“Take risks” should become your mantra

When do you grow?
When you have different experiences from the ones you’ve got already.

How do you get different experiences?
By acting differently.

How do you act differently?
By going outside of your comfort zone.

But isn’t this risky?
Yes, it is. Every action you take is a risk. A risk for your personality. A risk for your ego. But there is something hidden in plain sight, something that only the ones who have risked know:

Risks are rewarded

Even if your actions turn out bad, you can treat them as experiments that teach you something. This is your shortcut to getting more knowledge.

Taking risks is not common for people. Few ever think of risking, far less even attempt it. That’s why your competition is close to zero.

Getting more knowledge and less competition at the same time is not bad at all!

The basis of risk is fear

If you release the hold of your attachment to results and fear of losing there will be nothing left that can be taken from you. Wining and losing will result in more of the same—life experience. Actions won’t seem risky anymore.

When there is no fear you are calm and focused, so the chance that you will play your cards right increases.

Start exploring the borders of your comfort zone. Your residual fears are there. And your fears are not the size of dragons, no matter how strong you feel the opposite.

This article is part of a series I am writing called “Things I wish I knew when I graduated from university”

And I thought we don’t have money for advertising…

Yesterday I had a conversation with another friend of mine—she is providing customer service for Google AdWords. In the middle of a talk about the most common problem people have with the product it hit me—”We can advertise! But wait, we don’t have the budget for it…” Not so fast cowboy. Think first!

My biggest takeaway from the conversation was that if we want to make omframework.com our main sales channel and avoid OpenCart.com’s marketplace we can use the same amount of margin they take from us(sales commission) and feed an AdWords campaign with it. The marketplace is costly and especially business-model limiting, despite bringing in a lot of sales.

Running the numbers, the budget per sale becomes unexpectedly big for a business with our scale. After all we are just a product company with a very niche offering.

The actual size of the billboard

OpenCart.com takes from us 20% of the sale price.
The cost of having Gumroad as an alternative sales channel is 5%+$0.25 on every transaction.

So, our customer acquisition budget is 20%-5%-$0.25 = 15%-$0.25 = $11.6. A quick CPC research using the Keyword Ideas Tool in AdWords told me that the average price of the keywords I am targeting is around $1.44 which means that if we have around 12.5% conversion rate from AdWords traffic everything will be in balance.

$11.6 is a good baseline to start from. There are other ad networks, too, yet this is not that important for the moment. What is important though is where to start? Obvious answer—keyword research. Not so obvious—where to research for them?

Time to focus on the (product) stars

I have a friend with business experience, whom I trust, who becomes something of a business advisor to me. After a 2 hour biz-analisys talk with him yesterday, I came to the following conclusions:

  1. We(the company) should focus more on our current product star/flagship product—(OMFramework)
  2. We are not self-sufficient, because we can’t really sell much on our own
  3. There is still opportunity to grow, but not as much as I thought there is

Every company needs to grow. Especially ours—after filling in a balance sheet for the last 7 months and counting in my expected salary(which I am not paying myself currently) we end up at 0 profit. A bit of a loss actually.

Not good for all the effort that went and continues to be put into the business.

Which means there may be a direction in which the effort invested will result in higher profits, which will give us a REAL room to grow—pay for the development of bigger and more complex software(if needed) or take the time for deep research… and to increase the salaries :D But before that, we should milk an opportunity, so that we have the margin to grow to the next one.

Maybe I really need help to get my business to the next level…

What follows is the thought journey towards growth, ending with a “next action” plan.

Current Status

1. Opportunity to grow

1.1 Estimating market size

Researching the OpenCart market size I’ve found various data about the number of installations online. Averaging it I came to the conclusion that there are around 170K OC installs online. This means we have reached 0.75% of the market. But that’s not actually true (for the market size). Why? Because, if we are aiming to reach actual people, we need people data.

Here comes the OpenCart community members (which I think share the same registrations as the marketplace). They are ~75K

Based on the number of extensions(13350) I presume this is the number of active OpenCart developers. Again, these are assumptions—we know many developers have more than one extension and many are not active on the marketplace at all(they install and customise open cart for clients instead).

