How a reluctant entrepreneur gained 500k users and instant profitability – with Gregg Pollack

Joining me is an entrepreneur who says that he didn’t start out wanting to become an entrepreneur but he ended up building a great company.

Gregg Pollack is the founder of Code School which teachers coding skills to software developers. I invited him here to tell us how he did it.

Watch the FULL program


About Gregg Pollack

Gregg Pollack is the founder of Code School which provides continuing education for software developers.

You can see his talk here.

Raw transcript


Mixergy’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

Andrew: Hey there freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I am the founder of Mixergy.com home of the ambitious upstart.

Gregg: Jazz hands.

Andrew: No. Jazz fists.

Gregg: I don’t do jazz hands there. That’s why I never got into jazz.

Andrew: Joining me is an entrepreneur who says that he didn’t start out wanting to become an entrepreneur but he ended up building a great company. Gregg Pollack is the founder of code school which teachers coding skills to software developers. He also does amazing jazz hands. My interview with him is sponsored by AndrewsWelcomeGate. What’s AndrewsWelcomeGate?

Well, here’s a problem I had. People were coming to my site and maybe they didn’t like my latest interview. Maybe they didn’t like that I did an interview without a pocket square, right? So they’ve moved away. How am I going to get them back and tell them, “Hey, look. I’ve got a better interview than the one you saw before.” Or, “I’ve started wearing pocket squares so I’ve earned the right for you to watch.” Well, the only way I can do that is if they give me their email address so I can contact them in the future and keep updating them on what’s going on at Mixergy. I tried creating these different pages that would help me collect email addresses and a lot of them did okay. Nothing did great.

Then, over time, I think it took me about two years, I created a page that does an incredible job of converting and now I want to make it available to you. If you go to andrewswelcomegate.com you get this page that I created that works fantastically well for me. You can customize it for you. Use your logo, your text, etc., but have the general look and feel. It will work for you. And I know it will because it’ll be powered by leadpages.net which does an amazing job of helping you catch leads. That’s the software that we use and now sponsor.

We even co-created a page that I’d like for you to use. It’s available for a limited time, grab it now at AndrewsWelcomeGate.com. Gregg, I was going to keep the sponsorship spot short but I was kind of proud of myself for the way that I described the sponsor and I thought, no. Let’s keep going. I’m on a roll here.

Gregg: I’m proud of you too.

Andrew: Thank you. I like to keep evaluating myself so before we get into this interview there’s something you told me at the top, before we started recording, that I want to bring up now on camera. You said, “Number one. I’m envious of what you’ve done with Mixergy.” I want to hear why. And number two, you said, “I would never listen to Mixergy.” I like that honesty. First of all, give me the positive. What was it that made you say, “I’m envious of what you’ve done with Mixergy.”

Gregg: Just because you’ve built a business from learning, from founder stories. You get to talk to founders and figure out what made them tick and how they became successful and really dig for the learning. They system you’ve put together to be able to produce that seems really impressive with how you schedule things out and everything. On the other hand, I’m not the kind of person that likes to listen to talking heads on podcast or what not.

I don’t have the patience for it which is why when you check out any of my podcasts that I’ve produced over the years, whether it’s Ruby 5 covering the Ruby news and now we have two other ones, one for IOS news and one for javascript news, you find that they’re condensed. We say, “You’ve got a busy schedule. We’d like to respect your time.” We give you the news in the community in a small piece of time. We’re very scripted so that we explain things quickly and efficiently because we know your time is valuable.

Andrew: That’s one of the ways I got to know you and it was full of people from the Ruby community and they kept talking about you like you were a celebrity because they were listening to you. You’re in their heads when you create a podcast. People put it in their earbuds and it is like they’re walking around with you talking into your heads. Before we get into how you turned that podcast into the software business that is doing fantastically well, I said at the top of the interview that you didn’t want to be an entrepreneur. You wanted to work for Disney World. What’s up with that, man?

Gregg: Yeah. What kind of creative doesn’t want to work at Disney World at some point as an animator, engineer, or creative. They get to create such immersive experience and I was always attracted to that. I think that’s why out of college, I was also into gaming. After college I wanted to become a gamer but I never really found my way there. I never had a good mentor. I did work for a gaming company right out of college. I worked for 3DO if you remember those guys. I was on the army men team. I never had a good mentor in computer science so I never got far there.

Andrew: So, you didn’t get into that. Instead you got into consulting. You were doing 7 years of consulting work, I think, before you launched code labs right?

Gregg: NB labs. Yeah. We launched NB labs when I moved to Orlando and I was supposed to have a new job when I moved here. I moved here and said, “Hey I’m ready for work.” They said, “We really need somebody in Washington, D.C.” I was like, “We just moved to Orlando. You said I could work remote.” They said we really need somebody in Washington D.C. I’m like great, I don’t have a job any more. I think that’s what you’re telling me.

It was around that time that I tried to do another failed startup, and then I also learned about Ruby on Rails. I went to a job conference where David Thomas was talking about Ruby on Rails. He went in front of the class and taught how easy it could be to build with applications with Rails. I looked around at all the Java developers and all of our jaws were on the floor. There’s no way it could be this easy.

Since then I learned Rails and Ruby. That first book, “Agile Web Development with Ruby on Rails,” was such a brilliant book, because it not only taught you how to build web applications with Ruby on Rails but it actually had a guide for doing consulting work hidden in the text. It showed you how to work with clients and how to build wireframes and then build web apps. I sort of followed that methodology and built a little consulting practice around it.

Andrew: When you and I first met at that conference that’s what you were mainly doing. That was the business. How did you get customers for Envy Labs?

Gregg: Well, first, it was just going to local networking groups. In any particular city that you’re in every day there’s usually three or four different business networking groups that you can drive to within a 20 mile radius. I just ended up going to a lot of them. I would go to them. I would network. I would find people that needed applications built. I started out with just $25 an hour building Rails applications.

Andrew: You’re talking about the kind of Chamber of Commerce events?

Gregg: Those types of events as well as you just search for business networking groups. In any city you’ll have people that get together with small businesses and exchange business cards. You just go there and try to help people out. Inevitably you’ll find somebody who needs a web application. I did that.

Andrew: The reason I’m bringing that up, Gregg, is it seems to me that those people, because they don’t have as much experience, because their focus is more on real estate, they don’t have a sense of what they should… I saw those eyebrows furrow. Why?

Gregg: Real estate? Why’d you say real estate?

Andrew: Don’t those events usually have a bunch of real estate people, a bunch of mortgage people, a bunch of lawyers, a bunch of florist type entrepreneurs? You don’t tend to have people who are in tech at those events, do you? Maybe I’m thinking of a different kind of event.

Gregg: No, you’re right. They’re all over the board, but all their businesses as the need for a website becomes more and more important eventually they’re going to want to get online, and they need somebody to help them bring it there even if it’s just doing a design for a Shopify website or helping them figure out how to ship on amazon.com.

Andrew: I see, so you weren’t building these elaborate web apps for them. Back then you were basically getting them online in a way that made sense, and then the more elaborate apps came out.

Gregg: Right. I was lucky enough to find people who did need custom web apps. It was like one association that needed a membership application. Then, there was one local company that wanted to create a way for people to download MP3s, by MP3s online. I built websites for them. I was able to find some custom web apps that needed to get built.

