Today we have a role reversal. I’m going to be interviewed about one of my failed sites.
A few months ago, Justin Mares, co-author of Traction Book, called me up and asked why I shut down FoundersMix, a question and answer site I created for entrepreneurs.
I thought his questions were so insightful that they helped me understand myself better. So I invited him here to interview me for you.
Watch the FULL program
Andrew Warner, FoundersMix
Andrew Warner is the founder of FoundersMix, a question and answer site created for entrepreneurs, and Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart.
Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. You know by now my name is Andrew Warner, and I am the founder of Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart. You know all that, but what you don’t know is that today we’ve got a role reversal. I’m going to be interviewed about one of my failed sites. The whole shebang will be sponsored by my buddy, Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law, but I’ll tell you about him later.
Here’s what I’m going to tell you about now. A few months ago, Justin Mares called me up, and he asked me about why I shut down FoundersMix.com, the question-and-answer site that I created for entrepreneurs. I thought his questions were just so interesting and so insightful, that they even helped me understand my own issue better, my own site better, so I invited him here to talk about how he did it, and actually not to talk about how he did it, but to recreate what he did in that conversation that we had, which was private.
Justin is here. Justin is the co-author of “Traction Book.” That’s what he did an interview with me for, and “Traction Book” is a startup guide to getting customers. You can check it out. It’s at tractionbook.com. All right, Justin. Thanks for doing this.
Justin: Cool. Thanks for having me. I’m excited.
Andrew: Alright. Take it away. I’ll let you ask questions, and I will only barge in to do the sponsor ads, and I don’t know what else.
Justin: Perfect, cool. So first off, can you explain a little bit about what Founders Mix was?
Andrew: I used . . .
Justin: It’s okay if you don’t remember.
Andrew: I used Stack Exchange, the platform that Jeff Atwood put together to create a question-and-answer site for entrepreneurs. They could come in and ask questions like . . . well, what were some of the questions that I was especially eager for? It was kind of follow-up questions to the interviews. If you heard someone talk about how to use Facebook to get traffic to your site, but you were having a challenge with it, and you wanted more information, I was hoping you could go to Founders Mix, ask that question, get other entrepreneurs to answer it. Now, that basically is what the goal was.
Justin: Cool, so how long had you been doing Mixergy when you started Founders Mix?
Andrew: I don’t remember. My guess is it was about two years in.
Justin: Okay, cool, because I was actually one of the early people on Founders Mix, so I remember listening to your interviews, and then I saw you put up the site, and it was kind of an interesting community around the interviews and the content you were creating. Can you talk a bit about why you actually started Founders Mix, what led to it?
Andrew: I hate to admit it, but there were two reasons. One reason was, I remember going to Hacker News and seeing that a stack overflow kept popping up to the top of Hacker News article lists. I said, look at these guys, they just have a site where people can ask questions and answer them, and then the community does the work to create the content.
And the community does the work to submit it to sites like Hacker News, and the community votes it up on Hacker News, and so they don’t have to do nearly as much work as I do, at least, with content creation because the community is doing it all. Then I was looking at myself and I said, it takes me so much time to research, because I love researching my guests, so much time to do the interview, so much time to edit the interview, so much time to post the interview, so much time find the guests, all that, and maybe, maybe, maybe that interview will get traffic.
Maybe, maybe, maybe someone will put it up on Hacker News and vote it up. I thought, maybe I need a little bit of help getting some traffic, and so let’s try this format that works for Stack Exchange. Stack Exchange was meant for developers. I thought great, let’s create a question-and-answer site for founders. The reason that I finally went for it after having that thought for so long was, Stack Exchange came up with a platform that anyone can use. You can get your own domain, you can make it look like your site, and I thought, great, this sounds perfect.
Now I don’t have to code it up. These guys who are brilliant at coding up these question-and-answer sites will do all the hard work. All I have to do is make it available to my community and get things going. That was my personal reason for doing it. It was just so tough to do everything at Mixergy, and I wanted some help getting traffic.
The other side was I could see that people were asking for community for a long time on Mixergy, and I was looking for a format that would work, one that I could keep up with, where I wouldn’t have to do all the work, where they could help each other out, and this question-and-answer site format seemed to be the right answer for us. So that’s why I did it.
Justin: So you said that the community was asking for it; what specifically were they asking for? Can you talk about some of the emails that you were getting, or comments, or whatever? Did they want to engage with your interviewees, did they want to engage with each other? What did that look like?
Andrew: I think both, and it wasn’t really very specific. They would just say, “We need a community site. You should create a community site.” And that’s all I got and I didn’t dig in further because at the time, I didn’t know how to dig in further. I didn’t know the questions I should ask. I probably would have asked questions like, “What do you think the forum software should be? Which forum software should I go with?” as opposed to, “Why do you want a community? What are you looking to get out if it? What problem are you trying to solve?”
