Q&A about flipping the switch

Sent by Jonathan Stark on April 5th, 2018

Lots and lots of people have asked questions about me shutting down the old mobile consulting site at jonathanstark.com and replacing it with the content from expensiveproblem.com.

Here are the questions I received most frequently with my answers inline:

“Did you decide to shut down your mobile consulting business or does it live on a new domain somewhere?”

I closed the doors on the mobile business. I’ll continue to service my two current (and awesome) mobile clients but I’m not taking on any new ones.

“I guess credit unions weren’t a good choice to work with?”

Credit unions are fine, they are just very late adopters. We’re late in the game with mobile at this point. Anyone who hasn’t gone mobile by now doesn’t want to.

“Why don’t you just pick a different vertical?”

Even though I picked a vertical to market to (i.e., credit unions), I was still selling a fundamentally horizontal service (i.e., mobile strategy). Now that mobile is at the top of the S-curve, all the juicy early adopter clients are already all set. I’m confident that I would have had the same result had I picked any other vertical that hadn’t yet adopted mobile.

“Wow, this must have been a hard decision!”

SHORT ANSWER

It was a long decision, but not a hard one. I’ve seen the writing on the wall with mobile for a few years. The leads are fewer. The sales cycle is longer. The client’s perceived value is lower. And most of all, my interest in mobile technology has diminished. The excitement of the mobile gold rush is over.

At the same time, I’m drowning in exciting ideas for my business coaching work. I have lots of leads in the pipeline, students are getting good results, and if I had more mental bandwidth I could help even more people.

So, the right decision was pretty obvious. It was more a question of when was I going to do it. Last week, a good friend nominated me to do a TEDx talk about my pricing work (thanks JT!) and I was petrified that the organizers would do what most people do: google my name and end up on jonathanstark.com instead of expensiveproblem.com. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

LONG SELF-INDULGENT ANSWER

If you’re bored, here’s the backstory of my mobile business. I don’t know if it’ll be useful to you but it typing it out is therapeutic for me :-)


When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone in 2007, I immediately knew that mobile was going to be the new focus of my business.

At that time, I had been doing web development for about three years. There were some “smartphones” on the market back then, but they were all atrocious at rendering web content (if they could do it at all).

I had been dying for a mobile platform that ran a real “grownup” web browser, so for me, the iPhone was love at first sight.

Before long, I crossed paths with a designer named David Kaneda who was working on an open source javascript library called jQTouch. jQT made it easier for web devs to build native-like interfaces using just HTML/JS/CSS.

David was (and is) an amazing designer, but he needed some help with the geekier behind the scenes plumbing stuff in the code. This was my forte, so I joined him as the first contributor and later as the maintainer of the repo when David and jQT were “acquired” by Sencha.

Around the same time David and I were hacking on jQTouch, v1 of PhoneGap was released by a Vancouver-based web dev shop called Nitobi. With PhoneGap, the Nitobi team did an amazing job tackling a big problem that David and I couldn’t solve with jQTouch alone. Namely, how to get access to stuff on the phone outside of the browser.

With PhoneGap, you could take a web app (built with jQTouch or any other web-based technology) and “wrap it” in PhoneGap to create what we called a “hybrid app” - it was half web, half native. This meant that you could create a web app that could access the camera and photo library, use geolocation and accelerometer data, receive push notifications, and more.

Savvy web devs will know that browsers can do all of these things now but at the time, none of these features were available on the web. The fact that they are now, I credit largely to the hard work of the PhoneGap community. Eventually, PhoneGap and Nitobi were acquired by Adobe and the source code was spun out as the open source Apache Cordova project.

Anyhoo...

David Kaneda, Brian Leroux (from Nitobi), and I often found ourselves teamed up online and at conferences extolling the virtues of the open web and providing tools to web devs to help escape the “walled garden” of the mobile platform app stores. All three of us seemed to be on the conference circuit non-stop. We were part of a crowd that was tapping into something big. There was a tidal wave happening and we were part of a group of people who were at the bleeding edge. We were in a position to change how it was going to play out, even if only a little bit.

In 2010, I wrote a very successful book for O’Reilly that covered jQT and PhoneGap. Over time, the book was translated into seven languages and sold all over the globe. In support of the book, I spoke at conferences on three continents. It was wild.

I gave a talk at SXSW to a room of thousands that was voted the #1 talk of the conference. I presented a talk in Tokyo to a gigantic crowd who only spoke Japanese with the help of a team of translators broadcasting from glass booths at the back of the room. During one memorable period, I traveled with my wife and 8mo old son to New York, Atlanta, Toronto, and Iceland.

At various events, I hung out, ate, drank, debated, collaborated, and commiserated with web luminaries like Jeff Zeldman, John Resig, Jeremy Keith, Paul Boag, Simon Collison, Mike Monteiro, Paul Irish, LukeW, John Allsopp, Josh Clark, Brad Frost, Dan Mall, Lea Verou, Remy Sharp, Lara Hogan, and countless others.

I feel like I’m bragging a little here (and maybe I am) but it’s important to know that I was part of a tribe that was charting a course through this strange new mobile computing landscape. As a group, our efforts helped to define a culture for the next generation of web professionals. It’s no coincidence that almost everyone I name-dropped above has written one or more books about some aspect of designing and building for the web.