Andrew: How did you get into podcasting?

Gregg: Oh, I was always a huge fan of audio. I got into Radiolab, This American Life. I think I’ve listened to every single This American Life ever created, and I think there are, like, 600. It got to the point at one point like I cannot drive my car without listening to podcasts. I’m a huge audio fan. I could geek out about audio all day.

I was working with Jason Seifer. At the time the company was called Rails Envy. We realized hey, we should do a podcast too. We can just cover the latest news in the Ruby on Rails community. We just talked about libraries. We were always pre-scripted, so we kept it pretty short. People liked it from there. We just did a podcast and it got some good traffic.

Andrew: Wasn’t it about five minutes or so? It was really quick.

Gregg: That came later. First it was the Rails Envy podcast which was usually between 15 and 20 minutes once a week sort of thing. Then, about two to three years later when I rebranded as Envy Labs I switched it to Ruby5 which is five minutes of Ruby news twice a week.

Andrew: I remember that. Okay. How did you get an audience for that if that’s what your claim to fame was in the industry? I think it was.

Gregg: There’s so much stuff. The story is long and winding road. If you want to learn the whole story, for those people watching out there, I actually put out a free video on codeschool.com. If you go to codeschool.com, you click on screencast, and scroll down to my founder’s talk. It’s about an hour long talk where I talk about 25 things I learned in business, and it tells the whole story. But, to answer your question, it came from blogging, so building an RSS following because I would put out blog posts that I would… you know Rails was the new technology so would go and try to program and I would get frustrated with one thing no good documentation so I went ah screw it I will just write it myself. So I would write these blog posts. When I would write huge tutorials and I’d put in pictures, figure out how to make it entertaining and understandable.

Those blog posts, in many cases, became the de-facto source when someone needed to learn how to put a good search on a Ruby on Rails page, they would go to my blog post. When people needed to do Rails Cashing they would go to my blog post. When people needed to learn how to us Rails with Ruby they would go to my blog post. Whenever I put out a blog post I would do self-promotions. …not good enough, you know, writing and blogging is like half writing and half self-promotion. You can’t just put it out there and hope people will show up so I would always go and email out lots of people and try to promote myself. It would get out there at the time it would get on [Dig] when that was hot. Remember then? And then all the delicious links and it would get popular and so it got tons of traffic, tons of RSS feeds, so that was one part of it, was the blogging.

The other part of it was the pod casting. The next part of it was, I got to the point where I was like, I wonder what it would be like if I went out to every conference I could get accepted to and spoke there. So I had one year where I was at least one conference a month if not two, where I would go and I would speak about Ruby and Rails. So there was that and that lead to people coming [back to my] blog. When I started doing that it lead to videos. I would go and do talks and I would video tape the talks and I would put the videos up on a blog and I would get a lot more subscribers there. The videos would get popular as well.

Then there were, I have to mention the Ruby on Rails verses PHP and Ruby on Rails verses Java videos. Remember those?

Andrew: [negative hum]

Gregg: You never saw those?

Andrew: No.

Gregg: We created these videos in the same style as the Mac and PC commercials, where we said, “Hi I’m Ruby on Rails. Hi I’m Java.” and we did the same… a lot of it was like at least 10 geek jokes. The audience has got to check them out, they’re really funny.

Andrew: It’s a nine second video.

Gregg: No.

Andrew: There’s you Ruby on Rails with the glasses Java…

Gregg: It’s like a minute long video.

Andrew: Yep, I won’t play the whole thing here.

Gregg: So check it out. The Java one, I think it’s like half a million views on YouTube.

Andrew: 596,000 views. That’s fantastic.

Gregg: Yeah. So we just produced those for fun, they kind of went viral and that lead to even more traffic.

Andrew: This video is fairly basic, right? We are not talking about … your stuff looks so polished. This looks like it was just shot on a regular camera, hand held.

Gregg: Yeah we had a friend with a film degree that he wasn’t using. Hey can you do this for us and we’ll pay a little money? Put it together and just got an amazing response. We put out like one a day. So that’s really when I think our RSS readers went from like 4000 to 8000, is we started producing those types of funny videos. That got us even more traction. Then over the years I would figure out ways to produce more free content for free video content. When Rails 3.0 came out I got onto the main Ruby on Rails web site as sort of the official videos tutorials for Rails 3.0.

Andrew: You created them?

Gregg: Yeah.

Andrew: Okay.

Gregg: I just went to the core team and I said “Hey would you guys mind if I created a bunch of free videos and you guys release this?” You can put them out with a release put them on the official web site. They were like, “hey sure”. They knew me by then so I would do that and I would speak at all the Ruby on Rails conferences so I had a lot of brand value. This was all before Code School and I would get a lot of reward for putting free content. I would like to say that Code School was just me figuring out how to monetize the content I was already kind of enjoy producing in my free time.

Andrew: When I saw you at the conference this was, why can’t I think of the conference, I forgot… but what…

Gregg: Tutorial Web Apps in Miami.

Andrew: Yes. But it actually got changed by Austin who took it over and he called it something else I think?

Gregg: Super Conf.

Andrew: Yes, Super Conf.

Gregg: Well you can’t say it got changed. Future Web App is still going on and it’s owned by the people and they do it elsewhere.

Andrew: No longer was in Florida and Austin said “Somebody needs to do this in Florida” and I think that’s where you and I met.

Gregg: Yep.

Andrew: You at the time, I think, were presenting Rails for Zombies and that got people’s attention. What was Rails for Zombies?

Gregg: Rails for Zombies was November 2010 I believe and that was just another one of these free things that I would put out every couple months to help along the developer community, but it was the first time that we combined video with coding in the browser. Now, this was before Code Academy came out and made that technique even more well-known. We took the theme, we’re like “We’ll make it fun! We’ll do it zombies! We’ll do the videos, combined with coding in the browser, and we’ll make it fun and interactive.”

So we put it out there, all for free. Again, it was one of those things where we put it out there, and then we went to the core team of Rails and said, “Hey, you know, this is totally free and open. Your videos up on the official home page are kind of out of date. Are you okay if we just link people over there?” So if you go to the official Ruby on Rails website and click on screencast, you’ll see a bunch of videos that I produced, that are still leading people there.

That’s kind of has helped Code School grow. Not only that I built up that capital so that we’d get our initial boost, but also that we still to this day produce a lot of free content. Just two months ago now, we worked closely with the AngularJS team at Google to produce a course on AngularJS. It’s open and it’s free, and because it’s open and free, they have no reason not to link people to it. So when you go the AngularJS home page, you’re going to see a big fat button to get people over and learn Angular here on Code School for the first time.

Andrew: How long did it take you to create “RailsforZombies.org”?

Gregg: Sorry, that was a bit of a tangent. It was probably about a three month process.

Andrew: Three months, and you put it out there just for free. What was your goal with it? I’m looking through the site right now. You weren’t collecting email addresses from people who wanted to try it out. What was the business goal behind it?

