Cover image of How I Built It

Rank #72 in Technology category


How I Built It

Updated 2 days ago

Rank #72 in Technology category

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A podcast about building things on the web

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A podcast about building things on the web

iTunes Ratings

81 Ratings
Average Ratings

Digging this podcast!

By rock phenom - Nov 10 2019
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Really well done show, with good solid advice, and Joe is a very helpful guy!

Great podcast for product builders

By RameshDon - Sep 18 2019
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Wish I had listened to this show earlier. Very actionable advice. Thanx

iTunes Ratings

81 Ratings
Average Ratings

Digging this podcast!

By rock phenom - Nov 10 2019
Read more
Really well done show, with good solid advice, and Joe is a very helpful guy!

Great podcast for product builders

By RameshDon - Sep 18 2019
Read more
Wish I had listened to this show earlier. Very actionable advice. Thanx
Cover image of How I Built It

How I Built It

Updated 2 days ago

Read more

A podcast about building things on the web

Rank #1: Episode 2: Rebecca Gill and DIY SEO Courses

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Rebecca and I talk about building an online course, the necessary dedication you need to be able to teach, and some great tools for setting up your own online course!

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The post Episode 2: Rebecca Gill and DIY SEO Courses appeared first on How I Built It.

Aug 30 2016



Rank #2: Anton Kraly and a Drop Ship Business

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Anton Kraly is the founder of Drop Ship Lifestyle and has an incredibly story of how he got to where he is today. I’m grateful for Anton’s time and for sharing both his story, and his tips on how we can get into drop shipping.

Show Notes

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Intro: Hey, everybody. Welcome to Episode 107 of How I Built It. Today my guest is Anton Kraly of Drop Ship Lifestyle. I’m excited to talk to Anton today because way back in episode 101 Chris Lema talked about how an important thing to think about in 2019 is going to be drop-shipping, and in my opinion, there’s nobody better to talk to than Anton Kraly. He gives us lots of good advice on exactly what drop shipping is, and if you want to get into drop shipping, how to do that. In other words, how to build a dropship business. If this is something you’re especially interested in then this is a great episode, otherwise, there’s a lot of food for thought in this episode. Sit back, relax, and enjoy this interview with Anton. Of course first, I need to bring you a word from our sponsors.

Break: This season is brought to you by Plesk. Do you spend too much time doing server admin work, and not enough time building websites? Plesk helps you manage servers, websites, and customers in one dashboard. Helping you do those tasks up to 10 times faster than manually coding everything. As someone who just spent a bunch of time finding the right tools and automations to save myself time, I can tell you that Plesk is invaluable. You can try Plesk for free today at This episode is brought to you by MailPoet. If you build WordPress websites, you’d probably recommend a newsletter solution to your customers. Why not offer them a solution that is built into the WordPress admin? The MailPoet plugin offers just that. On top of that, they have a new newsletter designer that’s easier to use than MailChimp’s, and it takes only a few minutes to configure. Your customers will love it. MailPoet offers a free sending plan to ensure top-notch deliverability, and if your customers run into issues, the MailPoet support team offers free email and chat support. Classy. Save yourself time and make your customers happy. Try the new MailPoet today. You can download the plugin over at the WordPress plugin repository, Again, that’s

Joe Casabona: Anton Kraly of Drop Ship How are you today?

Anton Kraly: Doing well. How are you?

Joe: I am doing great. Thanks for joining me today. It is a little warmer for the fall here in the northeast of the United States, but that’s OK. I’m cool with it. I want to thank you for joining me today. I’m excited to talk about drop shipping and this general topic. Why don’t we start off with who you are and what you do?

Anton: Sure. My name is Anton Kraly. I see you have a New York Yankees shirt on there. I’m from New York, grew up there, went to school up in Albany. Started business there when I was 21, right out of school, selling cookies. That was my first business. I bought a delivery route for a bakery in Brooklyn, did that for a few weeks, thought “I don’t want to do this.” I learned about e-commerce in early 2007, and from then on there I’ve been building stores on different platforms, getting better hopefully, that’s always the goal with Google ads, and growing over the past ten or eleven years or so.

Joe: That’s fantastic. Did you go to SUNY Albany?

Anton: I did, yes.

Joe: Nice. That’s awesome. As we record this, it is the beginning of the baseball post-season, so hopefully, by the time this comes out, I’ll have a nice little pre-show intro talking about how the Yankees won the World Series. We’ll see. That’s cool. Why don’t we talk a little bit about that? How did you get into selling cookies for your first business? Was it– Were you really into cookies or did you see that as a good market to get into?

Anton: One of my friends’ dads, one of my friends– I realized they had a nice house and it seemed like they were doing well. It was funny because every time we would go to his house, they lived on a dead end street, and there were like five or six massive trucks out there. I asked him, “What is this?” And he said “My dad owns a delivery route business for a bread company. Like sliced bread, they had the rights to pick it up from wherever it’s made and then sell it to the grocery stores all around Nassau County on Long Island where I’m from. That was just one thing that popped into my head. I wasn’t like, “I need to be in this business,” but when I got out of school, and I knew I wanted to get into business, I was looking for opportunities that didn’t cost a million dollars because I was a kid. So I saw online that there were different businesses for sale, one of them caught my eye. It was a delivery route business for that bakery in Brooklyn, and it was about $25 grand. That was an opportunity I could get into. I saw someone and my friend’s dad that had bought something that was small, built it into something big, and I thought “OK this is an opportunity to, not do with the rest of my life at all, but to build this up maybe double the size, flip it and get into the next business.”

Joe: That’s fantastic. In college, you were ready to make a $25 thousand investment, which as somebody– We’re both around the same age. I basically worked online my entire life, and the startup costs for that are dramatically lower, like virtually zero, but that’s tainted me a little bit to wanting to make the initial investment. “You got to spend money to make money,” is the old adage. That’s cool that you were willing at that point to be willing to make that investment.

Anton: I didn’t know anything else. Back then when I bought that business, I did not know that I could build the website myself. I didn’t know there were tools out there. In fact, one of the things I was thinking of doing back then, again this is 2006. I was like, “I see an opportunity to have a for sale by owner home website. Have Nassau County, Suffolk County, all of Long Island.” And I was like, “I want to have that website built. Then we’ll find the people to list their homes.” And I went online, looked for Long Island web developers or something, and I was going to their offices and having meetings and getting quoted $100k, $200k. And I thought, “That’s any online business. That’s what you would need to spend to build it.” I had no idea that you can start something for $50 bucks. It wasn’t even an option to me.

Joe: $100k. I know a lot of the web developers listening to this cringed. Or, they’re like “I could charge that much.”

Anton: Yeah.

Joe: That’s interesting. I want to touch on two things, being a New Yorker myself. You’re from Nassau County. Does that make you a Mets fan? I don’t want to belabor the point of–

Anton: Unfortunately, yes. It makes me not like baseball.

Joe: I understand. Though the David Wright sendoff was a very nice one. A bakery in Brooklyn, for those of you outside of New York or maybe New York City, Brooklyn bakeries are the best bakeries. They make– I’m starting to sound a little bit like our president here, but there’s no better bakeries in the world, in my opinion. So that’s cool. From there I want to make sure that we have a good timeline for you talking about drop shipping. You started to do more research on e-commerce stuff, what was the leap you made from having this delivery business to getting into e-commerce?

Anton: Yeah, sure. I had the delivery business and a book, The Four Hour Workweek, that book came out in 2007. I read it, and there’s a chapter in it about building a Yahoo store on that platform. It said it was $29 for a month to get started, and then there was a chapter on Google AdWords. My thought process was   like, “What products do I have access to?” And it was cookies. I built a website called, listed all those cookies, and set up Google AdWords. Figured it out pretty simply, targeting people outside of New York that searched for cookies or anything, saying “Do you miss New York bakeries? Order authentic cookies shipped to your home in three days,” something like that. That was a weekend experiment, and within a week or so, that was making more money than that business that I spent $25k for. So I was like, “OK. E-commerce. That’s what I’m doing.” Since then  I started to get into more and more expensive products and whatnot because I realized I didn’t want to sell $20 items, but that was the start.

Joe: That’s incredible. You took a weekend. I will say, I rag on the Four Hour Work Week a lot, but there is a lot of good stuff in that book. I read it probably around the same time. So you set up a website in a weekend, you did Google AdWords which is a topic we could have a whole show on. And it started making a ton of money. You said you started to get into more expensive products? I imagine that this is the part where we start to talk about drop shipping because first of all just like shipping cookies you need to think of a couple of things to make sure they’re fresh when they’re delivered, and stuff like that. Maybe we can get into the research at this point. What research did you do getting into shipping these various types of products?

Anton: The transition there was, again, same thought process. “If I’m selling $20 items why can’t I sell $1,000 items?”  Back then– It’s not the same now, so I don’t recommend anybody do this, but my research process was to go on eBay and go through all of the categories, search for products with the filters that were above $500 and then sort by completed listings. Then I was looking in all the categories for completed listings that sold at Buy It Now prices over $500 that looked to be consistent. Lots of green. When I saw that I was like, “OK. People are buying these things.” Once I figured that out I picked a subset of products I wanted to start with, still didn’t know what drop shipping was, so I went on Google and figured out everything comes from China. Then I found Alibaba and back then I  was importing, we don’t have to talk about it, but for three years I was importing products from China. Bringing the containers to a fulfillment center in Long Beach, California and then I was selling them online. The fulfillment center was shipping them all out all over the country, and then from there once I had all those websites up, a few years into the process I started to get phone calls at my e-commerce businesses. I’ll give you an example. One of them was selling bed frames, so I had a bed frame company call me, and they were like, “We see you sell these products. We have our brands,” whatever bed frames ABC, and “Do you want to sell our stuff?” And at first, I said “No,” because I thought they wanted me to buy them and put them in the fulfillment center and I thought, “I don’t want to do that for the margins,” but then they explained to me “Listen. You put them on your website. We have them in our warehouses. When you get a sale, you let us know, we ship it direct to your customers. For me, that meant no overhead, no extra overhead, and the ability to increase the amount of products that I offered. Once I found out about that I started working with as many different brands as I could, that would work on that model.

Joe: That’s incredible. And that’s sort of like Amazon-ish like you’re the conduit for people being able to buy these products without having to yourself buy these products at wholesale.

Anton: Exactly.

Joe: That’s fantastic. You mentioned that your research process of 10 or so years ago is not the best research process today. What would you recommend for somebody today if they want to get into selling physical products, or their own products, online?

Anton: Some things that I look for, and again I want to see that somebody else, meaning another business, is making money doing it. Some things that I look for are– I use Google, so I go on Google, and I’ll type in different industry names. “Modern leather Italian sofa,” “Mahogany wood dining table,” things like that. Then I’ll pull up the first three pages of websites that have those products for sale, and from there specifically what I’m looking for are websites that don’t have retail locations and that don’t have warehouses. I want to find other internet retailers. The way that I check that, once I have a million tabs open on my computer, is I go through all those websites, and I check their contact page, and  I check their about us page. I see if it says “Stores” or “Store locator,” and when they have that I’m just closing those out. Because I’m not going to be competing with them. What I end up with is a handful of sites that sell the stuff that I want to sell that don’t have that physical presence, and from there I take those domains. I usually check on Alexa to see how much traffic they’re getting. Obviously, it’s an estimate, but I’m looking for stores that are in the top hundred thousand or higher in the United States. Once I have those two things confirmed I take it to the next step, which is how many different brands are these websites selling for? Is it a modern Italian leather sofa website that’s custom making them in their garage in New York? Or is it a company that has 30 different types you could buy? And if I could find that, a website without the address, with that traffic, with multiple brands, then I’m  like “OK this is an opportunity.” That’s the starting point.

Joe: Gotcha. That makes sense. You want to make sure that these are people who aren’t necessarily catering to a local crowd, they want to cater to everybody. Then you said that you want to make sure they don’t have a warehouse either, and that’s because a warehouse implies that they are stocking their own stuff. Right?

Anton: Right, and when that happens, the way that we get– Just so everybody, if anyone is thinking “I should try drop shipping,” never go online and Google drop ship suppliers or anything like that because you’re going to find these middlemen that will say “Pay us X amount of dollars per month, and you get access to a million products,” and you’re never going to make money with companies like that in the long run. The companies that we sell for, we sell for directly. We have direct relationships with every single brand and the way that we find our brands is by finding companies that we’re going to be competing with. We find them from those websites. If my research was just anybody, even that has a retail store, and I’m going to try to sell the stuff that they’re selling. A lot of those brands will say “We don’t work with online retailers.” It’s a waste. We want to segment down further before we start extracting suppliers.

Joe: Gotcha. That makes a ton of sense. We haven’t defined drop shipping, I made the assumption that people know what it is, but maybe– Can you define it for us–?

Anton: Sure.

Joe: Before we move forward?

Anton: Yes. It’s a very vague term, and there’s a lot of different things that would fall under drop shipping, but all it means is you’re selling something, and you’re not fulfilling the orders directly. Even if at your house you were making wooden tables, and I put one on Craigslist, and I’m in Austin, Texas now. I put one on Craigslist, and I sold it. Then I was like, “I got the sale. Can you ship it to my customer?” And you did that, that would be drop shipped. That’s one way to do it. With the cookie business, I don’t even realize back then, but as that website grew I was selling them on my website, and then I was having the bakery in Brooklyn ship them directly to my customers. That technically was drop shipping. If you go online and Google it now, you’re probably going to think it means using a website like Ali Express and selling stuff from China through Facebook ads. And technically that is drop shipping, but again it’s a generic term. It’s a method of order fulfillment.

Joe: Gotcha. As you said if I want to get into selling Star Wars prints, like Star Wars digital prints. Or not digital prints, the canvas type prints.

Anton: Yes.

Joe: And I’m not making them, and I’m not shipping them to the person. I contract with a few people, artists sell them through my website, and then they ship them out. Another good real example is my website for selling T-shirts. That’s all through I uploaded the artwork, somebody orders a T-shirt, Printful prints the T-shirt and then sends it. I don’t touch that process at all.

Anton: Right. That’s drop shipping. We use them too. Good company.

Joe: I’m testing out a few more different products right now. So, cool. I like the advice that you gave about never Googling dropshipping suppliers. Much like what you said, selling from Ali express or whatever, through Facebook ads, it’s a little bit disingenuous. Because you’re taking advantage of the fact that people aren’t sure what to look for.

Anton: Speaking on that too. Never Google drop ship suppliers, and never, when you’re talking to the real brands that you want to sell for, you also shouldn’t use the term drop shipping. My website is called so people can find us. But when I’m talking to suppliers, I don’t call them and say,  “Do you drop ship?” That’s not– It has a negative connotation associated with it because a lot of beginners think it means something that it’s not, and they think they’re going to make all this money by selling some big company’s stuff. The truth is the companies that you want to sell for, and they are only going to let you sell their stuff if they trust you and if they think you’re building a real business or already have a real business. That’s not a term you want to throw around besides discussions with other people that are in the business.

Joe: Gotcha. That makes sense. Because they’re putting their products on the line.

Anton: Exactly.

Joe: And if you’re disingenuous, to use the term I used before, then you’re diminishing their brand as well.

Anton: Exactly.

Joe: That’s cool. That’s almost like SEO ten years ago. If somebody said I’m a Search Engine Optimization expert, you’d almost look at them side-eyed. Like, “What are you trying to tell me?” Cool. So to talk about, this is the thing that will be the title question. How did you build it? Can you tell us a little bit about that website specifically?

Anton: Sure. It’s a WordPress site, and it has so many, probably way too many plugins and themes. We’ve been through having everything done custom, and the problem with that for me is I’m not that technical, so when it came to making quick edits for changing out promotions or new content, it broke too much. Right now the front end of it, the main content site is running on WordPress using [thrive themes with thrive, architect]. That’s our builder. I love it, and it’s easy enough for me but still seems to load fast enough for Google to show, and we use that. Then for our community– A lot of what we do is teaching based. Our members area is also built on WordPress, that’s using a whole combination of tools, but using a tool called [Memberium], and that does content mocking and [Memberium] is a plugin that works with Infusionsoft. Infusionsoft is our CRM, so whether someone is getting emails from us or whether they buy from us and then get access tags, that’s all handled there. Then Infusionsoft works with [Memberium] to say, “OK give this person access to this thing.” That’s our main content for this company.

Break: This episode is brought to you by Pantheon. Starting a new project? Looking for a better hosting platform? Pantheon is an integrated set of tools to build, launch and run websites. Get high performance hosting for your WordPress sites, plus a comprehensive toolkit to supercharge your team and help you launch faster. On Pantheon, you get expert support from real developers, best in class security and the most innovative technology to host and manage your websites. You can sign up a new site in minutes with a free account, and you only pay when it goes live. That is my second favorite feature to Pantheon, only to the easy ability to create dev staging and live servers, and push to GitHub. It’s very easy to set those things up on Pantheon. You can head over to today to set up a free account and pay only when it goes live. Thanks so much to Pantheon for their support of this episode and this season of How I Built It.

Joe: is an area where people can come to learn about drop shipping, and there’s the community aspect where people can talk to each other. It looks like you have a couple of courses on here too, what are you– Are you using WordPress for the courses as well?

Anton: Exactly. WordPress. They’re on a subdomain, so it’s Courses.DropShipLifestyle, but that’s on WordPress as well with–  It’s using [divvy] as the theme on there, but we use a plugin called Sensei, and Sensei is a good course plugin. It’s pretty basic but more than enough, and it tracks people’s progress throughout so they can click, they completed a lesson. It allows us to attach different downloads to different modules, like worksheets and whatnot. Easy to embed videos, we use Vimeo pro for all of our video hosting there. For our community side of it,  that’s where the content lives for the education of it. But then we wanted to have a forum also, so people can interact with each other. We do have a Facebook group, but I started Drop Ship Lifestyle back in 2013 when Facebook groups weren’t even a thing yet, so we needed a forum integration. For the forum we found the best solution to be through Invision Power Board. It’s, and we use their software to run our forum.

Joe: That’s cool. I haven’t heard of Invision Power Board, and I’m definitely going to check that out. I use bbPress for my community, and it integrates well with my LMS LearnDash. But Sensei is the one that integrates with WooCommerce, right? That’s the WooCommerce LMS?

Anton: They do have a plugin, yeah.

Joe: Cool.

Anton: An extension.

Joe: Nice. It sounds like you have a lot going on, but it sounds like the perfect site builder map. If I wanted to go off and build a website that is a course and community, or an online courses and community, you’ve given us a good blueprint for what we should be using. Which is always insanely valuable.

Anton: Especially since there’s so much out there. We’ve been through so many different tools, and nothing’s going to be perfect, but if you do want to create something like an online course, pick something. This works for us, it does work, so if you want to use it then use it, but don’t get caught up. That’d be my advice for anybody, don’t get caught up in “Which one out of these thousand things should I use?” Because they all do the same thing.

Joe: That’s great advice, and it’s something that– I started a second podcast called Creator Toolkit where I go through things exactly like this. “What do I need to do to set up an online course?” I talk about the themes and different plugins that you could use and stuff like that, but you’re absolutely right, the tools are one thing, and the content is a whole other thing. So even if you want to use Vimeo pro to make the videos and sell the videos, you can do that on Vimeo pro now too. But this is fantastic, and I’ll be sure to link all of that in the show notes. It looks like– As we come up on, we’re coming up on time already I can’t believe it. You have three different courses. I don’t want to make this sound like an advertisement, but this is. There’s so much to know about drop shipping, and you’ve given us, again, like I said a really good blueprint. But what’s the difference between these three courses? I’m looking at the pricing table, but if I wanted to get started with drop shipping today, which course would you recommend for me?

Anton: Either what we call our premium course, which is all our training videos. That’s every training video we have plus our– We do have an app for Shopify that’s not in the Shopify app store, and it’s something that’s on our website. It lives on our website, but we allow our students to use it. That’s included with that. Then also we have– We call it the Drop Ship Lifestyle Shopify theme,  really original name, but you get that too. So I’d recommend either that or for the people that want just us to build the website for you, we don’t go as far obviously as getting traffic and sales and supplier approvals because then we would sell the website ourselves for a lot more money. But that’s the top tier package where we will set up your Shopify store, and we’ll upload your products for you, do all your content pages and your logo. We will set up your social media pages. We will set up your first Google ads on Google Shopping campaign, but that’s for the people that are like, “Let me just hand that off,” and “I’d rather just pay to outsource it.” Depends how hands on you want to be in the beginning, I would say.

Joe: That’s great. This is the reason I ask this question because this is for anybody who wants to sell online courses. This is a great model.

Anton: Definitely.

Joe: You’ve got basic, which is some educational information. You’ve got premium, which is basic– This is the middle tier. This is what probably you’re–

Anton: That’s all the content. So if you want to learn again, boom here you go. You got it.

Joe: Then there’s the ultimate package, which like you said, will do everything for you. You get to learn, but then you understand what’s happening and the setup is being done for you. So you can understand, but you don’t have to sink a bunch of hours into the nitty-gritty of setting the site up and making sure, “Is this right? I think I understood this correctly, but I’m not sure.”.

Anton: Exactly.

Joe: And again, to hearken back to what we talked about earlier, this ultimate package is $4,997, one-fifth of what you paid to start your first business.

Anton: I know. It’s funny. People think about it different like you said too, and I get it. Even when I’m building a new website I’m like, “Can I start this thing for $200 bucks?” And it’s funny. I bought– The truck that I got with that delivery route was like a 1985 dodge something piece of crap that I paid to sit in traffic for two hours on the BQE every day, like that was my investment. And now people are like, “It’s going to cost me $29 a month for Shopify? That’s a ripoff.” Like, it’s powering your entire business. Relax.

Joe: Exactly. That’s something that I try to talk about a lot on this show because I was guilty of it starting out. I’m getting better about it now if I can pay $300 hundred bucks for something that’s going to save me even ten hours that is totally worth it for me. But you’re absolutely right, and it’s so funny. I quoted out a project for somebody, and they wanted an e-commerce site that would have 2,500 or 25,000– Some preposterous amount of products on it. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s say 40,000 products. And I quoted them at $20 thousand because it would just be WooCommerce where we’re sourcing the product somewhere else, and he’s like, “That’s expensive.” And I was like, “That is 50 cents a product.”  It’s interesting because people understand how expensive it is to build a building because they can see it get built. But with a website it’s like, this guy goes into his magic box and sets up a website, and it’s done. That’s cool. We’re coming up on time, and I’m enjoying this conversation. What are your plans for the future of Or maybe if you want to wax poetic a little bit, what do you think the future of drop shipping is?

Anton: That’s one thing– The future for Drop Ship Lifestyle, what’s cool about it is, again, it’s been around for five years. The reason it’s still around and the reason I still do so much for it, like I’m doing a coaching call today for it at 2:00 PM, but it’s because things always do change. It’s enjoyable for me because I do love the business side of it, both on the info business which would be Drop Ship Lifestyle, and on the physical product business. It’s fun for me. So the future is seeing where things go, seeing what works for us and then sharing it once I can confirm some data with our other businesses. It’ll keep evolving as the e-commerce site evolves, and the future of drop shipping is more about the future of e-commerce than drop shipping. Because again, drop shipping is one method of order fulfillment. I don’t think that even if– I don’t see any big difference there between e-commerce as a whole, but what I hope doesn’t happen, because we’ll see what the government does. If they have to break up Amazon or not. Because right now the type of stuff we sell,  knock on wood, it hasn’t been an issue with Amazon with prime because we don’t sell prime products. If you want to sell inexpensive stuff and have your own brand, that’s a great place to have your stuff too. With our stuff, it would never happen. In the future though, if it does, and there becomes a day that you’re moving into a new office, and everything’s going to be furnished from Amazon, and you’re going to place a $20k order on there and so is everybody else and they eat up the entire market, we’ll see if they get broken up or not. That might be five years from now, that might be ten years from now. It might never happen. But that’s the type of thing that would cause a big impact on sales. Same reason when Home Depot went everywhere, smaller retailers went out of business. Not happening yet, but again it could be a negative future for it.

Joe: That’s a really interesting take. Because we do see Amazon getting into– There’s the Amazon grocery service, Pantry I think it’s called, where you can get groceries on Amazon and if you live in the right place, you can get it in the same day. I live near Philadelphia now, and I’m indignant when something takes more than two days to get to me because I have same day shipping now. But that’s a good point. And they have prime wardrobe now which is the same sort of thing as Stitch Fix. They could conceivably monopolize the e-commerce market.

Anton: They’re trying to. That’s their goal.

Joe: Right. That’s so interesting. You’ve given us a ton of great advice, but I do want to ask my favorite question though. Which is, do you have any trade secrets for us?

Anton: Maybe. It might not be a secret based on the kinds of things we’ve been talking about, but one thing that made all the difference for me with growing our businesses was focusing on expensive products. It’s one reason also, even with Drop Ship Lifestyle, it’s why the course doesn’t cost $7. It’s why we make premium products there. The stuff we sell online also, the products we drop ship and the brands we sell for, it’s more of a premium price point. It’s more of something that honestly is going to give our customer a better experience, but it’s also going to allow us enough profit per sale to be able to pay for ads and to be able to have support people, to be able to invest time into growing these things. So, maybe it’s a secret maybe it’s not. But I would say for anybody, whatever you’re selling online, try to sell something– For us, our minimum is $200 hundred bucks that we look for. Ideally closer to $1,000 or more, and since we made that shift, it’s made a massive difference in how we can spend and how we can grow.

Joe: That’s great advice. Because like you said, if you’re going to be selling smaller stuff then maybe sell it through Amazon. Or people will likely buy it from Amazon anyway because their shipping overhead is a lot lower than what your shipping overhead would be. That is great advice, and that’s not just great advice for people who drop ship either. If you’re selling digital products, I for a long time underpriced my courses. I had to grind out each sale, and it wasn’t worth it for me. I’m raising the price of my courses, which allows me to spend more time creating good content, and it also communicates the value of those courses to the buyer. That’s another really important thing. If you’re selling a chair for $20 bucks or something like that, that’s probably a cheaply made chair. But if you’re selling it for a $1,000 bucks, people know I’m getting a good quality chair.

Anton: And it brings in the legitimate buyers. For Drop Ship Lifestyle, if I said “I’m going to teach you how I’ve been doing this stuff for the past decade and how I’ve built multiple eight-figure stores, and how I spend a million dollars on ads a year,” and it’s $599. People are going to be like, “OK this is a scam.” Right? Or instead, people are going to buy it thinking they’re going to get rich overnight. Instead, the people that invest in our program, at least 99% of them, they’re serious, and they’re trying to build something. That allows me to put like you said, more time into the content. It allows me to do things like– I do a monthly call with everybody, but a monthly webinar Q&A type thing. And if I sold something that was cheap you wouldn’t be able to do that. So everybody, go premium and give people what they want which is results, and more. They want more from you, so give it to them.

Joe: That’s great. And I will– Before I ask you where people can find you, there is one more anecdote I want to share with somebody who’s in my mastermind group. She was selling a very cheap or free membership, and they expected this from her because of where they were in their career. They weren’t ready to spend $2 thousand or $5 thousand on the proper learning material, but they still spent money and viewed it as “I need to get everything I can out of this.” And it wasn’t viable for her. That’s a good point about bringing in the legitimate buyers. Cool. Anton, thanks so much for your time. Where can people find you?

Anton: The best spot would be Everything is linked up off there. All the social pages, you want to contact me, we have the contact on there. But that’s where we’ve got all our links.

Joe: Awesome. I will include that and everything we talked about in today’s episode, which is a lot. It’s going to be lengthy show notes. Be sure to head over to for those. Anton, thanks so much again for your time. I appreciate it.

Anton: Awesome, thank you.

Outro: Thanks so much to Anton for joining us today. I liked his thoughts about expanding his ability to sell, and how he built his website which is WordPress and a lot of stuff I use, which is cool. Then his future predictions for drop shipping, especially that of Amazon and how that’s the elephant in the room, and how that’s going to affect the future of drop shipping. He offers a lot of great advice, and I’m appreciative for that. I’m also appreciative of our sponsors, Plesk, Pantheon, and MailPoet. Be sure to check them out. For all the show notes you can head over to My question of the week for you is, have you been thinking about drop shipping or is this the first time you’ve ever heard of it? Let me know your thoughts at, or on Twitter @jcasabona. If you liked this episode be sure to give us a rating and a review over an Apple podcasts. It helps people discover the show. Until next time, get out there and build something.

The post Anton Kraly and a Drop Ship Business appeared first on How I Built It.

Jan 22 2019



Rank #3: Sherry Walling & Choosing Self Employment

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This is Part 1 of our mini series, “How You Build a Business”

In today’s episode, I get to talk to Dr. Sherry Walling. She’s kicking off our miniseries on how to build a business and she helps us answer a very important question: “Am I ready to start my own business?” Sherry is a fantastic person to talk to and a wealth of knowledge. We talk self-publishing, self-knowledge, podcasting, and much more.

Show Notes

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Intro: Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of How I Built It! In today’s episode, I get to talk to Dr. Sherry Walling. She’s kicking off our miniseries on how to build a business and she helps us answer a very important question: “Am I ready to start my own business?” Sherry is a fantastic person to talk to and a wealth of knowledge. We talk self-publishing, self-knowledge, podcasting, and much more. This is a great episode that we’re going to get into. But first, a word from our sponsors.

Sponsors: This season of How I Built It is brought to you by two fantastic sponsors. The first is Liquid Web. If you’re running a membership site, an online course, or even a real estate site on word press, you’ve likely already discovered many hosts that have optimized their platforms for a logged out experience, where they cash everything. Sites on their hardware are great for your sales and landing pages, but struggle when your users start logging in. At that point, your site is as slow as if you were on three dollar hosting. Liquid Web built their managed word press platform optimized for sites that want speed and performance, regardless of whether a customer is logged in or logged out. Trust me on this, I’ve tried it out and it’s fast, seriously fast. Now, with their single site plan, Liquid Web is a no-brainer for anyone whose site is actually part of their business, and not just a site promoting their business. Check out the rest of the features on their platform by visiting them at web. That’s web.

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And now…on with the show!

Joe: Hey, everybody, welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks how did you build that? Today my guest is Dr. Sherry Walling. Dr. Sherry, how are you today?

Sherry: I’m good. It’s a mouthful.

Joe: I know. I was like totally on autopilot, so it was like the first thing you say is the first name, so just say that. How are you doing today?

Sherry: I’m doing well. It’s like 30 degrees in Minneapolis, which is like summer vacation weather for us in the middle of winter. It’s been like negative 10, so 30 is like amazing.

Joe: Yeah. Being from the Northeast, I thought I had it pretty bad at like negative one, and then I look at what you guys are going through, so I was grateful to have one 60-degree day last week. I’m like it’s 65 degrees warmer than it’s been. It builds character, I think.

You are going to be talking to us today about mental health, in general, but you have a book coming out. I’m going to bleep the bad word, because I don’t want to throw the explicit warning on this. It’s Keeping Your Beep Together.

Sherry: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Keeping Your Beep Together: How to run your business without letting it run you.

Joe: There you go. That’s the full name. I really wish I had that up and I had something else up on my other screen. I was kind of perusing the book before this interview, and there’s a lot of great stuff in there. Why don’t we start with who you are and what you do?

Sherry: I’m a clinical psychologist. I have a PhD in clinical psychology. I have traditionally done a lot of work with people who have really high intensity jobs, so I did a lot of my training with folks in the military, and then since built a practice working largely with physicians, attorneys, people who just have sort of high pressure, high stress work.

In the last couple of years, I’ve been doing a podcast with my husband Rob Walling, who’s a serial tech founder. He started a company called HitTail, a company called Drip, and a conference called MicroConf, so he’s like a techie guy.

A couple of years ago, three years ago, actually, we started a podcast together called Zen Founder, where we talk about the mental side, the family side of being an entrepreneur and try to share some good information that’s informed by science as well as our experience to help people’s lives be a little bit easier in the midst of starting and running a business.

Joe: Man, that’s fantastic. I’m so excited to have you on the show, because it’s unlike any guest I’ve really had. I usually talk to developers or entrepreneurs about the things that they’ve created, but mental health, I feel, is something that is being discussed a little bit more but still isn’t given the kind of center stage thought that it should.

I’m definitely going to link your podcast in the show notes. It’s a great show, and you guys cover a lot of … You guys get pretty personal on the show, too, right? It’s probably not easy doing a show like that.

Sherry: You know, it’s interesting. We started out not very personal. We started out a lot of 10 points to beat procrastination, kind of thing. The last year, really the last year-and-a-half, we’ve been through some really significant things in our family including the acquisition of Rob’s company that led us to the move from California to Minneapolis.

Some of the things that we went through as a family, I think, were just super relevant to the people that listen to this show. Then last January, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, so that became a thing that also shaped our lives, but had some impact on our businesses.

We didn’t set out to do a podcast that was about us, but I work with founders, I’m a consultant with founders, I’m a therapist for founders, so I know that those kinds of experiences in your family life definitely have an impact on your business. It just sort of made sense and was authentic for us to begin talking a little bit more about our family life and personal life in the context of what it meant for us as we both run businesses.

Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. You also, kind of in that same vein, you mentioned that you are a clinical psychologist for high stress work, right? I feel like, and, again, this is like all kind of stuff that is from personal experience, but I’ve gotten, you know, “You don’t have a real job. You work for yourself,” or “You’re a freelancer,” and stuff like that.

A lot of people who aren’t in it, kind of view self-employment or freelancing, especially, freelancing has the negative connotation as like easy. They don’t view it as high stress.

Sherry: Yeah. I feel like maybe those folks don’t know what it’s like to be responsible for your own paycheck.

Joe: Right. Especially like if you have kids. I just went full time self-employed in June. I had a three-month-old at home. I don’t know what I was thinking, but it’s working out so far, but it can get very stressful.

Sherry: Yeah. I think there are some really unique stresses that go along with being a freelance or being an entrepreneur, in that you do assume responsibility for the direction of your entire life. That includes the financial responsibility as well as all of the decisions weigh on you.

Again, lots of us have high intensity jobs and stressful jobs, but I think there’s something unique about the entrepreneurial life because it is such a solo enterprise, and you bear all of the weight on your own. Even if you have a spouse that’s all in, and even sometimes if you have a business partner, it’s a uniquely lonely enterprise, which I think from a mental health perspective, has some pretty significant challenges.

Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. You mentioned that before you did this, you were doing military. Is that right?

Sherry: Yeah. I worked in several different VA hospitals in Los Angeles and in Boston.

Joe: Got you. What was the transition like? Did you find it was completely different contexts? Or were there shockingly similar contexts between the two?

Sherry: I think that there are some similarities in the sense that a lot of people who’ve been in combat learn to operate at a level of elevation or a level of stress that feels normal to them, it becomes normal to them.

Seeing a very similar pattern in entrepreneurs who’ve maybe gone through the intensity of a big launch, if they’re in software, for example, and learn to operate at this level of stress, this level of go, go, go, go, go, go, go, and they forget what civilian life is like, or similar to people who are returning from combat, it feels sort of strange to be in civilian life after adjusting to the intensity of a combat zone.

It’s obviously not a perfect parallel, but there are certainly some parallels in the intensity, constant drive, constant rush, constant push that entrepreneurs can find themselves in without kind of this memory of how to live in a more relaxed sustainable way.

Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. Just to add a personal point onto that: I’ve been kind of self-employed in some way, shape, or form since high school. I’ve been full time, I’ve been moonlighting, and one of the big adjustments, and I’m still having trouble with this, is when I’m watching my daughter, like my wife is a night shift nurse, when I’m watching my daughter, I have a hard time not waiting for her to take a nap so I can go do some work, or when I have some downtime, do some work instead of watch TV.

It’s always, when am I going to have time to do that next thing that’s on my plate? Do all parents go through this? Probably not. A lot probably have like a nine-to-five, and they’re very good at separating their work life from their home life, but that’s a transition for me, and I don’t feel like I’m super high stress in my work, but that’s a transition that’s been kind of hard for me, so I can totally see what you’re saying and where you kind of went with the analogy.

Sherry: It’s a sense of being never off.

Joe: Right. Yeah. Exactly. Which could be very stressful. So you have this book that’s kind of the entrepreneur’s guide to making sure you are ready to be an entrepreneur. Again, I have the book in front of me. I was looking at the table of contents. The chapter that jumped out at me the most was chapter three, Self-Knowledge. Because one of the things that I’ll recommend to people who are saying I’m thinking about doing it, is you need to ask, are you ready? Have you thought about this? Is this even something that you want?

A lot of people say working for yourself is a coveted thing, but it’s not for everybody. We can kind of frame all of the questions around that chapter, but branch out as you’d like. First of all, what gave you the idea for the book?

Sherry: We’ve had the podcast. We just recorded episode 151. So there’s a lot of content that Rob and I have been talking about over the years, and that I’ve been talking about at conference presentations and things like that. We wanted to really create something where it was just easy and accessible, where people could get sort of like the take-home bullet points in a fast digestible way where they didn’t have to listen to a hundred and fifty hours of podcasts although, hey, we’re very entertaining.

It also, I think, is a way of just getting that information out there in a way that’s easily accessible. Then I also wanted to really expand, I think, the reach beyond folks who are dedicated podcast listeners. I think podcasting is an amazing medium. It’s been something that I have really enjoyed doing over the last few years, but certainly there’s a larger group of people who are going to pick up a book than will sit and listen to a podcast.

Joe: Nice. Absolutely. When you set out to do the book, did you get advice from anybody? Do you know a lot of published authors who gave you advice? Did you go through the proposal process of finding a publisher? Are you self-publishing? What was kind of the legwork before you set out to actually write the book?

Sherry: Thankfully, I know quite a few authors so was able to talk with them and kind of review the pros and cons of publishing in different ways. I also have a previous life as an academic. I was tenure-track faculty for three years, so a lot of my world has revolved around writing and publishing, mostly in academic journals, which is very different than what this book is, thankfully. It’s a little bit more entertaining.

We decided, and Rob is second author on the book, so we decided that we would self-publish primarily because it allowed us to retain a lot of control and some focus on building our audience, so that was a decision that we made really thinking about what the intention for the book was.

Joe: Got you. That makes sense. Well, first of all, getting published in an academic journal, I know, is not easy or exciting, because I did it in grad school. It’s like I can’t even go back and read this paper that I helped write because it’s so dry. It’s just like very, here are the facts.

Sherry: I would spend like 9 to 12 months writing a paper, especially after you conduct the research, you’ve run your stats, you do the whole process, and I would spend all of this time writing a paper, and maybe like 50 people would read it. I got published in some reasonable journals that have pretty good reach, but then I get on the podcast and after working at it for several years, thousands of people, for better or worse, listen to Rob and I talk every week.

So the reach and the impact in the community is so much greater, which is why I’m really grateful to have the medium, and hopefully now publish the book in a way that will have bigger reach than the 50 people who read my analysis of, I don’t know, combat-related PTSD.

Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. I will say that my paper, which was on, I think the title was Automated Congestion Detection Using Mobile GPS … It’s like traffic detection using phones. I know it was published like in 2008, before it was a thing that happened. I think one person cited my paper in their paper, and it was like I had a party about it. I’m like, “Yes!” Self-publishing is great.

I’ve also gone through the publishing process with a publisher, so that’s a very different thing, too. It’s like you have the proposal and a lot of back-and-forth, but for audience building, especially, I did that because the publisher had audience and was interested in the topic. You get some money up front, but I don’t know how much my audience grew because of it.

As far as self-publishing goes, before we really get into the topic, do you have like a game plan for it as far as, are you going to do print-on-demand? It is only going to be a PDF or an e-book, and things like that?

Sherry: Well, we’re doing a printed book, an audiobook, and the e-book. We’ve gone through Amazon’s CreateSpace, which is the most archaic piece of software that I’ve used since DOS-based e-mail in college. Sorry, Amazon, but your CreateSpace sucks.

Joe: Plus one on that.

Sherry: Yeah. I’m really, really, this is the best we have? Yeah, so we have the printed version, which I am looking at a proof right now. If feels good in my hands, I’ve gotta say. Then we’ll have the e-book. Then I recorded the audiobook, which I think for the podcast listeners who are used to listening to my voice, that will feel familiar and hoping that it’s not irritating to everyone who’s not used to listening to my voice.

Joe: Was it different narrating the book as opposed to actually doing the podcast? Do you have a more formal cadence to the audiobook? Or is it still that casual conversation? Just out of curiosity.

Sherry: I really worked hard for it to sound more casual, because I think audiobooks, especially when they are read by the author, if they’re read in a way that feels really rote and detached, I think something is really lost. There’s definitely some parts in the audiobook where I just sort of go on a tangent and riff a little bit, and I’m like, “Okay, audiobook listeners … ”

I’ve really wanted it to be more conversational. Again, we’ll see if that feels good to the listener once we get some feedback and reviews about it. I will tell you that I recorded the audiobook before we finalized the printed version of the book, and that was super valuable, because, of course, I’ve read it over and over, I wrote it, I’ve edited it, I’ve spent a lot of time with this material, but reading it out loud, there were just things that, “Oh, that came out funny,” or “That’s not what I meant,” so it was a really nice final process of editing the book, actually, to read it out loud, record the audiobook, and then go back and actually make some changes to the printed text, where it just didn’t sound right as I read it out loud.

Joe: I think that’s really great advice for any kind of long form writing, especially. Some advice I got from an English teacher in school was like, “Read it out loud and see how it sounds.” I did that with a newsletter I got, where somebody said, “This app has become my wife and I’s favorite,” and I’m like you did not read this out loud, because that’s not grammatically correct, and it sounds super weird. Like my wife and I’s? I think that’s great advice in general, because you really do get to see, or hear, how it sounds to the reader. That’s fantastic. Then another bonus of self-publishing is, you mentioned you’re going to get feedback from readers, listeners; you can iterate more quickly on a self-published book, right?

Sherry: Absolutely. I mean, I own the audio files. If people are like, “What happened to you in chapter five?”, I can go back and fix that. Or I can go back and make modifications that I feel like need to be made once the products have had some life to them.

Joe: Right. Right. On that same token, I’m very grateful for my publisher, but my book is three, almost four years old, at this point. If I want to make updates to it, they don’t want to do a version two, so now I have to go through getting the rights back so I can update and distribute it if I want to.

I’m very grateful for my publisher, and it’s Peachpit, and I learned how to make websites from Peachpit, so I’m honored that they published my book, but a few years down the line, especially with tech books, it’s out of date. Now this is another hurdle I have to go through if I want to put out the book again. Oh, yeah. Go ahead.

Sherry: I was going to say, I think if there’s a second or third book in my future, I would definitely consider going through a publisher just to have that experience. I also do swim in the academic circles still a little bit, and there is still a cache to being published by a publisher and having gone through that review process.

I don’t diminish that process at all. I think it’s really important, but I think for this one, we wanted to get this out to our scrappy podcast audience. So it feels good to have self-published this one and, again, I would totally consider going through a publisher the next round.

Joe: Totally. It comes down to like what you’ve been saying, it all depends on what you want. I will say having that book officially published is what helped, I feel, that helped me land my job at Crowd Favorite, or at least Karim, the CEO of Crowd Favorite and a good friend and my former boss, was very happy that I was able to publish that book, because it was something that we could tell clients.

There is a cache to being published, and it really all depends on what your goal is. If you’re going to iterate quickly, self-publishing is definitely the way to go.

We’re like 20 minutes into this conversation. Let’s talk about the subject matter. I’ll say, like, Sherry, you’re very easy to talk to, which is probably a great quality to have in a clinical psychologist, so this is why we’re 20 minutes in and we haven’t even talked about the book. So this is going to be a longer-than-normal episode.

Sherry: Soon I’m going to get you talking about your mother.

Joe: I know. I know. I’m an Italian, so I’m very attached to my mother, of course. Let’s talk about chapter three, Self Knowledge. Maybe you can give us like a quick overview of what that chapter covers and kind of your goal for writing that chapter. Does that sound good?

Sherry: Yeah. So really my goal was not to help people assess whether or not they’re ready to be an entrepreneur. I think my goal is generally to assume that lots of different kinds of people can be successful as an entrepreneur, especially if you have like a really clear sense of what your strengths and weaknesses are and know how to plan around them.

In this chapter, we talk about a couple of different continuums. One is introversion/extroversion, which lots of us talk about all the time. One that we talked about is growth mindset versus fixed mindset. The last one that we talk about is chaos versus rigidity.

We think about these continuums as different ways of kind of organizing a personality, and no matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, or you tend toward the more rigid, or you tend toward the more chaotic, there’s a place for you in the entrepreneurial world, but being able to tell the truth about what you’re good at and what your liabilities are is really the point of self-knowledge.

Joe: I mean, that’s a huge step in being successful, like being a successful entrepreneur, like knowing … Like I know, for example, that I would like to be more rigid than I am, but I have like 14 notebooks on my desk right now with different notes in each of them. As long as I understand that that’s the way I work and at some point during my day I organize all of those into a single list or a group of notes, that’ll help me stay on track. I’ll focus less on I need to be more rigid and more on focusing on the core of my business. Is that accurate?

Sherry: Absolutely. I think those of us who tend to be more flexible and more kind of big-picture thinking, more outside the box, those are great entrepreneurial skills, but it does mean we probably need to support our business with either the help of a Type A person who can come in and sort of keep us going in the right direction at the right time, or there’s certainly software that can help supplement, too.

I know just in working with you in organizing the podcast, you use Calendly, you have notes that are set up, so you have this system that’s in place that helps you provide structure to people who come on your podcast as guests, so you don’t bear the burden of like remembering, “Oh, I need to tell Sherry that we record this way,” and “I need to do this,” and “I need to do that.”

As an out-of-the-box sort of more chaotic person, you’re not going to be good at those things, so you can create systems that do them for you.

Joe: Right. Right. That came about because my first few guests, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you this,” and I’m like I should stop forgetting to tell my guests things.

