A one-hit wonder took this man from living on a modest PhD student stipend to financial security in less than one year. On my quest to find what 6-figure solopreneurs have in common, I met 'one man software development team,' Steven Woolley. Woolley was gifted a laptop from his parents and an iPod Touch from his in-laws and it changed his life forever.
Q. Steve, when you started your software development company did you have a plan in place, or did you just 'wing it?'
A. I had no plan at all, seriously, just an idea, that friends said people would pay for. I'd never even considered selling software and my business consisted of selling a few LP's on Ebay. I came up with the idea to create a desktop software program that I call ooTunes, and a bit later the iPhone app. The iPhone app is where I make all the money. It's not quite like the "one hit wonder" app's that strike it rich overnight, I've built and worked at mine every day for 10-12 hours for almost a year now. Nonetheless, a single iPhone app is where it's at for me. The coolest part (in my mind) was that my mom and dad gave me the laptop as a present 4 years ago and my in-laws gave me the iPod touch for Christmas 2 years ago, and it's changed my life forever!
Q. Looking back, what would you say are the two important personal qualities or characteristics that are most responsible for your success?
A. I credit my success to 3 things: a) A lot of luck b) persistence and c) working crazy hard to make sure every customer (and there's a lot of them!) is happy.
Q. Have you ever had a mentor or a coach?
A. Yes and no. I've never had any coaching from anyone who's done something similar or tried to do something similar. However, as soon as started to open a dialog with my customers, I had free advice, suggestions, marketing and a great deal of 'coaching' from interesting people all over the world. This needs to be filtered of course, but some of my greatest milestones were reached by these suggestions.
Q. Steve, what was the key motivating factor in your drive and determination to become your own boss?
A. When I first started working on my PhD, I started reading blogs, essays, and anything I could find on 'startups'. I was intrigued mostly by how someone could start with nothing but an idea, and through hard work, almost magically turn it into something that didn't even exist beforehand. It seemed a bit like an Ex nihilo. On one hand I thought it was awesome that someone could go from nothing to fortunes in a few years. On the other hand, I thought it was foolish to view that as the 'most common' outcome.
Q. Was funding ever an issue for you? If so, how did you solve the problem?
A. Not really. I started my business after living on a PhD student stipend (it's not much) and providing for my wife and at the time, 3 kids (now 4). I've become somewhat of an expert in living on next to nothing. I've never had a car loan, never paid interest on a credit card, and almost had our house half paid off BEFORE the business even started. The only time the thought of 'I need funding' came to mind was when I'd talk to other entrepreneurs. I was never really convinced that giving up so much freedom (both freedom to fail and freedom to do as I saw fit) was worth the benefit I might receive of having the extra money. I still don't know what to do with the money I've earned, other than invest it, so external funding just doesn't seem important. Maybe someday?
Q. What was your most challenging moment to date and how did you overcome it?
A. The most difficult decision I have made was choosing whether to finish my PhD or quit and work on the business fulltime. My wife will tell you that she knew what I should do years ago, but it took me at least a year of struggling to keep up with everything I wanted to do and to recognize that quitting school was the right choice. My dad and both my brothers earned advanced degrees, and even though none of them ever tried to coerce me into any particular career, I did worry if they would look upon me as a 'dropout'. I've never been a quitter, and investing 5 years of my life toward a goal, only to walk away seemed foolish. Ultimately, I made the decision through prayer and desperation. Working at school during the day with the constant burning excitement and worry that probably most small business owners have experienced was taking a toll on health, and everything was suffering from the overload. So I quit, and everyone was 100% supportive.
Q. What is the greatest reward in running your own business?
A. Knowing that I've created something that thousands of people enjoy. I guess if I'd started a collection agency I wouldn't have that same satisfaction.
Q. Do you have a 'top strategy' for success that you'd like to share?
A. Hmm, this is tough since I attribute so much of my success to being lucky! But here goes:
1) Treat people as kindly as possible.
2) Work your butt off
3) Listen to your spouse! He/She probably knows you better than you know yourself!
Q. Steve, entrepreneurs are idea machines, and that's great. But sometimes too many good ideas can clutter the picture and stop progress. How did you harness your best ideas and bring them to fruition?
A. It took time really. I chased a poor idea for almost a year before listening to my customers and potential customers and giving them what they really wanted, rather than what I thought they wanted or should want. Now I have lots of ideas, but keep myself so busy I have little time to explore all but the most compelling.
Q. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our solopreneurs?
A. If you don't think about your business or ideas constantly, you probably don't have the right idea. If you're not willing to give up sleep, food, sex, hobbies, sunlight, etc. for your idea, you're probably not going to give what it takes. That being said, you shouldn't give all those up indefinitely or it certainly won't be worth your time! If you can't (give those up or stop giving those up) get a 9-5 job, and spend the rest of the time doing something you enjoy!
In Summary: So our self-proclaimed, ooTunes Nerd, didn't have a long term plan for success and proclaims himself 'lucky.' Not sure I agree with that Steve! Your hard work, brilliant mind, and supportive environment have earned you the success you enjoy today! Steve has had mentors along the way, and didn't struggle with funding…wow! Steve is determined, tenacious, hard-working, and devotes himself to customer service. He keeps his other ideas at bay to focus on his existing work and makes sure to take time to enjoy his family. Do you see any of Steve's qualities in yourself?