The interview has made its way up a little late then I expected, but at least it’s still January!
Before we get to the meat and potatoes of the interview, I want to remind everyone that Jesse was nice enough to offer Grey Theory Mill readers a 30% discount through the end of January! That means you have 4 more days to pull the trigger!!
All you need to do is enter greytheory once you check out
Without further ado, meet Jesse of NeuYear.net!!
Who are you/can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Okay, yeah my name is Jesse Phillips, CEO and Founder of Neu Year. CEO is kind of a weird word, I’m the whatever, the founder of Neu Year. I’m 31, I live in Atlanta, Georgia, I’m from San Diego, I like design and I work for myself.
What are some of your favorite things to do?
I just moved into a new place, and lately I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on Netflix. Normally I don’t consider myself a TV person, but I’ve been doing that a lot. I love to play board games, I’ve been riding bikes a little bit more, I like scavenger hunts, and I like to make food with friends.
Nice, what’s your favorite food to make?
Uhm, I don’t know… actually broccoli, I like making broccoli because Alton Brown has this special method of making broccoli where you steam the florets by boiling the stalks and then you put the florets on top of the stalks and then the stalks hold up the florets out of the water, so anyways, yeah broccoli!
ME: Broccoli, woo hoo, I wasn’t expecting you to say that.
J: I like over medium fried eggs too
ME: Over medium…fried eggs?
J: yeah where the yolk is runny, but it’s not runny on either side, I like to do that it’s fun. Easy-tasty, yeah
What was the inspiration to make a calendar?
Well, I wanted something to plan my life. In 2009, I was a 27 year old intern somewhere, well actually at Catalyst, a leadership conference company & I was like, “what I am doing with my life?” I moved from CA to Atlanta, really not to Atlanta, but the suburbs of Atlanta and I was like, “what am I doing?” So, I was like, “I need to make some goals”. So I needed a big calendar to write goals on, and write what I did. I actually wanted a wall journal… so I made this giant 8ft by 3ft calendar that I put in my little cube and it wrapped around the wall, and I just started trying to make goals and started writing things down. And then people started noticing, obviously they noticed this giant calendar in my room, and people started asking for calendars of their own. Smaller versions… and then years later my managers were like, “oh make some for our little meeting,” so I just started making more calendars. When I left the company I was doing a little bit of web design on the side and I wanted to do web-startups, but I also had this calendar idea. So I had a web-start up idea initially, and that didn’t go anywhere, but the calendar was really easy to test and so, it wasn’t like I’m passionate about calendars, but I do wanna work for myself and create products. I have so many ideas, I wanted this to be my first attempt at something that was do-able. So it’s not so sexy, it’s not like, “oh I’m passionate about calendars”….but, I needed something to plan my own life and so I thought some other people might want something like that. OH, and I couldn’t find one, that was a big thing! I couldn’t find a calendar with big squares. Now unfortunately, my current product does not have big squares. There are some limitations with printing and I’ve pivoted, it wasn’t what I originally envisioned. I may still try to do something, I want to do something bigger.
ME: I like how it is now, but I could see the benefit of bigger squares, especially for entrepreneurs
J: I’ve seen the calendars where they have big squares, but it’s just the month. So I saw where people took those all off and put them on the wall, like a giant calendar, one big giant calendar. So that also made me think, “oh there’s a need for this, for something bigger. Again mine’s not that big, but anyway
Is this your first entrepreneurial endeavor?
Pretty much, yeah, I’ve had lots of different ideas over the years, never did anything about it, and finally, well, the leadership conference I was apart of, it was a very inspiring environment, we were always reading these books about GO and DO THIS, and Don’t Be Afraid of Failure & all these kind of leadershipy-motivational things, finally, thank goodness, I was able to jump out and do something. I also tried to do a web startup called “lunch meet”, where you would meet other people for lunch, not a dating thing, everyone thought it was a dating thing, it was more like a networking thing, so, lunch meet… kind of a fun name,
ME: that’s an amazing name. J:yeah it didn’t really go anywhere
ME: that’s unfortunate, J: yeah we didn’t even launch, we just worked on it for like 5 months, very slowly, so I don’t count that as an entrepreneurial endeavor, but it’s kinda funny
What did you do before starting Neu Year (dot) net?
