First 10K Series: How a moonlighting chemist built a membership site – James Ashenhurst

Joining me is a Mixergy listener who I invited on to talk about how he earned his first ten thousand dollars.

James Ashenhurst is the founder of Master Organic Chemistry, an online resource for students of organic chemistry.

Watch the FULL program


About James Ashenhurst

James Ashenhurst is the founder of Master Organic Chemistry, an online resource for students of organic chemistry.

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. There he is doing the fist pump with me. The reason I’m smiling is because today’s guest has heard me say that so many times. Joining me is a Mixergy listener who I invited to talk about how he earned his first $10,000, something that a lot of people in the audience have asked for. Go back in time and just focus on the first 10. I’ll do my best to stay within those boundaries.

His name is James Ashenhurst. He is the founder of Master Organic Chemistry, an online resource for students of organic chemistry. This whole interview, as you guys might see throughout the interview by my mug, it’s sponsored by Walker Corporate Law. Scott Edward Walker is the startup’s lawyer. You can check him out at Walkercorporatelaw.com. James, welcome.

James: Thank you very much for having me. It’s awesome to be here.

Andrew: How does it feel to be listening to the same thing you’ve heard so much, but now it’s like a one-on-one engagement here?

James: I think the person that’s going to be the most weirded out is my wife, because some day she’s going to walk in, and I’m making dinner and listening to a Mixergy interview, and she’s going to realize that the person on the other line from you is actually me.

Andrew: [Laughing] Don’t tell her. Just hit “play” as usual and let it come on.

James: Yeah. Exactly.

Andrew: I was in Argentina, living there back when you first heard me, and there was something about the way that I did this that inspired the idea that led to the business we’re talking about. What was it about the format?

James: Yeah. What was interesting about what you were doing in Argentina is you were just doing one-on-one Skype chats, Skype video chats with people. What struck me about it was the fact that you were in Argentina. You were talking to people from all over the world. I could see the videos.

The quality of your video was really quite good. I was thinking… It sort of really hit me at the time that video chat, online video chat had really come of age. I think it was around the same time that Chat Roulette got big.

Andrew: Is that right?

James: Before then, it was kind of a very iffy proposition, I thought, to Skype with someone overseas, wasn’t sure if the connections would be very good. It really opened up the world at that time. It kind of helped inspire me to do what I was… Inspired me in my business.

Andrew: Many people who get inspired by what I do here will say, “Andrew’s doing interviews? I’ll do interviews. Andrew’s interviewing startups? I’ll interview startups,” and so on down the road, to everything except for the shirt, which they have better taste than me in clothes. Everything else, they mimic way carefully. You had something a little bit different. What was that?

James: Right. The reason why this was interesting to me is that I was living in Jerusalem at the time. Now, I’m Canadian originally. My wife and I were living in Jerusalem. I was trying to tutor students on the side. I do speak a little bit of Hebrew. My Hebrew is really bad, and it was really hard for me to find one-on-one tutoring clients. It was around this time, January 2010, that I was walking home from work one day. I thought, “You know, this idea… Maybe I could tutor students online through the internet.”

Nowadays of course, it seems like a very common idea. There’s places like Insta Ed U and a whole bunch of other places where you can tutor people through Skype. It doesn’t seem like such a new thing, but at the time, it was certainly a new idea for me. My wife was like, “No one will ever want that.” I thought, “This is something that could probably work.” So, that inspired me to devote all my energy and attention to online tutoring.

Andrew: What were you doing so far away from Canada?

James: Well, I was trained as an organic chemist. So, the entire 2000s, I was basically working in a lab, doing my PhD first. Then, I did a post doc at MIT. Then, after that, my wife got a post-doctoral opportunity at Hebrew University in Jerusalem as a chemist. So I found a job as well, working at Hebrew University in 2008. We were living in Jerusalem as chemists.

Andrew: James, I’m curious about how you got the first customers for this new business and so on. But first, I think many people who would hear that you’re working in a lab would say, “You’re at the top of your field. Why bother looking for an online business?”

James: Well, it’s a lot of things going on around that time. I finished at MIT. Around the summer of 2008 was when I was finishing up at MIT. I had an amazing paper in the bag. We just completed actually very important total synthesis. I was at a conference that summer, which was sort of like a lot of the big wigs of industry and academia come to meet at this Gordon Conference. Things looked really good.

All the people I talked to in the industry were like, “When are you coming out? When are you leaving MIT?” I was like, “Oh. Fall.” They’re like, “Awesome. You should come. We’d love to have you.” Then, it was the great recession. Fall of 2008, all those job opportunities vanished. I did apply for academic jobs, but there was really only two available in Canada. And then I did do a second application the next year, but there just weren’t very many available. And at the same time, all the jobs in industry were shrinking. A lot of the major pharmaceutical companies.

Organic chemists end up doing one or two things. They end up working as professor, or they’ll end up working in industry at Pfizer, Wyatt, etc. Both those two opportunities were looking a lot less likely, and I had spent eight or nine years just obsessed with organic chemistry, doing everything that I could possibly do with every minute of my day to make myself a better chemist. And it’ll look like all that work and all that time that I’d spent trying to be a great chemist, I was going to hit the job market at the exact wrong time.

So it sort of led me to think about what other options I had available. Because MIT is kind of a 24/7 kind of place, I didn’t really have a lot of time to think about other opportunities. But when I was living in Jerusalem, I did have a lot more time to kind of think about, “Okay, how can I solve this problem?” And so that’s when I started thinking a little bit more about, this idea came to my head. Maybe I could start a business. Which is something I’d never, ever consider doing. Starting a business would solve a lot of problems, and that’s sort of working.

Andrew: What’s interesting to me is that I always think of an organic chemist who works in the lab as having the job security that I crave sometimes as an entrepreneur; where I feel like everything could potentially go away at some point. And you’re right. It’s not the safe place that I imagine in my mind. And for you, entrepreneurship is the place that gives you safety. Why?

James: Well, Seth Godin, actually remember, one of his little aphorisms is what that safe is risky. And a lot of my friends who kind of got a dream job around 2009-2010 at a big pharmaceutical company, subsequently within a year or two will find that their company had merged or were closing research centers.

It’s been a really bad five years for organic chemists in general, in the job market. A lot of it is going overseas, and there’s a lot of difficulty in filling the drug pipelines, and so forth. So it’s actually been really bad for organic chemists in general.

So I wanted some control over my own destiny. I also didn’t want to be in a situation where someone could walk in my office one day and fire me, or tell me I was going to relocate to some other place in the country . . .

Andrew: Or the world.

James: Or the world. So it’s not as safe as it might seem from the outside, although it’s still hard to convince my family members of that.

Andrew: So this is a business that you’re starting. Simply, what is the first step you took to get customers?

James: So I was moonlighting. I was working by day as a chemist, and the mornings I would work on this side business of seeing if this idea of online tutor was going to work out. So what I did was I set up a lot of Google alerts for Craigslist, people searching for organic chemistry tutors in North America. And it didn’t matter, of course, where they were. They were looking for an organic chemistry tutor in New York or Washington . . .

Andrew: You mean they would put a post up on Craigslist saying, “I’m looking for an organic chemistry tutor”?

James: Yep.

Andrew: I see. Okay. It’s fairly simple to set up a lurch [sp] for that, right?

James: Yep.

Andrew: Okay.

