Then and Now: 5 Years of Being an Entrepreneur

It’s been nearly 5 years since I left the comforts of a guaranteed paycheck and ventured out to make money on my own.

It’s been a roller-coaster of emotions; ups and downs that make you feel alive and sometimes wish you were dead.

I’ve made a lot of bad decisions, most of which I like to think I’ve learned from, and I’ve gotten lucky a couple of times.

More than anything, I’ve learned that the people you choose to work with, whether it be partners, employees, advisers, vendors, or clients, have such a profound impact on your success – that I decided to write this post.

If you’ve already taken the plunge and gone out on your own, you already know how terrifying it is to scale your client base, make payroll, pay rent (both for your home and work space), and the uneasy feeling when you know it’s time to fire a client.

Nothing really gets easier over time, you just get better at predicting outcomes, and hence not making as many poor decisions.

Where It All Started

It was the summer of 2008 and I was running web operations at a wonderful little non-profit.

The husband of the lady I was working for was someone I looked up to and came to consider one of my first mentors, his name is Will Bast and he had been running his own successful businesses for over a decade.

Over the course of the year or so I was at the NFCA, Will and I became friends and I began to do some SEO consulting for his company. As the volume of consulting work continued to grow, I had some tough decisions to make…

I was 23 years old, had a great job with great people, and my biggest financial risk was some credit card debt (and I’m proud to say, not very much).

After some frank discussions over a series of lunches with Will (and some arduous conversations with my father), I decided I would tap a couple of my friends for input on starting a company.

Through mutual friends I found a PHP developer and a very talented Software Engineer. After weeks of conversations and a 5 day off-site for planning, we decided to start a web marketing agency.

We formed the LLC, got business cards printed, and took office space in Ambler, PA in the same building as Will’s company.

The Evolution of an Agency

One year in we were not the same company we started out as. Our customers had shifted to be far more design-centric and our digital marketing engagements ballooned to require my full attention.

On top of all of this we had grown from 3 to 5 people, and were starting to land more clients in the Philadelphia area, which at the time was roughly 40 minutes away from our office.

We rode out our lease in Ambler and in the spring of 2010 bit the bullet for some shiny new space over-looking City Hall.

We were pretty excited.

Revenues continued to double and triple and we were landing bigger and bigger clients, and started to bring in some top tier talent.

By the beginning of 2011 we had a solid design, development, and marketing team, and were the agency of record for a handful of large companies.

Then something changed.

An Opportunity Arose

I was getting burned out on client work.

The thrill of working on new projects and landing new clients was all well and good, but I had an itch to build something of my own – something that would put my skills to the test and allow me to reap the benefits; I wanted to sell products.

It wasn’t about being selfish, it was about recognizing opportunity and a need for change.

I’m of the mind that if you don’t like doing something anymore, you shouldn’t do it. Call me cold, but this is why I don’t feel bad for people when they whine about not liking their job… get another one.

And really, I just fucking hate excuses.

So I met a guy with an idea.

It was an idea I very much liked and thought would be the perfect opportunity for me to put both my marketing and management skills to a real test, and take the biggest risk I had faced in my professional career.

I was terrified… I had never built something like this before, let alone had a large sum of someone else’s money to do it with.

This was to be my first funded venture, where I was the technical founder and the CEO, and so Factor Media was born.

The Road to Product Development

Project planning commenced in July 2011 and we launched the project January 1st 2012.

By the beginning of Q2 I had to begin scaling a content team and we quickly grew to 32 employees.

We saw massive growth and within 12 months managed to break the 500,000 visitors per month threshold, capturing over 2 million visitors in 2012.

During a board meeting late in the 2nd quarter our monthly burn rate came up in discussion, after all scaling to a team of 30+ people is not cheap, and this wasn’t my money

Taking a close look at how our traffic was growing, I was forced to take a hard look at our production, and make some rough decisions.

It seems that not many people really talk about the dark sides of being an entrepreneur, which seems to be even darker when the project is funded by outside sources.

I had to slow the burn. I had to fire people.

For anyone reading this who has ever had to fire anyone (especially a friend or someone who has become a friend) it sucks. It really, really sucks.