Justin: Mm. Gotcha. So when you were starting out, how did you see Founders Mix being different from something like Hacker News or the StartUp Sub Reddit, you know?
Andrew: StartUp Sub Reddit and Hacker News were for sharing news stories. I love Hacker News, and I still look at the news all day long, I feel like. Maybe not all day long. Way too much. But I also think that it’s not very useful. Yesterday’s news story might have been about the latest iPad or iPhone. It doesn’t really change my life that much. Why am I spending so much time on it? What I really care about is more specific actionable information that will help me with a challenge I’m facing.
Andrew: So, the news sharing sites are good but they’re not nearly as useful as I thought a question and answer site where an entrepreneur can come in with a problem and say, “Does anyone know the solution?”
Justin: Sure that makes sense. Okay, so you had some interest. You had people that wanted this. What did you do next? What were the first couple steps that you did to actually make this community happen?
Andrew: One of the first things I did was I asked for help.
Andrew: I’m glad I did because at the time, like I said, I was just exhausting myself trying to do an interview a day, and not just any old interview. I really wanted them to be great, deeply researched. I interviewed your co-author on Traction Book, Gabriel, and I didn’t want just want to know why DuckDuckGo worked by looking at news articles. I went into his community, I remember, and I asked questions of his community and I said, “What would you want to know?”
When I interviewed Paul Graham of Y Combinator, I went to Hacker News and I asked people specifically there, “What do you want to know about Paul Graham.” So, there’s so much time spent doing research and I was doing it all myself that I said, “There’s no way that I could create a community if I have to do the same amount of work that I do for Mixergy. I need help.”
And so that’s one of the first things I did. The other thing I did was I quickly made an account on Stack Exchange, bought a domain, Founders Mix. I might have even gotten Founders Mix, maybe FounderMixes, Mixerging, you know all of the variations without getting too carried away. And then I just mapped the domain to the Stack Exchange account that I created. And that was basically it.
Justin: Okay, gotcha. So one of the biggest issues if you followed creating user-generated content or building a community, one thing we saw in a lot of our interviews for “Traction Book” is that it’s really hard. So, I mean, how did you start building that community?
Something like Hacker News wasn’t started overnight, you know? So how did you kind of address those issues of creating that first content, getting those first couple people engaged, and make sure that you were actually moving towards building a real community around this?
Andrew: You know, it was really hard but it wasn’t the hardest part.
Justin: Let’s spend some time on this, and then later we can talk about what the hardest part was.
Andrew: There were people who, when I asked for help, joined in. And then having them, this team of, I think, it was five, ten people help it along was one of the best things I did because they started out by asking the right kinds of questions and answering questions that other people asked and so it wasn’t just me trying to create this community, it was them helping me create this community and them being a part of the community.
And because we were all in there, we felt like a community from the start, so that helped. The other thing I did was under each interview, I would say, “If you have a question about the topics that we talked about, type your question into this box. Hit submit.” And when they hit submit, that question went into Founders Mix, and so we posted that question for the community. I also asked my guests if they had any questions.
So at the end of the interview with Ryan Alice, the founder of iContact, I said, “I’m creating this community where entrepreneurs can ask questions,” and I asked him for questions. Then I added his questions to Founders Mix. And my idea behind that was to say, “Now, this is place where the entrepreneurs you admire ask questions.” He asked a great one. He asked, “Would investors invest in businesses that also have a social mission, or would they see that social mission as taking away from their ability to cash out of the startup they’re investing in?”
So I had this question and then I remembered taking that question to future interviewees. I think one of them was David Cohen, the founder of Tech Stars, one of the top investors in the startup scene. And he answered it and so that’s another thing that worked out where I got questions from top people, answers from top people, and it was starting to build.
They were never returning to the site. Ryan Ellis never came back, but I think that it’s more a product that I wasn’t pushing it enough. Actually, as helpful as it was to have this community of people I think it would have been even more helpful to have one more person in Mixergy to say to Ryan, “Hey, post your question here. Here’s the answer that David had. If you want to ask another question, it would help out.” I think he would have asked another question. Others would have, but at the time there was no money really for Mixergy, and I wasn’t going to put any of my own money into it because I saw what happened when I did that.
When I was putting my own money into it, it was becoming a hobby that was only geared towards my interest. And so one of the criteria I had for Mixergy when I turned it into an interview site was none of my own money goes into it. It has to be something that’s self-sustaining or else I have to accept that people don’t care enough about it.
Justin: Interesting. Okay. So you weren’t going to put money in, and that was a decision you made early on, but when you were building this community and you said it could have benefited from a community manager or some other sort of role, did you have kind of long-term plans for this community? Or was it always just to create kind of a stack exchange website?
Andrew: Yeah. I was going to mimic as much of stack over… The names are kind of confusing. The Stack Overflow was their site for, I think, developers.
Justin: Yeah. Developers.
