You might be wondering, “It’s 2019. Haven’t heard from James for over a year. Is he still doing Tribe Rocket?” The gap in communication was entirely intentional.
We were on a mission. The kind you don’t hear about in Inc. or Wired Magazine.
The entrepreneurial press tells us we’re failures without a 7-figure exit by age 23.
A lot of us believed them. Thankfully, I never did. After all, I was 29 years old at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. I had close family members that chased get rich quick schemes growing up. That was not my path.
The Jump Off
I made the jump for the first time in 2009. It was the heart of the subprime mortgage meltdown. Naturally, I thought it’d be a great idea to start a health coaching business. I kid, but I have an unreasonably high-risk tolerance. It is a blessing and a curse.
Wisdom of the decision to start this business aside, I immediately started frequenting National Speakers Association meetings. Toastmasters equips you to make a good speech, NSA equips you to build a speaking business.
All NSA members strive to live by something called The Spirit of Cavett. The organization’s founder, Cavett Robert, had a saying:
Success is not about competition, it’s about building a bigger pie.
This is to say, don’t focus on competition. The market is big enough for everybody to eat. Let’s not fight over crumbs, let’s build a bigger pie. Let’s grow the market.
This has always been at the heart of my business philosophy. Wish your competitors the best. Recognize they make you better. You innovate faster and execute more precisely because of them.
Earning the Right to Speak
NSA is old school. That’s what I love about it. The organization came of age in the ’70s and ’80s. There is an infused knowledge of respect that permeates its culture. Respect for fellow professionals and respect for the craft.
You don’t have the right to speak, you earn the right to speak.
Professional speakers talk about “earning the right to speak.” When I attended the NSA Summer Conference for the first time in 2009, one of the survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 plane crash. His rugby team’s story was dramatized in the 1993 movie Alive. Their plane crashed in the Andes Mountains and survivors had to choose between eating their friends or dying frozen on a mountain.
That’s someone who has earned the right to speak. I carried this forward in business and understood you have to pay dues. There is no such thing as an overnight success story. Those stories sell magazines, but you might as well read stories about lottery winners. You’re not going to found a billion dollar unicorn. Get over it.
You have to pay dues. Your time won’t come until you have something meaningful to bring to an audience. It will be meaningful because you lived it.
Something to Prove
Someone once said, “Success is the intersection of preparation and opportunity.”
This was my experience at Drillinginfo. After shutting down the first business and going to work for Drillinginfo, I acted as if I had two jobs. I worked for Drillinginfo during the day, and for myself at night. I pounded phones making sales calls during the day, and was consumed with learning marketing every night.
I was convinced my first business didn’t work because I didn’t understand marketing. If you don’t understand marketing, you can’t make sales. So while I worked for other people, this was only temporary. I would eventually run a successful business. I just didn’t know what I would do or what that would look like.
Be Kind, Rewind
Fast forward a few years and I became the first person to do inbound marketing in oil and gas. Allen Gilmer gave me the digital reigns and it worked. After 18 months, I went out on my own and started the first oil and gas podcast. Then came Oil and Gas This Week and OGGN. With a string of success like this, you’d think I’d be content.
But after my run ended on Oil & Gas This Week ended, I still felt like I needed to earn the right to speak.
Yes, I had a string of fantastic successes building other people’s brands, but Tribe Rocket still wasn’t taking off. Thankfully, I didn’t panic. This was all part of the plan and it’s why I play with a bit of a chip on my shoulder.
I learned a lot in those first years in business. You might remember in 2009 Simon Sinek made the most-viewed Ted Talk of all time where he discusses a principle that would leade to Tribe Rocket’s founding.
Diffusion of Innovations
There is somewhat of a natural law with technology called the Diffusion of Innovations. Once the market decides to adopt a technology, it progresses through a consistent series of phases. If you’re old enough, think about Betamax vs. VHS. For a more modern analogy, think Snapchat vs. Instagram
Diffusion happens across a bell curve as demonstrated by eminent communication theorist and sociologist, Everett Rogers.
This is where the phrases “Early Adopters” and “Laggards” come from. When your theories define business vocabulary, I listen.
