2006: The business

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 30, 2006, 8:46 PM | comments: 0

So as I've been reflecting on the year, I've noticed that I can generally divide my thoughts into two parts: The personal, romantic and social side, and the business, career and financial side. I'll start with the latter.

Just before the previous year ended, I found myself getting bored and stagnant. I was doing contract work when I felt like it, spent the holidays alone and did a lot of soul searching. I knew I could go until March without any additional work, but I wasn't that motivated to do anything in my own domain in terms of business.

I found only one job listing that seemed particularly interesting, and it was posted by the company itself and not a recruiter. Keep in mind that those people were calling me constantly, all with mundane and boring contract stuff. But I responded to the Insurance.com ad, talked with them, and they lured me in. In my second meeting they began talking signing bonus, and I figured that would at least get them three months of my time.

I hated it at first. I mean, really, really, hated getting up in the morning and driving 25 miles to this place. Most of that was just me not having to be on someone else's schedule, and some of it was that I wasn't getting any challenging or interesting work to do. At first I felt like I was making the same mistake I did at Progressive, going in for the money and little else.

In March, I went to the Mix06 conference in Vegas. While seeing Bill Gates was cool, the thing I most got out of it (aside from the free registration) was that smart people inspired me. What sucked about contract work was that I was often the smartest person in the room, without actually knowing as much as I wish I did. With this realization, I started to align myself with the right people and the right projects at work, and by summer I started to feel like I was really getting something out of it, probably for the first time since I was at Penton in 2000. There are three guys there I get a lot from, one of which is scary brilliant. That influence is the reason I feel like I'm a better code monkey today.

But it was a close call too, because those first few months, I started to wonder if I wanted to write code at all. Maybe it wasn't my thing, despite having written a book and spending so much time developing my skills. I really do enjoy it though, so long as I have the proper motivation to do so.

Meanwhile, my company churned on, largely in the background. Revenue was more or less flat, and traffic was up a little on my sites. I blew most of my profit on new toys this year. I bought an HD camera, which I absolutely love, and I made the full transition into the Mac world. My laptop and desktop are both Intel-based Macs, and I would never go back to using Windows for anything outside of software development.

The company debt, which is essentially still my own debt, only I can deduct the interest, reached an astounding $30k after buying all of that stuff on top of what I was already carrying. I'm proud to say that I'm now flirting with just $10k again, since I didn't draw a ton of cash out of the biz. When I finally get around to making that film (a subject more for the personal reflective post), it'll be easy to finance, and I've already got most of the gear. My personal debt I should have eliminated by March at the latest, though I'll be borrowing again to recarpet my house.

One of the things I've often struggled with is actually delivering something, a finished project. When it's for other people, it's no problem (I paid for a little less than half of my camera doing contract video projects), but on my own time line, for my own use, I suck. I've been talking about rewriting my forum app, POP Forums, for years, and it in turn has held back deploying a redesign for CoasterBuzz and PointBuzz. I really beat myself up about that.

Fortunately, when I started feeling good about writing code again in the summer, I started to feel a little more motivated. In September, I started to work more earnestly toward the rewrite. In recent weeks I've tried to step it up even more, giving a self-imposed deadline of 1/1 to have a functionally equivalent beta version done. I'm getting really, really close. It doesn't have everything I want for it just yet, but it's getting there. I want to spend time on the CoasterBuzz redesign around the forum app, and then go back to the forum after it's launched to start iterating some more.

Meanwhile, ad revenue held steady, but when it's flat and you have more traffic, that means the per impression prices is dropping, and that sucks. I heard either via a podcast or Wired or something, that this career media guy, John Battelle, started a new firm called Federated Media to sell ads for the trendy new Web properties and blogs. I made a case for them representing CoasterBuzz, and with a little luck and some sweet talking, they actually picked up the site. Here I am with a couple million of page impressions per month, along side of sites like Digg that get millions every couple of hours. It's nice company to be in, and frankly motivates me that much more.

So what's on tap for this year? Finish and start selling the forum, obviously. Relaunch the two big sites, too. If FM can start really selling, that's a bonus as well. The film experiment will be under the LLC as well.

Overall, 2006 was a pretty good year in terms of my professional life. Next year looks even better.


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