A decade ago I was studying at the University of Kansas and working late at night in my dorm room building websites and plugins. Most of my web development then was for small side projects that provided me with small amounts of supplemental income, mostly for buying coffee or the occasional dinner for me and Molly, my wife but then-girlfriend. I didn’t know it then, but those side gig projects were setting the foundation for the next 10+ years.
The web projects that ultimately became Sandhills Development started ten years ago and the company then looks nothing like it does today. We have come a great way and grown significantly, but we are still discovering every day how much further there is to go and how much more we have to learn.
In those first few years I never would have anticipated that we’d grow to 24 people or that our team would span seven countries. I never anticipated surpassing $3,000,000 a year in revenue, nor that we’d have 20% profit margins. I never expected to be the CEO of anything beyond a 1-3 person company, yet here I am.
Today I have the privilege of looking back over the last ten years and remembering the many great experiences, memories, and hardships that led up to where we are now.
Our first ten years were largely unguided. We moved in a lot of different directions without much direction, and we moved fast. Today we move much slower but we’re now much more intentional about everything we do.
We’ve discovered the importance of being intentional with how we lay out the internals of the business. We’ve found why it matters that we put a lot of thought into how we communicate, and how we plan, and how we build.
I am now less involved in the day-to-day development and support work of our products, and that has afforded me time to focus my sight forward. I know very well that what got us here isn’t going to be enough to get us through the next decade. I spent most of the last ten years working in the business; now I work on the business to ensure our roots are strong.
It still feels odd for me when I realize I do very little programming, but I know beyond any doubt that my time is best spent in bigger picture projects. I’ve touched on this subject a number of times, most recently in my 2018 and 2017 year in review posts.
My focus today is building an organization that can persist through turmoil and remain firmly grounded. For that, we need established roots and clear goals for the future. There are a lot of goals a business like ours can have. We could strive to make the best eCommerce platform or greatest membership tool. We could aim for 100,000 paying customers or we could aim for the largest user base. These are all perfectly fine goals but we’ve found specific goals like these do not drive nor motivate us in the best way. They’re rooted in vanity and don’t really matter.
Hitting a milestone of 100,000 installs or $100,000 / month of sales are great achievements that feel great, but in reality they’re just numbers. Once we have hit them, what’s next? 200,000 and $200,000? Vanity metrics give us targets but they’re not goals to be driven by. They’re not objectives. For the future of Sandhills Development to be secure, we need clearly defined objectives that guide us.
I don’t know precisely what our goals of the future will be, but our last ten years have helped me recognize a few things that are important for us. This has led us to embracing two core tenants: time and freedom
We recognize now more than ever that the single most valuable resource we each have is time. It’s not infinite and we must do whatever we can to help our team and our customers gain back more of their time. That means less time in the office, less time running businesses, less time wasted, and more time following our passions, whatever they may be.
Personal freedom that lets each of us make the best use of the time we have must be protected. Our goal as a business should be to enable as many freedoms as possible. Freedom to choose when and how to work. Freedom to choose when not to work. Freedom to choose family, friends, and life over work.
We have reached a point where we can be very intentional about choosing what is important to us, and the freedom to use our limited time in the best ways possible is at the top of our priority list.
The last two years for me have largely been focused on re-learning what it means to lead an organization and discovering what it takes to ensure Sandhills Development remains strong through the next decade. I’ve made a lot of mistakes but with the help of my team, we’ve made it through them all. Each time it’s been a learning experience that digs our roots a little deeper, making us stronger.
So long as we keep laying down roots, we will be okay.