James: So I might get them three or four days after they actually made a post, but oftentimes they wouldn’t find anybody appropriate. So I’d get those alerts, I’d write them, and I’d say “You know, I’m actually not in Washington state or in New York, but I am in Jerusalem.” And they were like “Oh.”

At the time I was charging $20 an hour, and I made my first session free. So I was ridiculously under-charging.

Andrew: Why?

James: Because I just wanted to get clients and learn, I think mostly. And, you know, I had never really made any money for myself as an independent contractor or any way apart from a job I’d had. This is my first real experience, you know, in entrepreneurship. Even to make a little bit of money on the side would be a huge win for me. At my job in Israel, I was actually making $20,000 a year.

Andrew: Oh really?

James: Yeah.

Andrew: I thought, frankly I thought you were going to make killer bucks because of that. I don’t know why I assumed, but twenty is very small.

James: Yeah, well people don’t. You know, it’s amazing. You know, in Jerusalem the rents are ridiculously high, and the pay is really quite low.

Andrew: Wow.

James: It’s an expensive place to live.

Andrew: So twenty bucks an hour then, it still feels low. And many people who would listen would say, “That sounds very low. I don’t see how this thing scales. Why would James even bother doing it?”

James: Well, I think in the beginning, it was to get a lot of clients. And also because, to be honest, even though I had a PhD, that PhD meant that I was great at talking to other PhDs about organic chemistry. But I was actually really bad at talking to people who were kind of clueless. The people that you end up tutoring are often people who are struggling with the course. They don’t understand someone who’s going to talk to them as a PhD would talk to.

So I think what I was really looking for was just to put in a lot of hours in just learning how to do this. I wasn’t sure how well online tutoring was going to work. I wasn’t sure about the equipment, wasn’t sure about the bandwidth, wasn’t sure about how well I was going to do. I tend to be pretty hard on myself to begin with. I tend to probably value myself less than I should. So, there’s a lot of factors involved in why I chose $20 an hour. At the same time, it was just a good learning experience.

Andrew: I see. Alright. You’re right. There are so many things that could go wrong. I’ve talked to people in Beijing, and I’ve thought, “Alright. Great. They’re moving up in the world. They have Skype. I have Skype. Life should be easy.” I didn’t realize how tough it is to make a Skype call to them. Things just break down. I also have done web hangouts, sort of, with people from the audience, where we talk about tough issues.

What I thought was video would help that because we get to talk to each other, see each other, and just like here, I get a sense of who you are, and you get a sense of who I am when we talk. I thought it would help to do video calls. It was awful. When people want to get really personal, they often don’t want a camera on them. So, you’re right. You never know what’s going to happen. What you’re saying is, you want to just experiment. That’s why you charge low, and the very first session was free. So, I imagine you had a lot of takers.

James: I did.

Andrew: Okay.

James: I’d say maybe a third of the people that I contacted in the beginning would at least have one session with me.

Andrew: Okay.

James: It took a few months to build up clientele from Craigslist and other sources on the internet.

Andrew: What other sources?

James: There’s a couple sites that are basically job boards for tutors. So I would just poach whoever posted up on those things, and contact them by email. So, maybe a third of the time, I’d end up with at least one session with that person. Then, some of them would lead to more extended…

Andrew: How would people pay you?

James: All through PayPal.

Andrew: All through PayPal.

James: Yeah.

Andrew: You just send them your email address. They would use it on PayPal, and that’s it.

James: Yep.

Andrew: Simple.

James: I was surprised by this. I’d say of the over 200 paying clients I’ve had, maybe two I’ve had problems getting paid by, three. So, it’s, on the whole, been really quite good.

Andrew: Yeah.

James: I didn’t even ask for pre-payment most of the time. I just did the session, and they paid me.

Andrew: And people would pay you.

James: Yeah.

Andrew: Simple, simple, simple. We’re talking about just a basic start. I should tell the audience. It obviously gets beyond one-on-one tutoring. Today, James is doing much more than that. I want to really understand the simplicity of the first step. If we can just go back in time a little bit, before this, you were trying other ideas. There was one that didn’t go so well. What was that one?

James: Right. So it was around this time where thinking that entrepreneurship would solve a lot of my problems, if I could get something that would work, work for myself. Thinking about the skills that I had, and perhaps the needs that the market had, and I saw how all the pharmaceutical industry was going to China.

So I thought I might try and take advantage of this. Knowing this, I thought that I could maybe offer some services to Chinese pharmaceutical companies or Chinese chemical companies. Looking at a lot of their websites, the English was just atrocious, and their marketing was awful.

Andrew: And they seemed to have money, and they were growing.

James: And they seemed to have money, and they were growing. But of course, I don’t speak Chinese. So, what I had to do was, I wrote a sales letter several paragraphs long, ridiculously long, and I got it translated. Then, I would just cold-email that to whatever contact email was on those websites. I think my response rate was… I think I got two warm emails back out of 3000. One of them was definitely not interested in editing. The other one wanted me to be his agent for selling his chemical to North American clients.

Andrew: Okay.

James: That was after six months or five months.

Andrew: Wow.

James: Yeah. It was really beating my head against a wall.

Andrew: Unless I’m missing something here, James, it seems like even that idea, you didn’t invest a lot of money. You didn’t invest a lot in software, a lot in marketing, a lot in web design. You didn’t have a website for it. Did you?

James: I did.

Andrew: You did. Okay. Right. If you’re going to create websites for other people, you do need to have a website of your own. Right.

James: Yeah. But it was a very low investment. It was just moonlighting.

Andrew: Okay.

James: I had time. So, it was just stuff I did in my spare time.

Andrew: There was another one where you were doing proofreading, or excuse me, editing.

James: That was it.

Andrew: Oh. This was the same one. Okay.

James: Yeah. Yeah. Proofreading or editing, and editing people’s typos is just an awful niche to be in. You never, ever want to be in that. It’s just nobody really cares.

Andrew: Okay. So then you’re trying different ideas. The second big idea is the one that hits? The one that starts to take off. People start buying from you. And, as I said, you didn’t stay as a tutor. You started to branch out. What’s the next thing that you created?

James: So, after about six months, I had a really good, stable roster of clients. And except – and actually after about, like, six to eight months my contract was over. So I was able to actually start tutoring full-time. But because my clients were in North America and I was in Israel, I’d have to wake up at like 2:00 in the morning and I’d do the shift from 2:00 am to 8:00 am. And then I’d go to sleep – like I was doing biphasic sleep …

Andrew: Wow.

James: … where I’d sleep from – I’d go for a run. I’d go to sleep from 9:00 to 1:00. Do a little bit more work, have dinner, go to bed at 9:00, wake up at 1:00, 1:30, and then tutor another slot. So this was not a sustainable activity.

And that was around that time. And I was thinking I have to find some way to, obviously, earn, you know, earn money where it’s not tied to my hours. And that’s around the same time where talking to a critical mass of clients that you get a really good idea of what their common problems are and …

Andrew: What are some of those common problems?

James: What are some of those common problems? Well, a lot of students really hate their textbook. Textbooks are great for their, like, the sort of top 20 percent of the class. But the people I was working with were often not in that category. And, you know, textbook’s, like, a thousand pages. And a lot of the information they need for studying their exams is scattered throughout those textbooks. It’s not really, really well collected.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

James: And so one thing that my students really said, told me that they wanted, was some kind of guide to all these things. They’re called reagents. They’re kind of like ingredients in a chemical reaction. And they wanted a guide to all these different reagents. And there’s maybe 80 or 90 important ones. So I thought that that would be a good thing to start with by making a reagent guide. So I started working on that in the beginning of 2011.

