Lessons in Getting Things Wrong (and Why You Should Try It, Too) – Starting Your Internet Business, Part 5

Lessons in Getting Things Wrong (and Why You Should Try It, Too) – Starting Your Internet Business, Part 5

Probably the most ominous challenge you are facing when it comes to running your own online business is perhaps the most obvious – you won’t actually do it.

Honestly, you wouldn’t believe how often this happens. There’s absolutely no shortage of good ideas and very little that’s more fun than discussing, planning, researching and speculating about how they might work out. But when it comes to actually executing your idea, there is going to be an absolute sh*tstorm of things that get in the way.

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First up, there’s the anxiety. Is the idea any good? Are you capable of putting it out there? What will your friends / family / colleagues / peers think of you if it crashes and burns?

You’d be amazed at how crippling this is to most people.

And then, going back to my marketing post, once you’ve actually implemented your idea, to an extent, are you happy to put it out there? Or does it just require this one more feature, one more tweak, one more… something? I’d term this the horror of reality.

Once you’ve had this idea, discussed it with the people that matter to you, put so much time and effort into it that you have something that could actually go out there, actually testing it against the real world is an appallingly terrible thing, because all your dreams and hopes may be (and let’s face it, are most likely going to be) absolutely dashed.

There are a lot more psychological reasons not to launch than to actually do it.

Because, unless you have an astonishing combination of luck and talent (you don’t), you are going to fail.

But here’s the thing, that’s OK. It’s important.

In fact, it’s practically a requirement when it comes to succeeding in any online context, and what better space to do it in than a place that allows you to fail quickly, to change rapidly, and to try again without reducing your family to penury.

So, here’s some examples from my experience, specifically around starting out (I’ve got stacks more failure down the line for later), why they were important, and what I got out of them.

I hope you might share your own experiences of failure, and perhaps more importantly be prepared to do so, change, pivot, quit and try again. It’s worth it!

This is the fith post in our five-part series about getting started with an online business.

Our Final Q&A of the Series


This is pretty much my first attempt at actually making money through the internet 10 ten years ago (gulp).


The idea was pretty cool; I was starting to become fairly cogniscent with blogs, they were pretty hot stuff in certain circles and thus surely I could drum up some work doing consulting, workshops, or even strategy around the subject.

All I needed was enough decent posts, suitable links and some organic traffic that’d convert into business.

Which, of course, it didn’t… I had precisely one inquiry throughout the history of the site. I arranged to meet him over the road and he turned out to be a complete time waster.

But it was an invaluable learning experience because from it I figured out:

  • Nobody wants to find a “consultant,” or is after “strategy,” people only want concrete outcomes
  • It’s all well and good getting that traffic, but about 0.5% is in Melbourne and you can’t travel
  • And I was able to get links and traffic; I developed a bunch of methods that later set wpmu.org in really good stead

Plus, it cost me the price of one domain name, a bunch of writing (which, like I said, was great training for the future) and some shared hosting.

Edublogs: Powered by Drupal

Unfortunately archive.org doesn’t have an accurate grab, but you can take my word for it, Edublogs.org‘s first incarnation was as a Drupal site that I vaguely tried to set up as some sort of education blogging community.

Yep, I actually set up Edublogs on Drupal.
Yep, I actually set up Edublogs on Drupal.

Well, I figured I had the domain name (I’d bought it solely as I was browsing domain names with no particular purpose) and I might as well try something with it.

So why not a site where edubloggers could hang out and chat to each other.

Obviously, nobody wanted to do that.

They already had their own blogs, they didn’t want to get stuck into some weird community, there was no reason and also, screw you, we’ll do our own thing, thank you very much.

Which probably amounted to a few wasted days configuring, tweaking and then “launching” – read: “posting about” – the site.

And, ironically, the experience gave me a much much better idea for how to bring Edubloggers together, specifically being The Edublogs Awards – astonishingly still going (and which was, and remains, a great avenue for the promotion of Edublogs itself).

Sure, you can probably study this stuff, and I probably should have, but nothing actually beats doing it to really figure out what does and doesn’t work.

The Madness of Blogs.mu

And bringing up the rear, something that actually cost quite a bit of time and money and also gave me my first truly catastrophic public failure, the inception of blogging: Create your own blogging networks where people can create blogs, also knowns as Blogs.mu (gotta love those Mauritian domain names!)


So, we actually made something really awesome that was in no way as easy as it is to do today.

I even liked the design, it was fitted up with PayPal integration and we got into Mashable! Yep, Mashable!

It was new, it was exciting, it was the start of summer (down under, anyway) and anything was possible.

And the only thing anybody ever created of any worth was a network of bacon blogs :D

Which was disappointing but not entirely, on reflection, surprising.

You see nobody, literally nobody, had ever expressed a demand for this kinda thing. It was motivated entirely by fear, namely fear related to the future of Edublogs Campus (the hosted Multisite enterprise version of Edublogs, now called CampusPress).

If, the thinking went, somebody could basically offer campus installs for free, or much less than I was providing them for, we’d be in alllllll sorts of bother… So let’s do it ourselves.

But of course, CampusPress users don’t want to install and manage their own setups, they want SLAs, they want people they can rely on to call in the middle of the night, they want stuff taken care of and they are happy to pay for it. We were at no risk at all, just the risk of wasting a great deal of our own time.

So the lessons here were all about the reason to set something up and being realistic and clear-sighted about what people actually want.

And in the end we just suffered a bit of a bloody nose and went on to probably sell enough of the design as themes at WPMU DEV to cover a bunch of the cost. It was a really nice design for 2009!

Which Leaves You With One Option: Have a Crack

Put simply, if I hadn’t had a go at the above, especially the first two, it’s very unlikely I’d be writing this from the position of having two pretty awesome businesses as I am today.

Sure, there have been plenty more lessons learned along the way, and yes, I’m sure that had I been a better student I’d have made fewer mistakes (and this continues to be the case!), but at the risk of repeating myself there is absolutely nothing like experience to help you in the right direction.

And when the only cost is often your ego or your dreams being a little bit dashed for a while, it’s worth the risk.

Which is also what we’ll be talking about in our live Q&A session on Wednesday at 7pm US EST. We’ll add the Q&A to this post afterward. So come along and ask a question about this post or any that have gone down in this series, or just watch us fail and flounder as we try to get this format right :)

This is the fifth post in our five-part series about getting started with an online business.

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