I worked for the leadership company for about 4 years, and I was an intern there initially doing phone calls and then I was upgraded to doing the blog, twitter, Facebook, and I started managing the content on the entire website, so really running across a lot of content, looking for good motivational-leadershipy kind of content which was huge in motivating me to start my own thing
What have been you’re greatest hurdle(s) to overcome in order to be doing what you love?
That’s a good question. So I wrote down a few ideas here: I think my lack of confidence, I always had a bunch of ideas, but I never thought I could really do anything. I think fear of failure, well it’s kind of a similar thing, worrying but I don’t even know if it’s very specific… just thinking failure was horrible and crazy, and I learned through my previous job–with the motivational thing–that you learn from failure and some bosses of organization’s say, “if you’re not failing enough you’re not really trying.” So fear of failure, procrastination, perfectionism-wanting something to be perfect and so never really acting, never launching or shipping as Seth Godin talks about. Seth Godin says “just ship, set a date and do your work, don’t spend years trying to perfect it and pushing back the ship date, just ship it when it comes time.” that was a big inspiration for me.
How did you and James Martin Connect?
We met, I don’t think I had left my job yet, maybe I had, anyway we met at an event called Startup Weekend. There’s a healthy little small community of startup people in Atlanta, another motivation for me was going to and being apart of these events and connecting with the people in this group. Anyway so this event is based on the goal to launch a company by the end of the weekend. So like a 100 people will attend, you brainstorm ideas, then you vote on the ideas, and then you join a team around one of the top ideas and then you try to code and design and create something… more web stuff, by the end of the weekend. And James was on this team called Trip Lingo which is actually a successful startup that’s gone through a couple rounds of funding and it’s just a simple iPhone app that helps you know important phrases in whatever country you’re going to when you’re traveling. Anyway, he did a great job on the design, I loved it, and so, when I decided to try the calendar thing, I talked to a few different designers, people that I still know and am friends with, and also contacted James, and he was the only one willing to do, or get a share of profit instead of money upfront. People mostly want to be paid, but because he was apart of the start-up world already, and already interested in that, I guess, he was willing to just take a percentage of profits, so that’s how we decided to work together
ME: Cool, he did a beautiful job. Did you have any say in how it looked?
Yeah that’s a good question. I came to the project with 3 years of kinda thinking about it off and on, having some strong opinions of my own, so I was really looking for just a designer to kind of do what I wanted, but make it look nicer, and of course, he wasn’t so keen to do just have it be done however I wanted it to be done, but I definitely spoke into the design, and we haggled over a few things, so yeah, we both put ourselves into the design and actually, this most recent design, I designed myself, just adding some things that we disagreed on in the last version.
What was the process for development and designing your product? Was there a specific way you guys went about that, or that James went about?
He might of but I don’t think so, I had been, well it had developed slowly because I had made it in 2009 and we launched in 2011, so almost 3 years I had been thinking about it and changing it myself so, I guess I would say it was a slow, long process of development that went through several iterations, prototypes, different ideas, and brainstorming through multiple sessions over 2.5 years, but not like you would think, not like Microsoft working on a project intensely for 2.5 years, it was every now and then. I would look at the thing again and someone would ask about it. So going through iterations, testing things with actual users, seeing what they liked, what the didn’t like and then when it got to me and James I had very specific ideas of what I wanted, and we brainstormed a little bit. It would have been helpful for us to have more user feedback, but we were kind of in the mode of we need to be “less perfectionist, more shipping, launching, deadline-hitting it”. We missed our deadline by a few months, but I wish we had spent more time and done, split the weekend, the 1st version didn’t have the weekend, it had the weekend in one box. I did that intentionally so I could have larger squares, but turns out, that was just something that I wanted and not necessarily what consumers wanted, so, it probably hurt us in lots of ways. First, people seeing that and not buying it, people getting it and being disappointed, and then not being interested in buying again. So we should have spent more time with the actual users, but there’s different schools of thought on that, I sound like I know what I’m talking about, but I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but there is a school of thought thats like, get the minimal viable product out there, and get it out the door, because I think that is the hardest challenge, rather then creating something. I guess what I am trying to say is you get the most benefit from launching the product vs. making it a perfect product.