Andrew: Okay. How long did it take you to create the first ones?

James: It took about between 100 and 150 hours, I’d say, of just – it’s a very, you know, drawing chemical structures is very (inaudible). It’s not just a matter of writing. It’s also a matter of getting all the structures correct and making sure that all the science is correct. But something I’d spend a couple hours a day doing. And then over a period of several months, I had this document and so I could put that together as a PDF.

Andrew: When your contract is expired and you don’t know what’s going to happen next, and you have to spend that much time putting a guide together, it seems like that’s a recipe for procrastination. It’s a recipe for self- doubt. It’s not a recipe for success. How did you keep going at that point?

James: I didn’t see that as a recipe for procrastination or self-doubt or anything like that.

Andrew: You really didn’t even have a boss looking over your shoulder. You had to invent what you were going to write. There was no one to guide you.

James: Well, I was in a big financial hole and I knew that this was probably going to be a way to get myself out of it.

Andrew: Mm.

James: And I’ve never, like – I don’t know I consider myself, I guess, a pretty driven person. So it wasn’t really a problem to get this to – it also meant that I would eventually, hopefully tutor a little bit less.

Andrew: I see.

James: Right. And this was the whole purpose behind making a PDF or an eBook was that, you know, I’d have at least one stream of income that wasn’t tied to my hours. So there was a lot of motivation to do it.

Andrew: That vision kept you motivated. That need is what kept you from walking away from work.

James: Absolutely.

Andrew: I see it. Okay.

James: Yeah. No, I was no – there was no desire on my part ever to, you know, once I decided that I was going to do this, there was no desire on my part to get a job.

Andrew: So I can see how your student’s needs, their frustrations led you to create these guides. And I’ve got one up on my screen here in front of me. I’m wondering if, before you even started tutoring, did you do something similar to see what their need s were. Did you start scanning Craigslist and say, “Oh, organic chemistry. There’s a lot of demand for that?” Was there anything like that? Any research before you launched?

James: Not really. But, at the same time, I was a, you know, I was a PhD student for many years. And as a PhD, one of your duties is to help supervise undergraduates in the lab or be – serve as – their sort of course tutor. So I was very familiar.

And having also been a student myself of the course and being very familiar with the frustrations of it, I was very familiar what the common student problems were. And I, even as far back as 2006, I thought to myself, you know, “Someone really needs to make a friendly, accessible website for students to learn this subject.” Because there’s nothing out there, that is really approachable for someone who’s kind of clueless on the subject.

I thought, ‘Someone really should do that.’ And that was back in 2006. And then, of course, you know, moving from Craigslist to getting people to come in and find me was a matter of building a website, and, like, putting a lot of really good content on it. And that was kind of like, I ended up being the person who should have built it, I just built it.

Andrew: Excuse me, I asked that question because, you do really get your customer’s frustration and I can tell right from the homepage. The first, one of the first things that I see here is a link that says, “Hair on fire? Exam tomorrow? Follow this link.” And I remember that from when I was studying in school, where there was a sense of, “Oh, my God, there’s doom tomorrow, it’s happening, how do I solve this problem right now?” And that is, that’s speaking to that same issue.

James: You know, that “Hair on Fire” is a Mixergy reference, actually.

Andrew: Oh, is that right?

James: It’s from Nicholas Holland’s course on making the sale on his Centresource Interactive site. They’ve got this “Hair on Fire?” link, as I recall. So that idea, that I need help right now, is very effective way of selling it. So I sort of scammed that off Nick. It was, but yeah, having a front page like that, to kind of direct students is one of the most common problems is they’re studying for an exam, they don’t care about the course most of the time, but then they have an exam coming up, sort of facing them, and they can’t get out of it. Then that’s when they really start caring about the course.

Andrew: I get it. Then I’ll have to tell Nicholas Holland that he was that helpful. Is that the way you use what you learned, you just try a different course, see what makes sense for you, and then apply it, or are you just letting it get filed in your memory banks and then when you need it, it comes out?

James: It’s hard to say, it’s hard to answer that question, other than the fact that I do remember a lot of what of what I’ve heard in some way, and, just things get repeated so many times, at some point it eventually comes out in some form. You know, I’ve probably listed to over four hundred of your interviews by this point.

Andrew: Thank you. I was looking for a name for in my notes here to prepare for the interview and what I saw was a few references to your emails that I remember, including in past interviews. Here’s one from, what is it, early part of 2011, where you sent me an email, saying, “Hey, I’m working my way through your interview list, I’m now on 117 Boo Lithium[SP}, and I’m hoping to get to 300 by the end of the summer.” And I remember reading that in a past interview.

James: Yeah.

Andrew: And here we are.

James: It’s fantastic.

Andrew: So I’m looking at your site, and as I said, I admire the way you speak to your students, I admire the testimonials. I’m wondering how much was there in the first version. I always like to hear what the first version looked like. What was yours?

James: It was a free WordPress site.

Andrew: Okay.

James: It was a free blog.

Andrew: You mean on WordPress.com?

James: WordPress.com.

Andrew: What was the URL?

James: It was just Master Organic Chemistry. Actually it was, the first version was called Orgo Hacks because like, “Hacks” was really cool, back in 2010.

Andrew: Yep.

James: Everyone was hacking? And so, it was very closely based off of Study Hacks, which is a site by Cal Newport.

Andrew: Yep.

James: And I sort of wanted to the same thing for organic chemistry. A lot of influences on, you know, various blogs and so forth. But it just didn’t feel like, I’m not really a hacky kind of guy, so I didn’t really feel it, so then I went to Master Organic Chemistry. It also helps that organic chemistry is in the URL, because a lot of the people who show up at my site are searching Google, like 80% of my traffic is organic search.

So we started off as, yeah, Orgo Hacks, and then at some point I changed to Master Organic Chemistry, and it was a free WordPress blog for the first year and a half, and then I finally decided to get it self-hosted.

Andrew: Yeah, see, they even put that link at the bottom: “Blog at WordPress.com” Theme is a Dig[SP] 3-column by WP Designer. So you were just using free themes, free hosting, free everything to get this thing going.

James: That’s right.

Andrew: When you finally launched the book, How’d you get anyone to buy it?

James: So I was thinking about this, and I didn’t really have a mailing list at the time, I’d heard some people say like, the worst mistake I made was not getting a mailing list early enough, and, of course, now I say the same thing. But, WordPress, one thing it did do, was it kept track of people who signed up, people subscribe to your blog, and they get email updates every time you post a new post.

So I had that list, and so I could email that list of people who wanted to get every new post from me. And from that list, it was maybe a hundred people, hundred and fifty people, I emailed that list and, from that, I got maybe five sales of my first book at $25. But, at the same time it did take a while for that flywheel to start spinning.

Basically, what I did was every Friday, I took one page, essentially, or one reagent for my reagent guide, and I blogged about it. So, I took the content from my e-book, a small bit of the content, and I blogged about it every week. So, it became a regular thing on my blog for close to a year, is Reagent Friday. then, that Reagent Friday would link back to my store, Shopify store, because…

Andrew: They’re a sponsor.

James: They’re a sponsor, and because I needed something to do. I needed some way to sell my product online. Shopify seemed like a logical thing to do.

Andrew: How were they, by the way?

James: Great. I’m still with them.

Andrew: You’re still with them.

