Today is the company’s 2000th day birthday. (optional.is) was incorporated Feb 7th, 02011 making us 2000 days old today.
That’s a lot of time passing. Recently, we’ve fall-off our weeknotes horse and haven’t been publishing. We’re trying to rectify that situation, but works is what work is.
Since we started this company, we’ve managed to do some amazing things! We’ve been to several new countries and continents, published lots of articles, attended some interesting conference, met some amazing folks and ventured out of our comfort zone more than a few times.
When we started the company, it was meant to be away to collect consulting projects under a single name. We could be doing a little bit of this as freelance, or something different with a small team of folks. We didn’t want to be forward facing as an individual, but rather a company with some history and access to great people. In some ways we’ve done well with that, in others, we’ve fallen back to being hired as individuals. We’ve even lost team members into companies we consulted for. The consulting became bigger and bigger until it made more sense for those individuals to just work as an employee elsewhere for some duration. For better or worse, those engagements never lasted more than a year and the team members came back to (optional.is) to rejoin the fold.
Some of the most gratifying things in the last 2000 days have been our Quarterly Newsletter. We’ve sent out 18 mailings so far and when you never think anyone actually reads them, you randomly get a message from someone saying “That link made my day, I never knew about that”. Then all the effort you put into writing it was worthwhile. We really enjoy those newsletters because it allows the team to curate something fun and interesting. A bit of self-promotion, but more importantly, it is a newsletter we want to read – not bragging about how great we are. In the future we want to expand it further. If you’re not signed-up, you really should join the mailing list.
We’ve also been lucky enough to travel and speak at conferences. Other people out there think we’re interesting enough that they invited us to share some of our knowledge and experience with their community. Earlier this year we tried to do something similar here in Iceland and host our own conference. Sadly, we bit off more than we thought and couldn’t meet our funding goals, but we’re not afraid to try again in 02017.
Several years ago, we were invited to take part in one of the O’Reilly FOO camps. That was great, we met so many interesting people, but it also opened our eyes to new possibilities and ways of looking at things. One quote that stuck with us was from Tim O’Reilly:
Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations. — Tim O’Reilly
We certainly like money and getting paid, it keeps the company running, salaries paid and allows us to experiment some some R&D, but that’s not why we work. Our goal isn’t to make loads of money for ourselves. We want to experiment, learn and push the boundaries of what is possible.
In our first 2000 days, we’ve been pretty focused on a lot of the details. Most companies fail within their first two years, luckily we’ve pass that, but you’re never out of the woods fully. We have plenty of good systems in place to see how much money we have, how much and where we spend and earn it along with our burn rate – basic Profits and Losses. We are also more aware of the seasonal ups and downs. We tried to publish as much as we can about where our money comes and goes via our annual reports. Some years are easier than others.
We’ve been looking back over the last year or so and started to see a few patterns. We tend to go from “Hunter Gatherer” to “Agricultural” ways of working. In an Agricultural manner, we find a fertile piece of land to work, and we play it safe and work it for a long time. We have a very high probability that we’ll get paid and there will be work next month. This steady form of income is nice, but comes with some downsides. We’ll almost never have any breakthroughs or make a lot of money signing long-term support contracts. Our margins are low, but guaranteed. We do this for several months at a time working closely or embedded in other companies. It isn’t always the most glamorous work, but it is things that need to be done and genuinely help people.
On the flip-side, sometimes we’re Hunter-Gatherers. We barely know when or where our next meal with come from. It is much more risky and we sometimes eat-up saving we have in the bank, but wow, when it comes through, the meals are big and plentiful. We might not know where work will come from, and all of a sudden a huge contract appears with a due date in 3 weeks for a massive trade-show. These can be stressful, but tend to be more fun, exciting and profitable.
Our pendulum is constantly swinging between these two modes. We haven’t yet managed to get that rhythm at a better pace or be able to do both at the same time very effectively. That’s something to improve in our next 2000 days. We’re pretty metric driven and always improving. For instance, our Availability Forecast is something we publish publicly, but at the same time, we use that to see how well our predicted workload reflects our actual. This helps us to see which mode we’re in, how extreme and helps us predict if we are waxing or waning.
We’re really enjoyed the freedom of running a small company. It is certainly stressful, you need to do everything yourself, from balancing the budget, to winning new clients, to paying bills and salary, all the way to sorting the recycling and buying printer toner. It also means you can say NO to things. Some weeks we’re swamped and we can just say “Not right now” or a project comes along and it just doesn’t smell right, we can say “No”. If we worked for someone else, we’re at the mercy of their vision. Our team is small and pretty well focused. Luckily we all share the same vision and are comfortable and brave enough to know when to NOT take on a project we don’t want.
Finally, for others our there, there is no secret formula to success. It is a big part luck and a bigger part hard work. There are plenty of self-help, pop-pscycology and business books out there. Just have a look around at any airport. If they actually worked, the world would be awash with entrepreneurs, so something else is needed. We’re guilty of reading and owning a few of those books and they’re not all bad, but you need to have an open-mind and open-heart to accept, understand and to deal with your customers and clients.
The best piece of advice from any self-help book we’ve ever seen was simply “Dig your well before you’re thirsty”. Ask yourself, “How did I help someone else today, so in the future when I need help, they will be there for me”. If you can’t answer that question, then you need to change the way you do business.
Thanks and here’s to another 2000 days,
— (optional.is) Team