A Baby, A Time Crisis, and $1 Million

A Time Crisis

How’s that for a catchy title? As you can see, my fresh new personal blog hasn’t been all that active lately. As soon as Mateo came home, all my spare time went out the door along with all of my work time as well. The truth is, fatherhood is the responsibility I didn’t know I needed. Over the last year or so, I’ve been going through a bit of a mid-career crisis. This wonderful beast called The Wood Whisperer consumes all of my available time like a greedy sponge. Anyone who has run their own business probably understands this very well. If you are motivated and there are no formal restrictions on your time investment, you essentially wind up using all of it. As a result, I fell into a “time crisis” where I felt like I was constantly spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. Reading books like The 4-Hour Work Week and other time management/lifestyle resources did help. They taught me that I need to spend more time on the things that generate revenue and stop worrying so much about what my friends are doing on Twitter. It also taught me that the pile of email in my inbox CAN wait. Who knew?? I don’t know about you, but having email in my inbox drives me nuts. It’s like being in a boat with a unrelenting leak. Every time I scoop some water out, a bunch more gushes back in. So one of my biggest lessons of the past year was learning to tackle email once or twice a day, instead of all day long. I also learned that there is a huge difference between simply checking your email and actually answering your email. One of the worst things I can do is check my email just to peruse it. Once an email has been checked, it takes up space in my brain. If I don’t answer that email, that space remains occupied. So twenty read/unanswered emails in my inbox equates to 20 things to do in my brain. What a waste of brain real-estate. So if I don’t have the time to answer, I don’t bother checking. And I only check/answer one email at a time. If I haven’t read it, my brain doesn’t know about it. This is easier said than done, but I do my best and things are improving.

A Baby

So this is where the Baby comes in. Mateo is, without a doubt, the most demanding thing in my life. Everything else abruptly dropped down a notch on October 28th, 2011. Whether I like it or not, I simply don’t have time for all the extra-curricular work-related activities. I can’t afford to edit video and let myself be distracted by an open internet browser on my second screen. Now is a time for uni-tasking, not multi-tasking. I need to focus on the core functionalities of my business and make sure they continue to thrive, while letting go of the things that just contribute to the white noise. But for all the sleepless nights and scheduling frustrations, everything with work just seems easier when work is no longer the most important thing in my day.

$1 Million

Far from it. While I get some mental relief from this revelation about my priorities, there are still some significant challenges in The Wood Whisperer camp. If you don’t know what I do, I run a free website at TheWoodWhisperer.com and a paid membership site at WoodWhispererGuild.com. A big part of my struggle is trying to balance the two sites. But I really shouldn’t paint the picture that the flowers are blooming and the sky is blue.On one end, I have the people who actually paid me money to provide them with video instruction, and on the other I have sponsors and advertisers who are paying for eyeballs. I never expected both sites to thrive concurrently so I have been burning the candle at both ends for a few years now. There is so much more I can do on both the free and paid side of things, but I just can’t afford the time investment as one would come at the expense of the other. Walking this tight rope was fine when it was just Nicole and I and working till 11pm on a Friday night was considered “normal” behavior. But now, it just seems ridiculous. So when a company recently offered to buy us out, my ears perked up.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not looking to sell my business. But I had a strong curiosity about what they thought my site was worth and what life might be like without The Wood Whisperer. While the idea of separating Marc Spagnuolo from The Wood Whisperer seems crazy, my entrepreneurial spirit just couldn’t ignore the possibilities. I mean, imagine selling off everything I have created so far and considering that the “practice run” for the next big thing; taking the big payout and investing that into my next venture. The question is, how much money would make it worthwhile/possible/feasible/smart? After all, with a little one in the house, this isn’t exactly the best time to take a gamble with my livelihood. So let me cut to the chase and say the offer ended up around $1 Million. That may sound like a lot but after taxes, the actual payout would be substantially lower. It didn’t take long for me to decide this wasn’t the right move for us, for many reasons. But I went through a bit of a mental exercise that not only solidified my decision not to sell, but also made it painfully clear what I need to do with my business moving forward. Since I had to consider what I would do AFTER The Wood Whisperer, I had to ask myself, “What would be my ideal business model?”. I’m sure there would have been some sort of non-compete clause in the contract, so what would I do to get myself back into the market?

