Think Traffic: Why Does A Guy Whose Company Got Funded Prefer To Bootstrap? – with Corbett Barr

Today’s guest is known as a successful blogger, but before that he raised $3 mil for a company that didn’t work out as planned.

I invited him here to talk about that experience and about his blog.

Corbett Barr is the founder Think Traffic, where he writes about how to build a thriving and profitable audience for your site.

Watch the FULL program


About Corbett Barr


Corbett Barr is the founder Think Traffic, where he writes about how to build a thriving and profitable audience for your site.

Raw transcript


Mixergy’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

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Hey there Freedom Fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. Today’s guest is known as a successful blogger; but before he did that, he raised $3 million for a company that didn’t work out as planned. I invited him here to talk about that experience with that startup and about his blog. Corbett Barr is the founder of Think Traffic, where he writes about how to build a thriving and profitable audience for your site. The previous company was called Boxbe. Welcome. Good to see you.

Corbett: Thanks for having me.

Andrew: Do you remember the day when you knew you had to leave Boxbe?

Corbett: Yes. I had spent about three years building this startup. As you mentioned, we raised capital, we grew the team to 10 people or so. In late 2008 the financial world collapsed and VC’s went scrambling trying to cover their own asses and to figure out where to cut losses. At that time, we were in the middle of trying to raise the second round, the B round. It ended-up that we were unable to find new investors, so we had to go with hat-in-hand to our existing investors. The best they would offer us is what’s known as a bridge round, which is to get you from point A to point B. The terms weren’t super favorable.

At that point, my co-founder and I had been disagreeing about the future of the company. It wasn’t so fun anymore now that things weren’t super successful. I remember finding out the terms that we had to raise money at, what we had to raise, and the fact that we were going to have to lay-off half the team – some people that I was close to and had enjoyed working with. It was kind of a crushing blow for me to realize that I spent three years building this thing and now it was looking like it was going to be a complete failure, and that I was going to have to start over. It was a tough time for a while. Yes, I remember that day very clearly.

Andrew: I just wrote down the phrase “crushing blow” because, if you will, later on in this interview, I want to find out how it felt and let you go deeply in to it. First, you’re a blogger now. I’m a guy who used to run a software company and now is a blogger. Occasionally, I think: this is not as good, it doesn’t reflect well on me that I went from running software to running my mouth. Do you ever feel that sense of inferiority because you’re a blogger and not software?

Corbett: No, not at all. Actually, looking back at my startup experience and the startup world, I realize how little personal freedom I actually had. The goal for most of us as entrepreneurs – maybe sometimes we don’t know what the goal is. The goals is either to make a lot of money or to gain some incredible amount of personal freedom. I think the reason people want money is they think that’s how they get freedom. For me now, as a blogger, I have all the freedom over my life that I want. I’m about to go to Italy tomorrow for a few weeks, and I live in Mexico every winter. My wife and I have gone there for five years now.

As a startup founder, I had co-founders, I had a board of directors, I had investors, I had 10 employees, and office, and people from all sides who expected things from me and not as much control over my life and my business as you would think you would have as an entrepreneur. I ended up taking a sabbatical after that company, essentially to hit the reset button on life. I had gotten so deep into this startup world that I sort of forgot what my goals were. It was, like, you’re clawing every day to get users and to make these metrics go up, and you kind of lose sight of why you’re doing all of that. On this sabbatical, we went for eight months basically.

Andrew: I’m sorry. I’m going to pick up that story later . . .

Corbett: Yeah.

Andrew: . . . on this narrative, but I want to push a little bit further here and then I promise what . . .

Corbett: Yeah.

Andrew: . . . I promised the audience. I know you’re willing to anywhere, but I want the audience to know that this is going to go in chronological order, so you can see how he raises money, what happened in the . . .

Corbett: Okay.

Andrew: . . . company. What happened afterwards, including that crushing blow. What happened on the sabbatical, and then how he built up this site in traffic. I just want to spend a little more time on this idea.

Corbett: Sure.

Andrew: You and I are now living in San Francisco.

Corbett: Yeah.

Andrew: We’re surrounded by people who’ve raised money or long to raise money. People who’ve exited or long to exit. When you start a conversation with someone, it’s not unusual for them to say, “So when are you going to get serious, and start a company?” in one way or the other.

Corbett: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: It’s not unusual for them to say, “All right, interesting little side project that you have. My kid has a blog. When are you really going to build a business?” Haven’t you ever had someone say that to you, and felt like I don’t look as good? It doesn’t reflect well on me?

Corbett: Absolutely. Yeah. Completely. There’s an entire world of VCs and startups who look down at anyone who runs a lifestyle business that thinks, oh . . .

Andrew: Yeah. Is there a specific person, don’t give me their name, who said something to you that made you question it, that made you feel less than?

Corbett: No one who’s said anything to me now. Maybe it’s just because I surround myself with people who are ‘yes men’ or something. I’m not sure. Let me just tell you a story. I was at a cafe recently, and I ran into a person who used to work for me, a software developer. This guy worked for us for 18 months or so. He did a great job. He earned a little bit of cash. He was an independent contractor. Then after our start-up wound up, he went looking for other stuff. He ended up at Gowalla for a while. Then he ended up being the eighth employee at Instagram.

Andrew: Okay.

Corbett: So here’s a guy who worked for me and now Instagram was bought for a billion dollars. He now is at Facebook. I don’t know what his exit was, but I’d have to guess it was probably eight figures, right? Yeah. There is this lottery that people play in the startup world, and if you win that lottery, it’s incredible. There are riches, and I think people get really into pursuing the start-up for that opportunity, for that ticket to be rich and famous. That’s great.

I decided when I went on this sabbatical to take a different approach, which is to enjoy every day of my life, to live the life that I want to live now instead of sleeping under my desk and spending 80 hours a week at my start-up trying to build something that has a small chance of success. I wanted the sure thing which is I know that I can do this. I know that I can build a company slow and steady, and live a really fantastic life now. If people want to look down on that, that’s fine. It’s a different approach. I think people are motivated by different things.

Andrew: All right. I want to know how you got here. I’ve met you now a few times since I live here in San Francisco, and one of the perks is that I get to see other entrepreneurs.

Corbett: Yeah.

Andrew: One of the things that I like about you is that there’s such a calmness to you, such a comfort with yourself. In a room full of people who are all trying to figure out should I talk to someone, should I not, am I as important as the other people in the room. I never sense that from you, and I want to know how you got here. Let’s go back to boxing.

Corbett: Yeah.

Andrew: Where did the original idea come from?

Corbett: Well, my wife and I moved to San Francisco in 2005, basically because she got into grad school here. I started reconnecting with people who I knew lived in San Francisco just because I was new to town, and I wanted to say, hi. I ran into an old colleague, someone that I had worked with at a consulting firm before. He was in the process of trying to take his PhD thesis work, his academic work, and turn it into a start-up essentially. He and I started talking. There was another person we were talking to as a potential co-founder. One thing led to another.

Here I was, three months into living in San Francisco, and already I was, like, enveloped by the start-up world, which was great. I think I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I didn’t ever have the guts to pull the trigger. There was this opportunity here. My co-founder actually had founded a prior start-up that was a successful exit. I just had this confidence in him and his idea and we got together. One thing led to another pretty quickly. I think within about three or four months of talking with him, I ended up leaving the job that I had.

Andrew: Okay. What was the thesis?

