[quote style=”boxed”]Take time to explore tangents. Productivity and getting stuff done is great, but you can’t let that stop you from exploring ideas. [/quote]
Matthew Edgar has been developing websites since the late 1990s. Since then, he has helped companies large and small achieve real, long-term success through their websites and online marketing efforts. Matthew’s consulting and training work has focused on helping companies grow their business by improving the experience people have when visiting that company’s website.
In 2013, Matthew founded SpringTrax, a new tool to help address a problem he saw on nearly every website he worked on: broken links. That 404/not found error costs businesses customers and worsens the experience visitors have on a website. Matthew wanted to do something about that and, now, as the founder and lead developer at SpringTrax, Matthew works to find new ways to rid websites of 404 errors.
What are you working on right now?
My latest project is called SpringTrax. SpringTrax monitors visitors to a website to identify every broken link/404 error that visitors encounter. From there, SpringTrax provides detailed recommendations on how to fix those 404 errors.
Where did the idea for SpringTrax come from?
I built SpringTrax because I wanted an easy way to find every 404 visitors encountered on the websites I managed and I wanted to know about every source leading people to those 404 errors. The other tools out there weren’t giving me enough information. For instance, most tools only look at broken links people find on your site, but with SpringTrax I’ve found that around 80% of visitors find broken links somewhere other than your website (other sites, search results, social shared, old bookmarks, etc.). I really liked how SpringTrax helped solve that problem, and after hearing other people asking for something similar, this idea expanded into an actual company.
How do you make money?
SpringTrax is a subscription-based service. Customers pay for a membership monthly or annually. Right now, we’ve got three different package levels depending on what exactly the needs are for that site.
What does your typical day look like?
I’m a morning person, so I’m usually up by 5am and in my office my 6am. The first three or four hours in my office are spent getting three to five important items completed before I do anything else. I’ll check my emails after that then usually take a break for lunch around 11a. Typically, I’ll schedule meetings for the afternoon. In between meetings I’ll reply to emails and take care of quick to-do items. Before I leave my office, I prepare my to-do list for the next morning so that I can jump right in when I hit my office the next day. I try to leave my office by 4:30p. I’m not a night owl, so I’m usually in bed by 9p or 9:30p.
How do you bring ideas to life?
My ideas usually revolve around some way to solve a problem I’m facing. My general approach is to think things through first and if I think the idea makes sense, I build a prototype. If I like the prototype, I keep going and really trying to make it into a “thing”. There are probably 20 ideas for every 1 prototype and 10 prototypes for every 1 “thing” I actually try to bring to life. So, a large part of the process for me is filtering the idea to make sure it really is worthy of bringing to life.
SpringTrax is a good example of this. I needed some way to understand how 404 errors were impacting visitors to that website. I tried the existing tools, but those tools didn’t help. I thought it through, liked the idea I had, then built a prototype. About a year later, that prototype became SpringTrax after I was starting to get good results and saw the worth of this idea.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I get excited that technologies exist now that let small businesses build and manage high quality websites sites at a low cost. It really is possible now for a smaller business to have a website that looks as good as a big brands.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Early in the 2000s, I moved across the country for a job with a non-profit organization. Because I was in my early 20s, I was convinced that I would enjoy that job and be able to change who I was enough to make that job work. Short story: I didn’t enjoy the job much at all because of the culture at that company. The lesson I learned was that I really can’t change who I am for a job. Instead, I need a job that fits with who I am, what I value, and how I work. That is a large part of why I started running my own business, and probably always will run my own business.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would put more effort into building a network of people I know, like, and trust. Having people who you can help and who can help you can have an amazing impact on your business and on life in general.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Take time to explore tangents. Productivity and getting stuff done is great, but you can’t let that stop you from exploring ideas. If you have an idea that seems interesting, it is worth taking a few minutes to think it through. Often times those ideas will dead end, but occasionally the idea will lead you to something pretty amazing.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Several years ago, I co-founded a company that was trying to deliver a content management system for small businesses that was flexible and easy to use. While I think we developed a pretty awesome tool, we never found a good way to convince people to use our tool compared to other options out there. The lesson I learned is that you have to have a very clear difference and that difference has to matter to people. I don’t think that company ever found a difference that mattered to our customer base. With other companies I’ve run where I have been successful, I’ve been able to find a difference that does matter.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
There are tons and tons of data analytics tools out there, but the data can be somewhat overwhelming for non-professionals. Google Analytics is awesome, but most small business owners I talk to are confused by what that data means to them. I’ve tackled this by simplifying the data we display at SpringTrax, focusing on telling a story vs. showing tables and tables of data. I have gotten good feedback on how we’ve simplified the data. It would be great to do this in more areas but it is really hard to make a complex set of data easy to understand.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
There are a lot of problems, obviously. One I think that would have tremendous impact is simplifying the tax code. I have nothing against accountants and lawyers, or paying taxes for that matter, but I think it is sad that so many businesses get derailed because of the time and money they have to spend on accounting and legalities. Imagine if we could invest that time and money in new products or services instead?
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
Originally, I was going to attend law school. During undergraduate school, I started developing websites and found I enjoyed that a lot more than preparing for law school. So, after graduating I founded a web development company and revoked my law school applications.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Here are three I use regularly and highly recommend (other than SpringTrax!).
Dropbox makes it incredibly easy to share larger files for technical and non-technical users.
Crazy Egg is a great tool to visualize how people use a web page and it is accessible to all user levels.
Moz has an incredibly powerful set of tools that are incredibly helpful for marketing your business online.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen provides a great look at the way small, almost insignificant decisions shape our lives. I really like the idea that it is small decisions that ultimately determine your success or failure.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I started working my way through 30 Rock on DVD earlier this month and have been watching an episode a day. Almost every episode has a good laugh-out-loud moment.
Who is your hero?
There are a few to choose from, but ultimately anybody who has the courage to live the life they want to live. It is really hard to know what you want from life (at work or outside of work), and ever harder to actually do that. I’m fortunate to know a number of people who have done this.
How do you overcome daily challenges of starting and running a company?
I’ve seen a lot of people underestimate the obstacles they’ll face when starting their own company. There are all kinds of obstacles: financial issues, slower-than-anticipated growth, contractors slowing you down, etc. I think there are two ways to overcome this challenge. First, you have to remember why you started your business. What problems were you trying to solve and why? Focusing on why you started your business will help keep you motivated. Second, you do have to learn to embrace those challenges as part of the lifestyle of being an entrepreneur. If you don’t find a way to enjoy the process of overcoming each challenge, you’ll drive yourself crazy.
How do you find time to relax?
I learned long ago that I can’t work all the time, no matter how much I enjoy what I do. At some point, I’m no longer productive and I really do need a break. To allow for this, I do my best to keep a consistent schedule that lets me work when I’m at my peak productivity (morning), and take a break when I need it (afternoon and evening). Those boundaries set by my schedule help me budget my time, and decide what I’ll do and when. That way when I do take time away, I really can relax because I know I’ve got plenty of time to get everything done.
Matthew Edgar on Twitter: @springtrax
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