • Free guide (to getting started with Angular + Rails)
  • Book ($39)
  • Video courses ($199)

The idea is that some visitors will download the free guide, some people who download the free guide will buy the book, and some people who buy the book will also buy the videos.

I launched the video courses on Tuesday at a special price of $99, and for people who have already bought the book, $60. Total revenue since Tuesday for the videos has been $576.

Here’s my month-by-month revenue so far:

August 2016: $868

September 2016: $1053 (18% growth over August)

October 2016 so far: $1364 (30% growth over September)

Total all-time sales is $3285.

I like to contrast these numbers with the fact that Snip never made more than $450/mo. Angular on Rails’ first month of making money was better than Snip’s best month ever!

My goal for November is $2000, which would be about 50% growth over October (or at least 50% growth over what October has earned so far, although I hope and expect I’m not done making sales for October.)

If I grow by 20% a month, I’ll be at $5,000/mo by June 2017 and $10,000/mo by September 2017.

If I grow by 30% a month, I’ll be at $5,000/mo by March 2017 and $10,000/mo by June 2017.

So I think it’s reasonable to shoot for being done with client work (or at least done needing client work) and living 100% off of product income sometime in 2017.