Gregg: To help the community, really. I would try to fill the void. I get a lot of happiness from putting out educational content that helps a lot of people, really. That’s what got me addicted to creating educational software. The nice side effect from that, was that it lead to doing more consulting work. That was really a nice side effect from producing educational material, was that it would to more people coming, to Envy Labs at that point, for consulting work. I at one point, about four or five years ago with Envy Labs, said “I wonder what would happen if I tried to take on all the work that came my way?” Coming to that realization is really what built up Envy Labs. It started with two guys, and got up to 20- something at one point, just doing consulting.

Andrew: So it was just the bottom left of the site that says “produced by Envy Labs” that let people know that you guys were the people behind it, and that’s what lead to customers?

Gregg: Yeah, and you know, we would encourage people to sign up so that they could save their progress. You never had to log in, but we would encourage them. “Hey, you just earned this badge. If you want to add this badge to your profile, you’re going to want to create an account. If you want to save your progress, you’re going to want to create an account. But you don’t have to!”

Andrew: Then you created a paid course: Rails Best Practices.

Gregg: Mm-hmm, yeah, correct! So many people that Rails for Zombies. I got a lot of feedback from different people in the community saying, “This is awesome!” Even from some publishers that reached out to me at that point and said, “Hey, this is awesome!” Whenever I’d talk to people in the office about the future of publishing, there isn’t one conversation where Rails for Zombies doesn’t come up.

Andrew: Whoa, crazy!

Gregg: They’re like, “Can we pay you to do it again?” One good lesson: always pay attention to what people try to pay you to do. If somebody says, “Hey, can we pay you to do that?”, you might want to sit back and go, “Oh wait, whatever I’m doing has some value. Maybe I should try to figure out how to produce some value for myself.”

So that’s exactly what we did. We’d say, “Hey, let’s do this again with a different course, or best practices, and this time we’ll charge for it.” Code School, like I said, was the first one of my start-ups that didn’t fail, and the first one of my products that didn’t fail. I think that was pretty much because I had spent the last four years building up the capital so we could produce a single course. It maybe cost us $20,000 to produce, and then within two months we’d get back $40,000.

Andrew: Because you’d just reach out to the current users, and current subscribers via RSS. What else did you do? Instead of me guessing at what you did.

Gregg: Sure, well, it had a lot to do with social capital. I had a lot of Twitter followers. I have a lot of people who follow the blog, I have a lot of people who kept an eye out for content that I would produce because I’ve produced so much free content over the years. When we put out this course there was a lot of free people who were like “Oh, hey, yeah… Gregg has created all this free stuff. He put out something that’s paid. I’m not going to put too much thought into whether or not I should buy it, I’m just going to buy it because I know he’s a good teacher.”

So we did our self-promotion; we went in and took the time to do self- promotion but by that time I did have a lot of avenues whether it was the podcast, the blog, friends who could promote to other people in the community… so that we could get the word out, which certainly helped. But, I think the thing that helped the most was simply having the social capitol that people knew the quality of work I would produce was worthwhile.

Andrew: Were you charging for it?

Gregg: I think at that point it was like, 45 bucks?

Andrew: For one time or for a monthly fee?

Gregg: 45 bucks for just buying the course. Four hours of content.

Andrew: I know that Rails for Zombies, you watch a video, hit a button, go to the next page, try out what you just used, right?

Gregg: You’ve got to code the browser just like academy yeah.

Andrew: Code in the browser. This is the idea you just took to the new product right, the paid product? You charged 45 bucks and if people paid it they got access to it. So, about a thousand people paid or 900 or so.

Gregg: Yeah.

Andrew: I’m looking at screen shot of an early version of the site and you called it an interactive marketplace where you can learn to code directly in the browser. Was the idea that you would allow other people to create using this framework?

Gregg: No. It was always curated by us.

Andrew: In a way they created by you guys.

Gregg: The thing is when you are, you know, when you watch a video and you have people code in a browser when they type in code you need to validate their code and we’re never doing anything simple. We’re not doing string matching, we’re not checking to make sure the strings are the same what you typed in. We’re hardcore like that; we’ll run tests against your code. So you type in some code, you run it… we run tests against the behavior to make sure you solved it and sometimes you know there’s multiple ways to solve things and you should be able to get a correct answer and earn point for the challenge whether or not you solve it one way vs. the other.

So doing that way and testing the code that you’re doing. It’s not something you can allow people to do themselves very easily, you know, in writing the tests and getting it right and yeah that makes sense.

Andrew: It does make sense, right. You’re saying if you ask people a question and there’s only one answer that has to be typed exactly the way you imagined it other people can create it but if you’re running a test to see if whatever crazy solution people came up to for the problem you presented them with that’s a lot tougher and so from the beginning you always thought you would do it. It was though listed as a marketplace; the name of the creator was listed under the product. Rails for Zombies by Gregg, Rails Best Practices by Gregg, Jake place thing I mean…

Gregg: You can kind of see that design was definitely inspired by Steam if you’re familiar, the game engine because that’s kind of what we wanted people to feel. They’re coming into a marketplace like Steam and they could purchase these courses and you want to make it feel more like you’re purchasing a game, right? We never wanted to make it feel academic which is why we always shied away from terms like ‘chapter’. We never use ‘chapter’, we never use like ‘examples’ or ‘quizzes’ you know?

Andrew: I have a natural tendency to go “I don’t want to take the quiz! I don’t want to take the exam!” But, if you’re telling me I buy a course and I get to play levels and take challenges and earn badges and points I don’t have that same negative gut reaction that I would if you told me I had to read chapters and take the exam.

Gregg: I see.

Andrew: The only place where ‘course’ and ‘school’ come into play are in the marketing to get people on board but once they’re on board it goes to game play.

Gregg: I wouldn’t call it game play but you’re still taking a course, you’re still learning, so there’s not much game stuff about it. We did use game implication techniques to motivate people to get through the jobs…

Andrew: You don’t like when I say ‘game play’ and clearly you don’t.

Gregg: No, because I think that’s not taking it seriously because I know that some people out there who are looking to educate students and educate their developers and it’s important that when people take time to learn its forces in the right way, which means you’re learning by doing. And there’s nothing about our stuff that makes me think you’re planning a game. It’s not like a game, game. We had gamification principles to make you feel less like your taking.

Andrew: It’s a fine line. The reason I said it is because I was basically trying to repeat back what you said. Because I thought you were saying there are … if you ask me about chapters and quizzes. I don’t want chapters, I don’t want quizzes. I want points and levels and so I was trying to sum that up as a game. But you know like that, there’s a fine line here. It’s a serious course but you’re not going to allow it have boring terminology associated with it. You want to keep it engaging.

See what I did there, sometimes just to keep things on track I try to repeat back what you said to make you feel like I hear you. To let you know that I’ve heard you. The problem with me repeating back to let you know that I heard about what I felt was the implication was that rubbed you the wrong way.

Gregg: Yeah, I’m a developer so you know sometimes it’s the technical details that matter.

Andrew: Can I call you out on something … well not call you outlets bring something else out into the open.

Gregg: Sure.

Andrew: I feel like there’s a little bit of tension here in the interview. See I about one up you. I’m so glad that there’s video because it shows me it’s not that much tension. You are naturally surprised by that. But I do feel like you’re feeling like I’m not getting your right. I think it comes from what I said before the interview started. Am I pointing on camera with this pen, like I should put this away?