Andrew: That was what I was mimicking, and Stack Exchange was the platform they were making available to us, and I thought, great. I’m using the Stack Exchange platform to copy what Stack Overflow was doing in the tech community for entrepreneurs. I’ll just follow their model, and that was, basically, it. I thought at some point it would work on its own with, maybe, more help from me.
Justin: Mm-hmm. Gotcha. So you ran the community for how long exactly?
Andrew: I don’t remember. I think I might have… You asked me for stats afterwards and I might have just given you everything, just vomited everything. And I hope it was useful.
Andrew: My guess it was about half a year.
Justin: Okay. So during that time can you talk about the type of engagement you saw for the first couple of months and then what people’s feedback was? So those people that asked for the community what did they think and how engaged were they once you actually gave it to them?
Andrew: I think they were excited about… I should check in with that. Maybe, Moses, who was in it could chime in in the comments and let us know what he thought. I think that there was this excitement that there was finally a community. They had all been watching Mixergy, and I’d been doing Mixergy, but there’s no way for us to talk. And we finally had a place where we could really talk, where we could see that there’s someone else in the audience.
I just heard a NPR program about the laugh track on television and how it wasn’t just for telling people you should laugh at this point because the laugh track is giving you social proof that it’s funny. It was also a kind of signal to the audience alone watching this in your house, there are other people doing it and that today one of the benefits of Twitter is when people watch a show they see that there are others on Twitter watching it, too. And it feels like being in a theater, almost, not just by yourself watching it. There’s something comforting about that.
We didn’t have that at Mixergy. Yes, the comments were there, but comments don’t feel vibrant. They don’t feel alive. When I did the interviews live, there was a lot of that. You could watch me do the interview live. You could talk back but you could really show up at the exact time I was doing the interview for it to be useful, and that was really painful, too, for me to manage the live conversation every day.
And so I think that’s the most exciting part. Finally, we were all getting together. Finally, we’re seeing who else is out there. Finally, we’re getting to talk. Finally, we’re getting to see what we can build together.
Justin: Mm-hmm. Sure. So it’s six months. Things are chugging along. People are using it. I did look at AdWords stats that we shared previously. And so it looks like you had something like 25,000 visitors over a period of a couple of months, like people were actually engaging with the contents and people were referring to it, like there were a bunch of Twitter referrals. Blog posts were talking about this. So things were kind of building and then, can you talk about what was happening in the month previously before you shut it down? What was going through your mind?
Andrew: That it was not taking…it wasn’t really solving the problem that I had. The problem that I had was I was doing too much work to get people to come to see the interviews. I was doing too much work in general and now I added more work for myself but I had to manage this community, I had to figure out where it was going. I needed and wanted to talk to people who were a part of the site.
And so suddenly I was piling on more work and it was unsustainable from a personal point of view. What I realized was I should have just be happy with the traffic that was coming in and thought more about where do I get revenue from this? How do I create something so good that people would actually pay for? And then use that money to say now that I have it how do I create a community because people want it or how do I create a community because I want traffic to come in without having to personally guide it in every day.
And then when that hit me I realized I made a big mistake. That hit me I said, what am I doing? And I realized part of it was I always saw Mixergy as a mission and at every point where I wanted to charge or I had to charge I didn’t want to do it. Because I thought, that’s not where the energy should do. The energy should go to how do I make the interviews better, how do I make the work more useful? Intellectually I know that charging and creating a revenue models will make the interviews better. But maybe on a personal level I feel like charging dirties it. So strange.
And maybe it comes from a fact that there was a period in my life where I would have done anything to bring in money with my company and I would have aggressively sold ads and I did those pop ups and so maybe by doing all that and profiting from it there was a connection in my head means that making a lot of money means dirtying the product and I didn’t want to do that. It was a mistake.
I should have recognized it and eventually I got a way out of Founders Mix which we will talk about later. And then I went in the right direction which was coming up with something so good that people would pay for and then using that to make the product even better.
Justin: Right. One last thing about Founders Mix and then I want to dig into how what you learned at Founders Mix applied to building premium which you actually do charge for. So, with Founders Mix obviously you made the decision to shut it down after a couple months. You said six to ten months. So six to ten months after what caused you to make the decision to actively shut it down? Was it the lowest traffic day, did you get a complaint or what forced your hand?
Andrew: There was no clear end which I regret. I never said to the audience even I was shutting it down, I let it peter out. At some point I recognized the problem I talked to you about which was, it’s going to be a lot of work to do this and the results won’t really solve a problem for me and they’re actually going to endanger the rest of the work that I’m doing because I won’t have the energy to research my guests. I’m going to be too exhausted or burned out to continue doing Mixergy.