Moving to the personality stuff, I know a lot of … At least a lot of people in the WordPress space, which is where the core of my audience is, are introverts, either self-identified or otherwise. I am super duper extroverted. What kind of effects does that have on a business? What should somebody think about if they’re introverted versus extroverted?

Sherry: For people who tend to be extroverts, it’s such a great super power, especially as you’re in sales or marketing or just letting people know about what you’re passionate about and what you’re doing in your business, but it can provide sometimes some blind spots, particularly in listening and observing.

If you want to be an extrovert, or if you are an extrovert, rather, like you don’t struggle to fill space. You don’t struggle to facilitate or host a conversation, but it might be a little bit harder for you to listen well. Listening, of course, is super important in a business. You’ve gotta listen to your clients, you’ve gotta listen to feedback from people that work for you and with you.

If you are often the center stage person, it’s really helpful to be super intentional about getting feedback and really listening to that feedback well. I also think it can be easy to kind of neglect your inner life if you’re an extrovert. It’s not that extroverts aren’t deep people, they certainly can be, and they certainly are, but to really take time to think about like, how am I doing? What’s going well in my life? What’s my emotional life like these days? That self-reflection, internalization, can be a little bit more challenging for extroverts, but it’s still really important for them.

Joe: Got you. Well, I was nodding my head a lot during that, so I’m definitely relating to what you’re saying. As far as introverts go, first of all, I’ll say this: People often equate introversion with antisocial, but that’s not really the case, right?

Sherry: Psychologically speaking, those are super super different things. Antisocial is like, antisocial personality disorder, which is essentially someone who lacks the neurological capacity for empathy. Like they tend to be highly represented in the clinical, or like in the prison population. Don’t use antisocial when you mean not very socially oriented, because antisocial is a very different thing.

Joe: Got you. Awesome. I’m really glad you clarified that. I meant it more colloquially as in people tend to shy away from social events. Even that’s not necessarily the case for introverts. Introverts, I’m friends with many, whom I’ve met at conferences.

Sherry: Yeah. I was at this speakers dinner for Converted, which is, Lee Page hosted this Converted Conference, which is like heavy marketers. Ezra Firestone was there. Anyway, Derek Hepburn was there, Rob was the speaker, really like gregarious, on-stage people who you would think would be like the extroverted extroverts. As we went around the table and talked about this, like the vast majority of them identified as introverts.

Being an introvert has really nothing to do with how well you can hold a conversation or how well you can present on stage. Being an introvert has to do with how you restore your level of energy, and usually that’s sort of the way of recharging your personal batteries happens by yourself. Your inner world is important. The quality of what happens inside of you is of great interest and importance to you if you’re an introvert.

Joe: Got you. That makes sense. My wife, who is an introvert, and I differ in that way. She values her alone time. I told her the last time I went to WordCamp US I walked in, there were like 2000 people. I knew many of them. I was totally energized by that experience.

Sherry: Kid in a candy store.

Joe: Yeah, exactly. That’s fantastic. What other highlights from this chapter would you like to mention here? Again, we’re just kind of getting a taste of one chapter of a book, and I’m already really excited to read the rest of it, because I love everything you’re saying right now.

Sherry: I think the take home in this chapter is like … is really no matter how you’re built as a person, there are some super powers intrinsic in that. If you’re a really introverted person, you have some amazing skills in your ability to observe and read situations, because you’re not busy talking; you’re often busy watching. Understanding what super powers you have based on just who you are in the world is really great in terms of identifying and cultivating your own strengths.

Then we also want to tell the truth about the shadow side, or the liabilities that go along with being an introvert, for example, and the things that you might have to intentionally either make yourself do, or hire out, or plan around so that they don’t become weaknesses that damage your business.

Self-knowledge is just about self-reflection. What am I good at? What am I not good at? And really being honest with yourself, which is not always easy to do. I think some of us are just naturally pretty barricaded against that kind of honest self-assessment.

Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. That’s fantastic. I know we’re kind of coming up on time already, but there’s more I’d like to talk about. What’s your favorite part of the book, would you say?

Sherry: Oh, that’s like choosing a favorite child.

Joe: I know. This is like out of left field, too. I sent show notes, and I didn’t prep you for this question.

Sherry: No, that’s okay. There’s a chapter that is kind of a deep dive into mental health where we talk about depression. The chapter’s called Coming Undone. I feel pretty proud of that, because I do feel like it’s a unique voice that I offer to the entrepreneurial world that many other people can’t offer with the same quality and depth as somebody who’s spent years and years and years training as a psychologist.

I don’t know. I feel like lame saying this, but I’m proud of this book. There’s a lot of me in here, so I’m already sort of bolstering myself from the negative feedback that I know will come. That’s part of putting something out there in the world. Not everyone’s going to love it, and that’s okay, but this represents some hard work that I want to offer to the community, and I hope it’s helpful.

Joe: Absolutely. Maybe we can parcel that out a little bit. Before we started recording, I told you about an experience I had on the day of this recording, which was not based on any of my work at all. It was about a pretty strong opinion about sports fans from a particular area and all of the negativity I got from that, and that wasn’t even something that I was deeply attached to, but I felt it, because it came pretty hard.

So what advice do you have for somebody who’s totally putting themselves out there? If you work for somebody, you’re probably doing somebody else’s work, and while you might enjoy the work you’re doing, I’m not saying you don’t enjoy that work, but as an entrepreneur, it’s all you. It’s your idea, it’s your execution. How do you bolster yourself from the inevitable negative feedback that will come at you?

Sherry: I think we have to choose our spheres of deep feedback. Rob has read the book. He wrote it with me. If he has feedback, I’m going to listen. There are circle of friends, there’s a circle of other entrepreneurs who I share my ideas with, and whatever feedback they have say, positive or negative, I really listen.

Then there’s, like my Twitter followers, or people I’m with on Facebook, or people who have done consulting with me, and their perspective matters to me, but it’s at this other level on the concentric circles of my selfhood. They don’t get to have this direct route to my heart. I’m going to filter a little bit more.

So we have to kind of choose how much we let people in and be willing to dismiss feedback, or at least give it less weight from certain people.

I think the other thing that I am just talking to myself a lot about is that I did my best to provide something valuable. Again, not everyone’s going to like it, but I did my best to provide something valuable, so I’m just going to say that over and over to myself, especially when I’m confronted with negative feedback.

There are certainly things that could be better about the book, and I hope my next book is better. I hope my podcast continues to get better. I’m oriented towards growing, but I’m not going to spend a lot of time thinking about feedback that doesn’t help me grow.

Joe: I think that’s great advice, and kind of based on what you’re saying there, something that I told myself this morning as I’m reading all of these mean tweets is that tweet is a blip on that person’s radar. They’re going to make that comment and then move on with their life, and I should do the same. I should read it and move on.

If I think it’s going to be helpful to me, then I will take it, but kind of taking all of these five seconds or less that these people took to write the tweet to heart and really carry it with me, is not healthy and not helpful, either.

Sherry: Yeah. Your response shouldn’t be greater than the energy that was put into the feedback.

Joe: Man, I love that. That’s probably going to be the quote that I use to promote this episode.

Sherry: Quotable.

Joe: Awesome. As we come up to the end here, I want to ask … We talked a lot about the content of the book and the book writing process. Let’s look at post launch. What are your plans for the future of this book, of followup books, things like that? What are you going to do after the book comes out?

Sherry: After the book comes out, I hope I get the opportunity to talk about it a lot and share it with people. I’m trying to leave space in my life and world for some conference speaking and being on podcasts and hopefully talking about the book as much as people will be willing to listen.

Rob and I are also hatching a plan for a course that we’re going to do, a video course, that’s going to be related to family life, particularly how to keep peace with your significant other while you’re launching a business.

I’m working on writing the content for that right now and we’ll be recording in early February. I think we are wanting to work together to provide some things that are more accessible to people than, again, like hours of podcast content or coming to a conference or something like that.

Joe: That’s great. The course that you mentioned, is that based on … I know you’re doing these events called ZenTribes. I didn’t have this written down, but I’m ad libbing a little bit. One was specifically about being an entrepreneur and being the spouse of an entrepreneur, is that right?

Sherry: Right. We did a couples retreat in September with a group of folks where we really did a deep dive into how do you keep your relationship healthy under the stress of being an entrepreneur, which I think was one of the things that I found most valuable and am most proud of in terms of last year what I worked on.

Then we put together a ZenTribe for families that we call Founder Families, but to be honest, we never launched it, because we could never find a time when we could get people and their significant others together in a group. We were looking at evening times. People are busy, so that’s why the course seemed like a better way to do that. It’s kind of a do-it-yourself-at-home kind of course.

Joe: Got you. I know the last kind of one that you announced was bad timing for me. I had considered it, though, because the things that you talk about, the kind of camaraderie that you have with the other people in these groups is super valuable. Plus I know that you’re heavily involved with the Heskeths, and they’re like the parents that I want to grow up to be.

Sherry: They’re amazing.

Joe: I’ve told them that before, so they’re not hearing this for the first time. That sounds fantastic. For the last question, I know you gave us a lot of great advice, but do you have any trade secrets for us?

Sherry: I think the trade secret that I’ve been thinking about a lot for mental health is to play long ball, to really not get tangled in the day-to-day ups and downs, but to play long ball with your business and long ball with your life.

Joe: I like that. Have a bad day here, have a good day there, but over the long term … It’s like investing in stocks. You don’t want to live and die by a single day of trading. Cool. Very cool.

Well, Dr. Walling, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. Where can people find you?

Sherry: I’m at All the things that we are scheming and dreaming are there, and we love hearing from people who are thinking about mental health, so people can absolutely find us there. I’m via email.

Joe: Awesome. I will link all of that in the show notes for this episode, which you can find over at Sherry, thank you so much for your time. Thanks to everybody out there listening. Until next time, get out there and build something.

Outro: What a great conversation – thanks again to Sherry for joining me and for kicking off this series. Definitely check out here book. It’s in the show notes and it’s $3.99 on the Kindle.

And Thanks again to our sponsors – make sure to check out Liquid Web for managed WordPress hosting. I use them on all of my important sites – they are that good! They are at They’ll give you 50% off your first 2 months just for being a listener! If you want to save your clients (or yourself) money through recovering abandoned carts, check out jilt. They are over at And finally, if you want to build incredible websites at a fraction of the time and cost, check out Beaver Builder. I use it and I love it. They are over at

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Continuing our series next week, I’m talking to Sara Dunn about niching down. She’s been very transparent about her process and I’m so excited to get her on the show to talk about the decision making process. Hopefully it will help you too.

The post Sherry Walling & Choosing Self Employment appeared first on How I Built It.

Feb 27 2018



Rank #4: A Better Way to Spend Your Calendar Time with Woven and Tim Campos

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I had the pleasure of speaking to Tim Campos, former CIO of Facebook and founder of Woven – a calendar that actually accounts for your life and your free time. We talk about his experience at Facebook and how it lead him to the idea of creating Woven, stats on how people spending their time and schedule meetings, and more. If you want some incredible insight into how people manage their time, this episode is for you. But first, a word from our sponsors.

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Tim Campos: The only solution is to understand the details of how calendars are built, and that’s when I first got the idea that maybe there’s a better way here. Because as I got into the details of this, I was horrified to learn that the calendaring views that you see, particularly in Microsoft Outlook, are basically just a collection of e-mails.

Joe Casabona: This week I had the pleasure of speaking to Tim Campos, former CIO of Facebook and founder of Woven, a calendar that accounts for your life and your free time. We talk about his experience at Facebook and how it led him to the idea of creating Woven, stats on how people spend their time and schedule meetings, and more. If you want some incredible insights into how people manage their time, this episode is for you. But first, let’s go to a word from our sponsors.

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Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Tim Campos, and he is the founder and CEO of Woven. He is also a software engineer and former CIO of Facebook. Tim, thanks for joining me today.

Tim: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Joe: Not a problem. I’m excited to talk to you. It sounds like you’ve got a wide range of experience and I’m excited to dive into that. But first, let’s start off with who you are and what you currently do.

Tim: Awesome. As you mentioned, I’m the founder and CEO of a company named Woven. Woven is an intelligent calendar that we built in an effort to reimagine what calendars can do, to basically help all of us spend time on what matters most. We do that by changing how the calendar is built. Most calendars, all calendars are built on top of e-mail, and Woven is built in a very different way, which allows us to take calendar events and interconnect them with the things that we spend time on, whether that’s documents, or issues, or absolutely other people. Our long term vision is to help people spend time on what matters most to them.

Joe: That’s fantastic. I feel like calendars and e-mails are apps and nuts that people have been trying to crack since the nexus of time. I’m always interested to hear about how things are reimagined, because even today, managing calendars is difficult, even with all these other tools to help us convert time zones and get people on the same page. So it’s interesting to see products like that out in the wild.

Tim: Yeah, Let’s start with e-mail real quick, and what’s wrong with e-mail. In many respects, what’s wrong with e-mail is the premise from the beginning. It is the electronic memoranda, and it came of age at a time when computers were used to automate paper-based processes. With time, is you have a whole generation of people who grew up with technology, the memoranda is not the right way to communicate with each other. That’s why we have text messaging. It’s why we have Facebook. It’s why we have WhatsApp. It’s why we have Slack and other technologies that you couldn’t do on paper. E-mail has largely been reimagined by moving off of it and using other technologies. Calendars are a little bit different because they pertain to this issue of time. We all have time, we all have the same amount of time. There’s only 24 hours in a day, and it doesn’t matter who you are and what you do, you and I have the exact same amount of time today. But what the calendar suffers from is based on how it’s built. First off, it’s a feature of a suite, so it doesn’t get a lot of love from companies like Microsoft and Google. Just by existing, Woven helps with that, because this is all we think about, we’re just 100% focused on making the calendar better. Second, there is a lot of things about calendars that are just wrong. Most of us have a little bit of our time on Google. Most people put their personal calendars in Google Calendar, and some people have their professional lives in Google as well. Google has lots of different calendars. For every single calendar, there is another 24 hours in your day, except there isn’t. If I have three calendars, that doesn’t mean there are 72 hours for me today. It means I have 72 hours of time I have to administer. That creates a lot of work for people. Woven understands that, even though I might have a work calendar and a personal calendar, there’s only one of me. So I can only be in one place at one time. So it brings all of that stuff together, to help me make sure that if I’m busy because I have a doctor’s appointment, then I’m not available to take an appointment at work or vice versa. If I have a dinner appointment professionally, then I’m not going to be home that night to spend time with my family. Those are just some of the things that we do. The other things that I think make calendars very difficult is they’re very isolated. If you and I want to meet together, I want to meet with you, you want to meet with me, how do we solve that problem? We end up sending e-mails to each other, like “How about next Thursday? That doesn’t work, how about Friday? How about the following week?” It goes back and forth and back and forth because the calendars don’t talk to each other. If they could talk to each other, you could press a button and say, “When’s the next time that we’re both free, for a dinner meeting?” Which is not going to be tomorrow at 3:00 in the morning, it’s going to be sometime between 6:00 and 9:00 PM on a weeknight, or maybe on a weekend night, depending on our relationship. Again, we’ve taught Woven how to be intelligent around those things to help people out. Those are just some of the things that we do to make the calendar more intelligent. There’s a lot more that make this product a very rich product.

Joe: Yeah, I love that. I mean, the fact that calendars are isolated. I hate doing that “What’s good for you” dance and that’s why I use Calendly for this “I don’t know what time zone you’re in and we didn’t have to talk about that. I just sent you a link, and you picked an appropriate time, based on what I’ve made available. If everybody I know did that, it would be amazing. I have people who are like, “I’m not going to use it.”

Tim: Now imagine Calendly, tightly integrated with your calendar, so that you can see all of the different scheduling links that you’ve sent out to people and if those people were using that exact same product, that instead of them having to go through an awkward user interface to select the time that works, that their calendars just told them “Here are the slots that are going to work for Joe and I.” That’s Woven, that’s basically how the product works.

Joe: Nice. That’s fantastic. Because I mean, when somebody sends me a Calendly link, I still have to look at my calendar.

Tim: Yeah.

Joe: That’s great. Very cool. I’ve looked at the website, but I haven’t downloaded Woven. I’m definitely going to download it after we talk here if it’s available.

Tim: Awesome. Yeah, there is an open beta for Google Calendar users.

Joe: Awesome. I like all of those words. So that’s what you currently do now, but you’ve also been a software engineer, and you were CIO of Facebook. Let’s start with software engineering. Did you do software engineering at Facebook, or was that somewhere else?

Tim: I started my career as a software engineer at a company called Sybase and did software engineering at Sybase, Silicon Graphics, an internet startup. At that Internet startup, this was back in the early days of software as a service. In that kind of world, the concept of IT, or what it takes to deliver this software and software engineering are much more fused. That’s what got me into IT. I spent the next– After [Portaris], some six and a half years as the CIO of a company called [Kelly 10 Core]. At Facebook, I got to bring it all back together, because my job at Facebook started off being a very traditional IT job, but I brought engineering into the organization because we were building a lot of the software that helped make Facebook employees more productive. Everything from the visitor management system that employees would interface with as they walked in the door, to the recruiting systems, CRM systems that we built for sales, internal productivity systems for employees to be able to schedule meetings with each other and to collaborate with each other. We did a lot of custom-built software, and some of this software made its way into Facebook’s products, things like audience insights, for example. Some of this software became the inspiration for technologies like Envoy. We were quite flattered to see companies make real businesses off of some of the things that we pioneered and created. Some of this stuff continues to be very unique and proprietary to Facebook, but it was all a key part of how we made the workforce more productive. We literally engineered our way there, and while I was at Facebook, we doubled the productivity of the workforce.

Joe: Wow. That’s incredible. To get an idea of the scale of the stuff you were doing, you were at Facebook in the earlier part of this decade. So about how many employees?

Tim: Facebook was relatively small, about 1400 people, just about to cross a billion dollars in revenue. Then when I left, we had not only 20,000 employees, but another 15,000 or so contractors on top of that. A workforce of close to 35,000 people, running on a 40 billion dollar run rate. The company had grown up and become quite the behemoth. My job was to basically help the company achieve that growth without having to scale linearly. If we could make it so that a salesperson could sell more, or a recruiter could help recruit more, or HR person could support more employees, or facilities could support what they do with less people. We could grow the impact of the company without having to grow the workforce at the same rate. That’s how we were able to double the productivity of the workforce.

Joe: Wow. That’s incredible. I’m sure doing all of this, probably gave you a lot of ideas for Woven. Let’s talk about that now. How did your experience as CIO of Facebook give you this insight into how you felt Woven should work? Is it just you or did you have a co-founder, too? What’s the origin story of Woven?

Tim: Sure. I have a co-founder, who was also at Facebook, while I was there. The story starts almost two weeks into my tenure at Facebook, where one of the first problems that I was faced was, the company was having a lot of trouble keeping the calendaring system functioning properly. Literally two weeks in, I was called to Zuck’s desk, by his EA. I was excited to have this conversation with Zuck. Only to find, when I got there, that it was just me and not only his EA but several of the others who were yelling at me about all the problems that they were having with the calendaring system. Events that would disappear, conference rooms that would get double booked, things that were both embarrassing for them and real productivity drains, for not only them but the people that they supported. To solve this, you have to put yourself back in the time, and this is 2010. Facebook was running Exchange at the time. It had a workforce that had a lot of Apple devices. That was not a very healthy combination. It was also not a combination that we were going to change. The only solution is to understand the details of how calendars are built, and that’s when I first got the idea that maybe there’s a better way here. Because as I got into the details of this, I was horrified to learn that the calendaring views that you see, particularly in Microsoft Outlook, are basically just a collection of e-mails. Special e-mails, but a calendar invite is just a specially formatted e-mail. Microsoft Outlook would collect all these things and then present them to you in what we see as a calendar. One of the worst parts about that is if somebody makes a change to a counter-event and doesn’t tell you about it. Then you don’t know about it. If they don’t send you the e-mail, then you don’t know. Whether you are a person or a conference room, this is the source of just a tremendous amount of pain. So we were able to work through this stuff, but it also gave birth to some ideas of maybe there’s a better way to manage this kind of information. Already for Facebook, there was a lot of demand for tools that would be better if they knew when employees were busy, or when resources were busy. When we moved to Menlo Park, we have these really beautiful giant touchscreen displays that show you where people sit and also where the different conference rooms are, and they’re wayfinders, they help you find your way within the campus. Part of what they were designed to do is to help you find a free conference room if you’re trying to do a one on one with somebody and we needed to get that information out of the calendar. Is a conference room free, or busy? It turns out that wasn’t easy, at the time, to get that data. So we built what was a wrapper around Exchange, very similar to what Woven is to Gmail and Office 365, to support that. That same wrapper gave us the ability to do a bunch of other sophisticated things. For example, Facebook does a lot of interviews, a lot of software engineering interviews. A software engineering interview is at least four people, the candidate, obviously and of course you’re going to have to have conference rooms for all this. At the time, in fact, still to this day, Facebook does well over 100,000 software engineering interviews a year. That’s a lot of things to coordinate, more than can be done by people. So we built systems that would take the availability of candidates, availability of panelists, availability of conference rooms and mash all that stuff and come up with what the ideal scheduling plan would be for a candidate, to help a scheduler get things done quickly and more efficiently. We found more and more different opportunities to solve problems using calendar data. That’s what ultimately gave birth to the idea that “Maybe we should go do this for other people and not just for Facebook.” That’s when my co-founder and I left the company to create what Woven is.

Joe: You left around 2016, is that right?

Tim: Yes. We left at the end of 2016, right after the election, no relation. Choice of departure, although it turned out to be a good one.

Joe: Yeah. I was going to say, good timing.

Tim: Immediately started focusing on fundraising for the company. Created Woven right away and closed our seed financing a few months later and hired our first employee. That was May of 2017.

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Joe: So you had all this insight, you built something that you knew would scale, because I mean, 35,000 people and a workforce and rooms and stuff like that. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty, the title question. How did you build this first version of Woven? You mentioned that Facebook was using Exchange at the time. This is built more for Google Calendar and soon, Office 365. So we could we get as technical as you want. We can tell about the programming language, or we could talk about the high– We built a wrapper on Google Calendar, and this is how we’re doing this.

Tim: So there’s a lot of Woven that was inspired by Facebook. Facebook had a phenomenal environment for building products, whether you’re talking about the products that everybody knows and loves, like Instagram and Facebook Messenger or internal products that most people aren’t aware of, but employees use every single day. That’s all built on top of set of technologies, a set of services that are largely common across all of these different products that run on scalable infrastructure, that abstracts a lot of things from the software engineer. Facebook– A lot of those ideas made their way into Woven. Facebook is built on a graph and has a very rich graph engine. That graph engine manages entities and relationships between those entities. In the case of Facebook, you’re talking about people and their friendships or photographs and likes and Facebook pages and addresses that you might check-in at. Those are all different examples of entities and the relationships that you have. With Woven, it’s similar but different. You still have people who go to meetings, and you have locations, but you have the whole notion of time and other information that might be related to a meeting or an event, like private notes or tags or alternative suggestions for when an event can occur, or even things like documents and customer records and other information. All that’s managed in a graph engine, so very much inspired by Facebook. We replicated a lot of the ideas on how Facebook does continuous integration. The Facebook site is pushed multiple times a day. You don’t have, even though there’s– I can’t say exactly how many servers and probably wouldn’t even know it at today’s day and age, but it’s a lot, let’s put it that way. So it’s just not possible for that to be human administered. You have a lot of technology and automation that handles the replication of software through the environment, and we’ve started with that same idea. Woven is built on an infrastructure that allows us to push changes into staging environments, as soon as they’re coded. Then we can test that. Today we do it twice a week. We could do it as frequently as we want or as infrequently as we want. To push from our staging environment to production is a very simple process. If there are any problems, it’s very easy for us to roll back. We have multiple environments to test and verify that everything is working and a lot of automation in here. Automated tests to make sure that code changes are ready to be merged into the master branch. A lot of tests to ensure that environments are ready to promote from testing to staging, to production. What that does is it offloads the work from the engineers. Now they can focus on their particular changes and what they’re working on at the time. It’s created a very efficient environment. So we’re relatively small, in terms of the number of engineers that we have, but we have done a massive amount of functionality, in a relatively short period of time. Thanks to the architecture of this environment.

Joe: That sounds fantastic. As a developer, making the development environment as easy as possible, for one, is a dream. So that sounds cool. It’s cool that you were able to take a lot of the stuff that you learned at Facebook. Let’s talk a little bit more about the product and the feature set. I know we touched on this a bit, but how did you decide to build out these features? Because, the common calendar exchange, as we talked about, is “When are you free? It’s 4:00 PM in Eastern Time, that’s 1:00 PM Pacific, or whatever. Daylight Savings Time changes things. How did you determine exactly how you would figure out “This is the calendar, this is what free times worked for both of us, and things like that.” What’s that handshake like?

Tim: Some of this came from a lot of user research. Some of that user research we were able to do while we were still at Facebook. Some of it was done afterwards, but it came from the understanding that there’s similarities across people on how they manage time. For example, when you think about, “How does an event show up on your calendar?” It starts with an idea like “I want to meet with Joe.” That idea then becomes a collaboration where I’m like, “Hey Joe, and you want to get together? When would work for you?” We start collaborating on this concept of an event, and that collaboration continues even after we schedule it. Maybe we have our– Maybe we’re doing a dinner party. We’ve got our dinner party coordinated, but who’s going to bring the appetizers? Who’s going to bring the main course? Who’s bringing the dessert? Who’s bringing the wine? There’s continued collaboration there. Or maybe we’re talking about a different kind of an event, like an interview. I’ve got a candidate who’s coming in to meet with me and two other people. What am I going to ask this candidate vs. the other two people? What are some of the concerns that the candidate has that we want to make sure we address in that interview? Again, that’s the collaboration that occurs on an event. We studied this and learned what the general workflow is across events. Then we wanted to architect a system that would support that. There were some very simple ideas that are profound. For example, there is no events on your calendar that don’t have a time associated with them. The counter needs a time in order for an event to go on the calendar. That’s not the case with Woven. We can have calendaring events that don’t yet have time so that they can be collaborated on. We call them scheduling links, similar to what Calendly has, but Calendly’s links are persistent. You have a web URL that you can go to all the time. So after I’ve scheduled this podcast, I can schedule another podcast. But most people don’t operate that way when they’re scheduling their events, and it’s a one-time thing. Let’s get together for drinks one time. So our scheduling links exist both in Calendly form, as well as in one-off form. But that’s, like I said, just the beginning. The information that we can now associate with those events also follows the lifecycle of the event, both the pre-meeting activities. The “Let’s get you into the meeting activity.” and then the follow-up activity. What’s the follow up from this interview or what’s the follow up from this? Maybe it’s a board meeting that you went to. As we studied that by talking to more and more people, then we had the general ideas of the architecture. The next thing that was important is to get some data because we wanted to know, “How many times do people meet with one person? How many times do they meet with multiple people? How many times do they just put stuff on their calendar when there’s nobody blocking out time to take the kids to school, or something like that?” We partnered with a few different companies, and we asked them if we could survey their calendar data, and they gave us permission to do that. That gave us some really valuable insights on what’s common between companies and what’s different between companies. That, again, fed into some of the design decisions that we made in the back end. Then finally, we started the user journeys. Figuring out, “What problems are we going to solve, and how are we going to solve them?” We started by designing them first, getting some mocks of what they might look like, talking to a lot of people about those capabilities. Once we got those mocks to a state that we were comfortable with– In parallel, we were building our engineering team, so we then had the people to start building this. That’s the general strategy that we followed. I’d say it’s evolved a bit as we’ve matured as a company and as the product has gotten more mature, but we still follow a lot of the same concepts and principles.

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Joe: I think I maybe realized– I think it’s always been the case, but I’m just realizing this now as you’re talking, that I am also insanely interested in how people manage their calendars. Because I’ve seen, when I was employed by an agency, I saw my boss’s calendar, and it was just overlapping meetings. I’m like, “How do you live your life?” I am always– We talked about this in the preshow, where I block specific recording times off for this show. I’ll put blocks on my calendar for “This is going to be deep work. Nobody can have this time.” I’m sure digging into that information was incredibly interesting. I don’t know how much data you could share, but were you looking at like US trends, or worldwide specific areas of the world? Did you find that Europeans and Americans manage their calendars differently?

Tim: We focused largely on the US and Canada, as markets. A couple of other markets that were in Australia and the UK tend to have very similar meeting behaviors. I will share some things that we did find that were interesting. We now have over 45 million events that are managed inside of Woven, so it’s quite a bit, and we’re able to use that information to help us really fine-tune how we build the product. One of the things that we had a question on early is “First off, when do people meet? What’s the most common time of day for people to meet?” The other question was, “How far in advance do they typically schedule?” We were originally debating, “Is a 7:00 AM meeting very common?” When does the day stop? Is a 6:00 PM meeting, quite common. If I could show you the histogram of events, you’d find it’s interesting, that most people do not start their day before 9:00 AM. There’s a few that start their day at 8:00 and a very small percentage that start their day at 7:00, but it’s a quite tall spike between 6:00 AM, and 10:00 AM, on when meetings start to occur. 10:00 AM is actually the most common spot in the day. That’s when people seem to like to meet the most. Then when you get to the end of the day, it falls off in a much slower fashion. There’s not the equivalent “It’s 5:00, and there’s no more meetings scheduled for people.” Instead, that extends out into the evening, on a very long, slow degradation. That was one thing that was interesting for us, is how there’s not a lot of people who like to use their early morning time, at least from a calendar perspective, and it very much mirrors a personal anecdote that I have that I like to do my workouts and my maker time, early in the morning because I’m the least likely to get interrupted and least likely to have conflicts. With this data, I could see why that universally people generally don’t use that time to meet with each other. The second thing that was interesting is “How far in advance do people schedule? Is it two weeks in advance, is it one week advance is it a couple of days in advance?” It was really interesting to see that the most common interval is actually a day or less, which makes using your calendar for planning purposes tricky, because it means that if I’m looking at what’s going on two weeks in the future, I actually don’t have all the events that I’m going to put on my calendar there yet. This also mirrors a common bit of anecdotal feedback that we’ve gotten, where people will make commitments in their time, in the future thinking “I can meet with so-and-so in a couple of weeks because I don’t look like I’m that busy.” But really, the decision that they’re making is “It’s not so important to meet with so-and-so today, because my calendar says I’m free two weeks from now, I’ll make the time for them then.” Except they’re not free two weeks from now. They don’t know what they’re busy with yet. So if you could build a calendar, a pro forma calendar– How you normally consume your time, you have a better understanding of whether or not you actually could take a meeting and it would help you prioritize better. I’ve seen for myself, and I have a pretty consistent pattern of 26 hours a week of meetings. No matter what’s going on, I have 26 hours of meetings. Sometimes it goes up and down by a few hours, but the average is pretty consistently 26 hours. If I start with an idea that “I only have 14 hours left.” for something that I wouldn’t normally do, I can answer that question “Does this fit in the 14 hours of time? Do I want to give it to this person?” Maybe that’s just an excuse for me to say, “I’m not interested in spending my time in this way.” Just a couple quick anecdotes. There’s tons of interesting things that we have learned helping people optimize their time with our product.

Joe: Yeah. That’s insanely interesting. I mean, first of all, 10:00 AM is also the sweet spot for me, because from 8:00 to 10:00, I like to do my own thing, in the office. Then by 10:00, the coffee is kicked in, 10:00 or 11:00, because 11:00 is right before lunch. So I’m probably not getting any deep work done. Then, how far in advance do they schedule? I have time-boxed, specifically for this reason. I’m doing a project right now with a bigger company, where they have a culture of this “I’ll grab a time on your calendar.” So people would do that, and I’ve been aggressively guarding my time. If someone just puts a meeting on my calendar, I’m like “I can’t meet at this time. Use this link to figure out when we can meet.” Because 5:00, I’m out of the– I got to go pick my daughter up from daycare. Then the rest of the evening is family time. If you’re going to meet in the middle of my morning, that’s deep work time for me, usually.

Joe: A lot of consultants do this, for example, where if they are working for multiple clients, they’ll block off time in their calendars for each client. One, to make sure that they don’t overbook themselves and two, to make sure that they preserve time to do the things that they’re trying to do for that particular client. It’s actually, I think, a good practice is to block time for things when you make commitments. Whether that commitment is to put together a presentation, or complete a coding task, or to meet with somebody. That’s one of the values of calendars, and if you can make them easier to use and more valuable for people, you can use them in ways to help people spend time better.

Joe: Absolutely. Then, I would just add, commit to that. I say I don’t meet on Fridays. I don’t break that rule. So, if someone’s like “Can, I grab a meeting on Friday?” I’m like, I don’t meet on Fridays, talk to me Monday morning.” Because Friday– Probably contrary to a lot of people feel, Friday is my most productive day, because I don’t have to meet with anybody.

Tim: For Facebook, we had no-meeting Wednesdays. The biggest problem in no-meeting Wednesday is that it was often disregarded by non-technical functions because they would have to meet with people outside of the company, who didn’t have no-meeting Wednesdays. In the counter tool that we built internally, we were able to codify this, so you could at least warn somebody that “You’re scheduling time during no-meeting Wednesday. Do you want to do that?” Inside of Woven, we’ve taken it one step further, where we use templates which are like predefined meetings, and you can set up your templates to say, “When should this meeting occur?” If you didn’t want to have your Fridays booked, you can change the template so that it never proposes times on a Friday and it will never do it for you, and it will never do it for anybody else who tries to schedule time with you.

Joe: Yeah. That’s fantastic, and I love that. When I was at the University of Scranton, we had something similar. We had no-meeting Thursday or something like that, but it was never honored, by anybody. When I was like “I thought we weren’t meeting on Thursdays, this is supposed to be a workday.” They’re like “They’re from outside the department.” I’m like, “They’re not available the rest of the week?” We work from 8:00 to 5:00 every day.

Tim: What you’re highlighting here is a truism. This is something that was important to learn at Facebook, which is that culture is often a function of the tools that you use. The tools can help make sure things happen. Facebook was very much about open communication, and it used Facebook Workplace as a way of helping people communicate because it’s more open than, say, e-mail is. For meetings, we used Exchange. Even though Sheryl Sandberg sent out an e-mail to the entire company, that we are no longer going to have, 60-minute meetings, they are going to be 50-minute meetings. Because Exchange didn’t support that, we ended up having 60-minute meetings. That was– The tool is overpowering one of the most powerful individuals in the company and arguably one of the best leaders in technology. That’s the value or the power of tooling for culture.

Joe: Yeah, that’s incredible. I love that quote. I’m going to make that a pull quote, for this episode. But we are coming up on time. I do need to ask you my favorite question, which is I mean, you’ve given us a lot of really great advice, but do you have any trade secrets for us?

Tim: They’re going to sound not so secret, but they are very powerful. It starts with if you’re going to build a great product, that starts with having great people. One of the things my co-founder and I both learned this from Facebook, and he was at Google beforehand, that part of what made Facebook such an incredible place to work was that people were so amazing. They were the best at what they did. That wasn’t by accident, and the company was very deliberate about hiring. So we’ve been very deliberate about hiring. If I were to go back through my entire career and highlight my greatest successes and my biggest failures, they’ve all related to whether or not I stuck it out for the right person in a role. When I compromised and made shortcuts, it usually cost me. When I stuck to my guns and went for the right person, even if that took a little bit longer than I wanted, it always paid off. So people make a big difference. The second thing I would say, and this is really for startups, speed matters. It’s great to take the time to build something well, but you have to recognize that, as a startup, you don’t know everything. It’s impossible not to know everything. So really, what you’re doing is every bit of code you’re writing is to learn more about what’s going to resonate for your product. When you write that code in a way that allows you to get it in front of users quicker, to get that learning faster, you’re better off than if you take a lot of time to write something that’s perfect, because it’s not going to be perfect. The designs are never going to be perfect. The architecture is never going to be perfect. Even the product focus is never going to be perfect. It’s got to be designed for speed. It’s very relevant learning, for us, on a principle that Facebook had of “move fast and break things.” That moving fast part, especially in the early days of a company, is really valuable.

Joe: The man I love that. That’s been echoed a bit on this podcast, as well, because you could spend six months or a year building something that you think is amazing. Then if people don’t use it the way you expected it to be used, then no one’s going to use it. So then you just sunk a bunch of months into something that’s not usable. So get something out quick, iterate quickly, we have the luxury to do that in today’s development environment.

Tim: Yeah, I mean, one of the other things that we learned is, if there’s ways to test stuff without ever writing a line of code, then you just shaved a bunch of time. You have no tech debt that way, you have no bugs that way, but you get the learnings. Mocks, surveys, we would use ads, sometimes, to advertise for features that we were thinking about developing and we’d see what the click-through rates were. All those were different ways to get to the answer to questions without having to write a line and code. So that when we did write that code, we knew that we had a higher chance of writing the right stuff.

Joe: That’s great. I’m going to steal that one. I’ve done similar things with pre-launching a course. Then if nobody buys the course, I know “Great, I don’t have to write that course. Nobody wants that course or nobody on my current e-mail list, at least, wants that course.”

Tim: That’s a modern-day variant of [Lean Startup]. The whole customer development cycle is built off similar principles.

Joe: Awesome. Tim, thank you so much for your time today. Where can people find you?

Tim: They can find us at The product is in open beta, so the only requirement is that you use your G Suite or Google Calendar. If anybody wants to find me, I’m easy to find on Twitter. @TCampos or I do also have LinkedIn, and Facebook profiles are easy to find, as well.

Joe: Awesome. I will link to those and everything we talked about in the show notes, over at Tim, thanks so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.

Tim: Awesome. Thanks for having me.

Joe: Thanks so much to Tim for joining us today. While there’s a lot to take away from this episode, I think what stuck out the most, for me, is how people’s availability and when they meet spikes in the morning, so people are not available before a certain time in the morning, but then it peters off in the afternoon, meaning people continually make themselves available later into the evening. That’s really interesting stuff for me, especially because I pretty aggressively guard my time and my calendar. Thanks so much again to our sponsors Gusto, Ahoy! and Pantheon, they make this show happen. If you want to learn more about Tim and see all of the show notes, you can head over to If you want to create a podcast, just like this, for yourself. Be sure to check out my free podcasting workbook over at, you’ll get checklists and show note templates, and all sorts of other stuff. Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, get out there and build something.

The post A Better Way to Spend Your Calendar Time with Woven and Tim Campos appeared first on How I Built It.

Oct 01 2019



Rank #5: Tessa Kreisel and Teaching Development

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Tessa Kriesel is a developer, community advocate, and educator. In this episode we get into our approaches to teaching, why it’s important, and the importance of giving opportunities to underserved areas and groups. We also discuss our “aha” moments – that time where programming suddenly clicked for us.

Show Notes

Sponsored by:
  • The Events Calendar: Save 20% on any premium add-ons using code HOWIBUILTIT.
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Intro: Hey Everybody and welcome to episode 87 of How I Built It. Today I get to talk to my friend Tessa Kriesel about 2 things I love: Development and teaching. We get into our approaches to teaching, why it’s important, and giving opportunities to underserved areas and groups. We also discuss our “aha” moments – that time where programming suddenly clicked for us. Today’s episode is brought to you by The Events Calendar and Pantheon, both of whom you’ll hear about later. So now, on with the show.

Joe Casabona: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?”

I am very happy to have my good friend Tessa Kriesel on the show today. Tessa, how are you?

Tessa Kriesel: I am fabulous. Thank you for having me.

Joe: Thanks for being on the show. You are a woman of many hats. We were discussing pre-show what we’re going to talk about. You work for Pantheon, and you teach development, and you have a website called Outspoken Women.

We’re going to talk about that middle one, but why don’t you tell everybody who you are and what you do?

Tessa: To summarize what you already said, I work at Pantheon, I’m a developer advocate. The things that I focus on are making sure that people are successful in our platform. Outside of my role at Pantheon, I have a lot of passions when it comes to teaching people to code in general. Specifically women and children and anyone who is in a group that feels like they need to find assets, or it’s more difficult to find those kinds of assets.

Obviously very passionate about diversity and women in tech, which is where Outspoken Women comes along, and I’ve played a huge role in Girl Develop It locally in the Minneapolis chapter. So, lots to know about me.

Joe: Fantastic, and all awesome causes. I know that I’ve gotten just a little bit of flak for not having a very diverse show myself. And part of that is, it’s hard to find diverse guests. Especially programmers who are also business owners, that’s a very narrow market.

Your website Outspoken Women has helped with that and it’s nice to see that there’s a bigger movement to have more voices in the community. Which is what all of this is about, right?

Tessa: Yeah, absolutely.

Joe: If you want to learn more about Pantheon, I’ll say, because we can have a whole show on that– as a matter of fact we did have a whole show on that with the CEO of Pantheon. I will link that in the show notes.

So, let’s talk about teaching development as the overarching topic, and Coders of Tomorrow specifically within that. Tell us how you came up with this idea, and essentially what it is and how you started it.

Tessa: Coders of Tomorrow is a nonprofit organization that is in the very early stages locally here in Minneapolis. What it is, and essentially what it does, is it teaches kids to code. It came about, I was in the Girl Develop It chapter and I was helping a lot of women to code. We were going through the whole election with Hillary and Trump, and obviously there’s a lot of– I don’t know the good word for it. Just a lot of tension there.

And so it came to me, I was like, “Kids are so innocent.” My own kids loved to learn stuff. Like, “I don’t want to deal with people that are–” Not that I don’t, but I just wanted to hang out with a bunch of cool people that just wanted to learn to code that didn’t have to worry about other things in their life politically, especially.

So that’s when it came about, and I ended up teaching two different classes of kids originally. We can get into that in a bit, but that’s essentially how I decided to build up that that product. Or, that organization I should say.

Joe: Sweet. I mean, I love that because politics can get very hairy. I try not to talk about politics on this show at all. I think I’ve done a pretty good job. But I mean, it could change people’s opinions about you.

So, I love the teaching kids. I know on Twitter people are like, “What am I supposed to tell my 6 year old daughter about the election?” When I was 6 I cared very little about anything, really.

Tessa: Yeah, exactly. Youth have innocence.

Yeah, exactly. This is great. What’s the age range for the kids that you teach?

Tessa: It really depends. The first class that I taught was actually, I believe it was 8th through 11th graders. They were in that high school realm, which was interesting. I’ve also taught a younger group that is more middle school ages. I’m hoping to be able to grow and teach actually younger kids, I’ve done a lot with my own kids personally to teach them the introductions to programming, and things. So, yeah. Hoping for it to grow.

Joe: Awesome. I’m going to have several more questions about this, because I’ve thought about, “How do you approach teaching children, specifically?” With an adult you can say, “We’ll watch these videos and now we understand some certain concepts,” but it’s a little bit different with kids. I have a 14-month old and I’m not teaching her how to code yet, but it’s definitely in the back of my mind. I definitely want her to at least have the option to do that.

But first, did you do any research when you were starting this? Or were you just like, “This is cool. I haven’t seen anything, I’m going to do this.”

Tessa: I did actually do a little bit of research. There is CoderDojo, which is pretty widely known. They’re a really great organization that does something very similar. There are other organizations in different areas, so there wasn’t anything that that I could find that was more nationwide. There was a program, and I can remember it was called or where it was at, but it was a lot of the things that I really wanted to do.

I definitely looked at that organization. I was like, “This is really great. This is something I want to bring to Minneapolis.” It’s slightly different, but what I really wanted to do is I actually wanted to be able to have an offering as an after school activity. Why it got to that point was that the first class that I taught ended up actually being that way.

What happened is it was a class of students, they were like I said middle school, high school students. Mostly high school, and they were from a school that was, I would say, 85% Hispanic. Which is fairly uncommon in Minneapolis, we have some diversity but we’re lacking a really wide diversity here.

Joe: Yeah. Stereotypically, it’s like Prince is the only non-white person from Minneapolis. Or from Minnesota, rather.

Tessa: I mean, it’s partially true. We do struggle with diversity here for sure, so teaching in that type of a school was very unique. A lot of the students were troubled students. I mean, I saw some of the saddest things, and I’m going to try not to think about it because it makes me want to cry. Anything from like, kids who just didn’t even barely have shoes.

I just, I wanted to get– They had shoes, but they’re just so, so destroyed and whatever else. Anyways, so I ended up getting really involved with those students specifically and realizing that this was actually something that was keeping them from being out doing things on the street or getting in trouble. Or being at home when home actually isn’t a great place for them.

So that’s where I wanted to focus a lot of the energy, was offering an after school curriculum. Kids can stay, it’s convenient for them to stay, making sure that they had whatever that meant that they were safe, instead of being out doing things that they shouldn’t be doing.

Joe: Man, that’s great. So, after school activity. This is probably also something that lends itself really well to a summer camp sort of thing, right? Kids are home, and parents might be going crazy because their kids are home, and bored. I wish–

Tessa: I was going to say, that summer camp thing was actually a huge idea that we have not followed through with yet, and it’s really due to just lack of manpower. I do a lot of stuff myself and it’s really hard to get the people that can help me do that.

But that was one really huge idea that myself and, his name is Andrew Wilson. He actually also works for Pantheon. He helped get involved and has been helping ignite the energy, which is great.

We talked about a summer camp because, “Why not kick off with a summer camp? Get some foundational. Get out, do something, don’t be stuck at home playing video games or whatever. Get out of your house.” So, we very much want to make that happen.

Joe: Yeah, definitely. I mean, and then show kids that you can code a little bit but then spend some time outside and have an outside activity as well, because you know the stereotypical programmer just sits in front of their computer for 14 hours.

In any case, this is incredible. I have a lot of questions about this, so let’s just to get to the title question early. When teaching children, as I said, it’s a little bit different than teaching adults. How did you build the curriculum for Coders of Tomorrow.

