I’m Not Here To Sell You Entrepreneurship: A Review Of MicroConf Starter 2018

I go to a lot of entrepreneurship “stuff.”

In 2013, my professional journey took a hard left from my dream job of economist, and I realized that entrepreneurship had been my calling all along.

It was a realization tainted with a lot of pain: I had, after all, been building websites since I was 14. I had two online stores when I was 16, one on eBay and one on my own website. How did I not know? My parents, friends and boyfriends – no one – suggested that I was showing a competency for business. It was just this annoying thing I did for fun. My mom complained about the shipping boxes in the apartment. My boyfriend complained about the low return on my random web projects, time that could “better be spent working.”

It all came down to community. My community was full of low-income people begging me to get an education and a job. Without a community that would support my ventures, they were dead before they ever got started.

There’s a smudge of gender bias in there too, but that’s a different conversation.

Seeking A Network

I figured out early on that if I was serious about this, I couldn’t go at it alone. Thankfully, I had lots of support from people who believed in me and were willing to put their money where their mouths were at Florida State University (now the site of the country’s largest public entrepreneurship college, by the way). I received grants from institutions in both the social sciences college and the business college. I tried, I took risks, I had big wins and spectacular failures. This support is how I learned.

One of the things that the university funded for me was exposure to community. The people who believed in me knew it was a good idea to ship me off to New York City to meet people, learn, ask questions about my business idea, and generally just spend time imagining that entrepreneurship could be mine.

That means I went to a lot of events. One of the things I learned through that was how to identify bullsh*t entrepreneurship “stuff.”

Bullsh*t is everywhere, especially in New York. The promise, after all, is as old as work itself: be your own boss! Never work again! Get rich! Even those that aren’t that blatantly scammy are still semi-bullsh*t. For example: hustle mindset! Pay us a fee and learn how to get to the top of Google search results! Pay nothing and our glitzy diversity in business nonprofit organization will help you craft the perfect pitch to attract millions of dollars of venture capital!

I’m An Entrepreneur Who Helps Entrepreneurs Become Entrepreneurs!

It’s all bullsh*t. I am a real entrepreneur, not someone trying to sell you entrepreneurship. I make websites work for a living, so I get no financial benefit if you decide to mind my advice. In fact, I usually lose money on the people who want to run a business: they need more attention from our support team, and sometimes they give up after those conversations and request a refund. You can’t normally be my customer until you’ve successfully differentiated yourself and are making serious money. So, I just want to help people who are now in my old position maximize their time.

Generally speaking, my filter is as follows: if they’re not putting their money where their mouths are, it’s not a community, it’s a feel-good scam.

So what do you do if you’re looking for this essential community aspect of your business journey, but you don’t want to waste your time? This is what I’m here to talk about.

I’ve been wanting to write a “how to spot fake entrepreneurship initiatives” post for a very long time. It never came together. The first draft was more of a heated opinion piece than anything else, and the second draft wasn’t actionable enough.

Then, at the beginning of this month, I went to MicroConf Starter Edition.

Here’s my new opinion on what budding entrepreneurs should do if they need to find community without wasting their time: go to MicroConf SE.

What Is MicroConf?

Transparency disclaimer: this is a completely voluntary, unrequested, and unpaid for review of MicroConf. I am writing it because I was impressed by the experience that I had and I sincerely feel every word in this review. With that said, I did receive one of MicroConf Starter Edition’s diversity scholarships, which covered the cost of my ticket and a small stipend to offset travel costs. I believe this aspect of my experience adds to the fact that these organizers’ “put their money where their mouths are,” but this review would be incomplete without an honest mention of this fact. 

MicroConf describes itself on its website as “The World’s Biggest Conference For the World’s Smallest Self-Funded Software Companies.” While that tagline references software companies, and indeed, most of the content was tailored towards them, I met a lot of people taking on more than pure software projects.

The What, Where & When

There’s two versions of MicroConf: Starter and Growth. Starter is oriented towards people who make less than $5,000 a month in their business, while Growth is oriented towards those who make more. But, from what I saw, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. If you believe the fundamentals of your business could use some support, Starter seems excellent at all revenue levels. I found the content extremely valuable and we make more money than that. With that said, I heard about some of the Growth content at the Starter+Growth mixer, and it sounds like their content was quite differentiated. My goal is to attend Growth next year.

The conference happens in Las Vegas every year in springtime, and the attendee list is from all over the world. There’s also a MicroConf Europe.

The Who

The organizers of MicroConf are Mike Taber and Rob Walling. Both are successful serial entrepreneurs whose current ventures you’ve probably heard of: Bluetick and Drip, respectively. They also cohost a podcast called Startups for the Rest of Us. I had never heard of their podcast until after I had secured my MicroConf ticket and someone else in WordPress told me they were attending because of the podcast. I started listening, and it’s fantastic. I would recommend starting to listen to the podcast because it is free, and if the advice you hear in the podcast is useful and actionable, you will love MicroConf.

The Why

Here’s what I liked the most about MicroConf: it’s an unassuming conference. I went to a Consensus event last week. I competed in NYC BigApps. The thing these conferences all have in common is that it’s all glitz, glam, new. Here’s the problem: when you’re a new entrepreneur, you’re already taking a risk. The community you find needs to be tried-and-true. They need to teach you strategies that work, not whatever “latest newest secret updated strategy to get 10,000 users in your first month!” that may have worked for a handful of people, but has little track record of mass success.

At MicroConf, I heard not a single thing about blockchain, AI, machine learning, headless CMSs, and everything else I spend the rest of my days nerding out over. I heard tried-and-true: user onboarding. Landing pages. Facebook ads. Video content.