Corbett: The thesis was around basically introducing a financial mechanism into the flow of email to change the dynamics, the incentives, for spammers. So imagine if this is floated around for a while, but basically if you require payment from people that you don’t know, necessarily, in order to email you, then they’re not going to unless that message is really important to them.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Corbett: And spammers can’t afford that because they send out millions and millions of messages with a little bit of return. So that’s kind of where we started. We ended pivoting a lot and didn’t stay with that idea, but that’s kind of how it started.

Andrew: How soon after the idea did you raise money. Did you start to build it first?

Corbett: No, this was a painful process. We built a prototype, and we worked on it for close to a year. We shopped around the idea to VCs. We probably talked to 30. That’s not easy, getting told your idea is not good enough, or whatever, 30 times in a row over the course of six months.

Andrew: By knowledgeable people.

Corbett: Yeah. Exactly. Eventually we found some VCs that really believed in us. Also, we realized at some point that we had to launch this thing and try to get traction in order to get the VCs to believe that we had something. This was in the days where I think it was a little bit harder to build a prototype, and you had to have a little bit more money in order to do that. We thought we’d shop the idea around, raise a small round, build the prototype, but we ended up having to build the entire prototype before we could raise money.

Andrew: What year is this?

Corbett: This was in 2006.

Andrew: Okay. So what was the prototype like?

Corbett: It was ugly. It was pretty basic. It was sort of a disposable email address kind of idea. I remember that we spent a lot of time sort of going down dead ends. This was before the lean start-up idea and the whole minimum viable product idea . . .

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Corbett: . . . was really popular. We probably spent too much time on that. We spent money out of our own pockets paying developers, doing a lot of software developing ourselves, and then finally raising money. I worked without a salary for about a year on this thing.

Andrew: Oh, wow. And your wife was in school.

Corbett: My wife was in school. Yeah. So we kind of watched our hard-earned savings dwindle for quite a while.

Andrew: I see. How’d you have savings? From the job that you had before?

Corbett: Yeah. I worked as a Fortune 500 consultant for about six years for big companies like Allstate Insurance and things like that. It was a really well-paying job. It was the kind of thing where they hire recently minted MBAs from top schools, and the starting salaries are six figures. That sort of thing. It was a public company as well, so we had stock options.

Andrew: You told Jeremy Weiss in the pre-interview that there was an issue with Portland and Chicago that made you just say, I can’t live like this. What was that?

Corbett: Well, so when you’re one of these consultants, if you work for one of the big firms, DeLoitte or whatever. PwC, that sort of thing. We were a boutique firm. They sent me all around the country. I had to live in Houston for a year. I actually worked at Enron, which is a whole other story we can talk about at some point. I worked in Chicago for about two years and after a year of that, my wife kind of said, what are we doing? You don’t even live here?

So we decided to have her come out and live in Chicago, so our life was a little bit more livable. And towards the end of that project, I knew that there was a project in Portland, which was near where we lived, and that they were sending people from Chicago to go work in Portland. And they were sending me, from Seattle, to go work in Chicago. It was just crazy, because we had similar skill sets. The projects were similar. Eventually, I talked the project manager in Portland to having me on their project. We packed up all our stuff in Chicago, all of our apartment, sent it back to Seattle. I got home to Seattle thinking I was going to start in Portland a couple of days later, and sure enough on the weekend, I get a phone call saying, oh, we need you to come back to Chicago. I had moved my family. It’s not just me, right. It’s my wife and everything.

Andrew: Yeah.

Corbett: I just got tired of not having control over my life. I think in that world, they dangle this carrot in front of you for a long time which is you make a decent amount of money, you get a lot of benefits and eventually you might become a partner in the firm. If you’re a partner, you’re going to make a lot more money, which is great. But you look at the partners, and you realize they have less of a life than you do as a manager. Right. Because they don’t just go to one city, they go to three cities a week, and they have multiple clients to deal with. I just had had enough and basically at that point said, no, I’m not going to move to Chicago and this is it, I guess. I quit.

Andrew: One upside of it is that you do make enough money that you can invest in yourself later on. I remember in DC there are a few people who had this kind of a lifestyle, and they gave it up for the same reason that you did. But I was walking through their houses. They were able to, at least, to put a big down payment on a house because of this. You make good money, but your life stinks.

Corbett: Yeah. I made good money, and honestly, that’s what allowed me to not only try this startup that we’ve been talking about, but also when I started as a blogger, I lived for another year essentially without a salary, on the same savings. I mean, we made it last by living in Mexico for a good portion of that time. But I am thankful that I was able to find a job that paid me well enough that I could save some money.

Andrew: So, the first pivot is often the hardest one because you walk into a business with an idea and the world says, “No, I don’t like it,” and the instinct is to say, “No, no you don’t get it. Let me explain it to you again.” Did you have that kind of experience where the world was telling you one thing then you kept saying, “No, no we have this vision. Listen to us.”

Corbett: Definitely, and not maybe so much from my end of things because as I said, it was sort of my co-founder’s baby. It was his idea, and I sort of trusted in that vision, and he really wanted to see that vision through so he stuck to it for a very long time, and that’s kind of what led to difficulty down the road in this sort of lack of interest in pivoting and sort of seeing if there’s an easier path than the thing that we started with basically.

Andrew: Eric Ries even, the founder of the Lean Startup methodology says that when he was at IMVU, the world was telling him, “This is not what we want.” His customers who came into his office to look at his software because he wanted feedback on it said, “No, this isn’t what we want,” and he still didn’t listen. He said, “Get me someone else.” So I understand that he eventually listened too, but I want to see from your experience. What was the world saying to you that was a hard message for you guys to listen to?

Corbett: We didn’t listen to customers. I don’t recall having any conversations with customers. It was basically: “Let’s have the big bright entrepreneurial idea, build it, and then give it to people. They’re blessed. They should be blessed to use our software.” Which is a horrible position to be in because you exist as an entrepreneur to create things that people want, and what better way to know if they want it than to listen to them? You know what I mean? And there’s a balance obviously. You don’t listen to every feature that everybody asks for, but we did a really poor job of listening to our customers and I think that ended up being our downfall.

Andrew: So how do you pivot if you don’t have external feedback? How do you know what to pivot into? How do you know it’s time to pivot?

Corbett: There’s multiple kinds of feedback, but the main kinds of feedback, I think, especially if you subscribe to the Lean Startup sort of methodology, there’s the “direct customer feedback” where you’re really listening to people and finding out why they like things and why they don’t, and then there’s this “Aggregate Metric feedback” that you look at which is how many people are singing up, how many people are downloading things. You can look at that and make all kinds of conclusions and not really have any correct conclusions from that.

So I think the main thing that we looked at was every month looking at our Aggregate Metrics – how many people are visiting the website, how many people are signing up – and try to make decisions based on that instead of qualitative data from actual customers. So we did make some pivots. As I said the email idea was based around introducing a payment mechanism into email and it was sort of a “chicken and the egg” problem because we didn’t have enough user-base to work with each other with this system to actually make the thing…

Andrew: Because you needed two sides of the conversation to go with members of Boxby…

Corbett: Exactly, yeah.

Andrew: …and then you could exchange money. Otherwise, people couldn’t reach them?

Corbett: You got it. Exactly.

Andrew: Otherwise, they’d have to create a Boxbe account in order to pass to money back and forth.

Corbett: So we took a pivot basically to figure out “how could we make this service usable to begin with,” and then later layer on these other applications that require the network effects.

Andrew: I see. So if it just works with one person and another and another independently then you can get enough of those individuals using the product without this money being exchanged and then later on you could add more money.