Analysing our sales data, tells me that 90%+ of the sales are one-off—people(store owners) come to buy one license for their store. Focusing on agencies or developers is not the right direction.

So, the next logical thing, would be to find the actual potential we can reach.

75000 – 13350 = 61650

OC Community – OC Developers = OC Users(store owners)

Out of these, I assume 50% may have a working responsive solution. Responsive themes are everywhere, aren’t they? If I was a store owner and the responsive theme is working “good enough” the cost of changing the working solution would be higher, so i won’t even bother. I know there are people who do this, be they are exceptions, not the norm. Yes, we can try to persuade them into doing, but it is a lot harder to force a user to behave a certain way, instead of focus on their existing needs that dictate their behaviour.

This leaves us with 30825 customers without a mobile solution. Let’s say that 50% of these don’t even care—they either don’t know about their mobile traffic or they justify their lack of inaction with the fact that “my customers don’t shop on mobile”, because “we offer heavy machinery, people don’t buy these on the go”.

Now we are left with about 15414 people who actually need a mobile solution, know that, and are or would be looking for different options.
The above is an estimate which sounded plausible. Then I told my friend about our site’s stats—~1360 new visitors every month. Multiply this by 12(twelve months in a year) and you get 16320, very close to the market size we’ve been estimating.

1.2 Growth potential

Just like it is normal for an e-commerce site to see between 0.5 to 3% conversion rate, there are the same averages about market share. With weak competitors and aggressive marketing it is not unlikely for a business to get up to 50% of the market.

The 90% share is a monopoly, and also an exception.
Apple has dominated the smart phone market shortly, until Android was introduced 2 years later. This evened out the shares of the market.

50% out of 15414 leaves us with 7707 potential customers of OMFramework. Up till now we have reached 1270. This means we have 8.2% of the available market. We have 41.8% percent to go(till 50%), which is 6437 new users of OMFramework.

6437 more, times the $69(average current net profit per unit sale across both sales channels) will result in $444153 of one-time revenue. That’s not much at all, especially taking into account the time we can reach it, the fact that our expenses may become up to 50% of it and my goals for the business.

Growing in this market is not advisable in the long-term, because it is too small. But we can grow once and then just run business.

With our current speed of client acquisition, which is around 491.6 users per year, it would take us 13 years to grow to the maximum estimated potential (6437/491.6).

2. Seizing the opportunity

13 years in a fast changing software market are centuries in human years.

We don’t have that much time, because:
* our niche may shrink or disappear(more responsive themes being produced)
* our product won’t match the market anymore (it will get out of date; OpenCart will release version 2 and everybody will have responsive theme by default).

If we want to seize the opportunity we have to act now. Now that we know that we can roughly sell 6437 units more, what are we going to do about it?

2.1. Focused on the wrong thing

It is much harder to launch a new product than to optimise an already selling one. If the goal is to turn profit consistently we shouldn’t be working on new products, but actually do the thing we are not so comfortable with(compared to software development and customer support)—marketing and advertising. All kinds of it. In other words: Reach more people before the opportunity window closes.

So far we have been neglecting this part. There is no one to blame here—as human beings we go where there is less friction, and for us as a team fiddling with code (or design) is much, much more comfortable compared to reaching people and promoting stuff.

The best exercise for you is the one that you avoid doing.

Also, number wise, once we reach the ~7000 we’ll be dead. Which is bad. But we’ll be dead if we keep the same business model that is.

3. A business model refresh

3.1. Revenue streams

To live beyond the 7000 user mark we need recurring revenue. On OMFramework.com we can implement a subscription model based off yearly pricing for access to updates and support. This will bring a boost in the revenue as time goes by.

OMF Lite helps us implement the freemium model—the Lite is free and has 27K downloads while the paid version has only 1270 sales. But lite is essential to the process of customer acquisition. We should focus on having as much people as possible on lite first.

3.2. Channels

We need to become independent and actually do the selling ourselves. This means that the omframework.com channel should dwarf the opencart.com one because the above stated subscription model is not available on opencart.com

3.3. Key activities

To increase the flow through our preferred sales channel we should focus on marketing and promotion.

Our product is already good enough. The maintenance and support processes are standardised. What we are missing now is content strategy and content creation for inbound marketing.

