This is a personal one, so bear with me. I’m sharing mainly because I can’t imagine giving myself this kind of space ten years ago. So I’m hoping that painting the picture could help other folks who may be in a similar space. Losing a limb kind of reframes things, and it might be nice if the journey helps someone else without having to go through the trials and tribulations, but this isn’t an amputation story, I promise.
Long story short, I recently launched Crested Butte Jobs, a highly-focused job board for the valley where we live. If you don’t live here, the site itself won’t be interesting—it’s just a job board. It’s not lucrative by any stretch of the imagination, and financially, we would have been much better off using the time for billable work.
So far, we’ve put in about $2,500 in fixed costs, and based on my time tracking, it’s displaced what could have been almost $60,000 in billable work. It’s too early to have a read on monthly profitability, but at the moment, the pace looks like about $300/mo in revenue with about $250/mo in hosting and advertising costs. My absolute best-case projections show that it’s unlikely to ever break $1,500/mo in profit, and the likely case is more like $200-300/mo in profit. If anybody looked at objectively, they’d be wise to question my business sense.
So why was this an interesting project?
It’s easy to let ourselves get caught up in what’s next. You can spend years chasing your next step full-speed. That focus can be good, but frequently it can help to set focus aside and let yourself aimlessly explore a little bit. (After two years of this, I promise, it’s easy to say but much more difficult to follow through with.)
Sometimes, slowing down and building something small that’s trivially within your skillset can be refreshing. Since selling Sifter five years ago, I haven’t launched a new application—I’ve actually actively avoided it. I’ve still been working heavily with Rails and cataloguing a plethora of business ideas, but I really wasn’t up for building a new business because I didn’t want to divert my spare time and attention from Adaptable.
What started as a tiny, whimsical idea eventually grew and launched a couple of months ago. Given how different the experience has been from the standard SaaS playbook, it felt worth sharing from the standpoint of doing something less ambitious, building something that wasn’t recurring-revenue SaaS, and building without concern for whether it would be quantifiably profitable. It’s been a healthy change of pace, and in a way, it was good preparation for Adaptable which is much more ambitious and involved.
There’s layers here, and it’s worth peeling them back.
We live in a small ski town where affordable housing is huge problem, and as a result, the supply of retail and service jobs far outpaces the amount of people available to fill those jobs. Living here, the topic of housing prices and employment are always front-of-mind and intertwined. While I couldn’t directly do anything about housing costs, building a job board to provide better access to job information is definitely something I could handle.
We’re regularly thinking and talking about how we could help on the housing front, but if you look at the local sources and listings around town, even if we created a housing board, there’s simply no supply of housing to post on the board. It would be a ghost town. But we’d still like to find a way to have an impact on that front as well.
In a past life, the job board wouldn’t have made it past day-dreaming without a better chance at being a more profitable use of time, but being connected to a community changes things a bit. To a degree, it’s over-built for what was needed, but it’s also under-built to the degree I’d normally like to build something.
One of the more interesting aspects of the whole thing was building something for a physical community. With traditional SaaS, a customer base isn’t usually tied to a geography or municipality. With Crested Butte Jobs, that was different.
First and foremost, there’s the newspaper classifieds. While standard business practices might view them as competition, we really wanted a more cohesive approach that supported or even involved the newspapers. So instead of trying to divert classifieds from the papers, we built in tools to encourage people to also post their listings to the newspapers.
I built a classifieds estimator tool to help folks compose and get an estimate for all three local papers, and anybody can use it whether they post a job with us or not. No registration or any of that. It’s just there to help. And, when folks do post a job, the estimator is built in to the process to help make it easier for them to post jobs with the papers as well. Two of the three local papers have been fully on board, but the third has been disinterested at best. We’re hopeful they’ll eventually come around, though.
Another random aspect I hadn’t thought of in the past was Chambers of Commerce. Our local chambers do a lot of great work for local businesses here, and when the world started shutting down due to COVID-19, our chambers stepped up to help in a lot of ways. So for my first time ever, I’m involved a business that’s a member of both local chambers. In an of itself, that’s not particularly special, but as a virtual business, it’s been an interesting piece of the puzzle.
Another interesting aspect has been using more traditional advertising and word-of-mouth. We placed print ads in the papers that are on board, and we did some underwriting on the local public radio station as well. We’ve posted flyers on bulletin boards and done some coordination with local community members.
Unfortunately, the local community is heavily embedded in Facebook. With the local newspapers, we’d love to build a strong relationship, but with Facebook, we’d much rather chip away at its role in the community. That’s been a conundrum. In order to generate awareness and reach people, we’ve had to participate in Facebook, but by doing so, we’re also further supporting Facebook. For now, we’re holding our nose and dealing with it, but long-term, we hope Facebook isn’t part of the equation.
So far, we’ve only had a single confirmed match where somebody found and hired someone through the job board, but they were thrilled. We’re hopeful there have been others and that we simply haven’t heard from other employers who’ve had success with it. Only time will tell.
It’s not an overly-exciting story of small business success, and I don’t expect it ever will be, but that was never the point. Spending time on something that helps a community we love and want to contribute to while building something we’re in the driver’s seat for has been enough.
These days, it’s difficult avoid feeling compelled to monetize everything or only invest time on things that could be considered lucrative, but sometimes, slowing down and just building something useful that covers its monthly costs can be a worthwhile journey by itself.