The End of an Era - Good Riddance

So this is one of those personal blog entries that is really written more for myself than for any audience. I have not posted in a while and have been thinking that I really should put something up here. I have a couple interesting code things that have been rattling around in my head, and those will make it here or to Rapid Development Group’s Blog in the near future. However today I will talk about how my life has changed drastically in 2011, <sarcasm>and provide some advice for those of you who haven’t quite gotten it all figured out yet like I have </sarcasm>.

The change that has had the biggest impact on my sanity is that I sold my racquetball e-commerce business. Racquetball Factory was the reason I learned how to build websites. I have always been a computer geek - but I had never considered computer science as a career path. I was going to focus on more fundamental science: Chemistry, Physics, and Math. However, I discovered those things were hard, and I never felt connected to anything real, or relevant. So I relied on being a bright jack-of-all-trades and relished in getting a new job every 6 months for the past 4 years. During my time at these various business’ I discovered something extraordinary - the bar is extremely low for starting your own business! So, at the ripe old age of 23 I took my chemistry degree, my $25,000 AMEX card and 0 formal business training and started my own e-commerce business. I had built a Zen-Cart e-commerce site for one of my previous employers and figured I could take that knowledge and build an awesome Zen-Cart site for Racquetball Factory - alas, I was unaware that building an awesome Zen-Cart site is impossible. But, my site was very good, and had an objectively superior user experience to all but one or two other racquetball e-commerce sites.

I continually improved the site in my spare time while working and going back to school for Information Systems (half business/half computers). I learned a lot about SEO during this time, and for a while I thought that was what I wanted to do - but it is just so much more fun to actually build a site! Though I thoroughly enjoyed building the site and being “Master of my own Domain” - I disliked things like inventory, shipping out orders, stringing racquets, and all that other crap. So I found a business partner who was in a good position to take over those things, and take advantage of many synergies since he ran a local tennis store. It went OK, and only OK and so I ended up selling the whole thing. Racquetball Factory was stuck in the limbo between being not enough for one person to do full-time, and too much for someone to take over who is not able to dedicate enough time to it. If I had really wanted to invest in it I could have built the business up to the point of living off of it within 2-3 years. That would have been awesome - except for I hate stuff like inventory, shipping out orders, stringing racquets, and all that other crap.

I was sad to see it go, but more excited to not have to worry about it anymore. I also made pretty good money on the deal, but if I were to calculate an hourly rate based on the 1000’s of hours I put into building the business I would probably cry. However it was an amazing learning experience, not only for what I learned about business and technology, <cheese>but for what I learned about myself</cheese>. I was able to put a hefty down payment on a house and I plan on settling down with my wife and not moving every 6 months like we have been. I am trying to have more free time, while at the same time be more productive. I am working on narrowing my focus and getting rid of things I don’t need. I am in a better place than I was last year.

So this has become quite rambly so I am going to end with how my mindset has changed over the course of 2011 with 2 closely related points

Time is Money/The Division of Labor: I am a good web developer, my skills are worth a lot of money on the open market right now. I am extremely happy with my employment situation and am not looking to move, but I do enjoy doing a small amount of side work when an opportunity presents itself - and I charge enough to make it worth my time. I used to want to learn how to do everything and be able to be self-reliant and that I would be saving money. As mentioned previously I am a pretty smart guy and am quick to pick things up. This can lead to the delusion that I can save money by doing things myself instead of paying a specialist. I still think that being a broad person is a great benefit and I enjoy variety. But suddenly all those economics classes describing the benefits of trade are starting to make sense to me. Instead of trying to move some cabinets around in my new house and install a dishwasher I paid someone to do it who is really good at that. In order to pay for it, I helped my wife’s cousin put up a website, which is something I am very good at. So now I have professionally installed cabinets and a dishwasher instead of the hack-job that I would have thrown together. The builder is happy, I am happy, and my wife’s cousin is happy.

TL;DR Have someone else do it. Focus on your competitive advantage.

</rant> Happy New Year!

Ross Hunter

Computer Philosopher
Grand Rapids, MI