It was a heady time. You could feel it. We were at the top of our game. What we were doing mattered. It was having an impact. It was a high that felt like it it would never end.

For the next few years, clients magically appeared. I worked on really cool cutting edge mobile web projects for huge brands like Nokia, Staples, Time, Entertainment Weekly, People, T-Mobile, Panera, TechCrunch, Cisco, and so on. It seemed like almost every week, I’d be contacted out of the blue by some Fortune 500 company who wanted to hire me.

Then things changed.

In late 2012, I noticed that I hadn’t gotten any leads in a while. And the few I did get weren’t as big. Budgets for mobile consulting were drying up and the tone of the sales conversations was changing. I was too clueless about business to recognize it at the time, but mobile was crossing the chasm from the early adopters to the mass market.

Things had improved by 2014 but not back to the feeding frenzy levels pre-2012. Something had changed. The bubble had burst.

By 2017, a decade after the introduction of the iPhone, mobile had become the dominant computing platform on planet Earth. It had eclipsed the desktop in every meaningful way. It was thoroughly mainstream. All the big players (e.g., Deloitte, Accenture, IBM, SAP, etc) were offering mobile products and services.

There is still money in mobile, but it’s a different kind of money. Mobile has become a cost of doing business, not an opportunity for growth. The early adopters - my ideal clients - have moved on to blockchain, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence.

Put simply, mobile is no longer cutting edge. It’s boring.

Fortunately, as mobile was going mainstream - and becoming less interesting to me - I sort of organically started turning my attention to a side-interest of mine: ditching hourly billing.

You’ve probably heard me tell this story before but back in 2005 while I was managing a boutique software dev shop, I had an epiphany. With almost violent clarity, I recognized a truth that had been staring me in the face for years: hourly billing is nuts.

With this vision before me - and with a copy of Value-Based Fees by Alan Weiss tucked under my arm - I set out in 2006 to build a solo consultancy that scaled up NOT by hiring junior developers and marking up their time, but rather by delivering more value to bigger clients and pricing my services accordingly.

In this effort, I was quite successful. Many of my colleagues who were still stuck in the land of timesheets kept in touch to ask me how it was going, and what tips and tricks I could offer. I helped them out as best I could by answering questions via email, doing podcast interviews, speaking at meet-ups, sporadically blogging, and so on.

In 2009, I started coaching my first student. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but IIRC a colleague who had been asking me lots of questions over email started paying me to coach him. Maybe he suggested it, maybe I did... I really don’t remember but it did feel like a natural progression.

I did one or two more of these ad hoc coaching engagements over the next couple of years, but it was nothing serious or steady. I was plenty busy with mobile consulting work at the time, so coaching was more of an experiment than anything.

In 2014 - after I had noticed something was changing in the mobile world - I decided to start taking coaching more seriously. I added a coaching service offering to jonathanstark.com and signed up what I consider to be my first “real” coaching student.

This went well and I signed up a couple more students. But I had a problem. Having both mobile consulting services and business coaching services on the same website was super awkward. I was trying to serve two different audiences with the same marketing site and all it did was confuse people.

So in 2015, I bought expensiveproblem.com and moved all my coaching content over there. This solved the problem for a little while, but as I started to attract more and more people to my pricing work, folks would google my name and end up on the wrong site. I would get people signing up for my mobile mailing list who expected to receive info about ditching hourly billing and were confused to receive occasional messages about mobile tech.

In 2016, I published the first edition of Hourly Billing Is Nuts and the problem got a lot worse. I was guesting on podcasts quite a bit to promote the book, which caused lots of people to google my name and end up confused on the wrong site.

At some point in 2017, it became clear to me that I had become more well known for my pricing work than for my mobile work. The message was spreading - and my name along with it - but an increasing number of people were having a hard time finding my work.

Last week, things came to a head. A good friend nominated me to do a TEDx talk about my pricing work. I was elated at the opportunity, but petrified that the organizers would do what most everyone else does: google my name and end up on jonathanstark.com instead of expensiveproblem.com.

That was it. 

This happened on a Thursday. I slept on it over the weekend and by Monday there was no question in my mind. I updated the DNS records for jonathanstark.com to point to the expensive problem server, and set up 301 redirects for everything at expensiveproblem.com.

The sense of relief was instantaneous.

From about 2015 to the present, I had been feeling increasingly schizophrenic online. I didn’t know what to write in my social media bios. When I met people IRL, I would stumble through my answer to the “What do you do?” question. This especially bugged me because answering that question with clarity and confidence is a core piece of my coaching program.

The moment my DNS update propagated, I had my answer:

“I’m a business coach.”

It feels great :)

Sorry for the long message. There was something cathartic about typing this all out. Maybe I should have just deleted it when I was done, though. LOL!

Oh well... hopefully an inside look at the history and thought processes at play will be helpful in some way. Stay tuned for a couple brand new things that I’m really excited to share with you :-)

Yours,

—J

P.S. You made it to the end? Wow!

As a thank you for slogging through my self-absorbed brain dump, I want to offer you a discount on Hourly Billing Is Nuts.

(If you already have HBIN, feel free to use it to gift HBIN to a friend.)

Use coupon code AVIDREADER at checkout for 50% off any package here -> http://hourlybillingisnuts.com

Cheers!


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