Corbett: Yeah.

Andrew: So what was the individual product… Well actually, before we even get to that… How did you know that this was a problem if you weren’t talking to customers? Why did you think “Hey, we need more money to buy more add words. We need more money to buy more banners.” How did you know that is was the product and not lack of advertising, which is easy to blame?

Corbett: You know, that’s a good question. I think we listened a lot to investors and advisers and things like that, and there are just a lot of theories about what you’re doing and how you need to go about it, but we didn’t listen to customers. It was just mostly internal, either from ourselves or from our advisers.

Andrew: OK. Alight, and then the new product. What were you going to give people that would work as a standalone product without the network effect?

Corbett: Well, basically we started making an email prioritization service so instead of having this payment mechanism, it was more like… and this is something that is built into Gmail now, which is another unfortunate lesson. It’s kind of easy for big companies sometimes to implement a feature that undoes your entire business model. But, we basically built an email prioritization service. So, it would go in, sort of figure out who you communicated with on a regular basis, and then assign priorities to your email, so that your inbox was kind of layered, based on, you know, based on who emailed you.

Andrew: Well, this is a long time before Google added their priority inbox. Which it seems like that’s validating the idea without having the competition there at the time from the giant. Why didn’t it work if the idea was so good that Google wanted to do it?

Corbett: It kind of worked.

Andrew: It did?

Corbett: I mean, we ended up with hundreds of thousands of registered users, using our software. We didn’t have a business model and maybe this is a factor of simply the time that we were going about this, because now, you see, you know, companies like Tumblr and Instagram with no revenue being acquired for a billion dollars. In 2008, without revenue to support ourselves, like I said, we really just had to go begging for investment because the investment market was radically different then, from what it is now.

Andrew: So strange how that works and then a year or two later, it was back to normal.

Corbett: Yep.

Andrew: It was back to hey, don’t need money, what’s your idea? So, when things start to unwind, often founders have issues with each other. The founder of The Muse told me that one of the reasons she had to start a new company and then she took that into iCombinator with a new set of coworkers. I think she pushed me to talk about co-founder issues more. So I’ll ask you. What are some of the issues you and your co-founder had?

Corbett: And this is a really good lesson because, you know, it’s really easy to get along with people when things are going well, and it’s really easy to disagree when they’re not going so well. You know, we had different views over how to build the company. We had different personalities and I came from it, sort of from an unattached position. I wanted to build a successful business, and my cofounder came from it, from the position of I have this idea, I want to make this idea work. So, that was a constant tension from the very beginning, and it festered enough that eventually when things didn’t go well, you know, we ended up in arguments, basically.

Andrew: …What kind of arguments? What did you argue over?

Corbett: Arguments over project stuff, you know, what features we should be building into the product, which direction we should be taking the project, and also, you know, what our focus should be, in terms of revenue versus, you know, getting people to sign up, versus proving this proof of concept so that we can raise a bunch of money and then build it out sort of proper, you know, one path was a really long path, I think, that maybe could have worked given the right circumstances. The other, my approach, you know, was to zig and zag a little bit more frequently.

You know, the other thing is we were in an incubator setting with a bunch of really incredible companies, companies that you know today, we sat, it was just an office that we shared with people with the founders of Eventbrite, with the people who founded Flixter, with the people who founded O-power, and Talkbox, and a bunch of these other companies that ended up being successful and, you know, I think I watched them with a bit more fleet footedness, sort of a bit more of zigging and zagging and making pivots a bit more readily and so I just, you know, I ended up being sort of frustrated at our inability or lack of interest in pivoting and trying to explore more avenues.

Andrew: All these things that you’re talking about seem like good, healthy conversations to have–should we zig and zag or should we stay on course and see how to make this work. These are natural conversations. What’s the problem when you’re under fire because of lack of money? How does is get expressed when you don’t have enough certainty?

Corbett: I think those conversations that can be useful in the beginning if you have time and money and whatever, and interest in pursuing them. When they’re compounded by anger and resentment and, you know, uncertainty about the future, they can just take a turn, you know, and it depends. You know, I mean, maybe you found a cofounder who you really get along with and the conversations are productive always or maybe you find someone who, you know, when push comes to shove, it just takes a little bit of a darker turn, you know, and I’m glad to have gone through that, I guess.

I mean, it’s taught me a lot about how I want to build businesses going forward and I’m in a new situation, with a new set of partners now, essentially and we’re taking things very slowly and we’re trying to build things not only with success in mind but also with failure in mind. What happens when it doesn’t work out, you know?

Andrew: How do you prepare for failure?

Corbett: You have to have honest conversations about different scenarios. What happens if ‘x’? What happens if ‘y’? And agree on what you’ll do now while you’re of sound mind, agree on what you’re going to do then if things don’t go your way.

Things are a little bit different now because this new business that I built – I built it as a solo entrepreneur and it was very much bootstrap. So we have revenue and the conversation is just different because we don’t have investors to worry about. We’re not going to go out and shop for venture capital and that sort of thing. So it’s a bit of a different conversation. I don’t know where it could go or what happens if it isn’t successful because I haven’t been through this round before, this type of company, but I’m just trying to be a little bit more aware of things.

Andrew: You said earlier the phrase, “crushing blow,” that I wrote down. Can you describe how that felt to you? I’m not sure how to express the question, but I’ll give you an example of what was going on with me when I had my crushing blow with Bradford and Reed when I realized it was not going to be a lifetime business and its revenues were going down and I couldn’t figure things out. I remember feeling like I was sleepwalking into work.

I would just go through the motions but I wasn’t fully alert. I remember mourning offers that people made for me. Someone offered me, I think, a hundred million dollars for the company and I said, “Why didn’t you take it?” over and over again in my head. I remember thinking, “Now, I can’t really fully relax because I was already stretched too thin and I never learned to take a vacation and now I’m not going to be able to take a vacation.” I remember reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, with the fantasy that I’d get to just leave it behind and go on the road. And then an opportunity to exit disappeared and I could never go back and even try to start reading that book again, because it’s so painful. It was that, it was numbness and disappointment and reliving of past opportunities. What was it like for you? What are some of those images for you from that time?

Corbett: All of what you just said, unfortunately. Also in my case, we didn’t have exit opportunities so maybe it wasn’t quite the extreme. But there’s this roller coaster that you go on from you start out thinking, “The sky’s the limit. It’s so exciting.” And then the reality sets in that you have to work for a year – in our case without salary trying to build this thing. So I remember having panic attacks, which I had never had before. I was so stressed out when we were building the prototype, talking to investors, getting no after no after no, that I ended up going to see the doctor because my panic attacks were so severe that I thought there was something wrong with me physically.

So you start out excited, you end up with this incredible stress, then you raise money and you’re elated again. I remember the drive home after signing the term sheet with the VCs. My cofounder and I literally were screaming in the car, calling people. It was just pandemonium, right? It’s so exciting. So then you tell your friends and your family and they’re on this roller coaster with you. Your spouse, your parents, everybody – it’s like at first they’re like, “Are you sure you really want to found a company? It’s really risky.” And you think maybe they think you’re being a little reckless with your life and then they feel sorry for you because you’re not getting investment, and then they’re like, “Wow, he got investment. That must mean he’s rich.” First of all, they think you’re just wealthy right away or that you’re going to be eventually, right? So it’s just this crazy roller coaster and eventually when that all came to a halt, there’s just a lot to look back on and to think about what you did wrong. You have to explain what happened over and over again to every friend and every family member and admit that what you tried to do for three years is a failure. And three years of your life – that’s a lot of time to put into something and to have felt like you were on the brink of success.

