Running from These Business Realities? Here’s How We Learned to Embrace Them

Written by Laura Roeder

On July 7, 2015

Businesses – they grow up so fast!

(Or is that children?)

Either way, it’s hard to believe how much can happen in just a year.

See, it’s Edgar’s birthday right about now, and way back when he launched, our great big pie-in-the-sky fantasy was that maybe – just maybe – by the end of 2015, he’d have enough users to be making $1 million a year in revenue. (Worth a shot, right?)

He hit that mark in March – exactly twice as fast as we thought was even possible.

Turns out you can’t predict some things.

And that means there’s a LOT you can learn from them.

Team Edgar in San Diego

Team Edgar in June 2015! (Well, most of us, anyway.)

Since Edgar made his big debut last year, we’ve learned a lot – about creating a product, running a business, and octopus anatomy. (They have three hearts!) Now that it’s the little guy’s birthday, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the most important things we’ve learned in our first year – including a few things that REALLY took us by surprise.

That idea you have? People already want it

When you have an idea, it’s surprisingly easy to convince yourself that not a lot of people would be interested in it.

The thing is, though, that’s not true.

(And that’s how somebody makes half a billion dollars selling blankets with sleeves on ‘em.)

Because we didn’t exactly expect for this to happen.

When we first started developing Edgar in early 2014, it was mostly to solve a problem that we had. We wanted a social media management tool that would catalogue and automatically share our status updates – something designed to go with the strategy taught in Laura Roeder’s Social Brilliant course.

Nothing like that existed, so when Laura learned that building one of our own was actually something we could do, we figured, what the heck – let’s give this a shot. If nothing else, people who enrolled in Social Brilliant might like it. In a REAL worst case scenario, it’d make our lives easier.

After half a year or so of development (more on that later), we released Edgar into the wild.

In his first two weeks, 100 users had started a trial.

Two weeks after that, that number had tripled.

And the thing was, a lot of those users stayed with Edgar – within about six months, he had 1000 paid users. Some of our current users are people who signed up on the very first day.

Edgar's First Year of GrowthIf you want something to exist, other people probably want it to exist, too. Creating Edgar felt like a challenge and a risk, because we didn’t realize how many people were on the same page as us, and wanted a tool that would do the things we wanted, too.

That thing you’ve been thinking about doing or making? It’ll probably appeal to more people than you realize – and you won’t know for sure until you actually go for it.

There’s a big difference between being “ready” and being “done”

It’s no secret that Edgar looks a LOT different now than he did a year ago – but he couldn’t have gotten to his point unless we launched him when we did.

Nothing is ever perfect – especially before you release it. You’ve gotta release it anyway.

There’s a big difference between refining something and trying to perfect it. Case in point: Edgar didn’t always allow you to choose the times that certain categories would post! In his pre-launch version, he asked you to assign a level of importance to each category, and he would choose categories randomly according to their value:

Edgar Version of Edgar

In an alternate universe, this is what Edgar might look like!

It made sense to some of us, but to others, it was WAY too confusing – so we nixed it in favor of building category-based schedules that allow you to choose what types of posts get published at certain times. (Which, incidentally, ended up being one of his big selling points.)

But there comes a time when you have no choice but to stop tinkering.

It can feel weird to release something before you’re confident that it’s 100% perfect. It might even feel a little embarrassing, like turning in a half-finished term paper. But no matter how much planning ahead you do, you can’t always predict what people are going to like the most – and how the things that make sense to you don’t always seem so clear to others.

Speaking of getting opinions from others, though…

The best opinions can come from outside your inner circle

Nobody wants to hear negative feedback.

But you NEED to hear it.

We learned this early, when we’d get on the phone with some of our first users and ask them to tear Edgar to shreds.

We still do it, when we read our weekly company-wide email detailing the recent reasons people have given for canceling.

It’s not fun, but it makes you better at what you do.

Laura Roeder Quote

By launching a formal system so that users can submit their feedback, we’ve been able to get a better understanding of how people are using Edgar, so we can figure out the best ways to improve him. We can learn about the problems they’re having with social media, and come up with solutions that we can build into Edgar.

You can learn a lot more from strangers’ honest feedback than you can from soul searching. Is it scary and hard? Heck yes – no matter how long you’ve been doing this! But it has to happen, and if you listen to what others are saying, you’re going to be a LOT better off.

But say you do all these things – then what?

It might be one of the biggest, hardest lessons you can learn, and it’s something we’re adapting to every day:

You can’t run your business the way you’re used to

One of the perks of having a smaller business is that it’s a LOT easier to manage. When you have a tiny team, you always know exactly who’s doing what and when.

If you want your business to grow, though, you need to grow your team, too.

Before Edgar launched a year ago, our team had seven people. Now it has thirteen – nearly twice as many! That’s a lot of growing to do in a year, and it’s meant not just adding more people to the mix, but completely rethinking how we do things like manage projects and delegate responsibilities.

When you’re scaling up a business, you can’t exercise the same level of control as you have before – if you try to have a hand in everything, you’re only limiting yourself.

Building a team is scary for every business, big or small. With every single person you add, you’re putting your business in their hands – and that takes a lot of trust.

Team Edgar Sarah Quote

By building a team of people with complementary ideals and being prepared to completely rethink your company’s structure – including your own role – you can give your business what it needs to grow. Otherwise, it’s going to hit a ceiling. (That old “if you want something done right” saying? FORGET IT.)

On to year two…

So yeah – the past year has been a serious learning experience for all of us here at Edgar, but it’s one we wouldn’t trade for pretty much anything! Hopefully the lessons we picked up along the way can help you with your own business, too – and if anyone has any idea of what to get an octopus for his first birthday…please, let us know.

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