- Iterating through failure is the only way to become successful.
- Failure teaches us how to be better.
- Success builds a great life for us, but we can't get there without learning from our mistakes (failures)
These are paraphrases from people like Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk and others from the top 1% club.
I try very hard to keep these in mind. Failures suck. But they are part of life. And ultimately failure is the greatest teacher... if you let it be.
My First Company Failed
My first formal company failed. It failed hard. I tried to pivot, take on jobs for money that weren't in our niche, and we didn't make any profit at all. We burned through all our money within about 18 months.
But I learned more from that than any other company.
Being brand new at business, I had a lot of hard lessons to learn. Things people don't teach you:
- Don't chase money, just keep adding value to customers
- Companies breathe money, not air. It's not being greedy to want your company to succeed
- Branding is more important than you think
- Be able to summarize your business and what it does in less than 10 words
- Sell, sell, sell. I'm a developer along with entrepreneur and I wanted to code all our features. That was a mistake
- Stop caring about other people and their businesses. You do you
- Find your tiny niche. Don't aim for a huge market! Look for a TINY niche in your market. Extra emphasis on TINY. Smaller the better. Expand after that
- Don't network just for the sake of networking, but don't network just to sell either
Yeah.. this list goes on and on and on. Some of it is common sense, but it's not common when you're in the middle of the grind and focusing on 100 things at once.
This company was the best learning experience. 18 months of pain taught me more than a decade in school could. I took a loss, and because of how much I learned I'm OK with that. Time to move on and apply what was learned.
I've had so many failed ideas
That's not a bad thing!
Before my first company, after, and even lately.. I've had ideas that have been worked on that didn't work out. We all have. From web analytics companies to EdTech companies. Or rather, they'd have become companies if they gained any traction. They didn't. But each one comes with a couple of lessons. Ie: don't start a company until you can prove people want your service or product.
Failed ideas and companies weigh on us as human beings. Each one makes it harder and harder to get back up. But each time you get back up you have a higher probability of success. You have new weapons: historical knowledge and expertise in things not to do.
I worked on a company with a couple of great guys from Belfast and Dublin. The company was set up in the UK, and I was the "foreign guy". My job was to automate myself out of my own role, and for the most part, I did just that.
Instead of taking the lead in the company, I took the technical lead. The technology that was developed was entirely developed by me and it turned out really well.
But when you spend a couple of years using what you know, working 14-16 hour days every day, you miss out on a lot. Namely, you miss out on what the world is doing and how technology is changing. I used to take 2-3 weeks off and just learn about new technology every year. That worked well, but there's a better way. Constant monitoring.
This company taught me one really big lesson: people are your most valuable asset. You can automate everything, you can have great sales funnels and high conversation rates.. but at the end of the day, the people you work with are the biggest assets in your life. They have skills you don't. In my case, the co-founders had skills I didn't, and I had skills they didn't.
Unfortunately, things didn't end well for me in this company, which is why I'm talking about people as valuable assets. Don't burn bridges if you don't have to.. even if you really want to: don't.
This company brought lots of success to us. And some harder life lessons. I still consider this a success story! It was a fun 2 years and I hope the other guys are still going great.
After that, I had realized people were coming to me for startup and company advice. I hadn't recognized that I had all these new skills and pieces of knowledge. Other people saw it, but I didn't for a while. So I started consulting.
Thinking about starting a company? I can help guide you down the right path. Note: I am not a lawyer or accountant but I can help with figuring out next steps, getting "unstuck", and figuring out how to turn an idea into a business. Reach out to me if that's your thing.
During all of this I've been teaching people how to code. It funded my first company in it's early days when we were burning cash.
I started teaching people how to code in November of 2012. My first course, like my first business, turned out so bad. Honestly, I'm not sure why people still buy it, but they do!
And like each business and idea I've had each course taught me something new: ways to improve.
Now I teach over 300,000 students worldwide. It's my main hustle. Everything else is side hustle.
Learning to Code
... is the name of my massive Facebook Group. There are over 50,000 members in there. It started as a support group for my students and quickly evolved into a support group for all coders, from all backgrounds, around the globe. It's a free group - feel free to join https://www.facebook.com/groups/1088943884540928/
I put in about an hour a day into moderating and managing this group with very little financial payoff. But where it lacks in income it wins in education. Earlier on this page I mentioned that constant monitoring was a better method than learning new technologies of the span of a few weeks every year. This group helps me do that. People ask questions about things I might not have heard of, which tells me I need to go research something quickly. They help me keep my finger on the pulse of technology.
But even better: helping create a large coding group where people can support each other as they learn. I'm always there for support and accuracy, but for the most people students help each other, and that's a beautiful thing to see. My students make me so proud!
Big Data/Data Science
I tried to get into big data and data science. It's actually not all that hard. But I learned a completely different set of lessons with this one. I don't consider this company as failed or successful. In fact, as far as I know, the original team is still working on it.
However I left after two years of fighting for a technological vision. As the technical lead of the team it was my job to get things up and running in the digital space. I fought for branding, automation, and simplifying things in the beginning. But people made it more and more complex. And after two years the lesson I learned was:
If an idea isn't working after x amount of time don't be afraid to kill it.
So I left. There was no formal company formed, no shares, nothing like that. There was also no income whatsoever. So in my experience, if a company isn't showing signs of any growth after a reasonable set period of time, it's OK to kill the idea or leave and take lessons learned and move forward. Remember: companies breathe money, not air.
These days I largely focus on Wagtail CMS. As a member of the core development team I enjoy when I can make progress in that niche. Whether that's in the form of education, making pull requests reviewing code or discussing upcoming features or ideas.
I currently work with Torchbox, the creators and largest maintainers of Wagtail CMS. And I love it!
It's not my company, I don't own any part of it. But I love the company and take ownership like it's my own... because when a company appreciates you, you'll naturally want to give back.
If you're interested in learning Wagtail, check out my other site LearnWagtail.com