So that was starting to dawn on me but I didn’t have the guts to confront that realization. Let alone to say to the audience that I ask for help and I ask to participate that, hey this didn’t work. But then the decision was taken out of my hands. Because the Stack Exchange people realized all these smaller sites that were being powered by their software weren’t really going anywhere. They were doing OK but they weren’t really setting the world on fire and maybe, maybe they weren’t even going to continue to survive because it was tougher to start a community than most people realized.
And so they just made an announcement and said we’re going to shut it down. And when they made an announcement saying they’re going to shut people down I went online and said, I have to find a way to migrate all my users away and I started doing some research. And then Stack Exchange gave me a little more time. I think they were very generous with the time. They said, take six months to move. So I said, great I’ll keep things going as they are but I’ll spend my time looking for new software to move it to.
And if I’m going to spend more time looking for new software to migrate too then I shouldn’t spend too much time on the site right now I should spend more time on migrating software. Software to migrate to eventually. The more I did that the more the site started to languish and then it just kept languishing and slowing down and slowly, slowly fading away and I still felt bad about it that I didn’t migrate it away and I still couldn’t bring myself to admit that it wasn’t working.
So I emailed someone at Stack Exchange. And I said, “Hey, can I get an extension here? Can I keep the site up on your platform longer?” They said “You know, really should move, but sure we want to help you out. You trusted us and we will make it work for you.” And so I had more time, and more time meant more time for it to peter out and less time for me to really, less of an incentive for me to say “Hey, this didn’t work out” and say to the audience I got a failure here and that kind of conversation we had.
And I was able to kid myself into thinking this thing is still around I just don’t need to focus on it, let’s not pay attention to it, it’s still around. Then when they shut it down there was no one on the site anyway so I didn’t need to make an announcement because who even cared, no one knew about it. And then it just shut down. And I never migrated out. And so, when you called me you forced me to think about it again and I said, “This is really helpful, and this is useful” and that’s when I said we should do this interview.
Justin: Yeah, so I want to dig in here if you are cool with that. I think a lot of people are afraid to talk about their failures and like it kind of messes their image or you know whatever, whatever they want to portray about their self. So why do you think. . .
Andrew: I’m sorry, hold that thought because I want that question but I want to say there is a distinction for me.
Andrew: I’m okay with admitting failure to other people because it is publicly acceptable. The problem I had here was I didn’t admit failure to myself, I think.
Andrew: I couldn’t bring myself to accept that this wasn’t right. And maybe, maybe it was partially because I was worried about saying it to the audience and saying it to the world. But there was an internal issue there, that if i thought about it, I could realize what I was dealing with. But, I wasn’t giving it much thought, you know.
I was allowed to shift my attention towards looking at software to migrate to. I was allowed to shift my attention towards Mixergy. I was allowed to say hey I could put this off for another six months or another year or whatever they gave me at Stack Exchange. And so I didn’t push myself to think about it. And I think I was just afraid of confronting the thought. Or reluctant to and so I, that was a bigger issue for me.
Justin: Sure, you know so why do you think that was? Like, in other ways I feel like you are very honest like you have sold a company you are upfront about some of your interviews. I’ve listened to interviews with you before where you will just say “I’m messing this up” or “I’m not doing a very good job right now”. And you are very forthright with that, why do you think in this case you were able to look at yourself, look at Founders Mix and say, “This just isn’t working?”
Andrew: You know one of the reasons I am so open about my mistakes in the interview is because I’ve created a system for myself for dealing with mistakes. It’s so tough when you’re talking to someone when there’s a camera watching and all this audience watching and its there forever. If you screw up its so tough to regain your composure.
And, instead of trying to figure out how to regain my composure I said I’m going to call myself out and now if I call myself out and then it allows me to get back on track. And it’s just a process that I go through. And it helps because it shows the guest in the audience that I’m willing to make mistakes and then it gets the guests hopefully to open up more or even on the phone they feel like they know my mistake and I’m open with them and so they are more open sharing their mistakes too.
So, that’s more of a process that’s now become a habit for me. Dealing with mistakes in business like this, I don’t have enough experience with it for it to be a habit. It doesn’t happen often enough for it to be a habit. And so, I just don’t give it any thought. You know, and that’s why it wasn’t even a calculated decision. It wasn’t like saying, hey if I announce that this didn’t work out then the audience isn’t going to say that they can’t trust me anymore. And i will shut it down. It was just, I have to deal with this. But need to deal with it right now. You know?
Andrew: Stack Exchange is giving me more time they will never shut me down, it will be okay. Let’s move on to something else that is more comfortable to think about. And I moved on to those thoughts.
Justin: Sure. Yeah, yeah. So, did anyone still engage with site when you kind of mentally stepped back from it? You know, were there still things going on? Were you mentioning it in Mixergy interviews? Or did you mentally just block it off completely
Andrew: Once Stack Exchange said no, I think I stopped talking about it in the interviews. And I stopped linking to it because I didn’t know what would happen. And, I don’t know if people engaged once I mentally disengaged. I think they did and maybe…no you can tell when you’re talking to someone and they’re not fully there so I think they must have noticed it.