This isn’t non-innovative, it’s foundational. It’s often amazing to me how much budding entrepreneurs I talk to who want build an ecommerce store and are talking to me about recommendation engines and influencer marketing before they’ve even given consideration to abandoned carts.

When I was a teenager, I was very involved with the music world. I’ll never forget what one of my music teachers told me when I protested why I should learn scales when all I wanted to do was create weird sounds in Ableton: you have to know the rules to break them.

The MicroConf Starter Edition Content

Day 1: Morning

The first session was “An Unconventional Way To Validate Your Product Idea” by Justin Jackson. Admission: I had no idea who Justin Jackson was before this conference. Apparently he’s quite famous and popular, but I had no idea who he was. It was a little embarrassing.

After his talk, I could see why. An affable, engaging speaker, Justin kicked off MicroConf with the ever-important thing every budding entrepreneur needs to hear: how are you sure that it’s not just you that thinks this is a good idea?

Justin essentially gave the minimum viable product talk. However, he gave it in my favorite context ever: can you just get money from people?

I have strong feelings about what I would call fake traction: social media followers, emails, and other digital capital that isn’t actually an item that translates into revenue. And, admittedly, these are strong feelings I developed after touting my social media followings and website traffic as proof of traction, then watch that fake traction not turn into success.

Watching the first talk address this issue was excellent.

After this, we heard from Adam Wathan, who discussed product launches by talking about creating hype on Twitter, being genuinely useful in your content, and designing a solid and consistent landing page. Again: tried-and-true.

The next talk really impressed me: it addressed user onboarding and why you should care about it before launching. Yes! This is a lesson we learned the hard way with Caldera Forms. We are now playing catchup to make sure that our new users, who have heard great things about our product, are onboarded correctly and thus have the experience they are expecting.

Expectation management is everything, and onboarding goes a long way in facilitating this. I loved seeing onboarding emphasized to people just starting out.

Day 1: Afternoon

After the user onboarding content came a series of small talks being delivered by attendees. Again, the topics selected were impressive to me: we had a healthy dose of practicality and inspiration. On the practical end, we had a good guide on how to conduct a high-quality user interview. On the inspirational end, we had talks about risk taking and talks about small exits.

Another thing I’ve often lamented is the business conference that is overly inspirational.

I believe that a good conference doesn’t throw up presenter after presenter on stage to deliver a “you can do it!” sermon. People go to conferences to learn and network, if they are inspired by the practice of their pursuit, this is an excellent way to tell it’s right for them.

Don’t shove feel-good in my face. I will personally decide if this makes me happy.

The day was then closed by host Mike Tabor. Mike gave a talk that had me laughing the entire time. It was about email followup.

This last talk was the perfect representation of why I now believe in the MicroConf program so strongly. I’ve often thought that there is a noticeable difference between the advice successful entrepreneurs give you, and the advice that professional consultants give you.

Professional consultants say things like “it’s time to try landing page tests” and “have you heard of crowdfunding?”

Successful entrepreneurs say “send the follow up email, I promise you they don’t hate you. They probably just forgot to answer.”

By the way: I implemented this strategy yesterday with someone that I had emailed 7 days ago. She got back to me immediately and wished me good luck with what I was asking for.

MicroConf is real, actionable, and tried-and-true.

Day 2: Morning

The day started off with Patrick McKenzie from Stripe Atlas. I would tell you what he talked about, but then I would have to kill you.

Is that a joke? Yes, but what’s not a joke is that Patrick talked about confidential information that truly demonstrated that MicroConf was reinvesting more into every attendee than the attendees had paid for the full-price tickets.

After Patrick, we heard from Mojca Zove, the newest cool girl I hope will be my friend someday.

She talked about the art of Facebook ads, and specifically how to create effective, budget-conscious ads that work by serving a tier of ads that create interest, use retargeting intelligently, and close the sale.

Many new entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to underestimate the difficulty of building an audience. I talked to a couple of people at this event even who communicated that they felt their product wasn’t a good idea because they put it on a marketplace and no one paid attention.

Building an audience is hard. This is why intelligent strategies like targeted advertisement, creating excellent content and tying yourself to an existing audience or niche work. It was good to see this presented.

Day 2: Afternoon

The following session, “It Won’t Be A Straight Line: A Founder’s Journey Starting, Growing and Selling a SaaS” was inspirational, but in a way I really appreciated. The SaaS aspect of Caldera Forms Pro has been difficult to explain and market. I’ve spent an unusual amount of time trying to define straight lines with an upward slant, and I’ve had to learn that this isn’t how it works. Having this presented at a starter event is important, and made me think of the difference between advice from those who have actually been there.

Unfortunately, I missed the following talk, “The Sustainable SaaS, what permaculture can teach us about building software” because I had to take a phone call.

However, I would encourage you to look at the title of that talk to develop an appreciation for the MicroConf culture. What can you learn from permaculture? In case you don’t know (I didn’t!), permaculture is the development of sustainable agriculture ecosystems.

Sustainability was something that we are now reckoning with at Caldera Forms. We have, one might say, “rich people problems” – we have too many users and we’re trying to crack the code of providing all of them a consistently good experience.

Thinking about sustainability is important.

Finally, the last talk, “Navigating the Startup Landscape” from Courtland Allen at IndieHackers essentially finished solidifying my opinion of the quality and value of MicroConf.

Watching this conference end with a talk about all of the strange things that we may be exposed to as startup entrepreneurs: press, internet trolls, personal struggle – it was all a perfect conclusion to an extremely high quality event.

The MicroConf People

The content selection at MicroConf was clearly excellent. I’m sure they received lots of submissions for talks, so the order and prioritization given to what was selected, given what I know of what it’s actually like to run a software company, is impressive.

