I hate debt and I’m sure most everyone does, but for the majority of people (8 out of 10) it’s normal to have debt and be in debt most of your lives and even take it to the grave. I mean you have to have a house, a car, education and things right? And all these “things” take massive amounts of cash which most people simply do not have working a normal 9-5 day job so they take out large loans. Add a wife and kids to the picture and most people live paycheck to paycheck. A slave to debt. So what’s the answer?
The Motivation of Becoming Debt Free
Well for me the answer was living within my means and I knew I had to make more money than what a normal day job would pay if I truly wanted to be come debt free and own a house, provide for my family and not worry about money in the long term.
The way I see it is if you are tied to a fixed income then you need to become really good at saving and minimizing expenses to chip away at your debt. This is a long play for most people. The other option is to live the American dream and start your own business where your earning potential is nearly limitless.
Ever since I graduated college I made this clarification and I knew I wanted to run my own business. I was never satisfied working for someone else and I knew my time would be better spent making my life better as opposed to some company. But I had no choice, businesses just don’t start themselves and they are hard.
So after college I took a day job and I was making just enough to live. So essentially I was working to live. That year I set my goal to start a business and one day own my house, cars and things outright and not have to worry about debt. That was 18 years ago (from setting my goal) and this month, I’m happy to say, “I became 100% debt free!” And yes it does feel incredible but it was a hard fought battle.
How did I become debt free? Well I must say it was not easy. After graduating college I took a day job at a startup in Nashville. At night I started working on a business idea I had dreamt up and it took me about a year or more to build out my first version. I was new to programming so I was also essentially teaching myself how to program at the same time.
I ended up launching a band website builder called eArtistManagement and since I lived in Nashville I knew a few people would I could get to instantly start using it. So I launched and I think the first month I got 2 or 3 signs ups at $15 per month. Needless to say I was excited. But the next month I got no signs ups. I thought I could just build something and people would flock to it. I had no idea about marketing at that time and it would take a while to learn that lesson. Over the next 5 years or so the website chugged along and at the peak I think I was making around $1000 per month off the site and while this is not wildly successful it did prove I could make money on the internet and it afforded me some extra income.
I continued to work my day job and hone my programming skills at night on the site adding features which I thought would attract people. At one point I decided to rebuild the site on a new platform at that time called WordPress. I thought it would be easier to add these features since WordPress had a plugin system. I spent a year porting the site over to WordPress. Launched and crickets. No more new customers and my revenues stayed about the same.
So I did what any good programmer would do, I built a new page builder for another niche without doing any research. This time I built a custom page builder for Facebook. I thought since Facebook was a social network it would be easily for people to discover my product and to get to new customers. This was around 2010. I spent a year building this new platform on Google App Engine and learning to program in Python. I remember thinking to myself since this is going to be huge I need to be able to scale. Again I had no clear concept of marketing, product market fit and I certainly did not need to worry about scaling. I launched and nothing.
At this point I really didn’t know what to do next. I was married now living in Charleston, SC and had two mortgage payments. My wife and I had both bought property before getting married and the housing market crash. We had around a half million dollars worth of debt between our houses, cars, student loans and credit cards. I was drinking about every night and smoking around a pack of cigarettes a day. I was not happy or healthy. I was still working a day job and thinking this can’t be the rest of my life. Also my first child was on the way and I knew I had to keep searching for a way to provide for my family and a way to achieve my goal of owning a business and being debt free.
Somehow I found a website called Micropreneur Academy. It’s tag line was something like “Where solo software developers learn to develop and market their first product“. I thought this is perfect, while I was not the best developer in the world I knew I could build anything I could imagine. I was just missing the marketing secret sauce, I thought.
I instantly signed up and was eager to learn the marketing side so I could solve all my problems and learn why what I had built previously had failed. I consumed as much info as I could in the Academy. Being a developer, marketing is a hard skill to learn and I’m still learning to this day.
I realized it was time for me to shut down all my other products and and use their blue print to find a new product that had an audience.
The New Beginning
Since I had learned WordPress in and out porting my band builder application to it and the WordPress theme market was coming to life during that time, I thought I could build a WordPress theme as my next product. The theme I had in mind would be geared toward SaaS companies.
In the academy I learned that you should test your idea before you actually build something. Essentially put up a coming soon page and drive traffic to it and see how many leads and interest you can generate. I went looking for a good coming soon plugin and could not find one. So again being a developer I built one and released it for free on WordPress.org.
A few months later, while I did have some interest in the new theme idea, it still was not generating quite the buzz I thought. But at the same time something strange had happened. My free Coming Soon Page plugin had become quite popular on WordPress.org. I think in the first couple of months the plugin had gotten over 10,000 downloads and I had people posting to the forums and emailing me for features. The WordPress plugin market was in it’s infancy at this point.
Then it hit me! This is the product. I spent about a month putting together a pro version and then released it to people who had asked for the features. September 14th, 2011 I made my first sale. Ever since then I have been making sales, learning to market and growing the business keeping my goal of becoming debt free in mind. Slowly I started chipping away at my debt.
Did I also mention that I had been working a day job this entire time as well, even after my plugin sales exceeded my day job I kept it for insurance and just incase the business went boom. I have a wife and two kids to provide for and while I could have left I wanted to see it through.
So here we are almost twenty years later and I have reached my goal. It’s an amazing feeling and even though the battle has been won I still have many more new goals and and new journeys that await.
I also just want to communicate that whatever it is in your life that you want or want to change, never give up and keep on keeping on. During this journey there were times I got down and burned but I keep going. Always find the “why” to the things you do. When my kids were born it was major motivation for me to keep going and never give up and ultimately it’s family who motivate me to do the things I do. Thanks to WordPress for being an open platform and thanks to Rob Walling and Mike Taber for building the academy and sharing their knowledge.
What to find out what’s next for me? Keep an eye out for my 2017 Year In Review and 2018 Goals Post.