James: Yeah.

Andrew: I can’t even tell that you’re still with them, because there’s no reference to them on the site. I like that they’re… Unlike those free WordPress hosting… Sorry. Unlike those free blog hosting services that insist on posting their name and links back to them all over, Shopify doesn’t seem to do that. If you’re a customer, you can remove the Shopify links. Right?

James: That’s right.

Andrew: Yeah.

James: You can point it to a different URL. You can get the theme completely redone and actually, it can really help with shopping cart abandonment if you get someone to custom design your store theme so that it matches your blog theme, for example. Yeah. So, basically…

Andrew: I see. I’m sorry. I do see those posts here. I see one from… How far back is this one? 2011 maybe. Am I pronouncing it right? It’s Reagent Guide?

James: That’s right.

Andrew: Reagent Friday. In a blatant plug for the Reagent Guide, each Friday I profile a different reagent that is commonly encountered in Org 1, Org 2. Version 1.2 just released last week with a host of corrections and a new page index. Then, it offers a link back to… At the time, it was masterorganicchemistry.myshopify.com.

James: Right.

Andrew: That’s as simple as your marketing was.

James: Exactly.

Andrew: Do you remember when you got your first order?

James: I do. It came from the emails that I collected for who would sign up for my blog. Yeah. I think I got like one or two. I got like one sale the first day, then a few more a few days after that. It didn’t really hit me at the time, but everything has been very gradual. That was really the beginning of sort of getting things rolling so that I had a really significant passive income stream.

It’s like these things, these phases never… It wasn’t like something that happened all at once. It was certainly like this slow climb, but that was the beginning of my tutoring, spending less time tutoring, a little bit more time doing products.

Andrew: At what point did you start blogging? And what did you blog about before the book, before the guide?

James: Oh. Well, blogging was the whole key to getting clients. So when I started my idea for tutoring online, the whole getting clients to find me was going to come from having a blog with a lot of great content because…

Andrew: You mean before Craigslist, it was going to be the blog, and then you went to Craigslist.

James: Yeah. I mean, my blog had my tutoring page on it. I was going to develop a lot of useful content so that people, just basically SEO, so that people would search for these common painful search terms and show up at my blog eventually. So I always planned to build this great site for students who were learning organic chemistry.

Then, maybe a small percentage of those people who end up on my blog will ask me for a tutoring session. That was the idea. So, kind of like you may have heard Ramit Sethi talk about the honey pot strategy. I mean, essentially, that was what I was trying to do, is build a great honey pot that would attract students. Then eventually, some of them would ask me for tutoring.

Andrew: How helpful was it?

James: Amazing.

Andrew: It was?

James: Yeah.

Andrew: Okay.

James: So, the blog has been the key to my success.

Andrew: What about in the early days? Sometimes when someone puts up a new store or wants to sell a service, and they ask me what to do, and I’ll tell them, “Blog it. Talk about it.” Their response is, “It’s going to take too long. I don’t have enough time to learn how to blog. I need customers right now.”

They also don’t want to be in a whole other business, the blogging content creation business, be another blogger on the Internet, when what they’re trying to do is create books, or maybe not create books, but create a service and sell that, or create a product and sell that. What about this need? What about all these issues that I just brought up and flung at you all at once?

James: I don’t know. I’m kind of patient. I think that it was just a matter of time. I felt like if I just, one brick at a time, started building up, if I wrote three posts a week, in a year I’d have 150 posts. Over time, over two years, I’d have 300, and there wasn’t a lot of competition out there. There weren’t a lot of other people doing what I was doing. If I was blogging about personal finance, that would be a totally different story. I was blogging about organic chemistry. No one blogs about organic chemistry. It’s like blogging about genital herpes. For a lot of students, those two things are… Maybe organic chemistry is worse for some people.

I knew I had an opportunity to build a really great website with a lot of amazing content. I knew it was going to work eventually. If it was going to take a year or two years or five years, if that’s the amount of time it was going to take, I was prepared to put in that time. I’m an academic guy. I did a PhD. That’s a lot of banging your head against a wall, doing a PhD, especially in bench science. Sometimes, you’re stuck at a certain process for six months. So, I was kind of familiar with being in the trenches. I wasn’t that scared of putting myself in that situation. I didn’t expect fast results.

Andrew: Taking that marathon approach makes things so much easier. I know for me at Mixergy, to know that I was going to keep on doing these interviews and that I didn’t have to hit it big within a week, but I can take my time, was reassuring. Though at the same time, James, sometimes I would say, “What if this doesn’t go anywhere?” You might have even heard me say it in the interviews. What if I’m just posting this, and no one is going to listen to it? This is such a small thing compared to, I don’t know, some cat video on YouTube. You didn’t feel any of that?

James: There’s times. I think there was one time where I think I went more than a week without a sale of my e-book. This is even like a couple months into it, or even six or eight months into it. Suddenly, my e-book sales completely dried up. I was like, “Geez. What’s going on?” I did find that my e-book was on Scribd, or something like that.

Andrew: Oh.

James: So I was starting to wonder like, “Geez. Am I going to get completely pirated out of business?” That was a really big concern for me, at that time. It’s just like this feeling, like your stomach just drops. That actually hasn’t been as significant a problem as I thought it would be. That was probably a really low point. There was certainly, within the first few months, where I probably posted up to 50 articles, by let’s say August, and my traffic was still maybe like 300 total hits a day, which is really, really low. How long was it going to take? At the same time, I just felt like it was inevitable.

Andrew: We talked before we started recording about how you’re reaching students. Students don’t have a ton of money. They’re not going to get rich overnight if they buy something that you create. So, it’s hard to price things for them. It’s hard to ask them for a lot of money. How did you figure out what to charge for the first product?

James: I still don’t. I think that I wanted to price it at about what you would have paid for an hour with a decent tutor. Insta Ed U is kind of like the cloud service of tutors de jour. They charge $20 an hour.

Andrew: Okay.

James: And they usually offer like IV league tutors. They’re not necessarily like the super most qualified tutors, but they’re IV league tutors for the most part. So, you’re looking at $20 an hour, maybe $30, for someone who’s unfamiliar with a product or unfamiliar with a service, and they’re willing to try it out once. So I felt that if I priced it in that range, between $20 and $30, that was probably going to be fairly reasonable.

Students often pay like $300 for a textbook, so I suppose that there’s room for me to have charged more. Again, kind of like what I did with tutoring in general, I started off charging a really low hourly rate just to see if it was going to work. I wasn’t really sure if people were going to pay $25. Thankfully, enough people have, which has made it worthwhile.

Andrew: You’re testing now, though.

James: I am.

Andrew: How are you testing pricing?

James: Visual website optimizer. Yeah. Another great interview.

Andrew: One of my first, or maybe even the very first course that I did, was with him. He taught me so much about it. Make lining… One of the easiest things he said was, “Reduce the size of your logo on your landing page. People don’t need your logo. What they want to know is what you’re offering.” Then he said, “Make the headline very concrete. Be very clear about what it’s about.” That helped me a lot.

He said, “Create your landing page, not for buyers, but for shoppers, for people who are looking around. The buyers, all they want to know is where the ‘buy’ button is.” The person who’s not sure is the one you want to address. It’s a whole, whole lot of things that I learned from him. And yet I use his software, too, on the site a lot.

James: Mm-hmm.

Andrew: I think we just got to over 20 percent conversion rate on one of our email pages, just because we keep testing different things using their software.

