At this point Wondermill was 6 years old, and we were proud of our accomplishments so far. We had hired 27 people over the lifetime of the company, served 300 million website visitors and brought one million dollars directly into the local economy through wages. We had learned everything as we went along (that's a nice way of saying "by making mistakes and surviving them") and accomplished our goals as a team. Best of all, we had done it on our own terms.
With PeopleMatch we had been gearing up to compete against established players like Yahoo! and had doubled our staff and therefore our costs. Because the industry moved forward so quickly, our launch was delayed as we were forced to add more and more features to compete. Other projects had similar results though they looked more immediately promising. Ultimately, the reality was that we were losing money, and because we had scaled up in size we were losing money fast.
Everyone understood the situation and jumped in to helped out, going above and beyond to try to turn things around. People worked late. People offered to take a pay cut. Over the course of many months we worked hard to bring the ship around.
Eventually we simply ran out of money. Our company and personal debt totalled $180k. With bankruptcy looming large and no other options, we had to do the unthinkable. We had to lay off people. For a company who's entire purpose was people, it was crushing. Letting go of wonderful talented people feels like cutting off your own hands.
Spidey indicating that change is afoot. (Thanks for the Vundermill, Sheny!)
For many months we worked on the business and with our creditors. We said goodbye to our cool office space, sold everything we could get our hands on and went back to working from home. It was a humbling experience.
They say that in business you learn by making mistakes and surviving them. Somehow we made it through this dark time, many more lessons in our notebook. The people who left landed on their feet and found jobs or launched new ventures. We've stayed in touch with each other, and many of us are still close friends.
A year later, our hard work had paid off. During the summer we danced over the line to profitability again, and our finances were in order. We got to keep playing the game.
The view from the new office space. Country fresh!
In 2005 after many years of being the mainstay of the company, our tell-a-friend service was acquired by Note LLC, and we moved on to other projects. Some new folks have come onboard recently as we start to expand again. Ben and Ned came on-board to architect and improve the code base, and Barb is our customer support ninja.
In 2006 we worked to diversify our traffic and income streams so that we'd be less vulnerable to the ups and downs that are so common in online business. Like many online businesses we had relied on few sources of traffic and customers, and been caught flat-footed when something big changed. We wanted to make sure that wouldn't happen again.
Online advertising made up 100% of our income several years ago, and we've now got it down to 15% and dropping. In it's place are thousands of paying customers, paying us monthly because we're providing them with real value. That feels good. Really good!
Because we don't have a centralized office, we're also able to work wherever life takes us, which is currently across four cities and as many time zones.
It's all based on trust, and it's working.