How's Atlas Collective doing? Well, I'm doing fine, thanks!
Originally Atlas Collective was conceived as a distributed agency, and I worked towards growing a team. Of the two who worked with me the first year year, one took a very high paying job he definitely deserved, and I had a falling out with the other. Both, I think, were for the best.
Atlas Collective has been a one person endeavor for about a year now.
I’ve been focusing on building a lean business model with extremely low overhead, location independence, and super high quality of life.
Seriously - most weeks I’ve been working just 20-25 hours. Granted, it’s been a bit lazy, but it was quite a successful experiment in lifestyle design.
In a jist, be really f’ing good at very one specific thing, then get a very small group of excellent clients paying a high rate. Do small monthly work for them to pay the bills, and take on a few larger projects a year for extra money as needed or desired.
It works out great. In my experience, having a very small group of clients makes it possible for you to stay current on their strategic objectives and fiscal outcomes, which allows you to anticipate upcoming projects, which helps for pipeline management/scheduling, and suggest and encourage projects between clients, to cross-pollinate good ideas in a collaborative spirit between local businesses. Try to find clients from non-overlapping markets. For example, this year I launched several rewards programs (texas humor, helm, previously dormify). Wins all around.
The one piece I could never figure out with this model is healthcare. It’s slightly frustrating to realize this wouldn’t likely be an issue some places, but here it’s been an obstacle yet unsolved. I think a good solution is to take a class through a community college, but the coverage isn’t great. “Real” coverage (non only major) for me has been prohibitively expensive. I haven’t improved or changed services necessarily to justify increasing hourly rates, so I’m looking instead to find another venues to create value this year.
I’ve toyed with the idea of opening an ecommerce shop myself. On the plus, it would give me further insight into the day to day operations, tooling, and opportunities for the clients I serve, as well as potentially a valuable revenue stream. However, I could also see it becoming a major time sink on multiple fronts. There are ways to minimize the upfront risk and investment such as drop shipping, but this often seems to also minimize chances of a success in general but particularly rapid sustained growth model (which are based on strong branding, presence, storytelling, and creating a deeply loyal initial customer base).
I’m pursuing two opportunities to programmatically duplicate value. Also, for the time being, continuing to focus my efforts in the Shopify arena and ecosystem. The first — a Shopify app, and the second — an initiative to productize pre-built Shopify sections.
The Shopify app will be geared towards mid-size to enterprise businesses on the Shopify platform. The goal is to create an automated system which generates value for multiple clients on a monthly basis. It will provide monitoring and reporting functionality, as well as dashboards with real-time and archived data.
The pre-built Shopify sections will be modular drop-in sections of code requiring minimal installation, which can self-contain blocks in an existing layout - for example a kickass product image gallery slider, or an entire site structure - imagine a mega-menu that supported linked products, a slick mobile UX, and didn’t have a sucky, slow app to go with it? (if that comes across as aggressive, you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve discovered atrocious behavior in performance audits and been called in to emergency troubleshoot when they suddenly stop working.) More generally, over the years, one of my only complaints with the direction the Shopify ecosystem has moved is the trend towards app for things which should really be theme-level development features. It makes sense - it’s more expensive in time and money to hire a developer, and many come from a wordpress background where plugins were the go-to solution. However, there’s two reasons why this is non-ideal. Firstly, it’s bad for performance. Apps are injected via a script manager, and then load additional resources which are often versioned duplicate dependencies. These scripts have to load from 3rd party, developer-managed servers, which can never be as fast as the initial server-side rendered html page. This leads to the second reason - these servers can go down or misbehave or grind to a painful crawl, all without warning. Definitely you don’t get a notification, and good chance neither does the single developer who’s drowning in mojitos in a formerly soviet bloc. Tangent aside, I’m hopeful I can develop a market for prebuilt sections. Many merchants are sufficiently tech savvy, or have someone in-house with enough knowledge to make basic code changes. I see this as a good thing. Not everybody needs an agency. It’s good for owners or their team to understand the underlying technology. It’s good for their conversion rate for their website to be more faster. Also, I’ve built some sick shit and I want to sell it again.
In addition, I’m also continuing efforts on some small experimental website models utilizing new decentralized peer-to-peer web architectures. As a strong advocate for the web and internet freedom, I believe that new protocols and network solutions can dramatically reclaim inherent freedoms and emergent rights in a globally shared communication commons. The technology is largely ready, though in some cases immature. In between the archives of 4 different companies lies more personal information than those intimate with you possess. It’s time we had open-source, user-controlled, private & secure social media and communication. We shouldn’t be forced to trust and rely on the googles, facebooks, and apples of the world. Not saying they’re evil. Just, we shouldn’t have no other options. There’s some really intriguing possibilities with self-hosted publishing tools. The web of tomorrow begins today.