December 10, 2002 spout

Of Eggs and Omelets

My life has been one long series of experiments. I tried to be a know-it-all jerk in high school and found that this tended to cut into my social life (drastically), so I stopped (or am still stopping, depending on how well you know me : ). I tried to be a ground floor” employee for a small company, but that stopped being fun when the repetition and bureaucracy hit and it became clear that any profits that might someday happen would be kept at the owner level. I tried being an employee for a large company, but when my projects started getting axed based on political winds that, as a low-level grunt, I had no control over, I went looking elsewhere. Then I found DevelopMentor. The combination of working on lots of different things with lots of smart people was something that I loved more than anything I’ve since found.

But even that didn’t stop my experimentation. After teaching and consulting for a while, I decided that instead of just talking about building software, that I would take one of my ideas and build a software development team. There I worked to build the best software development team that I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with and a learned a *ton* along the way. However, the fact that the product itself was a commercial failure didn’t make for lasting employment.

So, late last year, I started another whole series of experiments, this time aimed at making myself solvent as an independent in a down economy. I’ve been doing all kinds of crazy things to see if I could use them to help build my brand, my business and my customer base. Some of them have been critically acclaimed and a few have even been commercially viable, at least to the point that I can continue to pay my mortgage (many of my friends weren’t so lucky). I have been successful in that I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool things and work with a lot of smart people.

However, what I’ve found is that to remain independent, I have to spend a lot more time doing promotion and marketing, which goes against every fiber in my being. The problem is, although I’ve experimented a bunch, especially as related to this year’s DevCons, I don’t have any natural marketing aptitude and I don’t know where to turn for help. So, I fall back on my old standby — experimentation.

Over several years, I’ve experimented with several sales/marketing/PR folks and organizations and so far, haven’t found what I’m looking for as far as mentors” go (to be fair, my standard for comparison includes Don Box, Tim Ewald and John Robbins, so I’m not surprised I haven’t found someone to meet that bar). Even if I did meet that person, or may have already met him/her, I don’t know that I’d recognize it. I just have no standard for comparison. With software, it either works or it doesn’t. With marketing, did it succeed or fail because of the quality of the product or the quality of the marketing? The whole thing is too damn squishy and it drives me nuts!

My most recent set of experiments is to let a friend of mine, a long-time marketing guy that I’ve known for years, run rough-shod over my newsletter subscribers, asking them all kinds of questions and for their help in various ways, offering my money and my time as incentives. Will it work? I have no idea. Is it risky? You bet. I’ve lost a dozen or more subscribers and who knows what some people think of me now that I’ve let marketing ideas into what I do (and I’d like to apologize again to the folks that I drove away or offended in this most recent campaign). Is it worth the risk? Yes it is, but not for the promised return (I still think my marketing friend was on happy pills the day he quoted his marketing targets). What makes it worth the risk is that I’ve identified a weakness in myself and I’m willing to perform the experiment and make the mistakes to see if I can come out better on the other side. Even if I fail, I’ve learned something. Eventually, I’ll get that omelet made, no matter how many eggs need breaking.

And to those of you who suffer with me through my experiments, thank you very much. You have no idea how much you mean to me.