Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman

You know how some people like to say that time flies by? Well, that was not the case for 2022. The year was long, and full of big life events for me and Lorena.

Everything from personal to professional changes, this year had it all.

Landing in California.

Lorena and I started the year trying to figure out where we wanted to permanently live. While we didn’t know exactly where, we did know that we wanted out of Texas.

Just prior to the start of 2022, we backed out of a deal for a home in Lake Tahoe. After the home inspection, we found that it had some foundational issues (and the owners never disclosed this in their listing, even though they knew about them).

They made life a little difficult for us, which was frustrating, but we knew that backing out was for the best. In the end, we were able to part ways without any major issues.

As we looked at new possible locations, we eventually narrowed it down to Salt Lake City and Southern California. Seeing as we met in San Diego, we were both drawn to SoCal. On a whim, we went there in early Spring, we saw a home that we really liked and ended up putting in an offer. It was official: California was going to be our home.

The rest of the year was spent bouncing between Texas, Mexico, and California, with our primary residence still being in Texas through the end of this year. This made us feel a little bit like nomads, but after the Thanksgiving holiday, we have finally landed in California for good. It becomes our official home in the new year.

I love California. There are just some things that cannot be replicated in any other state. For me, it’s the water. I love the ocean and the beach (hey, I’m a Pisces). The landscapes across the state are stunning, and the sunshine is good for your health.

My professional life changed significantly as well.

This was a transitional year when it came to work.

I started out the year very engaged with LearnDash as an advisor, continuing to help with the transition since the acquisition in September 2021.

A few months into the new year, and I decided that I needed to take a giant step back, accepting that it was no longer my ship to sail. I made myself available when called upon, which turned out to be a pretty rare occasion. The team in place has put the company on a great trajectory from what I can tell.

I realize now that taking a step back was the best thing for me. It freed up my mind to think about other things. I had dabbled in potential activities (like land investing and podcasting), but after some self-reflection and conversations with Lorena, I found myself drawn back into software.

Just prior to when my contractual duties ended at LearnDash, I launched GapScout, and since August, I have been chipping away at building an AI that helps other entrepreneurs to compete (and win) in their respective markets.

Progress is being made, though it hasn’t been without challenges. The beta launch is expected to be in late January, or early February 2023 – and I’m excited about it!

My biggest personal achievement: Spanish fluency!

At the beginning of the year, I set a goal for myself: become fluent in Spanish. I was approaching two years of study, and I could feel that I was so close.

Still, I was frustrated. By April, I was still struggling to get over the hump. I expressed this displeasure with Lorena, who suggested that we extend our stay in Mexico so that I could get some additional immersion. We were already going to Mexico City to become Godparents to our nephew, so an extended stay made sense.

I spoke Spanish whenever I could with the family and friends. When we went out, I always tried my best to have natural conversations. Some nights I would go to bed completely discouraged because I couldn’t understand someone, or with my inability to find the right words – but I always tried again the next day.

By the time we returned to Texas, I felt that I had made significant strides, but I still wouldn’t say I was fluent (but almost). I didn’t want to lose any of my hard work, so I began taking four lessons per week with my tutor, Andrés. I have been taking classes on Zoom with him since February 2020, and we have built a nice friendship. Our lessons can be formal, but also just involve us talking about life – which I find to be incredibly beneficial.

The result? Five to six months of this rigorous schedule, and my ability to both speak and understand Spanish improved significantly. I can now say that I have reached a CEFR B2 level, the first official level of fluency in a language! I really enjoy speaking with my family from Mexico, or just striking up spontaneous Spanish conversations with people that I meet. I can’t get enough of it now!

My next goal is to get to the C1 level, which I hope to achieve within two to three years. It’s a lot harder to get to this level as I’ll need to learn more vocabulary and advanced grammatical structures, as well as a better understanding of colloquial expressions. Still, I’m motivated and know that I can reach it with hard work!

Plans for 2023.

I think I will take the time to document our plans for 2023 in another post, but I can say that Lorena and I intend to travel more (both in the country, in Mexico, and Europe).

Aside from personal travels, I will be focusing exclusively on launching and growing GapScout, and Lorena has plans for a master’s degree. Seeing friends, and simply enjoying our time in California, will also be in our future.

But before any of that happens, we will be closing out 2022 by relaxing with family over the Christmas holiday. A perfect way to end another eventful year.

#personal


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It’s that time of year again: time to make the rounds to visit family for the holiday.

To prepare for the travel, we got our COVID booster and flu vaccination. It had been a year since our last booster, and I keep hearing how bad the flu is this year, so it just made sense to get them both. Symptoms were pretty mild this time, so can’t complain there.

First, Lorena and I went to Connecticut to see her sisters, and her parents also came from Mexico. We spent time celebrating some birthdays and having a “pre-Thanksgiving” meal.

