Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Power in Numbers: Building Your Startup’s Team

For many years I’ve worked tirelessly to build BiggerPockets.com up with a team that consisted of a programmer, and myself (my wife does the books, so I can’t ignore her important role) — a team that most would call LEAN!

While he wrote code, I handled every other component of the business — sales, marketing, PR, business development, strategy, community development, seo, lead editor, writer, and more. (I also don’t want to forget to mention our awesome volunteer moderators and writing staff) I’ve put in countless hundred hour weeks and even went over 6 years without taking a single day off — including weekends and holidays. In other words, I’ve worked my ass off to get where my company is, and put a ton of importance on hard work, hustle, and determination.

I’ve lived and breathed the life of a solopreneur, and while I wouldn’t give up that experience for the world, things have begun to change for us and I just wanted to share my thoughts on that transition.

Before I do, lets look at some of the positives and negatives of the solopreneur life:

Positives of Being Solopreneur:

  • You don’t have to answer to anyone
  • You don’t have to deal with the drama that comes with partners or co-founders
  • You don’t have to worry about the headaches that come with employees
  • You can work when you want, how your want, where you want

Negatives of Being a Solopreneur:

  • You don’t have anyone to take over when something goes wrong
  • You don’t have anyone vested in the company to share ideas with or get advice from
  • You have to do almost EVERYTHING!

I can go on and on with the negatives, but I think the last point is the most important one . . . Doing everything is exhausting. Furthermore, when we have to do as many tasks as a solopreneur has, it is simply impossible to do all those things well. You just can’t be an expert at everything!

Are We a Company Now?

Last November I elected to hire a consultant to help me examine the business and spent a pretty penny doing it — it was some of the best money I’ve ever spent. As a result of working with him, I hired our first full-time employee, improved our business by eliminating poorly performing elements, and started a new exciting phase of our startup’s growth.

Over the first quarter of the year, we saw AMAZING growth on the website, almost doubling monthly traffic over what it was before bringing on employee #1. We’ve also seen revenues grow, content increase, community growth increase, and a massive increase in productivity. I’ve begun to work FAR more on the business than in it, and that has been great for the company.

Let me reiterate — I am now spending my time as CEO of my company working ON the company instead of always managing the little details that can easily eat up a day. I can’t tell you how liberating that is. I actually took a day off recently, and I definitely need to let go a little more . . . I’ll get there!

I’ve used my newly found time to bring in other consultants and contractors, including an advertising and media specialist, who has helped me completely re-think how we work with advertisers. We just put out a new Media Kit (If you’re interested in advertising on BiggerPockets click here) and will be using the consultant to deal with many of the tasks that go with working with our advertisers.

Startup Tip: Hiring Experts to do things you’re not great at is Essential

The ad side of the business was definitely one of our weak spots, and getting the vast majority of the headaches associated with it off my plate, again freed me up.

We Have a Startup Team Now!

In order to further build the business, I realized that we need more development help, and this past week we brought on a new developer to the team — yep we’re a TEAM! This solopreneur has given up his old ways of working alone and now has a team that includes:

  • CEO — That’s me!
  • Lead Developer
  • Junior Developer
  • Head of Content Development & Community
  • Advertising Sales
  • Book keeper, moderation team, writing staff, legal & accounting, server

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be growing the team. Watching the increased output, productivity, and growth is extraordinary, and I’m ecstatic to bring on even more staff as we move forward.

Share your experience growing your startup company’s team in the comments below . . . I love hearing how others are progressing as well!

Photo: Hamed Saber

Holy Cow! I’m Throwing a Conference: BiggerPockets REI Summit 2012 in Denver

The announcement came two weeks ago, but since then I’ve been so swamped with getting my act together and with travel for the Thanksgiving holidays, that I didn’t have a chance to mention it here.

On March 23-24, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center I am going to be throwing the first BiggerPockets REI Summit. This is going to be a ground-breaking event for the real estate industry — an conference designed for a national crowd of investors with no upsell, no back of the room nonsense, no “guru” BS!

As most of you probably know already, one of the reasons I founded BiggerPockets is that I wanted a place where I could discuss real estate without worrying that some self-anointed “guru” was going to constantly sell me their “secrets.” We’ve built an incredible community that is unmatched in the space, and which is run under the same founding principles today. This Summit is designed to do for live real estate investing events what our site did for the online space.

I’m very proud of what we’re trying to do, and I have gotten an enormous amount of support from many of the most credible businesses and people in real estate.

I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to try and spread the word, and I’ll be sure to keep you posted as things continue to progress.

Meanwhile . . .
Buy Your Tickets and Join Us March 2012 at the Conference

Seeking a Website Developer Position? Don’t Be Stupid!

I recently posted on various rails job sites about a new open position available on BiggerPockets (BTW – If you’re a ruby on rails developer and are looking for work, please get in touch ASAP!).