Tessa: Actually, I feel like teaching children is definitely different because you can’t assume things that they might know, in terms of, “This is how you go save something on a computer,” or, I mean they’ve got some exposure to it but they don’t have the day-to-day use that most adults have.

So when building out the curriculum I just took it really slow, and there’s tons of websites out there that are super great for teaching you to code. W3Schools is super awesome, you can go ahead and dig through it, actually do coding examples, things like that.

What I did was I made an outline of the foundational things that I wanted them to be able to learn, and what I found out was most successful was figuring out a way to get them something on the internet as quick as possible. Because as soon as they could FTP something to the internet and see that live online, that was a huge turning point for them.

I had students come into the class like, I could tell that they were just– they have to take a curriculum, an after-school curriculum class at this school. And so I could tell that they were there just because they had to do it, and it was like the least worst one. Or like, the less of the evil of all the others.

Once I got them to a point of being able to like just push up a really quick HTML on the internet, it was a complete 360 turnaround. Everyone is excited to come, they wanted to be there, they started wanting to be my friend, they would actually chat with me.

I learned that quickly, that they needed something to be able to see. Teaching them the basic foundations of HTML like, “This is how you create an HTML document, here’s how you create a header, here’s a paragraph,” and that’s the bare minimum to, of course, create a website. So I’m teaching them that, and then I’m like, “Ok cool, we’re going to come back to this, but I want you to see that you can very easily get these files on the internet.”

And so we just walked through, at the very bare minimum, a server, how to connect to FTP, how to actually push those files over and doing that. Once we got through that, then we came back and we’re like, “Ok, let’s learn more age HTML. Let’s learn some CSS.”.

It was just taking the foundational things and figuring out what was going to trigger their happiness, and then moving forward. CSS is another thing that also triggered their happiness. Kids like to be creative, and they really enjoyed putting GIFs on their website, and images, and making things colorful.

It really was just a work in progress, too. In the beginning I had an idea, and as the days or classes went on, I started to change those a little bit as I realized that them seeing the actual end effect was more important to them.

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Joe: Gotcha. I mean, some little victories right in the beginning. It’s like when you design a test, you don’t make the hardest question the first question, you want to give them an easy question in the beginning because it’ll build their confidence, and be like, “This isn’t so bad.” That’s awesome.

I probably know the answer to this question already, but you mentioned servers. Did you use Pantheon for the servers as the underlying architecture? Or were you like, “Get some cheap hosting over here.”

Tessa: I actually did not use Pantheon.

Joe: Ok.

Tessa: We just used a really– I have a VPS that I had set up so that each student could have their own website if they wanted, and so we use that just so that they could go ahead and use those websites. However on the flip side, very much could use Pantheon, it’s super easy to set up a site, and it’s obviously free until you want to go live for any WordPress sites.

That’s actually what I want to move forward to, is teaching kids how to start to blog, and do that with WordPress. They don’t necessarily need a lot of programming experience to do that, but just getting them involved with like, “How do I start to express myself?” I know that a lot of times kids really struggle with that, with being able to share their emotions or let them know what they’re thinking. I think that blogging and writing, in a journal or whatever, helps with that as well. I think that’s actually a really great avenue to move into as well. We would definitely use Pantheon in that case.

Joe: Yeah. Well, absolutely, and that’s why I asked. We could talk about this maybe at the bottom of the show, but you guys have some really good tools. Especially that could aid in the classroom, the technical side of teaching in the classroom.

So, let’s see. You started with a little bit of HTML, and then you taught them how to FTP to a server. You have a VPS, so I guess it– Was it like your own, was it like an IP address for them to access it? Or did you have your own domain pointing to that?

Tessa: For most of the students we just do an IP address, but I still created them subsidiary accounts so as long as they use IP they can log into their subsidiary account. In that particular class we never got to the point of actually doing domain names, because that’s about as far as we got for that year. But I think that it was set up in a way that they could easily just grab a domain name, or I could grab one for them, and actually assign that to that as well for them to be able to move onto.

That wasn’t really the idea of the class, of course that’s great if they could have a website one day, but the idea was like, “Programming is awesome. I want to expand.” I’m really doing it for the future. I spend a lot of time on diversity, working on diversity initiatives. Especially with women or with other race or whatever that might look like.

If I can focus my teaching on individuals like that, I’m helping the future. That’s exactly what this class was. It was a lot of a lot of diverse kids, as well as there actually was a lot of girls in there, and I was really excited about it.

Joe: Nice.

Tessa: So the goal was to just get them excited about programming and hopefully that they’ve learned enough that they can go out, start to Google stuff like all the rest of us do, and actually make their own website.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, not having a domain, it’s not something I ever considered. But it’s interesting, and it very clearly demonstrates the need for a domain too. So if they’re like, “Hey, this is a really hard thing to remember. How do I fix that?” Maybe they can do that on their– You leave them wanting a little bit more, and then they say, “Oh. There are online courses that can help me do this, or that.”.

Have you considered using a tool like CodePen, or anything like that? I know when I teach my students at the college level, HTML and CSS for the first time, I create some examples on CodePen and I tell them to modify it. After a little primer, of course. I have a full semester to do that though, and it sounds like your main goal was to get them to repeat something and see, “Hey, I created this and now it’s available online.”

Tessa: Yeah, absolutely. I really like CodePen, and we did actually use CodePen for a couple examples. For the kids, it was a little bit easier mainly because there are some restrictions with school computers, so sometimes they’re restricted in terms of internet, sometimes they’re restricted in terms of programs. And so we started out with just having Sublime Text, and then having a normal browser that they can just open.

I wasn’t sure of limitations in terms of like, “Can we go to CodePen’s website? Can we go to other websites?” We were pretty limited, but I actually use CodePen very heavily when I teach Girl Develop It classes. I’ve got a whole set of collections of each class that I teach, that whatever topic it is they’re learning they can go and find that collection, and they can see the examples of what I’m trying to teach them.

So I totally agree. CodePen is awesome and a perfect example for being able to dig in and just tweak stuff.

Joe: That’s fantastic. I’m a huge fan of CodePen, I have a pro account to do the pro things, especially in the classroom. You can do live coding and have students log on and watch on their machine if they want to do that. So, a lot of cool stuff in the pro account.

I’ll also link to Chris Coyier’s episode, he was on very early in the series, graciously. We talked a little bit about CodePen. Cool.

So, when you put together the curriculum– Well actually, first of all, you said that you had two groups of kids. You had the high schooler-ish crowd, and the middle schooler-ish crowd. What was the biggest difference between those two groups?

Tessa: Their attitudes. It’s actually funny because I thought that there would be more of a learning curve with the middle school students, but I actually feel like that was a little bit less, because they came in excited. They came in wanting to do it, they were all for it, they were ready to learn. Where the high schoolers were like, “I just have to do this, so I’m here.” And it took me, you know the FTP thing really is when I felt like they kind of turned around.

It took a lot more energy to get them excited and get them involved, where the middle schoolers were already there. Other than that, I feel like that was really the only difference. Just in terms of, high schoolers are sassy, and middle schoolers aren’t quite there yet for the most part.

Joe: Yeah. I mean, teaching college freshmen, I can definitely fully agree with that statement. Especially, I would always pick the 8 a.m. class because I’m a very chipper morning person, and hung-over college students or not. So, doing whatever you can to get them excited about a thing that– I taught a class they had to take. So getting them excited about this thing, like you said, is very hard. Those quick wins, the first quick win for me was always letting them out early on the first day. It was syllabus day, so you just read the syllabus and then send them on their way. And then they’d be like, “Well, maybe this class isn’t so bad.”.

So, that’s fantastic. You mentioned that you do HTML and CSS. I am very curious to see how you approach CSS. I have a course called An Introduction to HTML and CSS, and I feel like grasping that concept is a little different, maybe a little bit harder than HTML. Because you teach tags, they do this thing, but with CSS there’s a lot more variance.

What’s your approach to that?

Tessa: Totally. I very much agree with that. I see that in actual kids, and I also see that in adults as well. What I like to do is I like to focus and spend a lot of time on the actual like syntax of CSS. Really drilling into them what the properties are, what the values are, how to actually write that. We spend a significant amount of time on that.

I think that some of the adults, I can tell, that sometimes they’re like, “I understand it, let’s move on.” But I’m like, “You really don’t. It gets very complicated.” So just making sure that they feel 100% comfortable writing it. Like, “We need the semicolon, and we need the brackets,” closing that out and just making sure that they just get through that syntax and get very comfortable with that, I feel like actually makes them a lot more successful.

Again, people can get a little frustrated because they’re like, “I think I get it, let’s move on.” Getting through that point, I think, is really important. I’ve also found a lot of really awesome documents and I’m sure others have found these too. But there’s lots of really nice charts for CSS that have the shortcuts on there. Like, here’s the properties that you could possibly use, here’s some values.

Of course it doesn’t include everything, but having some type of cheat sheet like that has also been really helpful, so that they can physically– As much as being a developer I feel like I should be all electronics, I actually really like tangible things in my hand. I like books, I like paper handouts, I like all of that stuff and so I would have those cheat sheets so that people could look at them and be like, “Oh, I just want to know what a text is.” Because for Pete’s sake, why is color not font color? Like, come on.

Joe: Right, yes. “Font Style? Totally. Color? Font Color? No.”

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Tessa: It’s just color. Right, exactly. It’s just so that they start to figure out that there are some very odd naming conventions to some of these, and getting that syntax down first.

Joe: I agree 100%. Especially about having physical– I buy computer books almost exclusively, and people are like, “Why? If you have a digital version you can search it.” I don’t know. There’s just something about dog-earing a page, or highlighting that thing and then referencing it. I don’t know. I like that feeling. It feels more tangible to me, it feels like I’m going to remember it better if I’m interacting with the book as opposed to just, I don’t know. As an example, I Google the PHP date syntax every time I need it, every single time I’m doing something with the date. If it’s not “year-month-day” I don’t know what the syntax is.

Tessa: Don’t feel bad, I do the very same thing.

Joe: Right? Maybe if I had a cheat sheet where I could interact with it, maybe it would stick better. But in any case, yeah, that’s really cool. How far do you go with CSS? Like, “Here’s how you style certain elements, here’s how you make your simple HTML page pretty enough?”

Tessa: With the kids we did the very basics. It was just, “Let’s drill in on the syntax so that you can eventually start to build off of that if you want to. Let’s do paragraphs, let’s do background colors, let’s do borders.” More of the aesthetics. We did start to dig into like displays and positioning a little bit, but that can be very complicated as a new person digging in.

Joe: Especially today with the three or four types of ways to do it now.

Tessa: Yeah, no. We didn’t touch flex or grid unfortunately, which I think would be great to do, but it’s pretty complicated.

Joe: Yeah, it’s a very cerebral thing for CSS.

Tessa: Totally agree. With my Girl Develop It classes I actually dig further than that. What we do is, we like to chat about CSS and get them really comfortable with writing CSS, and then we like to talk about responsive design. Or at least, I specifically do, because a lot of times when you are starting to learn CSS you’ll use units of measure that you don’t realize should actually probably not be used today.

So maybe it’s like, “I want this column to be 300 pixels.” That’s really great when you’re starting to learn, but you really should be like, “Oh, I actually want that to be like 30%,” or whatever. That kind of works out too.

So, we have a conversation about responsive design, and how to accommodate that with like units of measure, and different other pieces as well. We probably get about that far, and then we move on to more web concepts like servers, and domain names, and things like that. There’s so much to learn in CSS that it actually would be really fun to just teach a, “Let’s get super deep and dirty with CSS and learn all the things.”.

Joe: I’ve gotten a request to do an advanced CSS class so I’m considering that. I’m in Gutenberg-land right now, but I’m seriously considering that because it is. Once you learn the basics, you’re like, “What else can I do with this?” I think the approach of talking about units of measure for at least the Girl Develop It side is good, because pixels are a more tangible thing. I have 1000 pixel area, I want my column to be 300 pixels, I know what that means, I can grok that. But what’s 3 [rem]? Like, what is that? What’s [rem]? What does that even mean?

It’s like how you learned the long way in math first, and then you learn the shortcut because you need to understand certain things I guess.

Tessa: That’ so true. I was just going to say, when I do teach them `rems` and `ems` and other units of measurement for a variety of things. And I can always see they glaze over, they’re like, “I don’t think they quite get it.”

Joe: Right.

Tessa: But I cover as much as I can to at least give them an idea of, “This exists. It’s something that you should look into, once you feel comfortable and are ready to just really dig in.”

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, and that’s what you do in a webinar, or if you have a short class, you introduce things that then the attendees could later Google. At least, the intro stuff is like, “Well, I know what question I need to ask now.”.

Tessa: Exactly.

Joe: And rem is slightly easier, because it’s always going back to the root element. You don’t have to do that adoption, or child element, math that you have to do with `ems`. But still, it’s weird. Like, what’s `rem` mean? Relative `em`? Capital M? Who prints stuff?

So, that’s super interesting. We are coming up on time, and I want to give you a little bit of an open-ended question which is, if you’re– This is not my favorite question at the end. This is just more of an open-ended question which is, what’s one piece of advice you wish you had when you first started teaching development?

Tessa: That one’s hard.

Joe: I know.

Tessa: Teaching development came super natural for me, so I don’t know. I think just getting feedback in general was really beneficial, I actually didn’t struggle with teaching development. Which now that I think about it, it’s really exciting and really cool and does make a lot of sense as to why I love it so much. I think it is something that I just naturally enjoy doing and I’m naturally good at. I really just love seeing people get that “aha” moment of like, “I learned something!” and being responsible for that.

So it’s actually come very natural, but I think in looking back I feel like what’s really important is to actually obtain feedback and actually listen to that feedback. There are a couple of times that I would get feedback like, “This is super great, but I really wish that we would have talked about this more.” And getting that from multiple students was like, “Oh, awesome. I’m going to change my curriculum.” In teaching development I think it’s really important to take that feedback from your students, and be willing to change, and willing to learn from them and expand on that feedback.

Joe: I love that. I mean, because especially in the online course base people think that once you have your curriculum, or once you have your online course it’s very passive. Somebody in the department at the school where I used to teach was like, “Well this class is basically on auto-pilot now, right? You’ve been teaching it for a couple of semesters.” And I’m like, “No. I redo the syllabus every semester, almost, because new stuff happens.”

Tessa: Totally.

Joe: The textbook, which is just a web page, was written in like 1995. There’s nothing about facial recognition in that textbook. I want to talk about that now. So, that’s absolutely great advice, because also it’s easy to get jaded too. I don’t know about you, but in teaching some of my classes now they’re like, “I don’t understand, I’m really bad with computers.” And I’m like, “Why are you in a graduate level computer class?” It’s easy to get that attitude, but I have to tell myself I’m there to teach them how to be good with computers now.

Tessa: Patience.

Joe: Yeah, patience.

Tessa: Super important.

Joe: Absolutely. It’s easy if you react like that, that’s fine, react like that. Don’t take it out on the student, though you want to, because you can get frustrated. That’s fine, but still help them. What was your–.

Tessa: Do it when you get to your car, or get home.

Joe: Yeah, exactly. You mentioned the “aha” moment. Do you remember your “aha” moment? Because I totally remember my “aha” moment with programming.

Tessa: I do. For whatever reason, floats and positions, I just could never get it. I spent a lot of time on it. And to be fair when I learned programming, there was no classes, there was no community groups, there was no meet ups. And if that stuff was around I lived in a super small town in northern Minnesota, so it didn’t exist for me. I really struggled to learn programming because I didn’t have a lot of that stuff.

My “aha” moment was figuring out how floats actually worked, and being able to have various columns in various places and then continue those columns, but be able to kind of move them around. And when I did that, like I just started crying. My husband was like, “What is wrong with you?” I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I did it!”.

Joe: Yeah, “I got it!”.

Tessa: He’s like, “Why are you crying?” Like, “I’m so happy!” It was this amazing moment, it was awesome. Then of course I’ve had multiples of those, but that was my first.

Joe: Yeah, that’s amazing. I don’t really remember my first HTML CSS “aha” moment, it was maybe my friends showing me, I guess, positioning. Like, z index. I remember him specifically showing me an index with two hollow squares. There was just the border, and I saw the two squares intersect like, “This is crazy.”.

But my first “aha” moment in programming was after my first semester of Java, which was my first semester of programming ever. Didn’t go that well. It was very hard, but I was writing PHP after that, because I had to write PHP for this. I was doing a new advanced thing and I wrote an [IP] statement and actually saw it shakeout, and it was like 2:00 in the morning in my dorm room, and I’m like, “Man this worked on the first try! I get control structures now!” I just remember going, “I totally understand them now as opposed to just writing them.”

Tessa: Wow.

Joe: Remembering that story helps me empathize with my students who are learning Python right now for the first time, and they’re like, “I’ve never seen anything like this.” And I’m like, “No, I know. I know you haven’t. It’s very hard, and you’re not going to get it at the end of the eight weeks. And I know that. Just take it slow, ask questions.”.

So, awesome. Well, we’re at the end of time. I have two more questions for you. One is, where can people find you– we’ll get into that later.

The first one is, do you have any trade secrets for us?

Tessa: I saw this question on there and I wanted to come up with something sassy, because that’s totally me. But honestly, trade secrets in terms of teaching development is really just, I feel like, is being a human being that cares about other human beings.

I know that that sounds like something super common, to just be like, “Well of course I care about other human beings.” But actually sitting down and thinking about, and relating to the other human beings that are in that class, I had– I mean kids, obviously a little bit different. That was very emotional for me, especially some of those students, hearing the things that they were going home to or the things that they went through.

But in terms of adults, as well. I had students that were coming in that were in really bad careers or really bad life places, and they wanted to change that. And so really actually stepping back and seriously thinking about what their life is like, and how you can help them, can be very emotional but can also be incredibly rewarding.

There are multiple women that have moved on to actually having careers in development, and I started that. It is the most amazing feeling in the entire world. So, be a good human that cares about other humans, when you are working in this and in general, just in life. We all need that more.

Joe: Absolutely. And we all need that reminder. I’m going to record this and just play it when I need to. That will be my easy button sound, you know, when I get frustrated and I forget what my students are going through. That’s excellent advice. It’s very, very rewarding to be a teacher.

Cool. Tessa, thanks so much for joining me today. Where can people find you?

Tessa: People can find me all over the internet as TessaK22. That’s pretty much my username for everything. If you are interested in learning more about Coders of Tomorrow, or if you’re interested in learning more about that curriculum, feel free to reach out.

Coders of Tomorrow is the millennial way that you would spell “tomorrow,” so it’s, “Coders of,” and then, “”. So check it out.

If you want to teach kids in your area, I would love to chat with you and help expand the organization as well.

Joe: Fantastic. I will link all of those in the show notes as well. Tessa, thanks again for joining me. I had a blast.

Tessa: Yeah. Thank you for having me, it was great.

Outro: Again, thanks to Tessa for being on. She’s a great person to know in the WordPress community and in general – dedicated and passionate! She also offers some great tips for teaching and learning development.

My question for you think week is what was your “aha” moment in whatever it is you do! You can email your answers to or post it over on our Facebook community.

And Thanks again to our sponsors Pantheon and The Events Calendar. Definitely check them out. They are 2 companies so dedicated to the WordPress community that I’m proud to have them as supporters of the show.

For all of the show notes, head over to If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! You can also join the Facebook community over at I want to build a strong community for this podcast, and Facebook is the place to do it.

Thanks for joining me, and until next time, get out there and build something!

The post Tessa Kreisel and Teaching Development appeared first on How I Built It.

Jul 31 2018



Rank #6: Episode 25: Bob Dunn & Blogging

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In this episode, Bob and I get back to WordPress basics and talk all about blogging! Bob talks about how he built his blog, using plugins (60+!), coming up with good content, and a lot more. This is an excellent episode for anyone who uses WordPress or wants to start a blog.

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The post Episode 25: Bob Dunn & Blogging appeared first on How I Built It.

Feb 28 2017



Rank #7: Kirsten Bunch and Changing Careers

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Over the last 2 weeks, we discussed mental and physical health as it relates to freelancing and self-employment. To round out this trilogy of overall happiness in your career, I’m talking to Kirsten Bunch, who is a reinvention coach. She helps those folks who are mid-career but need a change. She offers some fantastic advice on how to determine if you’re ready for a chance, and the steps you should talk in order to figure out what to do for your next career move.

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Kirsten Bunch: I think the point is you don’t have to stay on the same path just because of some feeling of obligation, and also because you switch careers or because you start your own business maybe there’s– Definitely when you start your own business, there’s a period of time where you are not making a lot of money, but there’s still lots of ways to make money in this world. Switching careers doesn’t mean all of a sudden you’re not making any money.

Joe Casabona: That was Kirsten Bunch. Over the last two weeks, we discussed mental and physical health as it relates to freelancing and self-employment. To round out this trilogy of overall happiness in your career, I’m talking to Kirsten, who is a reinvention coach. She helps those folks who are mid-career but need a change. She offers some fantastic advice on how to determine if you’re ready for change and then the steps you should take in order to figure out what to do for your next career move. This is advice that can come to anybody at any walk of life, and you don’t need to be 10, 15, or 20 years into a career to determine you need a career change. We’ll get into this interview in a minute, but of course, first a word from our sponsors.

Break: This episode is brought to you by our friends at Ahoy! The easiest way to increase customer engagement on your WordPress site. Install Ahoy! Create a message box, configure a way to display it, and start seeing conversions come in. You can create messages for cart abandonment, up-sales and cross-sells, custom support, and so much more. Ahoy! Has flexible conditions that let you choose exactly where and when you want your message to be displayed. I’ve recently installed it on my own WooCommerce site, and I’ve already seen increased engagement. I know this because of Ahoy! and it’s powerful analytics and reporting. You will see ROI within days of installing Ahoy! If not sooner. That’s even more true for listeners of How I Built It. You can get an exclusive 20% discount on any plan. Visit and use the code HOWIBUILTIT at checkout. Use those today and increase your engagement in sales on your WordPress site. Thanks to Ahoy! for their support of this show.

Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today I’m excited to talk to my guest, Kirsten bunch. She is a reinvention coach and entrepreneur, and the topic we’re going to be discussing today is reinventing yourself and launching a new business if you feel stuck. Without further ado, Kirsten, how are you?

Kirsten: Hey. I’m really good, and I’m really good. I’m really happy to be here and have this conversation with you today.

Kirsten: Absolutely, thank you for joining me.

Joe: I’m excited because this is a pretty unique topic for the show, usually we’re talking about more concrete businesses ideas or services. But I think that especially in the space that my audience is in, the web development space, the WordPress space, a lot of people find their way to WordPress web development by feeling stuck. I’m excited to talk more high-level about this stuff. Why don’t we start off with who you are and what you do?

Kirsten: Yes. Like you said, I am a reinvention coach, and a strategist and entrepreneur. By the nature of that, I help people reinvent and refresh their careers. That can mean starting a business, a lot of my clients start businesses. It could also mean switching from one career to another. It also means passion projects sometimes, people who have clients who are writing books as a way to relaunch themselves or starting film festivals in their communities. Things like that. I find that most of my clients, typically my clients are around the mid-career point where they’re looking at what they’ve done and they’re looking at the next 20-25 years because that’s let’s face it, nobody is retiring at the age of 60 anymore. Thinking, “OK. What’s next for me? What am I going to do?”

Joe: Absolutely. First of all, I don’t know if I would have the ability to retire. I mean maybe I’m about halfway there, a little more than halfway there. Maybe I will want to retire. But I feel like I’d be pretty bored if I retired at 60 or 65. But you mentioned this in the pre-show discussion too, about passion projects, and I like that. Mostly because my career manifested itself out of a passion project. I was doing web development on the side, and it was a hobby, and I liked it. Then I made that my career basically from high school, I was doing that full time– Or, I was doing it while going to school, I should say. I like that too, and one other reason I like that is because I’ve heard from a lot of people in my outer circles that they don’t have a hobby. They basically work, and then they go back to work, and helping people find and pursue passion projects is important to me because I think that you should have other interests outside of your day job.

Kirsten: I think that’s true because I think– One of the things that I coach my clients on is not everybody’s ready to jump out of their career or jump out of their job, either for financial reasons or for identity purposes. I don’t recommend just quitting your job from one day to the next unless you’re prepared for what that means, and we could dig into what that means if you want. But one way to get your toes wet is to do a passion project. It’ll help you feel better about being in a job that maybe you’re not thrilled about, because you’ll have something else to think about, but it’s also a way– Like I said in the beginning, it’s a way to relaunch yourself. I’m working with a woman right now who in order to– She’s a celebrity stylist, and in order to relaunch herself and figure out where she’s headed next she felt the urge and felt the need to write her story. She’s writing a book about the vulnerability of beauty, and all this stuff. Cool stuff. It’s a way for her to take stock of where she’s been and who she is now and where she’s going.

Joe: I love that. That sounds cool. I think it flows very well into the next question that I had for you, which is “How do you know when you’re ready to make a career switch?”

Kirsten: I think if you’re uncomfortable with what you’re doing now, and that feeling of uncomfortable-ness isn’t going away, I think you need to examine that. That doesn’t mean you need a career switch necessarily, but it means that there’s something going on. I do a lot of speaking, and I always tell my audiences I have this whole story about my own reinvention, where I ignored the fact that I wasn’t happy in the career that I was in and I was moving from one job to the next and just doing the same thing. It’s like, what’s the saying– Doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. So what I say is that you can distract yourself from the truth, but the truth isn’t going to go away. If you feel like that’s what you’re doing, is you’re distracting yourself from the truth, that you’re not in the right place. Then I would suggest getting some help to figure that out, and not panicking. Please don’t panic. It’s OK. It’s all going to be OK, and you’ll figure it out.

Joe: I think that’s great. Not necessarily career switches for me, but both times I decided to leave my current job they came after a longer period of “What am I doing? I feel like I’m not growing,” in one instance. I felt like I was falling behind. I felt like I was the person who knew the most, and I didn’t want to be that. I was 26. I didn’t want to be the most knowledgeable person at my company, because there’s so much more to learn there. Then in my previous job, my wife and I had just had our first child, and I was re-evaluating based on that, and the time I was spending at work versus with my family. But I like that if you’re uncomfortable with what you’re doing, you need to examine it and don’t ignore it. Moving forward in this interview, we talked about this in the -pre-show, creating the persona of somebody who is ready for that career switch. As I ask the next set of questions, maybe we can keep that person in mind. Someone comes to you, and they say “I’m ready for a career switch, I’m not quite sure where I want to go next. What do I do?” The follow-up question I always ask in this interview is, “What kind of research do you do?” So how would we figure out where to go from here?

Kirsten: Yeah, no, definitely. It’s a great question. A metaphor I like to use, and I stole this from my branding team, but a metaphor I like to use is “What car–?” If you think about cars and you think about “If you can be any car you want, what car are you now and what car do you want to become?” And it’s not “What car you want to buy,” but “What car do you want to be?” So when you think about the cars, and you think about the car you want to become, you want to think about things like the size of the car. Because that in your career represents community. Have you been working in a big company and you want to be on your own? You want some space, you want to be a solo solopreneur, and you want to explore what that is? Or have you been working on your own in a small business and you miss that bigger crowd around you? The car analogy is, “Do you want a mini or do you want to do you want an SUV? A big SUV or a van?” Then also your values come in. Do you want the gas guzzler in your career, do you want to work for something that’s not mission-focused per se, and you want to work for a big company that does something that maybe isn’t– Like do you want to work for a tobacco company, or something like that? Or do you– Is there something within your values that is pulling you, like you feel like “I want to do something about climate change.” Or “I want to do something about animals,” I don’t know, food systems. So with the car analogy, it’s “Do you want a gas guzzler or do you want a hybrid? Do you want an E-car? What are you looking for?” I think figuring out those two things, what are the values that you’re looking for in your career, your new career and what, how– Sorry, I’ve lost my train of thought. But how do you show up with– If you think about it in the sense of car, what does your car look like and what are the elements of that car? The features is the word I’m trying to find.

Joe: Absolutely. That makes perfect sense. Again thinking back to my own journey, I worked at a big university which is essentially like a Fortune 500 company without the bankroll. Then I went to a small team, and now I’m solo. I made those choices at various stages. Then I like the idea of “Do you want a gas guzzler versus an electric car?” Or “Do you want to work for a company maybe where you do a specific job, and you like doing that job, or do you want to work for someone that has a very clear mission that aligns with your views?” If you dig on what Ben and Jerry’s is doing, they have a very clear mission. Maybe that’s something that you would consider as well. I like that a lot.

Kirsten: Yeah. I think that the idea of being an entrepreneur or working for somebody else, do you want an automatic car do you want a stick shift or a standard car? Because if you’re an entrepreneur, it’s all on you. You’ve got to drive that, and you’ve got to pay attention to how you’re shifting and all of that. That’s not to say in automatic if you’re working for somebody else you don’t have to do it, but it’s a little bit more that somebody else is driving the ship and you’re steering your part of the job.

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Joe: The next question that I would have is, what am I going to do? I’ve been a web developer for 15 years, I’ve worked at– My old man worked at Verizon and before that Bell Atlantic or Ninex and Ma Bell, or whatever. He worked at the same company for his entire career. How do you figure out what to do next, as far as the actual doing the job?

Kirsten: The question I get a lot is, “How do I figure out my passion?” I’m not– Actually, I don’t know. I’m not a passion person. I’ve never really figured out my passion, and my passion has been trying new things if anything, that’s what my passion is. What I say to people is, instead of– “Forget about your passion. If you know what that is, awesome. Follow that. But don’t freak out if you’re just like, ‘I have no idea what that is.’ Follow your curiosity instead and follow the things that are catching your attention, and talk to people about them and read up and talk to people who are working in that space.” For me, my reinvention story was about becoming an entrepreneur and starting my own business. I had never done that, I didn’t– I don’t come from a family of entrepreneurs, my parents were school teachers, and I don’t know a lot of people who had their own business. I do now, and I know tons of people. But my curiosity was about “What would it be like to run my own business? What is that even about?” I think back of how naive I was a couple of years ago compared to where I am now, I’m still incredibly naive, but it can be a curiosity around a specific function, or it can be a curiosity around an issue, or something else.

Joe: I like that point a lot, follow your curiosity. It’s almost like your freshman year of college, taking a bunch of gen-ed classes to see which one you like the best before you determine your major, is what I thought there. I like that answer too, and it resonates with me in an interesting way because I knew from the age of 12 that I wanted to work with computers in some capacity. I was very lucky in knowing exactly what I wanted to do from a pretty early age. Before that, this is a little known fact, and I wanted to be a Catholic priest because I was an altar boy and that seemed like the next logical career move to an 11-year-old or a 12-year-old. But then I discovered computers and I felt like that was a lot more lucrative.

Kirsten: Yes, probably.

Joe: Follow your curiosity and figure out what’s catching your attention. I think that’s a nice takeaway.

Kirsten: You bring up a really good point about this idea of– This happens to a lot of people who are mid-career, that you’ve been on a path and I hear all the time “I’m just going to continue this because this is the way I’ve been going, and this is what I’ve worked so hard to get to.” We take time, we pay attention to our education, we build our skills, and we build our networks, and it’s a little disconcerting, or it’s a lot disconcerting if you get to a point where you’re just– It’s back to owning your truth, and you’re like “I don’t know if this is right for me anymore.” Something in your gut is telling you that it’s not right, but you’ve invested so much, so why not just continue on that path? The difference is now in this day and age, and we’re really the first generation– It’s true for men and women but particularly women, this is the first generation of those of us who are in our 40s and 50s where we have the luxury of time, and we have the luxury of technology and the way cultural norms around work– How they’ve shifted. We have the luxury to ask that question, “What else can I do?” And have a long enough runway to figure that out. Because we’re not, God-willing, we’re not dying at the age of– In our late 50s or early 60s anymore. A lot of us are living much longer. Like I said in the beginning, a lot of us want to be productive and engaged. The idea of retirement is just completely changing.

Joe: Right. The retirement age was determined based on the average lifespan. You retire, and then a few years later you’re probably not going to be alive anymore, and that’s not the case anymore. You retire at 65, and you could live another 25 years or 30 years. All of my wife’s grandparents are in their late 80s, which is not what it was like when they entered the workforce. I like that a lot. Then people who are mid-career and on a path generally want to stay on that path, and I think that’s absolutely true. Especially with the increasing cost of college, I spent over $100,000 dollars or whatever on a college degree, and now I’m not going to use that degree. That weighs on your mind a little bit.

Kirsten: Hopefully by the time you’re mid-career you’ve–

Joe: Yeah, that’s true.

Kirsten: But I know for people who are in school now, that might not be the case. They may be carrying that debt through for years and years and years. I think the point is you don’t have to stay on the same path just because of some feeling of obligation, and also because you switch careers or because you start your own business maybe there’s– Definitely when you start your own business, there’s a period of time where you are not making a lot of money, but there’s still lots of ways to make money in this world. Switching careers doesn’t mean all of a sudden you’re not making any money.

Joe: I think that’s– To drive that point home, before we get on to the title question, I read an article that I like that basically said “If you’re not willing to do something for three years, you shouldn’t think about it.” That falls in line with the idea that if you start your own business, you’re probably not going to make good money or replace your previous salary for about three years as you get up and running. You’re not immediately going to make what you are making at your old established job, so I like that. That’s stuck with me. I’m about to enter year three of my business, and things are going pretty well, not as well as I want them to be, but I’m also– I’m a millennial, so I don’t have any patience. I really like that, that change can be hard, but you shouldn’t stay on the same path because you have a feeling of obligation towards it. Or towards what you’re currently doing, I should say. Let’s get into the title question, and I have followed my curiosity. Let’s pick an example that you’ve mentioned before, let’s say I want to write a book. I’ll say a fiction book because I’ve written technical books. I want to write a work of fiction. How do I build my reinvented career or my reinvented passion project?

Kirsten: If it’s about writing a book, writing a fiction book, I don’t work with people who write fiction, so it’s a little bit of a difficult scenario. But let me talk it through. With writing a book, there are a lot of book coaches out there that can help you write your book. If you have no experience writing at all, I would say start with taking some courses where you’re writing within a group, and people are giving you feedback. I know Gotham– I forget what it’s called, but it’s like Gotham Writers or something like that in New York that has a lot of online courses, and they’re always really great. But I think the thing is that if you want to write you’ve got to write, and that’s like with anything. If you want to start a business, you’ve got to start a business. You’ve got to take action. That’s true– You could give me any scenario, and I would say, “Take action.” If you want to write, start writing. Stop talking about it, and I think there is a big– Don’t stop talking about it, but put action behind the talk. I think there’s a lot of people that are always like, talk talk talk. “I’m going to do this,” and 10 years later, you see the person and you’re like “Are you still talking about this, and you haven’t yet done it?” I think whatever it is that you want to do, follow your curiosity, and take action.

Joe: Nice. Don’t just talk about it, actually do something. If you want to write, you’ve got to write. I love that. I had a track coach– I was on the field part, I didn’t do much track, but I did the field part. Our track and field coach [Mr. Diebold], on the first day of practice, said to the runners, “If you want to run fast, you got to run fast.” Then to the shot putters, “If you want to throw far, you got to throw far.” I remember that, and I’m like, “I want to throw far.” I think that’s a great piece of advice, something that I’ve heard a lot, and going back to your initial point, start talking to people. Take some courses to set you on that path. Let’s speak a little bit more generally now, as far as reinventing goes. Take some courses, and is the first step figuring out your first step? Is the first step in reinventing your career, figuring out exactly what you need to do?

Kirsten: Yeah, no. Not necessarily, because some people don’t know. A lot of– Some people say “I know this doesn’t feel right, what I’m doing now, and I want to figure out what else I’m doing.” If I say to them, “Just start taking action or figure out your first step.” They’ll be like, “I don’t know what that is.” Then they’ll run around in a circle, and that’s–  You get dizzy. I think that one of those– As I said in the beginning, it’s like owning your truth. What is it that you’re experiencing now that doesn’t feel right to you? Looking at that, and it does help a lot to get some help by maybe there’s an HR person in your company that also has coaching skills that could help you talk that through. I think there’s a sense of vulnerability there, you have to be willing to own your truth and– I keep saying that, but in talking to people about it I wouldn’t go and announce it in the company newsletter that you’re seeking your next career necessarily, but if you have trusted people where you are, have a conversation about what it is you’re trying to figure out. Get some help thinking that through, what is it that doesn’t feel right? What is it that–? In some ways, it’s simple. A lot of us know what we want to do, we’re just afraid to admit it to ourselves because we think we’ll fail or we think it won’t work, or we think we don’t have what it takes. Or my favorite is we think we need to spend two years gathering every single piece of information and listening to every podcast and reading every book until we make any steps towards that direction at all. You’re not going to know if it’s right or not unless you at least start taking a little bit of action.

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Joe: In the context of doing things online as a software developer, “Iterate quickly” is “Do something, see if it works out, you can always adjust it later.” Right? This is not like building a skyscraper where we need to make sure all the plans are exactly right before we start building. This is more malleable than that. I’ll link to a previous guest, Scott Bollinger, that basically talked about that. “Launch as soon as you can, because you don’t want to spend two years throwing yourself into this thing and realizing that it’s not the right thing to do once you start doing it.”

Kirsten: Absolutely. I talk to people about having– People have college funds for their kids, they have retirement funds. I talk to people about having reinvention funds. The reality is because of the way, as we talked about because people are retiring later and because of the way we’re working now, the reality is that you’re probably going to reach a point in your career where you’re going to look to reinvent yourself. Whether that means starting a business or switching careers, isn’t it wonderful to have a fund that you can pull on so that you don’t have to be so stressed out about your reinvention? Because a lot of the times– You probably know this as an entrepreneur, it’s hard to know what to spend money on. That fear of, “I only have– I have no money because I didn’t plan for this. I don’t want to hire this web developer to help me,” or “I don’t want to hire this coach,” or “I don’t want to hire this bargaining person because I’m going to go into debt.” But if you have that reinvention fund, it makes it a little bit easier, and it makes it a little bit more– It takes the fear away a little bit.

Joe: Absolutely. Even as somebody who does run their own business, you should– I got some great advice from a friend Jen Bourne who said that you should have a rainy day fund. Take some part of the money you make every month and put it into a separate fund because you’ll probably have that feast and famine. There’ll be good times where money is coming in, and there’ll be slow times, so you need to manage that a little bit. So, “Have a reinvention fund.” I think it’s The Richest Man in Babylon, have you read that book?

Kirsten: No.

Joe: It’s about investing, but the lesson is really good. You take 10% of your income no matter what, and you put it somewhere. You take that, and you invest it in whatever you think you should. This was written a long time ago, so it talks about investing in a farm or whatever, but reinvention fund means you’re investing in yourself. You’re taking that 10% for your future self to help reinvent yourself.

Kirsten: Absolutely. Investing in yourself as one of– It’s a big thing. We’ll invest in our kids, and we’ll invest in our homes. But when it comes to investing in ourselves, a lot of people give a pause around that. They feel like, especially people in mid-career who are just like “I spent my money on my education,” right?

Joe: Right.

Kirsten: But the reality is that it doesn’t stop, the idea of– Sorry. Investing in yourself is lifelong. You’ve got to keep doing that.

Joe: Absolutely. As we wrap up, I will point to one more book that I think drives this home, especially for entrepreneurs. That’s Profit First, which talks about taking 5% of the money that you make there and just put it in a– That’s your bonus, otherwise you’re not getting anything out of the business. You’re working harder than you would in a full-time job, and you’re not getting anything from it, so as we record this I just used my Profit First money to buy this beautiful fountain pen that I wanted for a long time. It’s the Sailor Pro Gear, I don’t know if you’re into fountain pens, but it’s a very nice pen. I had the support of my wife to buy it, of course, but I feel like I’ve gotten something out of the business this quarter because it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time.

Kirsten: I love that. I think especially as new entrepreneurs we are– Gosh, the money thing is so hard. I love the fact of just buying yourself something nice even if it’s– go and have a spa day or buy yourself a nice pen, or whatever.

Joe: Yeah, exactly. Get something out of your business that you maybe wouldn’t get out of the full-time job, and along with that proper money management is important. I think your point about the reinvention fund and reading Profit First, manage your money, and that gives you freedom. I think that those are very good points to take away. Let’s– I usually like to ask you what your plans for the future are here, but we haven’t talked specifically about you that much. Why don’t we get an idea of what you would do for somebody, for our persona that we’ve created as far as guiding them, and what your plans for the future are?

Kirsten: Sure. I think I understand your question.

Joe: I threw like two or three in there.

Kirsten: OK.

Joe: It’s– What do you do currently and what do you hope to do in the near future?

Kirsten: Got it, yeah. Like I said, I’m a reinvention coach and strategist, and I help people figure out their next act. My book is called– I have a book that came out last year, it’s called Next Act: Give Back and it’s not about volunteering, it’s not about giving money. It’s really about how you give back to yourself, how you give back to the dreams that you had in college to do something that you wanted to do, and you got carried away on a career track that has been good or bad depending on your situation. But now it’s time to reassess what you’re doing, and for me, I continue to work with people who are at that point of their careers where they’re asking “What am I doing here and what else could I be doing, and what’s next?” That work isn’t going to change, because I absolutely love that work. This is what lights me up, and I get up excited, and I’m excited every day to work with my clients and see what they can do. For me, what I’m doing now is focusing on how to be a better business person, and how to learn how to be a better entrepreneur. “What do I need to learn?” Which is tons of stuff. I’m working with a branding agency right now to make my brand a little more polished, and I guess more official-looking. One of the things that I found when I started was that I was talking to too small of an audience. So I’ve expanded, and I’m working with a branding agent to expand who I’m talking to with my messaging. The future really is “How do I help more people, and how do I make more money helping more people?” Basically. That has to do with group programs, retreats, things like that. For me, everything has to be fun, otherwise, I don’t want to do it. I can’t force myself to do things that aren’t fun. So, that’s where I’m headed.

Joe: I like that a lot. “For me, everything has to be fun.” In both of our situations, we’re probably not just happy with the paycheck, I need to be fulfilled by my work, I want to be able to do things that I enjoy doing, and everything has to be fun. So, cool. As we wrap up here, I do like to ask my favorite question, which is, do you have any trade secrets for us? You’ve given us a lot of really great information so far, is there–? What’s maybe the one big takeaway that you want listeners to have?

Kirsten: I think the one thing, and I don’t know if it’s a trade secret, but the one thing that I have learned is that you can’t do everything by yourself and you’ve got to invest in your business. That may mean taking on debt, and if you’re a solopreneur that could mean borrowing money from people or having credit card debt, or there’s other ways to take on debt. But you are not going to grow unless you’re investing in yourself, and in what you’re trying to do. For a long time, I sat and didn’t want to spend any money, didn’t want to invest in myself. I tried to do it myself and what you were saying– There’s a lot of things that I’m good at, and there’s a lot of things I’m not good at. Like marketing, forget it. I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time. But you have to figure that out and own that. What are you good at, what are you not good at? Get help and stop trying to do it yourself, stop trying to bootstrap it as a badge of honor and invest in yourself. You can either– Money and time have an interesting relationship. You can either spend a lot of time, or you can spend some money and spend less time.

Joe: “Money and time have an interesting relationship.” I love that. When I was younger, I had so much time, and I would do everything. I had all the time and no money. Now that I am older and I have a family, time is the most valuable thing to me. I will happily spend $200 dollars if it saves me several hours, or whatever.

Kirsten: Yes, absolutely.

Joe: Yeah. I love that, “Invest in yourself. You can’t do everything by yourself, and you may need to take on a little bit of debt. That’s perfectly fine.” People who start brick and mortar businesses before the age of the internet had to go to the bank to get a loan to buy property. The idea is that they were investing in their future self to be able to pay off that debt and be in a better place, so I think that there’s an interesting look at debt today with the whole Total Money Makeover movement and no debt ever. Sometimes you need to invest in yourself, and that future investment will hopefully pay off if you do your due diligence. So Kirsten Bunch, thank you so much for joining me today. Where can people find you?

Kirsten: Thank you. This has been great. They can find me at my website, and it’s I’m also pretty active on LinkedIn, more than any of the other socials, although I am on all the others. You can find me with my name, pretty– Somewhat unusual name, although there are other Kirsten Bunch’s in the world. I have a blog that comes out weekly that’s called Changed the World In a Hot Flash that people seem to like. That’s something you could sign up for if you’re interested in connecting with me.

Joe: Awesome. I will link to all of those things and everything, especially the books, we talked about a lot of books today– That we talked about in the show notes over at Kirsten, thanks so much for joining me today. I appreciate it.

Kirsten: Thank you. This has been great. Thanks a lot, Joe.

Joe: Thanks so much to Kirsten for joining us today. Lots of takeaways. There are a lot of takeaways from her interview. She also gives a ton of advice in her trade secrets, and you can’t do everything by yourself. “There is a lot of things that I’m good at,” she said, “And a lot of things I’m not good at, and “That money and time have an interesting relationship.” I liked that one. She said you may need to take on debt, which we may differ on the philosophy of that. I try not to take on any debt if I possibly can, but the overall message here is invest in yourself. This is incredibly important. You need to invest in yourself and the tools that will help you become what you want to be. I think that part is incredibly important, and if you do need to take on a little bit of debt to get that education you need or the certification that you want, then so be it. The idea is that you should believe that that debt is an investment and you’ll be able to pay it back in a short amount of time. So definitely check out Kirsten and all of her fantastic resources, which will be linked in the show notes over at Thanks so much to our sponsors, Ahoy! Creator Courses and Pantheon. We would not be able to do the show without them. My question of the week for you is, “Have you ever felt like you needed to make a career change, and what did you do to mitigate that change?” Let me know on Twitter @jcasabona or via email at Thanks so much for listening. If you liked this episode, then please share it with somebody who you think will benefit from it, I would appreciate that. Until next time, get out there and build something.

