Though I tend to have gobs-o-ideas, and too many active projects to shake a stick at, I have actually only started a handful of things on my own that I’ve tried to generate a profit with and turn into a ‘real’ business.
Some of these 'attempts’ were more successful than others, but each has provided me with lots of insight, taught me more than I could have ever imagined, and been pretty fun along the way.
Anyway, I thought it might be fun to do a quick list of each of these 'attempts’ and one thing I learned from the experience. So here goes:
Falicon Programming Inc. - Primarily software consulting business, but also an umbrella company that I’ve released a variety of in-house, commercial, projects through.
REALIZATION: Consulting is generally a feast or famine business.
If you’re not careful you’ll spend a crazy amount of time chasing down sales and payments (and very little time actually doing the 'work’). Without wanting (or needing) to rely on it for 'paying the bills’ or as a long term plan, consulting can be a great way to help fund the many other projects/ideas I have.
Though I keep Falicon Programming Inc. as an active business, these days I actually do very little consulting (generally only projects for friends that specifically seek me out and will not require a huge time commitment on my part).
Statsfeed LLC - Sports statistics provider. Primarily designed to power fantasy football systems.
REALIZATION: Statsfeed was probably my single most (financially) successful project to-date. As such, I learned a lot of great things…but the single biggest thing that I think Statsfeed gave me was the confidence that I could in fact build a successful lifestyle business as a one-man show.
It also helped me identify some of my personal limits in growing a business as a one-man show.
Supermug - Fantasy football league management software. Primarily geared towards powering leagues tied specifically to bars (and bar staff). Done as a product of Falicon Programming Inc.
REALIZATION: Supermug was one of the first projects I tried to pull off when I first moved to the NYC area (back in 1999). As such it was before the 'commercial’ success of most fantasy systems (the NFL wasn’t yet recognizing it as legal) and though it was at the height of the dot com craze, most offline businesses really hadn’t even started to 'get’ the internet yet.
All of this added up to being a REALLY difficult situation to get a foothold in (and I was trying to give away the system to bars as a marketing tool for FREE! [the idea being that the patrons would pay a small fee to be in a league associated to their favorite/regular bar]). This taught me that timing is crucial, and the more education involved/required for a 'sale’, the harder the sale will be.
Draftwizard - Fantasy football help site. Annual subscription based service. Done as a product of Falicon Programming Inc.
REALIZATION: While I was struggling to get adoption for the supermug platform, I did start to find some success by breaking out some of the 'features’ into their own product geared towards individuals rather than leagues - Draftwizard.
I found that going direct to consumers with a simple proposition was actually a pretty easy sale. Traditional advertising on this front was fairly straight forward and successful (ie. you CAN basically buy customers).
However, I also found that the category of fantasy sports help services (at least the one I was running) is basically a 'break even’ situation at best. The reason being that there is too much distance between seasons (subscriptions), and fantasy football itself is designed so that most people actually lose (only 1 team wins the league each year).
If you didn’t win your league, you are unlikely to renew your subscription to a 'help’ service…and even if you did win, many forgot what service they used (or just refused to accept that it was related to any help a service like draftwizard might have provided them).
Bottom line, if you are going to buy customers, make sure you are able to do it at a price that is *much* lower than the lifetime value you will generate from each user on average.
Knowabout it - Personalized content discovery and recommendation system powered by social data. Done as a product of Digital Mechanical (with Will Cole).
REALIZATION: I’ve blogged about this a bit already, so I’ll save you from having to read through a repeat of some of that here.
…so there you have it…and handful of 'crucial learnings’ that I take with me into each new project and idea.
I don’t know about you, but I look forward to seeing what the next one reveals to me!
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Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.
If you have comments, thoughts, or want to respond to something you see here I would encourage you to respond via a post on your own blog (and then let me know about the link via one of the routes mentioned above).