Things Are Not Always What You Think They Are – Transparency Report #44

Transparency Report #44

Welcome to the 44th edition of the monthly transparency report (for September 2018). In this series, I discuss the interesting things that have been going on in the business, plus add a handful of personal lessons and thoughts throughout. Click here to see the previous reports.

September was a busy month for me – which is also the reason why the report has come this late – I traveled a bit, we had our yearly company retreat that I mentioned in the previous report, and I attended my second EO event here in Portugal. I consider the whole month to be time well spent, overall, and it has given me a lot of energy to finish the year off on a high note.

I’m going to start this report by discussing some of my personal learnings – so if you prefer to focus on just the business stuff (I’m bringing back the revenue report this month!), feel free to click here.

(On the topic of sharing this mix of personal and business learnings, I would love to get more feedback on what you find useful vs not that useful in these reports. I’m also open to topic suggestions. Knowing the kind of business that we run here, what would you like to learn about?)

Nature is the best teacher 🌳

I’ve been struggling with a couple of things personally that are kind of holding me back. I’ve mentioned my health issues a couple of times already, but add to that, I’ve also been having this overwhelming feeling that if I don’t work super hard on a daily basis, I won’t be as appreciated in professional circles.

As I’m writing and re-reading it now, I know that it doesn’t make much sense, but this is not as apparent when you’re in the moment, struggling with these thoughts.

This sort of a feeling has been with me for a long time now, but I’m finally letting go of it and accepting that no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to make things perfect for everybody.

Keeping that in mind, I worked fewer hours in September and, guess what(?!), the world didn’t burst into flames.

To say the least, the approach has been working out well for both my health and performance. I would still love to do more, of course, but the key to success in anything is to accept the incremental improvements and not try to do all the things at all costs.

Funny enough, I’ve been constantly bashing myself for not working enough when I was figuring out my health stuff, while at the same time I’m encouraging our team/employees to always get medical time off when they feel they need it. I think this is an overall good approach to have no matter what business you run. Your employees shouldn’t feel that their job is at risk if/when they decide to take time off to take care of health.

I’m not done with the personal lessons just yet! The next one comes from our company retreat:

Between bears and bees

So, as part of the retreat, we went on a hike in a pretty remote area in the Romanian mountains. No cellphone signal, no living soul nearby – if you don’t count the bears. Yep, there were bears around – as the guide told us – and we even saw some tracks. But if that wasn’t enough, the guide also told us that we should be more worried about the wild bees, which can actually kill you. So … fun.

Well, since my name is not Bear Grylls, I began to feel a bit scared. I realized that I’m a pretty technology-dependent person, and not having cell signal is as far outside the comfort zone as I’ve ever been in my adult life.

Many of us now live our lives thinking that everything is within our control, that we have a script for everything, and that everything can and should be achieved while being a Google search away. Though, this doesn’t mean much in brutal real-life scenarios – like when you try googling something like…

query

Thinking on it there in the wilderness, I realized that not being in control is actually a more human condition.

Some things will just happen to you, and you won’t have a script for how to handle them. Both good and bad things are actually closer to you than you think. They’re just outside of what you had planned for.

I had a similar experience during the EO event when we went sailing, and also when I did windsurfing a while back. You just fully depend on nature to take you roughly in the direction you want to go (wind + waves + whatever you can do with the sail to tame the two).

You actually start making progress once you understand that you can’t do much on top of what nature already allows you to do. You need to be patient and adapt quickly to what’s going on – the wind changing direction, etc.

There is not much randomness like that in our daily lives nowadays. After all, what sort of random thing can really happen when you’re sitting in front of a computer at work?

To add to these observations, here’s a quote I’ve been pondering:

Are we all going in the direction of touristification?

quote

On coaching and sports 🏃

Not sure why exactly, but I’ve been kind of reluctant about the idea of any type of coaching … life, business, you name it.

And perhaps particularly in business, my overall impression has been that most coaches haven’t actually done any business themselves apart from their coaching businesses – thus basically making them appear as charlatans (but maybe that’s all just a few bad apples?). To say the least, I didn’t feel like I needed a coach in my life.

However, during the past few months and after a talk with Syed Balkhi, I’ve finally started to come around to the idea. I’ve started seeing the value (for an entrepreneur) in having someone to look up to and learn from – a mentor. Then, it was Miguel Santo Amaro who finally changed my mind entirely with a simple example, something to the tune of:

Take a look at the biggest superstars in sports, they all have coaches even though they’re at the top of their game.

It just clicked for me. As an entrepreneur, you have a lot in common with a professional sports person, sans the abs. We all have a sinusoid trajectory with high heights and low lows. You can win it all one year/month, to then coming last in the bunch the year/month after that.

This trend puts a lot of pressure on your mental health, much more than having a more predictable career. I’m planning to look more into how the famous sportsmen have made their careers and try learning from that.

Nevertheless, back to the coaching thing, I guess that at the end of the day, and in any field/business/sport, if you want to be among the top performers, you need a coach. Even if you are a developer, a product manager, or whatever other roles you’ve taken upon yourself, you need someone to push you forward.

The thing is, there just isn’t a lot of great or genuine content on entrepreneurship and its challenges either online or in the library. That’s why real-life connections are so valuable.