It was an email you sent me a while back saying, hey Andrew can I run an idea by you. And I remember that call clearly. I remember telling you in that call do not go for any other idea, CodeSchools just amazing. When people heard you talk about Rails for Zombies at that conference I saw the look on their face because I’m trained to look for that. And I think maybe when I brought that up at the top of our conversation before we hit record on this interview that you felt like I was maybe taking credit for pushing you into CodeSchool.

Gregg: No.

Andrew: No, there was nothing about that felt wrong.

Gregg: No, [??].

Andrew: All right.

Gregg: Now, if you see any, it’s only because I can tell that you haven’t really don’t your homework.

Andrew: Good tell me about that. That’s what I’m picking up on then.

Gregg: Yeah, if you would have taken five minutes to play a little bit of a course you would have been able to craft a slightly better interview.

Andrew: You know you’re right. You’re absolutely right. I did look to see where you’re traffic was coming from. I did look to see my email obviously. I didn’t play the course because I was intimidated by learning to code. And I said, this is a wall I can’t get past.

Gregg: It’s easier than you think. Anybody who’s good at even like complex problem-solving is going to be able to get through the course. I don’t mean to put you down, I think you’re an amazing guy. So please don’t take that as a put down.

Andrew: No, I’m glad you called it out. I do feel like that was there and I was wondering if it came across to you or to the audience. I think earlier when before we started we said no, it’s themed. It’s not a game, it’s themed. That’s where you noticed that I didn’t understand the distinction, as well. I get it, I’m glad you brought it up.

All right you continued with this. The first one did well. Did you start to shift your company and say, hey finally we’re out of the consulting business we can actually create a product that people will pay for on and ongoing basis.

Gregg: You know, that’s funny you mention that too. So CodeSchool grew and got we kept on. We were lucky enough that we were able to create another course, get some money, create another course get some more money in and having the profit, you know, let us keep on going. With CodeSchool allow us to hire more people and just with the amount of CodeSchool at the time I think we had 22 people working on consulting and they slowly started work, some of them started working on CodeSchool.

Now consulting part of it kept on going pretty strong. We able to bring in some good clients and we had people on staff that enjoyed creating software projects. And we got to a point where we started to realize like peoples, some people we keep on getting good leads, so why don’t we keep that business strong and there’s some people that took the initiative there.

At some point about year and a half ago they realized that my passion lied on the CodeSchool side, not so much in consulting. And I was lucky enough to be surrounded by smart enough people that they started allowing me to spend more time on CodeSchool. And kind of took the reins from consulting. So right now I don’t spend any time working on the consulting side of the business on INVIEWlabs, it is separated out.

But there was a point about six to eight months ago were we realized OK we should organize these companies that we separated. And there was a lot of people who sometimes would move back and forth between CodeSchools. And there was even some people who would come over work on CodeSchool and after about six weeks working on it they would come to me and go, hey Gregg this is fun, but I’m ready to move on to the next project.” I’m like, “Mike, dude, wait.

You’ve got equity. Anybody who’s worked here longer than a year has some vesting equity. You’ve got equity in the product that’s really scalable. You’re saying you want to go back and work on consulting?” I was like, “I don’t understand you at all.” They were like, “Yeah, I want to work on consulting. I want a new project. I’m getting tired of working on this one thing over and over again.”

And that really surprised me because I love that I get to work on creating the most immersive ways for people to learn technology. That’s what I feel like I was put on this earth to do was to take complex topics and figure out effective ways to teach them. So I get a lot of positive reinforcement from that, but there are some people that are not, and at one point, we had to make a divide.

So I got to actually send out a survey to some people at Envy Labs, some people at Code School and say which team do you want to be on? Do you want to do more consulting, or do you want to go more Code School? I’m looking at this going, duh, of course I want to go on Code School. Who wouldn’t want to go on Code School? This is freaking amazing, and I was surprised to find out that there’s some people that were, “No, I’d rather be on the consulting side.”

And that sort of lead to a theory I’ve been playing with over the last few years which are there are a couple different types of developers. There’s some developers that love the products they can create with their tools, and there’s some developers that love the tools that happen to create products. It’s interesting. I was just about to put out a new video series, and this was the same thing.

We were over in Chicago talking with David Heinemeier Hansson about base camp about this exact thing, and he was like, “Yes, that’s exactly right.” And that’s why I try to make sure all the core developers on Ruby on Rails are product people not tool people, and then we started talking about how if you’re familiar with some of the drama that’s gone on over the last six months in the developer world about how this whole test-driven development…

Is it a lie? Is it real? What’s going on? And you can kind of sometimes break it down to the people who are really into the test-driven development are hardcore about their tools. Those are the tool people. They care more about the tools that they build with and the building with the tools than they really care about the products that they’re building with them. They’re tool people.

Whereas people like David Heinemeier Hansson and me we’re product people. We love what we’re able to create with the product. We get more reward from the products. So both parts of the businesses are going strong because we were able to take all the people who are more tool people and we put them into the consulting camp. Those people who want a new green feel project every six months no matter what, and then you’ve got the product people on Envy on Code School that get a lot of reward from working on a product that helps change lives and helps improve people’s lives because it educates them.

Andrew: It couldn’t have been such a natural breakdown where the right, perfect people went to one company and the same thing happened with the other company. Were there any people who you had to say, “No, we need you here. I know you think you want to go…?” No, it just broke down naturally.

Gregg: No, it broke down naturally. There were some people that gravitated more to one than the other, and sure, there’s some people that said, “I wouldn’t mind going back and forth.” But we kind of went to them and said if you had to pick which one would you want to go to, and we made sure they got what they wanted.

Andrew: Where did you learn management?

Gregg: I don’t know. I never had any good mentors out of college which is really unfortunate. It’s like an unfortunate series of events and bad jobs and bad bosses; although, a couple of them meant well. But really how I built up a consultancy with like twenty people, I think came from… I think I realized that I get happiness from providing for people, and I get happiness from creating an environment that is amazing for software developers and creatives and paying people well. Because you know, as we grew Envy Labs, I knew other really talented developers in town that would love to work on Ruby, or they were working in a Ruby shop that wasn’t conducive for developers or wasn’t the optimal environment.

And so I get a little happiness being able to bring them on board, pay them well, create an environment that allowed them to thrive, and in a community of peers, really smart people, I have a lot of fun. I got a lot of reward from that, and when I built the consultancy, I sort of followed two principles which you could call core values, but sort of the two principles were:

Number one: create the best environment for developers and designers and creatives to work in. That was always really important to me. I was always looking out for ways that we could improve.

And the second thing was trying to figure out the most transparent way to do consulting. Because, you know, us developers we don’t necessarily communicate that effectively out of the box. So I asked myself, “What systems can we put in place to make sure that we’re communicating effectively with our clients and that feel like a really honest way to do business?”

Andrew: So what do you do to do that? And then I want to come back and ask about management again. There’s something else I want to make sure to cover. So what did you do to make sure that you’re open with your clients?

Gregg: Right, so there was a couple of things that we did. The first was to have our – it’s going to sound obvious to people but having a [tight] feedback group. So making sure that no matter what we were communicating every Monday religiously. We talked about what we worked on last week, we talked about what we’re working on this week, we asked for any other things they want us to work on, and then of course from there we would do estimates and then execute.