After that trip, we went to Michigan to see my parents for my dad’s birthday and for the holiday. My brother and his family, who live in the Chicago area, came for Thanksgiving as well. It’s always nice to see them.

We also took a trip down to Ohio to see my grandpa, who isn’t doing so great, especially with his memory. He is in his late 80s, so in some ways it is expected now. I just don’t know how much longer he will be able to live independently. This could be the last year before he makes a transition to assisted living. That said, he was pretty good when we saw him.

We are back in California for Christmas, and Lorena’s family will be joining us. It’s our first year not having to travel for Christmas, which is a nice change.

#personal


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Allow me to paint a scenario…

You have passed the first six-months as a software startup. You have paying customers, and there is some buzz around your product. Your customers are pretty happy, and surprisingly understanding to the fact that your product still lacks some functionality compared to the competition.

Naturally, you want to repay them for their dedication and trust. You want them to know that you are listening to them, so you decide to publicly publish your product’s roadmap, so they can see what you are working towards.

They are happy, and you are energized. Everything is good!

The truth is, product roadmaps can be helpful in the first year of business, but then become a liability.

In the early years of a business, product roadmaps are a good way to get (and keep) people excited about your software, but at the end of the day, they do more harm than good – particularly in competitive markets.

When I was running LearnDash, I used to always look at my competitors roadmaps to see what they were working on. It gave me insight into what they (and their customers) thought was most important.

But here’s the thing. Occasionally, there were times when I would swipe their ideas and get it to market quicker. In the process, snapping up more market share and tempting their users to come over to my product.

Any worthwhile industry will be competitive, and public product roadmaps are the equivalent to showing your competition your cards before you even play, giving them an opportunity to play their hand accordingly.

Public roadmaps can frustrate customers.

I think most entrepreneurs think that having a roadmap available is a way to give customers confidence in the direction of the business. It shows movement and dedication. This is certainly true to a degree.

But what is often overlooked is that the roadmap can also be a source of frustration for customers. This is particularly true if it does not include features that they really want or believe are necessary. Worse, they may disagree with the entire direction and think that you’re out of touch with the market.

I know this to be true because I experienced it first-hand. I once had a roadmap where I shared the development priorities. For a while (during the first year of business) it was a value-add. However, I noticed that people would write into support increasingly frustrated with the roadmap.

From what I recall, the complaints fell into one of the following areas:

  • They wanted a certain feature that was not on it.
  • They thought it was taking too long for features in development.
  • They didn’t think it was being consistently updated.

I noticed that the more vocal critics would often cite the roadmap in their public complaints, which meant that I had to jump in and “defend the roadmap” at times in lengthy back & forth conversations. Both sides getting more and more frustrated.

This experience made me realize that the roadmap had a negative impact on the business and just gave any customer who was already annoyed fuel for their fire.

So, I scrapped it and immediately didn’t have to deal with any of that BS anymore.

Customers hardly noticed its absence.

Product roadmaps are a distraction.

Look, many folks love having a roadmap for customers. If it is working for them, then that’s great.

But they aren’t necessary. In fact, they are more often a distraction for both you and your customers. They also give your competition some incredible insights.

So, if you never had a roadmap and feel like you need to add one, then I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to bypass it and just focus on more important parts of your business.

#entrepreneurship


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Ever since I was around 18-years-old, I have been trying my hand at starting new businesses. I recall coming home after my first semester of college and working over the holiday on a website and info product. I loved every second of it, but I was beyond naive.

As you would expect, nothing came from that effort. I went on to fall for pyramid schemes, bought an endless number of info products on making money online, and started countless other projects that never went anywhere.

I look back fondly on this time because with each effort, I was learning something new that would help me later in my entrepreneurial career. I got practice building a website, honing my sales messages, networking, blogging, and building a brand.

During the summers of those university years, I worked as an intern at a large company creating e-learning, which actually was the beginning of a lucrative career path. I had a cubical and wore the “uniform” (dress shirt & pants with a key badge attached to my hip). I was there to learn the ways of corporate America.

Except, I was hardly doing work.

I would spend my eight, long hours searching the internet for business opportunities and brainstorming ideas. When my boss would walk by, I’d quickly pull up my email or some random Excel document. My dad used to ask me how my days were going, and I would tell him about all the businesses I wanted to start. It drove him crazy!

While I put in the bare minimum regarding the work, my internships did teach me something: I learned that I did not want a corporate career.

Eventually, I had my first taste of success.

None of my projects produced any money. Maybe $5 here or there, but nothing substantial.

That changed when I was in grad school.

I had already secured a job with Accenture, but I still had another semester to go. I was in bed one night. I think it was around the beginning of February. It was dark outside, with snow on the ground. I was about to fall asleep, and it hit me…

Free domain names!

