Why I’m starting a lifestyle business after almost 17 years chasing startup glory

It’s almost 17 years since I left my corporate job and chased the dream of being an ‘entrepreneur’. Many times over that journey I’ve turned down perfectly good projects, shut down perfectly good businesses and ignored great opportunities to chase the dream of having a real, legitimate startup.

Sometimes it’s gone my way, other times I’ve lost everything and had to start from scratch (or worse).

This week I find myself starting basically the same business I started 17 years ago, a website support business.

When I was 30, a number of years into my business journey I read ‘Think and Grow Rich”, and in that moment I set myself one big goal. Create a “6 figure” business – that is a business turning over $100,000 in a year. Eventually I hit this goal with my website agency, but it wasn’t enough. I was sick of up and down months, I couldn’t scale the business, I spent too much so the profits were low and I was bored of doing new website projects all the time.

I sold it (for not much) and put everything on the line to start a SAAS startup from scratch. It failed spectacularly. A year into the journey and with no runway left I started sharing my progress building my WordPress support subscription startup, WP Curve. The stated goal was to create a 7 figure business, and build it in a scaleable way so it was more like a startup. It worked, and shortly after passing $1m in annual recurring revenue, we sold it to GoDaddy for a multiple more like a startup valuation than a traditional agency valuation.

I then started a brewery, Black Hops and among many goals, one of mine was to turn it into an 8 figure business – or $10m in turnover per year. The funny thing is, we passed that number a few years ago and I didn’t even realise at the time. It was only when I was writing the annual wrap up, that I noticed we’d passed $10m in turnover for the year. I ended up running the business until we were doing $16m annually and growing at between 20% and 100% each financial year I ran the company, making it one of the top 100 fastest growing companies in Australia 2 years in a row.

It was a hell of a ride, the startup of a lifetime you might say, but it was not without its challenges. I often thought about my previous business and how comparatively easy it was and wondered what the fuck am I doing this for! A big part of the answer was I felt like I was building something that was so valuable that all short term sacrifices would be worth it in the end.

However having finished up in that business after 8 years and never taking a cent out of it other than a wage that was well below market rate, I definitely started wondering whether it was all worth it personally. And it was certainly an easy decision to not attempt something like that again.

Over the years, I’ve had many back and forth conversations with people about the ‘right’ way to do things when it comes to designing a business. Is it ‘right’ to do projects instead of only recurring services? Is it ‘right’ to start a business by yourself or do you need co-founders. What I’ve come to realise is, there is no right or wrong, there is only what suits you at the time.

There was a time in my life where I was prepared to give absolutely everything to a company because I started it and I felt I was personally attached to it in an explicit way. There was a time when I’d completely ignore short term returns in favour of building a large startup with potential for a big exit. There was a time when I’d never start a business by myself and was convinced investors and co-founders were a key part of any company I wanted to build.

But right now, none of those things are true. I’m not prepared to work 24 / 7 anymore and take the weight of a large company on my shoulders day and night. I don’t want to take the enormous risks required for high value companies, I’ve lost enough of my life to stress doing that. I’m not prepared to work for nothing in the hope of a payout down the track. In fact I don’t really need a payout down the track, I’m good now, I just want to maintain my lifestyle, enjoy my work and add some value to people. And I don’t want to report to investors or co-founders, I’ve done that and it’s not necessarily as fun as it looks. I don’t ever want to be in a situation again where the actions of other people can decide my fate – and any company that has boards, and co-founders and investors comes with this risk. I want a comfortable income and lifestyle that I can fully control, and after almost 17 years in business I think I deserve it!

The funny thing is, I mostly had that all those years ago and I didn’t want it.

But I do now, so that’s why I have started WP Master, another WordPress support business, but this time with a few key differences:

  1. It’s only for Australian businesses and operates during Australian business hours – no more late night stress sessions.
  2. I’m going to be doing most of the work myself with no staff (at least for now), and I don’t care if it’s a 5, 6, 7 or 8 figure business.
  3. It’s just me, no co-founders, no investors.
  4. I’m not going to try to ‘scale it’, I’m going to try to get a handful of customers, enough to make a decent living wage and leave it at that.

If you have a WordPress site and you run an Aussie business, check out WP Master. If you want to follow my startup journey, jump on my weekly emails here.

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