I remember taking walks with my wife, looking at some development that had happened in the company, and saying, “You know what? I think we turned the corner. I think this is it.” And then, no, it didn’t. And when you add on top of that these arguments that you can have with cofounders and even with investors and advisors and things like that, I remember not being myself for a while, for a couple of months, like a lot of ugly things coming out that weren’t me necessarily.

Andrew: For example?

Corbett: Just screaming matches with people and saying hurtful things to other people just because you’re so frustrated and angry. I remember talking to other entrepreneurs. In fact Kevin Hartz from Eventbrite is a friend because we started companies in the same office. Actually, we rented from them. Another company that rented from us was Zinga, to begin with. This was just an incredible time, right? All these other people being successful and then we ended up being the failure out of it. So it was a bitter pill to swallow. But I remember sitting down with Kevin because I wanted some advice like what to do at this point. And he said, you know, it probably seems really dire right now. But you have to remember that you’re not going to feel the same way two years from now, and you don’t want to do a bunch of things that you’re going to regret, say a bunch of things that you’re going to regret. And I listened to him to some degree, but in other ways I did a bunch of stupid things, and . . .

Andrew: What’s one thing that you regret? You don’t have to give the name, but if you could be open about it, I think it’d be helpful.

Corbett: Well, you know, I just remember making things between my co- founder and I sort of about us personally instead of about the business, and just trying to make it an argument between us about you never trusted me. You know, that sort of thing. You know what I mean.

Andrew: . . . [SS] . . .

Corbett: It’s sort of like a break up. When you’re with a co-founder, it can become very much like a marriage or some sort of a dating relationship. A lot of emotional stuff can come up. And I think a lot of people don’t necessarily think about that when they go into it. I think, next to a marriage, I can’t imagine being any closer to someone than you can be with a co-founder.

Andrew: So then you go on this sabbatical. What happens on this sabbatical in Mexico?

Corbett: In Mexico, I wanted to take six months off basically to hit the reset button, because I had jumped one career opportunity to the next for ten or thirteen years, something like that, without ever really asking what I wanted from life. Basically, my goal was to get the best job, or pursue the best opportunity possible, the thing that might have had the best money and the best status basically to get validation from other people. You know, you’re doing a great job, whatever. I kind of forgot who I was, and I forgot to pursue things that I actually wanted for myself. When we went to Mexico, I just wanted to hit the reset button. Now my initial idea was that I would go to Mexico, I would think of a new start-up idea, and then I would do it again. But this time I would not make the same mistakes. Right.

Andrew: Right.

Corbett: That’s everybody’s idea. I’m going to do it again, not the make the same mistakes. But when we got to Mexico, within a month or two, some really incredible things started happening. We met people who weren’t rich and weren’t retired, but somehow spent months every year living in a foreign country. Either they returned to Mexico, or they were just traveling. Some of these people took their jobs with them because they worked online, or they brought work with them. Or some people just saved up enough to take time off every year.

My view of life up to that point was that either you climbed the corporate ladder as efficiently as possible so that you could retire with a decent amount of savings and then do what you wanted to do. Or you were an entrepreneur and tried to swing for the fences, make a bunch of money, and then do what you want to do. I didn’t really comprehend that you could kind of do what you want to do regardless of what’s happening in your career. Here all these people were sort of bending their careers around their lives, instead of what I had done which was the opposite.

So a couple of months in, I was just so floored by all of these stories that I started to blog to chronicle these stories, to document our trip, and to start asking myself questions out loud about the nature of work and life and the balance between the two. And why most people go about things the way they do, and why I had gone about things the way that I have.

Andrew: Give me an example. You told Jeremy about an acupuncturist that you met there. How does an acupuncturist work remotely from Mexico?

Corbett: He actually has a practice in Mexico, and he operates it while he’s there for about six months a year.

Andrew: And people come from the U. S. to visit him there?

Corbett: People come from the U. S. and Canada, ex-pats. He also works on locals as well. People that need treatments of some sort. They actually are close friends of ours now, and they’ve been returning to Mexico every year for 12 years or so. So he took a regular career that you would never think you could travel with, I guess, and opened up a clinic. And actually, luckily for him, there aren’t other acupuncturists in town really, so he’s the only game, and people come.

Andrew: So I see that now you’re started to become a blogger, but you still haven’t found what became ThinkTraffic.

Corbett: Right.

Andrew: How do you find your topic? That’s a really big challenge.

Corbett: It’s really easy to dismiss people who start blogs about following your passion, right. We all know that there are way too many of those blogs out there. It seems like there’s hundreds of them started every day. I receive emails from people who think they have this magnificent idea. I want to quit my job, so I’m going to start a blog about quitting my job, and magically I’m going to become famous. I was one of those cliched stories, because here I was on a trip, sort of exploring what my life meant. I started blogging about it, and within the first year that blog became very successful. I had about a half million people stop by that site in the first year because, I think, of a combination of things. Because of this economic downturn, there was a lot of interest in, what are we going to do?

There aren’t jobs out there. What are things that people can do to earn a living? This idea of having a stable career for your whole life vanished within the span of a year. So that was a lot of interest in that. So I blogged about that for about a year, and during that time, I started thinking this is kind of interesting. It seems like there could be a business opportunity here, but I didn’t exactly know how to connect the dots between talking about my passion, following my passion, but not having yet reached it. How am I going to teach other people how to do that necessarily. I have my own experiences, but I didn’t know how to bring those people something that they would be able to pay for. That’s how I ended up with ThinkTraffic.

Andrew: Why couldn’t you sell those people on guides to following your passion, guides to traveling the world and working, guides to being an acupuncturist in Mexico? Why didn’t you do something that was more directly connected to what you’ve experienced so far, and what you were publishing at the time?

Corbett: I think I could, and I did a little bit. I learned a bit about affiliate marketing, which is just selling other products for a commission. I built a product around that and sold that. I also started doing a little bit of coaching to sort of understand what was going through people’s minds and . . .

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Corbett: . . . what they wanted so that I could hopefully, build other products. I found that when I opened up sort of coaching for these people, we ended up talking about things that were maybe more suited to a psychiatrist than to a business coach. There’s a fine line there, I think. A lot of people who are looking to follow their passion have a lot of existential questions. For me, I was always interested in sort of the business side of things, and the technology side of things, and I just felt like there was a disconnect between getting from here to there. Maybe I could have followed through on it. There are obviously plenty of people who have. Arguably, Chris Guillebeau, one of the biggest bloggers in that space, really talks about following your passion and has figured out ways to kind of monetize that.

But towards the end of the first year, I looked around and I thought, what could I do that I have some experience with that people are really in need of. As I got to know more and more bloggers, I saw there were a lot of people who just couldn’t find their initial audience. They just couldn’t build an audience. I had built this start-up and we had some success prior with drawing an audience there. And this blog that I started also became a big success within the first year. I thought, even if I don’t have all the answers, this is a good problem space to be in. Trying to help people to grow audiences online.

Andrew: How do you know that they were having this problem? How were they communicating to you that they had this issue. How did you figure out that this was an issue for them?