But if content was the only value, I could tell you to go Google everything I listed above, in that order, and you would get the value I got out of MicroConf.

However, the real value of an event like MicroConf comes from the camaraderie that builds sitting in a dark room with several hundred other people listening to these talks, in this order. The value comes from seeing the shared struggle, the nodding heads, and then talking about your opinions of the talks during lunch and the networking events.

I met very interesting people at MicroConf: people who are creating templates for mobile app development, wellness virtual reality products, online platform for health and fitness. I saw good ideas and smart people focusing on getting customers and creating value.

It’s Like A Shortcut

Here’s the thing: I have community, and I have examples that this work can yield results – now. I have lots of friends and colleagues in the WordPress community that support me and believe me and people from my university cheering me on. My mother has progressed from “oh my god, what are you doing, you had a sure thing with Bank of America,” to “my baby owns a company!”

Not only that, but I have my customers. The customers of Caldera Forms are every day proof that sustainable, self-funded businesses are completely possible, all the time, in my inbox. They open support tickets to help with their projects, and Josh and I endlessly marvel at the ways in which people are using Caldera Forms.

We’ve seen our product powering meal delivery services across the country, time sheets for construction workers, quote forms for service providers, and so much more. Today, I am bombarded with images of successful, enthusiastic, clever, and real entrepreneurs.

But as I said at the beginning, it wasn’t always that way. For a long time, I mostly had concerned family members and internet trolls. I had people who distanced themselves from me because I “wasn’t fun anymore.” I had friends who said they supported me, while simultaneously making fun of the startup world (and often with good reason).

So when people ask me what shifted the tides, I always say community. But seeking community can be an intimidating experience at first, especially if you’re someone like me, who was never really good at being a popular person in a crowd.

The highest value I got out of MicroConf was that I felt like I had found a little tribe of people that “got it.” They all seemed to share my struggles, concerns and interests. To me, it was more friends to add to my pocket. But I know that if this had been one  of the first communities I had ever found, it would have been revolutionary. Instead, I had to struggle my way into a few communities that worked, and then found the shortcut at MicroConf.

Weak Points

No review is complete without an overview of weak points.

To be honest, I don’t have a lot of complaints. But in the name of continuous improvement, let’s cover some of the things I think could’ve been better.

Point 1: Creepy Las Vegas

First of all, the hotel. Oh, the hotel! Of course at some point it got fun for me to be at a Las Vegas resort, so my weak point wouldn’t be “find a better venue.” But, outside of the MicroConf setting, it was an all-around uncomfortable experience. After all, I had to be a “conventionally attractive” 25-year-old all alone in a Las Vegas resort.

When I got there, a stranger came up to me, grabbed my hand and asked me if I was married. Another stranger came up to me and told me that I was invited to go to their hotel room. In between the conference sessions and one of the socials, I was followed by a hotel guest from the elevators to the doors being asked for my phone number.

I am bold and even a little reckless. But I wouldn’t doubt that there has been at least one young woman who has looked at MicroConf, wanted to go, could afford it, but has said to herself, “Las Vegas all by myself? That sounds like how I get kidnapped.”

I obviously don’t expect the organizers of MicroConf to fix the misogyny of our world, but in the world of young ladies, we have tried-and-true strategies for avoiding these types of situations. A common one is the buddy system. I would’ve very much benefitted from having a roommate so that we could venture out between sessions together. Giving us an organized system for this would go a long way for future diverse attendees.

Point 2: Inclusive Socials

My only other piece of feedback is the inclusiveness of the after-event socials. I’m the kind of person that is ultra-weird and mostly uncomfortable at a “let’s stand around and drink” event. I never know who to talk to or what to do with my arms.

But my awkwardness is second in importance to the fact that “stand around and drink” socials exclude recovering alcoholics, people of certain religions, etc.

It seems small, but something as simple as the availability of games or some other activity goes a long way in making sure that all of us find ways to forge connections.

My Tips For Future MicroConf-ers

There’s also a lot I learned from going that are mistakes I won’t repeat next year. For future MicroConf attendees, I would advise you keep the following in mind:

Tip #1: Use Twitter

I procrastinate a lot of Twitter. It’s a habit I’m trying to fix. However, by this bad habit, I accidentally did one of the best things I could’ve possibly done for my experience at MicroConf. Tweeting at people who were saying they were attending meant that once I got there, I recognized people and they recognized me. Don’t underestimate the power of taking an online connection offline.

Tip #2: Use The Gym

The venue gym was really nice. It has an amazing floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the pool, a sauna and a meditation room. Take advantage of it! But beyond that, squeezing some exercise before and after really helped me stay focused and energized during those long conference hours.

Tip #3: Set Up Slack and GetFaces Before the Event

This is where I went so wrong. I’m so bombarded by email every day that responding to the MicroConf emails about joining the Slack and setting up my GetFaces profile got pushed way down my priority list. Then, I got to the event, and everyone was planning breakfasts, lunches, outings, etc. over Slack and I missed out on all of it for the first half of the first day because I hadn’t set up my Slack account until lunchtime. Don’t be like me!

Tip #4: Drink Water

I had never been to Las Vegas before, so I was totally unprepared for the dry heat and dehydration. It’s no joke. I learned to fill up my reusable water bottle twice as often as I usually do and to stay close to my lip balm. Most importantly, I learned that I couldn’t drink nearly as much as I thought I could. I love a good glass of wine, and at home, will easily have two glasses with dinner if I’m feeling indulgent without much effect. I did that the first night, and I was a little hungover the next day! Make it a point to stay hydrated so that you are at 100% during the conference.

