A Bootstrapper’s Journey to 100 Customers
In this series I’m sharing how I’m growing a new business from 0 to 100 customers. But first, a bit about how I got here …
The Dream Job
I used to have a dream job. At least, it was the sort of job I once dreamed of.
Monday mornings, a pre-booked taxi would pull up outside my house at 5 am and take me to the airport. Just in time, I’d board whatever flight I was told to for whatever country it was that week. I’d check into the top local hotel and then head for the client’s office. A few days later I’d stop working at lunch time, take another pre-booked taxi to another airport, fly home and take a taxi to my local pub. There I’d meet my friends and have a laughter-packed Friday evening to wind the week down.
I was an IT consultant and I loved it!
For a while. But a problem arose. Gradually. I awoke one day to realise that this wasn’t actually my dream any more.
Maybe it was a dream I’d been sold and happened to believe in. It really doesn’t matter.
But that realisation was the start of a journey to find something I could do by myself. Really by myself. So I could support my family and myself by my own endeavours.
I had always “fancied” having my own business, doing something useful for other people, something they would appreciate and that would genuinely help them with something.
But it was always only a “fancy”.
I read a lot on the subject. I daydreamed a lot. But I never did it. That serial entrepreneur mowing neighbours’ lawns at 8 years of age? That was never me!
Now, you can only read and fantasise so much about something before the enthusiasm and motivation wear off and you’re left with only a dim sense of something undone; a gnawing sensation that you could have done more. At that point you have to get your feet wet and do things for yourself. Otherwise, you’ll never apply all that accumulated knowledge and you’ll never really learn from it.
And nothing at all will change.
So now it’s time for doing!
“Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.” — Napoleon Hill
I still read a lot about it. I still daydream about it. But now I’ve found a certain flow in applying what I learn along the way … and there’s a hell of a lot to learn!
Right here in this blog, I’ll share it all with you; my decisions, my actions based on those decisions, the results of those actions and what I learn from them. And, of course, the challenges and disappointments that I can only guess at today.
Hopefully, there will even be a few successes along the way.
The details don’t matter at this stage, but I spent a year looking for something I really wanted to do. I have decades of experience and I’m good at my craft (I.T.) but I want to do something meaningful with it. I tried a few things but each time I found that my heart just wasn’t in it.
Since I realised I was floundering, I made what’s almost always a wise decision — I sought help. I enrolled in a course I’d read about called the Foundation — a six month online course in validating and setting up a SaaS business (Software as a Service — basically it’s software that runs in your browser).
“You are the average of the five people you most associate with.” — Jim Rohn
The support of a like-minded community can’t be underestimated. Hanging out online with others going through the same experiences was inspirational and resulted in relationships with people who continue to help me as much as I can help them.
From that course, I discovered that a small part of what I’d already been doing part time (web development) was a viable business — WordPress website maintenance.
Over the years I have seen far too many ambitious but non-technical action-takers become genuinely frustrated and stressed out over the technology needed to put their plans into motion.
No-one who drives a car thinks twice about handing over their car to a qualified mechanic to look after the details; their lack of technical knowledge certainly doesn’t stop them driving their car and even enjoying the experience!
That’s how it should be with websites. And it could be like that. WPStrands was created to play a part in that change of perception.
I had clients already paying me for it and I knew it was badly needed; hacking incidents are increasing by over 30% per year, according to Google, so people are soon going to realise they need some form of insurance for their website.
So that’s the lofty goal of WPStrands: to change the view of WordPress maintenance from a luxury to a necessity.
The #wpstrands goal: to change the view of #WordPress maintenance from a luxury to a necessity. — Tweet This
It’s not a sexy SaaS or a revolutionary new idea. Believe it or not, no-one has ever said to me, “Ooh, website maintenance? Sounds cool, tell me more!”
But with around 80 million WordPress websites out there — most of them owned by non-technical folk — there’s a very sizeable market. There are already a few companies doing good work in the field like WP Site Care and WP Curve.
Surely a few hundred among those millions would be happy to pay for my expertise!?
As someone who loves planning, I, of course, have a few rules for what WPStrands will be:
- It will be bootstrapped i.e. no outside funding whatsoever. I realise this makes it difficult in a lot of ways. It also makes it raw and very real. I stubbornly really want to do this myself. So, WPStrands is not a startup in the modern sense.
- Don’t run out of money. I’m not using any of my own money, only money generated from WPStrands.
- Automate everything. Without this the business will be neither manageable nor scalable.
- It can all change. If I see a reasonable opportunity that makes sense I’ll take it. Without using the word “pivot” (see below).
- Never stop. If I keep picking myself up, dusting myself down and moving forward, well, I have to get there, right?
- Deal only with people who have similar values, action-takers, self-developers etc.
- Partner with people & companies who are smarter or more developed than me.