Corbett: This is interesting because the fact that I’m finding these things out from people points to the fact that this time around I built the start- up in a completely different way. It started as a direct conversation with people. That’s what a blog is. It’s a conversation with people. As opposed to starting from some idea and working from there without listening to customers. I was always listening to customers directly. Sometimes I was offering coaching packages. There were a lot of people commenting on my blogs, emailing me. I had meet-ups with people. There’s this sort of tight- knit community of people who travel who also blog. And you meet people in other places. Just through these conversations, it just became clear that probably the biggest thing that people felt was standing in the way of their success was their ability to grow an audience around a topic.

I see. You know you mentioned that you talked to a lot of different bloggers. You and I saw each other last at Dan and Audrey’s drinks event a couple of weeks ago. Dan and Audrey are a couple that Olivia and I met when we were living in Argentina.

Corbett: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: And they were just traveling all over the world, and we just happened to be introduced by a friend. Let me take it away from just them. I was amazed that you knew them, and then amazed you knew Leo Babauta, amazed that you knew, who was it, Adam Baker of Man Vs. Debt, in the pre- interview you told Jeremy helped you figure out your idea. How are you meeting all these bloggers? How are you meeting them? I mean getting to know other people.

Corbett: I think in the beginning it was a willingness to have chats with anybody. You mentioned eight people. I probably had conversations with 800 people over the past three years. And those . . .

Andrew: But those bloggers, especially Leo Babauta is a minimalist. His blog is about minimalism, and I think he decided he wasn’t going to blog about that because it was too much work. He’s not looking to have more people in his life. He has plenty of people. How do you get through to someone like that?

Corbett: Well, in the case of Leo, I met him. He gave a talk here in San Francisco with Tim Ferriss and Jesse Jacobs at Samovar. I had a friend who was another blogger. His name was Everett Bogue. He had a blog about minimalism and he had emailed Leo to say, hey, I’d love to get drinks some time. So after Leo’s talk, I ended up in a circle of five people having drinks, and one thing led to another. I guess we just kind of hit it off and became friends from there.

Andrew: I see. So there . . . mm-hmm.

Corbett: It’s just a matter of putting yourself in places where you can actually meet people, and usually those conversations start as emails. Maybe they progress to Skype, and then they progress to in person. You know.

Andrew: What about this? You’re a married guy. You’re going out by yourself to go to these blogging events, I’m assuming.

Corbett: Yeah.

Andrew: Doesn’t that become an issue? Where you’re not sitting on the couch and watching Mad Men, or you’re . . .

Corbett: [laughs]

Andrew: . . . [laughs] or you’re not spending enough time in your marriage.

Corbett: I get plenty of Mad Men time in. And it’s not that I do this all the time. I’d say maybe I do an in-person event every couple of weeks, every two weeks or so. My wife has come to some of those, but she’s an artist and her world is different. So she doesn’t always want to talk to bloggers. And she knows that it’s part of my business, so it’s just something that I do. I’ve also held a lot of meet-ups. In fact, I think you and I first met at a meet-up that we held. That’s another great way to meet people. A lot of people who are just fans of yours might come out. But some of those people who are fans become huge successes on their own.

For example, Scott Dinsmore, who runs a site called Live Your Legend. It’s massively popular. He has one of the most popular TEDx talks ever. We met because he had a blog that was failing. He had been blogging for three years. He hadn’t gotten any traction. I had a meet-up in San Francisco that he came to. We started talking about it. We hit it off. We became friends. I consulted with him on changing his blog from what it was to what it is now. He’s become a huge success. I have no doubt that he’s going to be a far bigger success than me or almost anybody that I know. Those conversations don’t happen unless you’re willing to say hi to people. That means a lot of times that you’re going to have conversations with people that are weirdoes, sometimes, or people that are doing things for a hobby, and they’re not really serious about it. You kind of have to take both if you want to meet the successful people as well, I think.

Andrew: One of the meet-up that I would go to around you. You bought me a drink. You wouldn’t let me buy my own drink. It seemed like you were spending money. You were reserving a top floor in a bar in a financial district in San Francisco. That can’t just come free, can it? What did the whole thing cost you?

Corbett: That was cheap. Actually the space we reserved for free. And I opened the credit card up for a couple of hours for drinks. I think it was maybe $300 worth of drinks, and . . .

Andrew: That’s it?

Corbett: Yeah.

Andrew: First of all, how are you going to make back your 300 bucks?

Corbett: That’s not something we do every week. That’s a special occasion. We probably do that maybe four times a year or something.

Andrew: Okay.

Corbett: It’s just a way to give back. A lot of people that came to that were our customers already. These are people that are members of different courses that we’ve built. It’s just a way to say thanks. Sometimes those connections that you make in person just become so much more than the casual connection that you have over email with someone. You never know where those are going to go. Partly it’s just for fun. I don’t have any expectation of recouping that money.

Andrew: Do you ever do a meet-up and not have anyone show up? I think that’s a big issue that bloggers have, especially when they’re starting.

Corbett: Yeah. I had meet-ups maybe two or three years ago where two people would show up. I’ve never had one where no one showed up, because I always made sure I invited a friend. Yeah, where a couple of people showed up and sometimes that’s great because you can have really awesome conversations, really in-depth conversations with that one person. Other times maybe it’s somebody that you rather wouldn’t spend an hour with, so you just have to chalk it up to experience.

Andrew: Let’s see. Andrew, from Premier Magazine, listed a number of services. One of them was traffic critiquing. I’m looking at my notes here. In fact, instead of me reading my notes here and to remind you. You talk about how you ended up critiquing websites and what that did for your path.

Corbett: Yeah, so when I first launched ThinkTraffic, I ended up with a fairly decent following to begin with because I had this other blog already, and I had made a lot of friends on the blogosphere. That’s a great tip for people, by the way. if you’re trying to grow an audience, the best way to do that is to have connections to other audiences that already exist. By making friends with bloggers in certain spaces, if you literally make friends with them, then they want you to succeed. And when you launch something new, they’re going to tell people about it. You know you don’t have to necessarily be pushy, its not networking like old school Networking, it’s just making legitimate friends for people.

Andrew: What about this one? I was just telling someone I was about to interview. He said “Dude he is a competitor. Why are you telling your audience about other people who are doing interviews, other people Who are talking space”, What about that issue? Isn’t that an issue there? You do an interview with? and? does one with you, you are sending traffic to each other and that traffic may not come back.

Corbett: My view is first of all I don’t think it is a zero sum game, I think people can watch mixed genre interviews and they can watch path? interviews, they can watch my interviews and you know they benefit from all of that. I also think that some people are going to love Andrew Warner, they are going to watch you and they are going to say this is my guy, I am going to follow him you know no matter what he does. Other people are going to see this interview and think Corbett is my guy because I like the way he talks about things. So my goal is to put as much value into the world as possible whether that ends being fulfilled by me or by someone else because I introduced Andrew to my audience or whatever that is all fine.

I think it is about being just a facilitator and I legitimately want other people to succeed, so however that happens it happens, but you know most often when I become friends with Pat Flynn or with you these relationships end up contributing to my audience, not taking away from it. I think that you know the people who bend together will end up you know sharing customers and that is fine. I think in my other life I did things the opposite like I said I didn’t listen to customers and I thought all competitors were people that you have to wish harm upon. I am just trying to do things the other way and frankly it just feels a lot better, to be nice to customers, to look out for best interests and to see competitor’s as potential friends instead of enemies.

Andrew: So you have your audience now and if you are studying traffic building so you can blog about it and use some of those tactics to improve your own traffic, but I’m curious about revenue. What were the early shots to make money with traffic?