Ha, it’s funny to think back on this now, but I was convinced this was a revolutionary idea at the time. I mean, who wants to pay $10 or more for a domain when you can get it for free, right?? 😆

The business model was pretty simple:

  1. Get someone to tell me the domain they want

  2. They sign up for CPA offer

  3. I got paid a commission from the company, and used it to buy their domain name

I found someone to build my website for $300-500, then used Dreamweaver (remember that?) to make edits as needed. On the homepage, I had a field where someone could enter the domain that they wanted. This field would check to see if that domain was available, and if so, a button would appear for them to register.

Sounds basic, but in 2008 this was super slick. It was very “Web 2.0”.

Even though I was pretty familiar with WordPress at that point, I started a blog on Blogger instead.

My blog posts were bad. I mean, terrible. They were mostly all about self-promotion. No images or anything engaging, just short 250-word blog posts.

But the real magic came with… wait for it… MySpace.

Yes, you read that right. MySpace.

There were chat rooms on MySpace for various interests, one of them being business and entrepreneurship. I would participate in those chat room (most of the time, it was people just sharing their MLM programs).

Through the noise, though, there were folks who were looking to set-up their own website. Of course, they needed a domain, so I would chat with them.

My efforts paid off. I made $40-$120 per day with this strategy, and it was only the first month or so!

As you can imagine, I was pretty freaking excited! I had a job waiting for me in consulting after grad school, but I was seriously thinking about going all-in with this new success. Success that I finally achieved after so many years of trial-and-error.

So, I kept doing my thing, making good money by just sharing with people my new business. All was good in the world. I had my taste of success and a ton of confidence.

But I came crashing down from my high when payouts were due.

Reality hit hard when the company that was giving me the commissions nullified about 85% of them, which meant that I actually was operating at a loss after buying the domains for the customers!

Ugh…

It felt like someone punched me in the stomach. I called the CPA network and tried to reason with them, but it was a lost cause. They said the leads I had produced were not “high quality”. So, the business was sinking before it even had a chance to begin. I was only a few months away now from starting my consulting career.

In the end, I configured the site to use another CPA program that would pay me per email lead ($1 per email). It made about $300/mo passively. After three months, I sold it for $3500 on Flippa. A small success, but not the one that I had hoped for.

Reluctantly, I started my consulting career. It paid well and had great benefits, it just wasn’t what I wanted. That said, I was doing e-learning consulting and I did enjoy that industry. Little did I know it would translate to me finally achieving my dream with LearnDash.

Entrepreneurs never fail, they just learn.

I’ll admit, the side hustles that didn’t work out felt like failures at the time, but now that I have more perspective I see that these were not failures but rather lessons learned along the way.

True entrepreneurs never stop. We keep trying. There is a burning desire that cannot be satisfied by a normal 9-5 job. I kept trying, taking the tactics and lessons learned from previous endeavors with me and applying them to new ones until it all came together: my interests, skills, and market timing.

Because that’s the thing… if you never stop, you’re bound to get the timing right eventually. There is not a single entrepreneur out there who found success on their very first attempt. I tried countless times until finally getting it right.

Now that I have had experience with LearnDash at all parts of the business process, I am taking those lessons with me as I start GapScout. Entrepreneurship is about continuous improvement. Learning from past mistakes, and then using those experiences to be better.

#entrepreneurship


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Unlike most folks who move from California to Texas, we are going the other way around. Earlier this year, Lorena and I purchased a new home in California. We are transitioning there this year and beginning in January, it will officially be our primary residence.

I will always have a special place in my heart for Austin, as it’s the place where we got married and officially started our life together. It was our home base as we travelled during the heart of the pandemic to visit family in Mexico, Michigan, Connecticut, and Colorado.

But ultimately, we both really value gorgeous weather, and SoCal has the best weather in the country. The culture is more in line with what we prefer as well. Plus, I mean… you can’t beat the ocean.

I am excited to settle in California and start this next phase of life together.

Seeya, Texas… it’s been real.

Real hot. 👎

#personal


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For as long as I can remember, I have loved to win. I despise losing, so much so that it has always motivated me to outperform my competitors. I suspect that this started as a young child, when my parents enrolled me into every sport imaginable.

I vividly remember one day before a tee ball game, I asked my dad, “who are we fighting today?”

I was five years old.

He corrected me, explaining that we aren’t fighting anyone, but simply playing a game. I was confused, there was no difference in my mind.

If there is one thing I love about entrepreneurship that isn’t mentioned frequently, it’s the thrill of competing (and winning). I suppose some might describe this mentality as “old school”, especially as it relates to business. I believe there are winners and losers, and not everyone gets a trophy because not every has earned one.

When I am in a competition that I care about, I go hard. If you get one over on me, then I acknowledge it and respect your victory – but you better believe that I’m coming back, and even harder.