We had designed and built a very popular website that was continuing to grow in the double digits month over month, so why were we scaling back?

Analysis showed that the site’s architecture and content support system didn’t require all of the resources we had. We had, to some extent, built a system that could sustain and thrive on it’s own… where in some backwards vacuum the bigger and better the website did, the less people it required to run it.

Not Skynet… but close.

Even I became a line-item that was no longer necessary.

In June 2012 we re-structured the company and by July I was no longer the CEO, taking a board role and overseeing operations via emails and meetings.

Leaving Something You Started

The real kicker here is neither of my 2 founding projects resulted in an exit, well not yet. So it’s pretty weird to talk about jumping ship when it’s not based on the 2 most common outcomes:

  1. An exit, or
  2. The Ship is Sinking

But that’s what I did.

Leaving my first company was a decision of passion and validation, but leaving my second company was out of entrepreneurial responsibility; the company outgrew it’s need for me.

Ultimately, the latter situation has been going very well – which if you had asked me about in July of last year, I would have been explained differently.

It’s humbling to realize your child has out-grown you.

The Progression Over Time

I’m freaking lucky.

I was presented an opportunity to become a partner at a company doing some big things and working with people that I am continually learning from.

Furthermore, I’ve found that being part of a community is something very important to me, and the joy that comes from working in the company of brilliant people adds more quality to my life than anything I could hope for.

Here’s to the next 5 years!

Behavioral search vs. Blended search

blended-search-seo2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I’m sure almost anyone reading this blog already knows, 2009 marks a major benchmark in search engine technology advancement. As of 2009 google (other major search providers of course following suit) has begun to display search results differently then it has in the past. After insight from a test group, behavioral search is already in the works.  

Google is making another change, so what?

 They constantly refine their search algorithm to make the most “relevant” search results display for each query, so what’s the big deal if they simply make ANOTHER change?

This change impacts all the work that many companies, teams, and individuals have poured blood, sweat, and tears into; SEO the way it has come to exist up until this point. I know what you’re thinking, “what is he talking about – when I search for something I am still finding what I can, reasonably perceive, is the most relevant results.” Yes, but… Those results are going to become increasingly altered to fit into what the search engine believes is the most relevant search result for YOU!

Great right? Sure, but…

What does this mean for companies who have grinded their teeth and pulled out hair (not to mention probably spent a butt load of money) to make sure their website comes up in the top results when you, Joe Shmoe, searches for diamonds… Continue reading

Writing for SEO

Search Engine Optimization
Content creation is one of the hardest parts about creating a good, comprehensive site. Content is king has been a mantra in the internet world for years now, and still is. So how does one go about creating viable valuable content that is optimized for search engines and social bookmarking sites like Digg, Reddit, and Del.icio.us?

The trick is to create the content first – get your ideas across as clearly as you can. This can often times be the hardest part, writing succinct content that is understandable and comprehensible. Once you have conveyed your point and edited edited edited, then go back and work in some keywords that are relevant to the context at hand.

For example, if you are writing a post about laying out office space for maximum useable space and aesthetic appeal – work in keywords such as space planning, interior design, efficient utilization, etc. The idea is not to keyword stuff, but to explain in more literal obvious terms what it is you’re referring to.

SEO is a tricky bastard, the rules are relatively simple: Continue reading

Trouser Syndrome

Nick Eubanks 23Run

Trouser syndrome is a malicious spiral that starts once you start slacking… it is a term I’ve given to the perpetual nature of procrastination. I myself have experienced this tragic ailment just this past month. If you look at the post before this one, it is dated three weeks ago…

There is just no excuse for this.

All of the typical lame responses immediately come to mind:

  1. I’ve been too busy
  2. I have not had anything useful/insightful to write about
  3. I keep forgetting
  4. I’ve been meaning to
  5. I’ll do it later… (this could be the worst sign of the syndrome)

The very first item on this list is the only conceivable good excuse, except let us not forget – it is still just that, an excuse. I apologize for not writing any fresh content for 3 weeks. I even have some great topics that I’m excited to post about; Long-tailed keywords, baby-steps to small business success, timely invoicing, and when-needed small business outsourcing. These posts are coming, and soon I promise!