The answer was very clear to me: I would start a new online woodworking school. A paid membership site where people could learn woodworking. I would use a good part of the acquisition money to jump start the business with a new website and a strong marketing campaign. The marketing campaign would obviously be essential since I no longer would have the power of TheWoodWhisperer.com to disseminate information. This is when the realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I already have an online woodworking school! Furthermore, I have a built-in advertising machine at TheWoodWhisperer.com! The Guild does very well with absolutely NO paid advertising. So if I sold my company, I would be selling the machine and the tools that I would need later to create my ideal business, and that is not very smart. This realization may be somewhat obvious but it was ground-breaking to me at the moment because it made me realize how powerful my free site was, even without the addition of new content. And if I am being honest with myself, THAT is the source of my stress. The free site is a hungry voracious monster that will simply gobble up all the content I can throw at it. Over the years, I have pumped about 200 videos, 272 articles, 301 Viewer Projects, 76 Shop Tours, and 102 audio podcasts (with the help of my co-hosts) into it. Yet despite this fairly large library, I always feel indebted to the free site. I made the mistake of thinking my site needs to compete with magazine websites by trying to be everything to everyone. But I am only one person. And the truth is, if I abandoned my site today, it would be a long time before I saw a decline in traffic and/or ad revenue. Sure it would start to drop off at some point, but the library of content could potentially serve as a resource for decades. So perhaps, it is time to stop burning the candle at both ends and start burning twice as bright from one. For those of you who are fans of TheWoodWhisperer.com, fret not. Let me clarify.

The thing that got me where I am today is making good quality woodworking videos with a sense of humor. I want to stay true to that. So I will no longer simply PUSH out a video out of a sense of obligation. Instead, I will put out videos when I am inspired to do so. I will simply have to ignore all the comments from “the entitled” that criticize me for not putting out enough free content and focusing too much on the Guild. The days of cranking out 40 videos a year are over. Instead, I will try to make a smaller number of videos that reach the highest bar of my personal quality scale.

I took a very circuitous route to arrive at the realization that the Guild comes first. After all, these are folks who are paying me directly for a service. Putting anything before that would be disrespectful, not to mention irresponsible. The free site will continue to showcase community work and will serve as my personal woodworking blog as it always has. Free videos will roll out as often as I can get to them……and no sooner. 🙂 I have to say, it feels liberating just to type those words!

As it turns out, having a baby and turning down $1 Million were the best things to happen to my business and my state of mind!

33 thoughts on “A Baby, A Time Crisis, and $1 Million

  1. Thanks for sharing Marc! I can relate to your thought process as we all try to find our way through life. I’m searching for that “Jerry Maguire” moment as well… I’m glad you decided to stick with the guild as i recently joined and spend most of my free time perusing the videos, articles, and everything else on the site. Thanks for everything you do… I know you inspire a lot of people to follow their passions in life…

    “Fewer clients, less money, more attention, caring for ourselves…”

  2. Let me just say, get out of my head! If I am feeling this way then I can only imagine how it must feel with your business size and a child. Kudos to you Marc for coming to this epiphany and good luck with it.

    • Yeah I’d imagine we are going through a lot of same challenges Shannon. Just have yourself a kid and you’ll be right where I am. 🙂

  3. Brilliant! Yes, I mean that and not in any sarcastic sense. You are a bright guy, are obviously a great father and husband, and now, I can say without hesitation, in possession of some damn fine business acumen. Marc, I am so very glad to have stumbled onto your podcasts years ago. Watching your journey has been (and happily will continue to be) an absolute treat. Thank you.

    John
    – now to go a rewatch the first two episodes again…I need a bit of inspiration today.

  4. The first thing that hit me when I came across WoodWhisperer – SO MUCH CONTENT, how am I ever going to catch up? Now it seems, it is going to get easier 🙂

    Ps. the time restriction is gonna get more manageable with time, or so I’ve heard.

  5. Hi Marc,

    Thanks for not selling :). I recently discovered your website (about 4 months ago). It’s just fun to see your video’s. You’re a great speaker, a great teacher and you pay attention to things as image- & sound quality which may seem less important to a lot of people, but makes the WoodWhisperer so great.

    I didn’t subscribe to the Wood Whisperer Guild yet because I don’t have enough free time available for woodworking a the moment. Compare it to your “email reading strategy” 🙂

    If I understand correctly, you do 2 projects a year with a lot of video material. I don’t know the exact content so I’m running on assumptions here, but wouldn’t it be an idea to release some of this content at The Wood Whisperer? Besides little work in video editing, there is no effort needed for this? Or is this stuff too specific for the guild project you’re currently working on?

