In this episode, Dan and Dennae interview Chris Parker. Tune in as they talk about how making a quick decision in a critical time period has been counterproductive, and how setting milestones when becoming an entrepreneur has helped him entirely cover the loss of a full-time income.
Welcome to Tough Decisions Network for Entrepreneurs. I’m Dan Handford and my wife, Dennae interview successful people sharing stories behind tough decisions that they had to make along their journey as an entrepreneur.
Dennae: On the podcast with us today, we have Chris Parker. Chris, thank you very much for joining us.
Chris: Glad to be here.
Dan: Well Chris, I want you to get started by talking to us a little bit about of your background as an entrepreneur and what your current focus is.
Chris: My background, you could say I started out delivering newspapers as a kid, but no one wants to hear that. Had a number of failed businesses that I’ve tried to do over the years, ran a couple of websites, selling books, some ecommerce things which—trying to compete against Amazon doesn’t work out really well for you.
I was an affiliate of Amazon in California back when Amazon was trying to figure out sales tax issues and Amazon didn’t want to collect sales tax in California so as part of that, they terminated all of their California affiliates with no notice which is not a great way to run your business when suddenly your business model goes away. The thing that I thought that was funny is that what had been a hobby of mine throughout all this has now actually become the full time gig and that’s running whatismyipaddress.com.
Dan: I’ve actually been to that website before I think. It’s about six million people a month come to the website. You’re one of the select few. Well, that’s pretty cool. I know as your background as an entrepreneur, you’ve had quite a few tough decisions that you’ve had to make along the way. Wanting to start a software that tough decision that didn’t have that good of an outcome and some of the lessons you learned through it.
Chris: The way I look at it, it was what I’m thinking of is something that should have been a tough decision or should have required more thought process, but I was just kind of, “Oh yeah. That sounds like a good idea,” and went for it and that was making some fairly significant changes to my ad platform right in the middle of Q4. Anyone who runs a website who’s doing display ads knows that October through December, in some cases, you can double or triple your revenue. I decided to make a change to a significant portion of that process and it’s what cratered my revenue for about two weeks. I basically lost a couple of weeks of income and took weeks to backout the change. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong because I didn’t really think through my decision.
Dan: Looking back at that decision that you made, what are some things that maybe you could have paid attention to that might have made you not make that decision?
Chris: One of the things that I’ve included in my processes now is that I don’t make major platform changes during critical time periods. If I’m needing to migrate my website to a new platform, I’m not going to do it in the middle of December. I want to choose a down time of the year. I’m going to do things where they’re going to have the—assuming that something does go wrong—it will have the least amount of impact. Probably just one of those things that I did on a whim that I don’t follow my normal, getting input from other people and talking about it, and they probably would’ve said the same thing like, “Yeah, just wait until the end of the year. Wait until next year to do it.” But I saw dollar signs and leapt before I looked.
Dan: Was it a change in shopping cart platform or ad delivery platforms? What was the change?
Chris: It was a change to, I don’t want to get too under the weeds but it was a change to the ad delivery platform.
Chris: The significant portion of the backend of it I switched to a different vendor. As part of the integration process something didn’t work out. Something was like, “Oh that’s a little off. That’s not what we’re used to seeing—” is what they said to me but, “Oh let’s just move forward.” I even had opportunities to see red flags during the process. The dollar signs caught up with me.
Dan: What do you do now to mitigate some of those things moving forward? I know that you mentioned not making those things too quickly or whatever, making some changes in the middle of critical time periods, even if it was in a non-critical time period, is there still something that maybe you could’ve or that you do now moving forward that helps mitigate that risk?
Chris: I do a lot more due diligence when I’m vetting new vendor, who they’ve worked before. For those that are willing to talk to me, I call some other existing clients and ask them how did transitions go, how to they respond to these types of situations. Often from references, you’re going to get good glowing stuff but I try to do some research online and find out people that have had that experience and eliminate the personality issues and try to figure, “Was there a technical issue? Is there a business issue, why this [inaudible 00:05:14] worked for this other person?” And really take it slow, make sure exactly I know what’s going on, I understand the process. If anything starts to go not according to the process that we stop, we look at it, and try to figure out why is this different? Is this going to impact things?