Corbett: So early on what I did was I offered services and I had a couple of ideas for services, these were basically from conversations, you know with people finding out what they needed help with. So one thing was just a general website critic everybody wants to know, here is my website what am I doing right?, what am I doing wrong?, why is nobody coming to my site?, why is no one subscribing? So I put a package together where we would research the person’s site we would talk for about an hour on Skype about their goals. I would go away and thoroughly critic the thing, come up with a strategy give them a document that was two or three pages long that had a template that followed and then we would meet again for another hour.

This was a great way to not only bring some revenue in the door. I think I charged 500$ or something for the service, is a great way to bring initial revenue in the door, but also those deep conversations that you have with people, those bring up really great ideas for future products that you can create to serve a much broader audience. I always recommend that people start with services even if they don’t charge for them, even if you just say, “Hey I am just going to do five of these packages for free” just because it is really incredible market research that you can’t get anywhere else.

Andrew: You know what? I was always against doing it because there is not enough money talking to people one on one, it is a lot of work to customize something just for one person and then you can give it to anyone because it is just a product but then Derek Halpern told me that if you are trying to figure out what to sell? you should offer services just to see how people think, what people think of you ? and to understand their problems well enough that as you said, you can create products around it.

So I am looking at your site. Your stuff has always been so beautiful as far as I remember anyway. Thank you. Always been beautiful, don’t tell me? I can go back to the internet archive by the way to triple check on this.

Corbett: You can, you can go to the way back.

Andrew: No. The ? machine is broken right now.

The site actually says. “The machine that serves this file is down” and I was counting on it. You have really beautiful layout, really beautiful design, really good sense of how to structure your stuff, but it is still pressure when someone is paying you 500 bucks to give them feedback that is useful for them that they can actually implement. It is scary how did you make it easier on yourself?.

Corbett: It wasn’t easy, I mean thinking back on it 500$, it was lot of work. I would probably put 10 or 15 hours to each of those and that is no way to make a really sustainable business, I think charging equal enough 40$ an hour whatever. But you know I think that is part of the process putting yourself in a position where you have to come up with answers for people, because if you come with those answers for one person you know hopefully you can share those answers with a broader audience and without doing that you know I don’t think you can get enough of the really in depth question’s that people are actually going to have to create a viable product. Your product may answer the questions, that you think people have. You don’t know what questions they actually have until you sit down with them. So it wasn’t easy. I think it’s just part of the process.

Andrew: What’s the first product that you created?

Corbett: The first product that I created at ThinkTraffic. When I conceived of ThinkTraffic, the blog, I actually conceived of a training program that would go along with it. It just ended up taking me about a year to get it out. I was offering services along the way. The first product was something called Traffic School. This was a sort of comprehensive four-month long program where half of it was interview-based where I talked with people like Chris Guillebeau or Ramit Sethi or Leo Babauta about what they had done in certain areas for building an audience. And then the other half of the lessons were things that I created around design, around choosing a topic. Things like that. Fundamental questions that people have. So I put that together. I think the first time I offered it, it was maybe $400 or something to go through. We sold about 150 spots in the inaugural opening.

Andrew: How did you know how to teach this? It’s not easy to build. Look at my site compared to your site. My site is still not functioning very well. It’s not organized in a logical way. It doesn’t look this nice. It’s not an easy thing to teach. I’ve people who I pay to help me out with this stuff. How do you teach it to strangers the first time?

Corbett: Yeah, that’s a good question. I don’t know. I think the way that I broke up that program was I sat down and I thought I wanted to build a framework, something that if people put these different building blocks together. I thought about what is the nature of a popular website. What are the different components and broke it down. In my mind, a popular website is s combination of things. It’s a combination of the foundation which, to me, is the design elements. It’s the topic that it’s on It’s the way that you differentiate the site. Those sorts of things. Foundational elements. The next is the core, the content. The thing that you actually do. Being good at what you actually teach.

Then the last part is the promotion, the stuff that everybody thinks is sexy like the tactics and the social media and all that kind of stuff. That’s just at the end. I just broke it down and came up with this foundation. Came up with different little building blocks for each of the overall pillars. Broke it down, and then basically taught a lesson myself on each of those and then did an interview with an expert on each of those as well. When you put the two together, it was pretty effective, I think. I learned a lot from that initial time, and we launched it a couple of times subsequently. I learned from that. The cool thing is that there are so few people out there actually trying to good work. I think there are just so many people that are focused on how do I make a quick buck. If you just try to actually have an impact on someone’s life and to care about them, you can stand apart and people appreciate that effort that you put into something.

Andrew: There was a time when you were out maybe to make money and made a bad decision because of it. Can you talk about that? Maybe a product you promoted?

Corbett: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: That you, in retrospect, aren’t especially proud of? Or as you were trying to figure things out, you took a wrong direction with advertising?

Corbett: Yeah, a couple of things. As a blogger, there is an easy temptation. I know now that I can write a blog post. I’ve written some blog posts that have sold $15,000 worth of some product, right. It’s totally possible. And you have that itchy trigger finger where you’re just going to write this blog post because I’d like to find . . .

Andrew: Blog post brought in what? $15,000?

Corbett: Yeah.

Andrew: What did you sell $15,000 worth in a blog post?

Corbett: Well, there are these flash sales that people have. For example, one is called Only 72, which my friend Adam Baker actually put together where they bring a bunch of information products together and deeply discount it. If you sell that on your site as an affiliate, you can earn a certain amount of commissions from that.

Andrew: Only 72 brought $15,000 in ads?

Corbett: Yeah. In sales, yeah.

Andrew: Okay. What’s a product, without mentioning the name, that you’re a little bit embarrassed that you ran?

Corbett: Well, so this is the thing. Every time you do that, you have to weigh the balance between money in your pocket versus lost trust and long term relationships with your audience. In the case of a big sale like that, it’s really tempting to push that. But at the same time, every other site on the web might be pushing that thing at the same time. Then your readers lump you in with everyone else and think, oh, this guy doesn’t care about me. He just wants to make a dollar. That’s the reality of pushing products like that. You have to be careful. You have to weigh and really think about is this an actual specific value that people are going to appreciate, or am I doing this just for the money. I don’t think it’s black or white. There’s a spectrum there, and you kind of have to decide with each thing that you’re going to promote how much audience trust is it worth to pitch this.

Andrew: I do remember when I was spending a lot of time reading about how to blog because I said I don’t see where the revenue is in this, I don’t see how you can find an audience. So I started reading a bunch of sites and when there was something to promote, like how to be a blogger, they were all promoting it all at once, and I felt like I wasn’t really watching people think independently. I was part of a syndicate…

Corbett: Yep.

Andrew: …of bloggers. We’re all writing together. We’re all trying to you know…

Corbett: Yep.

Andrew: …enrich themselves instead of pay attention to me.

Corbett: Absolutely. Absolutely, and I think at the end of the day we have nothing more than our reputation, especially when you’re like you or I. We are independent content producers. Our face is on everything and it’s not like you can burn up your own personal brand and then just have it reinvigorated later. So you have to be really careful about that and I’m really trying to make sure that my goal is to have a business that’s much stronger and more respected ten years from now then it is now. If that means that I don’t earn as much now because I’m overly cautious about the things that I promote then I think that’s okay. That’s a worthwhile trade.

Andrew: What’s the most profitable product that you created before Fizzle?

