2016 in Review
I hope you all celebrated the last few weeks in good spirits with your close family and friends. I guess it’s this time of year where we stop and realize that we have all worked so hard, sacrificing many hours dedicated to our businesses, that our time with our family and friends has taken a back seat for the year. When we stop and spend quality time with the people we love (or review everyone's Facebook posts) that we realize we should cherish these moments more than most.
But why do we do it? Why do we spend all year working in our businesses, waiting until Christmas to take time out to spend with our families? Why do we not take the time out to enjoy life and spend it with the ones we love all year round? How do you create this so-called "work/life" balance? Does it even exist? Well, I really believe that it is achievable for many people – do you?
I'm sure many of you are now planning your 2017 goals (Which I hope include improving your work/live balance). While you go about creating your goals for this year coming, I think it's important to first reflect on your year just gone. Did you achieve your goals? Did you set your goals too high? Was working your butt off all year really worth it? Reflecting on the past and thinking positively about what you've achieved can bring you a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. We, as entrepreneurs or business owners, often only focus on what hasn’t happened or what we haven't achieved, but is it really all that bad? You will be surprised once you do some reflection of your own what you've actually managed to get done and that will hopefully give you more drive to work on your 2017 goals.
Looking back at my last year, I started 2016 with a Goal setting workshop with Bryan Worn, my business coach, and mentor.
Actually committing the time and writing down all that could be achieved opening up my eyes to the world of possibilities. This was my first time doing something this, and I spent an entire day in a workshop with other like-minded entrepreneurs putting this goal workbook together. I soon realized that compared to many others in the room, I'd already fleshed out my goals for the year pretty well. This made me feel even more excited for the year.
Did we achieve all we wanted? No! Was it still worth it? Absolutely! 2016 was a year full of massive highs and some heavy lows. Would I change anything? Hell no! It's all an awesome learning curve and as I've been told before, making mistakes and learning from those mistakes in your own business is like going and paying $150k for an MBA.
So here were my goals for 2016;
- Release Unlimited IT Support (UIT), a productized IT Support service, disrupting the IT Industry (more on this later)
- By December 31st, 2016, UIT will be successful
- Get traction to 1000 users and $100,000 monthly recurring turnover (you need to aim high right!)
- Build CROFTi Innovation Consulting
- Productize this division to be its own section so it can support itself and I can focus on growing UIT
- 10 staff will be in the business (not sure why I had listed this down, I guess now this is not so much of a focus for me moving forward)
- Cruise with Amy (anywhere)
- Road trip with Amy in the US
- Drive from LA to Vancouver over 2 weeks
- Run a 60km trail run and run a marathon overseas
- Spend more time with my Family
- Travel to Sydney to see my sister and her family
2016 was quite a year for all of us here at CROFTi. Our 2nd year in Business; many changes, challenges, failures, and wins; innovations; a hell of a lot of learning and massive growth (for a startup). We went through it all. This is only our 2nd year in business after all. We started the beginning of the year with 3 service offerings under the CROFTi Banner. CROFTi Consulting, CROFTi Offshoring & CROFTi IT Support. Our team was made up of Amy (part-time, looking after our Accounts, AUS), Dean (full time, IT Manager, overseeing all projects and IT Support, AUS), Algie (IT Support, PHP), Myself, Director/Engineer/Sales/Account Management/Jack of all trades! Plus many contractors. So a total of 3.5 people plus help when we needed it. We were also managing our offshore division, 15 staff in the Philippines.