Tip #5: Get Out and Do Something Fun

At Caldera Labs, we have a very important rule. We think that when we travel for work, we should have some days off in that city. May was very chaotic for us so I did not do this, but because I am so aware of this important emotional effect, I made sure to get out on Saturday and do one Las Vegas thing I had always wanted to do. That thing was to go see Beatles LOVE, the Beatles-themed Cirque du Soleil show at The Mirage. It was a little treat that kept my spirits up.

Conclusion

It’s not often that I’m impressed enough with an event that claims to help entrepreneurs that I write a 4000 word review of it. MicroConf was truly exceptional. Now, it is a priority in 2019 for me to go, and to go to Growth edition.

What made MicroConf so good is that it’s real. Everyone at MicroConf tells it how it is: it will be hard, but it will be worth it.

MicroConf seems to hold the spirit of one of my favorite saying about starting & growing a business: “your first fundraising round should be a Series R, for revenue.” Beyond that, MicroConf strikes that balance between being a business event and being an event where, as one of our advisors tells me before any important networking event I go to, “you’re there to meet your newest best friends.”

 

 

 

 

Have You Met My Programming Challenge?

Ever since I was a little girl, I hated liking anything anyone else liked.

Sometimes I even did that to my detriment. For example, when I was 7, Christina Aguilera had just come out and my cousin and all of my friends loved her – so naturally, I had to hate her. It wasn’t until 2002 when Dirrty came out that I had to admit she was a feminist icon and the best vocalist of my generation, despite her popularity.

I know that might seem like a silly, but I’m serious. She is the Etta James of the 21st century.

Today, bitcoin, cryptocurrency and blockchain seem to be the thing everyone’s talking about. Bitcoin is the new Christina.

Ever since the spike in bitcoin, boys I made fun of in business school are talking about their “crypto investments” (you are speculating, not investing, please act like you learned something) and my business partner who is a senior PHP and WordPress developer is talking about WordPress + blockchain and my boyfriend is talking non-stop about the one bitcoin he bought back in 2010. It’s all quite annoying. So I respond how I normally respond: eyerolls. Hype. Bubbles.

By the way, I don’t dislike this trait about myself. I actually really quite like it. It’s also the reason for why I often spent time working on skills and interests that were unique, which paid off later on.

So it actually pained me to admit that I’ve been following blockchain technology very closely since 2011. I actually tried to understand it when it first came out in 2008, but I found it a little too complicated – I was 15, so that’s to be expected.

But in 2011, I was an undergraduate economics student and also 3 years had gone by, which meant I had more context for understanding and other people had put together easy-to-understand resources. It all resurfaced when my college boyfriend, a computer science major, brought up cryptography.

7 years ago, I could explain to you what bitcoin was, the decentralized ledger, the problem with copying information, Satoshi Nakamoto, and the theoretical mechanics of the SHA-256 hash algorithm. I could also explain the possible economic implications of the system – that’s the part I found truly juicy.

But Ethereum wasn’t a thing, and this was before Girls Who Code, Girlboss and #MeToo, so every message in my life said that I had no relationship to this pique of curiosity. So despite clear interest and obvious competence, I got back in my lane. This is why I’m passionate about getting girls into tech, and why I think you’re wrong about accusing activists of victimhood, but that’s a different conversation.

When bitcoin became the hot topic of conversation a few months ago, I found myself explaining the potential economic impact of cryptocurrency to my tech friends, and the theory behind the technology of cryptocurrency to my family. It was natural, just another thing bookish Christie knows about.

Concurrently, I’ve been struggling with finding my niche. In business strategy, we know that the most likely predictor of success and sustainable competitive advantage is to be the first mover within a market niche that the organization is especially advantageously positioned to fill.

I very much admire my business partner Josh and my boyfriend Zac. Both of them are rockstar WordPress developers. There’s a constant joke in my life where we go to WordPress events together and I serve as their designated picture-taker for the fans that approach them.

Spending most of my time around two very accomplished, very niche professionals pushes me to think about what my contribution to the world of work is going to be. Josh and Zac are prolific because they give back. They have found a thing they are good at and love, and they have made decade-long careers out of empowering other people with them.

They also got in at the right time. They were the only people doing what they were doing when they started. Even if now there are many WordPress developers and educators, when they started, there were not. This is the first-mover advantage strategy textbooks talk about. It does not negate talent and contribution, but it undoubtedly boosts it.

By all definitions, I am just beginning my career. I feel solid and confident about the quantity and quality of contributions I can make because of my curiosity, education, and project experience, but in terms of time spent doing such a thing full-time – with no intermissions from schooling and training – is short.

One of my mentors said that I have talent and I have knowledge, but I lack experience and resources. Resources are fixed by asking for help, but only time fixes experience.

These are observations about execution, which means that the execution I choose to undergo at this stage is crucial. And for that reason, it’s important for me to think like a strategist: what am I especially positioned to deliver well, in an emerging and well-defined niche?

OK Fine, I’m Learning Blockchain Development

Bitcoins!

Just kidding. But look, at this point, business strategy or financial modeling is not my differentiator. Neither is digital marketing.

Everyone has an MBA.

It’s not WordPress development, either. We outsource our development to talented and affordable teams offshore.

These are all things that I’m competent at, so I can sell them. But they’re not the product that I should be producing. Others are doing that.

No matter what, I will always be an entrepreneur. But my entrepreneurship is not the product I can sell, it is the quality by which the products I touch will be successful. Some people are diligent workers, others are ideation people. I execute, and I sell.

But we all still need a product. Our nature of work alone is not enough.

So Where Does It Start?

I love living in 2018 because perhaps this direction even just 10 years ago means I have to go back to school. But this isn’t true today. The resources available for online education mean you can learn anything and build a portfolio with time and an internet connection, as long as other parts of your life are stable.

