2012 Year in Review

I love teaching.
2012 was the year of the Entrepreneur.

It’s taken me about week to think through what I wanted my 2012 YIR post to cover as it could have taken a lot of different forms. I like to be comprehensive but doing so would mean that it would most likely take another 2 weeks to finish it and by that time I’m 3 or 4 weeks into 2013 and I would have forgotten most of what happened in the previous year.

Trust me, my memory is pretty bad and it’s been getting progressively worse as I get older.

But it’s tough because everything in our lives is so interconnected – our personal lives affect our professional and it’s hard to isolate an experience without referencing a near-360 degree perspective; but I shall try for the sake of brevity and so as not to bore you completely (because honestly, who is this review really for?).

So the theme of this particular blog post is going to be simple and succinct: Entrepreneurship.

In 2012 I turned 30. At long last. I feel so young and yet I feel so old at the very same time. 2012 aged me considerably but after 30 years of existence I could finally come to a place where I felt comfortable in my own shoes.

Albeit, I’d be lying if I told you that the comfort level is high – I have always squirmed in my chair and have never felt like there has ever been the perfect fit, but this past year’s biggest milestone professionally was the fact that I finally embraced entrepreneurship in total.

It’s not that I haven’t been entrepreneurial or haven’t had a few previous entrepreneurial successes, but last year I could stare straight into someone else’s eyes and say without hesitation:

I am an entrepreneur.

The greatest test of this was with my father, a man whom I respect more than any other man on this planet. Sitting down with him in the past few months, sharing with him my heart, my dreams, and my goals (and he’s heard plenty), I was able to tell him that I have embraced the life of a professional entrepreneur and that I have never felt so at home.

He nodded, politely, and gave me a sideways glance while cracking a incredibly-small smile. He then did something that nearly floored me – he apologized. He went on to say that he had recognized that incredibly early in my lifetime and yet felt that he and my mother had not done all that they could have done to support my entrepreneurial bent.

I didn’t agree with him, mumbled something like “Uh, sure. That’s ok.” and we proceeded to talk about something much less heavy which was either how good the strawberry sorbet was or the football game playing in the background.

In any case, 2012 was a landmark year for me as I not only embraced the title, the lifestyle, and all the baggage that came with it but also how I explored my opportunities as an entrepreneur, capitalized on a few of them, and prepared myself for even greater ventures.

Here are some things that happened in the last 365 days related to entrepreneurship (in no particular order):

john-do-landing-page

0. Personal Brand

I redid my personal landing page that puts my focus on entrepreneurship front and center. I can’t avoid who I am just as much as you can’t escape who you are and who you were born to be. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Celebrate it. Why the heck not.

Also, as I mentioned above, I was able to tell others and my father with a straight-face that this is what I’ve chosen to do with my life and until something dramatic changes… I’m going to give it all I’ve got.

1. Raising Capital

I helped a technology company raise $450,000 in angel capital. I was paid well for my work, presentations, and pitches to investors as well as visioncasting the roadmap, hiring a CEO, and overseeing concepting and prototyping.

I also helped one of my other startups finance a seed round of capital – the amount was much smaller but I sweated this one 1,000 times more than my capital raising road tour of the southeast. The closer the startup is to your heart the more it matters, regardless of the dollar amount.

john-saddington-best-presenter-product-camp-2012
Seriously?

2. Speaking, Keynotes

I created a master theme for all my keynotes and conference speaking engagements last year around entrepreneurship. The highlights were about embracing opportunity and execution. I’m not one to necessarily plan out my talks but the past year I decided to make it thematic.

It worked and I honed this presentation to a fine point. One of these keynotes even netted me the “Best Presenter” award. Humbling and incredibly fun.

3. Writing, Blogging

I have done the least amount of digital writing this past year than I have in the history of my blogging career. But, I also wrote more technical articles, internal documentation, pitches and business plans, than I would have ever wanted to.

I believe a great entrepreneur is one that can communicate well in both verbal and written media – there’s a pacing that’s required in both arenas that have an incredible amount of interplay.

I also was a technical lead editor for a book coming out this year by Wiley. The compensation was terrible and I learned more than a few things during this process. But you don’t really do that for the money, right?

This was also the year where I reduced the amount of income through blogging directly by nearly 100%. I stripped this blog of direct advertisements (I still have a few Adsense ads to keep the lights on and attempt to break-even) and stopped all paid posts. I realized that a focus on monetizing my blog, even if it was a small focus, can end up being a large distraction.

My pursuit of embracing a full-time entrepreneur didn’t include maximizing blog profit so I stopped it, even if I would give up some consistent and residual income. In 2010 I made around $44,000 from my blogs. The following year I made a bit more. In 2012 I made $3,541.

Too bad my servers cost more than that a year. Don’t get me even started on my yearly expenses for domain names (99% of them unused).

4. Coaching, Mentoring

This past year I had the incredible opportunity to work with Peter Barthes via The Iron Yard as a mentor and coach for their first inaugural cohort of 11 technology teams. I’m so proud to have been a part of their year and watching them all grow. Some raised even more capital upon their exit from the program and continue to scale and grow. I even introduced one of the technology startups for their Demo Day.

I love coaching and mentoring young entrepreneurs as they seek to take over the world – I believe it’ll keep me young and I can’t wait to work with them this coming year in their second cohort. I’ve also been asked by a number of other organizations to mentor their new classes and I’ve agreed to one other – the rest will have to wait their turn.