The post Kirsten Bunch and Changing Careers appeared first on How I Built It.

Jul 23 2019



Rank #8: Episode 3: Brian Krogsgard and Post Status

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In this episode, I talk with Brian Krogsgard about how he started Post Status, deciding to take full time, getting members, making decisions, and of-course, the tools he used to built out the website!

One of my favorite parts of the interview is around 7:20, where Brian talks about his method for researching his stories.

Show Notes:

Sponsored by:

The post Episode 3: Brian Krogsgard and Post Status appeared first on How I Built It.

Sep 06 2016



Rank #9: Jeremiah Smith and SimpleTiger

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Jeremiah Smith is founder of SimpleTiger, an SEO company that focuses on SaaS companies. This episode is going to kick off a miniseries about SEO and I’m happy that Jeremiah is starting it off. He offers so much incredible advice about SEO and life in general. I love his story, and I think you will too.

Show Notes

Check out my new show, Creator Toolkit and join our Facebook community. Question of the week: What’s the best piece of SEO advice you’ve ever gotten? Let me know on Twitter at @jcasabona or email me,

Sponsored by:
  • GravityView: Use code HOWIBUILTIT for 15% off!
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  • Pantheon: Get ready for Gutenberg. Sign up for a FREE account today.
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Intro: Hey everybody and welcome to Episode 90(!!) of How I Built It. In today’s episode I get to talk to Jeremiah Smith, founder of SimpleTiger. This episode is going to kick off a miniseries about SEO and I’m happy that Jeremiah is starting it off. He offers so much incredible advice about SEO and life in general. I love his story, and I think you will too. We’ll get to all of that and more, but first…

Sponsors: Today’s episode is brought to you by Panethon, Traitware, and GravityView. You’ll hear about Pantheon and Traitware a little bit later.

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Joe Casabona: Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Jeremiah Smith of SimpleTiger. Jeremiah, how are you today?

Jeremiah Smith: I’m doing awesome. Thanks for having me on the show.

Joe: Thanks for being on the show. I really appreciate it. When you guys reached out, when your company reached out there were a few suggested topics. And I think we’re just going to talk about how you created a SimpleTiger today, is that right?

Jeremiah: Yes sir.

Joe: So why don’t we start off with who you are and what you do, and how you came up with the idea?

Jeremiah: Sure. My name is Jeremiah. I’ve been in the SEO industry now for about 12 years, and I pretty much discovered SimpleTiger. It was a marketing agency where I used to offer a whole bunch of different services. From building websites, to designing logos, to actually even printing business cards. I did everything. I thought I could do everything, at least. And I stumbled across Search Engine Optimization through building a website for a client. And after building their website, showing it to them, and they’re like, “This is awesome.” And then a day later they’re like, “OK. Can we get it in Google?”

And I just thought that it was filling out a web form and submitting it to Google, and then you’re done. But I didn’t even realize there’s a whole industry underneath that has so much to do with keeping your site to show up well on Google. So when I discovered that I was immediately like, “This is intriguing. I want to do this for this client. But I can’t really sell this yet.” But they agreed to have me do it as a full-time job for them so long as it worked.

That was their thing. They were just focused on results. And so I had this immediate desire to start learning SEO by doing it. But my goal was obviously to yield results for this client. So that’s when I dove in and it actually worked extremely well. Their company grew massively in a matter of six months and I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe what I had just learned. And I knew that if I’d just done all of this by learning it, imagine if I knew how to do it and was able to do it for clients.

So I parlayed that into a career in SEO, and went to work for some big ad agencies, and really learned how the big boys do what I do now. That started this side business of SimpleTiger being focused on SEO and consulting, and just got rid of all the other junk I used to do. Building websites, designing logos, printing business cards. All that had to go. I wanted to focus on a SEO. So that is where SimpleTiger was born.

In those days though it was a consulting company, where I didn’t have the personnel to do campaigns for all these huge clients. So I just spent my time consulting them. And that was pretty much how it started.

Joe: Cool. Very cool. Learning by doing is something that I preach all the time. And I’ve said to people, to make them feel better, “You never learn something as well as if you break a client’s site and then have to fix it.” I have always learned the best that way, or at least the fastest.

So what was it like, learning by doing, as far as SEO goes? Because you don’t necessarily see results right away. If I write a line of code and it breaks, I see immediately that it breaks. But with SEO it’s a little bit of a longer game, right?

Jeremiah: Yeah it is. And that was a bit of a challenge. Now what’s awesome is when I was learning SEO, 2006 through 2007, that was the very beginning for me. So when I was learning, those days SEO was much easier than it is today. The tools at your disposal were really good. The stuff that Google gave you access to in regards to keyword data, and things like that, were fantastic. In those days you could you could change a title tag on the website and immediately start ranking better.

That’s totally different nowadays. It’s much harder to rank in Google nowadays. And so I actually was blessed to have that, because it was a good teacher. It allowed me to quickly learn things in those days. But you’re right. SEO does take a little while to take effect. And sometimes that can be a challenge especially when you’re trying to learn something.

So the hard part for me in those days is probably knowing exactly what to do. I didn’t have the experience to filter out what I was reading from what might work and what might not. Nowadays I have that experience and I can quickly tell what I need to do. But that was probably the hardest part in those early days.

Joe: Gotcha. That’s really interesting. That makes a lot of sense, and it was probably easier back then. Because I know when I made my first website I would get links and I would get e-mails all the time, “I’ll trade you link for a link.” And that was the strategy in 2003.

But I mean, 2006-2007 is when Twitter started and then a few years later it started to get big. And the Google algorithm changes quarterly. And because it changes so quickly, what kind of research do you do to stay on top of SEO? I know that there are some big names out there. Matt Cutts used to be a big name, and I think Danny Sullivan. I don’t know if he’s still doing that.

Jeremiah: Yeah. He’s still around. And I definitely recommend people follow Danny Sullivan. He actually left Search Engine Land and joined Google, which is really cool. So now we’ve got somebody who is really involved in the SEO community for a very long time on the inside at Google, which is awesome. I love that. Of course he’s limited with what he can talk about, but he does throw us a bone every now and then.

So I will say following him is a great idea. But if you really understand what Google’s “Why” is, why they exist. And you understand their ethos. If you’ve built a relationship with Google over time like I have, then you can to a large degree predict what they’re going to do. You don’t really need to follow all the news and hype so much.

And that’s one of the biggest filters for me, is I look at the commercial interest that Google has and everything they’re going to take a step in. Because Google’s not going to try to quit making money. They’re going to try to make more. We have to keep that in mind as they move and as they operate. And to a large degree what I’ve learned, and this is the big secret that’s not really a secret in the SEO community, but I want everyone to know about this because I think it’s important.

Be authentic with everything that you create. And if you’re always doing that, you’re doing it creatively and you are doing it prolifically, and you’re creating large pieces of content and several of them. And you’re consistent with that. You’re going to have a fantastic future in search, insofar as Google’s concerned. Because their algorithmic updates are looking for your kind of stuff to promote, and other kind of stuff to disappear.

They want a better index. They want better content to wrap their advertising around. They make more money off of that. So keep that in mind as you build things, and then that will help you predict what Google is going to do next.

Joe: Wow, that’s fantastic. It’s almost like if you want to run a TV ad, you’re going to want to run it either during the Super Bowl or a really popular show, and not just any old thing that some smaller network is putting out. Right?

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Jeremiah: Yeah, pretty much. It’s being creative about what you’re doing. But at the same time understanding that you’ve got to provide value at some level. And being creative is interesting because you bring up a great point. Super Bowl ads are your most creative ads all year, and they’re so exciting to watch. I love it. That’s my favorite part of the Super Bowl, actually. It’s awful.

But I remember that, not this past Super Bowl but the one before that. Miller bought a one second spot because a Super Bowl ad costs a hundred thousand dollars per second. And so they bought a one second spot and it was just a guy for the miller factory wearing a Miller shirt standing in the factory with all beer behind him, and he just goes “High life.” And that was it. It was just a one second thing. And it was it went viral, it was so huge. And that was the cheapest Super Bowl commercial of all time, proportionally speaking. That’s a guerrilla technique of being very creative in capturing your audience, who are very occupied.

And I thought that was cool. I really dig that. But when it comes to SEO, there’s a common misconception. And this is another thing that I try to teach and promulgate this throughout the web. But a lot of people compare SEO to advertising. And that’s the worst mistake you can make because it’s so different. If I were to really explain what a SEO is to you, insofar as what we do in Google, it would be reverse engineering another company’s intellectual property– Google– in order to leverage it to your business’ benefit. So it’s really strange. It’s not advertising.

Joe: Right. I mean, you can throw money at advertising reasonably, and eventually do well. If you have an unlimited amount of money for Google or Facebook ads, eventually you’ll start to convert. But SEO, you need to actually understand the problem that you’re trying to solve. I mean, “optimization” is in the acronym.

Jeremiah: Absolutely. And the funny thing for us has actually been, I would say the hardest challenge for me growing this business over time, has been pricing things appropriately. And the reason being that our inputs are pretty much the same almost no matter what client we work with, because there are certain things that have to happen every single time. Content has to happen. Links have to happen. Things like that. Of course there are more difficult industries than others, but we’ve niched down over time and we figured out our target market.

Because of that, everything looks the same. Almost every campaign we get into there are the nuances and the differences there, but because of that I can build a pricing model that works for what we do. But what’s crazy is what comes out the other end for the client is vastly different in regards to scale and in their industry. So with advertising, that’s not quite the case. Advertising’s got a flat fee for pretty much flat return.

Whereas with SEO, you can scale dramatically. Of course it might be expensive in the beginning when you’re spending $5,000 bucks a month and you’re not getting a lot of results out of it. But a year from now, you might have so much business coming from search that we’ve actually had some clients tell us we have to stop working with you for a little while. Because we’ve got to re-engineer parts of our company to handle the business we’re getting. And that just shows you what kind of power is in SEO.

Joe: Wow. And again it lays credibility to the fact that it’s a long game. I think a lot of people in general believe that the internet could be a get rich quick scheme. Like, “I’ll set up a site. I’ll start a Kickstarter, I’ll start making money. I’ll just SEO my site and I’ll start making money.” But it’s a game of patience.

And I fell into that trap too, when I started my online courses I was like, “I’ll release a course and people will buy it, because people want to learn this.” No, not at all. Why would somebody buy a product from me if they don’t know me? So that’s really interesting. I also like to ask if you’re the mastermind, if you get business advice from folks. And I do want to hear the answer to that question.

But I’m also interested in the discovery process for a client, because you come up with a pricing package, but you said the results could be so different. What kind of stuff do you look for? Do your clients know what they’re looking for when they first come in? Or do they just say, “I want to be number one in Google.” what’s it like?

Jeremiah: Good question. I love that question. I can go deeper on that. It took us a long time to develop the new process that we have for client intake, but this new process is fantastic. We do something in the very beginning that I recommend, pretty much any company that’s offering a service, even down to just building a website. Highly recommend you do. And it’s basically just an intro phase to a project. We call it an opportunity assessment.

With SEO, we’re going to assess your opportunity in regards to search. A lot of SEO companies out there do something similar, but they don’t do anything quite like we do. And there are few agencies that do. And what I see them do it works so well. So we jumped on board with this. The opportunity assessment allows us to check all the different areas that are going to impact them from a SEO perspective, and see how they stack up. Where their strengths and their weaknesses are.

Because what I don’t want to do is try to take some cookie cutter approach to every client and say, “You always need technical optimization. You always need new content. You always need links.” While that may be true that they will always need some amount of those, those proportions may vary dramatically. We’ll deal with some client websites where from a technical perspective, the thing’s built on WordPress, they’ve got all the right plugins, it loads really fast, it’s very clean and smooth. Good user interface.

They don’t really need any technical optimization. Let’s not sell them that. Let’s say, “A lot of companies do need technical optimization. But you guys check off that box, so we’re not going to invoice you for that. Moving on into content. You might need a little bit of content. But where you guys really need help is in your links area.” So we’re going to do a proposal that’s heavy on the links side of things, that’s medium on content and doesn’t include technical. But that’s our full suite.

The opportunity assessment allows us to see all that ahead of time. Now what’s different for us, and we have strong business reasons for doing this. We charge for the opportunity assessment, whereas a lot of companies do it for free. We used to do those for free. But what I found, and this is a nugget that I’m giving your listeners here. What I found is you’ll get a ton of tire kickers coming through and people that want to get this assessment for free. And Our assessment carries some value in it.

When we do that technical chunk, we list the top 10 things that could go wrong from a technical perspective and whether or not they’re wrong on the client’s site. And then we dive into some content strategy and we dive into some offsite strategy. We’re actually providing value in this. So first of all, we charge for that. But second of all it limits the amount of people who are trying to get this free opportunity assessment, down to the ones who are serious and they’re ready to invest in SEO.

And what’s crazy is we charge $200 bucks for our opportunity assessment, which is super-duper cheap compared to the $10,000 dollar Phase 1 project that we’re going to do next. But what that does is that warms them up with a buying relationship with us, and then when it comes to the proposal they’re so much more ready to continue working with us. Because we already feel like we’re engaged in a business relationship. So it works really well for that.

Joe: Very cool. I love that. Because you’re right. You do get a lot of tire kickers. It’s like the people who say, “Design me something, and if I like it I’ll pay for it.” Like, OK. “Give me a meal and if I like it, I’ll pay for the meal.”

Jeremiah: Right. You got all the time in the world.

Joe: Yeah, right. And $200 bucks, to be honest, is not a very high barrier. But it definitely weeds people out. My friend Erin Flynn recently changed her membership model. She used to have this free membership area that she decided that she was going to charge $12 dollars a year for. And what that did was weed out the trolls. The people who were just there, not providing value, being jerks to the community. And she immediately saw an increase in the community, because $12 dollars a year is not a lot of money.

If people answer one question that you post, you have that value. But the people who don’t want to spend any money and get all the free advice are the ones bringing the community down. When I was at Crowd Favorite we did the same thing with that, we charged for the discovery phase because we put real resources into it. We didn’t just look at the website and go, “I think you need this.”

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Jeremiah: Right. We noticed a couple of immediate things that happened after doing that. The first thing that happened was, first of all my sales were up. I spent probably about a third of the amount of time doing opportunity assessments, because now I don’t have a ton of people signing up for these free assessments.

The second thing was our close rate from opportunity assessments increased dramatically, from 20% to 70% to 80%. And it was like, “Heck yeah. Now we’re getting somewhere.” And then the third thing was what you just said. The quality of clientele that we started getting was fantastic, and the retention rates were so much better because we put them through a strict vetting process before we ever began a serious relationship with them. Figuring out all that stuff in the beginning, because SEO is quite frankly, and I hate to say it but It’s very complex.

There’s a lot to a good search engine optimization campaign. I’m not saying smoke and mirrors, I’m just saying there are a lot of things to it that need to be figured out ahead of time. And doing that allows us to figure out a lot of that, instead of just the right campaign for them. To where when we pitch that campaign, and we walk them through the parts that we’re recommending, it all just makes sense. And then they understand, they know, they learn something in the process and they’re ready to buy.

Joe: again, that’s fantastic. I keep saying the same thing over and over again. But you’re making a lot of really good points.

Jeremiah: Oh, good.

Joe: I just thought of a random question that you probably get a lot. This is maybe not usually what I ask, but it is very complex. We talk a lot about Google. Google is always the one that you’re optimizing for. Do you optimize for other search engines? Or is it basically, “I’ve optimized for Google, so I’m pretty much optimized for everything else.”

Jeremiah: Great question. I love this. Side note here, I’m actually teaching at the University of South Florida. I’m teaching senior level marketing students. I taught a class last night, it’s a nice three hour class to give them a deep dive into search engine optimization. And in that class, I got the same question. And I said, “When I’m teaching this stuff and when I’m working with clients, 99% of the time it’s Google. They are the 600 pound gorilla.

And in regards to general commercial web search purposes. But when we really take a step back, Search Engine Optimization is agnostic from a platform perspective. It will work in Amazon. It will work in the Apple iTunes store. If you’ve got a podcast, or you’ve got an app or a song, that kind of stuff. It will actually take effect there. Heck, even an eBay SEO works. So it’s amazing.

I’ve seen eBay stores do really well by having a good SEO strategy for the eBay platform. Everything that applies to Google in regards to how you optimize for Google, does not necessarily apply to Amazon or eBay, of course. Because in Amazon we’re not talking about websites anymore, we’re talking about listings or product listings that you’ve created, and stuff like that. So different rules to the game but the same concept still exists there. But to answer your question, yeah, what we do is primarily for Google.

Joe: Gotcha. Cool. Sweet, I mean we are more than halfway through, I can’t believe how fast this interview is going. And I haven’t gotten into the title question yet. So let’s do that. We’ve talked about SimpleTiger, we’ve talked a bit about strategy and things like that. But how did you build SimpleTiger?

Jeremiah: Oh man. That’s a fun story. I mentioned at the beginning there how I did SEO for the one client and then decided that was that was it for me. I wanted to do that full time. I cut out everything else and focused in on SEO, put that on my resume. Knew that at the time I couldn’t just build an agency out of nothing, I didn’t have anything. I didn’t know how to build an agency. I didn’t know how to run an agency, I didn’t even know how to work at an agency.

So I thought, “I need to go work in an agency and really see if this is it for me.” So I got a job at a huge agency in Atlanta called 360i. And I love those guys, to this day they’re fantastic. They’re huge movers and shakers in the enterprise SEO space. And all of my clients there were Fortune 500 companies. Every single one of them. They were just massive. And I got to see how SEO works on that grand scale. And I quickly learned, that everything is exactly the same for them as it was for that little tiny mom and pop shop that I got my start with. It’s just scaled up.

If it’s content that needs to be created, they create more content. If it’s links that need to be built, they build more links. But the same rules still apply. The same techniques still happen. So I got to learn that and then do that for a lot of huge clients, and while doing that I’ve built my consulting practice on nights and weekends. Just consulting smaller businesses that would never fit 360-I’s budget, that kind of thing.

And over time I just built a bit of notoriety in the community for that. And then eventually I decided to venture off on my own. This was right around 2008-2009 when the economy got really tough, advertising was the first to go. So there was all kinds of shuffling around. I got let go from 360i because We had a lot of SEO people there and everything.

And I was so, at the moment, checked out and checked in to my entrepreneurial idea of building my own thing that it was really a good boost for me. And I’m sure they could probably sense that too, that I was ready to go do something of my own. But they are a really sharp company. They move their people up really well and have a strong tight knit team.

So I left there to go work for another smaller agency, because I still didn’t feel quite ready. And that smaller agency, I brought them an SEO department, basically by building something that they didn’t have there and getting a bunch of clients on board. And that really was where I learned how to take nothing and build an agency out of it, But for someone else. So I had the security blanket of a daily income.

And then I finally hit that that final straw. “I’m totally done working for somebody else, I want to build my own thing. I really want to take SimpleTiger and turn it into an agency.” So I left that last agency there, went off on my own, and that was a little bit terrifying for a moment. But there was actually a deeper, longer term feeling of fear that stuck with me for quite a while. That it was all on me. And so I dove straight into consulting and just picking up consulting clients left and right.

In those days I didn’t have a process put together or anything. I was taking anything I could get, in terms of SEO consulting work. And I had some awesome projects, I had some terrible projects. But after a little while I realized I made really good money doing it, but I was working myself to death. I realized, I’m going to have to build a team. I need people who can help me actually produce results and do the SEO stuff, so I can go out and sell it.

And so I brought my brother on full time. He was interested in SEO at the time, and I taught him a little bit about it. He went to work for another agency for a while just like I did. That was my rite of passage for him. I was like, “You’ve got to go through this. It’ll be good for you. You’ll learn it, and then I’ll be able to afford to pay you to work here because then you could pull some weight.”

And that’s exactly what happened. He came in all beefed up ready to go. He knew how to do it. And so we joined forces and took SimpleTiger from a consultancy to an agency, and started hiring employees and actually building a team. And that’s how we got from there to where we are today. Now our evolution as a company since we started hiring a team has been really fun and exciting. Way easier, and sometimes a little painful, but way easier than just being the consultant doing my own thing by myself. I love having a team.

Joe: There are two things I want to parse out here. Right at the beginning of this story You gave an incredible piece of advice that I want to make sure it lands with the listeners and that’s when you said, “I needed to go work at an agency. I needed to get experience in the industry.” Which is very clairvoyant for a young entrepreneurial person, because I was in that very same situation.

I got a piece of advice from a family friend who said, “When you get out of college you need to get a job at a company and learn how they do things. And then you’ll be ready to go out on your own.” And I being the stubborn New York Italian male that I am, thought, “I know everything. I’ve been doing this since I was 14. What more could I possibly learn at 21?” It was super low risk because I was living at home, I was in grad school for a time.

And it wasn’t until I actually got my first real job that I actually learned, man. I should have listened to that family friend right off the bat. I put myself back maybe two years, or three years. For people who are coming out of college that have the entrepreneurial spirit, you hear about Snapchat and Facebook who get the billion dollar IPOs and they’re college dropouts or whatever. But for most of us, get that experience and make those connections.

Jeremiah: Absolutely.

Joe: And that’s the other question I wanted to ask you, is that you went to a smaller agency after 360i and built out their SEO department. Did you bring your clients with you, or did you start from scratch there?

Jeremiah: Started from scratch there. There’s a huge thing in the agency space, and I didn’t have any real strict non-competes or anything like that in those days. But there was definitely a respectful line, where it is just like, you don’t do that. And I didn’t want to hurt my name at all. I really wanted to keep my relationships with everyone at 360i fantastic. It was purely a logistical reason that I got let go during that whole downturn, and so I wanted to keep those relationships healthy.

Because later on they ended up sending me business. Because believe it or not, 360i’s minimum budgets are massive, and sometimes they’d have some really cool companies come through and they’d refer them over to me and I was able to build my agency based on my past agency relationships. So that was awesome. But I think that’s one big part of it.

What you just said though, about getting a job in the industry, and all that. That is so huge. Because that one year that I did that, I mean it was just one year that I worked at 360i. It wasn’t a really long time. But I learned so much in that one year, I learned several things that I needed to do for my SEO agency. And then I learned a few things that I would probably never do for my agency by working there. And it’s nothing against 360i.

It was just learning my style and figuring out what I wanted to do, and what I wanted to build, versus what there already was out there. And I decided I wanted to build a boutique agency that grows very small, very slowly, very steadily. Very small amount of people that yield massive results. Whereas 360i was not lean. They were huge, we had a ton of people. But we also offered a lot of services outside of SEO.

And I really just wanted to focus on search engine optimization, and also just wanted one niche category of clientele. Because I learned that’s a fantastic way to make money. And I’ve only practiced that over the past year or so and it’s really paying off. I recommend people out there pick a niche. I saw you had a previous podcast of niching down, and I think that’s so powerful. Not enough people do that. But that was something I couldn’t do at 360i.

We had so many huge clients and so many diverse industries, it just didn’t make sense. So I learned all kinds of stuff through that experience and that relationship. And I also learned how to just deal with massive companies, and how at the end of the day, they’re all the same. The numbers might be a little bit different but don’t let that kind of stuff sway you. Continue doing your job based on what you need to do. And you can move the needle for a company as big as NBC or E-Trade. You don’t really have to get bent out of shape over the fact that they’re huge, or anything that. Don’t let that scare you.

Joe: Wow. Great advice. And I will link to the Sarah Dunn episode of niching down. I think that is more excellent advice, especially in software engineering. We call that “domain knowledge.” We want to have domain knowledge of the software system we’re building so that we can build a better system. We understand the users, and our user’s users. Understanding the industry and having that domain knowledge allows you to offer a better service, because you come in knowing a little bit, or maybe a lot, about what your clients need right off the bat. And you can ask those questions that a generalist might not know to ask.

Jeremiah: Right. And that’ll definitely help you close that business well, but that will also help you market your business well. So if we’re talking about search engine optimization again, and it’s for your company and you’ve chosen a niche. Let’s say for example, you’re a software as a service company, and you’re building a piece of software that’s maybe a piece of invoicing software. But your invoicing software just so happens to work best for maybe other software companies, and that’s the niche that you’ve decided to go after.

Now let’s just imagine for a second that you didn’t decide to go after that niche. The keywords that you would write would be things like, “invoicing software.” And you get to compete with the Intuits of the world with QuickBooks and FreshBooks and Zero and all those big names. But if you are invoicing software for software companies, the game changes a little bit. Your key word targeting is going to be software-based or “Software-focused invoicing software,” or “Invoicing software for SaaS,” or something along those lines.

And now your key word pool’s a lot smaller and your target audience is a lot smaller, but they are much more likely to do business with you because of that level of targeting and because of that domain knowledge, like you’re talking about, that you have. I don’t want to go too deep into that. I know you have a separate episode all about niching down, but I would just like to also throw my two cents in that, “Yes, it is very valuable, and it works really well.” Highly recommend it.

Joe: Fantastic. So you told your story and it was a lot of transformation. And we’re totally coming up on time here. I do want to ask you what your plans for the future are. Is it keep an eye on the pulse of SEO? Is AMP going to affect the way you do things? What are your plans for the future?

Jeremiah: Good question. There’s so much about the future of SEO, and that was my finishing statement to my class last night at USF. That was the one thing they wanted to know. “You’ve taught us everything up to now, what’s going to happen in the future?” And that’s such a fun question for me to answer. Because I love theorizing about this stuff. But I will say in regards to SEO looking forward, there’s a bunch of stuff going on that I think your listeners might be interested in hearing a little bit about from someone experienced, like myself, on the subject.

Just so they don’t get swayed by a lot of the hype. And I want to clarify this. Voice search is a big thing that’s happening right now. People are concerned about what that means. People are using the Amazon device, which I can’t say her name right now. She’s listening, and she’ll start talking to me and ruin the whole thing. But there’s that, and then we’ve got the Google’s home device and stuff like that, that are always listening. And those devices, in regards to voice search, those devices are primarily going to help you answer simple questions that just have a very clear black and white answer to them.

They don’t have as much commercial intent capability yet that’s being leveraged. As people I think assume will dominate, I personally don’t think I’m going to be buying a whole lot of products through my Amazon device. That’s just me. But I prefer to look at some things and read a little bit about it, and then click the buy button. Something about that process, actually I literally enjoy doing. So I don’t want a break from that too much, and I think a lot of people are actually a lot more like that.

We have to keep in mind that voice is just an input method, like the keyboard and mouse. It’s just another way of entering in a search query. And then the result that you get, if it’s not going to be on a screen, if it’s going to be vocal then it’s got to make sense to come through that medium. So just keep that in mind. Don’t let the news and hype about voice search throw you off, that “SEO is going to die because voice search is going to take over.” No, there’s going to be a whole new level to it there.

And that’s what that means. It’s going to filter out a lot of the garbage search from what you want, most likely. That’s one part. Another part gets into artificial intelligence, which I don’t have time to go over there. But I wouldn’t worry about that either. Just refer to my first note on SEO which is just be authentic in what you create. Create really good stuff for humans.

Artificial intelligence will learn that and will keep up and you’ll be fine. So those are a couple of things about the future of search. Insofar as my agency is concerned, and growing SimpleTiger, again my goals are just to keep it a boutique agency and focus on delivering the best results for our clients that we can. I don’t have any plans to just blow it out of the water. Of course I do want to see massive growth. I don’t want to grow so fast that it’s a flash in the frying pan experience for us and we have to shut down. That’s something that I fear. So I would rather just grow steadily and healthfully and always be around. So those are my plans for the future.

Joe: I dig that, and I appreciate and I’m sure a lot of the listeners appreciate you not saying the bigger names for the At Home Smart Devices. Awesome. And we’ll leave with this, though I think you just gave us a bunch. Do you have any trade secrets for us?

Jeremiah: I would say a lot of your listeners are probably very tech savvy, and in that regard when we do SEO we break everything down into technical, content, and off site.

And off site usually means link building. Your audience is probably going to be strong on the technical side of things and doesn’t need to do much technical optimization. I’m just going to assume that right out. So because of that I would focus on the meat and potatoes of SEO, which really are building good quality content that’s very user specific, it’s very audience specific. It answers their pain points.

So build that content on your site, and then go get links to that content from other relevant sites. Whether those are blogs or publications on the web, or friends’ websites or whatever. Get links back to that content and you will perform well on SEO. I can guarantee it. That’s the best course of action. And that’s something that you should constantly be doing. I would try my best to plan out some content in advance so that when you start working at it, you don’t have to stop.

Google likes to see fresh content and you will to see it when you start realizing that every blog article you stack up, if it’s part of a plan, brings a new chunk of visitors to your site that are keyword targeted and ready to buy from you. So every time you stack one of those up you’re just compounding the amount of traffic and business you’re ultimately going to get. I’d recommend that your audience just focus on building content, and building links to that content and They’ll do well.

Joe: Focus on building content. Awesome. Now I like to end with that question, but I can’t leave this follow up on the table. Which is, is there some magic publishing schedule? Three blog posts a week? Do I need to blog daily? Or is it just consistent, Good stuff?

Jeremiah: Tim Fair said something fantastic a while back. He said, “What is better? The strict diet that you will not adhere to, or the less strict diet that you will adhere to?” And I love that advice. So come up with a schedule that is not so strict that you won’t adhere to it, but is strict enough that you can handle it. I think that’s fantastic. Now on the opposite end of that, people like Nick Eubanks who are colleagues of mine and have been in SEO forever.

They’ll post case studies where they spent months developing lots of high quality content without publishing any of it. And then one day they’ll publish a hundred articles all at once, and they’ll publish all this stuff. And this is tests that he’s doing in the SEO industry. And he’ll show going from zero to 100,000 monthly search visitors in the span of like a month, after launching the site with all this new content on it.

So Google’s very sharp. Google can quickly determine what’s going on. A lot of crazy things can happen in Google very fast. And he was testing the edges of that. So you’re not going to publish content too quick for Google, I’ll tell you that. When in doubt, if you can publish faster, if you can publish more, do it. But not at the sake or at the cost of quality.

Because that is a big algorithmic indicator, is quality content that people are really going to digest. So longer form articles that go deeper into subjects and provide lots of steps and how to’s, and have some rich media with images, and some video links and stuff like that. That’s going to do way better than a 500 word article on a subject. So keep that in mind too.

Joe: Great advice. I think I’m going to have to change my content strategy a little bit right after we get off this call. Jeremiah, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate you taking the time.

Jeremiah: Awesome. I really enjoyed it and I appreciate the show. I love what you’re working on here, and I was just happy to be a part of it. So thank you.

Joe: Great. Thanks so much. And where can people find you?

Jeremiah: Sure. At You can also find me on Twitter. Twitter handles are @SimpleTiger, as well as myself, @JeremiahCSmith. So hit me up with any questions or anything, I’d be happy to answer questions for your audience anytime.

Outro: I’m so grateful that Jeremiah and I were connected because this interview helped me frame my content strategy, at a time where I needed it. His advice about needed to work in the industry first was some of the best advice I got in college, which I never took. I’m glad Jeremiah did, and I’m glad I eventually did.

And Thanks again to our sponsors Pantheon, Traitware, and GravityView. Their support is deeply appreciated.

The question of the week for you is what’s the best piece of SEO advice you’ve ever gotten? Let me know on Twitter at @jcasabona or email me,

For all of the show notes, head over to If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! You can also join the Facebook community over at I want to build a strong community for this podcast, and Facebook is the place to do it. Finally, if you’re interested in the different tools and services I use to build websites, check out my new podcast, Creator Toolkit over at

And until next time, get out there and build something!

The post Jeremiah Smith and SimpleTiger appeared first on How I Built It.

Aug 21 2018



Rank #10: Nicole Kohler and Content Strategy

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Nicole Kohler is a Growth Marketer at Automattic; most of her job revolves around building and publishing content for her team and her main product, Jetpack. So in this episode, I talk to Nicole about Content Strategy. This is something I struggle with, and usually just publish when I think of stuff. Nicole provides us with some great advice from her time at Automattic, working with both the Jetpack and the WooCommerce teams!

Show Notes

Sponsored by:
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  • Jilt: The easiest way to recover abandoned shopping carts on WooCommerce, easy digital downloads, and Shopify.
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Intro: Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of How I Built It! Continuing our series on How You Build a Business, today I get to talk to Nicole Kohler about Content Strategy. This is something I struggle with, and usually just publish when I think of stuff. Nicole provides us with some great advice from her time at Automattic, working with both the Jetpack and the WooCommerce teams! We’ll get into that in a minute, but first, a word from our sponsors…

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And now…on with the show!

Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built it, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Continuing with a little theme that we have for building different building strategies, today I am talking to Nicole Collier, who is a growth marketer at Automatic about building a content strategy. I’m very excited about this. Nicole, how are you today?

Nicole: I’m great. How are you?

Joe: I am fantastic. So I’ve got to say that I’ve always … Perhaps this is putting the cart before the horse. I’ve always taken a field of dreams approach to marketing. Whereas, I build something and I assume that people will come because it is good. But I’ve learned over the last year so that that’s not the right approach and I think that your experience doing content marketing for Automatic could probably help both me and the listeners improve their marketing strategy.

So first, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Nicole: Yeah. Sure. So I’ve been with Automatic for about two and a half years now. I actually joined with the WooCommerce Team. I joined six weeks before the Automatic acquisition so I had really good timing. I joined to work on content strategy, specifically as a writer initially. So I was working on all of our blog posts and then over time I started working on more of our strategy. I started working on our email strategy, general marketing, copyrighting, etc. etc. Six months ago, I actually changed teams, so I am now working on Jetpack. As a growth marketer, I am responsible for our content strategy, our overall brand messages like how we communicate about our features, our new features, what we’re releasing, and then sort of the copyrighting within the plug in itself, the copyrighting on our website, etc. etc.

So content is a big part of what I do. It’s a big, I would say, obsession of mine. If you see me speaking at a Word Camp, it’s probably related to content in some capacity. Either like how to do better content with Jetpack or content for your WordPress site, something like that.

So that’s a bit about me, professionally. Personally, I love dogs. I’m obsessed with Pokemon and I’m on Twitter a lot.

Joe: Nice. Very nice. Who’s your favorite Pokemon?

Nicole: Raichu. I have a Raichu tattoo. So folks who see me in person, don’t hesitate to ask.

Joe: That is fantastic. One of the original 150. I don’t know. I think I maybe … I feel like I’m a little bit older than you, but I know that I was there for the original 150 and I was like, “Newfangled Pokemon, whatever.”

But that’s awesome. So something you said there is that you focus on the email marketing and blog posts, but you also focus on copy on the website and within the plug in. Can we just touch on that real quick because that’s really important, right?

Nicole: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It’s something I didn’t do a lot of with Woo. Now that I’m in Jetpack, I’m learning how important those little touch points are and how much of an impact just like one little line of copy can make. A little nudge to upgrade your plan. If we word that, I don’t want to say incorrectly, but if we word it a certain way versus a different way, it can have a huge impact on conversions on whether or not people trust us. Getting to work on that is really exciting.

Joe: I always feel like … I’m most a developer by trade or at least I build things. Whether it’s my online courses or a plug in or something like that. Copy is always an after thought for me. I’m pretty keen on the error messages. That’s been a crusade of mine to give users good error messages, but the nudges for upgrades or even like the way that you word directions or what a feature does can, like you said, have a really big impact on conversion. Because if you’re not communicating that, if you’re not speaking your user’s language, then there’s going to be a disconnect.

Nicole: Oh, yeah. It’s something that I’m trying to get more involved with. Every time that we are about to have a release or about to add a new feature to Jetpack, I’m trying to get in there and take a look at the copy. As you said, make sure that we are communicating something clearly. So if there is an error, are we telling people what to do next? Are we telling them what’s causing the error? Big error messages are horrible. So what causes error? It’s not your fault. Maybe it’s like a temporary thing on the host side or maybe it’s something wrong with the plug in and you need context about … Contact us, excuse me, about it. So clarity is definitely something I’m trying to work on.

Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. Now, so again, I’m just going to talk about my experience, which is I don’t really know what’s the best way for me to figure out if my copy is connecting, right? I can try different things. I can say, “Okay. I had a bunch of sales after I made this update, but was it because of the update or was it because I was running a discount?” What’s the best way for me to kind of figure out and make sure I’m getting the right connections to the visitors to my website?

Nicole: There’s a couple of different things you can do. The first piece of advice I would give you is only test one thing at once. So if you are running a sale, like you just said, don’t go into that sale expecting to pull concrete results about the success of your copy out of the sale because people are more likely to be drawn to your site from the major discount or the buy one, get one free plan, whatever it is that you’re doing than your copy. So if you want to test new content or new copy, try to test that on its own.

As far as testing goes, there are a lot of tools out there that let you maybe test to versions of a page against another, build dedicated landing pages. You can do that in WordPress or you can do that with different tools. You can get heat map tools out there to see how far people are going down pages. Whether it’s an a version of a page versus a b version, or just your site in general. Then you can just try different versions of social messages. So if you have a tool like Buffer or you’re using Jetpack’s publicize feature, send out multiple tweets or multiple Facebook messages to the same piece of content and just use the built in social analytic tools, I guess I’m trying to say, to see which of those messages got the most people clicking.

So there’s a lot of different ways that you can test depending on what it is you’re trying to test. Whether it’s a social message or home page, blah, blah, blah. But definitely I would emphasize only test one thing at once. Because if you’re trying to test a home page and social messages and a sale and copyrighting in your plug in at the same time, you’re just not going to get a clear results from that.

Joe: Right. Right. Gotcha. Throw a bunch of darts at the board at the same time and you don’t know which is going to hit the best. So you mentioned that you had … I don’t know if you said this on the pre call now or the actual interview, but in case you didn’t mention it in the episode. You mentioned that you had moved over to the Jetpack team and you have more experience now kind of building that strategy, maybe not from scratch but you definitely have more of a hands on approach to that. Jetpack is a well established plug in. So what kind of research did you do to set out and map our your content strategy?

Nicole: Yeah. So a little bit of background, when I joined WooCommerce, I joined at the same time as Aviva Pinchas, who worked originally as our sort of brand strategist, marketing strategist. She had a big, a really, really big hand in creating the WooCommerce content strategy. When I switched to Jetpack, we didn’t have any content strategy. There was nothing. So it was just like we put up blog posts when we have a release and we think we have something to say. So it was just like, “Oh, boy.”

SO some of the research that I was doing wasn’t necessarily research but more of like the experience I had working on WooCommerce and what I learned from Aviva and what she had done. So that played a really big part in it. Knowing what another Automatic product had done to be successful. So talking about your own features, kind of like owning the message about yourself. I took that over. But then I did a little bit more research on what are these other security plug ins? If you want to call Jetpack a security plug in, which it kind of is. What are these other security plug ins talking about? What topics are they talking about? What’s important? So kind of like researching their content. What kind of content are they producing? Are they doing long form, are they doing short form? What social channels are they on? Where are they successful? Kind of since it is a WordPress product, doing a little bit more research in the WordPress environment, I think is the word I’m looking for.

So what is the general sentiment right now about Jetpack on like WP Tavern, on other sites and digging into the comments, which is not my favorite thing, but making myself do that. What are people saying right now? What their gripes? What information are they not getting that we could be providing? In some cases, I was finding things that we were not talking about that kind of bled over into docs, like things we were missing in docs. So around the same time that I started, we had a guild forum of mostly happiness engineers to work on Jetpack docs. So it was kind of like a happy coincidence that we also have this happening at the same time. It’s not like just me working on all the written stuff. But it was a lot of research in the kind of like internet spear that Jetpack is in. So like security, products and WordPress products and seeing what people are saying about us right now.

Joe: Gotcha. So it’s interesting that you mention that you feel that Jetpack … Well, you say that Jetpack is a security plug in. It certainly offers that. It offers like the security aspect, the backups aspect. It also offers a whole lot of stuff. Did you find or do you find difficult crafting a clear message because of that? I’m not trying to nail you to the wall with this question. I’m just very curious about this.

Nicole: Oh, no. That was like my big fear coming in is that I would find it very difficult to come up with a concise statement, summarizing the importance of Jetpack. So the first few events I went to I was trying a couple different things.

The most common question we get at Word Camp, specifically is what even is Jetpack because I’ve heard of it. I have no idea what it does. So we’ve kind of summarized it as Jetpack is a WordPress toolkit that lets you design, grow and secure your site. That seems to be working really well. People are just like, “Oh, okay. So how does it do that?” Then we can go on and talk about the features that do all that or the features that they’re most interested in. So if someone says, “Okay. Well, I already have a security suite I like. How does it help me design my site?” Or, “Oh, I don’t have any security tools right now. I just got started. Tell me more.” Then we can talk about backups. We can talk about brute force protection.

So that has been working pretty well. I think that tag line is somewhere on the site now. So yeah. You didn’t catch me off guard with that at all. It’s something I’ve been working on actually.

Joe: Nice. That makes a ton of sense. It’s very concise and then, like we said earlier, you’re speaking the user’s language because now they can say, “Oh okay. How do I do that?” Whereas just saying like, “We’ve got the publicize module.” Like, “Okay, what does that mean? What’s a module?”

Nicole: Yeah. We’re trying to avoid using those words. I’ve heard people at camps go like, “Oh, it takes the features from and puts them in a plug in.” It’s like if someone just viewed WordPress and they’ve used, they’re going to be like, “Okay. What are those features?” Like you said, “What is a module?” In the past, even I’ve been at camps and been like, “Oh, Jetpack has a bunch of cool features and they make your site awesome.” It’s the worst description ever. I think that’s what we’re trying to get away from, especially in our content is just talking about Jetpack as a bunch of features. It’s so much more than that. It can be custom tailored to your site and to your business and your specific needs so that’s what we’re trying to get across.

Joe: Absolutely. That’s awesome. Then the other follow up question I kind of had was about the .com/.org site. You have Jetpack, you connect it to .com. Do you find that that’s … First of all, I should say it’s a very easy process, right?

Jetpack makes it very easy to do all that. Do you find that that has to be part of your messaging or is that just … I guess what I’m trying to say is do you find enough confusion around that that it should be part of your messaging? Or is it just like, “Well, to make it work you do this one, two, three, and you’re done.”

Nicole: So we’ve gone back and forth on this. There’s like two sides to this, right? We don’t want to slip this phrase about you need a account in there because people were going to be like, “Wait, what? Why do I need this?” That brings up this whole new conversation. At the same time, we don’t want to be dishonest about the need for a separate account because then if someone’s setting it up and they assume it’s one click and you’re done, they might be thrown off and too many logins is definitely a problem that we’re all faced with. So the way that I am trying to talk about it now, and again, it something else I’m sort of testing out is if it comes up, I’ve had someone just directly ask me recently at a local meet up group, “Why do I need the .com account?” Some of our features use the .com servers for hosting to speed things up. You just need to connect to .com to utilize those features. If you don’t connect, you can’t utilize those features. That seems to help.

Being up front about why you need that second account, showing them the connection flow if they’re very curious, that it is one click, and then having more detailed documentation about here’s how the process works, here’s how you can disconnect, here’s how you can troubleshoot the connection, which is something, again, that our quill guild has been super, super great about. They are fantastic people working on these docs.

So it’s been a little tricky. Like I said, I’ve kind of gone back and forth about being too honest or not talking about it a lot, but I think we’re figuring it out.

SPonsor: This episode is brought to you by Vast Conference. Vast offers instant conference calls that have crystal-clear audio quality and tons of great features. If you want crystal clear audio that never gets drops, and top notch customer support, check out Vast Conference. Visited them at And now, back to the show.

Joe: That’s fantastic. It sounds like it really comes down to … I mean, you’re out, right? Your boots on the ground here. You’re talking to users. You’re talking to user, right? That’s maybe some of the best research that you could do to see what their pain points are.

Nicole: Yeah.

Joe: So we’re about halfway, a little more than halfway, and I haven’t asked the title question yet. So if I want to build a content strategy myself or let’s talk about Jetpack, how do you build it? We talked a little bit about research and talking to users, but what does that look like? Do I blog first? Where do I even start?

Nicole: Ah. I think something I was actually thinking about yesterday, coming into this recording, one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about content marketing is that you have to talk about topics like other than yourself. So you have to start with this sort of top-of-funnely content that you just sort of link to your brand, right? So for Jetpack that might look like, “Here’s why security is important for your site,” or, “Here’s why you should have professional WordPress themes,” or, “Here’s why WordPress is the best platform.” Then just at the very end have like one call to action for Jetpack. I think that the assumption is that you can’t directly talk about your brand to have successful content. I’ve seen that for so many companies that start content marketing. They avoid talking about themselves until the very end of their content. They have this little call to action saying like, “Oh, by the way, we do this.” That may get them a lot of interest from search engines, like that topi-funnel content might be super popular, but it doesn’t put someone in the right mindset to convert at the end in most cases.

So something I learned for WooCommerce and that I’ve carried over to Jetpack is to sort of … I think I said this phrase earlier, to sort of own the conversation about your brand. So content marketing for us has always looked like we’re going to talk about Jetpack. We’re going to be the experts on Jetpack because we are the experts on Jetpack. So we’re going to talk about, “Here’s how you successfully use our product. Here’s why you should use our product. Here’s some tips for making it easier or taking your site to the next level,” and then like maybe have some content that gets people in from search engines, that topi-funnel type stuff. So like, “Yeah, here’s why WordPress security is important.” But then also give them related reading that is further down the funnel. Like, “By the way, yeah, we do have this thing and here’s how you can find out some more about it,” rather than just trying to sell them when they’re not ready for that.

Joe: Gotcha. Which you can do with Jetpack.

Nicole: Oh yeah. Absolutely. But like I said, it’s a huge misconception that you can’t … A, that you can’t talk directly about yourself and sell yourself in your content. B, that you have to start with this unrelated content. I think if people are … First of all, people are coming to your site to learn about you and read about you. If you’re not serving the people that are already on your site, that’s a big miss. Secondly, I think if you are only producing content that’s going to get people from search engines and then not giving them anything else to read and just putting calls to action to buy at the end of that, it’s like a super short funnel that just ends in the brick wall or something.