Justin: Gotcha, so let’s say right now, you wanted to start a new Founders Mix. I mean what would you do differently, assuming you had the similar circumstances, like you couldn’t put any money into it, you know, like how would you have approached it differently, like how would you have gotten people engaged differently?
Andrew: I think it would have started before I even launched I think, all these people who told me that they wanted a community, I should have said let’s talk about it or maybe even done a post saying not that I’m announcing there’s a new message board coming or a new something coming, maybe it would have been better to say a lot of you have asked for a community, here’s my schedule add yourself to it anytime you’re free for a conversation.
I want to talk to you for 20 minutes and find out why you want this community, what is going on with you and then ask them some questions about it, what were they really looking for. Maybe what they wanted was not really a community at all but for me to not me just this guy behind the camera and be more available. Maybe they had some issues and they just didn’t know the core existed, maybe they like Facebook but they’re afraid of posting questions there because they don’t want their names associated with it.
And so the thing to do is create a message board for them with no names or nicknames or something, I don’t know. But I would have started way back then and I think it would have helped to have someone on board who was as passionate and concerned with the success of the site as I was to manage it. And then go back to the community and say here’s the vision, do you want to be a part of putting it together? And then have a process in place for constantly getting the questions up there maybe systemizing it?
The last question of every interview is what do you want, what question do you have that I can post to other entrepreneurs? And then have a system that automatically has someone on the Mixergy team take that and post it in the question and answer site.
Justin: I see, Okay.
Andrew: [??] A new Q&A site is not the right answer, whatever it is to just have a system for it so that I’m not constantly trying to say, do I put it in, do I not put it in? You know, Scott is going to get his ad right now because, and I’ll do it right now actually as a matter of fact but I know that Scott who sponsored is going to get an ad in my Mixergy interview because I have a process for making sure that I ask his question, that I include his ad.
I always, when I do my interviews, have two things up on my screen when I do my interviews, one is my notes and the other is a checklist that I make for the interview. And if a guest says to me my dad was really helpful early on but later on he really caused damage. If I can’t bring it up right now, I add it to my checklist and I ask them. If there’s something else I need to mention, I add it to the checklist and I don’t end the interview unless every box in the checklist has a check. So that’s a system that makes sure that it works.
Now I’ve added Scott Edward Walker’s ad to that system and I know he’s going to get it. I know it’s going to get done so that’s what I’m saying I should have systemized the process of connecting Mixergy to Founders Mix or whatever it became. Anyway I’ll do it right now so I can check off the box. Scott Edward Walker is the entrepreneurs’ lawyer, I know and you know that when you’re an entrepreneur you have different issue you can’t just go to any old attorney you want someone that knows your space. And Scott does.
And so you might be thinking well so do all these other big names who I see sponsoring things like the Tech Crunch event. Yes, call them up and see what they charge but also get a sense of what piece of your business they want and you’re going to see that they charge too much money and they want a big piece of your business because they don’t want to help you [??] your business they don’t want to file the early paperwork for you.
My personal sense is, this isn’t Scott’s, my personal sense is having talked to them they want to start a relationship with you that will translate into a sharing your business later on that will translate into big profits when you sell. That’s from my personal experience, what I can tell you is that Scott is the guy who knows the start up space and won’t take a huge chunk of your profits revenue or business to help you do it. And that’s why I like him that’s why I’ve worked with him for years, that’s why I recommend him to you.
Don’t take my word go to Scott’s site which is www.walkercorporatelaw.com and you’ll see, I actually have a testimonials thing why don’t I bring this up, here you go all these other people say it so go to his site www.walkercorporatelaw.com Scott thanks for letting my try these commercials in new ways. Back to just me and now I get to put a checkbox next to his name.
Justin: It sounds like. Can you talk about specific things that you learned in trying to build this community and how you’ve applied them to [??] premium?
Andrew: You know that the big thing that I did is I recognized that it wasn’t about getting more traffic to the site. It was about creating something so valuable that people would pay for it. And using that money to build a business. And so after that I shifted my attention completely to finding a way to bring in revenue for Mixergy. and I still frankly had hesitation about charging for anything.
And so what I did was I got WishList [SP] member, the plug in for WordPress so that I can turn my site into a membership site and my idea was I was going to charge for the older interviews. Partially because I was trying to implement it on my own. Partially because WishList at the time that I discovered it was just getting started. and partially because of this internal hesitation. I just dragged my feet on installing it and charging for those old interviews. And it lasted for weeks and months.
And then one day I was working with this outsourcing company that helped me with editing. And they said do you have any other work that we can do. I said yeah, you know, you could go on my WordPress site and get this plug in working. And I thought, they’re only going to charge me, like, five bucks and hour to do this. And their never going to get it done. Worst case I lose a hundred bucks. And they won’t get it done but maybe they will get it done.