On volunteering 👐

Last month was also my first volunteering experience outside of WordCamps. Even outside of tech, to be frank. I volunteered during an IRONMAN event close to where I live. I have found the whole experience very enriching overall … but why did I even take part? Two reasons:

  1. I simply wanted to socialize and do something good for the community.
  2. I wanted to take a small part in a field where I can’t claim any leadership position and am, in fact, a novice.

Since I’ve learned about myself that I get uncomfortable in situations like that, I know it’s something worth working on. It should help both my ego and also my ability to adapt to situations where I don’t have the freedom to make all the decisions – like an employee wouldn’t have in a standard work scenario.

In the end, this has all worked out very well for me, with some interesting lessons and an overall great time there.

🏃 🏊 🚴

There were more than 2,000 people taking part, with each paying 500€(!) to participate. I was on the cycling route, which was 60km long and was right after the 2km swim.

My job was to stand at a crossroads and show people the way as they passed by. Basically, a human traffic sign.

I had some good time there overall and was also pleasantly surprised that a noticeable chunk of the people took that extra second to say “thanks” as they were cycling by me.

The lesson being that no matter how small your job might be as part of a bigger “thing,” it’s always nice to get acknowledged for what you’re doing.

There was also one more interesting thing that happened later on, which made me think a lot … probably even overthink.

So a common thing during the race was that the cyclists would come in packs. When this happened, everybody in the pack just followed the leader without thinking much about the direction to take.

Due to this, somewhere in the middle of the race, few people went the wrong way, making a small detour. Lots of others followed them by mistake. However, one girl finally figured out that something was wrong and took the correct, shorter path. When she did so, someone screamed “cheater!” thinking that she was trying to trick the system. Looked a bit like this:

long route

The problem was that this group of people saw only their part of the race, so in that moment and in their eyes the girl was a cheater. However, by looking at the whole race, it’s those screaming that were in the wrong.

As it turns out, the truth is often outside of the frame…

outside the frame

Why am I telling you all this? Well, this is kind of how things work in other areas of life as well.

In other words, how do you know that you’re in the right, even when all the signs might suggest so? Will your actions still be considered right in 10, 100, or more years?

For example, someone who’s considered a cheater in our lifetime might still turn out to be 100% right when looking at them from a 1000-year-ahead perspective in the future. Or maybe a practice that we think is good now will prove bad in the next 10 years.

It’s not like this hasn’t happened before…

For instance, for the better part of the century, we’ve been told that fat is bad for us. It was like gospel. And – guess what – turns out that wasn’t the case. Same for myriads of medical procedures from the past. Now we only laugh at them. But how do you know that future humans won’t laugh at the medications we take this day.

My learning is to always keep in mind that “I can be wrong.” Even when I feel certain that I hold the truth, the world can still prove me otherwise eventually. In most cases, we only hold a small part of the truth.

Let’s talk revenue 💸

As I wrote in the last report, our overall profit rate isn’t great right now. Still, nothing to worry too much about considering the new products and developments we’ve been working on.

I don’t have the accurate numbers comparing the last couple of months, but it seems we did a bit better in September vs the summer months. However, as we get into the individual numbers, please keep in mind that those are not great compared to our standards and what we’re used to:

Themes and plugins

themes and plugins revenue

As you can see, we haven’t reached the heights from two years ago, but we are doing noticeably better than last year.

Renewals now play a much bigger role and provide the incentive to take better care of our existing products and members:

subscription renewals

The renewals added up to around $25k gross last month. If you look at the first chart and subtract this, you’ll see that we don’t get as many new users as we used to before.

These numbers don’t include Revive Old Post since it has its own site. The plugin is slowly improving its pace and growing nicely. We managed to release some upgrades this year, but despite that, it’s still not a self-sustaining business.

Revive Old Post revenue

Affiliate marketing

The affiliate department of our business has its ups and downs. For the past months, the revenue stayed at around $35k / month.

Again, please keep in mind that since I don’t keep very structured records here, most of these numbers are gross and should be considered more of an estimate rather than hard data.

Product updates 🥊

In terms of product updates, Hardeep Asrani has been doing a fantastic job making sure that our plugins have good Gutenberg compatibility (he even wrote about this on the blogtwo times).

All this effort has culminated with the release of Otter Blocks, which we also managed to incorporate well in Orbit Fox.

Note. If you are a theme author, consider looking into how this works in your theme. We always welcome feedback on all fronts. Orbit Fox is now in use on 300,000+ sites, so it makes sense for theme developers to make sure it works well with their products.

Talking about Orbit Fox, we still don’t have a working business model around it. I think that once we fully launch Optimole, we’ll take the time to examine the options more carefully and pick a direction to take, monetization-wise.

For now, we are excited that Orbit Fox has reached 300,000+ active users, and, more importantly, that many of them seem to really appreciate it.

Andrei, along with the themes team, also did a ton of progress in September with our upcoming WordPress theme, Neve.
Neve

It’s meant to be a fast, lightweight and easy to customize theme, built with Gutenberg compatibility as well as Elementor and AMP in mind. (IMO, this, along with Orbit Fox is basically all that most businesses need to build a fast WordPress site.)

Lastly, I am grateful for the support that I received from the team and the people around me in the past months. I am glad that I have the privilege to work with awesome people and be here in this business. And, as always, if there’s anything you’d like me to write more about, please share in the comments.

Okay, that’s all I have for you this month. Thanks for reading and for supporting us! Stay updated and get new reports delivered to you by subscribing here:

All edits and witty rewrites by Karol K.