    Are you doing the video editing yourself? Or do you have a sponsor for that?

    One of the best decisions I made after I founded my company was to automate as much as I could (mostly administration) and pay someone for the things I don’t enjoy or that aren’t core business. And learn to say ‘no’ off-course…

    Stijn

    • Hey Stijn. You actually bring up a good point. In the past I have avoided what I call “teaser content”. So when I do pull something from a Guild video onto the free site, its usually a complete thought or technique without leaving them hanging. Of course I make mention that this is an excerpt from a larger video series. So we will most likely be doing more of that. Again, just being very careful not to shove the whole membership thing in their face.

      And yes I do all the video editing myself. So it would be incredibly easy to pull small portions out for the free site.

      I’m still getting used to paying others to do the jobs I don’t want to or can’t do myself….but I’m getting better. Have an appointment next week with a bookkeeper. That’s a big step for me. 🙂

  6. It’s the old adage…quality over quantity. Having been a part of a few family businesses I can relate to where you’re coming from and don’t blame you for taking a serious look at a buy out. Both websites are phenomenal and offer a huge value to your users. I don’t think any of us would fault you for taking a night or two off to spend time with family…after all isn’t this why we all strive to operate our own businesses? More personal time? It may not always work out this way, but as you said it comes down to how we manage our time and have to be ok with making a sacrifice in letting that job/bid go, not answering an email, taking a phone call etc. It’s all about balance and by the sounds of it, I think you’re well on your way to finding it.

  7. Marc, to say it simply… It is the thoughts and self discovery you communicated above that has made TWW what it is. It is clearly the reason I joined the Guild and support it wherever I can, through the Amazon purchase link, through direct TWW purchases, etc.

    Thank you for your passion and commitment to quality. I want the TWW to succeed as it has improved my work greatly with this craft that I enjoy so much. Cheers for continued success.

  8. Well, I can honestly say this:

    Thanks to you, I am a better woodworker, and a better programmer! 🙂

    You could sell your business, but you’ll always be The Wood Whisperer.

    Thanks 🙂

  9. One MILLION dollars! You must have been going nuts hearing that.. but, that gives you an idea of what you are worth to us in the woodworking community.

    You are the Man.. and, to think, I knew you back before all this happened! I’m the lucky dude….

  10. Marc, I am from Chile (south america) and here there is really no way to learn and get up to date information on 21 century woodworking. I have no doubt here in chile are many talented people, but it is mostly a family learned skill. I have been doing woodworkiong for almost 4 years, and as it was for me on many many topics, internet is a wonderful tool for learning. I have to say that you have been a great great inspirtion, not just for the wood part, but for the entrepreneur part as well. I am starting a tech business (computer, a/v, gadgets, etc.) and hope to start a custom woodworking one on the future.

    Well, my best regards and wishes for you and your nice family!! if anytime you come to Chile, let me know to at least buy you a beer!!

  11. Tell the truth… you walked away from the money because after you put on the white suit, shaved your head and got one of the animals balanced in an arm you actually just felt stupid moving your pinkie to your dimple.

  12. I’m happy to see this for a couple of reasons. 1: as a young father whose job is not full time woodworking it is great to see that even people who make their living doing this struggle with time management in the shop let alone getting shop time. Also, it is great to see someone struggle in the path that someday I would like to take so that I can learn from it. That is what being a mentor is all about. Lastly I enjoy your free site and don’t have near enough time to get through all the info you have already posted in one lifetime! Maybe someday my woodworking will pay for me to join your guild but until then your twitter feeds and free site are great for me. Thank you and thank you or sharing your struggle.

  13. Marc, you also have to remember that you have created an enviroment of users who generated great content. Look at the live turning demo Roger T did on the site the number of youtube hits it has. Look at when you need a lumber rack you were able to pull it from your own site. The volume of information is constantly growing. I would say next evolution of TWW would be show casing what people in the forum have been putting into the forum with short critique of other methods. I am someone who is in the TWW chat 50 hours a week and forum troll. You and your person touch separate the site from competitor but the foundation you have set will allow it to stand on its own.