And then every Friday religiously we would send the status email, we would publish our work to the server, we would show them what we accomplished. We also always got our clients to prepay in advance hourly. So we would of course do a free estimate upfront. We would put that together, a sort of good faith estimate and say, you know, “Hey, here’s what we think it’s going to take for the first phase.”

And then we’d always lay it out and say, “We work hourly. You can leave whenever you want. We’re not going to commit you to a huge price tag. And the first 80 hours are going to be, you know, this many dollars. But if you simply prepay us 30 days ahead of time then we’ll give you a discount of 50% off.”

So basically if you prepay us 30 days ahead of when you would normally pay us you’re going to save and when you put it at that point you can say, “You’re going to save $5,000.” And at that point I went, “Well, why wouldn’t I want to do that?” And we tell them how we’re going to communicate and all that stuff and it’s very flexible this way because they can add features, remove features, it’s no fixed bid. We never do fixed bid. I think that’s a horrible idea. And it worked out really well.

One of the things that was sort of innovative about what we would do is every Friday, because I’m such a visual communicator, we would have all of our developers create screencasts. Because I tell you when you’re working with people with money-building products the odds of them every Friday going on to that Beta server that you publish to and actually testing out your product can get pretty low.

So another really great way of doing it is we would create a 5-minute screencast where we would walk them through the features that we worked on this week. It would take the developer maybe 30 minutes to put together but I swear it was like feeding our client’s crack because they got to watch 5 minutes, they could watch the video, see what we completed, they got to have a good feeling, they could even share that with their stakeholders – “Look what our team accomplished this week,” – and they absolutely loved us.

Andrew: Wow. Here’s what you told April Dykeman in the pre-interview: you said that, “It’s tougher to manage a company that’s growing especially at this size. One example of a challenge is a company can’t be a democracy anymore. When you have 15-20 people you can’t have big decisions decided by a group; it’s just unproductive.”

Gregg: Yeah.

Andrew: So what did you end up doing instead? Was it just laying down the law and saying, “I’ve done this long enough. You have to follow my lead.”

Gregg: Right. So, you know, fairness is a big core value to me. And, you know, I could have been a lawyer because I really enjoy that there’s laws of the universe and we much follow them. I’m a big Law & Order fan. I can’t stop watching because fairness is a big thing to me. And so, you know, when you have 10 people and you need to make big decisions, well, you can have a discussion, a pretty effective discussion about, “Hey, should we dump this client?” or “Should we, you know, try to find more sales? We can hire a sales guy.” You can have conversations about that pretty effectively.

When you get up to 15 people and you need to make decisions effectively it becomes, you know, not very effective to bring into the group. Not to mention that, you know, as we grew we hired more junior people that maybe you don’t need to bring into that discussion. They’re not going to be able to be productive in a business discussion. We started with, you know, a bunch of senior developers. I mean, it was probably not until we had our seventh or eighth hire that we hired somebody that wasn’t senior level.

So we realized that at that point we needed to have sort of a sub-group which ended up being sort of the guys that we started with. Like, the four guys that we started with. And those were the guys who, you know, needed to be meeting on like a bi-weekly basis to really talk about issues like eight jar issues and hiring issues and then, you know, we could go and present our recommendations to the team, and they would certainly have an opportunity to give us feedback. But, doing everything as a group and discussions as a group becomes unproductive. You need to have some directors that are a little more accountable.

As we’ve grown we’ve kind of seen that over and over again where you need to have a subgroup of directors. That doesn’t mean that you need a hierarchy with authority. Everybody kind of needs a hierarchy, because some people need to be more accountable than others, but hierarchy doesn’t need to have anything to do with authority.

It’s important that with that sort of core value of transparency that communication is open. Your hierarchy doesn’t have to have anything to do with communication. Everybody can communicate with everybody, and it needs to be that way. People can’t feel like oh to talk to that person I need to go through this person. To have an open and honest environment where anybody can talk to anybody I think is really important.

Andrew: Where’d you learn all this? I’ve noticed you several times in this conversation saying I didn’t have a mentor.

Gregg: Yeah.

Andrew: I noticed you, when you talked about learning to code, say the book that you learned from, the speaker that taught you, but this is a pretty involved management structure, one that allows you to run a consulting company without being there micromanaging. I think the offices are close to each other, right? People work close to each other.

Gregg: We’re in the same office, yeah.

Andrew: Same office. I saw a picture on Twitter of you guys all playing a video game over lunch. You’re in each other’s world, but you’re not running it day to day, it’s running.

Gregg: Right.

Andrew: Where did you learn how to structure all that?

Gregg: I wouldn’t say I learned how to structure anything. I would probably say more than anything it was just surrounding myself with really smart people, and helping them make the right decisions and do what feels right for the people and the company, and also trying to learn as much as I could along the way. Certainly, when I started really building the business I started getting into more business books. That’s been pretty useful to stay on top of the books, you know, all of the typical your people talk about like ‘Good to Great’ and ‘The E-Myth.’ Right now I’m going through ‘Creativity, Inc.’ which is a great book as well.

Andrew: I noticed you talk about some ideas from “Creativity, Inc.,” Ed Catmull’s book, founder of Pixar. He said people felt at Pixar as it got bigger that they couldn’t talk to each other because they had to go through the hierarchy. The hierarchy should be how the management of the company is organized, but anyone should be able to send an email and communicate with everyone else. That’s where you got that it feels like, or that jived with you because…

Gregg: That’s sort of within our core value. I can’t say that I got it from there, but it’s very similar. I’m finding a lot of similarities between the conclusions we’ve come to and that book. It’s ridiculous.

Andrew: How big did Code School get? What are the revenues today?

Gregg: Where are we? What’s the right thing to say on this podcast? I like to share, but, man, you’re not supposed to share too much. Where are we at? Let me say that we just broke 24,000 subscribers. I can tell you that’s where we’re at.

Andrew: [Inaudible]

Gregg: At $29 a month. You can do the math.

Andrew: Wow, and it’s a monthly recurring fee. You mentioned Ryan Carson once or twice here. Does it bother you that his company is growing so much and getting so much attention when you come from more of a development background?

Gregg: We’re getting a lot of traction, too. I’m not convinced that they’re getting that much more, although it does sound like he gets a lot of publicity. He does get a lot of publicity. Maybe he just has a better PR team. He’s always…

Andrew: He does get a lot of publicity.

Gregg: He does. He does get a lot of publicity. It’s really good. I mean it’s a commendation to all the accomplishments he’s got over the years and building himself into a thought leader, which would be fun to have more time to do, but that’s not necessarily what I enjoy. I enjoy more sort of staying in the weeds and building the content.

No, I think Treehouse is awesome. I don’t look at those guys as competition in the least bit. They are the only other one I can point to, though, that spends as much time and energy as we do building content, which is amazing. It’s also amazing to me that there aren’t other people that I can point to in the field that are similar. Also, lots of developer boot camps use both Treehouse and Code School to educate their people, and I think they should.

I know lots of people that have used both Treehouse and Code School to learn how to code. I mean, can you learn how to do anything with just one book? Can you learn how to do any one trade with just one book? No, and often it’s not the first time you see something that you really understand it. You need to see it multiple times. So those people that sort of learn visually and do well with videos and coding challenges, probably do pretty well with both a subscription to Treehouse and Code School. I highly recommend that you subscribe to them both.

