A Story Of One Of My Failures

I want to tell you a story. Back before I had any form of public reputation as a blogger, I made some money by doing programming work. In fact, even as I was running PCMech, I was doing client web development on the side to earn more money. PHP/MySQL development was my thing. As things evolved with PCMech, I saw the need for some kind of content management system. See, I began PCMech in the days where we were manually creating HTML files and linking them together. I’d use Microsoft Frontpage to manage things as a site and hopefully keep everything working. I eventually evolved to using server side includes to make certain things common and make site changes not such a pain in the butt. But, I needed a real CMS. So, I began making one myself. I put all kinds of work into the thing and was using it to power my own site. Then, it dawned on me that I could probably make some money with it. So, I called it Miraserver and began to sell licenses.

I want to tell you a story.

Back before I had any form of public reputation as a blogger, I made some money by doing programming work. In fact, even as I was running PCMech, I was doing client web development on the side to earn more money. PHP/MySQL development was my thing.

As things evolved with PCMech, I saw the need for some kind of content management system. See, I began PCMech in the days where we were manually creating HTML files and linking them together. I’d use Microsoft Frontpage to manage things as a site and hopefully keep everything working. I eventually evolved to using server side includes to make certain things common and make site changes not such a pain in the butt. But, I needed a real CMS.

So, I began making one myself. I put all kinds of work into the thing and was using it to power my own site. Then, it dawned on me that I could probably make some money with it. So, I called it Miraserver and began to sell licenses.

Picture 1

It didn’t go super well. For one, there were already a lot of decent CMS’s out there. Secondly, I was so busy doing all the programming work on my own that I didn’t have much time to market anything (not that I knew much about marketing at the time anyway).

Before long, the world of CMS had totally changed. There were some really powerful open source solutions out there (i.e. Wordpress). How am I supposed to compete against that?

Here’s the other problem, though. I was the ONLY person in the world that knew how Miraserver worked. I created it myself. I didn’t create any documentation. I wasn’t using any in-code comments that were worth a damn. I wasn’t using any version control (which would allow others to work on it without messing it up). In short, I was a 1-man machine spinning my wheels going nowhere.

Fast forward to today and…

  • Miraserver is dead as a product. I have zero plans to continue doing anything with it and the code base has been stalled in development for over 5 years now (at least).
  • I don’t even use my own CMS anymore. Why would I? When you have such an awesome solution as Wordpress, why bother with what is comparatively a piece of crap that only I know how to work with?
  • I wasted a lot of time.

Miraserver is one of those business ideas that, in and of itself, I look on as a failure. However, the lessons I learned from that experience were very important. And they are:

  1. Never re-invent the wheel. I should have just used a decent system created by somebody else. Moving away from Miraserver and onto Wordpress was one of the best decisions I ever made. Never pigeon-hole yourself into anything in which you can’t get out of it, and me using my own CMS that only I knew how to use – that’s about as bad as it gets.
  2. Speed to market is very important. Since I was doing it all myself, adding new features to Miraserver was a slow process. While I was busy messing around with the code, the market had completely changed to the point where my project wasn’t even competitive with the freebies out there. So, whatever you’re going to do, do it fast. Things change quickly online.
  3. Don’t do it all yourself. I really had no damn business hand-coding my own CMS. I should never have done it. But, even if I still wanted to launch my own CMS, I should have just paid somebody to create a solution that worked for me. The hours wasted coding and figuring things out – yikes.

Today, I apply these lessons primarily in these simple ways:

  1. Always use solutions which have already been created and are supported. This is why I use Wordpress and NEVER hack anything. If it can’t be done with an out-of-box solution or a plug-in, I probably won’t do it.
  2. Outsource, outsource, outsource. If you think you can’t afford it, then think about what you LOSE by not doing it. Think about how much faster you can grow your business if not every single thing depends on you. Don’t look at outsourcing as a mere expense. Instead, look at it as fast-track to growth, because done right that’s exactly what it will be.

We all have stories of failure. The trick of it, though, is not to stop. Take the lessons learned and move on to apply them to the next endeavor.

Do you have any failure stories that have shaped what you do today? Share them in the comments.

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Responses

  1. I think the three of them, lessons have been struggling with a little bit you have just learned. I feverishly for the economic as a resource for people to build digital'm trying to better themselves, but still in the driver's seat and I the car engine. My biggest struggle deciding what to outsource work should be outsourced and to whom it has to do with. Try to get a notification for the market prouct. Thanks for all the insight .. I def have some time to drive the car out instead of just holding the steering wheel insert and is planning to spend

  2. Boy that one is really nice and they do know how to market their products.

    Showing high price of other similar products and own at less price with gift.