So Are You Saying Goodbye To WordPress?

No. If you go to the new part of my site about this effort, you’ll see a stark lack of blockchain and an overwhelming amount of basic WordPress. The thing about business strategy is that the niche almost always trumps the first-mover advantage (see: the entire history of Caldera Forms). Blockchain is old technology at this point. The reason you think it’s new is because the market is just figuring out how to commercialize this technology.

After first mover advantages and niches, the other thing that the strategy textbooks always talk about is that an excellent way to penetrate a market is to choose an established platform for distribution at first. Build things on top of things – it’s the web development way.

 

 

Advanced Topics In Businessing at WordCamp Miami 2018

I’m giving a talk at WordCamp Miami 2018 this weekend called “Advanced Topics In Businessing.”

It’s a cheeky name because it originally started out as a joke.

Last year, at the inaugural WordCamp DC (which, by the way, was an excellent event and you should try to make this year if you are in the area), I attended Andrew Nacin’s talk Advanced Topics In WordPress. I sat with technology educator Zac Gordon and after Andrew’s talk, Zac asked me what I thought of him doing an “Advanced Topics In JavaScript” talk. I liked it.

Then he says, “what if you did Advanced Topics In Businessing”? I laughed and told him that was silly.

But then, he told me that he was going to buy businessing.business so that I couldn’t have it. I’m a competitive person and I love a silly challenge, so $6 later, I owned http://businessing.business.

I first met Zac at WordCamp Miami 2017, so to continue the joke, I submitted “Advanced Topics In Businessing” as a talk abstract. Lo and behold, the organizers loved it, they spun an entire Micro MBA track, and now here we are.

The lesson: never take yourself too seriously.

I’m actually really excited to give this talk. In both Andrew’s and Zac’s versions of this talk, they talked on advanced topics that they thought people should know, in no particular order, about their areas of expertise. Over the last 3 years, I’ve certainly developed an opinion on which parts of my formal business education have come in the most useful (I graduated from Florida State University’s MBA program in 2015 which, by the way, is spinning up the country’s largest public entrepreneurship school this year).

I’m told fairly frequently that it’s pretty uncommon to meet entrepreneurs with business backgrounds in my industry. Most technology entrepreneurs are people with great eyes for design or minds for development who put cool things together, and figure out how to sell it later.

This is at the core of mine and Josh’s partnership at Caldera Labs. We have complimentary skills. When Zac was joking around about “businessing,” it wasn’t all jokes. As a professional educator, he is an expert in pedagogy, but not in strategic management.

It’s funny, because when I look at my talk slides for this weekend, and the list below, I think these concepts are pretty elementary. The other lesson in that: always realize that what is easy to your area of concentration, is advanced to someone else with a different area of concentration. We all have expertise to share – so share it!

The Topics

If you find yourself here after (or during) the talk, welcome! I hope you find this content useful. Below is the list of my 5 key things I think a WordPress professional should know about from a traditional business education curriculum in moving forward with starting, running and growing a business in this space.

If you find yourself here before the talk, catch the talk on Sunday morning at 9AM in Miami or on the livestream.

To get a copy of my slides, find them here.

#1 – Long term competitive advantage

From Tutor2U.net: https://www.tutor2u.net/business/reference/competitive-advantage

A competitive advantage is an advantage over competitors gained by offering consumers greater value, either by means of lower prices or by providing greater benefits and service that justifies higher prices. Understanding the concept of long term competitive advantage is essential to answering the essential business question: why should anyone buy your product? See this link for more information.

#2 – Porter’s Value Chain

Porter's value chain diagram
Porter’s Value Chain from https://sites.google.com/site/cis4397introtocloudcomputing/home/module-3/porter-s-value-chain

After understanding competitive advantage, get a grip of Porter’s Value Chain. This diagram outlines all of the moving parts of a business, and separates them into two: the activities you do to make money, and the activities you do the make your business run. Figuring out where in your value chain your competitive advantage exists is essential to the next part of running a business: figuring out which parts you should do, and which parts you should outsource ASAP.

It’s also valuable to get an understanding of who Michael E. Porter is. This guy literally wrote every leading book about strategic management, and even as business changes his quickly, his concepts seem to continue standing the test of time.

Business is changing quickly, though. Certainly for those of us selling online, Porter’s Value Chain can start to feel especially clunky when procurement, inbounding logistics, operations, and outbound logistics all seem to be the same thing. For this reason, I recommend you also familiarize yourself with the Business Model Canvas. This other business diagramming tool is more apt for mapping out non-material businesses, and can still serve as a chart by which to understand what you’re doing, and what you should outsource.

Source: strategyzer.com

#3 – Order winners vs. order qualifiers

Once you define out what you think makes you special and how it fits into the big picture of your business, let’s figure out whether you’re right. This is the concept of where order winners vs. order qualifiers comes in. An order qualifier is an aspect of your business that must be acceptable or better for a consumer to consider buying from you. An order winner is an aspect of your business that is why a person chooses you over another acceptable alternative. Observe the big brands in your life: what is the order winner? What is the order qualifier(s)? Now think about yourself. If you’re selling on Etsy, people aren’t buying from you because you have cute, handmade originals. That’s an order qualifier. They’re buying from you because you have an order winner – something that differentiates you from the crowd.

#4 The Marketing Mix

This hideous image is from NetMBA.com: http://www.netmba.com/marketing/mix/

Most of us in WordPress will eventually default to a differentiation strategy, where our order winner is our marketing and personnel. For this reason, you should really understand how marketing works. At the core is understanding the concept of the “marketing mix” – this is the idea that marketing comprises of product (how’s the thing you sell packaged? Does it incite excitement?), placement (where do you sell it?), promotion (where and how do you advertise?) and price.