Shutdown of CROFTi Offshoring
First off the rank was the closing down of one of our divisions which was a service we had been offering for the previous 12 months, CROFTi Offshoring. This service provided management of staff in the Philippines to organizations in Australia. I had already been involved in Offshoring (hiring Filipinos & Indian’s for a previous business I was involved in) for 4 years and as I was already doing this for myself (hiring offshore staff for my own company) so the word got out there to my existing clients and so, of course, they also wanted me to hire some staff for them, hence starting CROFTi Offshoring. We grew this over the 12 months to hiring and managing 33 staff members for 15 clients across Australia. I loved working with all the guys overseas. The people and culture are so wonderful and thinking of closing down this division to our business were so hard as I knew I would have to say goodbye to everyone but I knew it had to be done. Why did we close this down? Yes, it generated $150k in revenue but the amount of "time" it consumed from both of us (Amy, my business and life partner, and myself) our hourly rate would have been $5. Is working for $5 an hour worth it? Well, we didn't think so and to be honest, we couldn’t sustain it. In hindsight, and well I have learned through this experience, I need to listen more closely to our staff as we should have a taken action to this "close down" a hell of a lot sooner. Amy had already previously bought to my attention on numerous occasions that it was not worth doing and we were losing money but because I was so passionate about the product we were offering (if you had met me in this period you would know how much I loved it) I did not want to hear it. In the end, it took a lot of tension between Amy and myself, to the point of us nearly breaking up, for me to open my eyes and realize. We weren't just losing a hell a lot of our time and money running CROFTi Offshoring but also the potential of new customer engagement, keeping our other non-Offshoring customers happy and all the sleepless nights where we could have used this time more wisely. It was not working and so, in the end, we pulled the pin. Was it tough to let go of "your baby" that you had built from the ground up and put a lot of sweat and tears into, of course! But was it worth it, Absolutely, BEST THING EVER!
In the end, it took a lot of tension between Amy and myself, to the point of us nearly breaking up, for me to open my eyes and realize. We weren't just losing a hell a lot of our time and money running CROFTi Offshoring but also the potential of new customer engagement, keeping our other non-Offshoring customers happy and all the sleepless nights where we could have used this time more wisely. It was not working and so, in the end, we pulled the pin. Was it tough to let go of "your baby" that you had built from the ground up and put a lot of sweat and tears into, of course! But was it worth it, Absolutely, BEST THING EVER! Thanks Amy, will always love you for making this call!
So why did we turn off this service? Why was CROFTi Offshoring sucking up all of our time? More here...
Launch of Unlimited IT Support
Secondly was the launch of our new service: Unlimited IT Support, a global initiative to disrupt the traditional IT Support Industry which is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, remote IT support service that can quickly assist you with your IT needs anytime of day wherever you are in the world. Our two main KPI's for this product are; 4 hour response time and quick (less than 30mins) replies to all jobs (we call them tickets) but our main point of difference is we manage all systems (hardware and software) under this service. Firstly this was aimed at our local Australian community (so we could test the market with this new service and get traction) before rolling it out to overseas. I had this service in the back of mind for a long time but because I was unable to put any attention towards it I could never focus on getting it off the ground. The market research I had completed was that no one in the western world had actually given this model a go, properly. I had found a few companies in the western world that added this type of model into their existing company as another product but it wasn’t exactly the same and also wasn’t what we were trying to achieve. On this basis, we knew we had to test the market before spending a lot of money on it. It just so happened to be, and at the same time CROFTi Offshoring was closing down, Dan Norris was running his 7 Day Startup campaign. This 7DS campaign is aimed at people like myself who have an idea and ponder on them for way too long without actually starting. So being able to switch off from the world and put your full focus on the Unlimited IT Support model over a 7 day period was a key turning point for us. More on 7 Day Startup here. This meant launching the product with no systems in place as we wanted to keep the cost down, with much disgrace from Amy (the systems girl!). We originally listed 3 fixed price points for this model. $79, $99 and $199. What we found out is the $199 plan ended being more of a competitor with Managed Services, (which is what we wanted to move away from) and the $79 plan was more of a break-even amount for us, so we didn’t push these two plans and focused on selling the $99ex per month plan. How it works, is depending on how many staff members you need us to support in your business, depends on the total price per month but being