Andrew: I, by the way, don’t recommend that anyone subscribe to any of my competition; you should only be subscribing to Mixergy. If you want to subscribe to Code School, I would love that too. Looking at where they get their traffic – I happen to know from speaking to a few people – they do ad buys more aggressively definitely than you. You buy keywords that are much more directly related, like “Code School” would be a keyword. You don’t do that, even?

Gregg: That’s just recent. That’s very recent development.

Andrew: They buy against “Lynda versus Treehouse”, “Team Treehouse”, “learn HTML in L.A.”, “learn HTML in L.A. Hebrew”, is a keyword that they buy ads for. Their number one referral according to SimilarWeb is “ShareASale.com”. Your number one according to them is “Try.GitHub.io”. Right there, that shows the different approach. You are all the way down this list. “Railsforzombies.org”, “Jquery.com”, “TryRuby.org”–it’s all about these content sites– “Dribble.com”. They do more about ad buys.

Gregg: All the ones that you mentioned, except for “Dribble.com”, are our websites.

Andrew: That’s why I went to number six on the list, to try to find one. It’s still gives a sense of the audience that you’re going after–more developers. The kind of approach that you have is more content-oriented.

Gregg: Well, they go after developers just the same. It wasn’t until maybe three months ago that we really looked at what everyone was spending on ad buys. We were spending $5,000 a month, that’s all! Compared to all the competition it was like $5,000 versus $50,000 and $80,000 per month. We’re like “Ooh!” I guess that’s probably telling us that we need to start spending money on advertising, because it’s going to be effective. So it was only like three months ago that we were like “Okay, let’s wind it up. Let’s wind it up and figure out what to do.” That might be saying something bad about us, that we weren’t able to figure it out until now.

Andrew: All right, I’m trying to figure out where else to go with this interview, and still show that I do my research. You know, I have to say, I really like that you called that out. At the same time, I noticed at one point as you were answering something, and I said “I’m not getting in there as much, because I don’t want to be called out again.” As much as I’m not that moved by it, I still guess I feel that I’m aware that I should’ve done more research.

Gregg: No worries.

Andrew: You can only do as much research as you can.

Gregg: You’ve got people you pay to do research for you, so it’s, you know.

Andrew: I still have to keep the work up. I still have to do a lot on my side. All right, you know what? Here’s what else I’ve been wondering: How do you figure out what courses to add and whether the ones that you thought would be right ended up doing well? Let’s take the first one. How do you figure out what courses to add?

Gregg: Sure, well, it’s mostly listening to our customers. We’re in a pretty, you know, we do a lot of application development related stuff. We do have, on Code School.com, the ability to vote for the topics that you want us to cover next, and we certainly pay attention to that. We have subscribers. We’re at the mercy of our subscribers. We need to keep them happy, and keep them coming back. So we need to make sure that our topics are things they care about. We look at a combination of things, including what they tell us they want, which is a big factor there.

Then, to figure out what is successful or not, well, what is success? There’s a couple of different ways that you can look at it. You can look at usage, you can look at how many people get through the course, how much traffic it drives, or how far they get through the course. What’s interesting is, we don’t have that much depth. If there’s any weak point in our business strategy, it’s that we don’t have the depth of videos that you’re going to find in a Lynda.com or Pluralsight.com. We only have like 40-something courses on a limited number of topics. So our business model is kind of odd, in that case. What that means from a business model standpoint, is that we have a high turnover rate. It hurts to see how many people unsubscribe on a monthly basis.

At first, we looked at that and we were like “Oh, we need to fix that! Okay, we need to get more depth, more depth. We need to figure out how to keep people along.” But then we look at the Ruby on Rails path, which is pretty complete. There are a lot of courses in there. When you look at that, you see how there’s not a lot of people that get through all of that content. So it has a lot of depth, but there’s still not a lot of people that get through that.

So if we created more depth, would it even really matter? Huh, maybe not. Maybe the business model itself is just conducive of having a high turn rate, and we just have to deal with it. If we want to scale, we just need to bring in more subscribers. We do have a lot of people that come back to us, to be fair. The last time we looked at that, it was something like 18% of our current subscribers have subscribed before, so we do have a lot of people that come back. They take a bunch of courses, then they wait for something they’re interested in and come back, which is perfectly cool.

So, your question was “What is successful?” So we have to look at a lot of things. The other thing that you have to keep in mind is the perception of somebody subscribing. We have an iOS path. It’s honestly our least successful path.

Andrew: Hmm, I wouldn’t have thought.

Gregg: Yeah, nobody would’ve thought. It’s tough because we like teaching that stuff, but not a lot of people take those courses. But because it’s there, does it bring more value to Code School? How many people go to Code School and go “Yeah, eventually I want to learn that.” Then they start learning Objective-C, and getting into iOS, and start realizing how fugly it really is. Then they’re like “Oh God, compared to Ruby on Rails, this is not fun at all.” Then they go back to Rails. But is having it there value? Is having it there itself for just showing people we cover it, value enough? It’s another really interesting question.

Yeah, the iOS thing is really disappointing that not a lot of people want to take that. I think it’s just really hard to get in front of the new iOS developers. We’ve talked to people in the field and they say the same thing. They say it’s really hard to get in front of the new people. We’ve gone to Apple and told them, because we know we’ve got some fans there. There’s some people that work at Apple and love our iOS courses. So we go to them and we go, “Look, we can’t keep on doing this. It’s not really driving enough revenue for us to really scale up on iOS stuff. Is there anything you guys can do? If we can get more traffic on here, we’ll create more iOS courses, to help you guys create better iOS developers.” They’re just a closed door. They’re so closed to working with outside people. It’s really disappointing.

On the other side, you can look at how we’ve done a lot of courses with Google, because they are the opposite. We’ve done a course on Chrome DevTools, which is a key skill for any developer to start learning if they’re doing any web stuff. We’ve done a Google Drive course with them, and Google Maps for iOS. We’ve done a bunch of these, and they do great. Apple on the other hand? Not so much. They aren’t really open to working with any outside content producers, or helping any outside content producers. It’s a little disappointing.

Andrew: How does registration compare from the individual package to the team package? Do companies end up buying so much that they’re significantly bigger? Is the revenue significantly bigger than individuals?

Gregg: We started with a bunch of individuals, right? We never had any team plan at first. Then we introduced the team plan. As we’ve grown, as you might expect with this sort of product, the more content that you have, the more well-known you are, the more you’re covering up-to-date technologies, and current technologies, the more teams are going to sign up for team accounts. Over the last two years, the percentage of team accounts has gone from like 5% to 35-40%– which is what you want to see, which is what you suspect to see with exactly these types of training companies. That’s how you scale, right? That’s really how you take a content company and scale it.

That’s why, for example, I was talking to O’Reilly a few years ago, talking to people about their Safari Bookshelf. The Safari Bookshelf, if you’re not familiar, is where they have all of their books online. I think I asked them “What percentage of your subscriptions are team group accounts for everybody involved?” I think they said it was like 90% of their revenue that comes in from the group sales. That’s how you get paid as a content company. You hire a lot of sales guys that go to all the big companies, and maybe even universities, and land those big accounts. That’s how you sort of scale this content business.