I was thinking about that yesterday. I wanted to bring that up. I think it’s really important to think about how you own your own messaging.

Joe: Man, that’s going to be my big takeaway now, right? I mean, my blog is mostly tutorial stuff and yeah, I can get away with that a little bit because I’m teaching people and that’s what my product is, right? It’s my online courses. But I’m not telling people why they should learn from me. So they’re not getting that. What you said made me think of this anecdote. This actually happened at my wife and me. We were meeting up with a friend of my wife. She had worked the night shift, but because of scheduling, she just decided we would meet him after work.

So we go to grab brunch at this place and he walks in with a notepad. He framed the conversation as, “Hey, I would love to catch up with you guys. You were just recently married. I’d love to catch up.” He walks in with a notepad. He said his friend might be joining us. He sits down and I said, “Is this a sales conversation? Are you going to sell us on what financial planning, that’s what you do?” “Oh, well, it doesn’t have to be like that.” I’m like, “We’re not interested.” That made the whole rest of the brunch like awkward because he’s like, “Let me just text my buddy and tell him not to come.” I was like, “Why would you …” The old bait and switch after my wife just worked 12 hours? I’m like, “C’mon, man.”

It’s an extreme example of what you said, but it’s true. I wasn’t in a position where I wanted to be sold to. It was a Sunday morning. I just wanted to have brunch. He’s like ready to come at me with financial planning, which we didn’t even need.

Nicole: Yeah. No, it’s super true though. If you’re in a position, if you’re reading something online about how to make a great brunch and you get to the end and it’s just like, “Buy a skillet.” You’re like, “It’s not why I came here.”

Joe: I have a skillet. I want to make a good omelet or whatever.

Nicole: But if you end that piece of content with, “By the way, did you know that you can make really great brunches in a skillet? Read some more about that.” That kind of leads you further down, and that’s kind of what I’m talking about. Not ending your content in a brick wall. I’ve never used that phrase before, but I’m going to use that from now on. That’s good.

Joe: I love that. It’s absolutely true. On the same token, you walk into a car dealership knowing you’re going to be sold to, right? So you’re mentally prepared for that.

So you mentioned that you do a lot of testing, right? So I like to ask has the product gone through any transformations? That’s the canned, scripty question that I ask, but in this case, I want to ask were there things that you started off with in your content strategy, which I guess actually, let me back up. Is there like a possible way to do a list, like one through five, these are the things that we’re doing for our content strategy, or is that too boxed in? If I want to start today, do I come up with topics and then blog first? Do I phone, email list, right? What’s that look like? Yeah.

Nicole: Oh, that’s a good question. So number one, start writing. You can’t get any results. you can iterate on anything. you can’t test until you actually have content to test against, until you have content to like pool email subscribers in against. You actually have to start producing something. Kind of along those same lines, I taught a writing class the last two years at the Automatic grand meet up, which is our meet up where every … Since we’re all distributed, everyone meets up in person. The very first lesson that I taught in that class was kind of like accept your mediocrity. Not that you might be a mediocre writer, but if you’re new to content strategy or you’re new to content marketing or if you’re business is brand new, accept that your first few posts might suck. You’re not going to get any comments or people might hate them. But you have to do something. You have to put something out there. So yeah, number one, start writing.

Number two, I do think building an email list of some kind is really important because you can get those people coming back to your content, you can send them content in the future, you can send them maybe sale’s pitches or something. But start doing it. Even if you’re not actively using it. Passively start building that email list. Jetpack has a subscriber option that you can let people just sign up on this sidebar or widgetized area. You can use that if you’re not ready to pay for Mail Temp or use like Mail Poet or another service.

Number three, start researching. Start looking at your competitors, start looking at other people in your spear. Whether that’s like other plug ins, whether that’s other WordPress companies, whether it’s other business, whatever it may be. See what kinds of content they’re doing. Look at their comments, look at their shares, look at their social media profiles. Obviously don’t copy them, but see what’s resonating with their audience because you’re probably going to have very similar results. Take note of what kinds of content they’re doing. If they’re doing customer stories, if they’re highlighting feedback, if they’re highlighting their successes, how well are those types of things going over? If they’re highlighting their successes and they’re not going over very well, maybe don’t talk about yourself as much. Maybe talk about your customers more. Kind of depends on the industry.

Four, start testing content. This can be really vague, right? This might mean just publishing a bunch of stuff and looking at Google analytics and seeing well, this type of post got more time on page versus this type of post. This type of post got 28 comments and this type of post got zero comments. Maybe testing is not the right word, but actively start watching and picking out the successes versus the failures or the sort of in between stuff.

Then I would say number five, I wouldn’t actually do this fifth, somewhere in the middle. Try to set up like a content calendar. Try to hold yourself to a standard of publishing even if it’s only once every two weeks, once a month. Get your topics planned out in advance. Know what you’re going to publish when. Know who’s going to be working on it. Know who’s going to be responsible for every single bit of the stuff. Maybe this isn’t the first thing that you would do or the third thing or even the fifth thing, but do it at some point so you can be responsible so that someone can be responsible and that you are definitely publishing a flow of content and that something is nagging you, right? So if you miss a deadline. If I miss something on CoSchedule, I get an email. I get something that’s like, “Hey, you didn’t do this,” even if it’s just like I’m a day late on getting something to our editorial team, right? It helps. It does. So yeah, those are my five things.

Joe: Awesome. I love that. I’m going to link in the show notes to the interview that we did with Nate Ellering from CoSchedule to learn about CoSchedule because it’s a very nice content scheduling tool. I mean, another thing about content scheduling is that if you are building things like … It allows you to kind of create the story you want to create, right? You’re not saying, “Oh, did I write about this already? Should I write it? Do I need to follow up?” You can kind of put that in the schedule, see what you’ve done, see what you then need to do. So I love that. So now back to the transformations part, right? Is there anything that you set out, maybe you like scheduled a piece of content that you realized, “Oh, well, this isn’t really working for looking at our analytics. This is no longer what I want to do.” How do you kind of change things up in the middle of your content strategy?

Nicole: Yeah. Just talking about something that we had at Woo. So we did a lot of these customer stories where we would spend … I mean, these were the most time intensive posts that we did, right? So we would spend several hours interviewing someone who was using WooCommerce. Some of them I think we did on site, some of them we did on Skype, some of them we did on Zune or Google Hangouts or something with multiple people versus one person. So we would interview people, find out how they were using WooCommerce, learning about their business, learn about their aspirations, and then write up these really, really long, involved posts anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 words. I mean, really huge meaty pieces of content. They did not seem to be resonating with our readers, even though we felt like they should be the most successful pieces on our blog.

This was about a year and a half ago, I remember posting something internally like, “Look, our customer stories, they’re not failing, but they’re not doing what we think they should be doing. Why is that? What’s going on?” So that was definitely one of those stop, evaluate everything things and figure out what can we do to make these pieces of content successful or what can we test to make these pieces of content successful? Because we felt like they were so important, right? Like showing other people how they can use WooCommerce, highlighting people’s successes with our product, and ultimately, we just came up with a list of five things we wanted to test over the next few posts. So making them shorter, having less storytelling, having more quotes from the business owners, focusing more on WooCommerce and less on the business, focusing on the business and less on WooCommerce.

I think that’s kind of the key is if you find something that’s not performing the way you think it should, don’t give up right away. Just look at it and kind of think of what could I change in the next version of this that might make it more successful? But then also look at how are you handling distribution? Are you actually promoting that content a lot? Are you putting paid promotion behind it? Could you put paid promotion behind it? Try to evaluate all the potential touch points, right? Email, social, paid ads, blah blah blah. Evaluate everything. Be very critical.

Joe: Awesome. Yeah. Again, that makes a lot of sense because the follow up question that I thought while you were saying this was am I going to have immediate success with … Let’s say I publish this blog post that I think it going to be amazing. I actually did very recently called like What HIPPA Means to Web Designers. I was like, “This is going to get like a million shares.” It didn’t. Does that mean that I did something wrong? Does it mean that it never will? What’s evergreen content, that’s a thing that I’ve heard about. What does that mean in the scheme of content marketing? Am I playing the long game here or are there ways to play the short game?

Nicole: Content marketing is absolutely a long game. Man, one of my annoyances is that I worked at an SEO Agency for a little while, and one of the big things that the team I worked on did was try to create content that would go viral. We were successful several times, but that viral piece of content was viral for a week, right? Then after that, no one cared about us anymore. So like, yes, you absolutely can create viral content and your content marketing can be super, super popular for a short amount of time, but it doesn’t do anything for you. We didn’t even get clients from it that I’m aware of. I don’t want to bash what they were doing at all because they were super, super good at it. But what did they even do for you?

So yeah, it’s absolutely the long game. Just because your piece didn’t garner a lot of popularity right away doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, especially because content takes a long time to generate attention on search engines, which is really where a lot of content marketing is going to get people from. Something might get shared on Facebook on someone’s wall immediately and no one will see it, but then someone will get to it … An influencer will get to it three months later when they actually find it on Google, and then they’ll share it on Facebook. That’s when it has its big amount of success.

So I think you definitely have to realize that you’re playing a long game. Evergreen content also is definitely a thing. If you’re writing about a topic that isn’t happening in this specific moment, if your write … Like security for WordPress, for example, like something that we write about is always going to be a thing. So any content we create about that is going to be evergreen.

I hope that answers your question.

Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, going back to this HIPPA article, people aren’t going to be interesting in HIPPA until they come across it, right? Not all web designers need to know what HIPPA is. But if somebody gets a medical client and they’re like, “Oh, by the way, you have to be HIPPA compliant.” They’re going to be like, “What’s HIPPA compliant mean?” Like you said, it’s definitely a long game.

So we are coming up on time and I haven’t asked you my favorite question yet. But I do want to ask one more. It’s around plans for the future because you say it’s a long game, is it like a forever game? Am I just going to be like content marketing this thing for the rest of my life? When am I done? How do I know if I’m done? Things like that.

Nicole: So I don’t necessarily think it’s … I can talk. I promise. So I don’t necessarily think it’s a forever game. There are some people and some brands who will find that content marketing just like genuinely does not work for them. It could be because of their audience. It could be because of the products they’re selling. They’re a bunch of different reasons. They may work on it for a little while and just like get no comments, get no interaction, get no shares, get no leads from that content, but then find that they’re publishing videos like how to videos and getting a ton of engagement and a ton of sales leads off that. They may find that their social messages are getting them a ton of engagement and a ton of responses. They may find that direct mail or something is getting them a ton of leads. They may be like, “Okay. So I’m getting tons and tons of success elsewhere. These channels are highly successful. Content just isn’t going to do it for me.” I think that’s a, that speaks to the importance of multi-channel marketing and trying multiple things. But b, it also says that just for some people content marketing because of your audience or because of your products may not necessarily work and it’s okay in that situation to … YOu’re not giving up, right? You’re folding a non-successful, non-viable method of reaching customers.

You also can re approach it later, right? There are plenty of industries where customers were not looking online for products five years ago, but they might be doing that now. So maybe now’s the time to revisit content marketing or revisit social media. So no, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a long game, but it is something that you probably, potentially should try.

Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, just to drive home to point of you’re not giving up, right? I mean, you don’t want to keep … If I started a pager business in 2005 and was like, “It’s going to work one of these days.” I mean, I’d just be wasting time and money. I’d be like, what’s his name, Duffy from 30 Rock. That was the inspiration of that. So…do you have any trade secrets for us?

Nicole: Oh. I don’t know if I have any trade secrets. I think a lot of what I know and talk about is public knowledge. But I like the phrase, “Don’t read the comments.” But I like to take that one further, which is, “Don’t read the comments if you haven’t eaten lately because you’ll respond really badly.” One of my major responsibilities at Woo and not so much at Jetpack because we have a team that handles comments is like was to respond to comments, especially on our release posts. We would get hundreds of comments on these posts and some of them were not great. There were people trying to stir things up. Imagine WP Tavern just toned down a little bit. So that was the release posts comments.

My advice for dealing with comments and you could probably take this as a trade secret is to always put yourself in that person’s shoes. Imagine the worst possible day that person could be having and why they’d be motivated to make a comment like that. No matter how nasty it is, no matter how frustrated they may seem, no matter how illogical it may see. Because we did people commenting and being like, “I can’t login to my site.” It’s like this has nothing to do with the content of this post, but like image what drove them to that level of desperation to make that comment on that post.

So rather than being snippy and being like, “Go contact support,” I try to put myself in that person’s shoes and then leave. Again, it maybe not necessarily be trade secret. But I’ll always make sure that I wasn’t replying to comments on an empty stomach because then I wouldn’t be that helpful.

Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. My brother said I don’t get hangry. They say I get “hustrated,” right? I’m not like mean and mad, I’m just like, “UH. Everything’s annoying,” when I’m not in the mood. If you still need to … If you feel the need to write out a snarky response, open up NotePad or whatever and just type it out. I do that with Tweets. I must have drafts of like a bunch of like stupid responses in TweetBot because I type it out and then I’m like, “Is it worth it?” No. It’s not worth it.

Nicole: There’s only one time that I’ve posted a snarky response to a WooCommerce comment. I will own up to it. I posted it on Twitter. Someone asks why we didn’t warn them that we had a major update and I kid you not, the plug in update thing had a bar in red above the notification that said, WooCommerce, blah blah blah, is a major update. I mean, it was in red. Highlight in yellow. I took a screenshot of that comment and a screenshot of the thing and put it on Twitter. That is the one time I had a snarky response. I felt bad about ti later, but I was also like, “Come on. We did warn you.

Joe: Abstrusely. That’s exactly right.

Nicole: Yes. I feel horrible that your site broke and I’m very sorry about that. But don’t say what … It was right there. It was red.

Joe: We tried with everything we do.

Nicole: We tried.

Joe: Yep. So it does feel cathartic for like a minute. It’s a lot like Chinese food. It feels really good and then later you’re like why did I do that? I feel terrible.

Nicole: Oh yeah. Yep.

Joe: Awesome. That’s going to be the tagline for this – “Snarky Comments are like Chinese Food.”

Nicole: I love it.

Joe: Awesome. Nicole, thanks so much for your time today. I had a really great time. I learned a lot. If people want to learn more, where can they find you?

Nicole: So right now I am occasionally blogging on You can keep up with my adventures and my word Camp talks at or follow me on Twitter @NicoleCKohler

Joe: All right. Easy enough. I will link all of those in the show notes too. Thanks again so much for joining me. I really appreciate your time.

Nicole: Yeah, thanks, Joe. I had a great time.

Outro: Thanks again to Nicole for joining me. I know after this interview I started to put my own strategy in place, and hopefully this has inspired you to do so as well!

And Thanks again to our sponsors – make sure to check out Liquid Web for managed WordPress hosting. I use them on all of my important sites – they are that good! They are at They’ll give you 50% off your first 2 months just for being a listener! If you want to save your clients (or yourself) money through recovering abandoned carts, check out jilt. They are over at And finally, if you want conference call to be crystal clear and easy as possible, check out Vast Conference. You can get a 30 Day free trial by mentioning How I Built It when you speak to a sales rep over at

For all of the show notes, head over to If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! Finally, last week I published my brand-new Patreon page. It offers a lot better rewards, and great goals, and I’m really doubling down on it. So if you like the show and what to support it directly, head over to You can support the show for as little as $1/month.

Next Week, we’ll talk to Jen Jamar about a Marketing Strategy for your business. This is another great conversation that I couldn’t enjoy more. Jen’s worked with some great clients and has some fantastic insight on how you can market yourself and your product. SO until next week, get out there and build something.

The post Nicole Kohler and Content Strategy appeared first on How I Built It.

Mar 20 2018



Rank #11: Season 6 Wrap Up (Bonus Episode!)

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We got lots of great advice over the course of Season 6. Over the course of about 10 minutes, we’re going to distill all of that advice into 3 overarching themes. Take a listen to find out what they are. Here are the best trade secrets of 2019.

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The post Season 6 Wrap Up (Bonus Episode!) appeared first on How I Built It.

Jun 24 2019


Rank #12: Brad Williams & Client Relationships

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Brad Williams of WebDevStudios knows a thing or two about client relationships. In this episode, We start at the beginning with finding a client, the proposal process, and touch on things like having a Discovery phase. It puts a nice cap of what we’ve been talking about for the last 3 weeks – the importance of building relationships.

Show Notes

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  • Checkout for WooCommerce: Stop leaving money on the table and create a better, beautiful WooCommerce checkout experience for your customers
  • Jilt: The easiest way to recover abandoned shopping carts on WooCommerce, easy digital downloads, and Shopify.
  • Liquid Web: Fast, Managed WordPress hosting whether your users are logged in or logged out. Get 50% off the first 2 months.
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Intro: Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of How I Built It! Finishing our series on How to Build a Business, I get to talk to my friend Brad Williams about client relationships. We start at the beginning with finding a client, the proposal process, and touch on things like having a Discovery phase. We’ll get into that in a minute, but first, a word from our sponsors…

Sponsors: This season of How I Built It is brought to you by two fantastic sponsors. The first is Liquid Web. If you’re running a membership site, an eonline course, or even a real estate site on word press, you’ve likely already discovered many hosts that have optimized their platforms for a logged out experience, where they cash everything. Sites on their hardware are great for your sales and landing pages, but struggle when your users start logging in. At that point, your site is as slow as if you were on three dollar hosting. Liquid Web built their managed word press platform optimized for sites that want speed and performance, regardless of whether a customer is logged in or logged out. Trust me on this, I’ve tried it out and it’s fast, seriously fast. Now, with their single site plan, Liquid Web is a no-brainer for anyone whose site is actually part of their business, and not just a site promoting their business. Check out the rest of the features on their platform by visiting them at web. That’s web.

It’s also brought to you by Jilt. Jilt is the easiest way to recover abandoned shopping carts on woo commerce, easy digital downloads and Shopify. Your e-commerce clients could be leaving literally thousands of dollars on the table and here’s why. 70% of all shopping carts are abandoned prior to checkout. Yes, you heard that right, 70% of shoppers never make it to checkout. That’s why you need to introduce your clients to Jilt. Jilt uses proven recovery tactics to rescue that lost revenue. It’s an easy win that let’s you boost your clients revenue by as much as 15% and it only takes 15 minutes of your time to set up. Jilt fully integrates with woo commerce, EDD and Shopify. You can completely customize the recovery emails that Jilt sends, to match your clients branding using it’s powerful dragon drop editor. Or by digging into the HTML and CSS. Even better, Jilt’s fair pricing means your clients pay only for the customers they actually engage. You get to earn a cut of that through Jilt’s partner program. Whether you have clients that process one sale per month or 10,000 sales per month, be the hero and help them supercharge their revenue with Jilt. Check them out at That’s

And now…on with the show!

Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today, I have a good friend of mine on the show, Brad Williams of Web Dev Studios.

Joe: Brad, how are you doing today?

Brad: Hey, buddy. I’m doing well. How are you?

Joe: Well, as we record this, we’re in the throws of football season so I’m just okay. I’m sure you’re a lot better than me though.

Brad: I’m kind of average. The Raiders are doing … They’re doing okay. I don’t think the Giants are doing okay.

Joe: The Giants are not doing okay.

Brad: Yeah. We’ll survive.

Joe: They’re being very charitable because they gave the 49ers their first win, which is nice of them.

Brad: That was helpful.

Absolutely. I actually forgot you’re a Raiders fan and not an Eagles fan.

Brad: Yeah. So the Eagles are doing pretty good, but I’m a Raiders fan in Philly. So you can imagine. So Christmas is going to be fun because the Raiders are coming to Philly.

Joe: Oh, nice. Are you going to the game?

Brad: I don’t know. It’s still up in the air. The family’s not super excited about it.

Joe: Oh yeah. Because it’s on Christmas Day.

Brad: It’s Christmas Day. So hopefully. We’ll see.

Joe: Oh, cool. Maybe that will be a nice Christmas gift. This is coming out after that game. So we’re not dropping any hints for anybody in the meantime. But why don’t we get started with why don’t you tell everybody who you are and what you do.

Brad: Sure. So as you said, my name’s Brad Williams. I co-founded a company called Web Dev Studios about 10 years ago, and we are a WordPress development and design agency. We specialize in WordPress scale, WordPress in the enterprise, really building large WordPress powered websites. WordPress is the only platform we work on so we’re truly experts at it, which is awesome. We work with some really great clients. So it’s been a lot of fun from starting on a coffee table to growing our business over the years, growing with WordPress and working with some amazing clients and some amazing brands.

Joe: Awesome.

Brad: That is what we do.

Joe: Awesome. That’s kind of what we’re going to be talking about today, right? Usually on the show we talk about a specific product, but this is kind of in the middle of a business strategy series. We’re actually going to talk more about pitching a client and forming a new client relationship, right? Which is something that you have quite a bit of experience with.

Brad: The pitch, man. You ever watch Madmen? The old ad agencies and they pitched in the ’60s. Yeah, it’s nothing like that. Although that makes it look really cool, right? I guess other than smoking 50 packs of cigarettes a day. Maybe the day drinking isn’t as cool now. But yeah, pretty much the opposite of that. So you can imagine … So one kind of caveat is we are 100% remote company distributed. So we’re all over the United States. There’s 33 of us at the company. I think it’s important to kind of note that just in term of how clients find us and how we kind of get in front of clients in a pitch or proposal situation. So we’re not just an agency that’s located in Philadelphia with offices here. I’m in Philly, but we’re literally all over the United States.

Joe: Yeah. That absolutely does make a big difference, right? Because you don’t have the situation where you can just get in a room with your team and really hash things out.

Brad: Right. So yeah, I mean, it definitely has … I like to say it has a unique set of challenges. All business has different challenges. Some same, some different, and across all industries, right? So being remote is just another challenge. I think there’s definitely some pros and cons to it. I don’t think it’s better. I shouldn’t say that. I do think it’s better than kind of the traditional approach. I think there’s more pros than cons. The big reason for us early on was to just find talent. We started out in the Jersey Shore area. If you’re not totally familiar, outside of summer, there’s not a ton of people around there. So finding developers or designers that were local that could come into an office was next to impossible. So we had to. We were kind of forced into it, right? So we had to look outside of our area a little bit. Towards New York, towards Philadelphia, towards Baltimore, and we quickly realized why worry about the location, let’s worry about the talent. Let’s go after the talent, and from that day forward, we just hired based off the talent regardless of where you lived. It’s worked very well for us.

Joe: Nice. You’ve definitely compiled a huge team, both current and alums of very talented people. I’ve had the good fortune of working with some of them either before or after they left Web Dev Studios. So you certainly have been able to find good talent.

Brad: Yeah. I mean, I mentioned it earlier, I feel like Web Dev really grew with WordPress, right? When we first started using WordPress, it was very much a blog platform. It was kind of one option that we looked at against a number of other options in terms of how we should build a website. As WordPress matured, so did our company and so did our clients and the size and type of websites that we were building. So once it really became more of a true CMS, we were using it full-time for everything. The larger companies were starting to look at WordPress as a viable option, and now it’s a bit of a no brainer for most companies that WordPress is a great option. Certainly one they should be looking at. It’s funny to think back that that wasn’t always the case. The first few years of the company, we had to sell people on WordPress. We had to really sell the on it. Now, it’s like they find us because they know they want it and they want to work with a company that specializes in it.

Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. Let’s start to really parch that out because a lot of … At least when I was freelancing, I always thought, “Man, how do you get the next big client or how do you even approach an enterprise,” right? So why don’t we start with how do people find you now? Is it basically like through your form or do you … What do you do to kind of put yourself out there?

Brad: So it’s a good question. One that people ask me a lot. How do people find you, right? So the majority of people find us via search or they’ve heard of us either via a WordCamp speaking or our various contributions to WordPress. We’re pretty active with our content, strategy, social media. We get good search traffic because of all those things, right? So we also have some books we’ve written. Maybe you’ve heard of them. Professional WordPress is a series that I was a co-author on. Lisa Sabin-Williams, my partner, has been writing all of the WordPress For Dummies books for like, I don’t know, forever. She’s done all of them. So if it’s got WordPress and dummies in the title, she wrote it or was a major part of it. So that helps, right? That helps just kind of validate that we know what we’re doing, especially earlier on when not as many people knew who we were.

Brad: So we also get a lot of … Another big stream of kind of referrals from either existing clients or friends in the industry or just friends in general. People refer people to us. We’re a “larger” company in the space. People look at us say, “You’re large.” It’s like, “Well, we’re really not.” In the grand scheme of things, we’re a very small company. But in the WordPress world, we are considered a bit on the larger size being 30 plus people. So we’re friends, I’m friends … Our company teams across the board are friends with a number of freelancers and smaller agencies and boutique shops as Medeiros would say. You know what I’m talking about.

Joe: Yeah.

Brad: So a larger client comes in the door and they know, “Yeah, this is bigger than what we can do. This is bigger than what we can support. Let me send you to a company that is better suited for this size of a project or a size of an engagement.” So we get a number of those referrals. So all of that kind of combined is where the majority of our leads come in. Now, we have been a little more proactive in the past year. So about more outbound. Being more kind of proactive rather than waiting for leads to just walk in the door. Be a little more proactive in our marketing strategy and kind of getting out in front of the type of clients we want to be in. It’s kind of a new area for us. We haven’t had to do that as much in the past, but we’re trying to be a little more proactive in that front. So that’s kind of a new area that we’re starting dabble in. But yeah, that kind of sums up how clients come in the door.

Joe: Gotcha. Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I feel like the general sentiment right now in the WordPress space especially is there’s been a lot of success with … I say this all the time. The field of dreams approach, right? If I build it, they will come. I think there’s been a lot of success in the WordPress space up until recently. Now I think we’re seeing a lot more of people kind of having to put together a marketing strategy and be more outbound as you say. Would you agree with that?

Brad: Yeah. Absolutely. There’s definitely been a shift where it’s not as … Yeah, I like that analogy. The field of dreams approach. Yeah, I mean, a couple years ago we just sit back and the number of leads that would come in the door was ridiculous. We just couldn’t even spend as much time as we would even want to on them or we just had to refer them out because we were too busy responding to others. It was crazy. I think we’re a bit naïve in assuming, “Oh, it’ll always be like this,” and that’s not the case. I think a lot of that comes with the maturity of WordPress, and I think there’s a number of factors. I don’t think it’s all WordPress. I know it’s not all WordPress because I talk to other friends in the tech industry that aren’t WordPress at all, and they’ve seen a down tick in the past year or so of leads and kind of new engagements and work coming in the door. So I think it’s wider than WordPress, but obviously we’re in the WordPress space, the WordPress bubble, so that’s what we talk about and that’s what we’re looking at.

Brad: So yeah, I think it’s opened our eyes. We need to be a little more proactive. We need to try a few different things. It’s not always going to be just everybody walking in the door and doing these massive projects and craziness like that. It’s also, again, I keep going back to the maturity of the community and WordPress itself I think it’s just inevitable. WordPress has been around for over, what? 12, 13 years now. Something like that

Joe: Yeah.

Brad: It’s growing up. So are all the companies around it. We’re growing up with it. So it’s just kind of the nature of the beast I think.

Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. That’s exactly right. We’ve talked about on the show development practices have been maturing over the last few years. We talk about like automated testing and other things like that that have been in other software project spaces before this, but we’re finally getting to a place in the WordPress community where that is becoming the normal thing.

Joe: So when you do have a potential client, right? Or a potential project, what’s the first thing you do? I know a bigger companies have RFPs, request for proposals. Do you go through that process or what’s it look like? Let’s say a potential client fills out a form on your website, what’s your next step?

Brad: Yeah. So, RFPs are interesting. Right? I think there’s like very, very distinct two sides of thought around RFPs. One is don’t ever touch them. They’re a waste of time. The other one is respond to every single one of them and eventually something will happen. We’ve kind of gone back and forth on that. My general rule with RFPs is unless it’s an opportunity we just don’t want to miss out on, unless it’s some brand that just really stands out. Like, “Oh, we want to work with them,” you know what I mean? We generally will not respond unless we have a bit of a inside track. Meaning we know someone within the company or someone that can kind of … We have a better sense of we might be in the short running. Not to say we’re trying to cheat the system or get around the RFP process, but to say it’s more than just an anonymous company responding to this document that you blasted out to who knows how many different agencies.

Absolutely. I mean, filling out an RFP, if you do it right, takes a lot of time, right?

Brad: Takes a lot of time. Yeah. I mean, RFPs are generally very specific. This is our goals, this is our current situation, these are the areas we expect to be accomplished by these dates, this is how you will respond, this is what we expect, and you have three days. It’s always … Or the dates already past. It’s like, “What?” It’s crazy because you have to … If you’re going to respond to an RFP, you have to follow it to a t. It’s the first test. Can they listen to instruction? If they ask you for four references, don’t give them three. Don’t give them five. Give them four.

Joe: Give them exactly four. Yeah.

Brad: It is the first test. So you have to follow it to a t, and it is a lengthy process. So you have to know going into RFP, you’re going to spend some time up front. You’re going to spend an investment to respond.

Brad: If you do it correctly. So generally speaking, we do not respond to RFPs unless it’s, again, an awesome brand that we really want to just have our name in a shot or we have a little bit more insider information and have maybe a connection or someone within the company that we can work a little bit closer with.

Brad: Now, the majority of the leads we get in the door aren’t RFPs. They generally have a here’s kind of a spec doc or here’s a general overview of what we’re looking for. Can you give us a quote? What’s it going to cost, right? That’s the number one question. What’s it going to cost?

Brad: Those are my favorite articles. I think you might have written some of these too. Like, how much does it cost to build a website?

Yeah. Yeah. Actually that was popular I think because you guy shared that out like one day and that got a lot of traffic. So I appreciate that.

Brad: Oh yeah. For sure. It’s funny because most of those blog posts I’m always like, “Oh, okay. I’ll skim it,” and I always go to the bottom because it always summarizes with, “Well, it depends.”


Brad: It depends.

Joe: Which is, spoiler alert, that’s how mine ends too.

Brad: Spoiler alert.

Brad: Yeah, it depends. It’s just like if you go to any agency, any web development, design shop and you go to how much is it going to cost. Well, it depends. They almost will never give you a price.

That’s because I always equate it to like we’re building a house. That’s like coming to me as a house builder saying, “How much to build a house?” Well, it depends. What kind of house do you want? How big of house? How many rooms? Is there a garage? There’s just a million questions to understand how much that house is going to cost or how much that website is going to cost.

Brad: So yeah, a lead comes to the door. The first thing we do is we want to hop on a call and really get to … I like to hear … The first question I always ask is, “Tell me about your project. Tell me about your goals. I want to hear it from you in your own words.” I know the documents and emails probably say that, but I like to hear it from them.

You can get a lot from that, right? You can understand not just the specific goals that they’ve written out on paper but you can hear a little bit of the emotion behind it. You can understand a little bit more about if they’re having some struggles, if our website is just a terrible experience and we can’t work on it. Everyone’s frustrated and they’re all coming to me. You can get that. Or maybe it’s a new initiative and it’s a new hire at the company and they’re just super excited and engaged. You can just sit back and listen and listen to them explain to you what their goals for the project are, what they’re looking to accomplish, and then start digging into some of the specifics. I’ve always felt like that’s really good way to kind of kick off those conversations.

Brad: Plus, again, going back to being remote. We’re generally not sitting across from a table. We’re generally on a phone call. Sometimes we do video, sometimes we don’t. But we’re … Just like we are right now. We’re talking, right? So I also want to get to know the person a little bit. I want them to get to know me. I want it to be a friendly and fun conversation. Joke around a little bit, start to build a rapport because at the end of the day you’re both kind of interviewing each other, right? Are they a good fit for you and are you a good fit for them? Yes, it’s great to make money, but do you want to make money at the expense of working with a terrible person.

Brad: That is going to treat you and your team like you’re inferior and I’m paying you. You work for me and you do as I say and that’s that. Do you want to … Some people might be like, “Sure.” But most of us are probably like, “No. We want to work with good people.” We want a partner. We’re not just a client relationship here. We’re going to be a partner, an extension of the company. I’d like to try to look for those things when I’m on that call and try to figure that out early if there’s some concerns here or not.

Joe: Nice. That’s fantastic. I love that for a few reasons, right? Because you’re not just relying on the words that they sent to you, which are probably more calculated, right? That’s the pitch that they practiced, but when you ask them on a phone call or a video call, you’re getting what’s on the top of their mind, right? They’re no reading the script that they wrote.

Brad: Exactly.

Joe: Like you said, it is a relationship. You’re interviewing each other. I think that a lot of people tend to take it a little bit too personally if they don’t get a job, if they’re not hired by a client. I used to take it personally all the time.

Brad: I still do sometimes.

Joe: It sucks. Yeah, right.

Brad: I don’t think you ever get over that completely, right?

Joe: Especially if it’s someone you really want to work with.

Brad: Oh, man.

Joe: But I mean, somewhere along the line it was decided that you guys wouldn’t be a good fit, and I try to think it’s for the best even though sometimes it might suck.

Brad: Yeah. I mean, that’s how you have to look at it. It is business at the end of the day. There’s going to be some that just burn you a little more than others. There’s going to be some you might breathe a sigh of relief. Like, “You know what, I’m actually kind of glad we didn’t get that because the more we understood, the more we realized it might not be the best project in the world.” So yeah, I mean, you kind of got to brush it off, try to learn what you can from it, if anything, so you can use that for the next discussion or pitch and move forward. Yeah. At the end of the day it’s sales, right? I wouldn’t consider myself … I can never be like a door to door salesman. That would be an impossible job for me, right? I couldn’t sell cars. I’m not that type of person.

Brad: But I’m very passionate and excited about the web and websites. So I’m less trying to hard sell people and more trying to understand their goals and speak to how we can help to accomplish those goals and the direct result is essentially I’m selling the person on Web Dev Studios and our solutions and what we can give to them. That’s kind of how I look at it because I’m just not a salesman. I could never be a salesman, right? Ever. So I just speak to my passions, which indirectly help us bring in sales. So I found a way to make it work over the years and it seems to work well.

Brad: I think clients and the people we speak with and our partners really respect that because I think most of them anyways get that. They understand that passion. They hear it and they see it. Really anytime you can work with someone that is passionate about what they’re doing, and I preach this to the team and the people we’re interviewing and hiring. Anytime you can work with someone that’s passionate, it’s going to be reflected in their work across the board because they actually care. It’s not just making a quick buck and sending you on your way as quickly and cheaply as possible. They care that the end product is something that they want to be proud of, they want you to be proud of, they want to be successful, and that’s how I try to approach it and that’s how Web Dev Studios approach it and how we kind of preach internally about we’re partners with our clients. It’s not just a client relationship. We’re an extension of their team and we want them to know that from the start.

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Joe: Nice. That’s absolutely fantastic because it’s a good relationship is definitely the foundation, right? That a good project is built on. Along with understand the project, right? So you have that initial call, it’s time for you to build out the proposal. Are you doing other research after the call to see exactly what they need and what they’re about and how you would do it? How deep do you get into implementation during the proposal process?

Brad: This is a tricky one, right? Because there is a number of different ways to go about this you could spend a lot of time up front. Like really understanding every minute detail of the house you’re building, right? “House”, the website. Every little specification up front in the proposal. The challenge with that is, again, is the upfront time and investment, right? We used to do that. We used to spend 20, 30, 40, 50 hours upfront, and realized over time that it wasn’t … The upfront investment for us was not paying off in the long run. We weren’t getting enough clients to justify doing that over and over. So what we did is we found a happy medium of really understanding the project from more of a high level. So understanding if it’s a fresh rebuild. Is there design phase? Yes. Okay. How many mock ups do we need to do here? We’re going to do five and these are the five pages. Really high level. We’re not getting to specifics of what are in those mock ups.

Brad: Now, we are talking about features and functionality. If there’s any integrations with third party services, any APIs, any special widgets or modules that we want to discuss so we understand. So from a high level, do you need a calendar? Are you accepting payment? Are there subscriptions? Are you selling product? That type of stuff.

Brad: Then we architect a proposal around that. Again, that high level plan and we’re pretty good and kind of taking those high level over view and putting real dollars against it based on level of effort that we know from past experience, from past projects, and what that looks like. The goal is we don’t want to give the client, “It’s going to cost you $10,000 to build your website,” and then we get in there and realize, “Oh, this is actually going to cost you like 20.” That’s a terrible situation and one you never want to find yourself in.

Brad: Because it’s bad for you, it’s bad for the client, it sours the relationship. It’s just bad. You make those mistakes early on when you under bid. I think everybody does when they first start. I think my first website was like couple hundred dollars, right? I’m sure we’ve all done those and we look back like, “Wow. They got a good deal.” Or maybe not if you look at that code 10, 15 years ago.

Joe: I’m sure. Yeah. I got a good deal. I got paid to learn.

Brad: Yeah. So we’ve gotten pretty good about taking our past experience, what we know about projects, what we know about designs and architecture and development and features and integrations, and putting together numbers around that. At that point, we’re looking to kind of solidify that high level plan and get signatures. We’re trying to get an agreement in place and say, “Great. We’re going to move forward.”

Brad: The very next thing we do is what’s called a detailed discovery phase, and that is drilling down the minute detail of the project line by line, and we put together a proposal plan, which I like to call the blueprint. You see where I’m going with these? So the blueprint of what we’re going to build, which is the exact specifications of the website. It’s all right, if we’re enhancing the search, how are we doing that? Are we using elastic search? Are we using search WP? Are we doing it some other way. Like actually putting together the development plan. That is something that takes weeks to go through for a relatively decent sized project. It’s a number of weeks if not longer. The reason we’re able to spend that amount of time is because we have a signed agreement. We have money to cover that. We have a line item in our proposal that covers that discovery time. So we can sit there with a client over the course of a bunch of phone calls or screen shares or in person meetings and hash this out.

Brad: That approach has worked very well for us. So when we’re done with that discovery phase, we have a detailed plan. We go back and forth with the client on our visions and we get that thing as flawless as we can, and then we have them sign off on it. That is the build plan. We now have our blueprint, and we’re ready to move forward into development.

Joe: Nice. That is the investment for the client is obviously we’re going to give you something that at the end of the discovery phase, we deeply understand. So you’re not going to get hit with one and a half or two times what we originally quoted you, right?

Brad: Exactly. We make sure if we quote you a $20,000 project build, we make sure that the discussions and decisions within the discovery phase are in line with the budget. So we don’t want to say, “Hey, we can do this, this, this and this,” and then we include I and realize, “Oh yeah, by the way, that’s going to cost you an extra $5,000,” right? We want to say, “Hey, there are other options. However, they would probably be beyond the budget we set. Do you want to discuss those knowing that it will an increase in cost?” We let them make that decision. If they say, “Great. Let’s go ahead and talk about it so we know what that cost would look like, and then we’ll decide if we want to include that.” Okay, so we’ll figure it out, put the details around that, and add it as a line item.

Brad: Hey, if you want this, it’s going to cost x. It’s over and above what we originally quoted, but we make sure it’s part of that conversation because we just want to be as transparent as possible. We don’t want to surprise our clients with an unexpected cost because that will always end badly. So just keep it part of the conversation. Keep that total in your mind. Oh, we have x amount of mock ups. This is all we have. If you paid for five and you need an extra mock up, okay, we can do one, and here’s the cost if you want one more mock up. But it’s outside of that initial estimate.

Brad: So again, that’s worked well. So by the time we get down with that discovery phase, nine times out of 10, we’re lined up with the initial cost we gave them and away we go.

Joe: Nice. So now, as you move forward, right? So we’ve talked about the contact, the initial phone call, the proposal and then the discovery phase essentially.

Brad: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Joe: During the build phase, what happens if, because there’s a million things that can blow a projects budget, right? Either you misquoted, which it sounds like you do have a safe guard in place for a lot of the time, the discovery phase, or maybe the client … It turns out the client doesn’t actually know, despite the discovery phase, what they needed. How do you kind of mitigate that? It’s like, “Okay. We’re approaching our budget. We’re definitely going to go over. How do we properly communicate that to the client without torching the relationship?”

Brad: Yeah. That never happens, right? Ever.

Joe: No, never. Everything’s always under budget. I mean, that’s how …

Brad: I know. Yeah. A couple scenarios here. I think one is if something new is introduced and that never happens, right?

Joe: No.

Brad: So something comes to light that we didn’t know about or there’s some feature that needs to be rebuilt on their own site that was not a part of discovery. So we have a change order process basically where when something like that comes up, we identify it. We have a call and a discussion. Basically a little mini discover. Okay. Let’s understand what we’re looking at here. Let us put together a plan of what it’s going to take to execute whatever it is you’re requesting. We’ll put together our cost, and say, “Okay.” It’s essentially a change order. It’s usually a one page add on to the original contract, and it just says we’re going to do all this for you. It’s outside the original agreement, but we’re going to do all this stuff. It’s going to potentially maybe adjust the timeline, maybe. If it does affect the timeline, so we have that in there. Timelines being pushed an extra week. It’s going to cost you x dollars. If you want to do this, sign here and we’ll get it in the schedule. So that’s usually pretty cut and dry as long as it’s clearly out of scope.

Brad: The other scenario, which is a bit trickier, is when you kind of committed to something and as you dig in you realize it’s more complicated or bigger than you expected, right? Maybe there’s some API integration on the surface that looked pretty straight forward and you get in there and realize, “Well, this isn’t straight forward at all.”


Brad: It’s going to take way more time. That ones tricky because you kind of have to look at each case case by case basis, right? So there’s no set answer. Generally we’ll look at and say, “Okay.” I always approach it as, “All right. What’s the impact here? Why are we off? Was it our doing or something unknown?” If it’s our doing, what is the impact? How off are we? How much extra time do we need? Then you have to make the decision, is this something we approach the client with or is this something we just eat the time on basically.

Brad: It’s not black and white. It’s every projects different, every clients different. So you have to kind of take in on the different variables and make your decision on how you want to handle it. But I always gauge it against how well the projects doing, how well we’re working with the client, how good the relationship is. Obviously the nicer the client is, the more our team likes to work with them, the more we want to hook them up.

Joe: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.

Brad: There’s nothing better than saying, “Oh, we came across something. It’s going to take a little extra time, but you know what? You’re just such a great client. We want to really help you out here. There’s no cost to you. We’re going to take care of it. We got it.”

Brad: On the flip side, if the client isn’t as nice, then we’re less likely to kind of go that extra mile, right? Because it’s like, oh, you know, they’re kind of mean to us on phone calls and they’re always yelling. I don’t feel like we want to eat this, you know what I mean. It’s just you got to kind of judge it based on what’s going on. But it does happen. It always happens. So you just got to kind of access the situation and make a decision from there.

Joe: I would imagine that decision is probably at least partially influenced by are we going to continue the relationship with our client, right? I might be more likely to eat the cost of something if I know we’re going to continue the relationship over the next few years or something like that.

Brad: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I mean, if it’s going to be ongoing, which the majority of our clients are ongoing clients, right? We do our initial project, we roll into kind of a support, maintenance agreement, and we continue to support their website. Whether it’s updates or backups or minor development things, maybe it’s full blown rolling out new sections, phase two, phase three type projects. But the majority of stuff if you really kind of set that great relationship with your client, why would they want to go anywhere else? They want to continue … If they already built that rapport with you and your company, why go find some other company to work with? They’re going to stick with you, and that’s the most important part is to keep that relationship as healthy as possible, to keep that client as healthy as possible because a one off project could turn into quadruple the amount of overall money from that client over the course of two or three years of them doing support and some random work here and there. So it’s super important to keep that client retention as much as you can.

Joe: Nice. Absolutely. We’re coming up on time here. I’m thinking maybe I can steal a few more extra minutes from my Patreon subscribers if you don’t mind.

Brad: Sure.

Joe: But for kind of to put a nice bow on this conversation, we’ve talked about basically everything except the development phase. So what kind of … You’ve won’t the job, you’ve won them over with the discovery, and you’re ready to launch. When in that process do you try to hit them with a retainer or when do you try to secure a continued relationship, right? Because I feel like timing is very important there, right?

Brad: Yeah. For sure. So our initial proposal has information about ongoing support, post launch support and maintenance and some options there. We bring it up initially with zero intention of getting a commitment at the beginning. Sometimes they want it because they need to get everything in the budget all at once. Great. There’s the information. Here’s the cost. We bring it up initially just so the seed’s kind of planted, right? You’re right. Timing is the thing. Over the years, we weren’t good at this early on. We were terrible about it, in fact. We would launch a site and run to the next one and we would have no follow up conversation. Then they’re gone, right?

Brad: Years ago, we were like, “We got to get better at this.” So generally speaking, we start to bring up that conversation around QA. so we’ll do our overall development, however many weeks, four, six, eight, 16 weeks, whatever.that’s full blown development. Then we go into an internal QA phase. It could last a week or two, maybe longer, depending on the size. That’s where we’re doing internal QA, cross browser testing, functionality testing, load audits, all that, performance, all that good stuff internally. Then we hand it off to the client to do their QA. Every client is a little different in how they do QA. Some have QA departments, some have one person that’s going to poke around, some don’t even look at it.

Brad: So generally right around the time where we’re doing our QA, we approach the subject and say, “Hey, we’re coming up on your QA period,” and after QA’s done, we’re talking about launching. So we’d like to start the conversation pre-launch at least initially, and then we like to try to dedicate a call post-launch with the stakeholders and to really go through the options. Our support is really kind of configurable based on the client needs. So we want to sit down and understand what kind of support they’re looking for, how involved or not involved they want us to be ongoing. Some want more support, some are completely hands off. They want us to do everything including minor content changes and little adjustments that they could make but they just don’t want to. They want to have a company that does it and they don’t have to think about it. To other companies where they have an internal development team that we basically hand it off to them, and then we’re done. They support it.

