Building out my little empire
Thoughts on being a builder
It’s been over a year since I left the comfort and security of a VC-backed paycheck. I haven’t missed it.
It’s been a year of growth and development. I’ve struggled, I’ve succeeded, and in some aspects I’ve failed. But the ball has continued to move forward. For most of the past 18 months I haven’t known exactly where “forward” was headed. It’s much clearer to me now and I want to share it.
I am a builder
The prologue of my next book, Build Run Sell, will be titled, “I am a builder.” I know this about myself now. I get a professional sugar high not from running and growing companies or making sales. I am happiest when I am building. It’s in taking a nugget of an idea from conception through to launch and early adopter that gets me going. It’s the part that I like the most. The rest, the running and selling, is a necessary epilogue because hey, living ain’t cheap, especially around here (which is the Bay Area, for those not following me that closely).
If I could do one thing all day and every day, it would be building new projects. I have at least three more good ideas on the backburner right now. Ideas that I would drop everything and build right now if I wasn’t actively trying to acquire a growth discipline. In fact, that’s why I’m sitting here writing this. I believe that this post will help me grow my businesses. I’m writing words instead of code because I want to get better at growth.
The growth discipline I’m developing now doesn’t change my DNA though. I don’t enjoy growth. It feels like work because right now I’m a student of growth. I’m searching for the intersection between building and growth, finding ways to get excited about funnel tracking, the loads of data I can mine through, and in essence building efficient funnels that fuel growth so I can make more money. I know that if I can learn growth the way I’ve learned building I’ll be much, much more successful entrepreneur.
FindEmails (formerly known as Toofr — I’ll get to this change in a bit) makes sales. My biggest customer covers my mortgage and then some. It’s exciting and I love getting new customers, but not in the same way that I love building. I’ve realized in the past 18 months that I’m not doing this to get rich. Like anyone else, I want stability. I want to go out to restaurants and not think about prices. I want to have the option to buy my kids whatever they want (but also the discipline not to). These are the comforts I want my professional activities to give me and since I’m there, for the most part, I’ve been surprised how quickly my marginal returns to income has decreased.
It looks something like this:
In other words, selling alone is not a great motivator for me. Someone else may find additional reward in using money as a barometer for success, or maybe it’s an additional desire for status, materialism, or even philanthropy (hey, I’d like to put my name on a building at UC Berkeley someday too). If that happens for me, great, I’ll take it, but it’s not what’s driving me to earn. I’d love to pay off my mortgage with a single check. That’s certainly a factor in my growth discipline right now but I’ve been surprised at how that factor has become secondary to the intellectual curiosity I have around growing (or running, in my book parlance) and selling. That asymptote explains why.
There’s no shame in exiting
I caught a Twitter thread from an entrepreneur who equated selling a business to “selling out.” He explained that founders who sell lack the fortitude to make it through tough times. “Real entrepreneurs don’t sell,” was the essence of his argument.
I replied back, explaining that for myself and an increasing number of entrepreneurs I meet, the glory is not in the sale but in the launch. Selling is a means to an end, not the end itself. In fact, the end, I’d argue, is simply the flexibility to go and build something else. So selling early and selling often is simply part of the plan. Build, run, sell, and repeat. If you leave money on the table, so what. At some point in that running stage you lose your lifestyle as an independent builder/maker. When I can no longer maintain my flexibility as a work-from-home dad and husband then I’d gladly sell. And you know what, at that point the business is probably worth a lot of money. More money than I’d care to spend.
So this is where I find myself now. I have a couple of opportunities to make my first sale of FindEmails and TrackJobChanges. One offer would hit that mortgage payoff requirement I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Another would allow me to liquidate but retain some ownership, partner with the acquirer, and jointly shoot for an even bigger exit in 18–24 months. I’m investigating both options, not in any hurry, but still with excitement to get this first sale done. No matter what, I’ll leave some upside on the table. I could hold and probably sell for a higher price, but that’s not what I’m about. A big motivating factor in selling is to officially open myself up to build something else.
I also have a lot to learn about running and growing from both potential acquirers and in the process of selling and staying on to see the acquisition through, I’ll pick up more skills that will help me build more and better apps. I don’t think there’s a wrong choice.
These insights are why I’ve rebranded Toofr.com to FindEmails.com. Eventually (once the SEO juice has flowed from Toofr to FindEmails) Toofr.com will host my business writing and a portfolio of the companies I run. Toofr LLC is the company that holds all of these assets, so when I sell a company, I’m not selling Toofr LLC, but rather the assets of whichever company the acquirer is interested in. It makes it a lot cleaner branding-wise. I want Toofr to have continuity now that I’ve made Toofr my personal and professional brand.
Toofr is my own little business empire, a portfolio of B2B web apps that will change over time. Some will shut down, some will get acquired, and others will continue to run and help me buy groceries. At some point, they might even help me get in on the acquisition game myself. I’d have to really enjoy running and growing companies by then though.
I’m working on it.