I also experimented with launching my own coaching company as a prototype for a much larger organization that I would eventually launch. The experiments were wildly successful and opened my eyes as to how coaching would be a large part of my future. It eventually was folded into the new startup and became the executive coaching arm.

5. Experiments, Acquisitions, and Abandonment

This past year has been a fairly good one for me. Although I can’t share all the details I will share what I can:

  • I sold over 10 domains (no content) from $200 – $15,000 a piece. One of them financed an entire beach vacation.
  • I experimented with a number of applications that I built from scratch, ranging from an iOS app for the iPhone, a native Mac OSX app, and a host of web-based apps. Most of these I closed down, a few were acquired privately (BlogCheck, ChurchAnalytics), and some seem to have simply disappeared (literally). I launched a number of blogs as well, some which have been sold and acquired and others that are silently doing incredible. In fact, these stealth blog projects make this blog’s traffic look like peanuts. Fascinating, right?

I believe that experimentation is a hallmark of a successful entrepreneur. I must specifically clarify that it occurs for successful entrepreneurs – there are many entrepreneurs that never really experiment at all.

6. Consulting, Limited Time-Based Projects

One of the biggest decisions I made this year was to focus less on consulting and project work than I’ve ever done. This coming year I plan on reducing project work to as close to 0% as possible. In fact, I’ve made the explicit decision to say “No” as it’s just not what I want to do with my life anymore. Sure, my career was built on building software and other people’s products, but I’m just not passionate about it anymore as compared to the other things that I need to focus on.

And it’s just not nearly as fun. Who wants to build someone else’s future when you can build your own?

7. Two Startups

This past year was the year that I really dug in my heals and radically shifted my perspective on how to build and manage a startup. I continued to lead one of my startups 8BIT, shifting my role quite a bit internally, and gave more of the company away to my co-founders. They not only deserve it but my success is entirely dependent on our collective success. We are now doing better than ever before and are moving into a new downtown office environment in the coming weeks. I couldn’t be more stoked.

We are planning for a marquee “make it or break it” year with a new product (not yet released), a new editorial blog that launched with phenomenal reception, and more vigor and hunger than we’ve ever had.

In the same year I bootstrapped a new company with my brother as well as one of my partners at 8BIT, Action & Influence, which is not even a year old. It’s now a $1.2MM company with a client list to die for, including 8 Fortune 50’s, The CIA, Federal Reserve, Adobe, Cisco, Bank of America, and more. Our evolving product, Team Science, should be see an Alpha release this year and continue the grow.

I have since reduced my role quite a bit in an equity exit and my brother is now majority owner. I will continue to be actively engaged in visioncasting and product development but my role as founding entrepreneur was a success.

8. Angel Investor, Exits

I have made a number of small angel investments in small companies, most of which have yet to see a definitive return. Not a problem as that’s just the name of the game. But I did exit a $2.5MM company that I founded and helped my brother become a bonafide Angel Investor (he invested in this startup and experienced his first liquidity event). I’m sure he’ll do it again.

Note, this was in addition to my startup mentioned above that I started last year.

I have a few more detailed posts that will house some of my thoughts about liquidity and startup capitalization coming later.

The greatest “exit” came from something else entirely and was much less of a financial “gain” for me but one of emotional and physiological relief (gain) – I finally finished my with my double Masters degree studies after a long 7 years. Entrepreneurship is oftentimes characterized as the new, ingenuity, and execution – sometimes it’s more about survival and simply not giving up.

9. Board Appointments, Roles

I had a number of board appointments and roles this past year, some of which sunset as my appointed time was done and a few that started. I’ve most excited about my board role with Startup Atlanta and the energy around startups, entrepreneurship, and venture capital here in my hometown.

10. All the Rest, Failure

In the last 365 days there have been much more than just what I managed to present in this 2,500 word blog post – from significant encounters to lucky breaks to the many, many, many failures.

In fact, I feel like this blog post showcases far too many positive sides of 2012 and not enough of the negative, all which is part and parcel in the life of an entrepreneur. Failure is the entrepreneur’s bed that he engages with nightly, only to rise the next morning, compelled to achieve greatness before the next sun sets.

I wasted an incredible amount of time in areas that I thought were headed in the right direction. I made numerous relationship gambles that proved to be poisonous. And I challenged the very fabric of my own family, friends, and marriage at times.

No journey is perfect and no entrepreneur without error, I being chief of all examples.

john-sue
Sue.

10++. My Wife… and 2013

The biggest entrepreneurial win this past year was the fact that my wife and I finally agreed that this lifestyle, whatever it is, is the right one for not only me but for our family.

I wish I could communicate clearly how difficult it can be to live with me and be married (crossed 7 years together) to an entrepreneur, and especially one that’s built like me. I honestly couldn’t be married to myself at times.

But she’s been my greatest supporter, my greatest fan, and the first person there and the last person standing when all has failed. And although we’ve agreed that entrepreneurship is “it” we’ve decided that it must change so that my greatest startup (my family) will survive my “other” startups.

This leads me to my closing thoughts and predictions for 2013, which are incredibly limited. I have an idea of what this year will be but not much. What I do know though is that it will not be like last year or the years before. I spoke briefly about this in my post Think Insanity. I’ll be sharing some of these big changes as they come up but I need to be wise and careful about when and how I share them.

Probably because I don’t want to jinx anything but more honestly because I simply don’t know what they are with 100% clarity. Exciting – entrepreneurship is all about ambiguity. Live it and love it. If you don’t you won’t survive.

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