James: Yes.

Andrew: Right.

James: It’s really been big in the last years.

Andrew: What have you learned? What’s one thing that you learned by – through your optimization tests, so far?

James: I’d say, in terms of headlines?

Andrew: Or anything. Headlines, buttons, the way that you sign it, who to speak to.

James: Well, (inaudible) will tell you quotes in headlines have worked really well. They’ve probably made a significant impact. For example . . .

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

James: . . . I used to have – my headline used to be “Organic 1 Summary Sheets.”

Andrew: Okay.

James: And changing those to, like, “I can’t believe I didn’t buy these early in the semester” or “I wish I’d bought these earlier in this semester,” as a quote . . .

Andrew: Interesting.

James:. . .it is much more effective. Other that or . . .

Andrew: Oh, that’s so cool.

James: Other that or there’s another one where I remember another interview of yours where it’s like you want to make a promise to the customer.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

James: And so there’s one where it’s like “Never,” you know, “Never waste time searching for a reagent again.” Like, that’s my headline for the reagent guy. Because that’s the common problem when you’ve got a thousand- page textbook and it’s taking you, you know, five minutes to find each reagent. And you want to make a list and it just takes forever. So to have it all in one complete, like, one package and to have it be able to be delivered to you instantly – almost instantly – is a selling point.

Andrew: You got a lot of quotes all over your site and the homepage has quotes, testimonials from past students. The sales page is the footer all over. I can see the power of that.

What about your email address? I think it’s the exact same email that I communicate with you using. And it’s right on every page of your site. Do you get flooded with email? Do you get? It’s . . .

James: I have my phone number on one of my sales . . .

Andrew: I could’ve sworn I saw that but I can’t find it right now. Your phone number – I know where I saw it. On your old page where I was going back in time to see what you used to do. Your phone number was on there. And you weren’t getting hassled by people?

James: No. No, I haven’t been hassled that much yet. But, you know, I have my personal cell phone number. It’s not even like, you know, it doesn’t go to anyone else except for me. It’s my personal cell phone number on the sales page of my, you know, one of my products. And it’s like, if they have any questions, they can call me. And I actually had someone call me. I don’t have people call me that often. But when I do, it’s usually for a really good reason.

Like, this one lady called me last week. She’d never bough anything online before. She wanted to know if – how to set up a PayPal account.

Andrew: Oh.

James: So having that number was helpful to be able to (inaudible). And I also want to get to talk to people. Talk to people. I get to hear what their problems are and it helps me understand a little bit better, like, where they’re coming from. It’s always good to talk to people.

Like, everything I’ve developed has been from talking, spending thousands of hours talking to people one-on-one and really understanding deeply what their problems are.

Andrew: Give me an example. What’s the – we understand the first product that you created. Can you show me how talking to people led to either your second product or one of the subsequent ones?

James: Well, it all comes from tutoring. And so what do students, you know, want? Well, they’re most of them, I’d say, over 50 percent – between 50 and 70 percent are on planning to write the MCAT, which is, like, the medical school admissions test.

Andrew: Okay.

James: Or the DAT, the dental school admissions test. So they have to get very good grades so that their grades show up, you know, in front of an admissions committee. And then the admissions committee looks, usually at – looks at the organic chemistry grade as, like, it is the weeder [??] course for students getting into these programs.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

James: It is considered to be one of the most difficult courses in undergraduate. So this is the whole reason why organic chemistry is an important subject to be able to, you know, be an (inaudible). So, basically, when I’m talking to tutors – when I’m tutoring students, it’s often they’re in a situation where they have an exam coming up in the next week. And so, often, their studying is not very organized.

And as a tutor, what I would do was I would help them organize all this information that they were supposed to learn and put it all on one page – one page, maybe, two pages – in like summary sheet, essentially. And, you know, I’d give them – I’d just spend hours making the summary sheet for them and send it to them. They were like, “Wow, this really helped me, you know, for my exam.”

And I did this for a few each chapter of the textbook with my students, the ones that I was trying to help individually. And it came to the point where, you know, jeez, you know, I could make – these are so useful to students I’m working with one-on-one. These must be useful to the students who are taking the course across North America, at least, if not Europe and the rest of the world.

So why not take a whole bunch of them, put them all together, package them and sell them as, like, a Org [??] One package and a Org [??] Two package. Maybe offer a few of them for free and then if they want more, they can get the paper. So, that’s what I did. It all came from helping my students do better, helping them prepare for their exams, helping them study better, helping them absorb information more quickly.

Andrew: I see that right here on the site. It looks just so well organized. This is the instant set of study notes for Org 1?

James: Right.

Andrew: Where you show them a screenshot of what this guide looks like. It’s just one sheet with all the notes on it.

James: Right. It’s a series of 18 or 20 pages. Each page is like, essentially one chapter, which has been condensed.

Andrew: Okay, and are they meant to be printed out? Or they look… Because it looks like it’s really big and detailed. It looks like the kind of thing I’d want as a poster on my wall almost.

James: People have asked me if I could make posters. I haven’t done that, but it’s mostly just .PDFs that they can print, or they can just have on their computer or tablet or whatever.

Andrew: Okay. Alright. I can see how talking to people would lead to that. There’s one other thing I notice on the site. At the very bottom of some of your pages, I saw this, and I want to bring it up in a moment. But first, let me say thank you to Scott. Instead of doing a plug for Walker Corporate Law, I’m going to ask you, James, at what point did you decide to incorporate or make it official?

James: I did it May last year, May 2012. Things are a little complicated. I’m Canadian. My wife is Canadian. We currently actually live in Nashville, Tennessee.

Andrew: Okay.

James: She’s a chemist. She’s an academic chemist. So, there’s some visa issues and so forth. I had to wait until I actually had like permanent residency in order to be able to incorporate. But what I did, I chose LLC, which I knew was like the easiest.

Andrew: Do you remember why you chose an LLC?

James: It was the easiest. That’s the answer that most people give, but I’d tell you that I’m starting to think about whether or not I should change some aspects of it. Your interview with Eric Bahn, of Beat the GMAT, where he talks about qualified small business stock and how he made the mistake of registering as an LLC, when he ended up selling his company, not that I’m ever planning on selling my company, but you never know.

When he sold his company, he took this huge massive tax hit. So he wished he’d known about QSBS, qualified small business stock, because it would have saved him a lot of money. So, when I hear stories like that, I’m like, “Oh, crap. Maybe I need to think about that.”

Andrew: You know what? I was just looking over my second computer, because you actually suggested that I bring that up in interviews for Scott’s commercial. You said, “Talk about Eric Bann’s story,” and you did. It’s very powerful. I’ll continue to do it, and I’ve got it up on my screen. I know I did. I think it was in December 2013. I’m glad you brought it up again. There are real consequences to making a wrong decision, when it comes to the way you set up or company or other legal decisions you have.

If you need to speak to someone, if it’s time for you to hire a lawyer, check out Walkercorporatelaw.com. I hold up his mug all the time, in case you guys ever forget. You can just email Scott directly. His email address, I’ll give it to you. Scott@walkercorporatelaw.com. Scott@walkercorporatelaw.com. He takes care of startups with all-you-can- eat package. Then, he works with you as you grow your business to help you raise money, to help you sell your company, and everything else that a startup, especially one in the text space, would need. So, check out Walker Corporate Law.