I’ve seen a lot of WordPress professional overlook this concept and use the word marketing when they’re actually talking about digital advertising. A marketing strategy is not an overview of what you’re going to post to your social profiles and blogs. Marketing strategy is about how you present the product to your customers, where you take payments, and more. Understand the marketing mix and answer all of the questions that arise from it, and you will have fleshed out a solid strategy for promoting your product.

#5 Price elasticity of demand

From YourArticleLibrary.com: http://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/economics/the-meaning-as-price-elasticity-of-demand-532-words/10582

When I did a business panel in Montreal last summer, it seemed everyone wanted to know one thing: what should I price my products at?

The answer: I don’t know, it depends on your product. Sorry.

But what about your product? Well, I believe your pricing research should start with an understanding the idea of price elasticity and doing an assessment of how elastic or inelastic your product is. This will allow you to make a hypothesis as to whether you should price high or low. From there, run experiments. Familiarize yourself with this framework of decision-making here.

#6 BONUS: Covey’s Time Management Matrix

From https://www.time-management-success.com/time-management-matrix.html

Not exactly a business chart, but the first thing I discovered when I started running my own business was “oh my god, this is really hard, and I have too much to do.”

One of my professors taught me about this matrix, and as simple as it seems, it began to restructure how I thought about my workload.

The key takeaway: do the things that further your goals before you do the things that call your attention. Oftentimes, things resolve themselves when they don’t matter. Learn about Covey’s Time Management Matrix here.

Finishing Slide: The Conjoined Triangles of Success

I couldn’t help but notice that my presentation bore a striking resemblance to this clever scene from HBO’s Silicon Valley. I couldn’t not include it. Never take ourselves too seriously, right?

Check out the full talk at WordCamp Miami 2018, Sunday at 9AM.

That’s All, Folks

I once said that I’ve only found about 30% of my MBA useful in the context of entrepreneurship. However, a businessperson I admire, Andrew Norcross (Founder of Reaktiv Studios), had a good retort to that: so far. There’s my so far summary above. If you have other concepts you think will end up coming in useful, drop them in the comments.

Financial Forecasting For Product Businesses

This is a gif of Christie doing something silly on the stage at WordCamp US, taken by David Bisset.

Last December, I talked at the largest WordPress event in North America, WordCamp US. It was awesome, and the crowd seemed very interested in watching me nerd out over cost/benefit analysis and cyclical trends in forecasting on stage. There’s a video of it online now:

It focuses on WordPress obviously, but the concepts are applicable to any small, self-funded software product. In June, I’ll be giving this same talk on the largest WordPress stage in the world, WordCamp Europe in Belgrade, Serbia.

I’m super excited! Get excited with me with the recording of V1 above.

Here’s Why I’m Not OK With Your Praise of Last Night’s SOTU Address

State of the Union 2011, from Wikipedia Commons

This blog post was originally a tweetstorm, found here.

As a woman, an American immigrant, a mixed race Latina, and a newly minted American, allow me to explain to you why I’m going to react poorly when you talk to me about how inspirational the President’s speech was last night.

Among the special invitees sat a family whose child was murdered by members of a terrifying Latin American gang, and a Homeland Security agent.

The honored guests at SOTU, while I’m sure all lovely people, were specifically picked to illicit a single response from you: an unshakeable feeling of “us vs. them”

My entire life, due to all those “labels” I outlined in the first tweet, I have deeply and painfully craved a world in which I was seen as a human, and not as an “other.”

“Othering” is the crux of what is so deeply painful to me about a Trump presidency. I’m not screaming bloody murder about half-true perceived constitutional violations or alternative facts. I am screaming because this political moment’s success is based on taking us away from the unified world I’ve desperately craved my entire life. The #SOTU looked like a “celebration of othering we can all agree with.”

I am frustrated with all sides of the political discussion in the United States. Because whether you’re talking about Russia collusion or Making America Great Again, you’re telling me you’re buying into the idea that some humans are more evil, and less worthy, than others. That’s shit.

But most importantly, your tacit approval of othering terrifies me. Because I know that the definitions of the ingroup and the outgroup are loose, and that one day I can belong, and the next day I could not.

I thought I found a unified world when I bought into the American Dream, when I moved to New York City, when I found the open-source community, etc etc etc etc, and then Donald Trump became President by selling the exact opposite.

Donald Trump’s political success is, by his own doing, contingent on convincing you that certain people are dangerous to you and therefore less human, and to eliminate them, certain other people – people like me – are acceptable casualties for the greater good.

So forgive me if I struggle to respond with calmness, rationality, and openness about how you were “pleasantly surprised” by the SOTU. Because nothing about it was pleasant or surprising to me. It was more of the same “us vs. them.”

What I hear is that your dislike of crime, your disdain for misinformation, your (insert other concerns here) supersedes your desire for a world in which we move past socially constructed differences and borders. I’m hearing “means to an end” arguments for temporarily suspending the one thing I have found to be nonnegotiable in a world of subjective opinion: to do unto others as we would want done unto us.

I was 14 the first time that somebody told me that I’m hard to talk to, and that it’s just easier to stay away from political discussions with me. I was completely heartbroken. I thought there was something wrong with me. I have spent so much energy apologizing, and acquiescing, for that.

I’ve learned that avoidance is a powerful self-defense mechanism – there’s few things more painful than the suggestion that you’ve behaved like a bad person. For so long, I’ve decided pushing further wasn’t worth it.

But I just can’t continue apologizing for making people uncomfortable with the most important thing in the world to me.