So I gave it to them and boom they did get it done and they published it without even me knowing how fast they were going to get it done. They didn’t even say, hey it’s ready can I hit the, they just went for it. Because I told them to go for it. Cause I didn’t say give me, give me, like, final approval. And because they just assumed someone who asked us to do this work wants the work done. And wants to charge, so anyway, one day we just started charging.
And I’m glad that it worked out that way because I think I would have continued to drag my heels. I think it would have taken even longer. And then once we started charging. Once I started charging, it was basically me by myself at the time. And someone who did editing. Once I started charging I had something I could improve. You know the first version of charging was kind of crappy. we let people pay whatever they wanted. Then people who I interviewed ripped me and for doing that. And I finally started.
Andrew: Yeah. I said stop asking people what they want, makes you look amateurish. Give them price and.
Justin: Oh OK. Ripped, I thought you meant ripped you for charging. Just in general.
Andrew: No. Almost everyone who I interviewed was happy that I was finally charging. And encouraged me to go on and if not for them I would have given up because I saw that people in the audience were complaining. And I didn’t know how to handle it. Everyone loved my work before and appreciated. And suddenly I’m charging and everyone also has a million different ideas for what I should be charging. You should have more ads, like ads are really going to fund this. And they all say that.
By the way I got an email once from someone who said Andrew should stop charging. You should advertise, you should run ads. Years later he came to me to do an interview and I looked at his site and I go. You didn’t charge for ads, your also charging your customers. Just because yours is a physical product, I can’t tell you to shove the price and go stick ads in the box that you mail to me.
And I was going to bring it up in my interview with him because I had him on. But he was so shaky that I just felt, this is not right. This wasn’t right. I had the email here and I thought. It’s not that it’s not right it’s he can’t handle it. I thought it was right to bring it up and have the conversation. But I don’t want to knock someone off balance that much. As it is
Justin: Yeah [??].
Andrew: With people who are really tough get really nervous when it comes to doing interviews. So, so that’s what happened I started to learn, that’s what I needed to do. Then started to focus on that.
Justin: So what was that, what was the shift like mental were before with Founders Mix you were super adverse to charging. Now what, why did you feel the premium was a, worth charging for and stuff, you know, over and above Founders Mix. Second, what happened mentally that made you suddenly comfortable with it.
Andrew: What made me comfortable charging was two things. One, people like Jason Fried [SP] who I interviewed who I was really, I really admire his way of thinking. Sent me an email privately and said. Keep doing it, I’m glad your doing it. and that made me feel OK, this is great. Then the other thing was. I had PayPal set, I only used PayPal to charge. Quick and dirty, easy.
Andrew: But I had it set to buzz me, the PayPal app on my iPhone. Every time people paid and I thought. They like me, they really like me, you know, like, anyone could hit a website. Like anyone could hit any old website right now. What is this I’m going to hit discourse there now Jeff Atwood [SP] has another hit. Anyone can do that I’m not committed to that I’m going to go shift my attention away to something else. Sorry Jeff Atwood. But to pay that shows that they really like it.
And so the phone would vibrate and it would make me feel good. And it would keep making me feel like I should go on, and I should continue to figure this out. And so that helped. The other thing was I wasn’t looking to hoard the money from Mixergy. I wanted to improve the product, and suddenly I thought I could bring people in to help.
And so I hired someone to help me put together programs. I hired someone to, and this was all on a temporary basis, but I got some help finally. I hired one of those outsourcing companies to get a virtual assistant, and that didn’t work out. But I felt like, great, at least I have some options here. And so those are the two ways that things changed entirely.
Justin: Okay. So you mentioned complaints with premium once you started charging. Did anyone complain or have comments when you shut down Founders Mix?
Justin: Gotcha. So the second part of what you learned outside of [??] is after Founders Mix, how has that changed the way the way that you try and build the Mixergy community, especially the premium portion, if at all?
Andrew: I think it’s made me more reluctant to do a community, to be more thoughtful about it. And not just have another place where people can talk because there’s so many other places, but to be more directed, more clear about what we’re going to be talking about. So I’m wearing these beads, for example.
Andrew: The only reason I have these beads is because it helps me with my focus. And I’ve got a group of people who are working with me through this focus project that we had. It’s called TrueMind. And instead of starting off with a community there that’s just a plain old Veeple inside or anything else.
I thought let’s create a Google doc where we’re all thinking about what’s working for us in this process, and talking about how we’re getting it work. And that way, we’re not just chatting, but we’re writing something that other people can learn from. And so we wanted a doc. We actually have several docs. One of them is these lies that our inner doubts tell us.
Andrew: And by writing them down, we get them out of our heads and we get clear about them. And by talking about what’s happening with us, we show how we make that inner doubt, I called it countermind, I would make that countermind thought lose its power.
