Steve and I started this adventure with a vision of being a product company. We, like many others, were inspired by 37Signals. In 2006, we started building our simple accounting software, and in 2007 we formed the company and launched the product.
Give me a few minutes to tell you about some of the opportunities we’ve taken over the years, why we took them, and eventually why we refocused on our core product.
It took us years to self-fund our SAAS product into profitability by building web applications for clients. We were web consultants and we did many other things to keep the company afloat.
Over the years, as we clawed and scratched our way into profitability, other opportunities became visible. It seems the more revenue we generated, the more popular we became, and the greater the number of opportunities came within our reach. Speaking gigs, free tickets to events, new business opportunities and requests for mentorships became available to us. We were attracted to those opportunities like bugs drawn to the blue glow of an insect zapper.
Taking Opportunities Feels Really Good
In 2011, we opened a coworking space called WorkHappy in my hometown, Panama City, Florida. It was a small space shared by (at one point) 15 full-time members. The goal of WorkHappy wasn’t to get rich, it was to pay the bills, have a place for me to work, and make me feel more fulfilled by helping the local tech community.
Over the next two years, my local tech friends and I hosted free workshops on the weekends and had group lunches, all in the hopes of building a small community of designers and developers. By the end of this summer, the local tech community had grown a little and the coworking space was barely breaking even. For many people that might be a “success” but it felt unfulfilling and only distracted me from our business. In August we closed WorkHappy because it would be one less “problem to solve” in my head.
We could have certainly kept the space open, stopped hosting events and just made the space a simple place to work, but that’s not the type of coworking space we want to run.
Opportunities Are Easily Justifiable
In 2009, Steve and I decided to host a small one-day conference about web startups; we called it LessConf. Fast forward to April 2013 and LessConf had grown to three days of planned insanity. We had kangaroos at the pre-party, and we had a circus act teaching attendees knife throwing at the second party (at my house). LessConf had amazing speakers, crazy food, zip lines, go-carts, and it turned into an event for 250 people at $1000 a ticket.
We made money from LessConf, around $55,000 to $70,000 annually. The profit LessConf brought us made it easy to justify the time and stress. The emotional toll from the stress of throwing an event like that is heavy and easily inflates your ego.
What’s involved in hosting an event like this?
- Venue contracts.
- Getting insurance properly set up.
- Inviting speakers and arranging travel.
- Coffee setup, lunch vendors, party spaces.
- Getting sponsors, arranging a hotel to give a discount to attendees.
- People breaking their leg at the party?
- The list goes on and on.
To make money with an event you must always be on the lookout for speakers, sponsors and attendees. You have to plan the event six months in advance and start selling tickets NOW for next year. If you host an event, you either turn it into a yearlong business or you lose money each year hosting it.
So this April we said LessConf is done and finished. We could certainly host a smaller event, one with fewer wild antics, but that’s not the type of event we want to throw. With LessConf over, it’s one less problem for our brains to process.
Over the past seven years, I’ve been slammed with things to do. I would have dozens of LessAccounting interface tweaks to make, but instead I’d be planning LessConf. I’d have customer support tickets I could be answering, but instead I’d be hosting another workshop at WorkHappy. Fortunately, LessAccounting slowly grew even though it was the redheaded stepchild of the company.
“Thru the quiet stillness you’re able to see better ways to handle your focused tasks. You’re able to spend a second to think about a problem space without another venture pulling at you.”
Steve and I put a halt to taking opportunities, and over the past six months I cancelled nine business trips to conferences.
Focusing on LessAccounting has allowed me to be really good at a few things instead of pretty good at many things. My job now is promoting LessAccounting and refining the user experience of the product.
I’m no fancy-pants brain doctor, but I do know that your brain has a limited amount of space for storing, sorting, and analyzing problems. You can cram it full of things and you’ll be less effective overall, you’ll start forgetting things and feeling a little insane sometimes.
When you simplify things, ignore opportunities and focus, life gets simpler. Thru the quiet stillness you’re able to see better ways to handle your focused tasks. You’re able to spend a second to think about a problem space without another venture pulling at you.
So no more LessConf and WorkHappy, but what has happened to LessAccounting in this time? Revenue is up, the UI has improved, and new features have launched. We’ve focused our attention on the LessAccounting blog and traffic to it has soared. Imagine that, write stuff that your customers want to read and they’ll read and share it. Wild.
My life is quieter now, less frantic. I’m building lamps, and I’m able to spend evenings with new hobbies like rebuilding my Jeep’s motor. Will I be at the next tech event in your city? Probably not, but I did replace the universal joints and the rear axles in my 1978 CJ5 Jeep, oh and LessAccounting got a few more paid customers yesterday.