This meant launching the product with no systems in place as we wanted to keep the cost down, with much disgrace from Amy (the systems girl!). We originally listed 3 fixed price points for this model. $79, $99 and $199. What we found out is the $199 plan ended being more of a competitor with Managed Services, (which is what we wanted to move away from) and the $79 plan was more of a break-even amount for us, so we didn’t push these two plans and focused on selling the $99ex per month plan. How it works, is depending on how many staff members you need us to support in your business, depends on the total price per month but being a month to month it's very flexible, so if staff members come and go, we adjust to suit. So for examples if you have 1 staff member it's just $99ex per month for Unlimited IT Support or if you have 10 staff members its $990ex per month. This made it so much easier for the customer to manage compared with existing Managed Service Models. As we charge per staff member and not per device it's a lot more cost effective for the company as the world has changed and most staff have more than 1 device these days. We also ended up offering the UIT service to not-for-profit organizations for the $79ex price point, which was us giving back to the community. As mentioned before, we, of course, set our goals high when we released UIT so we put down 1000 users being subscribed to our Unlimited IT Support service by EOFY 2016 (June 30th, 2017). Was this achievable, we thought so, but it doesn’t look like it will. Why? It hasn’t been as easy as we first thought and there has been a lot of learning in the last 12 months to get this product to where it is today. Firstly my time has gone a lot into CROFTi Consulting, read below, and we had to spend a lot of time on systemizing and automating Unlimited IT Support. Currently, we have just over 140 users subscribed and last year we completed 1400 hours of IT Support work from 1192 jobs with an average response time of 3 hours and 12minutes managing 50+ different applications. More on the Unlimited IT Support story here…
Changing direction of CROFTi Consulting
The third, and final thing we focused on @ CROFTi, was really productizing our suite of products for CROFTi Consulting. Firstly we changed the name of this service to what it actually stands for, CROFTi Innovation Consulting. This service offers a range of products underneath it where essentially we help to bring older generation organizations into the 21st century, the new tech era. The service we provide is unique as we don’t just focus on IT or Technology but we focus on the whole breath including process, automation, systems, people, structure & offshore. Yes, we, of course, have a tech focus but the end outcome is to get the business running smoothly with fewer overheads and more profit while bringing new ideas into the business. Our goal with our clients is to make them better than their competitor. Yes, this sounds fantastic and fun, but trust me it's not easy. Why? Staff! Staff says they love change but once you put change in front of them, they hate it! This all started back 5 years ago when I first introduced offshoring staff into my previous company and it still exists today. If doesn’t matter how much we prepare the clients and everyone says they are on board, this is the most difficult part of what we do. Educating our clients and their staff. The aim with CROFTi Innovation Consulting was to bring our Manager, Dean, up to speed so then he could take over this division and run it on his own so then I could focus back on UIT. This didn’t happen in 2016 as we grew this division very quickly and so it required both our hands and feet on the ground to keep up with demand, which is a good thing right! During the last 12 months we were able to work for some amazing companies from all industries and while working with clients we were able to put systems in place to productise the services we were offering. We were also able to grow our contractors to 12 from 3 different countries. More of CROFTi Innovation Consulting here …
Traveling while working
My personal goals didn’t go to plan either but once again you don’t realize what you have or haven't achieved until you look back. It started out in the beginning of the year when Amy and I went camping over the Australia Day long weekend, which also just happened to be when I completed the 7 Day Startup week and also just happens to be that we are camping in the exact same spot again 1 year later while I write this blog. I guess heading away from your normal surroundings gives you that time away you need to clear your mind and put the focus back to where it should be. The year gets so full-on and so many distractions come our way I guess we don’t realize how fast the year goes. The next trip Amy and I went on were a 7-day cruise which went from Brisbane to Vanuatu and back. If you haven't Cruised before then you must, must, MUST give this a try. OMG! This is one of the most amazing and powerful things you could ever do. Why you ask!? Well, I'll put it very simply, you have to switch off! You don’t get a choice. What I mean by switching off is literally that. Your mind and your connection to the outside world! There is no phone reception at all and the Wi-Fi is soooo terrible you wouldn’t even bother. Switching off for 7 days is like switching off for an entire month. It’s the most amazing feeling. Yes, of course, I thought I was going to hate it and so did everyone else. Me, Lucas, sitting on a boat for 7 days, no way will he last, they said! Well, I agreed with them all, I thought there was no chance. I thought I would go insane. Well, it was the complete opposite. Yes ok, it took 2 days to adjust to the situation and then I was forced to switch off from the world and relax. Soooo good! I re-connected with myself, I reconnected with Amy, I was able to let go of all the inner stress and re-focus on what actually needed to be done. My thinking became clear. It was such a good time. This is now something I will do every year. Oh, it's got me thinking about the next cruise already. Can't wait!