Betting The Farm
Looking at the bell curve on Jan 1, 2014, it was clear oil and gas was still off the chart to the left. It was Bleeding Edge territory. This meant the number of potential customers was very low.
If Tribe Rocket was going to make it, we faced an impossible grind for 3-5 years. Bleeding edge innovators are hard to find and it was going to be tough. But we would steadily gain traction and prove ourselves until we hit the inflection point; Early Adopters.
Here we are 5-years later. Early adoption has arrived and we are busier than ever.
I often say I don’t gamble, but it was a serious gamble.
It paid off this time.
Can You Hear Me Now?
That’s where we’ve been. Earning that right to speak. Doing incredible work for customers and investing in growth.
Owais Nazir in Pakistan joined the team early last year. He was tasked with scraping a website using a Python framework called Scrapy. He did an incredible job and responded with such urgency, I’ve since found projects to keep us busy. When you find someone good, you’ve got to fight to fill their calendar.
Today Owais not only scrapes websites, but he’s also become our Junior Developer. He is instrumental in our ability to execute crazy good work quickly. The man recently built a WooCommerce web store out of 74 products and endless specs in a few days.
I’m truly grateful to have him on the team and if y’all need someone that just gets work done, Owais can help.
Speaking of strong, a tip of the hat to the most recent addition to the team, Matt Curoe.
5-years into the business, I’ve finally learned I am not scalable. I’ve also learned the more time you can focus on things you’re truly good at, the happier and more successful you’ll be. As much as I have held onto the idea that I’m a writer, I finally had to admit:
I am not the best writer. I am a fantastic editor.
In short, I’m a beast when there are words on the page. Ideas fly in and out of my mind and the work is virtually effortless as I power through each page in minutes.
It is the blank page that haunts me so.
Thankfully, Matt Curoe stepped in at the end of a project with very little guidance and started busting out copy like he was Robert Redford’s typewriter in All The President’s Men. It’s damn near impossible to find someone that gets it, let alone someone that gets it as fast as Matt.
If you need quality copy about highly-complex industry topics quickly, reach out to Matt.
Slow & Steady
One of the greatest lessons of the past 5 years is work pays. In Q4, Owais and I invested a colossal amount of work into building an Ember web application from scratch.
You might recall LinkedIn updating the entire user interface in 2018. That is because they rebuilt the site into what is essentially one big Ember application.
If it’s good enough for LinkedIn, it’s good enough for us.
Owais and I went to work building our “MVP” (Minimum Viable Product). Here was the challenge, clone the Schlumberger Oilfield Glossary into an Ember web application. No one asked us to do this, but it felt like the right investment for a few reasons.
- When you use the internet, you drive the car. When you build applications, you build the car… this is a natural extension of the business.
- Glossaries, indexes, and dictionaries offer perfect “dummy data” to learn a language or framework.
- Even if they never bought it, we would gain the experience of building and selling (or trying to sell) a web application we took from concept to s3 deploy.
The project is now roughly 90% complete. It’s quite incredible what you can accomplish when you stop believing the stories you tell yourself. I would love to share some screenshots, but we do not own the content. If you’d like to see the application in action, tell Schlumberger to hit us up. We got a solid proof of concept over here.
The Plan for 2019
I came into 2018 asking myself, “What stories do I tell myself?” and “Are are those true?”
One of the stories I repeated for years was about my inability to learn how to become a backend developer. It went a little something like this.
I build websites. I know HTML & CSS inside and out, and just enough PHP to read it and infer what to do next. But all that Java. Python. Configuring servers. It’s too detailed. That’s just not how I think.
Thankfully, I realized this was utter nonsense and learned those things… it only took 8 years of convincing myself I never could do it. Be careful with the stories you tell yourself. They become your reality.
Which brings us to the path ahead. Where do we go from here?
When I jumped off my first cliff without a parachute and started my first business in 2009, I was committed. Even if that business failed, I was at the beginning of my 10-year overnight success story. As long as I kept doing the work and believing in the future, it would all work out.
That business failed, but the plan did not. To say I’m thankful would be a gross understatement, so I’ll just say… the future is here, my friends. And we’re just getting started!