Pull Quote: It all begins with a through.

It All Begins With a Thought

Everything begins with a thought. Thoughts are powerful and have a magical way of manifesting themselves in one form or another. Dreams begin with just a thought. Mine was to move to Australia and start my own business.

When Topher reached out to me to write this essay for HeroPress, I was so nervous at first and contemplated declining. I then began reading the essays written by others and became intrigued. I quickly realized how wonderfully diverse our individual stories are and why WordPress, this synergistic community of all these unique people, is so dynamic.

WordPress can make dreams come true. There, I said it. And, I am a testament to that. Who would have thought I would be able to fulfill my teenage dream of living in Australia? But here I am and I can honestly say that I owe it to WordPress for helping make my dreams come true.

Young, Lost and Confused

Back before my days working with WordPress, I was fresh out of college and fresh out of clues as to exactly what to do with my life, but I thought I wanted to do something great, something different. Sometimes, knowing what you absolutely do not want to do can help put things into perspective as to what you really do want to do.

I realized early on that I did not want to be a 9-to-5er, who in Japan with so much overtime are more like 9-to-9ers. I used to watch them packed in the rush hour trains, going back and forth, back and forth, and back and forth again. I knew definitely that I did not want to ride that train.

Lucky for me, Brian, my best friend from high school, shared the same sentiment as me. Together, we decided to take a stab at the world of Internet business as business partners. Eventually, our relationship evolved into something more romantic.

We started up a web design studio making client sites for 30,000 yen (about $250) using Dreamweaver. We landed a couple clients through family connections and word of mouth. But seriously, $250 for a site? It quickly became obvious that our business was doomed, but the experience we gained was invaluable.

Over the years, Brian and I have failed numerous times together. But how can you ever really know for sure if something is going to work if you don’t launch? We can’t let the fear of failure hold us back from trying now can we?

One day I was speaking with a family friend, a very successful Internet millionaire in Japan’s domain industry. I confided in him the woes of my unsustainable web design business and he asked me, “Why don’t you just use WordPress?” I gave him a confused looked and asked, “What the heck is WordPress?”

He carefully explained to me what a CMS is and how much easier it is to build sites on WordPress. I was very curious about this “WordPress” thing he spoke of and sensed it just might be good for our business. After consideration, Brian and I made the switch and we began building WordPress websites.

Disaster Strikes

A couple months later, on March 11th, 2011, Japan was hit with a catastrophic 9.0 magnitude earthquake that shook the entire country. I’ve experienced many earthquakes growing up in Japan, but never anything like this. Not only was it one of the strongest quakes in history, but it also came with a secondary disaster, a nuclear accident, one of the worst disasters known to man.

Anyone who has visited Japan knows how orderly and punctual things are there. It was strange to see Tokyo in the aftermath of the disaster suffering in quiet chaos with everything shutdown, blackouts, shortages and confusion followed.

Earlier that year, Brian and I had booked flights for our first trip to Australia together as a new couple, but due to the earthquake, the airlines allowed us to depart 2 weeks earlier than originally scheduled. We jumped at the offer to evacuate, and boarded that plane at Kansai International Airport and arrived at Coolongatta Airport on the Gold Coast. Given the circumstances back home, it all seemed so surreal in retrospect.

We explored the beautiful east coast of Australia; from Brisbane to Byron Bay in a camper van like a couple of hippies. Here’s that clunky van.

Wicked Camper with saucy text all over the side

We didn’t know anyone or have any idea as to where to go, but it was such an exciting and liberating feeling to just be here in Australia. Our trip was far from glamorous, but I was so grateful to be here, and I seriously did not want to leave.

Starting a New Life

We went back to Tokyo for 2 short weeks just to pack up our bags and come straight back to Australia. We settled in a shabby 1-bedroom beach apartment with a leaky roof in Mermaid Beach near Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast.

With not even a single potential job prospect in line, we left everything we knew in Japan to start a new life in a new country where we did not know anyone. Our colleagues thought we were crazy, and honestly yes, it may have sounded a little crazy and reckless, but sometimes in life you just have to go for it, right? We took a big leap of faith.

