Why We Suck At Business

In a word, Me.

I’m like a gremlin, a tiny imp mischievously uncoupling parts in Erin’s finely oiled machine. I lay waste to her best laid plans. I am forever making her gasp in frustration.

She generously titled this post “Why We Suck At Business”, but the credit is all mine.

Our Previous Mistakes

I am Michael Gerber‘s definition of a technician. I work in my business, not on my business. I like to tinker and play and not worry about how much money I’m not making by all this tinkering and playing.

People often advise us to expand our business by outsourcing the design and it takes everything I have not to scream “but that’s the best part!” (I feel the same when they suggest outsourcing the development).

I have no interest in marketing and barely any interest in the bottom line beyond “can I afford a Frappuccino today?” Our attempts at affiliate marketing are woeful at best because our underlying message is one of less stuff, not more. How can we attempt to sell you things and stay true to our core values? Doesn’t work.

We suck at business because, in the world of commerce and the outsourced Personal Brand, this attitude simply won’t cut it.

Our Devastating Realisation

A few weeks ago, after spending 300 hours developing the responsive framework that is now powering this site, we ditched our WordPress premium themes idea. There were three primary reasons:

  • There would be too much support—people’s websites are mission critical and when something goes wrong, they (quite rightly) want it fixed yesterday. This doesn’t gel well with a life of travel and uncertain internet.
  • It’s a saturated market—Woo Themes, Elegant Themes, Theme Forest. Actually, because this market wasn’t challenging enough, next month I’m going to start building a new search engine.
  • Lots of admin—After I had completed the framework there were still the themes themselves to be designed, sales sites to build, testing to be done, lists to cultivate, blog posts to write. The framework was only the first step.

We suck at business because it took us 300 hours to figure out that this wouldn’t work.

Our New Adventure

Instead of figuring out how we could repackage all of this work or how I could offer my skills in smaller, bite-sized chunks, I’ve decided to pack it all in and go and make iPhone apps.

This requires learning a whole new programming language, navigating my way through a new IDE, figuring out Apple’s selling procedures, and working with compiled, rather than scripted, code.

This is me. I flit. I flicker. Like a moth on crack, I fly full speed into the nearest shiny flame and desperately attempt to understand the thing that is slowly pulling me apart.

I live in constant fascination, to the point of obsession, of how things are built and how they work. I live to create and I want to do it all—write a novel, make a film, build a game, animate a cartoon, write an album! Should the Gods smile on me and I get to live to 80, it still won’t be enough time.

We suck at business because I’m always chasing the Shiny New Thing.

The Future

So, woe is us, right?

It’s true that we suck at business and we’re failing often.

But it’s also true that we’re learning a lot. We have some passive income on the go and we’re constantly exploring new ideas and trying new things. I have a string of satisfied clients and I provide a great service because I’m a lunatic obsessive.

The framework I’ve built is some of my best work yet and can be put to use on building client sites and other, smaller sites that we might want to run (like app information sites).

I’ve finished my first iPhone app and it should be winging its way to the App Store as you read this (pretty sure it won’t sell much, but it’ll be in there).

We have a few new site ideas with definite monetisation models where, not only do I get to indulge my age-old love of the Video Game, but I get to draw little cartoon Assassins in white robes.

We’re throwing that spaghetti against the wall.

One day it’s gonna stick.

Trail Wallet

23 thoughts on Why We Suck At Business

  1. I admire your honesty. I’ll be starting to try to make some money on the road going forward. I don’t have your technical skills, but hopefully I can find my way. Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. Hey Simon,
    Thank you for sharing your soft, creative, and magical underbelly with us all. I know I speak for many when I say I am in awe of your creative energy and passion for so much. I loved hearing your voice explain the challenges and opportunities. There is simply so many exciting ideas in your head that I hope I live to be 80 to see them come true.

  3. I hear ya!

    This year I have really started to concentrate on picking and choosing business ideas that I think up, basing the decision on amount of time/cost required versus the potential income. If the potential income isn’t really large then i’ll just stick with my core web development work. It pays better ;)

    Cheers,
    Colin

  4. You might not be the most savvy businessman out there, but everyone else is still jealous that you can work from anywhere like you do.
    By the way, what’s the iPhone app called?

  5. I really appreciate you sharing your troubles with such candor! I plan on selling everything, packing up our essentials, and taking my family around the world for the next 4 or 5 years. It’s nice to see others already on such a journey! Wishing you the best and much success in your business!

