by Conlan Spangler
Rob Walling has always loved technology. When he was 8 years old, he began coding on an Apple IIe. In his teens, he discovered video games and later, in the midst of the dot-com bubble, he moved on to web programming.
After graduating from UC Davis, he worked as a software engineer and a consultant. But he wanted more independence.
“I was unhappy building software for other people, whether as a salaried employee or a consultant,” he says. “I wanted ownership in the code I was writing, and [I wanted] the ability to leverage my ideas well into the future, rather than simply collecting a check for the hours I’d worked the previous week.”
Rob decided to pursue his own ventures. Now, in addition to running several successful web companies, Rob shares his skills with other software entrepreneurs through his online startup school, The Micropreneur Academy, as well as a blog, podcast, book, and annual conference. He and his wife have lived in Fresno since 2009.
These days, most of his time is spent on HitTail, an SEO keyword tool that uses real-time website data.
“I still write code,” Rob says, “but I find help for larger tasks, since I can’t keep up with all of the changes that need to be made across my portfolio.”
Each day he deals with escalated support requests and analyzes reports of the previous day’s sales and traffic. He also creates content for his blog and podcast, and plans for the future of his products.
“I try to spend 20 to 30 minutes each day thinking about how I can improve my businesses,” he says.
Continued improvements help drive continued growth. The web makes it easier to update and improve existing products quickly, which is one of the benefits of launching a new business online. Compared to offline businesses, web products are “much cheaper to get to market if you have technical skills,” Rob says. “There are also some early marketing approaches you can pull off on the web that are inconceivable in a traditional brick-and-mortar business.”
While some obstacles may be less daunting online, there’s no guarantee a web product will succeed. Before pursuing a new business, Rob advises, it’s important to identify the customers: “Talk to your market before you build anything,” he says. “Make sure people actually need what you are planning to build.”
Rob was able to find a market for his products, and he was able to find the independence he craved.
Although the journey of a solo entrepreneur presents many challenges, Rob thinks it’s worth the hard work. The thrill of independence has stayed with him since his first day as true entrepreneur: “I had been working towards freedom for several years,” he says. “Finally waking up and having nowhere to be—and no boss or client who would be calling—[that] was a monumental day for me. One I’ll never forget.”
You can find more information about Rob on his blog, Software by Rob.