In going through the various replies, I came upon one that seemed interesting, but the developer didn’t supply me with access to any code on GitHub or otherwise, to review. I sent a follow up asking for him to provide me with some code and as part of his response, he wrote:

In case you couldn’t read it (and yes, I removed his name and the name of the repos to protect the guilty), here it is again:

I have two repos xxx which is public you can use it. Another one is xxxxxxx which I will like you to keep confidential as I am under NDA, please do send me your git-hub account so that I can give you access to this repo.

So, in the name of satisfying a potential employer (me) who wants a sample of his code, this joker thinks that sharing an NDA protected selection of code and asking me to “keep it confidential” will endear him to me? He just violated the trust of a previous contract!

Yes, there really are people that stupid out there.
Yes, there are people who would have taken him up on the offer.

Don’t be that stupid guy or the guy who takes him up on it.

New Paid Directories and Other Online Products: Chicken or Egg?

We just launched a new product on BiggerPockets, a hard money lenders directory, and I’ve been pondering the challenges of getting a product like this off the ground.

Lucky for us, our site has a nice built in audience of over 60,000 members and we’re approaching 200,000 monthly uniques, so I’m confident that we can very quickly ramp this up. We’ve got our first signups and have many pending commitments in less than 24 hours, so I’m very pleased.

That said, I was wondering how other sites that have a similar model get up and running . . .

Have you created a directory site? How did you get it off the ground?

Another question emerges with something like this, and that is in promoting your product. You always want to be promoting your products, but there is a certain challenge in promoting a directory that is lean on listings. My quandary thus far has been in how far to go and when to turn it on 100%? While we don’t want new visitors to get turned off by a lack of listings, we also realize the need for promotion.

So . . . we’re going to do as we always do . . . we’re going to figure it out and kick ass doing it!

By the way, if you’re a hard money lender and are reading this, and haven’t yet talked to me about getting your company in our directory, get on it and we’ll see if we can get you taken care of!

Photo: Ivan Walsh

Stop Making Commitments When You Can’t Live Up to Them!

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. On almost a daily basis, I run into a situation where someone made a commitment to me, and didn’t live up to it. It is tiresome, annoying, and flat out rude. I don’t pretend to be perfect, and I’m sure I’ve made my share of commitments that I couldn’t keep, but we need to put this pattern of recklessness to a stop.

Just this morning, I can already count two instances where people made promises to me and failed to live up to them. The first one was for a weekly Friday morning meeting that we planned for brainstorming and masterminding — the other party has failed to show on three of three occasions (yes, I’ve already removed this from my calendar now) — and the other was from a writer who committed to provide articles to me weekly, but hasn’t in several weeks (and hasn’t responded to my emails, either).

If You Can’t Live Up to Your Commitments, Don’t Make Them!

I can’t tell you how many times I was really excited about doing business with another company and had to pass because we weren’t able to commit to executing on our side of the relationship. While at the time, these situations were disappointing to both us and the other party, in the end, being up front about it probably saved our reputation and relationships with those companies. I’m very aware of our capabilities and try to never make promises I can’t keep . . . I strongly urge others take the same direction with their businesses.

How do you feel about it?

Planning for the Unexpected and Startup Team Building

Today was supposed to be a new beginning, but sometimes we have to deal with headaches from our past, and that appeared to be the case this morning, as I learned of a security hole that was causing bots to be able to spam parts of our site. The hole has since been closed, but I wasn’t planning on spending the first few hours of the day on that nonsense.

The Entrepreneur’s Life: Something ALWAYS Comes Up

If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that no matter how well you plan things out, something will always come up to distract you. While many of these distractions can be ignored, often times you’ll need to re-prioritize your entire day/week/month as a result of others.

In my case, the loss of my developer this week means that everything else that I had planned to do has to be put on hold. We had some exciting upgrades to BiggerPockets planned, and unfortunately, they will need to wait until we can get someone new in house to execute. I was also working on some business deals, and these too must be put on hold for a short while until the number one priority – hiring – is complete. Of course, I’ve always got my backups, but it gets rough when you go through a period like I’ve had recently, with the loss of several developers over a short period of time. Then again, that’s how it often goes when you’re working with contract workers.

This is not something new for me. Dealing with unforeseen circumstances is the story of the last five plus years of my life, but if you’re an upstart entrepreneur, you better make sure you’ve got the ability to deal with such events, because they come up often.

Forward Planning: Plotting the Future of a Company

I’m planning on spending some time over the next days in linking up with other entrepreneurs to get a better idea of what size team to plan for when we start building things up. I’ve got a pretty good idea of our needs, but of course, it would be great to see what the experiences of those people who have been through the capital raising phase after bootstrapping are; most folks I know started their companies with financing . . . I’m in an altogether different place with a live, revenue generating and profitable business.