Brad: So we kind of have those conversations or craft that support plan based on their needs. Generally it’s either going to be right a week or two pre-launch to start those conversations, but post launch is where you really get into the meat of it because the problem is pre-launch, they’re focused on pre-launch, right? They’re focused on what’s coming in the next few weeks. So it’s good to kind of, again, plant that seed but not get too deep into it, and then try to set a call about a week or so post-launch, at least for us that’s how we do it. Then we go through the options.

Joe: Gotcha. I mean, that makes sense too, right? Because I week post-launch you’re probably coming up on the end of your post-launch support contract or whatever, and now the client really is starting to think about stuff like that.

Brad: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. It’s a good time to do it about a week after the dust has settled from the launch usually. If your launch went smoothly, I would hope so. So it’s a good time. The dust settled a little bit. Like you said, they’re starting to wind down the post-launch stuff and start talking about what that ongoing engagement looks like.

Joe: Gotcha. That’s fantastic. So well, Brad, thank you so much for your time. I’ve got one more question that I’m going to combine. It’s like two questions I’m going to combine into one.

Brad: Okay.

Joe: That is what’s one thing that you want to improve on your process moving forward, and maybe based on that, do you have any trade secrets for us?

Brad: All right. Two combined. Trade secrets. I’ll hit that one first. One thing I’ve learned being remote communication is like critical, right? With a team and with our clients. It’s just that much more important because we’re not face to face, we’re not in the same room, we’re not in the same building, we’re not even in the same state mostly. So one thing I’ve learned is while communication is definitely key, some things that are often overlooked are having more one on one conversations with your team. So about a year ago I started having one on ones with my management team. So my project managers, directors, as well as our lead developers. That is anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes where it’s just me and them. We have video and we chat. It doesn’t have to be like a run down of current projects or active statuses. It can be if that’s what’s on their mind and they have concerns or whatever. But it doesn’t have to be that. It’s just time to get some face time. It’s a one on one.

Brad: When we were smaller and younger, it was a given because I was working with everybody every day, but as we got larger, that wasn’t the case. Many times while I’m still talking to our PMs and our leads very, very often, I’m doing it in group settings. I’m not doing it where it’s like a one on one where you’re going to get much more open and honest conversations, and that’s really, in my mind, really I think helped the relationship between the executives, myself and Lisa, and our leads and our PMs. I think it’s helped the health of the company because we just have better communication.

Brad: So it may not be the biggest trade secret, but it’s one that I learned I think a little bit late is that kind of one on one time, even with a smaller team, just having set aside time to interact face to face just you and that other person at least once a month is super valuable. You will learn so much. That’s been great. So that’s a bit of a trade secret and one that I’m sure people do. But if you’re not, you should try it because you will learn stuff and it will be great.

Joe: Awesome.

Brad: What was the other question? That was a long answer.

Joe: What is one thing that you want to try to improve upon with this process in the future?

Brad: Okay. So our process, it probably sounds like it’s this flawless … I think it sounds not flawless, but this really perfected, stream lined, everything is just rainbows and unicorns and it’s not true. There’s always room for improvement. There’s always room to make things better. One of the things that we always struggle with is keeping our process documented and current, right? So it’s one thing to have a process. It’s another thing to have it documented in a way that you and your entire team can understand it. That’s one thing we’ve struggled with because we get it documented and then a year goes by and we’ve made all these adjustments but we haven’t updated any of the documentation because it’s like the most thankless job in the world working on documentation. Even documentation to cover your internal process, but it’s so important. Not just for our team to make sure we’re following every single step, every single time and staying inconsistent. It’s important for like on-boarding when we bring in new developers, new project managers and say, “This is our process. Read it. Learn it. Understand it. Live it. Because this is what we do on every project and once it’s documented, then you can really truly make sure that you follow it to a t every single time.”

Brad: I’ll tell you, every single project that goes off the rails, I can always point to one spot where we did not follow our process. We skipped a step or we didn’t do something like we’re supposed to, and it hurt it. So it’s getting that process that works for you and your team and getting it written down and keeping it current. That’s one of my goals because we have not been good at doing that. So while I feel like I know it very well, we probably all have it in our heads slightly differently. So we got to make sure it’s written down and it’s agreed upon and everyone’s on the same page. So it’s definitely a goal we’re working towards.

Joe: Nice. I dig that. Me, as a developer, I, as a developer, and I know a lot of developers listen to the show. They could probably level with that. They really relate to the disdain of doing documentation.

Brad: It’s the worst.

Joe: So awesome. Well, Brad, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

Brad: Yeah. Thank you, man. This was a lot of fun. Glad to be on the show.

Joe: Thank you. Yeah, absolutely. For anybody who wants to hear just a little bit more, maybe like 10 or 15 more minutes of me talking to Brad, we’re going to get a little bit technical in the second part, which is over on Otherwise, until next time, get out there and build something.

Outro: Thanks again to Brad for joining me. I love talking about this stuff because a good relationship with a client can be worth more than the biggest marketing budget. I think that’s something we’ve learned over the last 3 weeks: connect with people, forge relationships. For those non-football fans, The Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl. Brad went to the parade. I waited patiently for baseball to start.

And Thanks again to our sponsors – make sure to check out Liquid Web for managed WordPress hosting. I use them on all of my important sites – they are that good! They are at They’ll give you 50% off your first 2 months just for being a listener! If you want to save your clients (or yourself) money through recovering abandoned carts, check out jilt. They are over at And finally, if you want to put a cherry on top of the e-commerce trifecta, there’s Checkout for WooCommerce. If Jilt brings back the people who leave, Checkout for WooCommerce is the tool that prevents people from leaving in the first place. I use it, and I love it. And you can get 10% off using the code BUILD at

For all of the show notes, head over to If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! Finally, last week I published my brand-new Patreon page. It offers a lot better rewards, and great goals, and I’m really doubling down on it. So if you like the show and what to support it directly, head over to You can support the show for as little as $1/month.

Next Week, we’ll close out this series talking to my good friend Brad Williams about client relationships. Brad works with some big companies over at WebDevStudios, so he knows a thing or two. Make sure to tune in! And until next week, get out there and build something.

The post Brad Williams & Client Relationships appeared first on How I Built It.

Apr 03 2018



Rank #13: Pam Aungst and SEO Process

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So far this season we’ve looked at starting an SEO agency and an SEO product. But what we haven’t looked at was a good strategy – especially when it comes to Pay per Click and the like. Well that changes this week with our guest, Pam Aungst. She’s an SEO expert with her own agency that wants to make sure SEO is a personalized strategy. She tells us how in this episode.

Show Notes

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Welcome to episode 92 of How I Built It! In this episode, I’m talking to
Pam Aungst and we’re talking about SEO Process. So in the last couple of
episodes we talked to John Doherty about his product, and before that we
talked to Jeremiah Smith about how he built his agency. In this episode we
talk to Pam about process. And I really like this episode because I had
some immediately actionable advice. Essentially as soon as we hung up, I
applied some of what she taught me.

Today’s episode, by the way, is brought to you by Pantheon and Traitware.
You’ll hear about them both later, so for now, on with the show.

Joe Casabona:
Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast
that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Pam Aungst. She is
an SEO expert and we’re going to talk a little bit about her process. We
were introduced to each other formally by a friend of the show, Liam
Dempsey of Hallway Chats. I’ll link that in the show notes. Pam, how are
you today?

Pam Aungst:
Good. Thank you for having me.

Thanks for being on the show. This is a little bit more nebulous. We’re not
talking about a specific product, or thing. We’re talking more about SEO
process and strategy and things like that. Why don’t you tell us, and the
listeners, a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Sure. As you said I’m Pam Aungst, my company is Pam Ann Marketing, and we
also now have a sister company which is also an offering. Which is Stealth
Search and Analytics. Both companies offer SEO, PPC and analytics services.
Pam Ann Marketing works directly with clients and Stealth Search and
Analytics works on a private label basis through other agencies that want
to offer those services, but not hire in-house staff to provide them to
their clients.

Gotcha. Cool. So you’ve got a little bit of the client services going, and
then some of the white label services going with agencies and folks who
might want to outsource their ability to do SEO stuff.

Yes. We were getting requested to do that so often that I had a light bulb
moment, and I was like, “We’re getting these requests without even saying
to the world that we are capable of doing this. I wonder what would happen
if we said to the world that we were capable of doing this?” And that’s how
Stealth was born.

That’s fantastic, and a great name for that service because you are being
stealth in who exactly is doing the work, I guess. This is not a question I
decided to ask until right now, but why would somebody or an agency, or
another company want to outsource their SEO strategy?

It’s primarily because of the fact that SEO is so complex. And PPC, and
analytics. All three are very complex. SEO does have the most moving
pieces, though. And it’s just really hard for design focused firms and
branding agencies, or just broader scope marketing agencies. It’s really
hard for them to fully understand it, and if they did they probably would
hire in-house. But it’s hard to provide a service and hire and train people
to do something that you yourself don’t know how to do.

Obviously, they could try to hire someone that claims to already know it,
but how do they know they already know it? There’s some comfort level with
not having to go through all of that training, hiring, sourcing talent,
training them, managing them for something that they really don’t
understand. There’s just a comfort, and it’s easier to turn to a firm that
has got all that figured out, and has got a good reputation already. Then
they can just capitalize on what’s already been built.

Absolutely. If you want to be an effective manager you should at least
understand the people you’re managing. I’m not going to go hire an
illustrator because I can’t tell an illustrator how to do their job.


I’m going to hire an independent person that I don’t need to manage. I just
say, “I want this. Go do that.”

Yes. It’s certainly simpler. And sometimes too they don’t have a full time
need, they don’t have enough of the work. It’s only a couple clients that
are asking for it, so they couldn’t even justify hiring a full time person
or even a steady part time person. They just need it on a project basis.

Yeah, and that’s a great point. I asked that question not skeptically, I
knew full well why. I just wanted to hear it from you because SEO is a full
time job. Just like how people scoff at social media managers. As somebody
who’s trying to do it all, including managing my social media queues, that
takes a large chunk of my week. If I want to do it right.

Oh, absolutely.

So you want to have the right people in place if you want to be effective
with that stuff.

Yeah. And the process is part of what we sell, to touch upon that, because
we said we were going to talk about the process. Having the process figured
out is a whole separate thing from knowing the theory. I find in my hiring
for my company, that people who haven’t had a lot of work experience in the
field yet, they may understand the theories behind a SEO perfectly well and
thoroughly but practical application of a theory in the real world where
things are messy and there’s constraints and there is layers of red tape,
and maybe even politics within the client’s organization that are
restricting them from being able to do things a certain way.

That “In the wild” type of experience, having a process that is nailed down
that can navigate all of that real world, practical application, and know
those challenges. It’s another reason for subcontracting an agency or
company who already has that all figured, out as opposed to hiring an
individual employee.

Absolutely. Having somebody that can navigate those waters is important.
It’s like when you’re playing baseball. It’s easy to say, “Square your
shoulders, keep your eye on the ball, swing and follow through.” That’s
great if somebody is throwing you a fastball and you’re expecting a
fastball. But if somebody throws you a curveball and you’re expecting a
fastball, then you’re going to miss no matter how well you keep your eye on
the ball. So you want somebody who can be prepared for that.

Yes, absolutely. And have a process in place that takes into account all
the different types of balls whether they’re fast or curved, or whatever.
You’ve got plans and processes and ways of dealing with it already figured

Absolutely. Let’s get into this then. Talking about Stealth, you got this
idea because people were already asking for it. When it comes to maybe
starting that company, and then moving into your process, what kind of
research was involved in that?

Like you said we did get asked for it. We didn’t really have to research if
there was a demand. Although I did do research on the competitive offerings
that were out there, because I needed to come up with a way to, if we’re
going to expand this, to differentiate ourselves and come up with marketing
messaging and whatnot. And what I discovered in my competitive research was
that obviously there’s a lot of other companies out there offering this.

But what seemed to me to be missing, and what I was hearing from the
prospective agencies that we had that wanted this from us, I was hearing
that they needed a custom approach. And a lot of the white label offerings
SEO re-seller programs that are out there are very cookie cutter, pre done
packages. You just sign up slap your name on it and it’s unable to be
customized. We have agencies asking us all the time to just do one piece of
our process for them or to handle a unique challenge for a client.

What’s interesting is that a very comprehensive process that we developed
for Pam Ann Marketing over the last seven years, we’re actually cherry
picking individual pieces of that come up with custom offerings through the
other agencies on the Stealth front. Because that’s what they want. Like I
said, most of it is project basis. That’s one of the reasons they’re coming
to us, they don’t have a full time need. They just have this one project at

It’s got these unique challenges. “How can you help us?” We can hand-pick
pieces of our whole process and put together a custom approach for each
agency, for each project for each agency. They really like that. So my
research helped solidify our marketing plan and our marketing messaging,
because I realized that most of what you find is this cookie cutter package
type approach. We do have a very solid process that’s repeatable but we are
willing to customize it. And that was an important piece of research and
strategy for this.

That sounds really interesting. It almost sounds like the companies who are
doing the cookie cutter stuff are thinking, “This white label service will
just be passive income for me,” or, “Semi passive income.”

Yeah, perhaps. And also perhaps there are agencies out there that want
that. They want something that’s incredibly predictable, the same every
time. I guess it just so happened that we attracted agencies that wanted
these unique solutions. And I don’t know, maybe because of our reputation
we got approached with more complex things that they knew weren’t a fit for
a cookie cutter program. For whatever reason it just so happened that these
were the types of inquiries we were getting. There very well may be
agencies out there that want the cookie cutter stuff, and that’s fine, but
the niche that we’re going after is those that need something unique.

It all depends on your needs and your budget. Maybe you want something
cookie cutter until you know what you want, or until you know what you
need, maybe, is a better way to put it. Just, “Give me what most people
have.” And then you take that and you’re like, “All right. Now I understand
the process a little bit more. I don’t really need the leather seats in my
car just give me the regular seats, but I want a really good sound system
in my car. So give me that.”

Yeah. Perhaps. Also though, one of our core values all along has been that
we don’t believe that cookie cutter approaches work. Because every single
business is different, every single website is different. They’re like
snowflakes, they’re each completely different. So although we have a
predictable, repeatable process, that process allows for and accounts for
those differences and has flexibility in it to account for those and take
those into the strategy and deal with those. So I don’t think that a truly
cookie cutter package approach gets the best results anyway.

Again, that makes sense. That segues perfectly into, what is the research
process for maybe when you have a new client? First of all, when you’re
dealing with maybe not the agency stuff and when you’re dealing directly
with clients, who do you deal with mostly? Is it e-commerce people, or a
certain type of business that you work with?

We work with businesses across all verticals. But the common thread is more
the situation that they’re in. They tend to be more established businesses.
Because we’re niche and we only offer a few services, two out of three of
which are focused on search engines, we’re perfectionists about our
approach to SEO and PPC and everything. We like to go in deep and cross
every “T” and dot every “I” and be thorough with our strategy.

We’re just a better fit for helping companies who have the basics in place
already, to take their strategies to the next level. As opposed to a new
mom and pop shop that just opened up and they don’t understand the role the
website’s going to play for them, and they don’t understand what a SEO is
yet. We’re just a better fit for established businesses that need to take
things to the next level. That’s the common thread as opposed to certain
industry or type.

Gotcha. OK. If I can put you on the spot just a little bit. My podcast has
been around for over two years at this point. I get a decent amount of
downloads but I want to take it to the next level. If I were to approach
you, what would your process be for, “Am I a good fit for you, and what
should my steps be?”

Sure. That’s a great way to discuss this, to use a real world example.
First of all, are you a fit? I can usually tell that right away just by
talking to someone about their business, and making sure that they are
already at the point where they know the role their website plays, and they
know it’s important. They know they have to invest in it. I could tell
pretty quickly that you’d be a serious prospect that would be able to work
effectively with us.

And that’s not just being picky because we don’t want to work with the
other kind, because we find it annoying or something. We can’t be as
effective unless we’re working with someone who really understands the role
their website plays in their business and understands at least at a high
level how SEO works and why we need to do what we need to do. Once that’s
all vetted out, then we’ll move into, if we’re officially kicking off and
working with someone we’ll move into what we call our Phase 1 planning

That starts with a deep dive discovery conference call where we have the
client pre-fill a questionnaire and then we go over it together and flesh
it out even further. About the company, the company’s history, what makes
the company different, who their target audience is, keywords they want to
get found for, wording that they don’t want to be associated with and so
on. A deep dive on the brand and the company.

We then take that and we do our keyword research process, which is very
in-depth. We go through thousands of potential keywords that could possibly
be a fit for that site. We just hoard it all into a big spreadsheet of good
potential candidate keywords, and then we cull it down based on
supply/demand calculations. We’ve come up with a couple of our own metrics
that we use that measure the size of the difference between the search
volume, and the competitiveness of phrases.

To find good opportunities for those that are searched often enough, but
not too competitive. And we come up with a list which is still pretty long
of phrases that are really good contenders, then we zoom out and we look at
that from a 30,000 foot view and come up with some key takeaways to discuss
with the client.

Just to stop you there for a second. When you talk about “Choosing the
keywords,” in this example I wouldn’t want “build” or “podcast” because
that’s a super common keyword. But I also wouldn’t want “podcast on how to
build super specific WordPress plugins.” Both of those are bad for
different reasons.

Those are opposite ends of the spectrum. The single words, like “build” or
“podcast,” or sometimes even two word phrases if they’re really popular,
are too popular. But we don’t want to go to the other end of the spectrum
and pick phrases that are too long and too specific that are hardly ever
typed in but may be very easy to rank for, but they’re hardly ever typed
in. So we’re going to find that sweet spot in the middle.

We also focus on right-sizing our selections for the client’s existing
traffic. If their website was getting, let’s say 900 visits of organic
search traffic a month. We would not want to pick a key phrase for you that
was searched 90,000 times a month because, to try to explain the rationale
behind this. If Google was willing to, or any search engine, I just
reference Google a lot as an example.

But if Google is willing to rank your site for a keyword that had 90,000
searches a month, your site would probably already have more than 900 total
hits a month. So it’s not an exact science and it’s not an exact math
formula, but we use that to stay in the realm of what would be attainable
for that site. If that makes sense.

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I guess, to go back to baseball. It would
be like if I just decide one day I want to play for Major League Baseball.
At 32 years old if I want to play for Major League Baseball I probably
would have already been on that path to play Major League Baseball. I’d be
playing Triple A ball or something at this point. I can’t just knock on the
Yankees door and be like, “I want to play for you guys.”

Right. That’s something that needs to be worked up to gradually. That’s the
approach that we take, so we can use higher volume keywords eventually over
time. But the way that we get there is we pick a whole bunch of right-sized
volume keywords and get traffic going for those until the point where the
site’s average is bigger and Google’s willing to trust it more. And then we
can work our way up.

That’s very cool. And I like that you said the word “trust” there. Because
that’s what you’re trying to do with good SEO, is Google’s almost like that
friend who you’re like, “Who’s the mechanic I should go to?” Google is
trying to be more like that now.

Absolutely. They want to show the results that are trusted resources for
the information. And there’s a lot of signals that go into showing Google
that your site is trustworthy, and one of them comes from ranking for a lot
of keywords and getting a good amount of traffic for those keywords that
are all ancillary angles of a single topic.

I describe it like building out chapters in your book. Showing Google that
you not only have a single page about this thing, but you have a whole
section on your site about this topic. Google’s indicated in the patents
they’re applying for that they’re trying to become more of a topical match
engine, showing up sites that holistically represent a whole topic as
opposed to a single simple keyword match engine. So that’s another reason
to pick a bunch of right sized smaller volume longer tail keywords, and
build up a whole portfolio of those, because then Google will eventually
trust you more for the broader or higher level higher volume general topics
that you’re trying to represent.

Gotcha. So if I want to become an authority within Google on podcasts, I
shouldn’t just write one blog post with a keyword. Maybe it’s the perfect
podcasting keyword. But it shouldn’t be one article, it should be, “How to
interview?” And, “How to pick the music?” And, “What editing software you
should use, what’s the best microphone?” I have an entire section now
dedicated to podcasting authority.

Exactly. To use podcasting as an example. There’s a bunch of legs about
that topic. Like you said, equipment and marketing of the podcast, getting
sponsors, etc. And some of those subtopics may even have more subtopics.
Hardware could have, the microphones versus the processing. That wouldn’t
be hardware, but the equipment could have hardware and software and other
subcategories so you can build out an outline.

You can just use Google search suggests to see what other terms come up
when you start searching a certain topic, and build out an outline to work
off of so that you fully flesh out each angle of the topic. And that’s the
next step in our process. Once we’ve gathered all those keywords, we look
at it from the perspective of, “How do we build this into an outline?” Then
we compare that to the sitemap and the existing content on the site, and
look at that from the perspective of what’s missing.

Now we know all these good keywords we want to use, all these good angles
of the topic we want to cover. What do they already have, what needs to be
built out, what’s the fit for the main part of the site to build out there
versus what are we going to do with blog content? So we really strategize
about what content we’re going to put where and how, and how to flesh that
topical outline out into a sitemap of pages and articles.

Gotcha. So once you have the right sized keywords, you come up with content
strategy. Is that reasonable? Is that a reasonable thing to say about it?
Or is it more like, this is the type of content you should build your own
content strategy around?

It is content strategy to a degree. We come up with at least a high level
content strategy, and we focus a lot on information architecture because
the way the content is organized and how it’s linked to each other and
whatnot very much matters for a SEO. So I would say it’s a content strategy
step but heavily focused on information architecture planning.

Gotcha. When I blog I notice that Yoast SEO, the plugin always yells at me
for not having an internal link. Is it stuff like that? That you talk
about? Like, “You’re going to write a post about this, and you should link
to a post you wrote about this. Because it’s important to forge that
connection.” Or is that oversimplifying?

Yes, that is a simplified version of what interlinking is and why it’s
important. We do try to look at it a little more holistically and look
ahead a bit, because we want to build out hubs and spokes of interlinks
that are very logical. Whereas on the lightest level, yeah, you can
absolutely just make sure that each of your blog posts is linked to
something else. That’s similar. But it’s even better when you really plan
it out in advance and think about what kind of content hubs do we want to
have on this site and how are we going to link them together? And that
keyword research data really helps visualize that from the get-go.

Very cool. Very cool. So we are chugging right along in this interview. I
know that we’ve talked a bit about coming up with a keyword strategy, you
also mentioned PPC is something you focus on, right?

Yes. SEO is not a fit for everyone. It takes a lot of time and effort and
resources and patience. So paid search and other forms of PPC are perfectly
suitable ways to get traffic quicker. Obviously, cost needs to come into
account. One of the analysis that we do there to determine if PPC is a fit,
is the estimated cost per click for the keywords they want to come up for.

And that’s important for setting a monthly budget. Because you have to cast
a wide enough net. Not every single person who clicks is going to become a
paying customer, so you have to make sure you get quite a good amount of
clicks out of your PPC effort. And if you set something like a $1,000
dollar a month budget for keywords that are averaging $30 dollars per
click, a thousand dollar a month budget boils down into approximately a $30
dollar a day budget.

So you’re allowing for one click a day. That’s not going to work. Then
you’ve got to go back to the drawing board and look for either more
longtail phrases, or just more specific aspects of the service or the
competitive angle or whatever it may be that might not cost as much if
that’s the fixed budget. Or, just use the PPC data to set a higher budget.
keyword analysis is very important in advance of deploying a paid search
strategy to make sure that it’s going to work and that you’re casting a
wide enough net.

Gotcha. So when we talk about PPC, “pay per click.” Those are the ads that
you’ll see on top of a Google search or perhaps Google ads embedded on
other sites. Do you consider things like Facebook ads part of that
strategy, or is that something completely different?

I do. I consider anything that you can pay for on a per click basis, or
even a per impression basis, to fall under the realm of PPC. We do other
types of PPC advertising like Facebook ads, YouTube ads, LinkedIn ads,
banner ads, retargeting, etc. But we highly encourage people to start with
paid search because even though the targeting options on those other forms
of advertising.

Particularly Facebook, the targeting options are great and you can be
pretty sure you’re going to get in front of the right type of person, but
it may not be the right time that they want or need something. There’s just
nothing like the high level of intent to buy that comes with someone who’s
sitting in front of a search engine and typing something in. They’re doing
that because they want or need it now or soon.

I see. It’s like driving past a billboard versus actually going into a

Exactly, yes. If I drive past a billboard and I happened to be the type of
person that likes Coca-Cola, maybe that will make me think of one and make
me want to go out of my way to get one, or get one next time I’m in the
store or whatever. But there’s just nothing like the likelihood of
purchases of, “I was a paying customer with money in my hand already,
walking into a store, or searching for a store that carries Coca-Cola
because I intend to get one right now.”

Gotcha. Wow. That is really fantastic advice. Usually people are just like,
“With Facebook ads just offer something for free and you’ll get more sign
ups.” And I don’t experiment that much with Facebook ads. I’ve been
thinking about it for one of my courses, but if people don’t care about
Gutenberg or don’t need to know about Gutenberg while they’re browsing
their Facebook profile, like you said. It’s not going to convert very well.

Right. And it does have its role, and it can convert some of the time. You
can catch those people who happen to be thinking about Gutenberg while they
happen to be scrolling through their Facebook feed. It can work. And it is
less expensive, so that is something to take into consideration too. Less
expensive on a per person reached basis than paid search. Paid search can
be pretty pricey.

Sometimes the budget isn’t there for that and then Facebook ads can be used
as a secondary choice, or if paid search is already in place and working
well and the brand wants to just get in front of even more people,
something like Facebook ads can be layered on top of that strategy. We just
encourage people to consider paid search as one of the primary tactics
first for budget allocation.

Very cool. We are coming up on time here. I’m going to ask you a very
nebulous question, I guess, based on how much of your process you have
described. What major part of your process, if any, are we missing? How do
we wrap up? Or is there a big piece in the middle that you’re like, “We
definitely should talk about this.”

Yeah sure. There’s probably just two more things I want to make sure to
touch upon to round out our Phase 1 planning process. The steps that we’ve
talked about thus far, the kickoff call, the keyword research step, the
information architecture content strategy step. That’s mostly content
strategy, so to wrap up and finish out content strategy, we do one final
step which is keyword mapping.

Now that we know the keywords we want to have and the pages we’re going to
have, we do more than one to one match up of exact phrases to exact pages.
We make a spreadsheet of the sitemap, this page should use these primary
phrases, these secondary supporting phrases, and so on. And we map that out
for the most important content on the site. Then we put together a
PowerPoint and wrap up the whole content strategy for the client.

And that rounds out the content strategy. But there’s a very important
piece that I didn’t mention yet, which is the technical planning. That runs
concurrent with the content planning during our holistic Phase 1 planning
process, and there we’re doing technical auditing of the site and checking
it for about 50 different technical best practices. We like to go deep and
cross every “T” and dot every “I”.

And we truly believe that crossing every “T” and dotting every “I” is
necessary for brands to compete well in the SERPs. I definitely don’t want
to glaze over the importance of that process, because that is something
that is super important, and we believe plays a very crucial role in any
SEO strategy. So the technical planning and auditing process when we take
on a client is very much a key part of the process.

Gotcha. I’m a developer by trade, so you’re speaking my language now. What
are maybe some of the most common things that people miss? What are the
things that you see come up in a lot of your technical planning audits?

Sure. Actually, some of the basics are often overlooked nowadays. I guess
there’s an assumption that some of the simple stuff isn’t needed anymore,
but we do see it make a big difference. For example, XML sitemaps. Making
sure you have one that is dynamically generated and that it’s submitted to
search console, formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools. Those small
little basic best practices still very much matter and have an impact.

We do see those skipped, and the number one thing we’re dealing with right
now is speed. Site speed has been in the desktop algorithm for several
years, so we’ve been focusing on it for some time. And it’s going to be
included in the mobile algorithm as of July of this year, and over 50% of
searches occur on mobile on Google. So that’s going to become even more
impactful. That is something that’s like the number one thing we see
developers, designers, and everyone turn a complete blind eye to.

It never occurred to them to develop the website to load quickly. And it’s such an important thing, not only for SEO but for conversion rate
optimization, too. The falloff stats for every second of page load time in
conversion is just unbelievable. But a lot of people, clients, developers,
designers. They are guilty of not paying attention to it at all. And so we
end up having the conversation for the first time, and sometimes it’s very
far off from where it needs to be, which is three seconds or less. Google
wants that on both desktop and mobile. That is definitely a huge part of
our technical analysis now.

Gotcha. One of my favorite stats, if you’re an e-commerce person, is 80% of
people will abandon their cart if it takes more than four or five seconds
to load. I just think about that. If you have a slow website, you could be
losing 80% of people who have already decided to purchase your product.

Wow. That’s an impactful stat.

Do you think that’s because people assume their content management system
handles that for them, or they’re willing to sacrifice speed because
they’ve got these big beautiful images and background videos? Or some
combination of the two?

I think it most of the time just hasn’t occurred to them. Probably because
they just never got to the point where they were personally frustrated with
the load time of their site, which they may not realize that other people
have a different experience than they have. If you go to your own site so
much, you’ve got the content cached in your browser. It’s not taking all
that long to load. You don’t think of it as unacceptable or problematic in
any way shape or form, and they don’t realize that it can differ for other
users. So it’s just not on their radar.

Here’s my developer tip for those of you making websites and you want to
test the speed. Go to an airport, Philadelphia Airport is great for this
because their internet is so bad, and connect to their Wi-Fi. Or go to
Starbucks on a very busy day, like Saturday afternoon, and try to load your
website and see what happens.

That’s another great point. Because a lot of people don’t realize that most
of the world may have a slower internet connection than them, and that
Google wants you to optimize for 3G mobile speed, not necessarily the 4G or
LTE or whatever you may happen to be lucky enough to have. They want you to
optimize for 3G connection.

So they came out with a tool recently called Lighthouse and it’s in dev
tools in Chrome. You can also get it as an extension. And that emulates a
3G cellular connection. And that is what we believe they’re going to use,
that testing technology, is what we believe they’re going to use for the
way they judge mobile speed on sites with this upcoming mobile speed
algorithm change.

Gotcha. So we today have the ability to test the exact way Google will test
our sites for speed, and determine–.

We assume it’s the exact way. We’re inferring that they’re going to, just
to cover our own butts here. We’re inferring and assuming that that’s the
method they’re going to use. That does rely on the computer, and you can
get some differences between different computers. So take it with a grain
of salt. They have said that a plus/minus fifteen point score difference is
expected between machines. But do make sure that you’re testing incognito,
logged out of your WordPress admin, and with all browser extensions
disabled. To minimize those variances.

Man, that is some great advice and a really good way to wrap up the show.
Except I need to ask you my favorite question. You just gave us a bunch,
but do you have any trade secrets for us?

Yes. My trade secret is to not keep your trade secrets a secret. I’ll
explain that a little more. We have found that one of the best ways we have
succeeded in growing a reputation, growing a business, winning clients is
to be completely transparent about all the ways that we do things. All of
our expertise. How we do things. We will train, if a client doesn’t want to
pay us to do it, we’ll train them. We’ll show them how to do it themselves.
We don’t care, we’re not being protective of anything that we know.

And that’s really set us apart, especially in this space which is full of
snake oil sales people. What’s been important in setting us apart and
building trust, is that we’re willing to tell you exactly how we do what we
do and exactly what tools we use. It definitely builds trust. And we’ve
even been paid to train some of our competitor’s staff. And I’ll do it, I
don’t care.

There’s plenty of business to go around. I don’t worry about it. Obviously,
I don’t publish everything that we’ve built over the past seven years for
free on the internet completely, but we do intend to turn some of our
process into online video courses that we can make money off of and
whatnot. I guess I should just rephrase it and say, don’t be overly
secretive with your trade secrets. Obviously there has to be some degree of

Absolutely. But even training your competitors. Sure, I’m a developer, and
I have a development course. I could be training my competitors, but with
development I’m sure much like SEO. Part of it is not just knowing it
today, it’s knowing how to know it three months from now, or six months
from now, or five weeks from now. You could teach a person all you want but
you can’t force them to keep their knowledge updated if they don’t want to.

Yeah. And there’s also something to be said for that real world practical
application and experience. Teaching the theory does not give away our
competitive edge at all, because a big part of our competitive edge is how
much experience we’ve seen in the wild, applying that theory with real
world practical application in all those messy situations, and knowing how
to navigate that. I’ll teach theory all day long and I will not be worried
that we’re going to lose any business for giving away our secrets.

And bringing it back to the baseball, the batter analogy. The Yankees in
the early to mid-2000s always hit Pedro Martinez well even though he was an
incredible pitcher, because they saw him pitch a lot, and they knew what to
expect and how to handle things. It’s a lot like that. The more pitches you
see, the better hitter you will be. So, awesome.

You really like the baseball analogies.

I love baseball. And at the time of this recording the Yankees are on a
tear right now, and they’re my team, so I will stick to that as long as

Awesome. I’m not too big of a baseball fan, but I could talk football with
you someday maybe, if you like football too.

Absolutely. I love football. Are you from Pennsylvania?

I’m from New Jersey, so I root for both of the local teams. The Giants and
the Jets, but more so the Giants because I’m forced to. All my good friends
are Giants fans. Except my boyfriend will kill me for saying this, because
he’s from Virginia and he’s a Redskins fan, so I have to root for them too.

Gotcha. Understandable. So you are from northern New Jersey, it sounds


OK, cool. I’m from New York, so I am also a Giants fan. Very cool. Pam,
where can people find you?

I can be found at All of the social medias that go
along with that. And our Stealth site is

Joe: I will link both of those in the show notes.
Pam, thanks so much for joining me today.

Thank you so much for having me. This was fun.

What a great conversation. I really liked what she said about Pay Per Click
vs. Facebook Ads and how Facebook Ads are kind of a billboard. I also like
the tools she told us about, like light house.

And Thanks again to our sponsors Pantheon, and Traitwar. Their support is
deeply appreciated.

The question of the week for you is have you ever tried pay per click or
Facebook ads? Let me know on Twitter at @jcasabona or email me,

For all of the show notes, head over to If you like the
show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It
helps people discover us! Thanks to those reviews, the show is currently
#22 in Apple Podcasts for Technology podcasts, so thank you so, so much.

You can also join the Facebook community over at I
want to build a strong community for this podcast, and Facebook is the
place to do it. I ask the question of the week over there too. And until
next time, get out there and build something!

The post Pam Aungst and SEO Process appeared first on How I Built It.

Sep 04 2018



Rank #14: Beka Rice and Jilt

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Closing out Season 4 is Beka Rice, Head of Product at Jilt! After an entire season about hearing about Jilt, Beka and I dig deep into how it was built, how to be effective with your abandoned cart emails, GDPR, and much much more. It’s a great way to close out the season and I’m very excited to have her on the show!

Show Notes

Sponsored by:
  • WordSesh: A must attend virtual conference on July 25th 2018 with highly curated speakers and virtual swag, for just $25.
  • Jilt: The easiest way to recover abandoned shopping carts on WooCommerce, easy digital downloads, and Shopify.
  • Liquid Web: Fast, Managed WordPress hosting whether your users are logged in or logged out. Get 50% off the first 2 months.
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Hey everybody! And welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Closing out Season 4 is Beka Rice, Head of Product at Jilt! After an entire season about hearing about Jilt, Beka and I dig deep into how it was built, how to be effective with your abandoned cart emails, GDPR, and much much more. It’s a great way to close out the season…but first, a word from our sponsors.

Sponsors: This season of How I Built It is brought to you by two great sponsors. The first is Liquid Web. If you’re running a membership site, an online course, or even a real estate site on WordPress, you likely already discovered that many hosts have optimized their platforms for a logged out experience, where they cache everything. Sites on their hardware are great for your sales or landing pages but struggle when your users log in. At that point, your site is as slow as if you were on $3.00 hosting. Liquid Web built their managed WordPress platform, optimized for sites that want speed and performance regardless of whether a customer is logged in or logged out. Trust me on this. I’ve tried it out and it’s fast. Seriously fast. Now, with their single site plan, Liquid Web is a no brainer for anyone whose site is actually part of their business and not just a site promoting their business. Check out the rest of the features on their platform by visiting them at That’s

It’s also brought to you by Jilt. Jilt is the easiest way to recover abandoned shopping carts on WooCommerce, easy digital downloads, and Shopify. Your WooCommerce clients could me leaving literally thousands on the table and here’s why. 70% of all shopping carts are abandoned prior to checkout. Yes, you heard that right. 70% of shoppers never make it to check out. That’s why you need to introduce your clients to Jilt. Jilt uses proven recovery tactics to rescue that lost revenue. It’s an easy win that lets you boost your clients revenue by as much as 15% and it only takes 15 minutes of your time to set up. Jilt fully integrates with WooCommerce, EDD, and Shopify. You can completely customize the recovery emails that Jilt sends and match your clients branding using its powerful drag and drop editor, or you can dig into the HTML and CSS. Even better, Jilt’s fair pricing means your clients pay only for the customers that actually engage. You get to earn a cut of that through Jilt’s partner program. Whether you have clients that process one sale per month or 10,000 sales per month, be the hero and help them supercharge their revenue with Jilt. Check them out at That’s

Now, on with the show.

Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today, I’m very excited to have Beka Rice, who is head of product of Jilt, on the show today. Beka, how are you?

Beka: I’m doing great, and thanks, Joe, for having me. I really appreciate the chance to take an opportunity to talk a little bit about what we’ve done today.

Joe: Oh, absolutely. My pleasure. I should say right off the bat, I’m very excited to have you on the show because Jilt has been a season long sponsor. If you’ve been listening to Season 4, you’ve heard me talk about them at the top and bottom of each show. I’m also a Jilt user, and it’s helped recover income for me. So I am a user of this product as well, and I’m a big fan. So I’m excited to really dig into it and talk about how you guys built it.

Beka: Yeah. yeah. First of all, thank you so much for using it. I was excited when we talked about doing this sponsorship to have somebody who’s kind of been interested in the product. So it’s been pretty cool to get feedback and your thoughts on it. So thanks so much.

Joe: Oh, my pleasure. So why don’t we jump right into it. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, and how you, as a group, came up with the idea for Jilt.

Beka: Sure. So in terms of my role, Jilt is built by SkyVerge, who if you’ve been WooCommerce space, you’ve probably recognize that name because we started out building WooCommerce extensions. So these days we have over 50 premium extensions on, and getting into that showed us a lot about what store owners really need and what is important to them. So while we were building WooCommerce, fewer people know that we also got into the Shopify space pretty early as well. Like six months or so after we had started getting involved in WooCommerce. So we had done that under a different brand name trying to kind of build up brand equity in both places and not get confusion between what works for Shopify and what works for WooCommerce.

Beka: So as we were really digging into those spaces really deeply, we were doing as much customer development as we could. So we did a lot of interviews. We were doing some client work at that time, and just trying to learn what are people’s biggest struggles when they’re starting a store. Kind of out of that came the concept of people A, don’t have time to set up the tools that are available to them, and B, also have trouble with marketing and they’re not sure how to do it or what best practices are because they know their product a lot of times and not too many store owners are coming to their store with a lot of marketing experience. So kind of out of that was our idea we want to do something that’s really easy to use that can do automation for marketing and that also builds in best practices so that people can get set up and not have to think about what they’re doing too much. They can customize it if they want to so we want to have power but really under the surface. So that’s kind of the idea of Jilt came. So it was originally actually only for Shopify, and then we sort of re-architected it and brought it in the WordPress space as well.

Joe: Wow. That’s fantastic. The part you said about marketing rings a 100% true. I just moved into the product space more or less full-time in June of last year, and I honestly thought it would be the same as selling services but I quickly learned that I could sell a $5,000 website to one person a lot easier than I could sell $50-$100 courses. So the marketing aspect of it has been very difficult for me in the product space. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned about cart abandonment in October when I went to CaboPress.

Well, that’s not actually true. I learned more about it but we actually met at Post Status Publish where you guys were promoting Jilt. So I had heard the term but I wasn’t keen on the value of it until I talked to a bunch of people running products who were like, “Yeah, you should do this.” I’m like, “Man. Well, Jilt does that. So I’m going to get Jilt.”

Beka: Awesome. It’s something that is interesting to me because the reason we started in cart abandonment and we’ve kind of started to expand from there, which we’ll talk about a little bit. But the reason we started in cart abandonment was because there’s so much money that is just sitting there from it, and it tends to be the number one revenue driver for stores whose customers are coming in. Everybody has kind of heard that metric there’s 68% of your carts are abandoned. Our data supports that. We have like 65% or 66% among our customers. So it’s a ton of revenue that people are leaving, and we find that just by sending recover emails, out about those abandoned carts, 15% to 20% of them can be recovered. So it ends up being a huge revenue boaster for small stores, especially to optimize existing traffic, the traffic you’re not paying more money to acquire. It’s already there. So it ends up being super powerful for these small merchants and then amazingly powerful for really large merchants too.

Joe: Man, that’s fantastic. So when you were kind of getting into cart abandonment and building out Jilt, was there a lot of research that went into it, or was it mostly the interviews that you were having, the services and the other plugins? I didn’t realize that you guys had a bunch more extensions on the WooCommerce platform. You said 50 I think, 50 plus?

Beka: Over 50.

Joe: Over 50. Yeah.

Beka: I don’t know the exact count these days, but it’s a lot.

Joe: Yeah, that is a lot more than I thought you had. So what kind of research went into building out Jilt?

Beka: Well, the research component has always been a strong function for us, and so having built a lot of those extensions, one of our most popular ones being memberships, right? We kind of go through the same process for all of those where it’s a lot of customer interviews, development, and validating the space with existing competitors and what they’re doing, and kind of looking at what we need to address those needs and where we can fill a gap that we feel lik exists. So with Jilt, when we were doing the research for it, it seemed like it was a problem that Shopify merchants were more aware of than WooCommerce merchants at the time. So what we found is actually acquired an existing customer list in the name Jilt. So it wasn’t trademarked when we acquired it. There was an app developer in the Shopify space who had shut it down completely. We were sort of looking for an opportunity in that space. Actually kind of had Jilt as one of the names we were interested in. So he had shut the app down a while back. We’re like, “Hey, you don’t have a lot of customers, and you’re not running this anymore, but we’re interested in just kind of acquiring this customer list so we can talk to them and then we want to bring this app back.”

Beka: So we ended up buying that to get started and do a lot more research with those customers who were already doing this. We didn’t have a huge success rate, obviously, in talking to those people. But it was enough to say, “Yes, this is an awesome idea. We should revive this.” Rebuilt the entire thing from scratch, brought it back on to the Shopify platform, and then expanded into other platforms from there, understanding that merchants that were already doing it were having huge success rates, and merchants that weren’t doing it were interested in it once they understood the problem. So we knew that both getting the product out there to address this need first as well as also start getting some education around it would be a really powerful combination.

Joe: Yeah. Wow. That’s great. I’ve learned recently that you should try to piggyback off of other audiences is maybe not the best way to say it, but the fact that you’re working with an established audience of something that was called Jilt that people were definitely interested in, I’m sure was hugely helpful, as you said. So that’s a very cool kind of avenue, not really the answer I was expecting.

Beka: I mean, it’s sort of an interesting thing for us because we were mostly trying to see if we could buy our way into more customer development and then we’d always planned on building it. So the app that we have now is something our team built from scratch, but the name really grew on us and we were like, “Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s trademark it. Let’s actually use this, and continue with it.” So it was sort of not our typical path for building things where we do everything from scratch, but it was kind of faithful moment to find a customer base that we could talk to and acquire essentially. Then spend something back up for this.

Joe: Awesome. So I think that a lot of people could probably visualize the abandoning carts themselves, right? You click through, you add a bunch of things, you go, “Ah. I’m not ready to pull the trigger,” or you’re on a website that doesn’t have that one click like Amazon has so you put in your address and then you’re like, “Do I really want to do this,” then you put in your credit card, and you’re like, “Do I really, really want to do this?” So there’s a lot of steps in between to kind of … There’s a lot of opportunity to abandon cart if you don’t make check out as easy as possible, and I bring this up because part of the abandoned cart process is sending emails to people who have volunteered that information. I know that you guys, around the time of this recording, released a feature, and we’ll get in to kind of building the whole thing in a minute. But I’m just really curious about this. What do you find is the best way to collect that initial email to make sure that those abandoned cart emails are going out, right? Because if someone’s not putting in an email address and then you can’t send that email to somebody.

Beka: Exactly. With the concept of abandoned carts, we break that down internally into recoverable and nonrecoverable carts, and you have to have an email address for something to be recoverable. If it’s not recoverable, you could look at retargeting and stuff like that, but I find that that tends to be way less effective than email does. So with recoverable carts, the key is, as you said to get the email address whenever you can. So we do that on checkout or if we have a registered user, we’re golden there because we already associate everything in that cart with that user as early as possible. But then it comes into kind of the area where you have guest users and you don’t know their email address. What are ways you could do that?

Beka: So what you mentioned is we added a feature that you can enable where when someone adds something to the cart, we’ll do a pop over that says, “Hey, would you like to reserve this item in your cart? Your email will save this for you.” Then we can capture that email earlier, the first time someone tries to add something to the cart. If they opt not to do it then, it’s a little difficult, right? We encourage people to stay, get people into the cart, get people into checkout. With our plugin we move the email field up to the first field in checkout so that it’s right there and hopefully people fill it out first. We’re trying to increase the number of carts that are recoverable. We’re also working on integrations with other forms so that you can say if someone’s opting into your mailing list, for example, we can capture that email and set it. So that’s a problem we’re constantly trying to address and constantly trying to expand the number of recoverable carts. But obviously in a way that’s respectful of your customers and makes sure that they’re explicitly entering that to opt into it.