It doesn’t take long though before reality bites you hard. Having moved to a new country with only a suitcase and a carry-on each, you find out fast about the burden of bills. Starting at zero, we virtually needed everything and had nothing. We had about $3,000 of our savings, and burned through that pretty quickly.

Brian and I made ends meet by finding web design clients on a well-known classified site called Gumtree and by winning contests on 99designs. We needed to do something other than client work so we looked to Themeforest. We were impressed by the number of sales some of these authors were making, and thought, we can totally do this.

My idea was to set us apart by creating a WordPress theme specifically for managing a soccer team. We released the first version of our Football Club theme and submitted it to Themeforest. With high hopes, we thought, great this is going to help us pay the bills.

But then, Themeforest rejected our theme. Ouch, well, so much for that plan. Years later, I learned that you usually do get rejected on your first submission and to keep trying; make the changes they ask for. We didn’t, but it’s not because we lost hope or didn’t believe in our product. I was bummed out when it happened, but being rejected by Themeforest definitely had its silver lining. I just knew we were sitting on a great product, so we decided to launch our own website and make the theme available on ThemeBoy.com.

Building the Business

I immediately learned that launching a new site and building your own brand is a lot of work. I quickly understood why people opt to sell on a market place like Themeforest.

The first month we made a grand total of $35 from our first customer. While that may not seem like much, every dollar makes a huge different when you’re barely scraping by.

The fact that someone actually came to our site and purchased our theme really validated our product. It felt fantastic!

A couple months later, a client we met through Gumtree gave us his ticket to WordCamp Gold Coast 2011. This was the first WordCamp I ever went to, and I was blown away. I had no idea that there was such a wonderful community around WordPress. Being that I didn’t know anyone in Australia, it was great to find this group of people whom I could relate to. It was extremely inspiring to hear and see what people were doing with WordPress. The event was so motivating that I went home that night and began reading more about WordPress to learn what this community was all about.

In 2012, Brian and I decided to move down to Melbourne. Not only has it been crowned the most liveable city in the world, but Melbourne is where Envato, 99designs, WPMU DEV, WP Elevation, and other WordPress related businesses are based. I felt like it was where we needed to be, the Emerald City in our journey of Oz.

We bought a used car for $500, packed all our bags, strapped the surfboards onto the roof and drove 1700km over the span of 3 days to continue building our business in Melbourne.

Car with surfboards on top. Brian leaning out the passenger window smiling while Ayla drives

Once we settled down, we started going to WordPress Meetups and discovered a large community of WordPress users and developers there. Looking back now, moving to Melbourne was a great decision for us, and we’ve made some great friends along the way. If you haven’t been to a WordPress Meetup or a WordCamp yet, I encourage you to go to one, you really never know who you will meet there.

In 2014, we released SportsPress, our flagship sports club management plugin, and rebuilt our entire business around it. We went from selling a single theme to focusing on creating an eco-system around our plugin. We recently reached the 10,000+ active installs, which is a huge milestone for any plugin author.

SportsPress is now the most popular sports plugin on the WordPress.org directory. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but I think that’s pretty cool!

WordPress Changed My Life

When my journey began, I was still 22, lost and confused about what I wanted to do with my life. WordPress gave me a new life, a fulfilling life where I get to help people build awesome websites for their sporting organizations.

I know everyone’s vision of success, their dreams and goals are different. If I’ve learned anything from reading other HeroPress essays, it’s that we all have a different journey. Your story won’t be the same as mine, or anyone else’s, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get there.

WordPress opened up so many opportunities for me that I wasn’t even aware of. WordPress helped me move to Australia and start my own business. You should know that these opportunities are out there for you, too. Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back from anything.

Take a Leap of Faith

If there is one thing I’d like for you to take away from my story is that sometimes it’s the right time to take that leap of faith and try something new that’s completely out of your comfort zone.

There were many times when I could have just given up. If I had never decided to launch my first failed web design business or tried to start a life in Australia, or if I had totally given up when Themeforest rejected us, I would never have the life I have today. Running your own business is hard work, but it has given me the freedom to escape the 9-to-5 and to live my life the way I want to.

I am not here to tell you that success is easy, but I can tell you that it really is possible and that it really is worth it. It all begins with a thought.

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