The A to Z of what I learned in 5 months to $112,000 ARR

I joined Dan as the co-founder of WP Curve 5 months ago.

Since then, we have worked hard, argued and failed. At time of writing, we have 171 customers and a $112,000 Annual Recurring Revenue Run Rate.

This post outlines the A to Z of what I’ve learned along the way. I hope it either helps you or entertains you.

Let’s get into it!

Assumptions are BS

We thought WP Curve customers were looking for a time saving or peace of mind – we were wrong. They want responsive service. We thought we had crafted a perfect client profile – we were wrong! We wasted 4 months pitching to web agencies, even though the data was screaming that we were wrong! It’s human nature to rely on assumptions for decision making, but try and be informed by data instead of your opinion.

Build a foundation

We’ve had many arguments about pricing – it’s been a real sore point for me. The reality is: a no brainer offer for potential customers will build a solid foundation for our business. If I had free reign on pricing, we’d have a $9,999 monthly plan, no customers and I would be furiously writing a sequel to this post. You might get questions about scaling your business early on, but remember, business first – then scale.

Churn hurts… but ask why?

When a customer cancels their subscription, it feels like a punch in the face. We work hard and try our best to help people. Unfortunately, we’ve had a few people leave inside a month. We take this as an opportunity to find out why they weren’t a good fit, win them back or do a better job the next time around. Listen to this song if you’re feeling blue when a customer churns.

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Discounting is the devil

When I first started working with Dan, he was in the habit of offering discounts. We agreed that discounting trains people to devalue your service. Here are a few reasons why we won’t discount:

  1. We give away a ton of useful, free content with no expectation of anything in return
  2. We value the work we do, so our customers should too

Please don’t discount. It devalues your work and makes you feel like a loser.

Expert advice is valuable, but only take what you need

We seek advice from guys like Noah Kagan and Hiten Shah. Often, their advice is so straightforward that we could have come up with it, while at other times, it is pure genius. And of course, sometimes their advice doesn’t suit our business. No matter what – when we apply someone’s advice, we tell them how we applied it and thank them – it’s a great way to build a relationship. You will be surprised how helpful experts can be, but you have to remember that hundreds of other people are asking for advice and not taking action.

Feelings matter, failing is more important

Here’s what I realized when I left the safety of a corporate gig – the faster you fail, the faster you improve. Here’s an example of how Dan and I frontload failure:

Alex – “Hey man, did you review my new post / sales page / email / idea?”
Dan – “Yeah. It was shit. You need to fix XYZ.”
Alex – “Let me get on that.”

2 hours later…

Alex – “All good? I did XYZ and added in ABC as well”
Dan – “Yep. Let’s ship it”

Critical feedback from an objective person helps you get on the fast track to improvement. When you make it about the work, not about your feelings – you’ll get where you want to go, faster.

Get shit done

The office dog Lola wanders from office to office, scouting for food, attention and a pat on the head. She goes all day and wears herself out. She’s an entrepreneur!

photo (2)

Even though working long hours can be tiring – it’s also rewarding. It can be stressful but it’s also fulfilling. For me, producing something that is useful and valuable that other people enjoy is the best part about being an entrepreneur. Try and get shit done – once you get momentum, you will be impossible to stop.

hatersHaters gonna hate

When you over-share like we do, you will get some people who love it and a few who hate it.

Some folks hate on our monthly reports, even though we were writing them way back when we were turning over $476 / month. Other people hang us out to dry on Facebook, only to come back a few weeks later and ask to sign up again. This doesn’t keep us up at night and it shouldn’t worry you either.

Bill Cosby said “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Right on Bill Cosby, right on!

Ideas aren’t worth a cent, taking action is what matters

We experimented with a challenge for people to build one of Dan’s business ideas and even told people we would pay. The post went semi-viral on Reddit and now ranks in the Google top 10, but there’s only been one entrepreneur who has taken action on these ideas!

If you have an idea, test it. If you want a quick and dirty MVP, create a Facebook event like Nikki Durkin and see if people are interested… or launch it in 7 days. At the very least, you’ll learn if it’s worth pursuing.

Jokes will keep you sane

wp_curve_never_sleeps

Killer content beats advertising

We’ve spent $180.72 on Adroll advertising, but we don’t think it has resulted in any paying customers. We’ve chosen to spend time creating useful content that people will share, which has resulted in over 100,000 site visits since July. We have also built trust, authority and assets (our blogs) using this strategy. Content is so important to us, we created Content Club to help people with content marketing and it’s a blast! Try to write a valuable piece of content and share it with your audience, they will love you for it.

Learn from action and save $100,000+

I have a Diploma of Financial Services, Advanced Diploma of Financial Services, Bachelor of Business, Bachelor of Communication and an MBA which cost me over $100,000. Jumping into a startup made me realize something that should have been obvious… you don’t need a business degree to run a business. Put down the textbook. Start something! I guarantee you will learn more by doing than reading a book.

Mo’ money, less problems

At the early stage of our business, more revenue means less problems. Each new customer helps to take us one step closer to our goal of freedom! We can hire more developers, invest in our business and provide better service. Caution: Try not to bleed your customer’s wallet, you want them to stay with you when times are good, as well as tough.

