Going solo for too long
Being a self-taught web developer can help reduce overheads when you start-up, but tackling such a big task yourself can be a major drain on your time as you attempt to grow other aspects of your business.
For Kate McKibbin, it took a while before she knew it was time to hand over the reins and use her own key skills.
McKibbin is the founder of Drop Dead Gorgeous Daily, a Melbourne-based fashion website dedicated to educating people about online shopping, including where to find the hottest items.
A former journalist, McKibbin started the business with “zero budget” back in 2007, while working on the website of Australian fashion bible Shop Til You Drop.
“This was when online shopping was just starting to filter through to Australia,” McKibbin says.
“Nearly every week, I was finding out about new things, and people were asking me where to find them.”
“I thought there seems to be a gap for a site that was actually just showing people where they could buy things online and that kind of thing.”
“I ran the idea by Shop Til You Drop… They weren’t interested so I asked them, ‘Can I do it myself?’ They said yes and I started it off on the side.”
What started out as a daily newsletter, consisting of nothing more than “a cute write-up and an image”, quickly transformed into a full-blown website with its own online community.
“When I decided to start the site, I had zero budget – I was a journalist. I couldn’t afford anyone to build it for me,” McKibbin says.
“But as I was fairly tech-savvy, I thought, surely I can figure this out myself. Via Google, I taught myself how to develop, and I still do about 50% of our web development now.”
McKibbin says while she saved money, she lost a lot of valuable time.
“It’s a fantastic skill, but [not worth] the amount of time I’ve spent on it and the amount of times I’ve crashed the site,” she says.
“Looking back, I spent so many hours on it, and I’ve caused more problems than I’ve solved.”
“I didn’t make the decision to hire someone, who I rely on, who can do this for me and let me do other things, basically.”
McKibbin says the situation reached crisis point about a year ago when she opened up the site to contributions. She realises now that’s when she should have hired an industry professional.
“All of a sudden, the site became this different animal. There was more space for things to go wrong,” she says.
“One of the things we’ve found is the more content we produce, the more traffic we get.”
“If I’m spending the majority of my time fixing things on the website, rather than producing editorial, that does affect traffic. I realised we could be bigger than we are.”
McKibbin finally hired someone, who just so happens to be based in Greece.
“I went through the whole e-lance route. I tested out a few different developers and this guy really stood out,” she says.
“He was not someone who just followed the brief and did the bare minimum – he suggested things.”
“With outsourcing, the biggest challenge hasn’t been the language barrier. It’s more the time difference. If something happens here, in the middle of the day, they’re asleep.”
“But he has given me his mobile number for emergencies.”
The Drop Dead Gorgeous Daily team now consists of two full-time editorial staff, a couple of interns and a few contributors. All web administration is outsourced.
“We’re on track to record about a 150% increase [in revenue] on last year. We’re aiming for 200% though,” McKibbin says.
“The biggest hurdle is just getting started. That’s why learning it myself was quite good – it got me up and running, with very little outlay to start with.”
“I read somewhere that a start-up’s job is to fail and fail quickly. So, get in there, see what you’re doing wrong, fix it and keep going.”