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The Precursor to Greatness

It’s that time of year again where everyone is setting out to achieve some new goal.

Be it health and fitness or reorganizing their business aspirations. Noise will fill the twittersphere of blogging challenges (we’re doing in the Pro membership) and personal fitbits will be alerting us of our friend’s step count.

But here’s what I’m worried about, to some this is motivation and to others, this is depression.

These can be the dark times.

Entrepreneurs or small business owners that have been in the game month-after-month or 3 years in still struggling to make it. “Everyone is doing better shit than me.” or “Look at the money they are making! Why can’t I?”

The new social has amplified everyone else’s success while making yours seem insignificant.

Want proof?


My friend Pippin has one (two?) of the most popular WordPress products in the market. He recently published his earnings for 2014 — North of $700k.


My other friend, James Laws, has grown to 370k.

That’s over 1 Million in revenue across 3 plugins and 2 businesses. First off, I applaud them as founders and their ability to build products with great teams surrounding them.

Now what about me? 9 fucking grand.


That’s the tally on ConductorPlugin.com at year end. Launched in September with roughly 44% in revenue coming from a paid beta.

Am I worried? Nope and you shouldn’t be either.

What they don’t teach you

"Sell me this pen." Wolf of Wallstreet

“Sell me this pen.” Wolf of Wallstreet

Here’s the thing about business — it’s fucking hard.

These are the lessons that podcasts and go-getting entrepreneur bloggers don’t teach you. Sure they’ll show you how to make a million dollars, but that doesn’t mean you can.

In a recent interview I listened to, the host asked his guest about how he negotiated deals. The response was, “it all comes down to experience.”


There’s no blueprint or gantt chart that is going to help you close more deals. You need to have confidence and you have to know what the hell you’re doing.

Then there’s one last ingredient: Time.

Pippin didn’t just start writing plugins yesterday and Jake Goldman, founder of 10up, didn’t just start developing WordPress sites last month.

Struggling through the dark times is the precursor for greatness.

Why we fail

We fail because we like to be comfortable.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my local coffee shop staring at some awesome looking pistachio muffins. I want one. I love them.

But! I want to lose weight. I want to become stronger and faster. NO MUFFIN!

Oh, but it would taste so good, right? Grilled with butter. Another coffee? DAMN IT!

It would be so much easier to indulge in this rich buttery muffin goodness. I would be comfortable eating one or twelve of them. It’s easier to eat it and satisfy my brain, than to fight the urge and go find some protein.

Failure is calling my name. In times of darkness, it’s easy to give in.

  • You want to lose weight, but it’s easier to not diet and exercise.
  • You want your business to grow, but it’s easier to not get out of your seat and make a sale.
  • You want more product sales, but you’d rather spend time iterating.
  • You want more, but you do less, because it’s comfortable.

How to fix your brain

First and foremost, I’m not a psychologist or some motivational speaker. However, these are the guidelines and experiences that have helped me with depression during my dark times.

Look WTF business we’re in!?!

There are people in worse professions than us. There are people that can’t afford to purchase a laptop to even begin to do what we do.

Do we really have it that bad?

While you worry about the Chris Lema’s of the world blogging about you, believe me, there could be worse things on your agenda.

Take solace in the fact that our craft does not put our life in harms way. We can build very comfortable lifestyles from behind a computer and a Twitter handle while others are not afforded this opportunity.

You’re clear to pivot

I have a metric-shit-ton of ideas.

I’m sure you do too. Often we’re consumed by the Zuckerberg syndrome of trying to invent something world changing. You might not even realize it, but you’re dwelling on too many details or features.

My tagline of “content first layout builder” for WordPress — yea, I get it — but does my customer? Am I over engineering my value prop?

People will begin to purchase from you and send work your way when they clearly understand what it is you’re capable of. Did you know that three years of blogging and podcasting here and people still don’t know I own a digital media agency?

If you’re in this situation, start to pivot.

That doesn’t mean you throw out your product. It means you change your messaging or talk to a new set of potential customers and then measure the success. Stay dynamic and agile or run the risk of becoming stale.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

If you want to start a business, look at what other successful businesses do first. There are very few — if any — unique ideas left in this world. We’re all “inspired” by someone else’s art, so why are we kidding ourselves?

Proven products and business models, are — well, proven. There’s nothing wrong with creating a similar product. Apple isn’t the only smartphone in town. Conductor isn’t the only layout builder for WordPress.

When you go to market, your customer will understand what it is and your specific value prop.

Again, don’t sweat all of the details. 80/20. Make it simple stupid. Yadda yadda.

Talk to someone

Here’s what we don’t do often enough, ask someone for help.