  14. It’s about time you came to that conclusion, my friend. If you’re still a little conflicted, look at it from this angle. If memory serves me, you started TWW back in September/October of 2006. Based on your figures, you have provided a total of 951 articles, videos, and podcasts. That would mean that you have pumped out 3 to 4 offerings of woodworking content per week over the last 5 years and 5 months. Not to mention answering all those emails on a regular basis. It makes me tired just thinking about it.
    I’m behind you, my friend. You’ve got nothing to prove or answer for, as far as I’m concerned.

  15. Pingback: Time, The Blogosphere, and World Economy « Stu's Shed

  16. Great post Marc,
    It sounds like you had to do some serious soul searching to find out exactly where you want to go, along with some serious will power to turn down $1 million. Have you ever thought about inviting some other woodworkers to contribute video content or articles to your free site? There is some great content out there but just does not get the traffic your site does.

  17. Just my opinion; but I think they probably under estimated what they were going to pay you. I think realistically business speaking, the business is worth a lot more thinking about what it would take someone else to completely pick up the business even remotely from where you were. We’re glad your hangin’ out a bit longer with the wood working community! Kudos to you, your wife, and your little one; keep up the good work and sunny outlook.

  18. Marc, wow, what a powerful post. I’m glad that you’re continuing on with the WW, both free site and the Guild. Mostly I’m glad that you’ve made the choice to do what you want to do and what makes you happy, what gives you passion.

    You’re right, you have to prioritize; Mateo and Nicloe are number 1 of course. So please, don’t answer my emails right now. Take some time to moderate this post. Chill and get to it when you get to it; I certainly understand.

    I think it’s very cool how you came to the realization that the business model you would want, is what you’ve actually got, and how that informs how you will evolve the site going forward. As a Guild member, I’m thrilled that you want to focus there. You are mentoring me in my young woodworking hobby (hopefully someday career?) in ways you can’t imagine.

    But also as a fan of the free site, I can also say that you’ve got so much content there, and such a great community in the forums and on the site, that I certainly don’t feel starved for content; far from it! I’m on board with a slow down in free site videos, the quality is worth the wait. Perhaps there are also ways to encourage us, the community, to keep contributing to the free site, and increase those contributions in frequency and in kind, to keep up momentum with less direct effort.

    The videos you produce are great; both in content and in quality. Also in humor. I can’t imagine the WoodWhisperer without Marc Spagnolo. Not just the humor, but the tone. Your focus on safety, practicality, and love of the craft speaks to me, and keeps me coming back.

    Thanks Marc!

  19. Hi Mark.

    Mixed emotions over your post. Obviously glad you have come to a solution over your time issues, and really glad you are able to see past the big pay check – very tempting, but as you stated there would be strings attached stopping you doing something similar for some time.

    A little sad also on hearing the volume of free content will reduce – I am not guild member, and as I don’t have a workshop at this time (my workshop is currently a portable workbench on a flat piece of ground outside my back door when its not raining!),so I see little point as I wouldn’t be able to join in , but this doesn’t discount me from future participation.

    I have had a thought on how you can keep the content coming in both your guild and free sites – the projects you do on at the Guild are from A-Z but there are many points where you could extract mini episodes for the free site – for example you may find a particular problem with a corner joint , tool set up, finishing etc, you could extract your discussion piece on how to approach this as a short video for your free site.

    This would give people an in site into what you get as part of the guild but also help people sort out issues they may have with their own pieces. (and basically allows you to only film one project at a time!)

    Also – don’t forget video reviews of tools and products are always great (and possibly profitable?)

    Anyway that’s just my two penny worth – even though not asked for.

    I wish you all the best as you have been a great inspiration to many many people.
    Dave

  20. Marc,

    Congrats to the fact your small business made it – it must be pretty awesome validation to have someone interested in buying it out. Of course, I’m glad to hear you didn’t sell – the site would never be the same if it went generic.

    As for your decisions – they sound great! The free site has so much information that I’m always finding new stuff – just the other day I stumbled upon the Keepsake Box episode and I’m looking for some nice scraps to build a few. I also already find a tremendous value in the Guild site, without it I wouldn’t have been able to design or build some of my projects at home.

    I’ve always felt that if you do what you love and take pride in what you do then you can’t go wrong. It’s clear in your videos, articles, and e-mails that you’re doing just that. So be sure to take some time and enjoy the ride.