And so now we’re talking about what’s happening in our heads and diffusing the power of it. But we’re also sharing it with other people who can read it and can learn from it. And it’s been so good actually. When I’ve gone on stage and given presentations, I will say, and I also have this document that I can share with you. And people will email me and ask for that. No one will email me and say, I heard you have a chat board. Can I read it? Maybe someone will, but it’s not as likely.
Andrew: And I’m sure that now as people watch me talk about this, they’re going to ask for access to that because they want to see other people’s doubts. And maybe in their doubts, they can start to catch their own ‘BS’ doubts in their heads and it starts to help them.
I am actually going to say, don’t do it. I don’t want to give you guys access that now. I’m not saying this because I want to promote that. I’m suggesting that this is a better process. It’s a more thought out way. Also, I’ve had people ask me for message boards. And we probably will because of the request for it. And I want it to be focused. But instead of just creating it, I tried Facebook groups first to see what happens there.
Andrew: So I guess it’s made me more methodical about what I’m doing and kept me from thinking that it was a big, easy solution.
Justin: Sure. So how are the Facebook groups working, by the way?
Andrew: I think it’s okay, but I think I need to marry a message in a clear format with a clear thing to talk about.
Justin: Sure. That makes sense. Cool. So those are pretty much all the questions I had. I would love to look at some stats and everything if you want to provide those to the audience maybe. That would be interesting. Just kind of seeing what a community looks like from start to its eventual closing. Is there anything else you want to talk further about?
Andrew: You know what I usually say is, if they want it, let them ask for it in the comments, and then we’ll put it up. Sometimes we go through the trouble of putting things up and no one even cares. If they care about the stats, then let them ask for it. And if they don’t, then why bother. Why waste your time trying to figure out how to get it in there.
Justin: That’s right.
Andrew: Yeah. I guess that’s everything, except for two other things. One is about Founders Mix that I was hoping that one of your questions would bring out. And the second is I want people to know something cool about you that you did. So there was one point where I realized that if I ask questions on Founders Mix that people would come up with answers.
I think it was Jeff Spolsky, the co-founder of Stack Exchange, who said, it’s not about incentivizing people to answer, it’s about people will answer if there’s a question presented to them. It’s about getting those questions up on the site. And so I started writing questions myself and people answered, and it was helpful. And then I asked other people to ask questions and that helped, because then others came in with their answers, and so on.
Then I thought, well, I can’t keep asking other people to write questions because I’m burdening them with this obligation. I can’t keep writing questions on my own because then it seems like this is not a place for people to get help for each other, it’s a place for people to help me.
Andrew: So I was using Mechanical Turk at the time to do my transcripts. And with Mechanical Turk, if you know how to use it, you can just create a spreadsheet, and feed that spreadsheet of assignments to Mechanical Turk.
So I created a spreadsheet where I wrote a question on one column, more details of it on the second column, the name I wanted them to use when they registered on Founders Mix on the next column, the email I wanted them to use when they registered on the column after that, and maybe one or two other things.
And then I fed it into Mechanical Turk and they posted those questions, and suddenly there was people participating. And it was a big help. It was still my questions. It was still the kinds of questions that I thought I wanted up on the site. But it came from people through Mechanical Turk, and it made it feel like it wasn’t just me asking it. And it worked so well that I had to actually scale it back to 10 a day. Otherwise it was just going to be a flood of questions. But Mechanical Turk was really cool for that.
Justin: Yeah. In the interviews for Traction Book, we heard similar things with every user generated content site there was. Like Alexis Ohanian from Reddit created 10 or 15 different user names and he would be posting links and comments and funny things on Reddit for months after they launched.
And so I think that’s a pretty common thing. Just kind of game user generated content as well as you can to start out. Because otherwise, if I come to Founders Mix and it’s just completely dead, there’s no chance I’m going to be the first person to ask a question to a community that I don’t see exists. You know.
Andrew: You know, as an interviewer, I keep looking for a way to ask questions that will bring those things out.
Andrew: And I don’t yet know the perfect one. Here. Let me see if I have it. There was one way of asking it that got me the best results. And I should bring it back now that we’re talking about it. Let me look it up. Tag for interview. Yeah. Can’t find it. But I’m still for looking for . . . No, damn. But it takes some work to get the right way of asking that question. It’s not in there. Oh, I know why. Because this computer only has my interview notes. I now have a separate computer for doing nothing but interviews.
Andrew: Nothing else that I install from the audience will mess with my interviews. I can get it on this computer over here. Okay. Here. It was telling people that Paul Graham said that start-ups often have to do slightly devious things in order to succeed. That’s a quote from him, “slightly devious things” is. Then I asked them, well, did you do anything like that? Well, it comes from Paul Graham, then it’s okay to talk about it.
