Ten years! And we’re still going strong.
When BAC began this enterprise was mostly driven by improvisation and extrapolation. We learned – fast – how to operate a business. I’d had some experience with consulting through my previous, nonprofit employer, but then had to scale up in a hurry, covering all bases: taxes, technology support, outreach, etc. Thanks to the advice of friends, we did.
Let me celebrate today, and also share some of what we learned, and also reflect on how we developed.
It’s unusual for a new business to last this long. One source says 65% of startups fail by ten years in. Another claims 90% of businesses fail, adding that “[b]y year 5, 50% of all startups will have failed.” So BAC is beating the odds.
We started with very little, just the two of us, a reputation for working on higher education and emerging technology, and some networks. Neither of us were working for anyone else at the time. We didn’t take out a business loan nor did we receive any private funding. We had no safety net to fall back upon. We lived in a very remote area with scant infrastructure. We had to support ourselves, pay for the mortgage and health care, and also support two teenage children. This was bootstrapping 101 without a net.
We started by putting up a basic company website, filing paperwork, and winning a handful of clients. Over the past decade the number climbed to over 120. And we did this by learning a lot. Ceredwyn learned how to work the tax systems of two states and the federal government, plus a huge amount of health care finance, especially as things changed under the Affordable Care Act.
Let me note that we don’t do any official advertising at the start, nor have we since. We haven’t taken out ads anywhere, nor sponsored anything. Instead what gets BAC in front of people is our work, word of mouth, social media, and my books.
Let me also note that this is an open success story. I’ve learned that some, perhaps many consultants prefer to keep their public presence scant. Their websites are limited brochures and they share little about their work. In contrast, I’ve shared everything I can, from reflections on our financials to my presentation content. I’ve blogged about the business fairly regularly. The only limits to open for BAC have been client requests (always honored) and my time.
Who have those clients been? In 2013 the balance of BAC work was with small liberal arts colleges, primarily in the US, due to my decade of work with NITLE and, before that, my teaching in a small Louisiana college networked with about a dozen peers. Since then we have worked with all kinds of academic institutions: research-I universities, community colleges, military academies, state universities. We have also worked for businesses and nonprofits in the academic space, plus governments. Our clients are now on every continent save Antarctica – and I’m ready for them!
On technology: ten years ago nearly all of our operations were in-person. I traveled a lot, partly by car (we lived in Vermont then, and the northeast is unusually rich in higher education for the United States), partly by air (getting to know the Burlington airport really well.) Gradually I did more virtual work as clients grew more comfortable with it. Moving out of infrastructure-poor Vermont to infrastructure-rich northeastern Virginia enabled us to do a lot more over video. The pandemic, of course, switched things entirely online for a year or two. Right now roughly one half of BAC’s work is through live video.
When we started, offerings were a mix of presentations, workshops, and research on spec. Now more than one half of our offerings are presentations, and added to the rest is media production. By “media” I mean:
- video: The Future Trends Forum launched in BAC’s second year, and now has 358 recordings hosted on YouTube.
- newsletters/report: the FTTE report continues. When BAC began we published FTTE as a freebie, but in 2018 switched it to subscription.
- books: when we launched BAC I had one book out in the world. Since then I revised that book for a second edition, and published three more.
- social media: I share my work across a range of platforms, from Twitter to Mastodon to LinkedIn and Facebook. Plus the blog, of course; I now report blog content over on Medium.
- podcasts: I’ve been on a bunch as a guest. Still trying assemble the resources (especially time) to fire up one of my own.
- interviews: as this work gets more traction, journalists pay more attention. So far I’ve been talking with the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, National Public Radio (2017, 2020, 2020, 2020, 2020), the Chronicle of Higher Education (2016, 2020), the Atlantic Monthly, Reuters, Times Higher Education, the National Association of College and University Business Officers, Pew Research, Campus Technology, The Hustle, Minnesota Public Radio, USA Today, and the Connected Learning Alliance.
When we launched BAC I described it as something “like a Web-based, real-time think tank.” That has proven to be correct over ten years of practice. The Web remains my primary vehicle for communication and collaboration, and I’ve been sharing my research in a networked, real time way. Media production is a key part of how BAC works.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of this was during COVID’s first two years. I started blogging on the topic right away, then hosted Forum sessions on it, trying to gather the best intelligence on the crisis for higher education while applying my futurist’s skills to help people see ahead. Interviews, presentations, consultations followed. The peak was 2020, with interest declining after that.
So BAC has been busy for a decade. Did we grow? In terms of revenue, BAC has grown incrementally each year, generally, becoming financially sustainable a few years after launch. Presentations account for more than half of revenue. Lately some media income has been increasing. Increasing fees hasn’t decreased demand so far.
In terms of staff, we have not expanded much. We’ve hired a terrific person to help with the Future Trends Forum. Otherwise we tend to hire people for one-off jobs, like graphic design. We’ve been hoping to expand, but really haven’t found the right mechanism for this yet.
We haven’t established a physical office. BAC is a virtual business.
Have we changed focus in a decade? In a sense, no, as the future of higher ed remains the lodestar. However, there’s been a gradual decline of client demand in technology per se. People are happy to talk about tech as part of the general future of higher ed; they have been less likely to request it as a focus. Until ChatGPT blew up, and now everyone wants to talk AI. So I’ve been working hard on that and have some stuff coming up.
One topic has been a bit different. My research on climate change appeared in blogging, starting in 2019, and built up to my latest book, Universities on Fire. This topical focus appeared as I started forecasting further out in time and across the world. I think it essential, now, to anyone considering the future of any bit of higher education. I’m not sure how much demand there is for it at present, though.
Normally I conclude these posts by looking ahead, but today I wanted to celebrate the past and present. I’d like to thank my clients for hiring me. I want to thank people who contributed in other ways, from you readers and an ocean of friends to my Patreon supporters and Steve Gottlieb with his Shindig team. And I wanted to thank my dear wife, Ceredwyn, without whom none of this would have been possible.