Three years ago today, I did something I knew I’d do since I was six years old. I started my own company.
While not my first company, Data Driven Design is the realest company I’ve ever had.
Now, with 9 full-time employees, possibly going on 10, on October 31, 2016, it was just me, filing for an LLC online on TN.gov.
I had already built my website, set up my business email via GSuite, and thought about who my first clients would be.
With extreme support from good friends and business partners, one of whom was my full time employer at the time of my decision, I’ve been able to make my dream a reality.
Make no mistake, I definitely have worked harder than I ever have in my life since I made that decision to file for an LLC.
I needed a business bank account, and at the time, I needed an EIN number to get one, something that only comes after having officially filed.
The paperwork, the bank account and the checkbook made it feel real.
But that was the easy part. Seriously, that part took maybe 15 minutes to 2 hours total.
What ensued were more conversations than I ever imagined.
Conversations with Kate, family, friends, co-workers, prospective partners and clients.
Not conversations asking what I SHOULD DO. These were conversations I needed to have to simply communicate the decisions I’d already made and acted on.
“Why are you doing this?” many asked.
I had just joined a great company about 18 months earlier, one that let me work remotely, with full trust and freedom.
We were making great money too, more money than I had ever made... a competitive salary plus large bonuses.
I was on a team with people I genuinely loved and still do.
So, what was I doing?
Why was I leaving to start over again on my own?
On one hand, making money, working remotely was great. Exactly what I wanted, actually.
But quite honestly it started to feel too easy.
It started to feel repetitive.
I had started to get lazy and jaded. I hated that.
For the first 18 months, the start was fresh...I got to bring a ton of knowledge and experience to a company that was hungry for it, welcomed it, encouraged it and fed it. The first 18 months were a far cry from the previous four years.
I won’t go too deep down this rabbit hole but from 2011-2015 I was in a toxic environment. I learned a lot, but was completely demotivated, devalued, and ultimately just didn’t believe in the way we were selling and executing our deliverables and solutions.
So when the end of 2016 started to feel a little similar (without the toxic part), I started to act. I knew it was time.
My mind was made up, and it was exhilarating.
The main difference between Data Driven Design as we enter year four, and all of my previous jobs, is that the exhilaration hasn’t stopped...it has only increased.
Before I can experience any semblance of a dull, repetitive, frustrating feeling, I make a change.
Why? Because I can. I’m the sole owner.
And that’s why I did what I did four years ago today.
For the first 18 months, I barely slept. Seriously, I slept like 1 hour a night sometimes, taking a nap on the couch before starting all over again.
I was everything.
Sales. Account management. Project management. Web design. Web hosting. SEO. Content. Launch. Maintenance. Sales again. Invoicing. Accounts receivable. Getting checks out of the mail and driving them to the bank.
What kept me going was the productivity that I experienced. I was accomplishing my goal of building better digital solutions for small businesses that don’t cost an arm and a leg.
The instant gratification and appreciation are addicting.
Then I started hiring in May 2017.
By August, there were 7 of us.
From 1 to 7 in less than a year.
Three months later, we were back down to four people. Totally fine.
I shifted big time from taking on work from other agencies and white labeling our services, to going directly to the end client.
It was a huge risk, but actually I had already taken it a year prior when I started the company.
Whitelabeling to other agencies was no different than having a full time job that I had already left.
Year two was crazy, because Kate and I decided to really take a chance and move to Spain.
No longer whitelabeling meant honestly we could work from anywhere. No longer was anyone else’s name on the line. Just ours.
So here we go. To Spain.
I’m not going to lie, I was super confident, but unsure at the same time.
Year Two meant very little sleep also. For good reasons though.
Business was booming and it allowed me to hire some amazing people that I’d always wanted to hire.
I wanted to pretend that the 7 hour time difference between my physical location and the location of co-workers and clients didn’t exist.
No regrets. It was hard, and I knew it would be short term.
I fired myself from all jobs except Sales/Business Development, Marketing and Operations, and Management... the last of which is not my favorite, nor my strong suit.
I’m personally making less money than I’ve made since 2007 (when I left the Detroit Pistons for Columbia State - another move many thought I was crazy for doing, BTW), but I’m WAY more fulfilled personally and professionally than I’ve ever been.
Without the decision I made three years ago, I wouldn’t have my amazing team, my amazing family adventure, nor the services we offer like Custom Software, AI, Alexa Skills Development, Google Actions, Podcasting for Small Business Owners, and I wouldn’t be able to have founded the Nashville Voice Conference.
All of those things take time to learn, time to self teach, time to have a million conversations that don’t immediately lead to profit. Time that previous employers wouldn’t have encouraged me to take.
I’m no longer everything. I’m one piece, and I’m really starting to love it.
I love it because it’s really freaking hard, every day.
It’s so hard that I now meditate in addition to running and working out. And that’s just to get to the starting line each day.
Who am I? 🙂
But as I look at my life, I know where Data Driven Design is headed into year four and beyond.
We are about to do some things that digital agencies haven’t done before, and I’m always going to do things I’ve never done before.
And that’s why I made the decision to start Data Driven Design. I’m always learning, and it’s the best place for me to be.
It’s so worth it, and I’m so grateful. I seriously wouldn’t change one thing.
Special thanks to the following people for helping make this happen.
Anyone who has ever paid one of my invoices.
Kelly, Allen, Joe, Matt, Justin, Sonia.
Kolby, Tanner, Chris, Bailey (and Karen), Kasie, Dave, Chance, Phil, Tristan, Ryan, Leah, Emma, Ben
Gary Vaynerchuk (just because your keynotes on YouTube and the #AskGaryVee Show kept me awake and pumped through the sleepless nights in Year 1. And for in-person advice and validation.
Google, Facebook and Amazon for always changing shit, so I can learn it before others and teach them what I learned. (that’s basically my company in a nutshell).
Everyone who supported Nashville Voice Conference (you know who you are).
(I’m leaving out a bunch or family including my parents, in-laws, kids etc, because while I love all of you and appreciate your support, you know, I mean, I have to draw the line somewhere).
Quick shoutout to Russ for opening all mail, scanning and sending with a smile, and for all of my Facebook friends for putting up with my constant business postings on my personal profile. 🙂
Wait, did I mention Kate?
Alright, three years in the books, two countries, nine teammates and hundreds/thousands of clients, partners and supporters.
So while I’ll never celebrate it quite like I celebrate my children’s birthdays, 10/31 is a day to be acknowledged for me, as the official birthday of Data Driven Design, LLC... my fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth....98th...157th...2,432nd child.
Heading into Year Four, I’ve never been more confident in my path, and have no intention of stopping. Ever. Really.
Thanks for reading and have a great day!
Paul Hickey, Founder / CEO / Lead Strategist at Data Driven Design, LLC and founder of Nashville Voice Conference, has created and grown businesses via digital strategy and internet marketing for more than 15 years. His sweet spot is using analytics to design and build websites and grow the audience and revenue of businesses via SEO/Blogging, Google Adwords, Bing Ads, Facebook and Instagram Ads, Social Media Content Marketing, Email Marketing and most recently, Voice App Design and Development - Alexa Skills and Google Actions. The part that he’s most passionate about is quantifying next marketing actions based on real data.