Joe: Yeah. Right. That makes sense. I’ve heard people doing techniques where like they’ll use kind of JavaScript on … They’ll use JavaScript to like secretly capture the email address, and I’m sure that’s super effective. But I know that some people might think that’s a questionable thing to do. The, “Do you want us to reserve your cart?” I feel like that’s a very cool way to solve that problem because you’re now providing a service kind of to the customer. You’re saying, “Hey. Go away, we’ll hold this for you. Don’t worry about it.”

Beka: Exactly, and on our end, we feel that the checkout is a little bit different of an email just because that shows intent to purchase. So we do capture email addresses there as someone’s feeling out the form, but other places on the site, I definitely agree with you, it can be unexpected for customers to have … Like, “Whoa. I didn’t submit that mailing list form. Hold on a second. That’s a little weird.” So we do try to tune down the sort of Big Brother like thing that can happen there, and we try to find ways that makes sense in the UI so we felt like that probably was a good way to do that. Even though on those shopping carts, your cart sessions would expire after a given time. We’ll store them forever on Jilt. So even though you can tell your customer, “We’re going to clear this cart out for you,” we make sure that it’s always recoverable so that cart can always been then regenerated later on to maximize the number of purchases you can save.

Joe: Great. Man, that’s fantastic. I mean, so we talked about the research. We talked about kind of talking to your customers. Are there people in the business space that you talk to? I always like to ask this question because this podcast kind of started as a mastermind I was having with other people that I’m like, “I should record these conversations.” Are there other kind of contemporaries that you talk to about adding features or what they’re doing and working with other people?

Beka: Absolutely. We’ve been very fortunate in that respect in having worked with a lot of companies in the WooCommerce space via our extensions that are all under SkyVerge there. So we have a lot of great conversations with partners as to how they do things and advice, which is awesome. A great example is we work with Avalara to build their Ava Tax Connector for WooCommerce. They’re team is awesome. So they are super generous with their time and what’s cool is we focus on building a great product for them. But they’re also really great resources for us. I can ask them, “Hey, how do you guys approach partnerships? How do you do this? How do you do that?” That mastermind concept is super powerful, right?

Beka: So we have an existing network that we try to leverage that we can and then also, selling a B2B product ends up being pretty cool because our customers are also business owners. So digging into that with customers is really insightful because they can give you feedback on a couple different levels being business owners themselves. So our customer development ends up being different than I think most people who are selling direct to consumer, but for us, every interview ends up being a gold mine of just cool concepts that merchants are doing and how they’re running their business. It helps us to build a product that really hits on needs of both them and their customers.

Joe: That’s great. Yeah, it’s almost like … I mean, as a programmer, I feel like if I’m giving feedback to another programmer, I need to bring my A game as far as that feedback goes because I hope for that when I get it from my users, right? I’m not just going to say this isn’t working. I’m going to say, “I tried it at this time right before this. Here’s a screenshot.” So that’s great. The other thing about a B2B product is I imagine that people will see the value a lot more quickly than just a regular, not regular consumer, but B2C, right? Especially in the WordPress space, I find it’s hard to convince people who are using a free open source product to pay for other good products, right? You see it in the Android space. You see it in the WordPress space where people want the free thing, but they’re not willing to pay for the paid thing even though it might save them hours of time.

Beka: Yeah, and it does make it way easier to sell because you set up this product and it makes you money. It’s pretty easy sales pitch for us where we can say, “What’s your revenue right now? How many orders do you have? This is what we think we’ll recover for you. That’s going to be more than what you’re paying every month.” You do certainly get people who are like, “Well, I could do this with a free plugin. Why should I pay for a service to do it instead?” Then we treat that as just an education opportunity. Say, “Well, there are certain things that WordPress is terrible at. Scheduling events is one of them and sending emails is another. These aren’t things you want to be doing on site.” So we do definitely see that, and it’s not necessarily systematic with open source but I think just kind of you get price anchored at things that are free. To be fair, we do offer a free plan just so we can support people who are getting started. But we look at it as an opportunity to open up a dialogue about education and why we do things the way we do.

Joe: Yeah, that’s a great approach. Not to make this like a complain fest are anything, but I hear the same thing. “Why should I buy your course when I can get it for free on YouTube?” I take that opportunity to say, “Sure. You can get it for free on YouTube, but you don’t get access to me as the instructor or you don’t get to ask your specific questions anywhere except for the YouTube comments, which are like a terrible place most of the time. Sure, you can get the content probably for free, but for $50 or whatever, you are also getting access to me and my 16 years of experience do this.” So yeah.

Beka: Yeah. We’ve definitely found that once people appreciate that opportunity then to ask questions and say, “Oh, well I didn’t know this. Can you explain that further to me?” So it ends up being kind of a cool opportunity to chat with people, and especially in our position, what I find powerful is we’ve built tons of plugins. So we can say, “Coming from what started as a plugin shop, there’s a reason we didn’t do it this way and here’s why.”

Joe: Right. Yeah. Absolutely. I think the most important lesson here is to kind of kill them with kindness, right? Don’t respond to their snark with more snark because you’re not going to make a customer out of that person. Where if you’re nice, you might make a customer out of that person.

Beka: Yeah. Exactly. That’s a great way of saying it.

Joe: So while we’re pretty well into this interview and I haven’t asked the title question yet so, and this one gets to rhyme. I’m really excited about this. We were talking about this before we started recording. So let’s talk about how you built Jilt.

Beka: There are tons and tons of layers that go into Jilt, and when we started, we knew that we did want to build this as an app. It’s something that was offsite, despite having had a ton of experience in WordPress. We’ve also had a lot of experience with hosted apps in the Shopify space. We know that trying to schedule events, WordPress plugin is just going to go poorly. So it was a pretty clear choice to us that this was something that we were going to build as a standalone service if we were going to do right, which is important our team. We want to try and do things the best way.

Beka: So we started out by building it in Ruby-On-Rails because that was what our main proficiency was as a team. We were building Shopify apps in Ruby. So it’s build with Ruby-on-Rails and Prospress. As we’ve kind of continued with Jilt, we’ve sort of started the brand a lot more components. Like we use Elastic Search under the hood now to determine campaign entry roles, and we’re starting to expose some of the Elastic Search abilities via segmentation, which we’re going to be rolling out in a couple weeks. So that you can target specific customers and orders instead of just general campaign rules. Like every carts that’s abandoned, it’s really important to us to let you say, “Nope, I want this cart that was abandoned with these characteristics.”

Beka: We also use Angular and UJS in a couple different parts of our app for customer facing features like the email editor and/or segmentation rules UI, which is been in progress for sometime and we’re getting pretty close to now, which I’m very excited for. Then we also use Intercom pretty heavily for in app messaging and support, which ends up being really powerful for a service like what we do to make sure that people can textually get help. “Yes, I’m in the email editor page, I want help with email. Can you help me get this set up?”

Joe: Very nice. Man, so there’s a lot of things here that I want to parse out. It sounds like in the … So first of all, I heard Angular and View, but what about React?

Beka: Everything in it’s place. We just felt like it wasn’t the right fit for us. I mean, we got started originally with the email editor in Angular because that was what we knew, and so it was the fastest way for us to get tat done. But we found that with the segmentation UI, getting started with View has given us much better tools. So the person who’s been leading that kind of switched over to that. So we are definitely not huge proponents of any particular JavaScript framework, and I know I’m probably going to upset some people just by saying that, but we try to use whatever we feel like is the best tool for the job. We don’t get tied to any particular tool or pattern or method of doing something. Evolution is a really big, important part of our company culture. So if we decide to change it in the future, we’ll change it.

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Joe: Absolutely. I mean, if anybody does get annoyed, I will happily defend your point because I’m much more interested in learning Vue than React. I know that react has gotten a lot easier to develop on with like a … I think Human Made put out like some easy build tool, but when I was looking into it, it was like, “Install this million things, and then run them and then maybe you can start writing code.” I’m like, “I just want to write code. I don’t want to build the car and the drive it.” So that aside, just like the JavaScript trolling aside, you mentioned that you knew you wanted to build an app because of the scheduling. In a previous episode I talked to Blair Williams of MemberPress, and he mentioned the difficulties of using WP-Cron, which is what I immediately thought of when you said, “You want to make sure the scheduled emails and building stuff on top of WordPress.” Was that something that kind of came into … Was that something that you were kind of thinking about? I know that WP-Cron only fires like when visitors hit the website.

Beka: Yeah. Having been in the WooCommerce space and working really closely with Prospress who built WooCommerce subscriptions, they are probably most acutely aware of every downside of using WP-Cron. So we knew that was not an opinion for us at all because of the fact that when you’re scheduling that number of events, you’re not guaranteed reliability in when Cron is going to fire, and those events are going to happen. More importantly, every Cron event is stored in a single option, which if you’ve worked with Cron, you’re probably nodding along and like, “Yep. It’s terrible.” So that’s why the subscriptions plug in actually uses Cron to just trigger a runner with their own custom scheduling library, which stores every event as a separate post, which they’re also in progress in moving to a custom table instead.

Beka: So what happens then is when you get to scale and you got a lot of events scheduled, you end up basically exhausting the maximum size of that option to store events. So we knew as soon as we were getting started with this that trying to do this on site was totally out of the question for us with the amount of emails that we were going to be scheduling. Because if you think about the number of orders you have, right? You’ve got twice as many been in cart. So imagine tripling the size of that orders table and sending emails for two out of every three of those. It’s a lot of events. So we knew going into this that that was not going to be something that was even on the table.

Joe: Gotcha. Yeah. Again, that makes perfect sense. You also take out the unknowns of other people’s hosting environments, right? Liquid Web is a very good host, very friendly to WooCommerce especially. But if somebody’s running on … Well, I won’t call out any hosts, but if somebody’s running on a host that’s not as friendly to running just regular Cron or WP- Cron or handling a bunch of events, your product could fail due to the environment, which is not necessarily your fault or within your control.

Beka: Right. We do have a number of things that are sort of happening on site just because of the fact that we wanted to have the tightest integration we can, but definitely if we can eliminate some of those variables to improve liability, it’s a huge win for the people who are using our service.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. So for anybody who’s not using Jilt, you have the app that is off site, kind of your hosted thing, and then you have the plugin that gets installed on your WooCommerce site or the, is it an extension on Shopify? So you install these components mostly to have the right data to be sending information, right?

Beka: Yep. So we could look at things purely via the WooCommerce rest API. But there are components that are better managed on site for reliability. So we do have the integration plugin that kind of rests on site, gives you set up options on site, and does some of those mission critical functions also in integrating with other extensions so that we can try and make Jilt as seamless as possible with WooCommerce. So the plugin itself isn’t doing a ton of heavy lifting. We try to offload as much to the app as we can, but it makes it pretty easy for people to get set up, and a lot of people are also really used to that. For example, with WooCommerce you realize, “Okay. If I want payment processing, I’ve got to install a plugin that connects a payment processor.” So with Jilt we do that. We try to make it really simple so when you install Jilt for WooCommerce, there’s like a one click sign up that’s like, “Here, yep. Connect to Jilt. Create an account. Cool. Come back, you’re ready to go.” So the plugins are what we’re using to connect, and then in the Shopify space, it ends up being a little bit different. Our Jilt Shopify app is actually built into the core Jilt app itself because we are doing everything via the API there with it being hosted.

Joe: Gotcha.

Beka: But it ends up looking the same where you’re in the app store and you click, “Yep, I want this app.” Connect, and then it connects to Jilt app.

Joe: Cool. Very cool. So I have one more followup question on building it, and it’s solely because this episode will be coming out around the time that this is happening, so I’m sorry I didn’t prep you for this. I just thought of it now. GDPR, do you have any thoughts on how that could affect shop owners or your people, if not we can totally edit this part out.

Beka: No, no, no. Yeah, it’s terrifying. I mean, not really terrifying, but it’s a lot. So the biggest thing that’s difficult for me with GDPR it’s a huge burden on both small merchants and small product builders like our company, right? We don’t have an in house equal team to refute EU regulations, nor do we know EU lawyers. We’re usually finding them through networks that we’ve built. So it’s a lot of compliance stuff, and I do worry how platforms themselves are going to handle it.

Beka: What we found on our end is that WooCommerce core has already added a couple PR’s in place to try to address this. By the time this airs, those might be merged, which lets your customers say, “I want you to delete my data from the site. I don’t want you to have my data anymore.” The problem being that you can’t just delete their orders, right? Because it’s illegal to delete those records for tax purposes. So you end up having this weird situation in which you have to anonymize some of the custom data but not all of it because we need to know where that customer was for tax ability purposes. So it ends up being a huge burden try and technically figure out how to do this. So WooCommerce core is working on it.

Beka: Liquid Web has a plugin actually already that you can install to do this for you. So they’ve been ahead of the curve there. Then there’s also the concept of opt in, which is the one that affects us most. So when a customer says, “I wan to reserve this item in my cart,” we have to say, “and here’s how we’re going to use your email address in this specific instance.” You have to explain what that opt in is going to do, and if you have an email list that you use or multiple purposes like marketing this and marketing this and marketing this, you have to lay out every single one of those opt ins when you’re opting the customer in, and they all have to be unchecked by default. So there’s a lot of maintenance burden that goes into it.

Beka: On our end, we’ve been sort of just watching what platforms are doing. So what WooCommerce is doing, what Shopify is doing. To see what we should be doing on site to piggyback that. On our end, that also affects us as a business owner who has EU customers to say, “Well, when our customers request to delete data, what do we have to do with our data?” Fortunately, we had already been in progress in making this simpler for ourselves to get the UK privacy shield certification done. So we can handle that on our side, but kind of helping our merchants me GDPR compliant has been our biggest focus right now. So it’s definitely pretty onerous for small business owners. I mean, just as much as the that moss regulations or for merchants in the EU a few years ago.

Joe: Right. Yeah. Because that’s the thing, right? This is an EU regulation that’s trying to be a kind of global regulation, and at this point, you can say, “Well, the EU doesn’t have jurisdiction in the United States, over the United States customers at least.” But we have to wait for like Google to sue the EU if they’re going to do that. Better safe than sorry.

Beka: For us, if we only had merchants based in the U.S., we probably wouldn’t be concerned with it. But we’ve got a significant user base in the EU whose in the same boat, right? We don’t want them to feel like, “Oh my gosh. This is overwhelming.” So if we can do something that helps them comply with that, we’re certainly keen on looking into it. But I can’t imagine being a merchant and being in this position and saying, “Oh my gosh. Now I’ve got … I can’t afford to hirer a developer to do all these things for me.” So fortunately, WooCommerce itself has been kind of looking into that and trying to give merchants tools they need to be compliant with it, but it’s a lot. It was definitely very, from what I saw, hasty. People didn’t know this existed until a month ago.

Joe: Right. That’s exactly … I was like, “When did this happen,” right? I mean, I have hear, “Oh, this thing passed today and in two years it’ll be a thing.” I feel like GDPR, which for those of you who don’t know, it’s like a data privacy act that … I guess, what’s the best way to describe it? It requires people who are collecting data on their websites to give their users an option to just get rid of all the data at its most basic level, right? I’ll have a link in the show notes to something that describes it more thoroughly. But I feel like it happened and now in May it’s happening.

Beka: Yeah. The first time I had heard of GDPR was, I mean, I think January. It was like, “Oh, okay. We’ll have to worry about that at some point,” and then it’s like, “Nope, you have to worry about it now.” It’s overwhelming. For a small team like ours, I mean, it certainly puts a big burden on us, which is not particularly welcome. But we can then empathize with the small merchants we work with who are in the same position.

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great way to put it. That’s a very positive spin on that. So I really like that. We’ve talked a bit about the transformations of Jilt and how you acquired it and how you built it. What are your big plans for the future? This episode is dropping in May. So stuff that we’re talking about today that could be out by May, maybe. I don’t want to tie you to any of that. But the big things that you’re working on for the next few months.

Beka: Yeah. We have a ton in progress always. So right now our main focus has been getting segmentation UI available to people who are using our app so that when you send cart abandonment emails and post purchase followup emails, which we already do, that you can target those to your customers a bit better. So that’s the immediate focus. Longer term, it’s really important to us to be able to send emails that are going to make you more money. So we’re looking at other kinds of emails that are going to help you do that. So abandoned cart recovery emails make the most money on average, but there are tons of other emails that do that.

Beka: So for example, welcome emails. They don’t make a ton of money directly, but they make all your other emails more likely to be read. So we’re working on better welcome emails like, “Thanks for your first purchase,” or, “Thanks for registering as a customer on the site.” To get those other emails read, better post purchase follow ups, and win back emails. So we have the structure in place to do all of this now, which has been a pivot for us because Jilt doesn’t originally build to do what it’s doing now, and we’ve done a lot of infrastructure work. So I’m super excited over the next few months to start to put all the infrastructure we’ve refactored into play and say now we can make it easier to do welcome emails and then we can do win back emails. Let’s say after 60 days, someone hasn’t purchased.

Beka: We’re also looking at tighter integrations with other plugins given that we have a really unique skillset, a particular set of skills, right? That other companies don’t have. So working with things like memberships and subscriptions and other extensions. We want to get really granular there and give you a super seamless experience between your site and other extensions. That extends into things like other apps on Shopify that we can work together with and integration partnerships, other plugins and easy digital downloads as well because we think that space sort of gets ignored a little bit by bigger players and knowing that space very well, we can do the same thing there.

Beka: We’re very excited for more types of email sending that are onboarding and even more integrations, especially with the tools in a particular platform.

Joe: That’s great. I can definitely speak to the welcome, post purchase emails. I sell online courses. So LearnDash, my LMS, has an add on for that. So when somebody signs up for a course, I send them a welcome email. When they complete a certain module, I send them a follow up like, “Hey, how it’s going? You probably just took the hardest part of this course.” People are always surprised when they respond and I respond back. So adding that human element is really important and very difficult for an online shop. The things that you just said that you’re working on can really help bring that human element.

Beka: Oh, absolutely. Then that’s one of the things that I love about automation is people think of automation and they think it’s impersonal, right? You get this thing in your head about like automated call systems is always the thing that comes to mind for me. That’s not the case. It’s a way to get more personal because you can do things in a way that previously wouldn’t have scaled for you. When you have an online store 10 years ago, every customer looks the same to you. So you’re sending all of them the same emails. You’re sending all the same order receipts and things like that. That doesn’t have to be the case anymore. We can get more targeted and more granular.

Beka: Our goal is very long term that we want to be able to send every email in your customer’s life cycle for you eCommerce store. That means for stores that sell subscriptions we need to give you tools to say, “I want to send this to subscribers, but I want to send this to everybody else.” For membership stores that means, “I want to send these emails when new content is available. I want to send this information when you switch a membership.” All of these things that help you stay in contact with your customers and build a relationship. Building that relationship is essential for building loyalty and building repeat customers.

Beka: So it’s an ambitious goal but we’re definitely … We make progress towards it every single day.

Joe: Hugely helpful because right now in order for me to do that, I need to make sure that I tag customers in ConvertKit when they buy something so that I can then send them an email when they have that tag. If I don’t have to worry about … There’s a plugin that’s like customer email purchase list or something like that that gives me a list of all the emails, but, again, I want to make things as automatic as possible. I’m a one man band. So I don’t want to have to remember to send out these emails because they probably won’t get sent out, and then it seems impersonal, right? The automated email is something I don’t have to remember to do, and then when somebody responds, I get to respond to them. So, like you said, it does make things … It creates opportunities to be a lot more personal.

Beka: Yeah, exactly, and that’s what we’re looking to do is help you build those relationships with your customers and keeping instated communication with them is one of the best ways to do that.

Joe: Great. Great so we’ve gotten a lot of really good information here, and I want to end with my favorite question, which is do you have any trade secrets for us?

Beka: You know I thought about this one, and the one that came to mind was like send abandoned emails because as someone who builds an app for that, when we get leads who don’t convert, we’ll send them followups and stuff like that. So apply that to your business no matter what you do. But I guess more specifically to building products, both downloadable software and SAS products, the biggest thing that we found that has helped us be successful is to invest in your customers. So we try to spend a lot of time on customer education and helping them solve problems and talking to them and trying to understand what challenges their business faces. It’s a big time investment. It’s hard to do, right? But when we do that, we find that we learn so much about their journey and what they’re doing that it helps us big much better products and be more successful as a company as a result. So that kind of concept of investing in your customers has really benefited us in what we’ve been doing.

Joe: Yeah. Calling back to what you said earlier, it helps you empathize with your customers more, which is what we want. That’s excellent, excellent advice. Invest in your customers, and of course send abandonment emails. I can vouch for that definitely. It’s definitely … It’s worth the investment. You definitely make what you paid and more in that investment.

Joe: So Beka Rice, thanks for joining me today. I really appreciate the time.

Beka: Yeah, thanks so much, Joe. We’re both in Pennsylvania enjoying being snowed in right now. So we had nothing better to do, right?

Joe: Yeah, exactly. Hopefully by the time this comes out it’ll be nice and we’ll be able to spend time outside, but we’re snowed in right now. Where can people find you?

Beka: So you can find me on Twitter @Beka_Rice. I also write on our blog on our blog and many times if you really want to get ahold of me, if you’re one of those contact forms, you say my name three times like Beetlejuice, I pop up. So feel free to reach out. I do love talking to people about what they’re doing. So you can always get ahold of me through either one of those sites.

Joe: Thanks again to Beka for joining me today! I’m a huge fan of Jilt and was honored to have their support for this season. I have an even bigger appreciation of it now that I know some of the under-the-hood stuff. If you do anything with ecommerce and carts, check them out (their blog is great too!)

And Thanks again to our sponsors – make sure to check out Liquid Web for managed WordPress hosting. I use them on all of my important sites – they are that good! They are at They’ll give you 50% off your first 2 months just for being a listener! If you want to save your clients (or yourself) money through recovering abandoned carts, check out jilt. They are over at Finally, be sure to check out WordSesh. An incredibly affordable, 12 hour online conference with some of the biggest thought leaders in WordPress. get your tickets at

For all of the show notes, head over to If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! Finally, if you like the show and what to support it directly, head over to I’ll continue to push out content there even during the break. So if you can’t get enough of the show, Patreon’s your best bet to get even more great stuff!

Thanks so much for listening this Season – it’s been the best season so far! I have big plans for Season 5, so be sure to stay subscribed and keep an eye out for that, dropping in a few weeks. So until next season, get out there and build something.

The post Beka Rice and Jilt appeared first on How I Built It.

May 29 2018



Rank #15: 100: How I Built My Podcast

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I can’t believe we’ve reached episode 100! This episode is an introspective (retrospective?) on how I built How I Built It. I’ll go over the idea, what I’ve learned over 2 years of podcasting, some pretty sweet automation, and more. I want to everyone who’s listened, shared, came on, and sponsored the show. I wouldn’t have been able to get here without all of you!

Question of the week: Why haven’t you started your podcast? Let me know in the comments or at

Show Notes

Sponsored by:
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  • Pantheon: Get ready for Gutenberg. Sign up for a FREE account today.
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Hey everybody. Welcome to episode 100 of How I Built It. In today’s episode, I don’t have a guest. This is a little bit new to me. This is just going to be me, talking to you about how I built this podcast. Over the last two and a half years I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how I put together the show, how I built the website, how I built my audience.

I’m going to run through the questions I normally ask, but it’s just going to be me answering them. I hope you like it. It’s a little bit of an introspective, or a retrospective maybe, for the hundredth episode. I’m excited to talk about this with you, the people who have made this show possible. Thank you so much for that.

Before we get started, I do want to tell you that the show is sponsored by Pantheon, our season-long sponsor. I will mention them again later in the show. I also want to tell you that I have launched a brand new course called Build Your Podcast Website in Three Days. I’m going to be talking a little bit about how I built How I Built It, but this course gets into the technical nitty gritty.

We talk about signing up for hosting and buying a domain, installing a platform for you to host your podcast, setting up Castos for audio and then submitting your show to the likes of iTunes and Spotify. I’m excited about the course, and you can get a special offer for the next seven days from the time this is released. That’s about early November.

You’ll get a special offer if you go to Definitely check that out. I’ll tell you again about Pantheon later in the show. Without further ado, let me tell you about how I built How I Built It.

Most of you know who I am and what I do, so we can skip that question. I am a front-end web developer, I’m an educator, but the podcast is what we’re talking about today. I came up with the idea for this show in maybe the late middle of 2016. I had just gone on my honeymoon, we were in Italy, and most of the websites had a .it domain. I thought that would be a cool domain name, but I didn’t have an idea attached to it. Fast forward to when I got home from my honeymoon, I realized that I wanted to revamp my online courses or the way I was doing education.

I was teaching at the University of Scranton, but I had just moved away from Scranton. I wanted to keep teaching, and I thought, “Maybe webinars would be a good way, or in person, classes might be a good way.” Neither of those worked out. Ultimately, I had to do online courses. I was having conversations with a lot of people on what I could do to position myself properly while also not competing with friends who were in the same space.

The conversations that I was having were so valuable that I thought, “Other people should be hearing this. Other people should be privy to the information that my friends and others are freely giving me.” So I decided to buy the domain and start the podcast with that in mind.

I bought the podcast domain through GoDaddy because I am a US citizen so I could not just full-out buy an .it domain. They have a brokerage program, so that’s how I got the domain, and then I decided to start the show that way. That’s how I came up the idea. As far as research goes, I’m not great at researching. I’ve probably said this a lot throughout the years, but I did want to make sure I did this right.

First of all, I wanted to make sure that there was not another show out there already doing this. And at the time, there wasn’t. About three months later there would be, and I’m just considering that validation of my own idea.

But I did look in iTunes to see what kind of podcasts were covering this sort of topic, and I was going to stick in the WordPress space, so I limited my search a little bit to maybe business and technology. Business, technology and WordPress and there wasn’t something out there. So I thought, “OK. This is good. I’m not going to have the exact same show as somebody else.”

Then I researched how I would put this together. Naturally, I would use WordPress because I’ve been using WordPress forever. I have a custom theme that I built called Parsec, and I figured I could modify that to do the podcast things that I wanted to do. But it was my friend Jackie D’Elia who is a graphic and web designer and a Genesis developer, and she has a podcast called Rethink.FM. She was on season 1 of the show, and she asked me, we were in a mastermind together and she asked me, “Where are you hosting your audio?”

And I was like, “I was going to host it in WordPress. Just upload the audio files.” She goes, “You probably shouldn’t do that. I’m going to host mine with LibSyn, and you should look into separate audio hosts for a few reasons.” So I dove into researching that. And I thought, “How many people are using a separate audio host?” It turns out most of the podcasts I listen to used LibSyn for a bunch of reasons.

If you’re using a separate audio host, iTunes I learned, pulls the audio from that host. They don’t download your show and serve it up through their servers. You want a good rock solid host for your MP3s. These other services, LibSyn, Castos and whatever else is out there, also provide analytics. So you get download numbers, and where your show is being downloaded from geographically, and what app, and you get other information about analytics for your show. That turned out to be important and here’s why.

When I first started the show, I thought I would use this to cross promote my online courses, so I wasn’t going to accept sponsors. But then somebody wanted to sponsor the show, and I thought, “I’m not going to turn away money, but I’m going to change the scope a little bit. Now, this show is going to be sponsored.” So I got lucky in that regard, but I’m glad that I did that initial research because if I had just uploaded the MP3s to the WordPress directory, it would have been a burden on my host.

The original host I was using, the show was already burdensome, and I wouldn’t have the statistics for my pitch deck which has now evolved to send to sponsors. I wouldn’t know how many people were downloading the show except for maybe my Google analytics. I’m glad I did that research, and I’m glad Jackie said something about that.

I also researched the gear. I had this Samson Meteor– I think it’s a Samson Meteor mic. It was fine, but I used this opportunity to get a Blue Yeti and a boom arm for the Blue Yeti so that it wasn’t in my way. I looked at what software I should use. I was using a Mac full time at that point, so I would use Garage Band. “Do I need a pop filter?” So I built out version 1.0 of my podcast set up, which was a Blue Yeti, a boom arm, and a pop filter. That was the extent of it. I knew how to put a WordPress site together, and I found a good plugin, a popular plugin called PowerPress. I think Matt Madeiros from the Matt Report told me about that one, and I was able to use LibSyn with PowerPress even though they have their own service called Blubrry, and so I put the site together.

Over time I did more research to figure out, “What do sponsors want to know? What do I need to know about my audience? How do I engage my audience? Do I need better equipment?” That was maybe the first really big upgrade I made to my podcast set up, was my equipment over last year. I bought a new XLR microphone. The Road Pro Caster. I have the same boom arm, I have a different pop filter that fits the Road Pro Caster, and then I have an ART voice channel which is how I can make sure that no outside noise is getting into my microphone. Among other things, I can also make my voice sound warmer or lower, like more muddy, is the audio term. I can tweak it to make it sound just right. If I have a lot of s sounds, a lot of sibilance, I can use a de-esser to make that less grating on your ears.

I did later research like that, and then the last big bit of research I did involving my show was over this past summer at Podcast Movement. I talked to a lot of people in the space, specifically about how to get sponsors and how I can improve my show and the automations. I’ll talk about all that in the next segment of the show, but I did continue to do research for how to improve this show. It’s a living, breathing thing at this point, so I’m not just going to launch it and put it out into the world and say, “Here you are. Here’s my podcast.” I’m going to think about ways to continually improve it.

That was one of the big things that I researched, and I guess finally, the last thing that I want to point out is that I added transcripts in part as some of the other research I was doing. Like, “How important are transcripts?” That was also a result of the research that I was doing. That’s the lion’s share of the research that I have right there. It was mostly, “How was I going to host the audio? How should I build my website? What equipment should I use?” Another one was, “Should I do it live or pre-recorded? Pre-recorded is definitely the way to go. I’ve edited out a couple of mess ups, so I’m really glad I’m not doing that live. That’s where most of my research came in.

As far as the title question, how did I build it, we’ll get to that. But first, I want to tell you about this episode’s sponsor and the sponsor for my entire season, and that’s Pantheon.

Break: Today’s episode is brought to you by Pantheon. WordPress 5.0 and the new editor Gutenberg are coming. Are you prepared? Do you want to learn about the changes in advance? Pantheon has gathered resources to help you prepare, including webinars and tutorials. Pantheon also has made it easy and free to try Gutenberg with your site before the official launch. Visit Let them know that How I Built, It sent you. Now, back to the show.

So, how did I build How I Built It? There’s a couple of things here that I want to mention. There’s the site, putting the show together, scheduling the guests. Let’s start with maybe the more technical stuff. I signed up for a LibSyn account, and I built the podcast website on top of WordPress. I used the plugin PowerPress to add some extra functionality for podcasting and to make sure that the feed that I submitted to iTunes and other directories was properly formatted. That’s something that I think doesn’t get enough credit.

As far as these podcast plugins for WordPress go, customizing WordPress feeds is a difficult thing, and a good podcast plugin will make sure that the feed for your podcast is properly formatted before you submit it. Because especially iTunes is very particular about how your feed is formatted. I didn’t have to write a single line of code to make that happen, PowerPress handled it automatically.

The theme that I was using at the time was Parsec which was my own personal theme that I wrote for my book, Responsive Design with WordPress. I made a child theme for it that was specific to podcasting, where I would put the show notes and the images and anything pertaining to the audio, subscribe buttons, anything pertaining to that content I laid it out the way that I wanted.

I put together the episodes page and a sponsor page and a contact page, and things like that. So that’s how I put together the site. It was pretty barebones when I first launched it, and I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of time putting the site together if I decided a month in that I didn’t like it. That was how I built version 1 of the website.

As far as putting together the episodes and how I built those when I first started out I just reached out to my friends, especially the people I’d already spoken to. I said, “Do you want to be on a new podcast I’m starting?” I made a list of people that I would love to talk to, and I said “I’m starting this new podcast. Do you think it’s something you’d want to be on?” And my first five guests were amazing. Jason Coleman, Rebecca Gill, Brian Krogsgard, Corey Miller and Carrie Dils. They came on no questions asked. They were just like, “I’d love to come on the show for you, I appreciate you asking.”

It was a very manual process. “What time works for you? Let’s get on Skype, and I’ll record it. If you could record your side of the audio, that would be good,” and I would collect it all. That process evolved a little bit because I added Calendly, so I would say, “Pick a time that works for you here. We don’t have to figure out time zones, Calendly will already do that.” Then it sends them a link to some guest notes, some things that each guest should know, and how we’ll talk, and then a calendar invite.

All of that is taken care of with Calendly. That was maybe the best addition to my process that I made for a long time. When we got together and recorded the audio I used– At first, I was using QuickTime to record my audio, and I asked my guests to do the same. Then I wanted to make sure I had a redundant backup, so I was using Skype at the time, and I used Skype and a program called E-cam Recorder to make sure that it recorded both my audio and my guest’s audio in two separate tracks that then can be combined later.

I still ask my guests to record their side of the audio, though. That’s because if we get into a situation where maybe the internet gets bad on either end, their voice gets like robot-y. You get that it’s hard to understand them, and I wanted to have the best possible audio quality. I had them record their side of the audio. I wanted the full uncompressed version, and then I would combine them.

And speaking of, I did the editing for the first few episodes, and that was the most time-consuming part. If it was a half hour episode it would take me a couple of hours to edit the audio, and I thought, “This is just a learning curve,” and then I realized, “No. I have to listen to the whole episode, I have to cut things out, I need to process the audio, and I need to add the bumpers,” and stuff like that.

I would do the intro and outro separately because I wanted to recap the episode. That was another evolution in the format of the show. But I used Garage Band to do all that, and Garage Band is a nice program, but it took a lot of work. So that was the first thing that I wanted to cut out, as far as me doing it.

If we’re talking about how I built this whole podcast, then I want to talk a little bit about the automations that I’ve built over especially the last year to put my show on autopilot a little bit and take up less of my own time, because then I could focus on researching the guests and asking the right questions and promoting it properly and just putting together the best possible content and allowing other people to play to their strengths to make this the best possible show.

So I have two big automations set up that I’ve built for the podcast, and the first has to do with scheduling. I mentioned Calendly, and Calendly does a great job of taking the headache out of scheduling with another person, again especially if they’re in another time zone. I use Calendly, and when somebody schedules an appointment, I trigger a zap in Zapier to create a Zoom call.

Another evolution is that I’m using Zoom now instead of Skype. Most of my guests, it turns out, prefer Zoom to Skype. I got a lot of, “I haven’t used– This the first time I’m using Skype in years, sorry.” I just wanted to take the headache out of that, so I use Zoom. If a guest requests Skype, I will gladly do that, but Zoom has been pretty smooth so far for most of my guests who already use Zoom.

So the automation goes from Calendly, it sets up a Zoom call, it updates the Google event calendar or the Google Calendar event to include the new Zoom URL and the guest notes that the guest should read over before coming on the show, and then it also creates a new note in Evernote with all of the information the guest filled out from the Calendly as well as headings for each question. That makes it very easy for me to take notes during the show, and good notes during the show that I can then pass off to my transcriber.

This is where the second big automation comes in. I record the episode, and I save both my side of the audio and the guest side of the audio, and when I do that, I have an app running on my Mac called Hazel. Hazel will clean up the desktop, and it’ll take those files, and it will move them into a folder in Dropbox called “Needs Editing.” I add the intro and outro, the sponsor spots all separately, as well as the intro and outro music. When a new folder or an episode is complete, Zapier triggers an email, and it gets sent to my editor. It says, “There’s a new folder in Dropbox that needs to be edited.”

He then edits them and puts the episode into a folder in that same Dropbox area called “Needs Transcribing.” My transcriber gets the episode or a notification for the episode, and now she can transcribe it. The name matches a note in this Evernote notebook that we both have access to, so now she can put together a good transcript with all of the terms I’ve used, and she puts together the show notes for me.

I’ve set up these automations, I show up and record the show, and then I do add everything to WordPress. I like doing that because it feels like I’m shipping the next episode. But from the time I save the audio to the time I need to add it to WordPress, I don’t touch the show at all. I have automations doing that for me. That has saved me a ton of time. So, that’s how I built out some of the automations.

I want to improve the process a little bit, which I’ll talk about later. But for the latest version of the website that also went through a major redesign. I’m using Monochrome Pro now from the Genesis framework, or from Studio Press using the Genesis framework. It was my first foray into using Genesis, and I was pretty excited about it. I was able to use their hooks and things like that to customize the experience for the content, and so I’ve made the episodes easily consumable.

I’ve put the sponsors in a more visible area for each episode, and I have included the transcripts in such a way that it doesn’t like blow up my listeners’ podcast feeds. You can click to read the transcript if you want. If somebody is reading the transcript on the website and they want to follow along, the audio is included there too. The other major thing that I added since– Well there’s two major things.

One is a custom plugin that I built on top of PowerPress. That creates a custom post type for me to add sponsors and associate those sponsors with episodes, and then the same thing for transcripts. I added transcripts around season 3 or 4 as soon as it was not financially prohibitive for me to do so. I’m working on the back catalog, but I’m very excited that I’m able to have transcripts kind of per episode moving forward.

I can associate sponsors and transcripts with an episode, so they are all separate in the WordPress backend, but the user or the listener sees them all nicely in one place. I also used SearchWP to associate the transcript text with an episode, so if you go to my website and search for a term if that term exists in the transcript that episode will show up. I’m excited about that.

I do have a video on how I put all of this together that I will link in the show notes for this episode, and it will be That is the latest version of the website. As far as the latest version of– Well, I talked a bit about the latest version of the process. That’s kind of how I built the whole show. With the automations, with the theme, and things like that. I know we’re coming up, I’m watching, we’re coming up on time here. So I’ve talked a little bit about the evolutions. “How has the show changed?” I’ve added transcripts, I’ve improved my process, I don’t just start with the sponsor spot now I give you a recap of what we talk about and what to look for, and then I talk about the sponsors. I’ve added a mid-roll spot for the sponsors, and I’ve added an outro.

The overall production quality has improved because of my new equipment, and because of this new process where somebody else is editing the episode and not me. I’m excited about that. As far as my plans for the future go, I want some more automations. I want to make it so that I don’t have to upload the episode to LibSyn anymore. Either my editor can do that, my transcriber can do that, or maybe I can kick off a zap on Zapier where when a file with a certain name hits a folder it automatically gets uploaded to LibSyn. I don’t know if that’s possible, but it’s something that I want to try.

I also want to experiment with episode formats a little bit. This is the first episode where I’m just talking directly to you, and there’s no guest. If you like it, let me know, and I’ll do you more like that. Or if you’re like, “You’re great, but I prefer listening to somebody else most of the time.” Let me know that too. Interviews definitely aren’t going away, and I have a lot of really great ones scheduled for season 6.

I also want to try to improve engagement. So, these are my plans for the future. Lastly, I’m thinking about maybe doing away with the seasons, and maybe just taking a couple of breaks. Like over the holidays, maybe I’ll take a break. Over the summer I’ll take a two-week break. But I am at a point now where I have enough content to fill pretty much a whole year, and I love doing the show, and I want to keep doing that, so I want to get ahead of the curve. I want to experiment with episodes, and I want to improve engagement.

Those are my plans for the future, season 6 and onward. To improve engagement, I would love if you just reached out to me and let me know, ask me questions or make suggestions. I want to know what you the listeners are thinking. Then there’s the trade secret. My favorite part of every episode is asking this because every guest responds the same way. They go, “Trade secret…” and they think about it for a little while. And I knew I was going to ask myself this, so I thought about it before I started recording.

My trade secret is this. Starting a podcast is more time consuming than I thought it would be, but it’s not hard necessarily. Yes, it takes time. Yes, there are things that you need to know. But if you’re comfortable speaking to another person, or speaking in front of a microphone, you should give it a try. I have more fun doing my podcast than I do anything else. If I could be a full-time podcaster, I would strongly consider it.

I love creating my online courses, but getting to interact with people and talking to the listeners, talking to the guests, working with sponsors has been the most fun. I consider myself incredibly lucky that this podcast has taken off the way it has, and I have you to thank, and I have my guests and my sponsors to thank. And yes I know I have put a lot of work into the show, but that work is maybe secondary to the reception that it’s gotten and to the support, I’ve gotten from other people.

If I haven’t gotten the support from you and the guests and the sponsors, it would have been very hard to put in that work. I’m grateful that I’m able to create something that gets downloaded 5,000 times an episode 40,000 times over the course of a month, and I want you to experience that joy too. So my trade secret for you is start podcasting today. It’s time-consuming, but it’s super rewarding, as most rewarding things are time-consuming.

I would strongly recommend you do that. If you want to know anything else about the show, reach out to me. I know I did get one question, “How much does it cost to produce an episode?” I have found some great people on Fiverr to work with, and they do fantastic work. It costs maybe $60 an episode, maybe $70 an episode and that’s to get it edited and transcribed. Again, I’m super lucky that I found such great people to work with.

If you have any questions about podcasting, please reach out. Again, thank you so much for listening to 100 episodes, and I appreciate you for doing so. So, that’s it for this episode. Thank you for joining me. I hope that it was illuminating, I hope that maybe you got some questions answered. I hope that you got ideas for how to start your podcast. Or if you have a podcast, things you can do to improve your podcast, if you think it needs improvement.

My question of the week for you is, why haven’t you started your podcast if you haven’t? Let me know. Email me or reach out on Twitter, @jcasabona and let me know and I’ll give you a pep talk to help you. Thanks so much again to our sponsor Pantheon. Definitely check out the things they’re doing, Gutenberg and WordPress 5.0 are coming, and they have resources that will help you. That’s over at

That’s the recap, the sponsor spot, the question of the week. If you want to talk with other people who are answering the question of the week, join the Facebook community over at If you have your show but you need a great website, head over to and you can find my newly launched podcast website course, Build Your Podcast Website in Three Days.

Thanks so much for joining me for episode 100. If you like the show, make sure to give it a rating or review over on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. That’s one of the big reasons the show has grown, is because people are rating and reviewing it. It’s getting listed in the top 50 episodes consistently, which is another thing that I’m super appreciative of. Thanks so much for joining me. Until next time, get out there and build something.

The post 100: How I Built My Podcast appeared first on How I Built It.

Oct 30 2018



Rank #16: Zach Tirrell and Loxi

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Today we’re talking to Zach Tirrell from Modern Tribe. We talk all about how they re-imagined that plug-in as Software as a Service called Loxi. We go over how they decided on which features to support, the importance of good design, and the tech stack, like using React. Speaking of React, We also talk a bit about Gutenberg.

Show Notes

Sponsored by:
  • Traitware: A faster, more secure way to login with WordPress
  • Pantheon: Get ready for Gutenberg. Sign up for a FREE account today.
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Pre-Intro: Hey everybody – before we get into today’s episode I want to tell you about my new podcast, Creator Toolkit, It’s a show where I take you through building specific projects on the web, or help you make important decisions. The current episode is about self-hosted vs. hosted. I’d love if you checked it out at or wherever you get your podcasts.

Intro: Hey everybody and welcome to episode 89 of How I Built It. Today we’re talking to Zach Tirrell from Modern Tribe. Modern Tribe is a supporter of this show through their WordPress plugin, The Events calendar. In this episode we talk all about how they reimagined that plug as Software as a Service called Loxi. We go over how they decided on which features to support, the importance of good design, and the tech stack, like using React. Speaking of React, We also talk a bit about Gutenberg.

Sponsors: This week’s episode is brought to you by Traitware and Pantheon. We’ll hear about them a little later on, so for now…on with the show.

Joe Casabona: Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is Zach Tirrell, director of product for Modern Tribe. Zach, how are you?

Zach Tirrell: I’m doing great. How are you?

Joe: I am fantastic. It is the end of June as we record this, so summer is going by a little bit fast. But I’m enjoying the nice weather and I got to enjoy a Yankee game yesterday. So I’m all excited.

Zach: Wow, that’s fantastic.

Joe: Yes. So I’m very excited to talk to you today. Modern Tribe has been a supporter of the show, but aside from that they are doing some very cool things. Zach, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Zach: I oversee all the products work for Modern Tribe on that side of our business. That means primarily The Events Calendar plugin and the various add-ons that folks are familiar with there. We have a few other smaller plugins, like Image Widget, for example. But mostly it’s events based, The Events Calendar event tickets, a lot of event based plugin work. And our newest offering which is a SaaS based solution called Loxi.

Joe: Nice. And Loxi is going to be primarily what we’re talking about today, but just to touch on something that you mentioned. Modern Tribe does both product and service work. Is that right? You guys do agency work?

Zach: That’s right. We have a we have a very large agency business here, that’s about 70% of our business and then our product side is about 30%. Almost 40%.

Joe: Nice. Very nice. So let’s jump right into it then. Why don’t you tell us about Loxi?

Zach: Sure. Loxi is a SaaS based calendar, like the WuFoo Form equivalent for calendars. Where you don’t have to have any infrastructure to set it up, you create an account you get an embed code and you can drop it on any site. A no-fuss based calendar. For this particular audience, it’s interesting to know that we built Loxi on top of The Events Calendar and the WordPress REST API.

It’s a product that leans into our existing codebase and experience in WordPress, but has an entirely brand-new fresh user interface, and no need for folks to worry about their own scaling or uptime or plugin updates or any of those things. Suddenly they go away and you just get a nice, easy, beautiful calendar to work with and put on any website. It’s not limited only to WordPress. You can put it anywhere.

Joe: That’s fantastic. Because essentially The Events Calendar is a WordPress only plugin.

Zach: Correct. The Events Calendar is a WordPress plugin. We’ve got a lot of reach there with 600,000 active installs, but Loxi opens up the ability for us to take that into a whole lot more corners of the internet.

Joe: Nice. When did this idea come into fruition? Where you’re like, “Let’s take The Events Calendar and turn it into a stat so we can reach that wider audience.”

Zach: we were talking about that right on day one when I joined Modern Tribe. Which was just over three years ago. That was the vision when I joined the team.we really wanted to take The Events Calendar and move it to a broader audience and to pivot it into SaaS.