It’s embarrassing and just as challenging as running the business. It’s hard to admit struggle or potential defeat, but we’ve all been there and no one has a roadmap for this journey.

How can I help?

  • If you’re on my newsletter, I always ask you to hit reply and ask me a question.
  • I created a directory of WordPress mentors, perhaps someone can help?
  • Invest a fraction of your client services income for a year’s access to people like you. Go Pro.

I’m sorry, you have to put in the work

Come clean with yourself and realize you have to put in the work. If you’re not, try harder or re-read the lessons above.

You might not be cutout for this ride and that’s okay. I often wonder how much more successful I could be if I stepped out of the world of client services and digital product.

Maybe you’re following someone else’s candor of success and you don’t even realize it.

Will I read about your greatness or your struggle?

It’s time to get on with our 2015 and for those of you living in the darkness — it’s not as bad as you think.

If you need help, reach out to me.

I believe that those of us who forge ahead will find the greatness we’re after.

I’m going to take the Conductor revenue we earned and thank our customers for each and every dollar that they’ve invested with us. It’s going right back into R&D for a better product as we march forward.

I’m making 2015 the greatest year ever. I have no choice, I’m getting married. :)

What about you?

26 comments on “The Precursor to Greatness

  1. Thanks for writing this, Matt. I appreciate your straightforward and honest appraisal of being in business. No fluff here and who needs fluff when managing a business.

    I particularly appreciate these two nuggets:

    “If you want to start a business, look at what other successful businesses do first. There are very few — if any — unique ideas left in this world. We’re all “inspired” by someone else’s art, so why are we kidding ourselves?”

    “Come clean with yourself and realize you have to put in the work. If you’re not, try harder or re-read the lessons above.”

    Which is why, I intend to join MattReport Pro in the first quarter of 2015 — to “talk to someone” — > learn from and with others, and to increase my efforts and commitment to success.

    To help me DO THE WORK!

    Much success to you in 2015.


  2. I’m really grateful that you acknowledged that many of us (the majority of us?) in the WordPress community are struggling. Hard. Thanks for the encouragement. And the kick in the ass. :-)

  3. Hey Matt, there are just too many good points that you have made in this post that if I wanted to comment on them all I wouldn’t know where to start. All I can say is this is a must read for so many people, so matter where you are at with your own business or freelancing. I always appreciate your candor and your perspective. A perfect read to start the New Year on.

    And I wish you the best in 2015. I’m so happy you have found someone to share you life with and I am honored to call you a friend. Cheers!

  4. Matt,
    Love your honesty and optimism. I’ve succeeded and failed a few times in my professional life – but I learned something each time. Granted I did not always put what I learned into practice…but I recognize the mistakes earlier now.

    I made a big change in 2014 from a full time real estate broker to a WordPress consultant. While I have an IT background and have worked with WordPress since 2009, it is scary and exhilarating all at the same time.

    Here’s to a prosperous 2015 for all of us!

  5. Matt, I love this post, not because it mentions the success some friends and I have managed to achieve, but because it perfect details the journey we (or at least I) took to get there.

    My first few years selling plugins were measly to say the least. In my first year actively building commercial plugins (and several of them), I did a grand total of $2,061.83 in sales. Yep, less than $3k. Over time that grew substantially, but the early days of plugin sales were anything but lucrative.

    “There are very few — if any — unique ideas left in this world. We’re all “inspired” by someone else’s art, so why are we kidding ourselves?”

    Spot on, Matt. People so often get caught up in the idea that they have to build something new. Fuck that. Build something better. If you do that, it doesn’t matter if 10 other versions of it already exist.

    1. While I don’t completely disagree, I was reading some Seth Godin lately and he calls this the “race to the bottom” (better, faster, cheaper). I for one still think there are LOTS of new ideas out there, How old is Twitter, Facebook, Google in the big scheme of things?

      I”m not saying I’ve got the right idea yet, and I may never find it, but the search is what makes life bearable for me. My day job pays the bills for now, but I’m always thinking and searching!

  6. Happy New Year! Do you know the book “How to build products customers love” by Marthy Cagan – it has a great checklist for developing new products.
    Keep it up and all the best!

  7. It’s nice to read the stories of those who are succeeding, but it’s also nice to read about the struggle to get there. I understand about the metric-shit-ton of ideas. It’s never ending in my head, but it’s difficult to decide where to put the limited time and resources. Plus, there’s always something else that needs to be learned. Sometimes, I think I’m always going to be in over my head, but I keep plugging along. Hopefully, the struggle pays off. Either way, like you say, we’ve got it good in comparison to many others. Thanks for the post, the honesty, and the encouragement.