  6. I feel you bro, been there before when you start to question your business abilities, have you checked out seth godins book the dip, it helped me out a lot. Will be on the road soon, to chiang mai to start my adventure in digital normadism. Wish me luck

  7. “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill.
    With your enthusiasm, success will follow!

    While product creation is huge, you’re so right that in the scheme of things it’s such a minuscule part of getting it into the market and making sales!

    But diferentiating between quitting an idea because it really is a dumb/slap the forehead idea and wasting any more time on it is even dumber, and quitting because shiney ideas have a tendency to tarnish once exposed to the vulgarities of ‘shipping’ it into the market can be tricky!

    May your gut lead you to some sticky spaghetti ;)

  8. One day the spaghetti will stick – I think that’s going to be our new mantra as well :) Keep on trying, nothing might not happen, but anything could happen – but life needs possibilities (read that somewhere, but it’s so true).

  9. Hi Simon, my husband and I are both creatives, so I know what you mean. If you have the personality that should stay away from extensive support and admin tasks, at least you know it and are planning a business that will accommodate that. Two of my sons just released their first iPhone app and I’m very much hoping it will support the oldest. It is a very cool app, and they have ideas for engagement and virality— fingers crossed.

  10. The honesty and enthusiasm is great, and I’m jealous of the minimalist, on-the-go lifestyle. Is it good business to leave out the name of your new iPhone app though?… Looking forward to checking it out.

    As we say here in the US, “Keep on truckin’.”

  11. Welcome to the wild world of digital nomadic iOS development – and congrats on having the courage to toss an endeavor to the side after you figured out it wasn’t going to fit the life you want to build. Tis the life of us entrepreneurs :)

    As long time mobile tech geeks, we started dipping our toes in the app world a couple years ago. We decided to create apps that solved problems we encountered in our own US based travels, and maybe others like us would like them too? (You can see them at: http://www.technomadia.com/apps)

    It’s been a combination of a lot of fun, and a lot of frustration. And it remains more of a side business to our core development clients. It could probably be more if we put full on effort into it.

    Yes, you can just develop and put your app in the App Store. It is a great playground for those who don’t want a full on business plan to implement. And you’ll get a trickle of sales that might buy you a coffee or beer now and again.

    But quite honestly, if you don’t follow up with a marketing plan, that’s likely all it’ll ever be (of course, a few get lucky and magically get attention from some source and becomes a hit). Consistently, the apps that we just put up there barely make beer money. And the Apps we do strong marketing pushes with have spikes and plummets of income. With over 1/2 million apps in the store right now, it’s a heavily saturated market – so you have to market outside the App Store too to gain visibility.

    All and all, we stick to creating apps that solve problems we have as digital nomads. At the very least, we have something that benefits our own lifestyle.

    We would be happy to share with you directly more about our experience in playing app-roulette, if you care to. Don’t want to discourage you – as it is a fun business endeavor where you can focus your creative geek energy on. But it’s not really a departure from needing to be good at business if you want for your efforts to be financially worthwhile.

  12. iPhone app dev = great residual income idea. UX is everything, and could easily put you above big companies if executed correctly, have faith. Even the simplest ideas can make great apps, and putting a focus on user-generated content is a way to ensure continued adoption. Good luck!

    -Michael

  13. I started my career as a backend software developer, and when I heard about iPhones and iPads I was interested in jumping on the bandwagon as a developer too, but I’ve never had a great spark of a (simple) idea to develop. I’m interested to see what you’ve come up with!

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  17. You sound like the very definition of a scanner personality: http://www.scannercentral.co.uk/scanners-night/

    I’m exactly the same – I get obsessed with figuring out how something works, then move on to the next thing as soon as I understand it. It means I’m incapable of outsourcing anything, and I have to learn a couple of unnecessarily complicated new technologies just to motivate myself to build a simple website!

    Unfortunately, given how important it is, marketing seems like the only thing that doesn’t interest me at all :)

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  20. Success only comes after some failure, because when you start a business of any kind, you risk failure. It’s just the nature of it.

    Sucking at it would be continuing to work on the same thing after you know it’s not going to work. Being smart is doing what you did.

    Seth Godin write about this a lot. That’s probably why I read what he writes. It makes me feel good to know that you have to fail before you succeed, and that not everyone does this well or perfectly the first time. In fact, most don’t. The key is to keep going and keep trying, because the more things you start, the greater the percentage that you’ll succeed.

    I’m glad Trail Wallet is doing well. I’ve actually seen it popping up everywhere. Seems your percentages are pretty damn good, actually.

    • Thanks for the supportive and wise comment Leigh. It’s really hard to get past the failures but you are right—it’s the only way to lead to success.

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