For me, there is no better way to show respect than by giving an opponent your absolute best. You show respect by running up the score. In business, that means getting more market share, winning customers of competing products, and being the go-to solution in a segment.

Competing makes me happy. It keeps me engaged, excited, and thinking creatively. It is for this reason that I decided to start another software company.

#personal


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When I was in middle school, my principal used to say:

“The hardest part about any project is starting it.”

I had this in mind when starting GapScout, my second foray into the world of software, but first as a traditional SaaS. I learned a lot during my time building (and selling) LearnDash, and I can't wait to apply those learnings to this new venture.

One of those lessons learned was building an audience before and during the build process. For that project, I started content marketing 10 months before the product was built. I built an email list, got a good solid footing in Google, and was able to build buzz. This made the launch a success.

For GapScout, I am using this same formula (except we won't have to wait 10 months for launch this time)! 🙂

The content marketing strategy will be taking place at the same time as product development. I tapped my network and was introduced to a couple of content marketers who will be helping me in this area. As always, I like to start out with a few trial articles to see how things go. So far, so good for the both of them!

Smart content creation is just the first step.

I’d like to first build a solid footing in Google (seeing as this is a brand-new site), at which point I will begin the outreach process to start building relations with bloggers and websites in the same niche.

When you start a business, it's not always about the “big milestones”, it's nice to recognize the smaller achievements along the way.

Recently, the GapScout website celebrated one month. While developer conversations are happening in the background, the content marketing has started to make progress. There is no “hack” for content creation. It's a slow, long process. But it pays off!

In 30 days, the GapScout website has seen 2,083 unique visitors.

No secrets, just keyword research, writing quality articles, and sharing the content on the normal social channels.

I do intend to use paid ads as well, but not quite yet, as I'd prefer to do that when there is a product ready to use. So for now, the content marketing approach will continue, it definitely is paying off.

Want early access to GapScout? Get on the early adopter list!

#entrepreneurship


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How do you define life?

For me, life is just a series of transitions from one moment to another.

They define our character.

They teach us.

They get easier with experience.

Our reaction to those transitions often dictates if we are stressed or content.

We measure our lives with our transitions because they are what we look back on as our most defining moments.

Embrace your transitions.

Transitions are your life.

#happiness


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Well, that didn’t take long.

Closing in on one-year since the sale of LearnDash, and I am jumping back into the software industry. This time, with a micro-SaaS as opposed to WordPress.

I’ll discuss a little about the why, but first let’s talk about what.

Meet GapScout!

In a sentence, GapScout is the easiest way to identify the profitable gaps in a market. It does this by analyzing reviews of your product or service and highlighting common themes & opportunities.

Reviews are a goldmine for a business. Not only your own reviews, but the reviews of your competitors as well. They can reveal desired features, opportunity areas, and influence your sales messaging so that you are saying the right thing, to the right people, at the right time.

From experience, I can tell you that sifting through reviews and knowing what to look for can be confusing and time-consuming. Especially if you are a solopreneur or a small business. GapScout systemizes the process and does the heavy-lifting for you. All you need to do is decide which action to take with your newfound insights.

When I was running LearnDash, I was constantly keeping an eye on the pulse of the market. What people were saying about my product, and also my competition. As a result, I was able to:

  • Improve my current offers
  • Find new opportunities
  • Spy on competitors
  • Improve sales copy

This was my secret sauce. I know it works, and I am excited to be building a solution that lets others benefit from it as well.

Sounds cool, but why start a software company (again)?

When my role with LearnDash ended, I was able to catch my breath. I’ll admit, I was a little burnt out from doing software (especially, WordPress). As I searched for inspiration outside of tech, I was originally attracted to land investing. Truth is, it’s something I’ve been interested in doing for a long time.

I was just about to pull the trigger on my business (everything was set up), but I stopped. Something didn’t feel right. I don’t know how to explain it, but I knew that I needed to pump the brakes again for some more self-reflection.

I realized that what energizes me the most, what I love to do, is to compete. To think creatively, to give people tremendous value, and to try to “win” in the game of business. The absolute best place for me to express this desire has been in software. It’s fun for me, but only if I believe in the software that I am building & selling.

I feel this way with GapScout. I completely believe in the value it can provide solopreneurs and small businesses selling services or products. I can’t wait to help people make more sales!

Even though it’s only the beginning of this journey, the response I have been getting from folks has been overwhelmingly positive. They want this product, and I’m excited to bring it to fruition.

If GapScout sounds cool to you, and you’re interested in getting early access, you can sign-up here. An early, pre-beta phase is targeted for the October/November timeframe.

Also, I am building GapScout in public, so if you like occasional updates, then follow me on Twitter as I post insights into the process there frequently.

#entrepreneurship


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I am often very hard on myself when it comes to learning Spanish, so I want to take a moment and recognize a breakthrough that I had with the language.

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