Corbett: Most profitable before Fizzle was definitely Traffic School. We sold it for $400 and the first time it sold 150 spots. We ramped that up over time to where eventually it was $900 and we sold 200 something spots or something so you can kind of do the math there, I don’t know, it was over a six figure launch at the last time. Of course we are only launching every three months or six months or something like that but that was a pretty nicely profitable product for us.

Andrew: I’m guessing overall Fizzle is the most profitable, Fizzle.co?

Corbett: Yes Fizzle.co now is because it’s a monthly subscription and you know regardless of whether or not I want to go through a big launch people are still going to be a member next month and they continue to pay so yes definitely.

Andrew: Was it weird when I went out for drinks and I was talking to your customers. I’m always so curious about why people join stuff, why they buy, and I was asking your customers my usual questions. Why do they buy, what do you like about corporate selling, but I was also thinking this could be perceived as very rude. Corbett invited me, he just bought me a drink and I’m now talking to is customers, I’m grilling them about what they like about him. Is he looking over my shoulder and saying what the (?) am I doing with this guy whose trying to figure out my business?

Corbett: I didn’t notice. Maybe that’s a fault or something, I don’t know, I didn’t even notice. I don’t know. I feel very (?) about my business right now so if it helps you then it helps me then I’m fine with it.

Andrew: Jeremy asked you for metrics and you told him that Think Traffic pulls in 100,000-200,000 monthly visitors, but you didn’t give anything about revenue. Why not?

Corbett: Yep. Well I mean all I can share, you know…what would you like to know?

Andrew: What’s the monthly revenue on Think Traffic?

Corbett: Well it’s kind of hard to divide it up. So Think Traffic, our revenue sources are broken down. We have Fizzle we have a course, How to Start a Blog that Matters, and then we have affiliate sales, and then we have a few other odds and ends. I’ll tell you all in, from everything, we are shy of a half of a million dollar a year business at this point.

Andrew: Okay, and then what about Fizzle?

Corbett: That’s all in, that includes Fizzle.

Andrew: Oh that includes Fizzle.

Corbett: Exactly.

Andrew: What percentage of that is Fizzle?

Corbett: Fizzle at this point is about 60 percent or so, maybe 70 percent. We’re a three person company. It’s me, I built this on my own for a couple of years. I found a really great young ambition young man named Kelb Logic who joined me about two years ago. About a year ago Chase Reeves, who is responsible for all the beautiful design you mentioned, he joined me about a year ago so now we’re just essentially a three person team.

Andrew: What about when I asked you who did your site, I loved that Chase was the guy responsible for the design. I got his contact info from you and then the next day I invited him over to scotch at my office. Did that feel threatening at all?

Corbett: No, but I’m a you know…

Andrew: That’s another part where I said, hmm is now Corbett going to think that I’m some kind of a jerk trying to steal a guy who he’s working with, and there’s no feeling like that.

Corbett: You know, I feel like you know you and I meant, we had drinks, we looked each other in the eye. I didn’t get the sense that you wanted to screw me somehow so I didn’t…

Andrew: You know what I don’t, for some reason I just wondered maybe it’s because we started the relationship with you being so generous with me, I’m now overcautious where I think I want to make sure that everything is coming across well. I don’t know what it is, because I usually don’t really worry about this stuff. I’ve interviewed so many people who privately told me all kinds of stuff and I know from my experience that I’m not going to disappoint them. And they know from their experience that they’re not going to be disappointed if they share stuff with me. I don’t know – maybe it’s because I hate when people are so generous with me because then I feel guilty. Do you have that problem?

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that you bought me a drink. Because you bought me the drink first, I feel guilty. Remember when we met the last time? I said, “I better buy him a drink. I’ve got to let him know that I’m not a taker.”

Corbett: So is that a good thing to make someone feel guilty?

Andrew: No, I have to get past it. I don’t know how to deal with it. Just for some reason, it’s an issue for me.

Corbett: Yeah, I don’t what to say.

Andrew: Like early interviewees, if they gave me their software to try out, like really said, “Andrew, I’m not just going to let you go through my site but I’m going to give you access to the software,” the interviews ended up being much better for them. And then I had to say, “I’ve got to stop taking software. I’m too easy.”

Corbett: Sorry, what were you going to say? I interrupted you.

Andrew: Well, it might have been strategic on my part because I did know that I was going to be on Mixergy before I met you in person and I don’t want to feel like you’re going to grill me on an interview. So buying you a drink, if that made you feel a little bit less likely to grill me, then I guess maybe that worked.

Corbett: Well, I buy drinks for people all the time. I don’t know that I ever got anything out of it. So for some reason people don’t feel equally beholden.

Andrew: Guilty about it, yeah.

Corbett: Yeah, it’s a good thing. I think it means you’re probably a generous person if you feel guilty about something as small as that.

Andrew: Except if people are going to do stuff for me. I remember we had this typo with the Go-Giver from Bob Burg. We did a course with him. Actually, it’s not a course. He did this program with us where he was teaching the ideas in the Go-Giver. And April Dykman, who wrote the cheat sheet on it, had something like, “Go-Givers also have a hard time accepting.” And Bob said, “No, no, you can’t say that they’re Go-Givers if they have a hard time accepting. To me a Go-Giver is my idea here. And what I’m saying is to be a guy who gives, you have to be comfortable getting or else you’re not really following what I’m saying.” So we went back and corrected it. So I know I need to learn to accept better, but it’s tough, man.

All right, one more thing here, let me see. Two things, actually, before we end. The first is a couple of years ago you hired somebody to help you out. That was a transition you told Jeremy in the pre-interview. Can you talk about that – going from being an independent to hiring someone?

Corbett: Yeah.

Andrew: What happened?

Corbett: I think as bloggers and content producers, a lot of us have this vision of being like the lone wolf. And maybe partly there’s some ego wrapped up in that. You get used to people recognizing you for what you produce and to bring someone else in means you have to share a little bit of that limelight. So maybe that’s part of it and also adjusting from feeling like – you know, you take a certain amount of pride in the work that you do and you feel like you do things a certain way – and to bring someone on board means a period of adjustment, where you’re training them, you’re getting to know each other and you’re putting more and more trust in them to do a good job. It’s just a normal part of growing.

But I think for me I made a very important decision at that point that it wasn’t just going to be a one-person business forever, that I was okay with some amount of growth. And bringing people on means a whole different set of responsibilities. Now this guy, I’m responsible for him and his livelihood and I take that very seriously.

Andrew: Who was the first person you brought in?

Corbett: Caleb Watch.

Andrew: And what was Caleb doing when he started?

Corbett: Well, Caleb was essentially my content manager, keeping track of my editorial calendar, when people were writing guest content, when stuff was going up, being an editor for me, and then also doing customer support as well. He was really in charge of keeping everybody happy and bringing things to my attention. I think customer support is very important. I take that very seriously and that’s a thing that you have to really trust somebody in order to give them to do.

Andrew: All right, here is the last question. As a guy who’s looked at so many different websites, you look at my website, what’s one piece of feedback you can give me about Mixergy.com?

Corbett: Oh, yours, Mixergy.

Andrew: Yes.

Corbett: I haven’t really looked at it with a critical eye. You changed things around. So do you still have a landing page when you come to the site?

Andrew: Asking for email address right away. It should only show up one time.

Corbett: Yeah.

Andrew: For some reason, some people see it multiple times, but they shouldn’t.

Corbett: It’s not showing up for me right now. So I think that means I must have bypassed it at some point.

Andrew: Yeah.

Corbett: Or maybe I gave you my email address and God knows what you (?).

Andrew: Even if you don’t give me your email, I still let you through next time without asking for the email address.