  21. Marc,
    The demands on your time will get easier as Mateo gets older…unless you decide to have more children, in which case that “clock” resets with each new birth. 🙂

    You absolutely made the right decision by holding on to The Wood Whisperer. That site is easily worth 10 times that offer. Not only would you have been selling the content, advertising eyeballs…but you would also have been giving up a part of who you are and, as you acknowledged, the mechanisms that made it all possible. So, kudos to you!

    I am looking forward to joining the guild in the next few months, as well as Shannon’s Hand Tool school. In my view, that’s the best of both worlds, and probably a better place to start than some random video series I picked from a train, while blindfolded, riding a horse and nursing a beer.

    So, rock on with that fatherhood thing, and don’t be tempted by the dark side. The Wood Whisperer is it’s own entity now…and I hear that slavery is illegal in this country…so no selling the entity.

    Peace.

  22. Marc, you have wisdom beyond your years. As someone much older and finished raising our children some time ago, you have realized what many struggle with for years and that’s is the priority of your family. Yes you must make a living for that same family but you are worth more to them in being part of their lives instead of burying your head trying “to get it all done”.

    I’ve been a fan since you began the site. There is more than enough content on the free site and your focus must be the guild since those members trusted you enough to pay to join. I’ve been procrastinating about joining myself but this makes it easier. I will be joining soon.

    Raise your family well and your way of living will take care of all the rest. Congrats on your new son. He will learn a lot from his dad.

  23. Marc,
    I am not at all surprised by this post, and have been wondering how you’ve been adjusting. Both personnaly and in your business. As all the previous comments have stated, I too am thankful for the content you provide and support your decisions. You’re doing great (which you already know).
    I am the father of 2, (a 5 yr old and a 2 yr old). My time in the shop has been reduced over these years, but when I’m there I really try to make it count. And, they love to be in the shop with me.
    Wishing you all the best of luck, and thanks for being a great inspiration.

  24. I agree on the priorities. Kids, wives, and self before all else.

    You need to outsource more, Marc. I know you feel that your editing is what creates your feel, but there are plenty of options for you, without even talking about employing someone. You need people around you that give you time back, not suck it away from you.

    Lastly, you need to consider content differently. It is tough to create, a labor of love. However, your revenue is based on content. Cosman, The hand tool school, and the guild are all do the same thing: create content and sell on a subscription. You need to find ways to focus on the school: diverse classes that cause more people to enroll instead of going to a brick and mortar option, partnerships with schools, tool companies, and retail chains to license WW projects/content. Your catalog of content is valuable. You need more content and more ways of selling it. You will not be able to do it all yourself, and you must learn the monetary value of a build (lifetime/annual value) and compare your effort to make it to leveraging others’. Imagine a Schwarz Spag team. Chris loves publishing, but his model is too one dimensional and needs your ability to bring his content alive and to a broad audience. That’s just one example. There are many other craftsmen who can do the same. Imagine a Charlesworth Spag combo – the guy’s videos are like watching ice melt and varnish dry. He needs more exposure, but done in an accessible manner.

    Oh, and remind you of your ability to create a community around content. While forums are interesting places,they are places for advice, not learning. Virtual classroom success is predicated on student interaction. Learn more about how the best classes run virtually, and you’ll create even stickier, more accessible, and better customer experiences.

    Just some food for thought. Hope to enroll in one of your classes in SoCal soon and I’m a happy, long time guild member.

  25. People always expect more, in a way it’s a credit to the quality of your presentation and information to the provide. People just can’t get enough.
    I’m thankful for your free service because it has showed me a lot, do what makes you happy

  26. I recently reworked my priority list, and found money near the bottom. I took a job for a third of the money I used to make, and have never looked back. My sideline woodworking, as well as my family life, have improved dramatically. I now get to spend the time on my projects they deserve, and charge what I deserve. I would have never dreamed of charging $2000 for a table before, but that is common today. Glad the sites will be continuing, and I really need to get off my butt and subscribe to the guild.

    Thanks for all you do, and those old videos are watched by me, and I would guess thousands more, over and over. No one touches a tool in my shop without watching your safety videos, and wearing proper protection.

  27. I know this is a super old post, but I really appreciate reading it.

    I’m not a guild member either, and I do appreciate your free stuff, but I never want to be one of “the entitled”, in any arena. You put out good stuff and I really wish you the best for your business. I hope that focusing on your school model has been paying off. The free stuff you’ve been publishing since this post has still been great, by the way. You’re a great example for those of us who would like to bring in at least some income from our passion.

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