Andrew: Alright. I’ll do a quick plug, and then there’s something cool that you did that I think the audience needs to hear about. The plug, of course, is for Mixergy Premium. If you like doing interviews, or you want to try doing interviews the way I do, the way that Justin just did, I have a course called Interview Your Heroes that so many people who are now interviewing today, who started interviewing after I did, have gone through.
And they’ve told me that it helped them find guests. They told me that it helped them figure out what questions to ask, figure out how to get traffic for their interviews. What’s the one thing that you can do that will get you the most traffic, and we’re probably are going to do it with you. You’ll see that it’s almost automatic that the team here will do it with you, Justin, after this interview is posted.
And so all this stuff is part of the Interview Your Heroes course, which is part of Mixergy premium. Go to mixergypremium.com and sign up to get that course. And as a bonus, you get over 100 other courses taught by proven entrepreneurs who teach what they do best. I taught what I do best, which is how to interview. Others have taught how to get traffic. Others have taught how to find revenue. Others have taught how to grade a membership site the way that Mixergy has it. It’s all there Mixergypremium.com,
I guarantee you’ll love it, so go sign up for it. If you’re already a member, first of all, thank you for being a member, and second: If you’re already a member, check out the interview your heroes’ course. I think it’ll really help you, and I think it’s something that if you do it, you’ll get to meet a lot of really good people, and get to learn from them, and hopefully even build your business and reputation from it. Mixergypremium.com.
Justin: Just a quick note, totally unprepared but: Before, when I was doing interviews for “Traction Book,” I actually went through like two of your most popular interviews, and sketched out the questions you asked, and how you kind of handled the conversation, and then I used that interview framework that I collected on my own, from you, for all of the interviews that we’ve done for the book.
Andrew: I love that you did that! We really, as a team here, spend a lot of time coming up with the structure. You should really just copy our structure. Most people don’t know how to do interviews right.
Andrew: I’ve got now as an interview coach, the producer of Inside the Actor’s Studio, helping me ask questions, and figure out why interviews work, so that I can learn from the ones that work, and learn why questions that don’t work, fail. He’s really been helping me a lot, and I hope the better I get, the more others will learn from it as well.
Justin: I certainly am!
Andrew: Mixergypremium.com. Go get it guys. Okay so here’s a cool thing I found out about you, that I keep meaning to say publicly, but I never had a chance to really: How did you meet the co-author of “TractionBook,” the guy who founded DuckDuckGo who’s now doing incredibly well?
Justin: It’s funny, I actually met Gabe, his name’s Gabriel Weinberg, previously just once when I was in college. I was in the start-up scene. I met him once, we didn’t really talk after that, it was just kind of a random encounter. Later, I was listening to his Mixergy interview; it was a really good interview, he was talking about DuckDuckGo, and at the end of the interview, you brought up “Traction Book.”
So Gabe had bought the domain for “Traction Book,” had done some early interviews, and just ran out of time as DuckDuckGo started taking off. So you said something about “You’re the guy I should approach for Traction, because you’ve studied it, you’ve done interviews, and you’re planning on writing a book”. Then he said, “I -was- planning on it. I don’t have time, DuckDuckGo’s doing well, and I can’t spend my energy doing that”.
So it was my senior year at college at the time, and I was like “Huh. That sounds like something I should talk to him about”. I had been writing on my blog, I thought I could write somewhat decently, so I just sent him an email pitch and said, “I heard this on Mixergy; would you be interested in having me collaborate with you in order to make this book actually happen?
I’ll write the bulk of it, you just help set up the interviews and provide guidance, feedback, and all of that”, and that’s what happened. It’s been an amazing experience, and I’m super-excited for the for the book to come out.
Andrew: It’s coming out this year, 2013?
Justin: I think so, yeah. So we are deep in the editing process, we’re actually sending it out to a couple of people for early editing access. Then we’re going to incorporate some of those comments, then it’s going to be out in either December or January time frame. But the bulk of it is written ; we’ve done three rounds of edits already, hired an editor, it’s just a lot more time-consuming to make something awesome than we had originally thought.
Andrew: And one of the challenges of co-authoring a book with someone who has so much traction is he has to keep feeding the business that is growing and has all this traction! It’s cool that he hasn’t only written the book now with you, but you can see his business get traction, and more traction, and do better and better.
If anyone out there’s interested, the book is on tractionbook.com. Go on there, and you’ll see the great people who they’ve got to participate in this book, and you can sign up to get updates whenever the book is published. Wait, no one wants to get updates; will you guys give them a free chapter, or something, or let them see what you’re doing, if they enter an email address?
Justin: We will, yeah. We will.
Andrew: Good. So, type in your email address, and see what they do with it. It’s all on Mailchimp, so people can unsubscribe easily.
Justin: We don’t spam anyone.
Andrew: I’m like the way you guys have been working on this, and I’m looking forward to reading it.
Justin: Yeah, it should be great!
Andrew: Thank you all for being a part of it. Thank you, Justin, for interviewing me. Bye, guys!
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