Andrew: I get that, and I imagine that it’s stickier when the product is in a company’s hands, than an individual who watches their credit card more carefully.

Gregg: It has a higher lifetime value, that’s true. It’s a blessing and a curse, because you’re going to look at your subscription numbers, and when that 500 team account eventually cancels, it’s going to hurt more than that one person cancelling.

Andrew: All right, the website is “CodeSchool.com”. How do you think we did here today?

Gregg: It’s good! You asked a lot of really good questions. I hope your audience found it useful. Should we talk a little bit more about. . . what’s your core audience interested in? Content strategy, marketing, sales?

Andrew: Let’s talk content strategy.

Gregg: Founder start-up stuff?

Andrew: What do you have on content strategy?

Gregg: Well, here’s what’s really unique about Code School: because we came from free, and I’m in love with free, we still produce free courses. We try to make sure that when we do produce free courses, that it gets traction, that it will guarantee us another customer lead property.

That’s why when you go around the net, if you go to “Try.GitHub.io”, or you Google “Try Github” or “Try Git”, you’ll find the Git tutorial that we created with GitHub, and it’s free and open just like Rails for Zombies. You’ll also see that we worked with the jQuery CORS team to create Try jQuery. So if you go to “Try.jQuery.com”, free and open. You can learn jQuery. If you go to Angular, the Angular home page, you’ll find our free course for Angular.

Over and over again, when we aim to produce free content, we need to know that it’s going to get out to a lot of people. It’s a big investment! Often when we produce a course, it’s going to cost us a little between $60,000- $80,000 at this point to produce a free course.

Andrew: Between $60,000-$80,000!

Gregg: Yeah, for one course. So we need to know that we’re going to be able to get a return on our investment. We need to think strategically about how we can make sure. Who can we work with if we invest that money, to make sure that we get in front of the right people, and that we drive the traffic? It’s that kind of strategic thinking that we like, where you think about strategic partnerships, and how can I create this content and get in front of a lot of people.

It’s like stuff that you do. A great way to drive traffic to your blog or your product is to go and interview other people in the industry, or do guest blog posts. Make sure to drive traffic back to you. It’s that type of strategic thinking that I think is really valuable when you’re building a product.

Andrew: I like this idea of working with other companies, the way that you did with GitHub. I’m on that site right now. I see the investment in it. You pay the whole money yourself? Code School does?

Gregg: It depends, depending on which free website it is. In some cases, we get that company to sponsor, right? So in the case with Google, we often would go to them and say, “Hey! We’re thinking about doing a course on this specific technology, because I heard you think our customers want it. We’re going to create a paid course, because we know we’ll make our money back on a paid course. But if you want to sponsor it and offset or cover our costs, then what we’ll do is work with you, and we’ll try to make it the best way to learn this technology.

We’ll make it so open and free, that nobody has to even give us their email address to play and that way people can just go in there and they play and some of them will give us their email address some of them won’t.’ And of course at the end of the course we’ll say you know, ‘If you want to keep on learning this here are five free resources to keep on learning, oh and by the way, if you like learning like this you might want to check out Code School. Because we’ve got a couple other courses on this topic’.

Andrew: Wow. I see that. Give me another one. What other content marketing strategies can you share with us?

Gregg: I think there’s a lot to be said for, when you start to build, I’m sure with all the stuff that you talk about your audience has heard building a mailing list effectively and collecting emails. As soon as we had like ten thousand people on our email list we’re, OK, we’ve got a really valuable asset here. Not only to market to people and to upsell them. But now we can reach out to other people who have mailing lists and see if we can do some cross promotion.

So we take a moment to think about who else has our audience. It could be a vendor. It could be a mailing list website. It could be a mailchimp or you know anybody who is trying to target developers. We could reach out to them and say ‘Hey we’ve got this mailing list of ten thousand people’ you know ‘What does your mailing list look like, is there any way we could do a cross promotion? You plug us on yours. We’ll plug you on ours and hopefully we’ll both get customers from it’. So thinking of creative ways to leverage your email list.

Now our email list I think is up to, like, it’s past half a million. It’s up to 600 hundred, 700 hundred thousand now and we’ve tested it out and you know we market our own stuff. But sometimes we market other peoples stuff and at that point, you know, not only will we market their stuff but we’ll try to make it so that if they confer we’ll get something on the back end there. You know usually it’s some sort of affiliate program which can work out really well. So there’s that.

Andrew: How the affiliate program doing for you ? Speaking of marketing.

Gregg: We need your advantor right now. We have something small in there right now but I think we’re in the process of redoing it. We don’t have much of anything that I would promote.

Andrew: All right one last way to promote. One last promotion tip that you have I love these. [inaudible]. Just promotion tips.

Gregg: Yeah. Probably. Well I’m a big fan you of podcasting. I think there’s a lot to be said about it and about the video. Oh I know. I totally know. OK. Last big tip.

Andrew: Yes.

Gregg: Is to syndicate your content. For years we just did the Rails City Podcast, the Ruby5 podcast and it was just a podcast and it was just like links and we pushed the podcast and it was just a podcast. But, like, we were creating all the content for a flipping mailing list. People consume content in different ways. I know some people would be like “Well I wouldn’t feel right doing a podcast with the same content as a mailing list or a mailing list with the same content as a podcast. No I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that”. I’m like you know what you’re dumb. You don’t realize. Some people consume content in different ways. Some people listen to it. Some people read it. Some people watch it as video and so if you can cater to all those people and use the same content.

You put in this much work and you have a bigger funnel. So we changed that of course. Now if you go to Ruby5 at envy labs dot com you’ll go there and see ‘Join our mailing list’ you can subscribe to the mailing list and we automated the hell out of it. So once a week it sucks up the podcast summary and sends it out as an email. And you know, we could probably create a t.v. show too. Where we, you know, you showed us on video talking about that stuff. The more ways you can reuse content the better. Mailing list is number one. Podcast is number two and then anything else is number three. There’s other ways to do it. I mean you can go to conferences and present on the same subjects that you were talking about on your podcast. So reuse your content often. You can get away with more than you think.

Andrew: Remember Martha Stewart used to get a lot of flack for that. Because someone would hear her on a radio show and then suddenly discover her saying something similar on television that week and I think it was even in the magazine. She said ‘Are you kidding me? Do you think people are following me on 1010 Wins New York and then rushing over to Channel 4 New York to watch me on television and then they’re upset when they buy the magazine and I’m still in there?’.

Gregg: Yeah. Yeah.

Andrew: There’s different audiences and I get it and we don’t think that way online.

Gregg: Yeah, and that used to piss me off so much that you’d go to develop at tech conferences and you had developers that spent like three weeks putting together this amazing presentation to go and give at this conference and they go and they give the presentation and then that knowledge gets lost forever because no one videotaped that stuff.

Andrew: And even if they do, there’s so much online you’re not going to watch that one.

Gregg: I know! So, they need, you know . . . #1: Create an amazing conference talk and go and present it at 10 different conferences and reuse it over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with that. Then take that content and turn it into a blog post. Take that content and turn it into a video. Go on Mixergy and have Andrew interview you about this content and reuse it. If you write a. . . And then take it and write a book. I’m a big fan of the Accidental Creative; you know that. . .