Feel free to discuss in the comments or in the original tweetstorm

This 2018, Social Media Will Change The World

Now that Christmas is over, I’m using the space between Christmas and New Year’s Day to come up with, and share, my New Year’s resolutions.*

Yesterday’s resolution was to make more music in 2018. I had a couple of instances this past year where I reconnected the music I used to create, and I really loved that feeling. I’m hoping to bring more of it back into my life.

My next resolution is to be bolder on social media.

This is probably borderline ridiculous to my friends and family. I’m already pretty bold on social media.

However, I think I quieted down in 2017. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first one was very practical: my naturalization application last year. I’m not silly enough to believe that social media isn’t part of the review, and while the United States does protect free speech, I doubt that loud, professional anti-government digital content published by the applicant would help. However, now that’s over.

The others were more emotional. For example, backlash from internet trolls. I would include screenshots from some of the messages I’ve gotten throughout the years, but I don’t want to go searching for them because they make me uncomfortable.

There’s also discomfort from family and friends. It’s easy to learn a lot about me via a quick Google search, this worries my mother a lot.

But the biggest thing was criticism from the people I love.

“You will never change someone’s mind over social media.”

Stop getting into internet fights, they said. You’re convinced they’re right, and they’re convinced they’re right, and nothing will ever change.

In 2018, I’m challenging that.

Can An Internet Argument Be Won?

Are internet arguments a waste of time? Maybe. Let’s ask a different question.

How much of a dense, unthinking person does one have to be to have free and unlimited access to all of their friends’ opinions, thoughts and emotions, presented in a completely non-threatening way (on the internet, you don’t have to respond immediately!), and not even, for one second, respond to it?

I just can’t imagine that our opinion of each other is so low that we think that being exposed to our friends’ and loved ones’ pains and struggles will have no effect on how we think.

Honest conversation among friends isn't just a little way to boost social change, it's the only thing that has ever produced it. Click To Tweet Proponents of “you can’t change anyone’s mind over social media” will tell you to engage in more fruitful pursuits, like political activism and donating to charity. I’m not saying that those things aren’t important, but I am saying that we know that massive social change always follows cultural change.

Maybe our reluctance to admit that social media could be the catalyst for massive social change comes from a reluctance to admit we changed. We like to think we are right, and we especially hate admitting we were wrong. Add to that the special stigma about being wrong on cultural viewpoints, and it’s easier to not change. Those who do change keep quiet about it. So, we think social media activism doesn’t work.

Change The World By Learning To Admit You’re Wrong

Can I start this trend? Let me tell you all the awful things social media worked out of my system.

My friends, over social media, slowly educated me to my own blindness about LGBT issues. While I’ve been described as “winning the underprivileged lottery,” (which is ridiculous on its own, but that’s out of scope for this blog post) I was privileged enough to be born a heterosexual, cisgender female. That means that I was ignorant to many of the struggles facing the LGBT community and I was hurtful without knowing.

It was my friends over social media, sharing content they loved, that shed light on my own transphobia, and my own lack of understanding of asexuality. And no, I never reached out to the people whose posts made me see that “being cool with gay people” wasn’t enough. But I looked at the content they shared, I absorbed it, I learned, and I adjusted.

I’m also going to admit that looking at my friends’ social media posts brought to light my own anti-blackness. Anti-blackness in Latin American and Asian communities is well-known, but I, like many others, engaged in “but I’m not deliberately hostile, so I’m not racist” behavior. This is wrong. I learned this via silent reading of my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

I felt sad because it was brought to my attention that I was actually pretty racist. But instead of resisting, I decided to be an adult, deal with those feelings, and adjust my behavior.

The biggest slacktivists in the world are the people who use the word slacktivism. Oh, you even have a word for how hard you refuse to be better? Congratulations! Click To Tweet

I became more compassionate through social media. If that happened several million more times, we would live in a different world.

Social Media Activism Is Real

As someone who uses social media for business, I would suggest that we’re letting our own human senses of pride and righteousness get in the way of admitting that social media activism is real, and even makes more sense than traditional activism in 2018.

Organizing via social media has the same benefits that we tout of social media advertising in the business world: it’s cheap per customer. It reaches wide audiences. And it contains a trust factor that traditional advertising (your so-called “real activism” of political organizations and charities) do not, because the content comes from friends.

There is no difference. The only difference is our resistance to it.

This is an ongoing trend in our quickly changing age of technology, by the way. It’s part of a broader, collective gasp at the advancements of technology. We say “overreach!” and “this is making us dumber!” but what we actually fear is change.

A person’s biggest fear is to become irrelevant. We’re afraid of artificial intelligence because if it’s smarter than us, we will become irrelevant. We’re afraid of social media activism because if our society’s values change, the structures we’ve built upon them will become irrelevant.

But, the structures that currently exist are shit. So in 2018, I am done being afraid: let’s keep posting to social media, especially about issues you care about. It’s not pointless, people are listening, and you are making a difference. Persevere: social media will change the world.


*I don’t actually believe in New Year’s Resolutions, and neither should you.

Continue the trend: what are some embarrassing confessions of personal growth via social media that you have? Share in the comments, or tweet about it.

How has social media changed you? #SocialMedia2018 Click To Tweet

 

Could your company’s social media strategy use some improvement? I’ve been promoting causes and products via social media since Xanga. Reach out. Don’t even know what Xanga is? Even more reason to reach out.

Let’s Face It: You’re Against Net Neutrality Because You’re Too Stupid To Understand The Internet

It’s Thanksgiving evening 2017 and I’m idly browsing social media as the house that took me in this year winds down. Then, I see this:
 

I’m not going to link to it because I’ve done enough of giving clicks to fuckery. You can look it up if you’d like. But let’s just say, unfortunately, it wrapped me in. I was like,

which sucked, because I was having a really great, mostly unplugged day up until that point. But I couldn’t stay away because this article made something apparent to me that I hadn’t previously realized:

People are against net neutrality because they think the internet is a consumer good. 