Corbett: Here’s my philosophy on building a site. I try to treat people how I want to be treated on the web because I know that if I go to a site and it shoves an email form in my face, despite how effective that might be, it’s not going to be effective on me probably because I’m just offended by it. And so, you know, I try to treat people like I want to be treated and every decision that I make about how to build my website, I think, “If I came across this, what would I think about the person that built this site?”

And, you know, when it comes to forms that you put up in front of people you can claim they’re effective, but my question is always, “They’re effective on who?” So, are you getting the right kinds of people to give you their email address or are you getting the people who don’t know any better and they think they have to or something in order to get the content or whatever it might be.

So, effectiveness to me, there’s a qualitative question there, you know, but that would be my biggest, you know, I would always rather give a guiding principal as opposed to, you know, some specific advice and I find that when I follow that guiding principle, things usually work out and more importantly, I feel really great about the work that I do and at the end of the day I think that’s, you know, aside from being able to support myself, feeling great about what I do is probably second most important to me.

Andrew: So, you’re saying, get rid of that thing because it’s in the way and you wouldn’t want to fill it out and the right people wouldn’t want to fill it out.

Corbett: And you have great content and you should be confident in your content. If I read, if I actually, you know, watch one of your interviews, I’m a fan, I’m sold. But if I come to your site and this pop-up happens before I get to see your content, I probably don’t see the content. I’m a person who maybe would be more valuable to your business as an influencer because I actually encountered your content than the random people you’re going to get that might be customers of yours who entered their email address in the form because they’re not as sophisticated.

Andrew: Alright, so, I’ve got to just listening to feedback like that without arguing back, but then there’s another issue – well not arguing, yeah definitely not arguing back, I’ll sometimes do that over drinks and I’m like, “Wait a minute, what am I justifying my point for? The guy’s giving me feedback,” Then again, I’m thinking, “I’m here with an audience. Do they not want to hear my response to it?” So I’m going to tell you.

Corbett: Please.

Andrew: My guiding principle is I got to listen much more. And I’d rather listen than come across as the guy who has the right answer so, people who want to know, I could always give the answer another time. For now, I’m going to just sit with what you just said and show appreciation for it by saying thank you for doing that and thank you also for doing this interview.

Corbett: Thank you so much for having me on. I’ve been a fan for a couple of years, I’ve watched a ton of your interviews, and it’s an honor to be on.

Andrew: It’s an honor to have you on. And guys, please, go check out thinktraf-, in fact, go check out thinktraffic.com and watch what happens to the URL and then once you do that, look at the website because I think this is beautiful. I like how you explain what you’re doing right away, unlike most blogs who just show you a reverse chronological order of what’s going on, you say, “Here’s how you can join my mailing list, but here are the most popular posts that I think will be interesting to you.” And the design of the way you display those top six is beautiful.

Corbett: Thank you.

Andrew: Alright, enough of me gushing. Thank you so much for doing this interview. But frankly, if I felt, I feel bad when I gush, but I know when people checkout ThinkTraffic, they’ll see like, “You know what? Andrew’s right. He’s not just gushing because the guy’s there. There’s logic and some authenticity too.” [SS]

Corbett: I’ll take it. I’ll take it. You can keep going if you’d like. I’ll take it.

Andrew: It’s good. I really like your site.

Corbett: Thank you. Thank you. And thanks to Chase, my talented partner and our creative director.

Andrew: Alright. As soon as we’re done, I’m going to send him another e- mail for another scotch night and I’ll steal him away that time.

Corbett: Alright, perfect.

Andrew: Alright, thank you so much for doing this.

Corbett: Yeah.

Andrew: Thank you all for being a part of it.

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Share

  • Dave

    Great story! I enjoyed the interview Corbett and Andrew – great energy.

  • dabb
  • Glenn Bennett

    I think he’s right about your splash screen. I am a big fan and I may have listened to 90% of your interviews, but I never, NEVER recommend you to others because you’re site seems so pushy that to recommend it would reflect poorly on me .

  • http://www.decalmarketing.com/adwords-book/ Iain Dooley

    You’re doing people a huge disservice by not recommending mixergy to them at every available opportunity!

  • Marcin

    Cool interview, Corbett thanks for being so open about your business and numbers.

    A question for Andrew – does the landing page work well enough to keep it the way it is or you just haven’t tested yet other options?

  • http://edwardlamb.tumblr.com Edward Lamb

    Great interview. Bit fan of Corbett and fizzle.co. Thanks for sharing :-)

  • Corbett

    Thanks much Edward, glad you got to listen :)

  • chasereeves

    Andrew, you can have me over for scotch anytime :)

    Great interview, lads.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    I’ve been trying ;)

    I’ll be back in town later this month. Let’s set it up.

  • Roger Williams

    Thanks Andrew and Corbett for the great interview. Andrew did pull out some other stuff than what was on http://thinktraffic.net/fizzleshow FZS 003. I wish I had a six-figure safety net!

  • http://coolmarketingstuff.com charlessipe

    Loved this interview because of the openness about the hard times of entrepreneurship and the discussion on whether there is a lifestyle business inferiority complex.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Thanks. I always like to interview founders who know my work because they trust me with stories about their tough times.

  • Khoj Badami

    Things I learned from this interview:

    Lesson 1:

    There are two types of data that you can look at to figure out what customers actually think about your product/service.

    Data Type 1: Metrics of your product like…”How many people are signing up”, “How many people are interacting with this feature.” and that etc etc.

    Data Type 2: Data that you get when you actually talk to your customers OR data that you get when you encourage and make it easy for your customers to tell you what they want.

    Now, it may seem that “Data Type 1” is a good source of data. However, the conclusion you draw from those statistics might be far from the truth. For Example: Let’s take an abstract hypothetical example. Say you don’t know
    the rules of the game of chess and watching two players, you are trying to
    figure them all out. You may look at the “Castle” and note the data that the
    Castle always moves over black squares. But, even though this is in sync with
    the data the conclusion is not the real truth governing the moves of the castle.

    The real truth is: The castle moves diagonally! The fact that it stays on black
    is just a coincidence. In the exact same way, Data Type 1 might lead to
    conclusions, but those conclusions might only tell you half the story or a
    wrong story. So, in terms of understanding how the market is reacting to your
    product, there is no better way than using Data Type 2.

    Lesson 2:

    If you have a business, that will die if a big company adds a small feature to their existing product (that already has a LOT of traffic) then you face the risk of dying the moment the big company wakes up and builds that feature or simply looks at you and builds that feature.

    To understand this better…let us say there is a hugely popular service. (In this case Gmail). And there is a very clear pain point with this service but since there is no option the customers continue to use it. Let’s say, you decide to build a company to address that pain point and eliminate it. Now, you are in very vulnerable place. The moment you start to get even a little traction and attention, there is a very good possibility that the big company might decide to build this feature into their product and you will stop receiving all traction. The average user is just not going to switch and familiarize themselves with your product. It’s too much effort.

    The pain point might be HUGE and the big company, due to its limitations, might even do a half baked job at solving it. However, even then, the effort required to switch to your product will be too much.

    Lesson 3:

    It’s a pretty serious model to build a blog and a loyal following and then to try and monetize that. Which, well, is funny that this did not hit me till now….cause that is exactly what Mixergy is.

    There may be many other lessons that may be useful to different
    people. These were the ones that struck me as important for me and my startup.
    I don’t want to give anybody the impression that these are the only lessons to
    be learned from this interview.

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