In 2008, I teamed up with one of my closest friends at the time. Stu McLaren and I put our talents together to create WishList Member.
We had NO idea we were about to embark on an amazing and unprecedented adventure. WordPress was growing at an impressive rate. It was an exciting time. Nothing was clear but there were many signs that WordPress would surpass both Joomla and Drupal.
To put this into context, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga were turning heads as newcomers on the music scene. Some of our current team members were still in grade school back when we first got started.
In the internet marketing world, discussions about membership sites were all the rage. Unfortunately, there weren’t many options to create a membership site with WordPress. Most development companies were focused on themes. Consequently, the premium plugin market was pretty much non-existent.
We saw it as an opportunity and acted quickly. Mike Lopez was our Jedi coder who could create anything we challenged him with. He built the first version of WishList Member single-handed in less than 3 months.
Similar to my previous software businesses, we saw a demand so we created a solid answer to the common problem. Needless to say, WishList Member saw some RAPID Growth. The first year, sales were all driven by word of mouth. We grew for well over a year before we spent a dime on advertising.
These are the opportunities an entrepreneur dreams of.
Early into our history, we received our first inquiry about selling the company. It was flattering but they were looking for established brands where the owner was ready to retire. We were young and full of energy, so it made absolutely NO sense.
Ultimately, the first inquiry was a solid validation. WishList Member was always “Built to Sell” and there were people interested.
Shortly after the first inquiry, I was talking with a friend who I also considered a trusted advisor. His entrepreneurial experience includes owning several different businesses. One of those is a Venture Capital Firm. He had also sold several companies in the past. Needless to say, this guy knows his stuff.
My friend shared a valuable piece of advice. He said, “the secret to selling a company, is to identify the buyer and then make everything about your company a perfect fit.”
The advice made a lot of sense to me but there were a couple of small problems. First, when you have a partner you’re never building a company that one person wants. You’re building what the partners agree to build together. Second, we could never identify the buyer.
Somewhere along the way, Stu and I made Mike a minority partner. I believe it was in 2010.
Things changed significantly in Late 2014. Stu decided he wanted to pursue his passion for teaching and focus specifically on training people to grow successful membership sites. Mike and I stayed with the software company.
Suddenly, I became the majority shareholder with WishList Member. It was both scary and exciting at the same time.
Our leadership team and I took a trip to Colorado in order to focus on planning.
It became abundantly clear that we needed to do some recalibrating. We needed to stop focusing on what we had accomplished in the past and get clear on what we could accomplish in the future. Personally, I needed to stop thinking about building a company I thought someone would want to buy and start thinking about what kind of company I would want to own.
The past several years have taught me many things. One simple lesson is that Isolation Kills Entrepreneurs. Running a business can be very lonely at times. You absolutely must have relationships and friendships that can help you bring balance and order to the force.
You never know when a relationship will turn into a true friendship…
I met Micah Mitchell at a conference. At the time, he was in a partnership with someone who sold a software product similar to WishList Member. Many people would have considered them to be a serious competitor. I didn’t think much of it and just felt like he was a great guy and I’d love to get to know him better.
Fast forward a few years and Micah had left his previous partnership and started a company called Memberium. Again, people would have considered him even more of a competitor now. All I knew was that I liked the guy.
This was reinforced when I ran into him at the airport security line. We had a great chat catching up on what each of us had been doing with our businesses, then we found out we were assigned to sit next to each other on the flight. Was this a joke? Surely, someone lined this up. Nope, it was completely random.
Ironically, on that very same trip, we started brainstorming about the ultimate April Fool’s day joke where we would announce that Micah just acquired WishList Member. We laughed that it could be called WishList Memberium. We might even tack 360 onto the name for kicks. 😉 A few people reading will understand.
What started as a randomly assigned seat next to my software competitor (thanks Delta!) turned into a valuable friendship. He and I would meet monthly to talk business over lunch for the next few years. Sadly, our meetings came to an end when my family and I moved back to Tennessee. We made some great friendships in Utah and it was really hard leaving them behind.
I love creating software. The thrill of having an idea come to life is exhilarating. It’s particularly exciting when you have an amazing team and the product becomes more than you ever thought it would be. A perfect example of this would be our most recent release for the Courses Add-Ons for WishList Member.
As exciting as all of that sounds, the truth is it can also be challenging. Just when you get to the one-yard line and it’s almost time to score you can also be running on empty from all your hard work.
Just as we were wrapping up the development and planning to release the new product I found myself feeling very tired. I was starting to recognize my best move would be to find a real marketing partner. A partner that understood the market and could help me take WishList Member to the next level. I made a couple of calls to some of my closest business friends. My wife reminded me that Micah should be on the shortlist. I made her a promise that I would reach out to him the following day.
Just before I contacted Micah, he randomly sent me a text message. It was kind of like sitting next to him on the flight. Sometimes you just know things happen for a reason.
Our discussions progressed into the idea of me selling WishList Member to Micah’s company MemberShipper which is also the company supporting Memberium. It turns out what we had been building with WishList Member was exactly what MemberShipper was looking to add to their portfolio.
Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of inquiries about selling the business. None of them ever felt right until now. It was very important for me to have WishList Member continue as a growing brand. I also wanted to make sure our amazing team would be taken care of.
Every step of the way, it became more and more clear this was the best next step for WishList Member, the team and the thousands and thousands of awesome customers who have supported us for so long.
I’m incredibly thankful to the leadership teams from both sides. They have been working hard to make this transition as easy as possible for me. It’s quite impressive to see everyone working cohesively.
The common question I’m getting now is, “What’s next for you?”.
While I do think I’d be REALLY good at being retired, what I really need is a sabbatical. I am planning to take some much-needed personal time off.
What does all this mean if you’re a WishList Member customer?
To put it in a nutshell, you can expect the team to continue providing innovation and WishList Member will continue to be developed and improved. It’s not going anywhere.
I am committed to working with Micah and the rest of the team for one full year. They have put me in a role that could easily be called my dream job. I’m the new “Director of Strategic Partnerships” for both brands owned by MemberShipper.
Expect to see me at many conferences in the near future. My personal strategy is to provide as much value as possible for the next year. I can’t wait to see WishList Member go to the next level with Micah’s direction.
Who knows, I may be around for much longer than anyone would have ever expected.
I’ve never felt better about the future of WishList Member than I do now. We are just getting started.
You can read Micah’s full message on the acquisition here.