 

This explained everything. I thought everyone had heard the “internet access is a fundamental human right like water and heat” argument, but that was wrong. Many people see the internet like they see their cable service: a source of entertainment, news, and occasionally education. I had never actually realized that the public utility concept was a fringe idea, and not a commonly accepted principle.

That had to be addressed.

Let’s Get This Straight

When it comes to net neutrality advocates, consumer choice is not the point because it is not the discussion.

Allow me to start with a story. I grew up in a household where a single mother of two brought in $18,000 one year. These are the kind of United States households that you hear about that make decisions like groceries vs. gas for the week. Naturally, a decision that came to the chopping block was internet access. “Well, we have cellphones, so perhaps we can do without internet for our computers” was a discussion that came about the year after I moved out.

I absolutely lost my shit.

I now find myself paying for my family’s cellphones and internet access. Let’s explore why.

Internet Is The Greatest Equalizer

A true net neutrality advocate sees the internet as a colossal equalizing force. It is a never-ending library and a publishing house of low barrier to entry. Net neutrality advocates do not see the internet like much of the world sees it – a tool for consumption of games, social media, etc. That’s what it primarily is presently, but we think that’s highly unlikely to be its function in 10 years. That’s what rattled me about the article that started this whole thing: it divided internet use into social media, video streaming, gaming, and email. Wait, what?

Hold on hold on hold on, screamed my brain. That’s not the benefit of the internet. The real benefit comes from someone browsing social media then hopping onto a website of high-quality journalism. They read a long-form article and learn a new word. They look up the word, and land on an online encyclopedia. They contribute to the encyclopedia and learn the name of an area of study previously unknown to them. They purchase a course online for that area of study. Then, they start a blog about it. Then… you get the idea. You have probably done this. And in a world where education is becoming more and more crucial, and more and more expensive, we need this effect more than ever.

Now let’s draw back to the story. My family’s situation was brought up to me because I have been loud about my conviction that internet access was a single, massively influencing factor in my ability to progress economically. I could never forget being 16, mom barely speaking English, and seeking the help I needed from the internet. Blogs helped me figure out how to apply for jobs, college, and more. YouTube taught me to do my makeup for interviews. Google searches taught me about safe sex. As much as I love public libraries, the hours and privacy required for this kind of information access is not available at a public library. I couldn’t let my brother attend high school in a household where internet access wasn’t a laptop-flip away, so I ended up with the bill.

But most low-income United States households don’t have a Christie. So, if the regulations that currently exist which prevent “tiered packages of internet service” from being available go away, lower income households will inevitably choose packages that limit the internet experience, which, unbeknownst to them, will effectively limit the amount of learning, exploration, and ultimately, economic opportunities available to that household. 

This is not a statement intended to insult the poor. The poor are not dumb, the poor are, just like everyone else, actors with incomplete information making decisions at the margin.

I recently spoke to a room of 40 New York City city officials and I told them a story from when I was 14. I launched my first website, carolspianolessons dot com, to promote piano lessons to neighborhood kids because we were poor and I wanted to make money. My mom’s reaction really amuses me, saddens me, and inspires a lot of my work today. She didn’t say “oh my god, you just made a lead generation website on your own?” No, she said, “honey, you’re never going to make a good living teaching music.”

My mother is not stupid. My mother is tough as nails. My mother makes rational purchasing decisions. She just didn’t know.

Net Neutrality Is Protecting A Morphing Information Age

So why do we care?

It starts with this: there’s this troubling pattern that already exists where low-income households are disproportionate consumers vs. creators of online content. We’re worried about this because it’s no secret that the ability to produce using technology is becoming more and more crucial to being employable, productive, etc. Naturally, kids with richer parents are encouraged to create simply because parents know about the value of creating digital content, while low income kids’ families do not.

This is why there’s, give or take, 300,000 nonprofits currently trying to teach kids coding.

Where does net neutrality come in? Simple: this “harsh regulation” ensures that when I volunteer with nonprofit #293 or whatever to teach young people coding that every single one of them will either have a computer with internet access at home, or they will have unrestricted internet access somewhere else. I will not have to explain to a parent why the internet they pay for is not the internet they need for this class. You’ll know, if you’ve ever been in a similar situation, that that conversation will quickly turn into “sorry, we don’t have the right things to let our kid take this class.”

It’s a much more economically approachable problem to have more expensive, consistent internet service, that we can figure out other more reasonable technological limitations to (ex. speeds), than the hurdles we’d have to jump over if these strict regulations were lifted. Because, to draw it back to the original point, the internet is currently erroneously being seen as a form of information consumption. It is not. In the long run, it will come to be understood as an ultimate equalizer of information, transaction (blockchain, anyone?), etc.

But we have to get it through this stage first, and we must protect it to do so. And we’ll never get there if we deliberately prevent a large percentage of people from using it and learning it as a creation tool, which is the only way in which this medium continues to progress.

Tl,dr; (a term brought to you by unrestricted internet access)

The benefit to society (plus the lowering of costs associated with an educated population, too) highly outweigh the costs of this regulation, and people who don’t understand this are, to put it bluntly, too technologically illiterate to think long-term about the technology they’re using everyday. 

Stop being illiterate.


Reconsidering your stance against net neutrality due to this post? Dope, it’d be cool if you left a comment. It’s nice to know one isn’t screaming into the void sometimes.

Take a sec to call your reps using this handy guide

And oh, yes, all subscriptions on CalderaForms.com are 20% off for Black Friday. Unlike internet access, those are goods to be consumed.