The second trip Amy and took last year was our Road Trip in the US. Wow, this was awesome. We drove from LA through to Seattle with many stops and detours in-between and then caught the train to Vancouver. We saw some amazing places and got to spend a lot of time together, literally! 10+ hours in the car driving, 2500 kms over 2 weeks. It was a lot to fit in but we did it and had an awesome time. This trip was really personal as Amy had wanted to go to the US for a very long time but because I had already been to the US a few times I wasn’t really pushing to head back to the same places again. I'm so glad we did this trip though as doing a road trip was extremely magical and I know I would not have been able to see the places we got to see unless you're on the road. The US is such a beautiful country. You never hear about the US being for its beauty, but gosh it is! We still worked every day (each morning and night when we stopped) and as it’s the opposite time difference it actually worked out great. At first, I thought it was going to be difficult but because I don’t sleep much (4-5 hours a night) I was able to be online at night time with my guys back in Australia/Philippines and it was like just being in the office. Next time though we won't try and cram as many cities in and there is so much distance to cover in such a short period of time, we realize you really need to spend at least 3 days in each city to really experience it. During our trip, we got to stay with Amy's Aunty who has lived in the US now for 20+ years and this was an amazing experience as we got to really experience the true American lifestyle. It just so happened to work out that we were there for the July 4th Celebrations. Such a good time! We missed out on visiting Google as I stuffed up the car rental, travel fun right!, but we got to visit Microsoft :) More on travel here …
My running non-goals for 2016!
Ok so since XMAS and New Years are over it was time to get back into training, fitness that is, so I started training for my running goals I mentioned earlier. I booked the first trail run which was up at Mount Glorious, if you don’t know what Mount Glorious is, well it’s a bloody high but glorious (no pun intended) mountain just northwest of Brisbane. This run I booked was one of the toughest trial runs and yet I book it for my first. Yes, my first ever trial run. So 2, weeks before the event I headed out there to test the waters and do part of the track, not releasing the group I was training with for this event were actually there to run the full track. We got half way in before we even realized. Oh well, we were there anyways so we kept going. This trail run is a tough 22km with 1200m of climb and 650m of descent, it's tough for experienced runners, let alone a beginner like myself. By the way just so you know, a 22km trail run over Mount Glorious is equivalent to a 36km road run on the gold coast. One of the magical parts of this is when you're descending down the mountain. Omg, what a feeling! You get such a high over the 10km downhill. You feel like you're flying, such a great feeling indeed. By this time I had joined the #5amclub with In training, a local running group, to ensure I stayed committed to my goals. I knew if I didn’t join a group I wouldn’t stay focused and I would lose commitment with myself and my goals. We literally meet every Tuesday morning at New Farm Park @ 5 am for an hour of speed training. Even if speed is not your thing, this training is amazing for improving all parts of your running and the best way I found to track how you going is to compete in ParkRun every Saturday morning (mine is NewFarm, but ParkRun is every major city in Australia and a hell of a lot overseas). My first race of the year was the day before we left on our cruise and I was on track to getting my goal, sub 1 hour 30mins for a half marathon but at the 6km mark I felt a twinge in my right hammy and as I knew I was leaving for the cruise the next day I knew I couldn’t get injured, so I slowed right down and jogged the rest of the way. I ended up finishing in 1 hour and 43 mins. We went on our cruise and I was able to recovery. Which training for my next race, The Brisbane Half Marathon, I was able to get sub 20mins each and every week at ParkRun and also keep training while we were on our road trip in the US, It was great to be able to get up in the mornings in a different town each day and go for a nice jog to explore, and throughout all this training I was getting stronger and stronger and felt great! 