What are your goals for your company?
Ooo, this is a hard one. Last time someone asked me this it was a business setting… I said to make 200,000 in revenue, which I know is a horrible, lame, corporate, evil, not evil but, I think what I’ve wanted to do more and what I’ve thought about more is, I want to help people plan their year and make goals. I’ve been asking people how their 2012 went and more specifically, what are your goals for 2013 and no one I’ve asked has had goals for 2013 yet. I’m still struggling to get my goals down for 2013, but I am convicted that if you don’t have goals that it makes it hard to accomplish your dreams. You don’t achieve your dreams without making goals and achieving them, I don’t think, I mean you might, but I really think it takes intentionality, at least for me, and I’m sure a lot of people. We’re not very intentional about planning to get where we want to go, thinking about where we want to go. For me I’ve just kind of floated around a lot and so I would love to try and help a 100,000 people plan goals and achieve them. ME: thats awesome. J–but yeah, thats my goal.
How has the journey of being an entrepreneur been so far?
It has been so awesome. So fun. So worth it, for me. I’ve always been an idea person and there are obviously different kinds of people in the world. Some people it’s easier for them to be told what to do and some people, they wanna do there own thing and optimize. For me sitting in jobs, I’ve felt like it was inefficient, why are we doing this, why am I just sitting, people would be walking around talking to there friends… which is good and healthy, I’ve learned, but at the time I was like “oh there not working” and I would be convicted if i wasn’t working all the time. Which is not really healthy, looking back, but I was always motivated and driven to be efficient and make things efficient. I like efficiency, saving time, solving problems, and doing things easier and better and just being in environments where that’s not valued or it’s hard to get your voice heard on those kinds of things it was just like “oh,” I think this kind of personality it’s easier for you to go out on try something yourself, but if you’re cool with the status quo, and painting your nails and calling your friends at work, I don’t think you’re going to be motivated enough. Anyways, its been really fun, its been hard but, its funny that I say that about being self motivated because I’m not super self motivated… so it is hard for me to decide, “okay this is what I am going to have to do today”, and you know and know one is telling me what I have to get done…it’s easier for me to meet other peoples deadlines, but I now have to make up my own deadlines and decide and prioritize things and avoid wasting time on something that I like doing, but is just not important. So that’s very challenging as an entrepreneur, but it’s also fun to get to decide what to do and take the day off and go to the zoo or something, go work in coffee shops, that kind of stuff is fun, it’s awesome, and getting to decide the direction of something, to send a silly email, or add this personal touch to make it a better customer experience like black tubes. I really wanted to ship in black tubes and its been a journey figuring out how to send in black tubes bc theres different challenges.
Any words of wisdom for those wanting to drop their desk jobs and pursue their passions?
Definitely, yes, I have a lot of words, take whatever you need to take. I would say 1, do it! or pursue it! Start pursuing it. I don’t recommend quitting your job and just jumping out there with no money and no research. I don’t think that that’s smart to do, but I’d did quit my job. Only because I had found another job, part time doing web programing and so I had this skill of basic computer stuff that pays really well, pays enough that I can work part time, but make plenty to live on, so I was very lucky and unique in that way. If you can work part time, I really think you should try to work while your developing your idea. I think some important things to consider that a lot of idea people, and people who tell me there ideas need to think about it whether or not their product is viable. So, I would say make a prototype, or in some cases a spreadsheet, estimate yours costs and try to estimate how many people you think will buy it and be as realistic as you can. I tend to be realistic and kind of negative. I think you should always cheat your projections to a negative-worst-case-scenario kind of a thing. I think a lot of people make the mistake of creating the best case scenario and jumping into it and finding failure because they say it’s always going to cost twice as much and take twice as long as you think. So try and put that in ahead of time. But yeah making that spreadsheet, trying to figure out if this economically viable, if you realistically think you can get 100 people to buy your thing and make a prototype, and then start asking people, “hey would you buy this, if so how much would you buy it for, will you try it out for me?” Make 10 prototypes and have your friends use them. Find out what’s working, what’s not working, is there actually a sharp edge that hurts their thumb every time they push it. Things like that. Kick starter is great for gauging need, but it can be hard to raise money.