  8. Nicely written. Our plugin lines only did ~$19k in 2014, this of course didn’t include client jobs etc.

    Just this last week spoke with my “partner” (used loosely as he actually worked for me), and he has decided to change professions back to where he was before. Not due to money but just missed it. So I am back to being a loner. Which will be different for sure.

    But I keep plugging away and moving forward. I think seeing Pippins year end review has just super motivated me as If that is possible then my plugin lines should have no problems hitting 1-200k.

    Ive also decided to extensively spread out my time. With 2 new Plugins (as a platform) I will be starting soon, and half a dozen extensions for EDD & Affilliate WP.

    If I had to add anything to your article I would say that if you are not currently networking via Twitter with other WP devs, Get signed up now, check out the Top 100 to follow for 2015 (http://torquemag.io/100-wordpress-influencers-follow-2015/) and don’t be scared to chime into a conversation.

    That is the one thing I have not done, even though my WP based business is over 7 years old, and had I done it sooner, I likely would already be doing much better as the WP community really does pull together to help their own.

  9. Thanks for the post, Matt. That’s what I call quality content. Too many buy into the fetish that it is possible rise from a nobody to superstar in no time with a few viral videos or other delusions. Truth hurts and that means you have to put in a lot of work, persistence and determination and, as shown in your case, not to be afraid to face reality. Your frank account is an inspiration.

  10. I think this is my favorite year end review post so far. Thanks for sharing this Matt. There are few people in the community who’s experience and insight I value more highly than yours. Posts like this help the rest of us get our bearings and calibrate ourselves for real success. I’m greatly appreciative to you for being so frank and transparent.

    And congrats on the wedding!

  11. As has already been mentioned in the comments above, there’s some really great points in here. Business IS hard and takes heaps and heaps of hard work! The reason I think 9/10 of us fail: we struggle to connect with our potential audiences/customers… IMO. Happy New Year Matt and best of luck with Conductor! 😉

  12. I signed up for your newsletter when I was looking for WP blogs we could pitch our new plugin to and I’m so glad I did! This no bull sh*t post reminds me of two things: 1) I’m not on an island. Everyone who is doing their own thing feels slightly in over their head and combats idea overload. 2) I’ve got to HUSTLE. Sometimes I resent the upward struggle, but that’s what takes to build something meaningful.

    Anyway thanks again, Matt and good luck in 2015!

  13. Good stuff as always Matt, keep it coming!

    I always get a kick out of hearing somebody like Frank Kern talk about the first $1 M product launch, how they made $1M in one day. I can’t help but call bullshit. They didn’t make $1 Million in a day.

    They build the product, prepare for a launch, create marketing material, promote. I have no idea, but that had to be a boat load of work. And that speaks nothing of the years of experience and trial and error that preceded that particular product. Or getting sued by the FTC, blah blah.

    It was great reading Pippin’s comment, confirming the hard work and years with little to nothing to show for it.

    Prior to reading his response, I just looked at EDD github, and notice there are 9,271 commits, 57 branches, 91 releases and 117 contributors. I don’t know how long to code base has been around nor how many lines of code make up that plugin. But it is clear that a shit load of work has gone in to it to make it the great plugin that it is.

    9K in your first year! Putting the profits back into R&D, and now you have REAL customer feedback to run with.

    Sounds like a real promising start to me..

    I keep getting pissed of when my neighbor who is five years older and single digit body fat, runs by my watm comfortable home office window at 6 am every morning, wishing I had six pack abs.

    Everybody wants to hit the game winning home run, but almost nobody wants to go to practice. EVERY. DAY.

    Your an inspiration, fight the good fight my friend.

  14. Thanks for sharing the journey Matt. I do know that you run a digital agency by the way :-)

    We’re in the early stages with our new WordPress LMS plugin http://lifterlms.com so I can relate to the challenges, flexibility, and endurance demands when breaking into the premium plugin space.

    Your podcast is one of my favorites and has really helped our business. I’ve been with you since the early days. Keep up the great work in the WP community and on your projects.

  15. Hey Matt:

    Found this post again after a few months. Remembered how excellent it was. Dark times are the path you have to go through sometimes. I would tell other entrepreneurs: “Just don’t quit”.

    May your 2015 be prosperous.

    1. Talking to more and more people coming out of the 2014 “high on WordPress” lately. Its 1 in a million to hit that home run, but I’m a believer in — if you start now and keep pushing on — you eventually get to that good place.

  16. Wow, somebody sent me a link to this article, and I’m grateful for it. Reading this gave me the boost I needed right now. And some of the comments are great to read as well.

    Sometimes it is easier to eat that damn muffin…….and sit on my ass waiting for ‘it’ to happen. But I need to go beyond believing in myself! Thank you for sharing this.

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