11kms into the Brisbane Half Marathon I was feeling great. All the training I had put in was paying off and I was on track to breaking sub 1 hour and 30mins and then just as started the 12th km my calves got a cramp! Ahhhh races gutted! If you’re a runner you know this feeling. You know the race is over. So I pushed through it, took some gels but I was unable to recover. I jogged the next 10kms trying to speed up but I was unable to. I ended up finishing in 1 hour and 33 mins. The next race, Sydney City 2 Surf, was literally the following weekend. Throughout the two weeks, both racers, my mind was pulling me either way. Do I race Brisbane or do I race Sydney? I caught up with Nathan, a good mate and running mentor, said listen to your body and if you're feeling great then race both. I also remember Amy saying, Lucas you know you will run both so stop talking about it, you know you won't be able to hold back. Well yes, she was right, always right :P The Sydney City 2 Surf race was not what I had remembered. Amy asked me before signing up how flat or hilly was the course as she wanted to do it. I remember it being pretty much flat the entire way except for the famous "Heartbreak Hill". Well, I was wrong. The entire course is uphill! So after the last two races, I was down a little with getting injured during the race but the City2Surf was only 14kms and I knew the last 3kms was downhill so really I just had to get through 11kms and I was there. Oh, by the way, I was aiming for a sub 1 hour! As I started in the Blue Category, 5th wave to start the race, I was dodging and weaving for the entire race. There were
My first race of the year was the day before we left on our cruise and I was on track to getting my goal, sub 1 hour 30mins for a half marathon but at the 6km mark I felt a twinge in my right hammy and as I knew I was leaving for the cruise the next day I knew I couldn’t get injured, so I slowed right down and jogged the rest of the way. I ended up finishing in 1 hour and 43 mins. We went on our cruise and I was able to recovery. Which training for my next race, The Brisbane Half Marathon, I was able to get sub 20mins each and every week at ParkRun and also keep training while we were on our road trip in the US, It was great to be able to get up in the mornings in a different town each day and go for a nice jog to explore, and throughout all this training I was getting stronger and stronger and felt great! 11kms into the Brisbane Half Marathon I was feeling great. All the training I had put in was paying off and I was on track to breaking sub 1 hour and 30mins and then just as started the 12th km my calves got a cramp! Ahhhh races gutted! If you’re a runner you know this feeling. You know the race is over. So I pushed through it, took some gels but I was unable to recover. I jogged the next 10kms trying to speed up but I was unable to. I ended up finishing in 1 hour and 33 mins. The next race, Sydney City 2 Surf, was literally the following weekend. Throughout the two weeks, both racers, my mind was pulling me either way. Do I race Brisbane or do I race Sydney? I caught up with Nathan, a good mate and running mentor, said listen to your body and if you're feeling great then race both. I also remember Amy saying, Lucas you know you will run both so stop talking about it, you know you won't be able to hold back. Well yes, she was right, always right :P The Sydney City 2 Surf race was not what I had remembered. Amy asked me before signing up how flat or hilly was the course as she wanted to do it. I remember it being pretty much flat the entire way except for the famous "Heartbreak Hill". Well, I was wrong. The entire course is uphill! So after the last two racers, I was down a little with getting injured during the race but the City2Surf was only 14kms and I knew the last 3kms was downhill so really I just had to get through 11kms and I was there. Oh, by the way, I was aiming for a sub 1 hour! As I started in the Blue Category, 5th wave to start the race, I was dodging and weaving for the entire race. There were sooo many people! Wow! But even with not being able to run in a straight line I got to HeartBreak Hill (7km into it) and I was killing it. I was way on track to smashing the 1-hour mark. Ok so just 2kms up this bloody hill and I'm there! Well, it was all downhill from here. I got to the top of HeartBreak Hill and I had lost all feeling on my Left Foot. I had no idea what this meant, first time I ever experienced it, it was very weird. I tried to push through, as I knew I was on track to do a good time but it just wasn’t right. I backed off the pace, stopped a few times, but wasn’t able to recover so I just jogged to the end. I ended up doing 1 hour and 2 mins. Twilight, Brisbane and City2Surf, I will have you yet! #2017!
