Major Life Changes

For the past three years I have been self-employed working for my company TechKnowMe. Starting October 12th, I’ll be working full time for another company again. My feelings about this are mixed – the job is an astoundingly fantastic opportunity with a great company, but I kind of feel like I’m walking away from my dream.

So, first, the scoop on the new job: I have been hired to be the Partner Integration Manager for VerticalResponse in San Francisco. VerticalResponse’s primary focus is offering email marketing services to small businesses. I have long recommended them to clients and friends over competitors such as Constant Contact, iContact, and others. VerticalResponse, to my mind, simply provides a more professional product in a highly competitive space. What really impressed me in the process of interviewing for this job, however, is how amazingly hands-on they are with their customers.

My primary role will be to promote and support the VerticalResponse Application Programming Interface (API). The API is a set of programming functions that allows developers to write software that directly accesses the VerticalResponse email marketing system without using the standard login and user interface. That software can be as simple as a script to sync a custom database of contacts with the email lists hosted at VerticalResponse or as complex as completely bypassing the VerticalResponse user interface to, for example, allow users to manage and send their email marketing campaigns through something like Joomla or even Quickbooks.

As I said, this is an amazing opportunity for me. It will allow me to take my strong technical knowledge and apply it doing what I love to do most – help small business owners and developers do incredible things. It’s the first non-programming job in my career, which, as much as I love to code, is also exciting to me. It has been my goal all along with TechKnowMe to extricate myself from the day-to-day programming tasks.

So, why am I taking on a full-time gig? And what’s going to happen to TechKnowMe?

I’ll probably do a deeper analysis of this elsewhere, but the short of it is that I have found it increasingly difficult to keep TechKnowMe running the way I want it to be run. Revenues have dropped off dramatically, and my ability to serve my customers in the way they deserve to be served has been severely compromised. To blame this entirely on the state of the economy would be a bit disingenuous and would prevent me from learning from the experience. I made a number of rookie mistakes early in the business that continue to plague me. Had the economy remained strong, I may have been able to recover and survive, but there’s very little room for error in the business world at the moment and, sadly, I needed that room.

I’m currently closing out the active projects sitting on my desk, and doing a fairly fine job of it. I’m looking for solid PHP developers with strong backgrounds in object oriented programming to contract with to help maintain some of the ongoing work. But the focus of TechKnowMe going forward will change dramatically.

I originally founded the company to provide professional-level website design and development services to small businesses – a wildly underserved market in this area. As part of this, I built a full-featured content management system – the TechKnowMe Website Manager – that I think is a highly valuable property. Going forward, I think my focus is going to be on promoting, extending and supporting that product rather than taking on full custom-development projects. To maximize acceptance and support for the website manager, I’m considering releasing it as an open source product and monetizing it via a hosted version available to non-technical business owners, similar to the model WordPress uses. I haven’t had the time to sit down and completely strategize those next steps, so it’s all conjecture at this point, but I genuinely believe my website manager is a best of breed product that needs to get out into the marketplace. Releasing it open source gives it the potential to grow dramatically, which will be a huge boon to those clients already using it.

Of course, my work at VerticalResponse must come first, which relegates a lot of this to my “free time”, of which there is precious little. However, I think I’ll have more free time now than I have in the past three years – TechKnowMe has been an all-consuming, 24-7 thing for me since I started it. I’m looking forward to some breathing room.

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