Here are some good reads I’ve found regarding team building as it relates to getting your startup off the ground:

More to come . . .

Catharsis

1311438015_3cacfb3c7b

According to Wikipedia, catharsis means a “cleansing”, “purging”, or “clarification.” I hope that today’s catharsis marks a new beginning for myself and my company, BiggerPockets.

With that in mind, I hope to share the journey moving forward with the rest of you.

I’ve ignored this blog for a long time, and I’ve really come to miss having a place where I can share great tips, tools, resources, and other info, as well as having a place to vent, and to let everyone know what it is that I deal with while running the business.

Moving Forward

This year started off with a bang, and along the way there were a few bumps in the road, followed by some boulders and a few mountains. I’m not going to get into the details, but just know that from today forward, the plan is to smooth out the road once again.

The first step in moving forward is to find a new ruby on rails developer for BiggerPockets. If you’re a coder or know of one, please check out the job description and shoot us your resume. Otherwise, the plan is to get working on the plan.

Simply put, I’ve been bootstrapping the business for long enough. The time has come to raise some capital and to take things to the next level. I hope to take you along with me on my journey.

Stay tuned.

Photo: *clairity*

How Often do You Clean Out Your WordPress Plugins?

With every few upgrades of WordPress or so, I notice that there is no longer a need for one of the plugins that I’m using. In may cases, WordPress itself has integrated the functionality that the plugin was designed for. Occasionally, I’ll note that one of my plugins has become relatively useless to me or to my blog.

Upgrading Your Plugins

As the software has become more sophisticated, upgrades to both WP and to the plugins themselves have become much more simple. The latest incarnations of the site all have one step instant upgrades for both the plugins and WP.

With that in mind, upgrading has become a bit of a no-brainer!

When the software tells you to upgrade, just do it! It’ll help keep you protected from the increasingly sophisticated bad guys who are always on the prowl. This goes for both WP iteself and the plugins.

So . . . How Often Do YOU Clean Out Your Plugins?

Am I the only one out there chucking these things into the junk bin?

Photo Credit:

Feeling Pain Over a $10 T-Shirt? NOPE, But Principles Matter in Business!

A few months ago I decided BiggerPockets.com would be a sponsor for a Real Estate Event that was slated to occur in mid-October. This was to be a one day real estate technology-themed event, and in return for the $250 sponsorship, we’d get our company name on the event’s website, and our logo on all publicity materials and banners; I was also promised a swag package including t-shirts.

Don’t Take Their Word for It

The day came and went, and from what I heard, it was a great gathering. Since I was unable to attend, of course, I wanted some proof that our company name did indeed make it on all the materials. I saw some pics and we were certainly present.

So, Why am I Disappointed?
Part of the verbal agreement that I entered into with the person who ran the event was that I would get some t-shirts — after all, it was the least they could do in return for the $250 we spent, right?

I was told on several occasions that the package was en-route. When it never arrived I was given excuse after excuse after excuse; this went on for 2 months. I was then told on January 4 that I’d get a shirt from a later event that took place 3 weeks ago, but low and behold that never happened either.

Why Should Anyone Care About a Stupid T-Shirt

This was about principal, not a $10 shirt. I entered into a business agreement with another, well known businessman in my industry, and he’s just blown me off. The shirt was something I had been promised in return for my money, and the right thing to do would have been to send it to me, as promised. This was someone who I respected and hoped to foster a deeper business relationship with, but how could I trust someone on large transactions when they never fully came through on this small one?

Lessons Learned?
I’d say that I learned one important lesson: Get to know better the people with whom you are doing business. The entire thing reminded me to look at how I run my own business and make sure I’m doing so ethically. I will never allow myself to take anyone for even a few dollars, because it all comes down to the fact that, your principals are how others will judge you and your company.

Who knows . . . maybe some day I’ll see my shirts. Don’t worry, I won’t be holding my breath.

Launching a New Social Networking Site for Real Estate – 2.0 Baby!

Two days ago, I launched the latest update for my site, BiggerPockets . . .

The BiggerPockets Real Estate Social Network

After months of preparation, programming, problem-solving, we’re finally live! I’ve got to tell you . . . it is very exciting!

If you haven’t been to the site, stop by. Not only is it the premiere real estate investing community out there, but we’re transformed it into the premiere real estate social networking community!

When I get some time, I’ll try to share with everyone all of the details behind the building of the site, launch, glitches, etc. All I know is that I’ve got to double our server RAM to 8GB, and fast, because we’re pounding the hell out of our 4GB box right now.

See everyone over at the site!

Don’t Get Screwed! How to Hire and Manage Developers and Programmers.

I just fired my latest web developer!