Pictures from Running Racers and US Road Trip Jogs, in order, Mount Glorious 22km, Twilight Half Marathon, Jogs in Fiji and US, Brisbane Half Marathon & Sydney City2Surf
More on running here …
Family & Friends
I managed to get down to Goulburn (near Sydney) to see my sister and her family twice last year. The first time was in the beginning of the year for my sister's bday and the second time was at the end of the year for XMAS. I was able to take Dad with me both times to Sydney which was great for killing two birds with one stone as fitting in time to see my Mum & Dad during the year, even though they only live 40 mins away, was really difficult. Business takes over! Hence needing to set family time goals. I also got to my sister and my nephew at the City2Surf fun run. I try and fit time in to speak with all my family each week but it never happens as planned but I do speak with my sister every week and when we get into the flow we speak every day. My sister has grown from someone very distant in my life to one of my best friends. We talk about everything together and I'm so glad we have this relationship. I was able to spend a little bit more of time with my friends but nowhere near as much as I wanted but I was able to head to Sydney and watch the NFL with one of my best mates, Howie. This was a great boys weekend away and now I know I definitely need more of these in the future.
More on my family here…
Life Partner as a Business Partner
I have been told by many people over the last few years that working with your life partner is something you should never do. Yes, its been extremely tough but to be honest I wouldn’t change it for anything. While writing this I was able to reflect on last year and realized I have been able to do so much more with my the person I love throughout the year and it's hard to imagine to not have the situation in my life.
Amy quit her full-time study to come and work in CROFTi. My business coach said at the time it wasn’t the best idea (well he actually said, I have never heard of any couple telling me that the best thing they have done in their life goes into business with their life partner) but if we were to make it work then we should both see him (together and also separate) to ensure we put rules in place so we can make it work. We did this and it definitely helped. Did it solve all of our problems, no way, but it helped us learn about ourselves and more importantly each other. Don’t get me wrong I couldn’t tell you how many times we both went to walk out the door but we hung on and stuck to the plan (and rules). If you're thinking of going into business with your life partner then please ensure you look into getting outside advice and more importantly implement whatever is suggested to you. Amy is so strong minded and I will be 100% honest, the business would not be where it is today or in the situation, it is without her. Yes its super hard having Amy tell me "no" when I have my mind set on stuff but oh thank god she does cause I know this made 2016 amazing. More on this here...
Amy and I tried to take time out, where we could, switch off from the world and forget about work and business but it wasn’t as easy as that for her. It was hard for her to switch off. For me it's easy. If you tell me hey we are going "here" today and we are not going to discuss work then hey I'm all on board and I'll do it. For Amy, she is always thinking of what needs to be done next. One thing I did notice last year was when we did fun and adventitious stuff it helped her switch off. When Amy took me an on surprise Hot Air Balloon ride for my Bday, I could notice her really switch off, and even though this was a fantastic present for myself, I think it was great to see how much it meant to her as well. The goal for next year is to do more fun stuff like this. Get the brain more excited in a different area. Hope this will help us both switch off and actually spend more time together, mentally.
Amy is the love of my life, my business partner, and my best friend, wouldn't trade her for the world!
2016 also saw us introduce CROFTi and UIT into the world of Social Media. Jerlie, our social media marker, has been posted at least 1 article a day on each channel throughout the entire year and I was able to also appear in my first podcast. Even though it hasn’t generated any business when I meet up with people for the first time they have heard of our brand, so it's on the right track to turn this into traction in 2017.
So that brings us to the end of 2016. Writing this has been a massive eye opener to myself as I said, in the beginning, I didn’t get to do much in 2016 but I was wrong. What an awesome year this year was. I would like to dedicate 2016 to everyone who has come into my life. I wouldn’t have achieved all of this plus the success we have had if it weren’t for our friends, family, hardworking employees and to you our dear clients who continue to support and trust us in delivering the best service we can.
We started off with only 3.5 staff, a broken business model and a half-arsed idea through to now being 9 team members, 12 contractors, operating in many countries, 2 strong business models and a plan forward into 2017. I have to give my team credit for sticking by me through all the "startup changes" and for also treating this company like their own. They will do what it takes to help the client and get the job done and not just treat it like a "regular" job. We are family and we do what it takes to help each other out. I love my team! Even through all the sleepiness nights, we have still managed to have some fun and fun is what it's all about. What's all this work stuff if you can't enjoy it right?