No means ‘not right now’

We have a ton of growth hacking ideas and at one point, we agreed to execute all of them. Later, we realized we couldn’t get anything done if we tried to do everything, so we had to say no. We’ve said no to a number of guest posters. We’ve said no to paid advertising. We’ve said no to non-recurring products and services. There’s a limit to the amount of different things we can manage on the go. It’s OK to say no!

Oversharing builds trust

We share a monthly report that outlines our revenue and what we learned each month. For the first 4 months, I didn’t want to share these financial results. Dan helped me to accept that telling people how much revenue we’re earning doesn’t change the actual number. The truth shall set you free.

Patience is a virtue

I’m impatient and Dan has helped me work on this (Note from Dan – The irony of me helping anyone with impatience is duly noted!). We’re only 5 months old, but are already able to look back and laugh at some of the kneejerk decisions we’ve made along the way. Playing the long game is crucially important, but sometimes you lose focus when you’re hyper-focused on the day to day. Building a business takes time. so if you’re struggling, take a step back and think about where you want to be in 6 months. Perspective and patience go hand in hand.

Quick wins don’t exist

Shortcuts are like an oasis in the desert. When we tried to sell our service to agencies… I thought we were on the fast track to the top and was boasting how many sales I would make. 4 months of dead ends slapped me in the face. If it feels like a shortcut, tread carefully! Unless your surname rhymes with ‘horsey’ or ‘uckerberg’, you will have to climb the startup mountain one step at a time.

Recurring revenue rules

We’ve built our entire business on Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR). This means we sell once and get paid every month. This gives us certainty and sanity. When we launched ConvertPress, we nearly offered a one off payment. Why make a lot of one-off sales and have a short term revenue boost, when you can sell once and get paid every month? We love recurring revenue! Would a recurring revenue product or service fit your business model?

Ship, ship, ship

We both love writing content, sharing it with people and getting feedback to improve it. Before we post a new article, we’ll cross-check to make sure it’s ‘seaworthy’ and then ship it. There’s nothing quite like putting something out there – will people love it? Will they hate it? There’s only one way to find out – ship it and read their comments.

Trust your co-founder but keep them honest

Dan has been in the web development game for 7 years. He’s a WordPress expert and has a phenomenal level of output. But… as long as I can back my opinion with a reasonable amount of evidence, I’ll challenge him. Sure – most of the time, he’s right. He’s been there and done that. Friction and disagreements help our productivity – so don’t worry too much about what your opinion is, trust data first and then experience.

Understanding? You won’t get it and you probably don’t need it.

Are you going get a part time job to supplement your income? Say whaaaat! I nearly fell off my chair. No! I’m going to work smarter, harder and make this business a success. Likeminded people will help you along the way, but people with no idea about what you’re doing will also help you stay the course and remember what you don’t want.

Value your customers

If we do a great job, our customers will tell their friends and network about their experience and our business will grow. Great service is what makes a business like ours grow. We’re focused on the lifetime value of a customer and they are the reason we can work on what we love. Charlie Munger said: “The best source of new customers is the work in front of you” – we agree.

Watch your weight

The startup 15 is real.

When I started with Dan, I tipped the scales at 119kg (261lbs)… at time of writing, I am 125kg (276lbs). Exactly 15 pounds in 5 months – oh no! Luckily, I love powerlifting and keeping fit, so I will have to lay off the pizza and beer for a while. Try and maintain a balance – your business should improve your lifestyle, not become it.

X as your focus

Our X = $10,000 MRR by December 31 2013. When the date ticks over, we’ll review our performance to that target and then set a new X. (We explained some things we’re ignoring in this post, but we broke one of our own rules. We’re both in co-working spaces now. I’m over at WeWork in San Francisco and Dan is working from Gold Coast coworking.) Keep it simple and you’ll filter the 1,000 things you could be doing for the 3 things you should be doing.

You can do it

If you really want it, you will find a way to make it happen. To make life really interesting, make deliberate decisions like committing 100% of your time and energy to your startup. To add even more spice into the mix, remember what Mark Twain said – “… throw off the bowlines” and put your back against the wall. If I can do it, you can too!

Find your zone and smash it!

This is kind of weird… I listen to this song on repeat when I need to write a long post or get through a big piece of work. (Dan loves it too.)

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Finding a productive zone can be difficult, so once you find a trigger that works – use it as much as you can.

Thank you!

Thanks to Rene for inspiring me to take action and write this post.

rene

I would love to see what you think – please leave a comment below.

Reviewed by Content Club

About

Hi, I'm Alex McClafferty. I'm the co-founder of WP Curve.