    Thanks for sharing, really appreciate.

  3. You've learned some great lessons here. I'm like you I'm very slow to hack into something but if there's a plugin for it, I'll use it. Outsource is very key as well, especially for what you were doing. There seems to be a common them here, work smart not hard. Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. Great post David!

    Sometimes the hardest part is accepting the failure and moving on, but moving on is the best thing you could do.

  5. Boy do I have some failures! A few too many to mention…but no regrets. It definitely has shaped me into the person I am today. I've learned so much from those experiences and I think has allowed me to operate very differently with how I run my businesses today.
    I have to admit, still do ALL the work myself, although I am getting too busy now and outsourcing is definitely becoming an attractive option. What can I say, I am an entrepreneur at heart – always the need to create, learn and grow 🙂 Thanks for sharing David!

  6. It is reported tthat the health of young people in China, college students in particular, is not as good as is supposed to be.There are many reasons for this fact, but the main reason is that many people ignore the importance of physical exercises.

  7. Believe it or not but when you have any new idea than you start thinking that this is the best thing and this will work.

    But when you compare that idea with reality you know the truth and you lost the interest.

    After all everyone loves their babies and ideas 🙂

  8. I believe that your product development and marketing should go side by side.

    The best lesson you learned is outsource because that is the key of success. 10 Hands are much better than 2 hands.

  9. This gives me a very good opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others. I specifically like the idea of not reinventing the wheel. There are so many niches we can focus on and it's always a good idea to make something unique

  10. When does “entrepreneurship” become “reinventing the wheel”, I wonder? Having an idea (brilliant & original or not) and getting it out there so people will buy it are two very different things. Even some rather silly ideas (those blankets with holes in them for your arms spring to mind) have been successful (that guy made millions), due more to marketing rather than the quality or originality of the idea itself. And of course, the web is full of the bones of brilliant ideas that never made it to market, at least not in any way where real live money was made.

  11. Great advice – especially about not reinventing the wheel. Sometimes we do that instead of hiring someone to do a job we need done, too. Not outsourcing can be a form of reinventing the wheel =p

  12. G'Day David,
    I couldn't agree more. About 25 tears ago, long before www and internet marketing, I had a fairly new business. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about growing my business.

    I can't remember exactly when or where, but i found this gem;
    “do only those things to which you bring a unique perspective: buy everything else around
    the corner” I've never forgotten that.

    As a relative newbie to internet marketing, I'm sometimes surprised at how much “wheel reinventing” goes on.

    Failures are just part of the deal. I've had my fair share. But, if we have to have them, let's have them because we're trying to be innovative: not because we simply haven't done our homework.

    Keep hammering away with your “you're running a business” message David. It's so important

    Regards

    Leon.

  13. Every failure I've had, which is many, has led me to the point I'm at now and the products I'm creating for chiropractors. All in hopes they will avoid the same miseries I've had to endure.

  14. I think I'm struggling with a little bit of all three of those lessons you learned right now. I am feverishly trying to build Financially Digital as a resource for people to do better for themselves but right now I in the drivers seat and the engine of this car. My biggest struggles have to do with deciding what work should be outsourced and who to outsource it to. All the while trying to get an informational prouct to market. Thanks for the insight..I def have to spend some time and plan this out instead of just putting the car in drive and holding on to the steering wheel 🙂

  15. David,
    I know the feeling. I started, and still run a special event production business and thought up of a stand alone service that I thought I could handle all by myself and thought it was the best thing since “sliced bread.” I think it is an easy “trap” we put ourselves into when working as a “solo-preneur.”
    Your post shows as well as our experiences, that we outsource when we can and also if there are solutions already out there to use, well, use them! Makes life a lot easier.

  16. Yeah, I know what you mean about failure. But, here is some brain salad for you. When I started in this business I purchased all that technical stuff like DreamWeaver etc. Let me tell ya… most of those tools are sitting on my hard drive doing nothing. The thing is, I outsource all that stuff and spend most of my time writing.

    In all seriousness, I play golf and I’m a three handicap. Never learn a thing when I play well. When I lose is when I learn stuff. Sometimes people come into this business looking to using their creative skills. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Al you have to do is be willing to sit in front of this computer and write.

    Long story short, none of the things that I’m doing is an original idea from me. I learned all this stuff from everyone else. Granted, I come from a Marketing background but I had to learn how to create content just like every other success Marketer.

    It turns out; we all start from “Zero” It was just a waste of time and we do a lot of that.