Over the years, I’ve worked with quite a few programmers/developers on various projects I’ve wanted to develop. On the smaller projects, I’ve typically been very successful in finding people who can get the job done. Unfortunately, however, on the larger projects, I’ve had more failures than anything else.

The problem I’ve found has been that overall, many developers and programmers don’t live up to the hype. I will use my latest experience as an example that I hope others can learn from.

I recently heard about a website similar to Guru.com and Scriptlance.com called oDesk, where folks can find and hire developers for their projects. The site, in my opinion, is vastly superior to the other sites for a few reasons — primarily because you can track the work of your developer with screen captures and video camera captures, but also because the site has a series of tests for different areas of programming, language, and design, where you can see how skilled someone is.

Recently, I hired someone who I had worked with in the past on a fairly large project. He had demonstrated to me that he was competent and trustworthy in his handling of the initial job. In developing our plan of attack and in the first few days of the job, everything was great and going smoothly. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that he wasn’t someone to be trusted. He disappeared for 2 weeks in the middle of the project, and I was too stupid to fire him. He promised to meet a certain number of weekly hours, but let me down and achieved only a small fraction of that number, and again, I was too stupid to fire him. He then disappeared for 3 and 4 days at a time, 3 more times before I had finally had enough and fired him. He couldn’t explain his disappearances or inability to perform. He was unable to complete in almost 7 weeks that which should have been completed in one.

I realize that I messed up big time with him and let him walk all over me, but in doing so, I learned my lesson. Hopefully the rest of you don’t have to get walked on to learn the same lessons . . .

What Lessons Did I Learn That You Too, Can Learn From?

  • References are often somewhat useless! I would have recommended this guy to anyone after he completed the first job with me. He would have gotten glowing reviews across the board, but don’t be fooled. Human nature is unpredictable. Many people have a nasty habit of disappointing you if you give them the chance. You have to take referrals with a grain of salt, knowing that the person may screw up. Just because they come with recommendations doesn’t mean that they will perform for you. Don’t be afraid to deal with the situation if this person doesn’t work out. I also think it is extremely important to let the person who referred the programmer or developer to know whether or not they did a good job. Unless they are aware of problems, they will likely go on recommending them to others. Just because you got screwed, don’t allow others to get harmed as well.
  • Use ODesk! One of the other great features of this platform is that your provider is billed weekly. You don’t need to pay anything up front as a deposit. By paying weekly, you only get charged for the work that has been done in that week. If the provider doesn’t work (and you can track this with the screen captures/video cam snaps), he doesn’t get paid. Had I hired him through another site or directly, he would have likely demanded some kind of up-front deposit, which I would likely have never gotten back once I fired him. Using ODesk actually protected me.
  • If your developer isn’t performing, fire them! I didn’t want to do so because I’m on a deadline and I know that bringing a new person in takes time, but it is worth the time if the new person is going to perform to your needs.
  • Set timetables. The minute I realized that the developer was weeks behind, I should have handled it. I kept hoping that things would change, but learned my lesson. If the developer can’t keep to a timetable that is reasonable, then it is time for them to go bye, bye.
  • Don’t get emotionally involved! This was probably my biggest mistake. By getting emotionally involved, I kept allowing myself to will that things would improve. Hope and will aren’t going to make someone do the necessary job for you. Once you let your emotions affect your decision-making, you abandon the ability to make clear-rational decisions.

I could probably cover many more lessons that I learned, but none would be as important as the four I just mentioned. I’m in the midst of searching for a new developer and, although I know that I just wasted 6 weeks of my time, I also know that I’m much more prepared to deal with the next developer I hire.

BTW – If anyone knows of a great Ruby on Rails developer, please let me know!

Vacation

Hey All . . . sorry about the lack of posting lately, but I’ve been on a much needed vacation! I’ll get a few occassional posts in before getting back, but I just wanted to give you all a head’s up here!

I’ll be back in July so get ready!!!

See you all then!

Business Tip: Always Familiarize Yourself With Potential Partners

It seems that every day I’ve got a new lesson to share about “playing well with others.” Today’s lesson involves dealing with people who get in touch with you in order to forge a new business relationship. Over the past few weeks I’ve been working the phones very hard, making new contacts, and trying to establish new business relationships. In most occasions, I’ve been forced to leave a voicemail or email with the potential partner letting them know who I am, my website URL, and what I’m interested in.

Sadly, in many occasions , I’ve been able to get these people on the phone after a few days or so, but they have no idea who I am or what my website is about . . .

You would think it would be logical to find out more about someone who contacts you in an effort to partner with you, but I guess it is not that obvious. I’ve got to tell you that it is really difficult to have a conversation with someone and pitch something to them if they keep asking what your website does. It has happened twice today already!

Since it apparently not obvious to everyone out there, I’ll put it in easy to understand words:

Always do your research on potential partners before talking to them!

What do you think?