Andrew: Yeah.

Gregg: You know that podcast?

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Gregg: I forget that guy’s name, but I’m a big fan of the accidental creative. I listen to his podcast. I don’t read his book, but I can tell he takes a lot of stuff from both. I just consume him using audio. I should probably pay him money at some point. I will pay him money at some point because he brings me value. Hey, wait a second, that’s how CodeSchool started.

Andrew: I’m looking now to see. . . I knew you before. I said why did I not have you on? For some reason it just didn’t occur to me. Sometimes I have conversations with people and I don’t think to have them on. It looks like someone submitted you as an option on our forum when we were looking for guests about four months ago.

Gregg: We have a PR agency now.

Andrew: Sorry, your agency?

Gregg: We’ve gotten to the point where we pay, you know, a couple thousand a month for a PR agency.

Andrew: That’s a good price, a couple of thousands; under 10 thousand?

Gregg: It’s more than that?

Andrew: Oh, okay, yeah, figured.

Gregg: But they’re worth their weight in gold. I never thought we’d hire a PR agency, but when you get to a point, it’s worthwhile. Kind of like how when you get to a point, you should be spending, you know, like 50 grand a month on AdWords. You just should because it’ll come back to you.

Andrew: I feel like that’s the part you’re good at, but it sounds like you’re not that into. Like, some people don’t even want to create a product. All they want to do is go online, buy some ads, and market nonsense.

I feel like you’re not exactly the opposite, but maybe that thing I said at the beginning of the interview about you not wanting to be an entrepreneur, not growing up saying, “How do I sell stuff?” Maybe that’s what we’re seeing expressed in this lack of AdWords strategy until now. Lack of willingness to buy . . . to get it. . .

Gregg: It just wasn’t on my radar at all. It wasn’t on my radar at all, just because I enjoy creating content. When you’ve seen my previous products that have failed, they failed because I didn’t know crap about sales and marketing. That’s nothing I’ve ever learned about nor really cared to learn about, nor enjoy at all. So, if there’s any moral of the story, it’s I should have found a co-founder. . .

Andrew: [Laughs]

Gregg: . . . A lot earlier who enjoyed sales and marketing and growth hacking.

Andrew: Well you’re doing really well right now. You’re millionaire, right, cash in the bank?

Gregg: No.

Andrew: No, just the value of the companies?

Gregg: Right.

Andrew: Well, all right, congratulations on your success. I am so glad that you did hire that PR company because frankly I should have had you on a long time ago and thanks for being so open in this interview both about what you’re doing and what you see me doing. I dig that.

Gregg: Yeah, no problem. Thanks for having me on. I’m going to be expecting in the badge for reals for zombies completed by the end of . . . by two weeks from now. That is your challenge.

Andrew: Give me just a little longer. I am now up to my eyeballs. I just go back from vacation. I have a new baby and my wife got a new job. This is now tons of stuff all at once.

Gregg: That’s a good enough excuse I guess. Yeah you shouldn’t have to learn how to code. You’re amazing at sales and marketing.

Andrew: I shouldn’t, but frankly I shouldn’t have also seen it as a wall. It’s interesting that this show brings out the openness in me in a way that I wouldn’t be open with myself otherwise and I didn’t recognize. Ordinarily I would just try. . . I install every freaking app. I have a whole computer here because everyone in my audience who sends me a freaking desktop app, I have to install it and sometimes it crashes my interview computer. So, I have another one that I use for that.

Gregg: [Laughs]

Andrew: I don’t hesitate about those things. For some reason I had some block.

Gregg: Oh, no worries. I should have emailed you ahead of time.

Andrew: No you shouldn’t. You did a pre-interview.

Gregg: Now I know.

Andrew: I think this interview was really well. I think there’s no way that I could do everything and do all the research. I’m not beating myself up about it. But, there is an absolute requirement that I keep learning from each interview and I learned a bunch of stuff from this one, including: Don’t be intimidated by the code stuff Andrew. See that, it’s good stuff.

Gregg: There you go. It’s easier than you think.

Andrew: All right, well thank you all for being a part of this. Thank you for checking out this interview and if you want to follow up, just go to CodeSchool.com or wait, where is the zombie site, railsforzombies.org and do not be intimidated; click the green button and send me your badges guys. Alright, and I will send you my badge after I get a little bit of a break here. Thanks Gregg. Thank you all for being a part of it, bye.

Sponsored by

Lead Pages – Lead Pages took my most successful page and turned it into a product that you can use—which magically converts strangers into leads. So if you want to use the page that I use to collect email addresses, check out AndrewsWelcomeGate.com. It will work on your site no matter what your site is built on. Even if you have no site, you can use this URL to collect email addresses for your business. It’s AndrewsWelcomeGate.com.

Share

  • punkydrewster713

    I was excited for this one so I’m a little bummed by all the friction, but it turned out pretty well by the end. Thank you both

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    No friction. Honesty & openness is how I learn.

  • http://simplehosting.co/ Emilio Olivares

    Excellent interview, I personally enjoyed the friction, it added drama and an edge to the interview. That being said, I think Andrew was too self conscious about it, he should of moved on quickly and not bring it up again and again. Andrew, you hold yourself to high standards, but it’s OK to make a mistake. People will relate more if we see you guys as humans and not robots!

  • yagudaev

    This reminded me this Steve Jobs clip from back in 1997 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FF-tKLISfPE. Jobs bounced back really quickly after it, even though he was totally knocked out of the mental balance. I think Andrew did the same. I agree tho that there was no need to go back to it. And it was a much better interview after the issue was addressed. But I would like to see Greg back on here for a follow up interview :). He did some amazing things out there.

  • yagudaev

    Greg, about the iOS Course. It is the single reason why I signed-up for Code School. I have been doing ruby for almost 2 years now and web development for much longer. When I started I watched your excellent videos and not too long ago the rspec videos/course. I love your approach and think it is the only real way to learn. In fact I tried TreeHouse with the iOS course and switched to code school in just a day, they seem to target beginners, not programmers who can’t wait to write their app and launch it like me. In fact, I took the iOS course to learn the basic so I can write things in Swift. It was amazingly helpful so far! Waiting for the Swift course :).

    Andrew, I would pay to see an interview with Ryan Bates. Everyone in the Rails community is wondering what happen to him. Ryan’s videos created true defacto ways of doing things in Rails. Every project I go to I see people implementing things from his recipe book of videos.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ebellity Emmanuel Bellity

    +1 for Ryan Bates !

  • Jordan

    i love how you felt it and addressed it. That was inspiring.

  • Brian Jordan

    This was great, loved hearing Gregg’s Code School story from the @AndrewWarner:disqus perspective. Thanks both!

  • Prospertute

    ANDREW! haha… that was unexpected (but AWESOME) how gregg called you out like that on your not “doing your homework” (only on the part about not trying out one of his vids). Your interviews are always entertaining… loved the unedited version of that interview. you don’t even put in your canned pitch for your sponsors… it’s all done live during your interview. i dunno… i think that’s just refreshing to hear your style of interviews. and i really can’t get over how you can really get in there w/your incisive questions. :)