Dan: Because I’m sure that when you made that decision you are probably sold on the fact or at least you sold yourself on the fact that changing this platform at that time was going to exponentially increase your revenue and it did the opposite.
Chris: Yeah. I was sold on seeing a 25% plus increase in revenue. I was like, “Oh, this would be great to have during Q4.”
Dan: No brainer. Let’s shift here and talk about a different tough decision that you’ve had to make as an entrepreneur or that had a really good and positive outcome and some of those lessons.
Chris: I think the toughest and best outcome decision was actually the process of becoming an entrepreneur because the company I was working for had been struggling financially during the financial crisis and had gone from 50 people, down to 25 people, down to 12, down to 5 people. I was one of the last man standing. They came to me and said, “We just can’t keep you on. We’d like you to have you do a little bit of contract work for us, maybe 5 hours a week, 10 hours a week, something like that.” I was faced with the decision of, “Okay, I’m losing a fairly-sized amount of income here from a fulltime job I’ve been at for, I think at that point, about eight years.” I was like, “Gosh, do I jump in with both feet and be an entrepreneur? Do I do this?” It was kind of a scary thing.
My wife and I are both very risk-averse which may or may not be good for entrepreneurs. We really had to think it through, talk about it, pray about it. Ultimately, what we ended up doing was setting some milestones of like, “Okay, I’m going to try this and here are the milestones. The ultimate goal is within six months I need to entirely cover the loss of my full time income.” We’re going to look at it every three months and see, “Okay, are we on track? Am I exceeding the goals? Am I meeting the goals?” We got lots of input about it. Fortunately, my wife and I don’t have kids, my wife has a fulltime job, so we have a little bit more of flexibility in making that decision. But for someone who’s risk-averse saying, “I’m going to give up the stability of a full time day job.” It can be a bit scary.
Dennae: Chris, I’m just curious. Was being an entrepreneur something that you have considered before or was that a new idea that you were giving a shot?
Chris: You know, I think I’ve always tried to do entrepreneurial things, had tried to do a number of businesses, like I’ve said before, that had failed. I think I had always viewed it more as I would really love to do it that day and would love to be the boss and own the company and to have all the benefits of it. But I was always stuck with, “How do I make that transition? How do I get from ‘hey this is an idea’ or even ‘this is making some money’ to ‘okay, I’m going to invest myself into this 40, 50, 60 hours a week now?’”
Dennae: I think your idea about setting some benchmarks and some expectations is a good one too because you don’t want to get too far down the road into a business or an idea that really is not viable. I know Dan and I have done that before where we sat down and said, “Okay, we’re going to start this but in six months we need to be here. In 12 months, we need to see this. If we don’t then we’re going to…” Each of those points we sit down and revisit it and decide, “Is this something that we want to continue putting money into or energy into?” But that’s always a good way to hold yourself accountable I think because if you don’t, then you can end up way down the road with a lot of money and energy into something that really is not working.
Chris: Yeah. You don’t have a really clear sign of, “Am I really doing what I thought I would be able to do—” really helps with your own personal feedback if you thought, “Hey, I could make $1 million in six months.” And you end up making 10,000. “Did something go wrong, or did you just way overestimate your abilities?”
Dennae: Right. Chris, talk a little bit about some of the strategies that you used when you are facing a difficult decision?
Chris: I think the first thing that I do that comes from my background is I stop and pray about it and try not to make any decision haphazard or knee jerk reaction is to really try and figure out, “Okay, how is it going to affect me? How is it going to affect my family? How is it going to affect my future interactions with my friends, with my church? What are the implications of this decision?” Even though my wife, she’s not involved in the business aspects of my business, I still talk to her about it. I want her to be in the loop and she’s been a really great-sounding board of, “See, that sounds risky.” Or, “Hey that sounds like a really good idea. What are the risks? What are the benefits? What are the rewards? How much of our time is it going to take for you to do?”