Goals(next actions) to focus on

Based on the described business model refresh above, here are our goals for the next 30 days:

  1. Stop activity on everything else that is not OMFramework related.
  2. OMF(star product) support, maintenance and active development continues(closing open threads)
  3. Lite should be acknowledged as part of our funnel and be pushed to the customers as a first step to reduce friction(it is free after all)
  4. OMF Blog content creation & Promotion
    We will create that is of interest to our target demographic—e-commerce store owners, Opencart in particular. They may be interested in business, selling, CR optimisation, cost-reduction, getting to know their customers better, customer-relationship building and more. Hopefully this will drive more target traffic that trusts us and in result converts better than the random goooglers.
  5. OMF subscription product will be live and OMF homepage will link to it instead to the single-sale one. The moment we get this we can offer 40-50% discount to existing OMF Gumroad customers if they update now.

Your business is as big as your dreams

This is a realization I had after filling in a Profit&Loss statement for the past 7 months. My fears came true. The reason I was neglecting my business was just because of that—fear to see that it isn’t profitable at all, if I want to survive on money from that business, that is.

Here is some background info—I am the creator of a bestselling OpenCart extension called OMFramework. Basically it is a mobile-optimized theme for OpenCart that works alongside your current desktop webstore template.

Shameless pitch aside, the business grew over the years. It grew to the point where now we are 3 people running it—me as a manager/designer, Nelly—a full time developer and Gerry—a customer support fairy :D

So what was so frightening after filling in the Profit&Loss statement?

Well, if I start paying myself a salary the word “Profit” from P&L would vanish. We will be at zero profit, probably a small or none loss. Which is fine.

How can you think that running an unprofitable business is fine?

Well, the business serves the purpose it was started for. Back in the days I wanted to survive on product income, without having the need to work for clients directly. That was my dream back then. And the goal is achieved now(it has been almost from the start actually).

Do you see the connection? I’d dreamt of surviving and I achieved it. “Doh, it is obvious that you can survive”. Common sense, right? Well, you know what? Common sense is not so common.

Count me in the group deprived of common sense, 50% of the time. This is a double-sided blade—it can help you achieve what is thought impossible or it can make the possible quite hard.

The problem with lesser dreams

The moment I had achieved the dream of “survival” and financial independence was the moment my business had stopped growing.

End of journey.

Finito.

We have arrived. Done.

The eagle has landed.

But there is a problem with being “done” in your life. When do people feel they are “done” with life?

On their death-bed, hopefully.

I don’t want to die

I am very much alive actually. A living and breathing organism.

In nature everything that isn’t growing is dying, there is no middle way.

So, having a dream that is easily achievable sets you up for failure. Not failure of the dream, no, no. Dreams this size, when turned into goals, are almost always achieved.

It sets you up for failure in your personal development. Because the moment you stop growing and developing… well, we can’t call it “personal development” anymore. I would rather call it “personal stagnation” leading to a “personal crisis”.

A crisis, that is inevitable and obvious, just like the economic/financial ones. It is in front of everybody’s eyes, yet few people recognize what they are seeing. But recognized or not, the crisis is still creeping, slowly, but steadily towards you. Because you have stopped moving, developing, growing.

What should I do from here?

I don’t know about you, but I would examine my goals in the following way: are they easily reachable in the following month or year? Is there something bigger my current goals will lead me to?

It is normal to break down a big dream into a set of goals that get further broken down into a set of easily completable tasks. Yes, that’s fine. But having just these tasks on your horizon will make you halt the moment you get there.

We are curious by nature. We want to play and grow. But we are also highly adaptable(mentally), so that we can survive as species. The process of adjustment is called Hedonic Adaptation, we get used to happiness as well as to depression.

And this hedonic adaptation is what will make you compromise, satisfy with less and in the end it will leave you in the muddy gutter in the middle of a rain storm, where you will be thinking “Ah, it is not that bad here. I have seen worse”. Couple weeks later your corpse will be found in that same gutter…

As a conclusion, something I have heard attributed to Steve Jobs, who in turn said he has read it on the back of the “Whole Earth Catalog”:

Stay hungry, stay foolish.

That’s enough to keep you from the gutter.