  17. It is REALLY hard to admit that something you thought was going to be great, spent time developing and even had subscribers for did not work – can you tell I have one of those myself? The nice thing is that after you do that once you figure out that it is better to do a smaller version, see if anyone is interested and THEN do the whole thing!

  18. David,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I think it’s especially important that you learned something from your failure and that you are now more successful because of it.

    I had a similar failure. The first company that I ran several years ago was in Web development, and I remember thinking that my customers would be really impressed if they could track their project status online. Instead focusing on the work that would bring in some money or even *asking* my customers if they gave a crap about my plans, I spent hours coding and tweaking this project management system. When it was done, it was cool, but I could have just spent the money to buy an established system (with tech support that was not me). I don’t regret learning that lesson, although I’ve still fallen into the same trap over the years.

    How do you specifically determine what you should be spending your time on and what is worth paying someone else to do?

    Sean Haggard

  19. You're speed to market comment really hit home. I've seen a lot of companies get so mired in getting it “perfect” that another competitor with a “not quite perfect” product beats them to market and then gobbles up market share. Market share that costs a heck of a lot more to lure away from their not quite-so-good-competitor than it would have cost to grab in the first place.

    And ditto on outsourcing. Trying to do everything myself and run a company is just insane. Especially when I can hire someone who can do it five times as fast as I can because they don't have the learning curve I have. Yes, it's a cost, but I see it more as an investment than an expense.

  20. Great story, David (from a learning perspective that is).
    I too have leaned a similar lesson, having over committed one of my most valuable resources, time. Several years ago, I had committed myself to a few offline ventures which severely cut into my time, which I have regretted. When I decided to become a blogger and build an online business, these commitments were really in my way.

    So for the past 18 to 20 months, I have been slowly extricating myself from those endeavors and can finally begin to regain the time I really need to build my online business in the manner I had envisioned all along. I did it to myself and have suffered the price (time deficits) for those less than stellar decisions.

    Lesson learned: Concentrate on one type of business and the hell with the rest. Spreading yourself too thinly keeps your attention scattered and you are always behind on the things you want to do most. Life has enough challenges anyway, let alone generating your own.

    For me, it's been quite a battle to get back to the passion of the online life, but at last, freedom is on the horizon.

    We all have those tales of regret, but like you've said, learn the lessons and move on.

  21. Yeah. The thing about outsourcing is that it can remove bottlenecks and allow much faster forward progress. So many people have big plans but are too overwhelmed to execute them.

    Whether the outsourcing pays off or not will be up to how well your strategy works. 🙂

  22. I did the work myself, and it isn't based on any pre-fabricated theme you could download anywhere.

  23. Whoa, nice read. Being a programmer is more than 'just being a programmer.' One important thing I've learned from my first programming job is to never re-invent the wheel. Waste of time and only your ego talking.

  24. Yep, right on point. If you find youself wearing all the hats in your business, you are probably doing somethng wrong

  25. Hi, Dave. Was wondering, in terms of Wordpress, have you fine tuned your theme yourself, or are you using a paid theme? Just wondered, since I have started using Wordpress myself.

  26. I'm thinking this goes to knowing that life is not a point, but a process. Several clichés come to mind, however, I won't use any of them here….

  27. Yeah, there is no shortcut or easy way to real success and personally I feel impressed with that you had done. You got a valuable experience for that.

    I just blogging here and there and of course – not all plans meet their targets and now I feel encouraged to try again and again and put more effort after reading your article. Thanks for the inspiration, David =)

  28. David
    I definitely do the first part-out of the box-as I am not a programmer so I never had to struggle with that one. I do however wrestle with outsourcing because I have limited funds. Would you say that outsourcing a niche review or affiliate site (graphics, WP set up and such) could pay for itself in the first month if I did the proper keyword research and outlined my expectations properly for the outsourcer? I have studied ALOT and think I know the “strategy” part.
    I sense that I am on the verge and outsourcing, as financially painful as it might be now, could push me over the edge and start some momentum
    Thanks
    Mark

  29. This is true for good leadership and time management sense for sure. It seems to be a natural inclination to want to “re-invent the wheel” for anyone wishing to make their mark in the world. The good/bad news is that there are often better wheel builders out there than ourselves.

    A way to success is not about doing it all yourself, but about finding others who have the skills and passion for the task that needs doing. A really important part of great leadership is seeing the gifts, passions and talents in others and encouraging them to develop them and only doing things yourself as a last resort. Easier said than done for “trail-blazers”…

  30. As Guy Kawasaki says…high and to the right. Meaning, focus on being unique and providing value. Anything else is a waste of time and money.

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