So a thing that I noticed, James, at the bottom of your site, I thought was the key, but it’s not yet. It says, “Powered by Wish List Member membership software.” So, you have a membership site. Why did you create that? Let’s talk about that for a bit, starting with why did you create it?

James: Well, I thought that a membership site would be the golden goose, as it has been, I guess, for Mixergy and many other sites.

Andrew: Yeah. It totally saved me. Yep.

James: Hearing the stories of people like Amy Hoy and others. If you just get 500 people paying $20 a month, that can be a significant financial windfall for you. I’d always had an eye towards building a membership site, as part of my blog. The reason why I ended up using it, again, it came from solving some of my students’ problems. More organic chemistry talk here.

Another reason why the course is so hard is there’s probably like 780 different reactions they have to learn. It’s not only the reagents, but it’s the reactions. So, there’s not really any good guide to all these different reactions that have them all in one place. I thought, “You know, again, someone needs to make this. Oh, I guess it should be me.” So, I did it. It took like another four months of doing it every single day and eventually building this thing. If I was making an e-book of this, it would be 400 pages. It’s just insane to make an e-book that large.

So instead of me making it as an e-book, what I decided was, “Okay. Why don’t I just gate this part of my blog, make it a membership site?” So, that’s where Wish List Member comes in. Of course, there’s other materials that I would like to develop for the course later on that I could probably add to that package.

Right now, it’s just this reaction guide where students pay, again, $10 a month, which I think is a very, very affordable price. I’m not even tiering it. I could probably tier it to buy one month for X, buy four months for Y, buy one year for Z. I haven’t even bothered doing that yet. I should, but I haven’t.

Andrew: Interesting. So that’s all it is. It’s your content. Instead of making it free online and making it into blog posts, or turning it into a book and selling that, you decided to turn it into a membership site.

James: That’s right. Yeah.

Andrew: You told me privately. Do you feel comfortable saying publicly what share of your overall revenues comes from the membership site?

James: Like, maybe 25%, something like that.

Andrew: Okay.

James: Yep. So, it’s not a huge component.

Andrew: But not bad. 25% is a nice chunk. Let me see what’s next here. Here’s one from the notes. So, you were pre-interviewed by April Dykeman. She wrote down that one of your concerns was what your colleagues would think of your work.

James: Absolutely. Huge concern.

Andrew: Uh-huh?

James: I mean, as an organic chemist, you take yourself very seriously. I was coming out of MIT. I had a paper in science, second-author paper in science, which is not something that every organic chemist gets to get. I’d come from a place where I was regularly, as a graduate student, eating lunch on a weekly or monthly basis, probably eating lunch at some point or having meals with half of the organic chemists in Harvard’s faculty.

I’ve met and talked to a lot of really important organic chemists in the world. So, moving from being in an academic environment, where you’re working on very important unsolved problems in this very academic discipline but very intellectually challenging discipline, working with ridiculously smart people, to working with kids who want to, they think, go to medical school.

Mostly, they’re going because their parents want them to go. They don’t really care about organic chemistry. It’s a means to an end. So, it’s kind of like you’re worrying that they’re thinking, “You’re kind of slumming it, tutoring these kids who don’t even really care about organic chemistry. What are you doing?”

So I think in the beginning, certainly, there was a lot of fear that I had gone from this position of being a serious organic chemist to being a little bit of thinking about what my colleagues are going to think, doing this online organic chemistry tutoring thing.

So that really bothered me, I think, for the first couple years. Just, what are people going to think about what I’m doing and so forth. Eventually, you just move forward and realize that people really don’t think about you very much.

Andrew: Were they not thinking about you?

James: Think so.

Andrew: Weren’t some of them saying, “Hey. What is this guy doing? What is up with James?”

James: Maybe, but I think that we imagine that other people think about us a lot more than they actually do. [multiple speakers].

Andrew: And then even if they were, if you found out that they spent weeks just talking about you at the cafeteria somewhere…

James: [Laughing].

Andrew: Would that have mattered? Or would you have been able to say, “You know, I think this is worth it.”?

James: The idea that they would spend that [??]

Andrew: [Laughing].

James: Absolutely ridiculous. No. I’m sure they don’t really care. If anything, they’re like, “Oh, well.” Some of them are probably like, “Oh. That’s great.” Others are like, “There’s a need for this, and that’s good that someone is doing it, because God knows I don’t want to do it.” Others might just be like… It doesn’t really matter at this point. I miss a lot of the people that I worked with in academia. There’s amazing people, amazing organic chemists, brilliant people, some of the smartest people I ever worked with.

If I had to pick a team of people who are like real-life, like the academic equivalent of Navy SEALS, I’d pick a group of organic chemists. Just phenomenal people. This is the path that’s worked out well for me. It’s given me a lot of autonomy and freedom. It’s been a really great learning experience.

Andrew: I want to understand a little bit more about how you got customers. I understand how you created your products based on what people wanted, so they were much more likely to buy it. How did you get more people in the door? Was it just blogging and waiting for Google to send traffic to you? Or was it something else? Did you ever expand Craigslist? What did you do?

James: I’d say that it’s been 80% SEO, at least.

Andrew: Eighty percent SEO.

James: Probably.

Andrew: And the other 20% was what?

James: It doesn’t hurt to have… I don’t know how influential academic have been. Probably not that much. I mean, maybe there’s some referral from other professors and T.A., like, teaching assistants and other students and stuff. But I’d say that most of it is driven by student’s who’ve got an exam in the next week. They Google to take an obscure but important, you know, topic like SN1 [SP] versus E1 [SP]. And, you know, that doesn’t mean anything to you.

But to someone with an exam in a week on a very specific chapter that means everything. And it’s not that hard to rank for SN1 versus E1. It’s damn hard to rank for, like, you know …

Andrew: Black Card American Express.

James: Yeah, exactly.

Andrew: I remember people were competing for that very aggressively.

James: A-side Berry [??], something like that. But …

Andrew: Yes. But, Okay, so then if that’s what it is, how did you know what to write about and how to write it in a way that will get you found?

James: Well, like I said, those search terms are not really that competitive. And I knew, just from talking to students, what their biggest problems were. So, you know, I was writing blog posts that tried to solve their biggest problems.

Andrew: Okay.

James: And it would get, you know, it gets found. There’s certain things that help …

Andrew: So just talking to them, seeing what their problems were and then writing blog posts about it. And what about this then? If you’re both answering their issues in the guides and on the free blog, why would anyone sign up for – why would anyone buy the guide if it’s all out there in the blog? How’d you know what to give for free and what to charge for, is the better way to phrase it.

James: I don’t know what to give for free and what to charge for. I know I’ve talked to someone who is amazed that I give away so much on my blog for free, you know. And I probably, you know, to some people, could charge X per month for just access to the blog. But I’ve chosen not to do that. Chosen to keep it free and just basically have people find me organically.

And then, if they decide that the content there is really useful, then they’ll pay for some premium content. You know, I think that – we’ve talked about him but – Ramit Sethi’s, you know blog has been very influential for me. I took his Earn 1K course that actually right at the beginning, like in January 2010 ….

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

James: He came out with Earn 1K right around the same time that I wanted to start this new business. And so that was like a perfect thing for me. Because I didn’t know anything, you know. I was – you know, I knew a ton about organic chemistry but I was terrible when it came to, like … I didn’t even know what a sales funnel was. I didn’t know what the difference between a feature and a benefit or, you know, a prospect and a client. Like, I didn’t know any of that stuff. So …

Andrew: How about this? I had someone who actually bought from me yesterday and he said, “Andrew, I had all this hesitation to even buy from you. And I’ll be open with you because you want people to be open and I trust you.”