- There will be no use of the following cringe-worthy words:lean, leverage, pivot, disrupt, passion, leader, hacking, ninja, bandwidth, synergy, game-changer and, worst of all, awesome! If everything is awesome then nothing is awesome. And no one is allowed to say viola or walla; the word is voilà!
- There will be no comparison of WPStrands to existing or earlier entities.
- There will be no Steve Jobs quotes. Sorry Steve, you did some great things but since your death your every uttering is worshipped as if hidden within is all the business wisdom of the ages.
Why Am I Doing This?
My great grandfather built his own house with his own hands. I want to taste something of that level of self-sufficiency. I want to feel what it’s like to live solely from the fruits of my own efforts. In that sense having a job is kind of cheating for me. I’m not anti-corporate by any means and I know it’s fine for many, just not for me.
The thing people don’t understand about most entrepreneurs is that we are driven by self-doubt… we’re all trying to prove ourselves, all the time. — Sir Tom Hunter, Scotland’s first self-made billionaire
Yes, I want to prove myself. To myself. To my family. To others. I think it’s about time.
And as Jim Rohn also says, I want to see what I become in the process.
I’ve been deeply inspired by what Alek Turnbull has accomplished with the excellent Groove blog. Startups everywhere can learn a lot from his stories. Maybe a bootstrapper can likewise learn from mine.
Why 100 customers? It seems a pathetically insignificant number.
Don’t forget WPStrands is NOT a SaaS. Usually a SaaS doesn’t have to worry too much about scaling — what works for 30 customers will most likely work for 3,000, assuming the technical infrastructure can support the load.
But for a website maintenance company, each website needs to be checked for functionality after every update, backups need to be proofed etc.
These are things that can’t yet be automated (we’re working on it) so they have to be done manually. That takes time and that means we need people. By 100 customers we should have our processes well ironed out.
I know it sounds cliched but it’s not about the money. There is a mass of small business owners out there who are both clueless and terrified of the technology they need to run their business online.
Far too many business owners are clueless & terrified of the technology needed to run a business; this shouldn’t be! — Tweet This
This shouldn’t be the case. By removing the technology roadblocks, real or imaginary, we can make it easier for more people to bring their creativity and smarts to the world.
Then I think we’ll have done something truly useful.
So where are we right now?
I’m almost embarrassed to expose our current position to the world. But, all or nothing…
Today I have 27 websites under my care. A few of these are paying customers; most are not, having been part of the beta program up to December last year. That’s a more-than-manageable number for one person to handle so, currently, WPStrands is just me full-time. Proper bootstrapping, I guess.
The goal is for that circle above to become completely orange. I think I’ll need to hire someone for each 50 sites but I’ll round that bend when I come to it.
I am aware that new opportunities can arise and old ones can fall away, so anything can happen. I could find myself on a different path completely and never reach that corner to turn it because I’ll be busy navigating corners I can’t even imagine right now.
That’s part of the fun and the only certainty is that after whichever corner it is, I’ll have learned something and become something more.
What can go wrong?
Ha! This is the part I’m sure I’ll look back on and shake my head in disbelief at my early naivety. (That’s a day I’m looking forward to!)
- First, it’s early days for website maintenance in general so it’s very difficult to convince many small business owners of the need for it. 100 years ago people didn’t realise they should have car insurance until they had an accident. That’s where website maintenance is today; most don’t realise they need it until they’ve been hacked or until a failed software update sinks their site. Hence the WPStrands mission stated above.
- The whole model! Clients must pay to NOT have technical headaches. Asking people to pay for something to be taken away is a much trickier proposition than asking them to pay for something tangible. Although WPStrands’ prices are extremely low compared to others, this is a real concern.
- Scalability. Human intervention is currently needed to verify a website does what it’s meant to do. Until we can automate that part, our ability to scale is hugely limited.
- Plugins. Coming down to the technical problems; many pieces of interacting software written by many different people can give many unpredictable results for our customer websites.
As I said, nobody has ever told me they find website maintenance fascinating.
But many, MANY people have asked questions like “Where did you start?”, “How did you get your first customers?”, “What marketing do you do?”.
In the back of my mind, I’ve always wanted to share what I learn along the way and the Groove blog has inspired me to finally do that.
This blog is my way of standing naked before the world, to give myself some accountability, to prove something to myself.
And of course, I hope it’s going to help other people who have their own dreams of taking charge of what they do with their own lives.
So that’s what I do at WPStrands; I look after WordPress websites. And I hope I’ll soon be able to say that WPStrands takes technology out of the equation for small businesses online.
Follow along with the journey here or sign up to the mailing list below. Is there anything you want to learn about in particular? Maybe you can even give a few words of advice! Let me know in the responses below.
Thanks for reading this far! If you liked it please click the little heart below; it would mean a LOT to me and it helps other people see the story.
Originally published at wpstrands.com on June 29, 2017.