Two weeks ago, I ended my consulting firm, Durfweb. It was a difficult decision emotionally, but it was the right decision from a business standpoint. I wanted to get some distance and make some observations about it.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Durfweb, it was founded on a freemium pricing model, in which the Agile Chuck Wagon podcast was offered for free, with technical and agile coaching consulting services offered at a premium.
What Went Well
This firm was my first foray into running a business. It was an educational experience, and there were some things that went well.
The most successful product of Durfweb was the podcast, the Agile Chuck Wagon. I published 41 episodes over a span of nine months, averaging one a week. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but episodes of the show were downloaded over 4000 times, which works out to an average of 100 times an episode.
As an Agile Denver conference organizer, Durfweb obtained some gift in-kind donation of services for advertising at the Mile High Agile conference. This generated some additional web traffic and some positive verbal feedback about the podcast. I heard similar comments at Agile Roots, which was also gratifying.
For our premium services, I quoted a per diem base rate that I felt was competitive based on my market research. Most leads accepted the rate I quoted, which confirmed that the price point I chose was reasonable.
What Didn’t Go Well
I learned about the inbound marketing model from a guest lecturer in my MBA marketing class. It’s a pull system in which people discover your product, some learn more, and some decide to purchase. In the model, people start as strangers, which you attract to your site through your blog and social media. I feel like the podcast and the Durfweb website did a decent job of this. These people become visitors. The next goal is to convert those visitors into leads through techniques like calls-to-action, contacts and forms. Here, Durfweb did not accomplish its mission.
I had a few campaigns designed to get people interested in learning more about Durfweb, but none were particularly successful. A few that come to mind: I ran a book giveaway contest on social media, I issued a call through the podcast and on social media to rate the podcast on iTunes, and I created a badge system to gamify learning more about Durfweb. No campaign elicited much response.
I was approached by a few people to perform consulting services. The idea was to take fees from this and reinvest them into the business, snowballing capital to grow the business. However, I wasn’t able to convert these leads. More on this in the next section.
The death knell for Durfweb came in the Agile Chuck Wagon podcast download statistics. While I had developed a small, loyal following, the download growth rate was linear, indicating that the same 100 or so people were downloading episodes. Listenership growth was stagnant for a period of several weeks, with two marketing campaigns having no noticeable impact. The end result was that Durfweb was spending money on Agile Chuck Wagon hosting and other podcast production costs with no prospect of returns.
What to Improve Next Time
Durfweb was starved for resources. In order to get the market penetration we sought, we would have needed to spend a lot more time, money and effort toward Durfweb. A related issue was that Durfweb was originally envisioned as a collaboration between me and my wife Candy. I launched the business earlier than planned because of an unexpected windfall of time I had, and I focused on offerings I knew best. Candy was in crunch time on a project at that time and could not collaborate on it. As a result of this bias, most of the service inquiries we got were more in my wheelhouse than hers. This made it difficult for Candy to help get the business grow when it started faltering.
Next time, we need to market her offerings alongside mine so our leads can develop in a more balanced manner. We also need to make sure that either of us can perform our basic services. For example, we had one lead that fell through due to scheduling issues. It was for a getKanban game facilitation session, which I’ve run many times but Candy has not played before. We lost that sale because of scheduling conflicts.
Durfweb’s business model was to offer a customized coaching package for clients. For each lead, I would do an initial consultation, describe what services we had that would apply to their situation, and negotiate an engagement. However, I lost business with this model, because these prospects seemed to want a pre-packaged, flat-rate product. It seemed clear that they had a problem in mind, but didn’t seem as interested in solution discovery. We need to improve the packaging of our services to more clearly describe the value proposition.
An example entry-level offering that would be to explicitly package facilitation of the getKanban training game. We own a copy, and I have run it many times for employers and clients. Helping clients apply the lessons of this game to their particular situation could become a premium service.
I haven’t given up on this business idea. After I complete my MBA degree, I plan to revisit Durfweb, ideate, and then prepare a proper business plan. With that plan in hand, Candy and I can decide if and when to launch.