Wow, life is a wild ride.
In March 2013 I decided to start Popforms, and in June I decided to sell the company to Safari. While it was a very difficult decision, I know it is the right thing for me. The last couple years have been hard.
Bootstrapping is HARD
You always hear the stories of the team that built a company and had it take off in 6 months, making all of them millions of dollars. When you decide to build a startup you never think that you are going to fail – you dream big and you believe you can accomplish the world. I honestly thought with all of my experience I would be able to build a wildly successful company.
And Popforms was successful, but no where near what I wanted to achieve. I had hoped to build a company with millions in revenue. I bet I could have done that if I had moved forward with fundraising and hired a team. However, I had convinced myself that I wanted to self-fund the company and build it from the ground up without all the red tape that comes from taking investment.
We built something of real value, we built a great audience, and I made a mark on the world in a positive way. However, it wasn’t easy.
It was a big change.
I went from making over $200k + equity to depleting my savings every month to fund the business. I felt bad whenever I spent money on anything – work or personal. I quit getting my nails done, I never went shopping (my husband used to tease me that all I wore was pajamas), and I analyzed every expense to cut out anything that wasn’t truly necessary.
Every month my focus was making ends meet.
It took us a while to start making money and I remember when we made $1000 I was so excited. Every month when Popforms would make enough to make payroll (and that was for employees not for me) I was happy. When it didn’t I would hunt for consulting projects to keep the company in the black.
This of course meant that I wasn’t focused on growing Popforms, I focused on finding consulting projects and then completing them. And in all honesty, I am a bad consultant. I always under bill my hours because I want the client to be super happy and get a lot of value.
I did lots of stuff I wasn’t good at, and I optimized for costs over all else.
I didn’t want to hire a bookkeeper because I was just using Quickbooks and I could figure it out. I didn’t want to pay a web designer because my husband is a great designer so I just had to pester, plead and beg for him to help me on my designs. I didn’t have the budget to hire someone to do sales, so I read some books about sales and start emailing and calling (and hated every minute of it).
And I reached a point in my business where every single day wasn’t fun. I was constantly having to push myself to do things I hated, and I was spending lots of time on projects that just weren’t in my wheel house (like payroll, front end coding, design and Photoshop, etc.). The good thing was I learned a lot (and I am much better at interviewing people in these different roles now that I have done them), but the bad thing was that the thing I am best at (leading a team to execute on a vision) I wasn’t doing.
Success comes from leveraging your strengths
I have studied successful people full-time the last several years, and one thing I have seen over and over is that the people who achieve the most are the ones that position themselves where they are doing things they are best at. It is great to be a generalist, but if you want to be in demand – and you want to have power, flexibility and success – you need to be a specialist.
Think about everything you learned last year.
Now take a minute and write it down.
What were your biggest lessons?
How did your experience change you?
Now count them. How many things did you learn?
Whenever I ask people to do this most people come up with 3-10 things. The more you learn the more successful you become. And so the more you can maximize your learning opportunities – to make them big impactful things – the more you can achieve.
Make sure you are maximizing your return on investment
When you can make the most of your learning, the better you will become.
For example if I am good at writing code and I devote my energy to becoming really great at programming, I have a leg up and can achieve greater success in that field than someone who isn’t naturally suited to that kind of job.
If I am a good programmer but spend all my time writing and giving presentations, I am at a disadvantage. I may still be successful, but I won’t be taking advantage of the innate power I have naturally with programming and maximizing the time I spend at work.
When you do what you are good at, things like success, money, freedom, and recognition will come.
If you aren’t in a role where you are doing what you are best at, then I would challenge you to think about if you are short-changing yourself and your growth opportunities. What more could you be doing that would make you the best in the world at something? Find it, and then double down.
What am I going to do next?
One of my biggest lessons from building this company, and then selling it, was the realization that I am best when I am part of a larger team. I am best when I am leading. Heck, I get asked to speak and teach workshops on being a better leader and manager. I love being an entrepreneur, but my next step I want to be part of a something bigger.
I know I want to start another company – I love the early phase. This time though I am going to have partners and cofounders. And this time I am going to get investors to help me so I can hire people to help and execute a bigger vision.
Oh and I am going to choose an industry that isn’t a nice-to-have like corporate training. I am going to choose something big, high growth, and something that is more like a painkiller than a vitamin.