So…

Why haven’t I posted in 3 weeks? I have had some personal issues to deal with to be honest (moving, situation changes, and other projects that have required more than the usual amount of my time) the real truth of the matter is that the truly influential factor that has affected my recent activity here at 23Run is me.

When elements of your life outside of work take your mind (and worse spirit) out of your day-to-day successes (daily goals, i.e. posting to your informational blog) this is when it is in-fact most important that you stick to your guns…

You simply cannot let the slack build up. When you build up enough slack it is just like wearing pants that are getting continuously longer – you are forced to drag more weight around, not to mention there is now more surface area for more problems. In the literal sense more slack dragging on the ground gathers more unwanted items – you can see how I can relate this to life problems that build up when you procrastinate.

How do you get out of this funk? Some would say to take some time off – self reflect…

NO! Bad idea. You have already been taking time-off, that’s why you are in your current situation. Instead, try this – start doing something…

That’s right, start something – Put your head down and Do Work!

Do you have an idea/concept you have wanted to kick-start for a while? Or have you thought about re-vamping an existing project? A website? A blog? A customer relationship? Business cards? That client you engaged and never followed up with? The client you lost?

If you want to start (or at least look into) any of the above mentioned thoughts, this is what I am willing to offer… Continue reading

SEO is Easier Than Flying a Helicopter

I was reading Guide to Learning Search Engine Optimization on Work.com, I like to check up on popular SEO “guides” that come out to see what they have to say…

This one is really solid too, which is of course expected since Aaron Wall had a hand in it. The guide stresses that SEO isn’t some crazy technical process – and that any motivated individual can accomplish their SEO goals (maybe not right away – but eventually)

I stumbled onto the guide during my daily visit to Aaron Wall’s blog while reading “How Much is a #1 Google Ranking Worth?

-SIDEBAR- Aaron’s post about google has so much research in it (as expected) that I was immediately motivated to write this post. The information is available out there – just like you can find instructions on how to fly a helicopter – the reason i make the comparison is the similarity on the kind of information. You  can find theory and instruction, but until you start putting it into practice you don’t truly learn what works and what doesn’t, and having a guiding hand certainly helps (especially with Helicopters).

Staples of The Media Network

*Statistical information obtained from “B2B Magazine: Interactive Marketing Guide 2008″

Change in Search Marketing Spending Planned for this year by U.S. Search Marketing Executives

No Change = 28%
Increase = 65%
Decrease = 7%

Viewing Email
64% of key decision-makers view e-mail on their Blackberrys or other mobile devices
69% of at-work users usually use their e-mail in preview panes
59% of online consumers routinely block images

Time-of-day Trends
The highest open rates during Q2 2007 were Wednesday (27%), Monday (26%), and Thursday (26%). The highest click-through rates were both Wednesday and Thursday (5%).
11a.m. and 4p.m. scored the highest marks for business-hour open rates (30%) and click-through rates (5%)
Click-through rates were between 4% and 5% during the workday, peaking at 7% at both 9 p.m. and 4 a.m.

SPAM Trends
79% of e-mail recipients said that if they don’t recognize a sender, they sometimes mark messages as spam.
20% of e-mail recipients said they use a spam button as a way to unsubscribe from messages or newsletters they’ve signed up for in the past.

Market Share Trends
Paid search is expected to total $15.5 billion in 2008, up 31.9% over last year
Source: eMarketer, January 2007
More than 10 billion searches were conducted in the U.S. in January. Here is the breakdown of market share:
Google: 58.5%
Yahoo: 22.2%
Microsoft: 9.8%
AOL: 4.9%
Ask: 4.5%

Search Revenue
Worldwide search revenue will reach $30.5 billion this year, up from $26.2 billion last year
Search revenue will grow at an annual rate of 28% over the next four years, reaching $60.0 billion by 2011
Source: JPMorgan Chase Outlook Report, January 2008

Search is here to stay – and is growing by leaps and bounds; learn as much as possible!