And then he started saying all the things that went through his head. “What if people discover that I buy this and they think I’m a sap for having bought it? What if this doesn’t work and then I feel like it’s a failure too? Like, I’ve not only failed and needed this but also this program that you’re offering is a failure?”

You don’t have any of that hesitation. You just say, if it’s out there I’ll buy it, I’ll try it, I’ll use it, I’ll learn it and grow my business. Or do you have- were you burned? What?

James: Well, with, you know you’re talking about with (inaudible) …

Andrew: With me, anything you buy online there’s a sense of skepticism. You don’t seem to express that. And I feel like it’s (inaudible) to have it.

James: I don’t buy that much.

Andrew: And maybe it’s valid too at times.

James: But by the time that I … Okay, so I’ve been a premium member of Mixergy for, like, two years. So by the time I got around to buying a premium membership, it was to the point where I’d already listened to, like, over 100 of your interviews. Like, I knew exactly what I was going to get.

Andrew: I see.

James: And it would just get – it started getting annoying to find free interviews. You know, and there’s so many other interviews I want to listen to. So, you know, you gage it in at that point. And I was like, “You know what? I’ve gotten so much out of this site, I’ll pay for a membership.” You know, I, you know, I almost guilted into it because it was so, you know, because I’d gotten so much value out of it.

With Earn 1K it was a little bit different. I mean, he had a money-back- guarantee so I knew that if it was a really big scam then I would just ask for my money back. Actually, I found it was really useful. My wife, when she found out that I’d bought it – I bought it behind – didn’t tell her and we were really very, very, very poor at the time. So, yeah, when she found out that I had spent a thousand dollars on that information product, yeah, that (inaudible) …

Andrew: How does she feel about Ramit now?

James: Oh, she refers to him as “toga dude.” He had like this picture of a toga on his webpage (inaudible) the last time.

Andrew: He did, yes. He still does (inaudible) site.

James: Yeah, so, yeah, he’s … So she has a higher opinion of toga dude now. You know, when she found out that, you know, he, you know, he’s been very influential for me. You’ve been very influential for me. And a lot of other – you know, a small number of other blogs, certainly, in the entrepreneurship space have certainly been helpful.

It’s such an amazing time to be involved in an online business. I mean there are things that are possible now that just were not possible five or ten years ago. So it’s just great time.

Andrew: I had a great question and now I can’t think of the question. Oh, I know what it is.

James: Selling Online products?

Andrew: It’s revenue. What do you feel comfortable, you and I talked before we recorded, I accidentally, not accidentally, I recorded it you were open with me and then I deleted it because it was not the official interview. I know what the revenues are but I want you to say what you feel comfortable.

James: Well when I started this business I thought if I could work for myself I could make as an independent teacher of organic chemistry roughly what I would have made as a prof, or as an instructor that would be a huge win. I can say thankfully that I have been able to accomplish that. Enough of the income comes not from tutoring any more but from eBooks sales and so forth.

My wife and I had our first child this past March. I was able to take July and spend that with her family up in their cottage in Canada for about a month. All I really had to do was check my email every couple of days. To be able to have that type of freedom is certainly been awesome. I have basically hit where I’ve wanted to get to, of course I think that there is room to grow. That is sort of where I am right now.

Andrew: I’d love to hear from the audience what feedback they have for how you can grow. I would love for anyone who’s out there listening to check out master organic chemistry dot com. First of all when you do, you are going to get to see how much James has done well. I love the way you linked the guides. I love the way you help people find what they are looking for on the home page with that search box.

I think we need to get clearer about ours. All the testimonials, I think there is a lot that you are doing right, it is not like you are on a path to figure things out. You have figured out a lot and anyone who goes over to your sight it going to learn a lot that they can then in whatever, for whatever topic they build their businesses on, but I would love to hear some feedback from people on what they think about the pricing. What they think about, actually what kind of feedback would be helpful for you?

James: I hate the whole pricing issue. I am terrible, terrible, terrible at pricing, I certainly welcome any comments or suggestions in that respect. I love building. I love building material, I love building courses and blogging, but I am really terrible at the whole interacting with customers, or with asking, terrible at asking and the whole promotional aspect.

I just kind of put stuff up but I never promote it. I need to be a lot better. You know like that Derek Helpburn kind of like spend as much time if not more time promoting your material then you do spend writing it. I just keep building, building, building and never promote.

Andrew: Yeah, he is big on that. Before we go, you know I usually tell people to go to sign up for Mixergy premium. You have been a member now there for a couple of years now as you said. Why should someone who is listening check out Mixergy premium dot com and hopefully sign up?

James: You have how many hundred interviews and courses, if you have, I can’t think of. Let me back up. There are so many problems that you commonly encounter in business that there are some of the world’s most talented entrepreneurs that can teach you how to solve these problems. I have gotten so much out of the Mixergy Premium material, like when I was starting my blog and I needed to get my blog to perform better on Google.

There is the whole SEO for WordPress course that you had, which was awesome. I used a lot of the material in there. It’s just phenomenal resource of advice for entrepreneurs. Like I said I’ve listened to over 400 interviews, probably, I don’t know how many courses, but a lot, it’s been really one of the keys to the success of my business to be able to jump off the, feed off all the insights that you have brought to Mixergy. It has really been a huge impact for me.

Andrew: Thank you for being a member. Anyone else that wants to join, check out Mixergy Premium.com. I guarantee you will like it. Or I will give cancel your membership and give you your money back at any time. Go to Mixergy Premium dot com. There is one other cool thing that you did, James, that I urge people to do and I don’t think that they don’t take me up on it enough. You email people who you have seen in a Mixergy interviews, included in your emails were Susan Sue…

James: Yeah. . .

Andrew: And you got to talk to her for an hour. Susan Sue who created courses for App Sumo back when they were doing courses. What did you guys talk about for an hour and how’d you get her to spend that much time with you?

James: I wouldn’t know if I’d say I got her to. I mean, she chose to.

Andrew: Right.

James: She was kind enough to spend that time with me. She gave me a great idea. I mean, if you look at my blog. Now, there’s this like, welcome page.

Andrew: Yes.

James: That was her idea because at the time when you showed up on my front page you just got the blog and knows what. You know, I had like, six articles up at once. It was a lot of stuff and she was like, you know what you really need to do is have a welcome page on your blog and funnel people to different directions. You know, whether they’re looking for a study guide, whether they’re looking for how to succeed or how they’re looking for the blog itself. Like, so that was her idea and I did that and it was . . . it’s really made a big difference.

The second thing she suggested which I haven’t done yet which I’m still working on is like, have a really big . . . have a big ticket product or have a big item that take a lot. Like, there’s a reason why textbooks [??] like 1200 pages. There’s a lot of material. So, I’m working on building something like that, but I’m still in progress. But no, she was phenomenal and that hour was very, very helpful and [??] for other people too [??] along the way.

Like, Nick O’Neil [sp], the whole idea for selling summary sheets came from you know, him like, you know, you start off with something for free and then have the same thing, but more of it and paid. I mean, it’s an obvious idea but you know, it was really until . . . not until I talked to him that it [??] became obvious to me or I emailed him, so.

Andrew: [??] like that one too.