And not entirely pivot, because we totally still plan to enhance and release The Events Calendar. It is the underlying core here of the SaaS. So both benefit at the same time. But the goal was definitely, from day one as far back as three years ago, to get us there. There was a lot of work we had to do first. But one of the interesting things that happened is just over a year ago, Jeff Graham who ran our support team here, was looking for a new opportunity.

He said, “I love managing support, my passion is support. But I want the opportunity to maybe build something. Like run it, do the strategy on it. Coordinate, design,” all those sorts of things. So Jeff came to us with that and then simultaneously we were thinking, “It’s finally opportunity for us to add another team to the product side, and have them build something new.

Some completely new solution. And we said, “The stars are lining up.” We had three options on the table. Jeff with his passion for support and our customer audience, one of the things he looked at was he said the opportunity to rebuild The Events Calendar Calendar’s user interface and also serve this need of expanding beyond WordPress sounded like an exciting journey for him.

So he took a lot of his customer experience and knowledge about what they wanted out of a solution, and brought that into this new role for himself. And he’s been the strategic leader on this. I clear a lot of hurdles for him and try to keep him protected, But Jeff very much was the strategy leader on Loxi and was able to come at it.

And I think anybody who uses that product can see that customer centric vision there. The interface is as minimal as we could make it, it tries to be really easy. We want it to be quick to create an event and also beautiful to do that, and to experience that. Versus WordPress, which we all love, But the WordPress admin UI is not the pinnacle of user interface design.

Joe: Absolutely. So there’s a couple of things that I want to mention there. First is, you’re absolutely right. People say that WordPress is very easy but it’s mostly people within the WordPress community. And we’re hoping that Gutenberg will make that better, and we’ll touch on maybe Gutenberg development a little bit later.

But the WordPress interface is rightfully going through some changes right now, which is good. The other thing that I want to mention is that it’s something that I hear more frequently on this show than is the perception. But you basically used your customer support knowledge to build a better product.

Zach: Absolutely.

Joe: That’s great. We touched on that a little bit with the GiveWP or the Give guys, when they were on the show. And it’s been a reoccurring theme, “Listen to your customers. Listen to your customer support. Make sure the customer support guys are talking to the developer folks and you’ll end up with a better product.” I’m very glad to hear that echoed again here with Loxi.

Zach: Yeah absolutely. I think it’s expensive honestly to do a bunch of user testing and detailed UI work with groups and audiences, and do all of those kinds of usability tests. And we’ve certainly done some of that stuff. But being able to take someone who has been on the frontlines and has heard about all the rough edges, and have them come in and be like, “Here. Try to build this thing from scratch with all of that in mind.” it gives you a lot more implicit understanding about what customers want.

Joe: That’s fantastic. Very cool. Aside from that was there other research that you guys did? Did you guys look that competition, or you said that this was the plan basically from the day you came on. So what was that process like?

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Zach: We did. Yeah. We’ve been we’ve been looking at this for a long time. The SaaS based calendar space is not empty. There’s plenty of folks who exist in there and there are people doing some really great stuff. And honestly one of the things we did early on was we reached out to a bunch of the existing players and said, “Is anybody tired? Does anybody just want to want to move to an acquisition?” which honestly wasn’t exactly what we wanted to do, because we wanted to leverage The Events Calendar. We wanted to take our plugin and put a new UI on top of that.

But if we could have taken a shortcut and snatch somebody up We would’ve. We talked to a half dozen different folks in the space to see if anybody was interested in going that route. Nothing really emerged from that, but honestly I had a lot of great conversations with a lot of players in the space.

So we’ve been thinking about it. One of the other things we did way back, and if You look back at our road map you can see some of this stuff. Where we’ve said, “If we’re eventually going to build this SaaS we need full support for the WordPress REST API. We’ve got to do that.” So we added REST API support into the plugin and we released that publicly, and there was a handful of other things we did.

We have actually not yet released this in our plugins, but we rewrote the whole way our backend recurring events infrastructure works. Which is a deceptively complicated feature. And Loxi is actually running on a new iteration of that backend. We haven’t yet released it publicly, we’re intending to but we’re just trying to work out all the backwards compatibility bugs, and make sure that everybody gets a smooth migration there. So that was fun.

But honestly, one of the things that I think is really interesting about what we did here, is since we were able to build a completely parallel team to support and build Loxi, we had this opportunity to hand pick a group and say, “These are the particular skills we want to build this thing from the ground up.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with Scott Kingsley Clark, who is famous for Pods?

We brought him in full time. He’s been working on Loxi for the past year. So we had some pretty strong technical chops that were able to come in and help us do a lot of the infrastructure, and keep contributing back to our core plugin. So he was constantly trying to think about, “How do we scale it? How do we build many, many calendars on top of this plugin?” So that was really fun to have him join the team and lend his expertise.

The other one is David Hickox who is a really great designer. He had been working on our agency side for a long time, and was also really interested in this challenge. Jeff and I got him real excited about it. So he was able to come in with almost a blue sky, thinking about, “How would I design the interface for a plugin?” He and Jeff just went back and forth on it for many months. Lots of prototypes. Lots and lots of prep work before we ever started writing a lot of a lot of code directly related to Loxi, but there was lots of infrastructural stuff we were working through.

Joe: That sounds fantastic. And this perfectly moves us into the title question, which is, “How did you build it?” You’ve assembled a great team of talent, you are working off of a preexisting codebase with The Events Calendar and working with the WordPress REST API.

How did you put that all together? How much of The Events Calendar needed to be rebuilt in order for this to work properly? You alluded to that, but just the overall process of converting a plugin to a SaaS.

Zach: The big things with the existing Events Calendar plugin that we needed to address was first getting it base-compatible fully with the REST API for updates, edits, deletes. The whole gamut. And while we were doing it, we knew we were going to be moving into a SaaS and we wanted to be able to move quickly. So we added a lot of testing. There’s lots and lots of testing that was added through this process.

We’re not at a point where we’ve got full coverage or anything like that. As far as The Events Calendar goes. But as part of this effort we did add a lot of testing to the base plugging. The bigger thing we had to do around The Events Calendar was address how to handle what we perceive eventually as reality, which is large data sets.

We knew that it needs to be very fast. The Events Calendar itself is always optimized for the absolute fastest way to retrieve data. Now we’re using the WordPress data structures with custom post types and all this, and post meta. So it’s not always the fastest. So we have to figure out, “How are we going to scale that aspect of it? How are we going to be able to do that?”

And Scott wrote an Events Calendar integration for ElasticSearch. I think we call it Elastic Events, which we wrote as an ElasticSearch, ElasticPress plugin. That was a big piece we had to build to make sure that this was all going to be fast. We actually just released that plugin for free last week. And we were excited about that. It was another piece where we were like, “Well we had to build this for ourselves. But anybody else doing this at scale should benefit from the work we did.” So we released that.

The piece where we had to do a lot of full rebuild work was around the interface. Loxi, the application is entirely React based. So we had to we had to rewrite everything. We brought on a React dev who’s crazy ridiculously good at his job. He pretty much all by himself rewrote all of these interfaces and views and stuff, purely in React.

We’ve got this snappy interface that’s real tight and feels modern, and it was a nice chance to reimagine that stuff. That was also a very costly endeavor, it took a lot of time and it took a lot of effort. We probably could have built things a lot cheaper if we hadn’t gone that route. But it’s what we wanted to do. It was our vision of what of what the product was going to be.

Something where that interface felt like it was getting out of your way, instead of getting in your way. And then it was very easy, and friendly and light to use, airy almost. And React gives us much more of that experience. Where you don’t have full page reloads happening. The interface just clicks right along.

Joe: that’s very interesting to me. I’m just getting into React development now, because I’m very late to every party. There’s a million JavaScript frameworks out there so I try to see which one is going to be the winner before I sink a lot of time into it. And it looks like you, maybe clairvoyantly, picked the winner. When you chose to use React, had Gutenberg been announced yet? Did you know? Or were you just like, “This is something backed by Facebook. It’s probably going to be around awhile.”

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Zach: No, it had not been announced yet. If we go a little bit further back in our history. We, Modern Tribe, not the product side but the agency side. We decided that we were going to add React to our tool belt about two years ago now, and we relaunched our Try.b, our Modern Tribe company website, as a fully React based website on top of WordPress.

And one of our very strong JavaScript developers, Sam, wrote a fantastic article that got us a bunch of attention Two years ago about how we built that, and all of the details. And that’s a pretty great article. So that got us a bunch of attention and It also gave us some internal skills around it. We’ve then worked on a couple of agency projects that were really heavily React based, and so internal to Modern Tribe, that was the toolset we’d started to build.

We weren’t doing anything necessarily on the product side with it yet, but we said, “That’s what agency is doing. Those are the skill sets we have. If we hire somebody we actually know how to evaluate the skills. We could bring this guy in, and if he needs mentorship or starts to go off the reservation, we’ve got somebody who can help.” thankfully that wasn’t the case. Neale’s just ridiculously good.

He actually has helped even move some of the agency thinking forward in ways that are just a fun giving back, and that’s a common thing for our organization to do. They make an innovation and we grab a hold of it, and then we go a little further, and then shoot it back over the fence. There’s some give and take there.

But yes. So all that happened and then Gutenberg got announced and we were like, “It looks like we chose the right technology,” which was helpful. And then that’s helped us to start getting into some of that work. And honestly I feel like we are in a position to jump on that maybe a little bit more with both feet than some of the other folks in the space.

Joe: And another thing that you mentioned is that you wanted to make your plugin REST API ready, fully. And that’s also something that you need to do in order to support Gutenberg. You need to have that turned on when you define your custom post types, for example. So did you guys just jump feet first into Gutenberg development as soon as you thought it was stable enough to do so?

Zach: Yes. So what we did with Gutenberg is actually we had mostly held off. We were talking about it a lot, holding and circling it, but not 100% sure what we were going to do. And then I went to WordCamp US last December, and while I was there I was like, “This thing’s actually ready to go now. It’s still moving, there’s still a lot to be done here, but I can I can see it.” And so when I came back from WordCamp US I met with our strategists on the plugin side.

Her name is Leah. And actually, maybe not coincidentally, maybe it’s company structure. She also worked on our support team for a long time. She was in support, did a lot of company swag work and some of those kinds of things. But also had this passion for the user experience within our plugins, because she really understood that that user mindset. And so she quickly grew into the strategist role and has done a bang up job doing strategy for our plugins overall.

But I came back and met with Leah and I was like, “This Gutenberg thing has become real. I need you to go into a cave and figure out how we’re going to do this.” And actually our first real decision point there was, “Gutenberg’s a big deal. We’re going to have to invest a lot to really become compatible with it.” We had to decide, “Are we going to just survive the Gutenberg transition? Do the absolute minimum that we can do in order to have a functional product after it releases?” Which would have been a fine approach, and would have allowed us to continue to focus on a regular roadmap and some of the things that our customers are actively asking for.

Or do we say, “Gutenberg’s the future of WordPress. If we’re going to be on this train, not only do we need to participate in the discussions from here to release on what’s actually happening, but we need to push the edges of this and make our plugin a cornerstone of what that experience is going to be.” And I was right on the fence between these two options. There was lots of stuff on the roadmap that was really exciting.

And we had just built Loxi. We’d just spent a year building a new interface to a calendar. And so I went to the team and I said, “What do you guys want to do? Which way do you feel like you want to go on this? Are you up for this journey?” And it was a different team. Gustavo, who was our lead plugins developer, and Leah and the partners at Modern Tribe, Shane and Peter and Reed. I went to all of them individually and said, “These are the options. What do you want to do?”

And every single person said, “We want to invest in the in the future here. We want to do the big thing. We know it’s harder and we know it’s going to take a lot of attention.” But every single person said, “We want to do the big thing because this is only going to happen once.” So what we actually did to help take advantage of some of the work we did, was we grabbed David who was the designer on Loxi.

And we said, “David you just spent a year designing an interface that’s React based and highly responsive and is very user centric. Want to do it again? Want to take another shot at that pal?” And so him and another designer, Rachel, we actually added a second designer because there are so many details for Gutenberg. The two of them jumped off of Loxi and came over to The Events Calendar and they’ve been every week iterating on these designs and these prototypes, and doing a bang up job with it.

Joe: I realized that I say, “Man. That’s great,” a lot. Especially in this interview. But I like everything you’re saying. Everything you’re saying is fantastic. After WordCamp US is when I talked to Zack Gordon and we decided to release our Gutenberg courses. His developer course and my user course, like super early in January. Even though it meant that we were probably going to have to iterate on that course a lot.

We just wanted to get the educational components out there because, like you said. It’s not going away. It’s going to become a bigger part of WordPress moving forward.

Zach: we immediately purchased that Zack Gordon course for Gustavo. We were like, “Here you go, man. Here’s what you’re going to do. Go read this, go dig into code.”

Joe: And it’s great. I mean I’m working through the course, learning React. And so I think that’s a very forward thinking approach. There are a lot of different opinions on that, and it’s whatever works best for your team, or yourself, or your organization. But it’s very cool to see you guys jumping on top of that.

So with the last few minutes I always like to ask these three rapid fire questions. The first is changes since launch, and you just recently launched. So maybe we can go right to, what are your plans for the future of Loxi?

Zach: Yeah. We launched to a very small audience, so it’s not it’s not like a public or big global launch. We haven’t started doing any real serious marketing outside the WordPress space, or doing any ad-buys or any of that stuff. It’s mostly quiet. We’ve been marketing to our internal audience. So we’ve got a lot of stuff still to do.

What we’ve been doing is just listening to customers and making small iterative changes. We’re trying to get to the point where a single user can have multiple calendars. We’ve worked to improve the embed, what we thought was fast in our labs Still doesn’t feel fast to us on customer websites, so we’re try to speed it up. And we’re going to continue to do some of that work. More scaling and performance and really make this thing roar. But it’s mostly that kind of stuff. There’s going to be tons and tons of little features coming every two week cycle right now.

Joe: Wow. Impressive and very cool to see you’re focusing on customer centric stuff. It seems to be the overarching theme of this episode, and a lot of other folks that I’ve talked to. So like I said I’m very glad to see that, being in the education space I try to think about the customers. I’m a front end developer too, so I try to focus on user experience. But the easier something is to use, the easier it is for me to educate on that.

Zach: yeah. The one challenge we do have there though is, and my marketing director keeps reminding me of this, is we can’t just build everything that The Events Calendar customers ask us for, because we’re not trying to recreate The Events Calendar. There is a slightly different experience. And if we just gum up the UI with all of the robust features that are built into The Events Calendar, that’s not actually the mission of Loxi. So there’s that temptation. We have to listen to our customers but also be sure not to take everything they say as gospel. That is an interesting bit of this to walk.

Joe: Totally. There’s the balancing act between somebody who wants all the features and everything, and then making that jive with your mission, the “Why you started” Loxi. I know that Jason Fried at Basecamp always says, “It’s okay to say no,” and that they “Try to say no as often as possible, except when it makes sense.” Definitely the takeaway here is listen to your customers, but don’t just take everything they say as gospel.

Zach: Yeah. Exactly.

Joe: The last question I always like to ask is, do you have any trade secrets for us?

Zach: Trade secrets. I don’t know if there is any, other than one of the things I think we have done really well is just continue to lean into the things we’re good at. With Loxi it’s basing it on The Events Calendar and making sure that even if Loxi ends up being a complete failure, the journey of building it has strengthened the core products.

Even at that point it’s not a failure because the core product has benefitted. And things like learning React and then reusing it, or building designs and then reusing them. It’s not to throw that stuff away. Build on top of the things that you have as skills and that kind of thing.

Joe: Awesome. “Continue to lean into the things we’re good at.” Love that. Zach, thanks so much for joining me today. Where can people find you?

Zach: You can find me on Twitter at my handle is @Tirrell. Just my last name. I apparently got in there early enough. Or you certainly can hit me up through The Events Calendar Twitter as well, which is @TheEventsCal.

Joe: I will link all that and more, everything we talked about, including that great React article that Sam wrote two years ago in the show notes. So be sure to keep an eye out for that over at HowIBuilt.It. Zach, thanks again for joining me today. I really appreciate it.

Zach: Thanks Joe, this was great.

Outro: Lots of great stuff here, especially if you want to get into Software as a Service. I want to thank Zach again for his time, and Modern Tribe for their support of this show.

And be sure to check out this week’s sponsors, Traitware and Pantheon.

For all of the show notes, head over to If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! You can also join the Facebook community over at I want to build a strong community for this podcast, and Facebook is the place to do it. You’ll even find a link this week to a giveaway I’m doing where you can win my 4 favorite business books.

Finally, if you haven’t heard it yet, I’d love if you checked out my new podcast, Creator Toolkit, where we put together all the tools you need to build great things on the web. It’s on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts now.

Thanks for joining me and until next time, get out there and build something.

The post Zach Tirrell and Loxi appeared first on How I Built It.

Aug 14 2018



Rank #17: John Doherty and Credo

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John Doherty is the founder of Credo. I met John at CaboPress, an incredible business mastermind week, and we got to talking about the marketing and SEO side of things. Know I don’t know much about that, but Credo is definitely something that can help me in a unique way. In this episode we talk all about the importance of finding the right people to help you in your business.

Show Notes

Question of the week: Have you ever had a business coach or mentor? Let me know on Twitter at @jcasabona or email me,

Sponsored by:
  • GravityView: Use code HOWIBUILTIT for 15% off!
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Intro: Welcome to episode 91 of How I Built It! In this episode, continuing this SEO miniseries, I talk to John Doherty, the founder of Credo. I met John at CaboPress, an incredible business mastermind week, and we got to talking about the marketing and SEO side of things. Know I don’t know much about that, but Credo is definitely something that can help me in a unique way. We’ll talk about how in a minute, but first…

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Joe Casabona: Hey everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today my guest is John Doherty of [Hired Gun LLC] and founder of Credo. John, how are you?

John Doherty: I’m doing well Joe. How are you today?

Joe: I am fantastic. It is towards the end of March as we record this. I’m hopeful that it will get warmer. I’m on the East Coast, the northeast, where it’s always cold. I’m not sure where you’re located.

John: I’m in Denver Colorado. Actually it’s funny you bring up the weather because it was 67 and sunny and gorgeous here yesterday. And then at about 6:00 PM last night it started dumping snow. So, Denver gets some crazy bipolar weather around this time of year, basically through May. But we’re starting to get little buds on the trees. I’m hopeful that spring is going to pop through and it’s going to get hot as anything.

Joe: Very nice. When I worked at Crowd Favorite, I heard from a lot of my Denver co-workers that they basically have to leave with a coat, and then it would be shorts weather by the afternoon. And that’s very interesting to me. I think I’m very much like, when I get one nice day, it has to be nice the rest of the year now. It has to just be nice until November.

But I guess if I wanted that, I could move to maybe, Cabo. Where we met, at Cabo press. And that’s how we got connected. Today you’re going to be talking about Credo, a product or service that you’ve created. So why don’t you tell people about who you are what you do, and how you came up with the idea?

John: for sure. Credo is, I think the best way to describe it, is a productized service. Which I realized actually when we were in Cabo. I did think that I was building a product company, and then I was sitting at dinner one night and I went to the product dinner, and one of the guys there was like, “Are you building a product or service?”

I was like, “Of course it’s a product!” And then a couple hours later I was like, “Shoot. You’re right. It’s a service.” So that was mind blowing on the first night. But basically, what we do at Credo is we help businesses that are looking to take their business to the next level. Through SEO, Content Marketing, Facebook ads, PBC that sort of thing. We help them connect with the right agency or marketing provider for their specific needs.

So there are a lot of people out there, the Growth Geeks of the world, where it’s people that come and they say, “I have $200 dollars and I need four blog posts a month written.” That problem is solved. But the people that are like, “I have $3-$4,000 dollars a month to spend, I have a team in place internally. And we’re really looking to scale this thing and hire the right person. But we’re an e-commerce company, we need SEO and Facebook ads.”

At Credo we know who’s good at that stuff. We know he does amazing e-commerce work, e-commerce SEO and Facebook ads for example. And we can connect those two up, then we help the business with reviewing proposals and basically following through until they feel comfortable and confident making the right decision for their business. So we get paid by the agencies and the consultants.

Joe: Nice. Very nice. And that’s interesting. When we were in Cabo I was trying to figure out what exactly my niche is, and how do I really understand my audience. I know you gave me some really good advice about the Facebook Pixel. But as a one-man band, especially, it’s a very hard thing to manage. I almost need to remember, “Set up my social media for this episode. How do I even Facebook ad? I don’t know how to do that.” So I mean, if you’re not ready to take on an employee to do that full time, then this sounds like a great service for you.

John: Totally. It’s that, and then it’s also the companies that we’re best at helping to find a provider Are companies that most of them are around like $1 million plus a year in revenue, so $80-$90K a month in revenue, and we can help ones that are smaller than that, but they have to be really focusing on growth and focusing on marketing. And I’ve found it works best when there is someone that is basically heading up marketing that’s not the founder.

Because founders have so much going on, founders are also really afraid to pull the trigger on any real budget. And so when you have someone that really understands marketing and owns it and is focusing on it, that’s when it’s best to work with a consultant or an agency. Especially on the strategy and services side.

Joe: Nice. That makes even more sense because they know what they need right. I’m not just walking in cold and saying, “I’ll take one of the social media, please.”

John: Totally. And as You said, exactly. “One of the social medias,” like, what are you talking about? And founders, we’re so busy. We have so much going on. You’re recording podcasts, you’re editing them, you’re publishing them, you’re promoting them, you’re doing all that stuff. If you’re building a product you’re also probably writing content, you’re building the product, you might be coding. There’s all this stuff going on.

I’ve been building a team to help me out with a lot of that stuff over the last six months, basically since Cabo. But there’s so much going on that it works best when you have someone that’s really focused on doing it, and their full-time job is doing marketing, producing content, promoting etc. And if you don’t have the budget, or I worked in-house for some big companies where I had to say six months ahead of time who I wanted to start hiring six months from then.

And when you’re trying to move fast, you can’t wait six months. You have you have to get it done then if you’re trying to move fast. Often You have marketing budget to spend on an agency or something like that, but you can’t open up ahead. So that’s when an agency can be perfect to engage with, even short term, until you can hire someone.

Joe: Gotcha. That sounds great. And it’s already giving me stuff to think about. Because doing the podcast, making my courses, doing whatever else I do. I want to make sure that I’m doing this right. When I went out on my own, I thought I was doing it right because it was just like, it was my side gig first. And whatever income that was generated was good enough for me.

And then I went out on my own, and I thought, “I actually need to generate real income here. And what I’m doing isn’t cutting it.” for extra income it’s fine, for like my full-time, “got to support my family” income, I need to do something a little different.

So there’s definitely a lot of things to consider there. And it’s also really hard to keep up with. I like to ask this question, But I feel like we’re going to get a pretty good answer from you. No pressure. What research do you do to stay on top of this stuff?

Sponsor: This episode is brought to you by Pantheon. WordPress 5.0 and the new editor, Gutenberg, are coming. Are you prepared? Do you want to learn about the changes in advance? Pantheon has gathered resources to help you prepare including webinars and tutorials. Pantheon has also made it easy and free to try Gutenberg with your site before the official launch. Visit Let them how How I Built It sent you!

John: Oh man. That’s a great question. I’m a professional marketer, right? I’ve been a marketer for about a decade now. Agency side, in-house, running my own company. So I’ve specialized in search engine optimization for a long time and then I’ve done a lot around content and that sort of stuff. Now I’m really getting deeper into marketing funnels, e-mail funnels, that sort of stuff. And basically the way I do it is three different ways.

One is Twitter. I carefully curate who I follow. So I have about 500 people that I follow. I have high 20,000 followers, but I only follow about 500. And that number has actually increased a bit recently because I’ve been following different types of people. Product people, more General Growth people, more of these funnel hacker people. Simply because I’m trying to learn more there. The second one is podcasts. Listening to things like Mixergy is really good. Smart Passive Income has some really good stuff in it. CreativeLive by Chase Jarvis is another one that I listen to that’s really good.

And then I follow a few specific newsletters, Hiten Shaw has a really good one, Product Habits. has a good weekly newsletter that comes out. Those are some of the places I basically try to find, just like Credo. There’s so many people out there that say that they’re an expert. But a lot of them actually aren’t. There’s a lot of noise in the space on trend to provide the signal to the digital marketing world, of who is actually good. Same with content.

I’m trying to follow the high signal to noise people, and the newsletters are not sending me something every single day. I don’t need a growth tip Every single day. Give me like the six best articles from the past week around products and growth and revenue generation. That’s what I’m looking for. That’s what actually helps you build your business, as opposed to just getting overwhelmed with all these like little tips and tricks and hacks.

You actually need that strategy. And then you could find, and You can learn the tactics, and you hear the hacks all over the place. There’s no shortage of those. You actually need to know how to put together the strategy first. So that’s what I try to get to.

Joe: Absolutely. I mean, if all you do is hacks, then eventually you’re going to chop off your arm.

John: Exactly.

Joe: It’s like how in math class. The teacher teaches you the long way, and then they teach you the shortcut. Because you need to understand the process before you can actually do the shortcut. So I love that. Studio Neat has a really good newsletter for me, it’s two guys, they send one link each that they like and then a picture of something they’re working on. It’s easily digestible and for somebody who’s trying, we’re both trying to read and consume and learn a lot, stuff like that is excellent.

So that’s awesome. I want to touch on something you said about a lot of people saying that they’re experts out there. When I was, I’ll say I was a kid, but I was in college. I was like, “SEO is easy. I’ll just write the HTML markup and boom, SEO.” And a lot of people feel that way. People feel that way about WordPress. “Making a website is easy. Just WordPress and done.” So how do you cut through the noise and put yourself out there as a signal?

John: That’s a great question, and you’re absolutely right. I think a lot of actual experts, I’m guilty of this myself. I had a friend the other day basically tell me that she was trying to do something new with her site, trying to change some form styles and that sort of stuff. And then she wants to do a paid course. She was like, “Restrict Content Pro and WP Simple Pay, and you’re on WordPress already,” and shout out to Phil Derksen and Pippin there.

But I was like, “Just use these.” And she’s like, “Wait. What are you talking about?” And I’m like, “Oh right. There’s no ‘just’ there. This is old hat to me.” But I think there are a couple of things there. One is when someone is an expert they are going to say stuff like that.

Where it’s, “Just use this,” and “Use that.” You might not have any clue, but they’ve gone in and done the work. Otherwise they might be like, “What about this? What about that? You could do this thing.” And there is all that ambiguity there, but they can see the full range and know what’s actually good there.

Joe: Right. They can pull from their experience to give you a guided answer.

John: Exactly. And then the big thing is I think showing their work. So going back to math class. I was always told, “Show your work.” I hated showing the work, I was bad at it. I got terrible scores in math because I hated showing my work. I was like, “No. I can’t do this in my head and this is the answer.” And they’re like, “Yeah. But how did you get there?” And I’m like, “The way you told me to in class. I just did that in my head, not on paper. I don’t want to write that out, I have bad handwriting.”

But it’s something that I’ve really learned recently is if you’re an expert and you’re trying to show someone that you are actually an expert, you have to show your work. You have to show a proof point, a case study for everything that you’re claiming to do. So if you want to grow your membership site through SEO, do X Y and Z. “Oh, by the way, here’s a membership site that I helped do this on.” I think actually showing your work, and then if you’re looking for an expert, find the people that are actually showing their work.

That’s legitimate stuff that they’re being open about it. So I think that’s really key there. Find those that are willing to teach, and those are the ones that are actually the experts.

Joe: Awesome. As an online teacher I’m really liking that you’re saying that. But it’s true. It’s so funny because in the last maybe, 10 years, 15 years there’s been such a shift from like, “You can’t see what I’m doing. Just know that I’ve done this, and you can’t see what I’m doing or how I’m doing it.” And now it’s, I mean maybe it’s just in the WordPress space. But I feel like It’s a lot more widespread than that. Like a GitHub account is really important.

But it’s like, “This is what I’m doing, and how I’m doing it, and why I’m doing it.” The guys at base camp, a little bit smug as they may be, are very open in the way they do things. And they’re clearly doing something better than me. So maybe it’s not undeserved, but they’re very open about running their business. And Pippin who you mentioned, he’s one of the most open people about his business that I know.

He’ll talk about the decisions he’s made, and why and how it’s affecting his business. It’s no secret why he’s an expert in our field, because people see what he’s doing, and they see his success, and they know why he’s successful.

John: Totally. And I think that that is carrying over to some other industries. I think it’s starting to come around in the SEO world. The Digital Marketing world. You still get the “make money online” people that are very close lipped and all of that. I tend to be very transparent and very open. Some people say I’m bragging, but it also works. I’m showing what I’m doing, I’m showing the results and that builds trust with people.

I’m honestly not trying to brag about it. I’m just saying, “Hey this works.” Like, “Learn from this.” I come from a family of educators. I want to teach people. I love teaching. I think that is coming about, and I think it’s very important as well for people that have built something of value to also show how they got there.

Joe: Awesome. I love that. So moving from the research and the signal versus noise, which I guess ironically is the Basecamp blog. I guess I’ll ask you how you built Credo? Or we could talk about how you build a strategy for somebody. So I’ll give you some time to mull that one over.

But I started this podcast, I want to get back to the root of this question. I started this podcast because I was talking to other people about starting my own online courses, and I was like, “I should record these conversations.” And it was like a mini-mastermind. Do you mastermind with Anybody? Are there people that you bounce ideas off of?

John: I had some people that I bounce ideas off. I don’t have an official mastermind, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about doing. Connecting with other peers and such has been a focus of mine for the last six months.

Joe: Nice. Very nice. And do you find that stuff helps? Being a fairly solo entrepreneur, you’re building a team, but I don’t know if you work from home. I know I work from home, I’m a solo guy. Just talking to people once or twice a week has been great for me. I miss having co-workers in that regard.

John: Yeah. I definitely find that is something that I need. I mean, even if you’re building out a team. The thing is, being an entrepreneur, even if you’re not a solo entrepreneur doing everything, but you’re a solo founder. No one else within your company understands what that means. Even if you’re really good at giving people the full scope of, “This is what’s going on, and this is what’s happening in the business,” which I’m really bad at that, by the way. And that’s something that I’m working on as a founder and as a CEO.

Because I have employees. But they’re never going to understand the emotional stuff that you go through, and the emotional challenges that happen there. Where it’s like, “Stuff is a little slow right now.” And that happens every single year, because it’s this time of year and everyone is super busy, they geared up at the beginning of the year, and they’re going to rework their strategy middle of the year, and then end of the year they’re going to be thinking towards the next year.

But March and April is a little bit slower. I know that intellectually, but I feel it deeply emotionally. They don’t feel that, because it’s not their baby. I definitely find that useful, and find it useful to have other people to commiserate with where they’re like, “Yeah. When I go through slow times I struggle, and I wonder if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. And I wonder if I’m delivering for my clients what I need to be delivering.” So I found that super helpful.

And honestly, I’ve just found it helpful to build out levels where I have some people that basically I mentor. Very unofficially, but people I help with their business because they are just getting going. Then I have other people that are about at the same level as me, been on their own working for themselves, building a company for the last two to four years, really. I’m about two and a half years in.

And then I have people like Chris Lema and Dan Martell, and people like that, that I consider my mentors. That are numerous steps ahead of me, three or four or five steps ahead of me. And they for some reason graciously give me their time and I can ask them questions, every now and then they’ll meet up with me, every now and then if we’re in the same area. And I can pick their brain for an hour or so. Those are the ones that really take it to the next level. But you have to have all those different levels there.

Joe: Absolutely. So you touched on the empathy factor, that’s something that’s not impossible for somebody who’s not in the same position, but it’s very hard. Because I have found that people who are not in the same position think that either, I’m extremely poor or I’m very wealthy. And that’s like, neither one of those is true. Like, “You have your own business. Are you rich?” And I’m like, “No. I’m not at all rich.”

So the empathy factor is very important, and that was another big thing I got from Cabo Press, because I had just gotten out of a very slow period where I thought, like right after I went out on my own, I was like, “I have absolutely made the wrong choice. I have a five-month-old. I’m not making any money.” And Jennifer Bourn gave me incredible advice on that. She was like, “Yeah. The summer is slow. Save a portion of your income and be ready for that slow period. We go on vacations because I know there’s going to be no work, and I don’t want to panic about money.”

Jennifer Bourn is a very successful person by most people’s accounts. So her telling me that made me feel a lot better. The empathy factor is so important, and having mentees and mentors. Mentees I think keep you grounded, because you’re remembering what it’s like when you first started. So you can empathize with the new person which is very helpful in my online courses. And then Chris Lema is an excellent person, he always offers great advice. Shawn Hesketh has been a personal mentor to me quite a bit. We’re in a similar field, and I’ve learned a lot from him. But all of that is very important.

John: Totally. And let me give one more piece of advice there. Beginning of 2015 my business had grown to a certain point. I think we’re doing like $12-$13K a month in revenue and I was at a breaking point. I was like, “I cannot do anymore.” Like, “I do not know how to take this thing to the next level. I’m overwhelmed. I’m working way too much.” I had just moved to Colorado and wanted more balance in my life, a bit more time. And I actually went and hired a business coach. I still work with them.

I pay him a couple grand a month, we catch up a couple times a month. And he has helped me out a ton with getting clarity about who I am as an entrepreneur, what my skills are, the roles I need to hire for, the highest leverage. He’s always really good at being like, “Is that thing you’re working on the highest leverage thing that you could be doing?” so it’s a combination. And I always push back, I’m like, “Long term I think it is. Short term, it’s not the thing that’s going to double my business next month.”

Which if you’ve been in business for a little while, you know that there’s really nothing that’s going to double your business next month. But it is good to constantly have that push of, “Is this the highest thing you think you could be working on? Or do you actually need to push that off until Q3?” And having someone like that, that you’re paying, because then the mentors, like Chris etc. And I know Chris does consulting and coaching as well, and so does Dan, but neither of them is my coach.

But having someone that you’re paying that basically you’re paying them for their advice, and then you also know you’re going to get their advice consistently. And basically, they know that like, if they’re not helping you grow your business you’re going to stop paying them. So they’re also incentivized to help you out. They don’t go three weeks without getting back to you. Versus when someone e-mails me and they’re not paying me for something, guess what? They go to the back of the line behind the people that are. I think that’s something that a lot of people should consider. Getting an actual coach. I think more entrepreneurs need an actual coach.

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Joe: especially the people who are moving from freelance to entrepreneur. Because I freelanced all through high school, all through college, a little bit after grad school. And There are two things you said. I never saw the value in paying for something that I could do myself. I never wanted to invest because that was money out of my pocket. But it’s an investment. And then the other thing is what you said about, “Is that thing you’re doing the best thing, the high leverage thing?”

Because I can totally empathize with the freelancer who just takes any job because it’s money in their pocket, but over the last couple of years I got to work with Brian Richards and a bunch of other really smart people. And we talked about how, “If you’re taking just any old job, that could be costing you money in the long run.” You’ve got to do the thing that’s best for your business, even if it doesn’t mean immediate money in your pocket.

Both of those things are Just fantastic advice for really growing your business and taking it to the next level. If you don’t want to scrape by all the time, then What are you doing in your business? It’s very stressful. So, cool. We are almost coming up on time. We’re like 20 minutes in and I haven’t even asked you the title question yet.

So here’s the title question. So much good advice in this episode already. How did you build it? You said Credo is a “productized service” so maybe, how did you design that service? And how do you build out that service for, let’s say, we have a sample client?

John: It’s been through a lot of trial and error. My site is all built on WordPress. I’ve been developing on WordPress for a long time. WordPress plus paid memberships pro, and GravityForms, GravityReview. Some of those different plugins. And I put all of the tools that I used to build a Credo on But basically, how I went about designing the product, the company has been through a bunch of different iterations.

Started off with me betting out every single project and then emailing friends, and then basically when they closed it. You’re emailing friends, “Do you want to talk this person?” when they closed it, then I’ve got a commission. To basically a fully functioning marketplace without processing payments, where a project would come in and we’d set it live on the platform, add a custom e-mail system that would e-mail it out to people, that did that kind of work within that budget.

That it pasted based off of how many leads they had received that month, or contacted. If I had a contact cap for each lead of four, if that wasn’t reached in four hours, it would e-mail a couple more. Basically the number left times two. Super complicated stuff that never really worked well. And so my developer and I recently just blew all of that away, because I basically realized it didn’t make sense to have people– and at that point agencies were, and consultants were paying basically on the number of leads they want to be able to contact each month.

Which didn’t really makes sense for a couple of reasons. One, I wasn’t playing the quantity game. I’m playing the quality game. These are these are not the $200 dollar a month, “I need four blog posts a month,” sort of crap. It’s, “I need a super expert, an SEO expert that I can pay $5 grand a month to grow my business that’s already at $2 million, and I want to take it to $5 million a year.” So It didn’t really make sense for someone to be paying the same amount for a $1 thousand dollar a month lead or a $5 thousand dollar a month lead. Plus those leads weren’t closing, they weren’t closing for the agency.

So basically, I then pivoted again, just before Cabo Press last year. So in September of last year I launched an annual plan, so I have a directory, and then I have about 15 agencies I work directly with. They pay us per month and they also pay us a commission in perpetuity on the work that they close. And we help them close that work. So basically, it’s a productized service, basically we’re a regeneration agency for marketing agencies. So it’s meta as anything.

People on our preferred plan are basically our clients. I think of them as our clients. I do my own SEO consulting as well. Those are my clients. Our preferred agencies on Credo are the agency’s clients. So basically the way we do it, is when a business comes in and says, “We’re an e-commerce company,” or let’s say you’re a membership site. A Membership site and you’re doing $1 million a year in revenue, let’s say, and you want to grow it to $3.

Or even $500K and you want to grow it to $1 million. But you have so much going on. You submit our form, schedule a phone call with us, hop on the phone with my customer success person, she talks with you about who you are, what your business does, how you make money and what you need. What you’re looking for. And then once she gets all that together, she puts together what we call a project description. Which is basically six to eight sentences about what you need.

All those things that she just went through with you, you approve that on the platform so that’s built out, and then she sends that project description to agencies or consultants that do that work. Once they accept it we make the introduction and then we follow up a week later, make sure everyone got to connect. And then once you have proposals in hand we hop back on the phone with you, review the proposal, say “Do you have a good understanding of this from this agency? I didn’t see this from this agency that we talked about.” So we help that client get to the point where they still make the decision, they sign the contract directly with the agency of their choice. But we basically help them get to the point where they’re confident that they’re making the right decision.

Joe: That’s incredible. So you’re providing a network for your clients, where you’re saying, “These are the people I know. This is who I think will be a good fit for you.” But I think the big value add is the last thing you just said, “We review the contracts or the proposals with you.” Because that is an overwhelming process. Because everybody says, “This is a standard contract.” Is it a standard contract? I don’t know what that contract looks like everywhere.

So just like having somebody who sees proposals like that all the time, and saying, “This is probably not great for you,” or, “This should be included. This has been included other places.” And I feel like that’s a huge value add, and something that takes a long time of trial and error or hiring an expert who knows that stuff and who has seen it through experience.

John: It’s a value add on both sides as well, because it’s a value add to the agencies because we’re reviewing their proposals with them, and also giving them feedback. I had one agency recently that they were sending through basically a Google doc of their proposal, and they had awesome stuff in there but they’re going up against this agency that was super polished.

And so I went back and told this agency, I was like, “You might only be three people, and talk about being a micro agency of experts, but you need to up your brand a bit.” And we talked through that, and he came back two weeks later, and he had completely redone that. So that’s huge value to him. And then on the client side, I mean we’re not giving legal advice.

But I’m saying like, “We talked about X Y Z, we talked about Facebook ads.” They don’t mention Facebook ads in this proposal at all. Like, “What’s going on there?” Or if it’s a bigger agency, and they said, “We’ve worked with the big agency in the past and didn’t really like that because of the account manager set up,” and then we introduced them to smaller agencies because of that, when they come back we still ask, “Do you have a good idea of who’s actually going be working on your project?”

Because there are definitely agencies, and this is the right fit for some people, where there’s an account manager and like four different teams with junior people working on your project. But For certain businesses you need a ten-year veteran directly working on your project, not some junior person that they’re farming out work to. So we really help them think about those questions, and then go back with better questions. And we don’t hear the phone calls that they have with the agencies and all that.

We’ve had the initial contact, and we’ve seen the proposals and we get some other bits and pieces throughout. But the hardest part is actually helping someone pull the trigger, and a lot of businesses will get scared off. Like, Joe, if you were trying to grow this podcast and you wanted someone to help you out with promotion and all that, and someone comes back. Even if you know that you have $2,000 dollars a month to spend on marketing, someone comes back and proposes you to spend $2,000 dollars a month with them for X Y and Z. You’re going to be scared. Right?

Joe: Yeah. That’s More than rent.

John: You’re going to put it off. You’re not going to respond for a little while. We can actually help the agencies close more work because we’re also keeping the client involved. We keep you involved., “I know you got proposals from this agency and this agency, let’s schedule a cal. Let’s hop back on. Let’s talk through your fears.” all that stuff.

Joe: Right. Because in my head, I just see the money flying out the window. Oh my God, that is more than I pay in rent per month. But you’re saying, “That $2,000 dollars a month, can make you $5,000 dollars a month,” or whatever.

John: It’s that investment mindset that we were talking about just like five minutes ago.

Joe: Yeah exactly. And the bit you said about providing value to agencies too, because there have been proposals I’ve sent out that I’ve just gotten a “No,” and then I haven’t gotten a reason why. You can now provide, maybe not the reason why, but at least feedback to say, “This is where you can do things better.” And that is so important because that feedback means that I’m not going to lose the next one for that mistake.

John: Exactly.

Joe: You’re just helping everybody. This is fantastic.

John: Trying to.

Joe: We are totally, slightly over time. That’s OK. You’ve answered your question about transformations. So do you have any big plans for the future, or anything coming down the pike?

John: Yeah, that’s a great question. So, a few things. I have a couple of new offerings that I’m planning to launch soon. Actually, by the time this comes out One of them should be launched. But I’m not going to say what it is yet, in case it’s not. But basically What I’ve realized is everyone always says, “Focus on one offer, one model,” that sort of thing. But I also believe that there are a lot of ways you can provide value to people.

So I’m looking for a few different ways to diversify our revenue streams to help us invest back into growing the company. The lead side is good, I’m doing more affiliate stuff. I have a couple of other paid offerings I’m going to be launching as well. So that’s the future, and then as I said, I’m really trying to learn to be a CEO and not just an entrepreneur and a solo, lone wolf, Do-it-yourself kind of person.

I’m Really trying to hire good people to take Over stuff that I’m not amazing at, like operations. I’m good at sales But I shouldn’t be hopping on the call with someone that has $1,200 dollars a month to spend on Facebook ads. I can pay someone who is much cheaper than me to do that. Who can do it just as well if not better. So that’s really where my company is going over the next year.

Joe: Nice. That sounds fantastic. Well I’m very excited to see how that works out. When this episode drops I’ll look for that new feature.

John: I’ll send it to you.

Joe: Awesome, sounds great. So my final question, my favorite question. Do you have any trade secrets for us?

John: Trade secrets? Let’s see here. I think when it comes to growing your company, one of the trade secrets that I always like to tell people is, and I don’t know that’s really a secret. But when it comes down to marketing it’s all about, who is the person that you’re trying to serve and how do you serve them best? People talk about their personas. So you have a persona, for me it’s marketing directors, for example. I have to get down deep into, “What are their fears? What are the things they’re struggling with?” All that sort of stuff, to really know, “What is the offering? How do I message it to them? How do I get in front of them?” I think this is something that I personally have missed for a long time. Like I was saying at the beginning, tactics and tips and tricks are all a dime a dozen. You actually have to get down to the strategy.

I feel like I’ve I built my business backwards, like starting on, “I could drive traffic to these pages, and write content or whatever.” But now really, if I’m going to get to the next level, I have to actually think about, “What is the longer-term strategy of my business?” And actually getting down into, “Who is my customer?” So get down into, if you have a business that’s doing okay, but you really want to take it to the next level, you really have to go back to, “Who is my customer? Who is my audience, and what do they really need from me?” And that’s going to drive your future decisions. As opposed to, “I want to build a product. I want to build a membership site.” No. You want to serve this audience, and what is the best way to serve them? Is it a product? Maybe. Is it a membership site? Maybe. Is it a podcast? Maybe. Your audience can tell you that.

Joe: Awesome. That’s fantastic. And it goes right back to the empathy factor, you understand what your customer needs and then you can build around that. Very cool. John, thanks so much for joining me today. I really appreciate you taking the time.

John: Yeah. My pleasure. Thanks for having me on, this has been fun.

Joe: Absolutely. Where can people find you if they want to learn more?

John: The best place to find me is my company site. And the best place to connect with me personally is on Twitter @DohertyJF.

Outro: Thanks so much to John for joining me today. He offers a lot of great advice and works hard at his craft. You can tell by the way he talks how passionate he is, and that shows in a great product (or productized service)!

And Thanks again to our sponsors Pantheon, Traitware, and GravityView. Their support is deeply appreciated.

The question of the week for you is have you ever had a business coach or mentor? Let me know on Twitter at @jcasabona or email me,

For all of the show notes, head over to If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! You can also join the Facebook community over at I want to build a strong community for this podcast, and Facebook is the place to do it. And until next time, get out there and build something!

The post John Doherty and Credo appeared first on How I Built It.

Aug 28 2018



Rank #18: Sam Brodie & Selling Your Business

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Before Sam Brodie founded OffSprout, he successfully sold a niched business that focused on websites for lawyers. Sam generously shares his advice and experience with us, from niching down to how to properly keep your books. There’s tons of great advice in this episode, so make sure to listen to the whole thing!

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The post Sam Brodie & Selling Your Business appeared first on How I Built It.

Apr 02 2019