  • https://www.stashdaddy.com/ Stash

    Wow. This post R.O.C.K.S. Human, insightful, nuanced, smart, wise, ironic, spicy and even the tiniest bit of sophisticated snark. Can’t wait for the next one…I’m taking a lesson! :)

    • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

      Wow! Thanks for such a thoughtful comment – I loved this: ‘sophisticated snark’… had to laugh at that (it’s snide and remark, in case other folks are wondering)

  • Tung Tran

    This is definitely one of a few non-tutorial articles that I really enjoyed this year :P

    I stopped reading those theorical articles a while ago but this one is definitely a great piece as it comes from real experience :D

    Thank you Alex…

    • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

      Hey Tung… there’s no theory here, only practice! Glad you enjoyed it, feel free to share if you think your friends will get a laugh out of it.

      • http://mattturner.com.au/ Matt Turner

        “Practice Trumps Theory”. You guys are the living embodiment of that.

        • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

          It’s taken me 27 years to get out of a book and into business. Thanks for your comment Matt!

  • Barry O’Kane

    The juxtaposition of those two songs has put me into an emotional spin.

    Oh and great article, you guys rock.

    • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

      Ha! I laughed out loud at that, Barry. My music taste is a little.. eclectic.

      Thanks for supporting us.

    • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

      Haha true I can’t even skim the post without clicking that what the fox say video.

  • http://mattturner.com.au/ Matt Turner

    Funny Dan is working on Nind Street, I’m right around the corner. I’ll have to pop in and say hi.

    • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

      Hey Matt, feel free to come and say hi. I only work there 1 or 2 days a week though. Generally go in for $2 steaks on Fridays. I normally work from home in Burleigh.

  • .melie north

    Dig your writing style Alex. I read it all. I get bored by others. One thing I learned this year; one thing at a time. Not even one day at a time. One THING at a time. Otherwise the overwhelming response of the mind says to shut down and run away. Nah man, no running here. As you write, just get shit done.

    • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

      Thanks Melie! You should check out the free Momentum app on Chrome – it really helps me focus on one thing per day.

      • .melie north

        I’ll check it out, cheers. I do enjoy chroming it up.

  • http://venuejar.com/ Amin

    I have to agree with everyone here that this was a great post. Dan and Alex are so real and genuine that it shows in their writing. Keep it up guys!

    • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

      Thanks @AminAhmed:disqus – we appreciate your support! Glad you liked the post.

    • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Amin that positivity means a lot truly. Thank you.

  • http://www.successwithfocus.com/about/ Jeff Jones

    Dan and Alex,

    Congrats on moving your vision forward and closer to your goals. Great post about so many aspects that are easy to overlook until they bite you in the ass!

    Jeff

    • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

      Hi @gronesy:disqus, you’re 100% right. We’ve overlooked or made assumptions on a lot of things, but customer service is not one of them! Thanks a lot for your comment :)

  • Mike Sawyer

    Humor does keep sanity and a lot of the points in this post are great. I love humor as much as the next bean burrito. Taking the extra steps to make sure a website is looking good takes a sturdy heart, especially if you are getting feedback from a co worker or founder or even a manager that you have hired. Thanks for the time in writing this.

    • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

      Haha, did someone say burrito? I recently moved to San Francisco and there’s a place in the Mission that has a world class burrito. I digress… thanks for your support @wolffe80:disqus :D

      • Mike Sawyer

        No worries, yes I did say burrito, California has the best handmade burritos in the world. Nothing like a little cool beans in the afternoon for lunch.

  • lisaleague

    Great post!

    Yikes! To avoid the “startup 15″, I found I had to quit working regularly at Starbucks. As much as I love them, I was worried it would creep up on my wallet and waistline. They were my “pizza and beer”:)

    • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

      Great advice @lisaleague:disqus. Maybe I should put my bodyweight in the monthly report to keep me accountable!

      • lisaleague

        Oh, that’s too brave!

  • Claire Oldfield

    Great post, thanks for sharing. The irony of Dan counselling anyone on the virtues of patience still has me in fits…

    I’m always thinking of little things Dan has told me in emails and post about ways to make my blogging better and I’m slowly but surely trying to apply them and more regularly but this made me realised I’ve never really said ‘thanks’ or let him know I’m actually do it (I’m sure this’ll lead to MORE feedback but that’s ok!) so…Thanks Dano…you’re help and advice is appreciated!

    • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

      Ha no worries. I nearly lost it when I read about how I’d been helping Alex with patience. Constant lols. Soon I’ll be teaching him how to be tolerant.

  • Casey Stevens

    Love your work guys. Would love to know how you keep up the momentum. Is it because there’s two of you to keep things moving forward and keep each other on track? Do you have weekly goals or to do’s or something?

    I sometimes find it difficult working by myself all the time. My dogs aren’t much help.

    • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

      Hey Casey yes that definitely helps a lot. We have a weekly Skype and chat constantly. We have monthly growth targets too.

      • Casey Stevens

        Cool, might have to look into getting myself an accountabilabuddy then!

        • http://www.wpcurve.com/ Alex McClafferty

          Hey @disqus_0HP6YE83gg:disqus – we use this method in the Content Club. It’s waaaay too easy to procrastinate when you’re only accountable to yourself, but if you’re accountable to someone else – it really boosts your output!

          • Casey Stevens

            Definitely sounds like it Alex! Thanks for the input guys, really appreciate it.