Joel is co-founder/owner of The Sky Floor, LLC, founded in 2009 with his identical twin brother. The Sky Floor has grown in revenue in each year of business, averaging 30% growth. Alan and Joel were born on Leap Day and recently turned nine years old.
He is a co-founder of two startups, Hoppit and Brand Boards. Joel loves learning new ideas and reads 1-2 books per month. When he is not working on the business, he is spending time with his wife Kate and two kids in the suburbs of Chicago.
Where did the idea for The Sky Floor come from?
I’ve always known I wanted to work for myself in some capacity. The idea for The Sky Floor really started there. Besides a 9 month stint working at Apple retail, I have always worked for myself. As my twin and I started to do freelance work, the digital/webspace was really expanding. The market demand defined our direction. We formed our current business in 2009, so we would have a structure in place for growth and expansion beyond just operating as just a couple of freelancers.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I typically wake up between 5:30am, and 6am. Sometimes I use this pre-work day time to read or do a little exercise. I have two kids, and getting some time with them every morning is essential to me to start my day off. After all, they are a massive part of why I am building my business, and I want to have a balanced life.
I try to have typical work hours when possible. Again, balance is everything and helps prevent burn-out. I typically have 1-2 meetings on an average day. The rest of my day is spent doing work, managing the business, invoicing, and finding new work opportunities.
How do you bring ideas to life?
When our work is at its best, it is based on idea generation and not just button-pushing. The most significant factor is understanding the market our client is in. Learning as much as we can about how their business works and then helping them position it online. Bringing those ideas to life starts with the first click and keystroke. I have to start working. Getting it “on paper” and iterating from there.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am really intrigued and excited by online learning. We have had the chance to bring some curriculums online for clients in this COVID era, and it presents some opportunities that just aren’t there with in-person learning. I love to learn. The democratization of education is only going to improve the economic mobility of those who keep learning. That is truly exciting.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Learning to tune out background noise. Not just literal background noise either, although that is also valuable. Over the years, I have learned to prioritize and focus even when there are digital, real, and mental distractions. That being said, it isn’t always easy to do!
What advice would you give your younger self?
Two things; take more risks and start today.
Take more risks. No one likes the feeling of being wrong or failing, but most of the time, that is the worst consequence. Pride keeps us from trying a lot of new things that can lead to great opportunities.
Start today. Invariably we look back on our lives and realize we used to have more time than we do today. Rarely are responsibilities taken off our plates as time moves forward. I would tell myself to start sooner whenever I had an idea. In fact, I am going to say that to 5 minutes younger version of myself by re-reading this in a minute.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Mobile-first web design is a lie. Of course, you need to have a website that works as well on mobile as a desktop. But we basically know it will be a single column of your content stacked up. Instead, I would work on scaling down to mobile rather than trying to expand a mobile design out to fill up horizontal space.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Read. I genuinely think reading expands your worldview in a way other consumption of content doesn’t. It increases your vocabulary. It gives you perspectives other than your own to consider. Being an entrepreneur at its core is being receptive to, and acting on new opportunities. Regularly reading helps you recognize unique circumstances as opportunities.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Moving from pricing our time as our product. In other words, moving away from billing by the hour. Time isn’t actually money. Time has a value, but ultimately it is priceless. When you price your work based on the time it takes to produce that work, you limit your ability to grow your business.
We have been able to crystalize the benefits we provide our clients by focusing on the value we are creating for them. That is what they end up buying—the value of the results. This shift in thinking has allowed us to sell with more confidence, reduce the client’s risk, and charge more than hourly billing would allow.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Earlier in my career, I would often allow work to bleed into personal life. This ends up creating a drain on your heart and mind, which hurts your family, friends, and, ultimately, your business. I vowed that as we built our business up, we would fight for work/life balance. It isn’t always possible, and that is part of having your own business, but drawing those lines sets you up for healthier, longer-term growth.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A baby name match web app. If you have kids, you know the drill. Go to the top name by country websites. Look at the meanings. Discuss with your significant other.
It would be awesome to have a tool where you select names separately based on multiple criteria, and so does your spouse. Then it gives you back a list ranked by the top 5 names that overlap. The output would have a great, shareable card with information about the names. The revenue stream would be ad-driven. Maybe also a big data play because new parents are a hot category.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently bought some fancy red wine to share with friends and family. I believe in providing exceptional experiences for people that they wouldn’t ordinarily have themselves. It increases our happiness when we give others these experiences. It also keeps me wanting to continue to succeed so I can do even more for those around me.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I could say Basecamp or a myriad of other tools that have helped over the years, but I think the biggest one is Quickbooks Online. There is no way we could’ve grown as much as we have in the last 5 years without it. The ability to simply track invoices, get paid online, and grab our data for taxes has been a time saver.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
‘Setting the Table’ by Danny Meyer. Danny Meyer’s approach to serving customers with “enlightened hospitality” applies to every business.
I was particularly challenged by the chapter on recovering from mistakes. Mistakes are never exciting, but they are informative. To an extent, we should not beat ourselves up for failing perfection but embrace the chance to learn. When it comes to customers, you have an opportunity to “write a great last chapter.” Had the mistake never occurred, neither would the service opportunity.
What is your favorite quote?
“There’s no shortage of remarkable ideas, what’s missing is the will to execute them.” – Seth Godin
- When you have a new idea to bring to life, start today!
- Read. Keep learning and expanding your worldview.
- Work/life balance is critical to healthy success.