And then I’ve got a couple of great people that I go to. I have two friends that own businesses. One who’s more on the millennial side and one who’s 20 years older than me. I talk to them about some of these big decisions. I think that really helps me get a good balance. Someone who’s been in business for many years longer than me can kind of look back and say, “Hey I’ve had to make that decision.” The younger one is usually the one who push me against my risk aversion of it. Sometimes it’s helpful having people who know how to push my boundaries in a good way, that I’m not just solely making a decision on what’s comfortable but making a wise decision.
About a year and half ago, I hired a business coach, and he’s been really good at about getting me outside my comfort zone but not doing ridiculous risky things. And then of course, I always sleep on a big decision; never jump on it quick.
Dennae: That’s important as well because we can come into a conclusion by sleeping on things but our brain—actually, you probably know—continues to process those things even while we’re sleeping. That’s how we can come to decisions in the morning that we couldn’t come to in the evening. I think giving it 24 hours is really important as well.
Chris: There’s a great many things that I have woken up at 3 o’clock in the morning that I didn’t know how to do when I went to bed then 3 o’clock in the morning I’m, “That’s how to do it.”
Dennae: You’re wide awake. Alright, we’re going to take a quick break and hear from one of our show sponsors. When we come back, we’ll talk to Chris about some of his favorites as it relates to his life as an entrepreneur.
Dan: We are back with Chris Parker. Chris, I want you to get started with a series of quick questions and answers that we call The Trifecta by talking to us about your favorite technology that you use in your business that helps make your life easier every day.
Chris: I’m going to go for two things on this one. I don’t know how I had never seen it before but ScheduleOnce. Whenever someone wants to schedule a meeting with me, I just send them a link and I don’t have to do that whole back and forth of trying to figure out, “What time zone is Hungary in? Do you do Daylight Savings Time? Oh, you’re not available? I’m available.” You guys know with scheduling podcasts. IT’s just amazing. You just send out a link and someone can book it. All that horrific exchange of trying to figure out a meeting time is just gone, and I don’t have to deal with it.
Dennae: What’s a favorite quote that you’ve heard that has helped you as an entrepreneur?
Chris: My favorite quote—and I wish I knew who said it—is, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
Dennae: Very good. I know that’s one that Dan likes as well. He’s used that recently actually. What’s a favorite book that has helped you make better decisions as an entrepreneur?
Chris: Making different decisions. I just recently listened to The 4-Hour Week by Tim Ferriss. I’m trying to extricate myself from the minor decisions and the repeating tasks of my business and trying to work to outsource that and work to get that to other people so I don’t have to be involved in the day to day operations of the business so I can make more meaningful big picture decisions and let other people execute on it.
Dennae: What is the next thing right now for you on your vision or dream board?
Chris: I think it’s continuing that process of outsourcing, building a team that I can trust, that will free me up to figure out the next thing on my board, the next thing that I can do, that’ll have time to work on myself.
Dennae: Chris, we really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today. How can the listeners reach out to you and maybe follow you, find out more about what you do?
Chris: Anyone can visit whatismyipaddress.com if they’re interested in online privacy and safety related things and IP addresses and VPNs. If you want to see a little bit more of the entrepreneurial side and the running of my business, they can visit my blog at cgparker.com.
Dennae: Very good. Thank you for chatting with us and sharing some of your insights from your experiences. We look forward to continuing to follow you and maybe having you on a future podcast. Thank you.
Chris: Thank you very much.
Dan: Thank you for listening to the Tough Decisions Network. Be sure to visit toughdecisions.net to gain access to show notes for this episode and to join our free weekly entrepreneur email where we will send you news about the latest technology for your business, inspiring quotes, and the latest books for entrepreneurs. That’s toughdecisions.net.
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