James: I keep them very open. Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah. Your home page is really well done. It just . . . I need to learn from this and do it too, that you’re not showing everything all at once. You’re saying, welcome to the site, tell me what you need and then you’re asking, do you need a guide, study tips, blog and then there’s a search box and people can then . . . actually, even if you click on study tips, you get a list of links that are curated for that request.

James: Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah. All right, anyone out there can check it out.

James: One thing I’m about to do is . . .

Andrew: This is one of the most impressive underdog stories, James, that you are a PhD who said, “No, I want to go this whole other direction. I don’t want to continue the path that I’m supposed to go by. I want to be an entrepreneur.”

You’re doing this and you’re building it up and you’re competing against frankly, these are giants who are creating books, these are giants in the publishing space that every time you say, students don’t like these textbooks and they cost so much, you are competing with a giant that’s entrenched and rich and here you are growing and growing and growing. I’ve seen privately how well you’re doing. People have seen in this interview how well you’re doing. Gotten a really good taste for it.

I know we were talking before the interview that the media needs the cover stories like you. I don’t need to know about the next photo app that’s like the 5,000th in the app store. I would like to know about the person who said, I’m going to go in this new direction and actually made it work. The Davids went up against the Goliaths and just keep growing and I don’t know how to get that press, but maybe someone in the audience can give us that kind of feedback too because I think you’ll agreed if you’ve been listening this far, this is one of the most inspirational stories that I’ve had here on Mixergy and if you don’t, stop watching.

James: You’ve already listened for an hour.

Andrew: I guess they’ll stop watching at the end of the interview. [??]

James: What are you still doing here?

Andrew: All right, James, thank you so much for doing this interview, for being a premium member, for teaching our audience and to everyone else who has been a part of this, go check out MasterOrganicChemistry.com and say hi. If you got anything of value find a way to say hi and thank James. Thank you all for being a part of it. Thank you, James.

Sponsored by

Walker Corporate Law – Scott Edward Walker is the lawyer entrepreneurs turn to when they want to raise money or sell their companies, but if you’re just getting started, his firm will help you launch properly. Watch this video to learn about him.

  • James

    Another great one as always, loving the First 10k Series Andrew!

  • Arie at Mixergy

    Thanks James!

  • ScottM 78

    Great interview. Tip for James -have a call to action at the end of your blog posts ;)

  • Patrick Curtis

    Thanks guys, great interview!

  • James

    Thanks Scott – that’s definitely something I need to implement.

  • James

    Thank you to Andrew for doing this interview. If there’s a “bottom line” for this interview, it’s this: I spent thousands of hours tutoring students 1-on-1 until I learned how to teach all aspects of the course extremely quickly and efficiently, and from there I’ve been going from services to products.

  • Bob Hiler

    James, thanks for doing the interview! This is the best Mixergy interviewee I can remember (and I’ve read them all).

    With all due respect, though, the “bottom line” for me was NOT that you spent thousands of hours tutoring students, etc. :-)

    The bottom line for me is that you fearlessly immersed yourself into the foreign worlds of marketing and entrepreneurship. You weren’t dissuaded by the fact that you didn’t know anything. You just queued up hundreds of interviews and pressed play until you kinda-sorta understood the language.

    And then you didn’t try to launch something perfect. You launched a ghetto wordpress.com blog, and later an e-commerce store on a shopify subdomain.

    And you didn’t let being uncomfortable prevent you from doing stuff out of your comfort zone. You just tried something, despite the risk of looking like an idiot in front of your orgo peers.

    And unlike most people, when you read something, you took action. When you read copywriting advice, you changed the copy on your site. When you learned about split tests, you started doing them and slowly saw results. When you learned about how people regretted not starting an email list earlier, you created one and collected emails.

    Mixergy can teach us that copywriting, split tests, and email capture are important. But we have to actually DO SOMETHING to turn those ideas into action. As a fellow Mixergy fan, I’m just plain proud of you that you actually did all this stuff.

    Thanks for the inspiration, James. And best of luck to you!

  • http://www.mensweekly.net/ Mike

    Revenue?

  • http://www.alaininternetmarketing.com/ Alain Guillot

    Andrew, I am getting tired of thanking you after ever interview, but I just can’t help it. I really liked this one. Thank you again.

  • James

    Very kind words, Bob.

  • James

    Your average university prof makes more than 50k but less than 100k /yr, Revenue is in line with that.

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    It keeps me going. I really appreciate that you said that. Thank you, Alain.

  • Hrvoje Livnjak

    i just quickly skimmed through your site James.. and in a sec found an error here: http://www.masterorganicchemistry.com/how_to_succeed/ at the bottom your optin link doesn’t work.. : ) that kinda.. well is not good if you agree :D .. and the other recommendation is put it as a normal box and not for a person that needs a click and then be taken to another link to fill out the form.. less clicks.. more actions .. btw great interview Andrew

  • Michael Nadon

    I enjoyed this interview. I especially like that you asked when did you decide to incoporate? I find these details to be helpful and add great value to us just starting out. thanks!

  • Aj Sorenson

    WOW! I was not expecting to get as much out of an interview based on a business around organic chemistry. Seriously one of the best interviews you’ve ever had, Andrew. One of the most sensible and honest (w/o having some sort of hothead attitude) discussions I’ve heard on Mixergy. I share a lot of your sentiments and I’ve followed a similar path as you James. This is why I’m a member of Mixergy!

  • Dustin

    James, your persistence inspires me a lot ! : )

    I can see how many hours you have logged in to be at this stage right now…
    While browsing your website, I was wondering why you are not using video to teach as well; e.g. there are a lot of immensely popular math tutoring sites out there. This might just be another way to engage your audience/membership site + you should definitely consider tiered pricing.

    Wish you all the best for the future. Andrew, stellar as usual!

    Greetings from Germany

  • James

    Thanks Hrvoje – great point. Based on your feedback, I’m going to embed a form at the bottom that just includes a pic of the book and has space for emails – and doesn’t redirect. Thank you

  • Hrvoje Livnjak

    no problem James. glad to be of assistance.

    have an awesome and productive day
    Hrvoje

  • http://ventureintelligence.in/ Arun

    What an engaging story – and its especially simple & honest telling! As I keep scrounging the web to whet my insatiable appetite for entrepreneurship podcasts, I keep realizing there’s nothing better out there than Mixergy for consistent quality.

    James, thinking back to my school days, I can’t think of any subject more complex (and hence scary) than Organic Chemistry. So your venture has probably targeted a major “pain point” for a lot of students. (If and when when you need a second subject, maybe you shoot for calculus? :-) Here’s wishing your venture greater success in the future and that your revenues cross the earnings of several top profs combined!

    Andrew, here’s hoping Mixergy’s great form in 2014 continues. Cheers

  • Adam Witmer

    Great interview! I really found this to be one of the most inspiring interviews for getting started. Most of the interviews talk about the success the Trep has achieved, which often feels impossible to reach for the newbie. Thanks to Andrew and James for really diving deep into the details of how James got started – the trial and error, and the discipline of the grind.

  • Tony

    Hey as a member I would love to have access to the audio version of the interviews as well to listen to them on my iPod.

  • Arie at Mixergy

    Hey Tony–members with an Annual membership are able to download premium content like the mp3s of interviews and Master Class videos.

  • Kyle Patrick McCrary

    Really got my mind flowing.
    Thanks James for giving some solid tips. I’m going to be looking to a membership model when applicable.
    Great interview Andrew!

  • Pingback: First 10K Series: How a moonlighting chemist built a membership … | Organic Chem Tutor