Common Craft: Weaning A Business That’s Totally Dependent On Its Founder – with Lee LeFever

Last time Lee Lefever was on Mixergy I asked him how he built Common Craft into such a successful business. Back then it created explainer videos for companies like Google, Ford, and Dropbox.

Since then, he’s turned his company into a membership site that gives video creators everything they need to create their own explainer videos, including the actual videos.

Today I want to find out how he went from running a business that depended on his voice, on his time, and on his presence to running a business that grows independently.

Watch the FULL program


About Lee LeFever

Lee LeFever is the founder of Common Craft, a membership site that gives video creators everything they need to create their own explainer videos.

Raw transcript


Mixergy’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

Andrew: Coming up. Are you a creative person who sometimes watches my business interviews and says, I can’t relate to that person, that’s not me. Well today you’re going to see what I hope will be someone who you can relate to. An entrepreneur who is incredibly creative who says about things like search engine optimization and all the other busyness things that you may not be passionate about. He says, but that’s not for me and still he builds a successful company. Watch how he did it and all that and so much more.

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Hello freedom fighters, my name is Andrew Warner, I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart and man, and how his side has grown over the years. Today I have a repeat guest on. And in this interview I want to find out how you go, and how he went and from running a business that depended on his voice, on his time, on his presence to running a business that grows independently of the founder. Last time Lee Lefever was on Mixergy I asked him how he built such a successful business that created explainer videos for companies like Google, Ford, and Dropbox. Since then he turned his company, which is called Common Craft, into a membership site that gives video creators everything they need to create their own explainer videos, including the actual videos. And professionally made cut outs, everything that you need to create a video, it’s all available on Common Craft and I invited him to find out how he built a business. Lee, welcome back.

Lee: Hi, it’s great to be back, thank you.

Andrew: Lee, I’m a little nervous as we talk here and I might as well call myself [??] because I don’t edit out my bad intro here. I remember the first time I had you on, I was so nervous about having you on because you were such a huge guy in this space. Because your voice was on those videos for companies like Dropbox and Google. Do you remember what your biggest video was?

Lee: You know, I think that one of the one’s that really put us on the map was not one that we made for a company, but for explaining Twitter. And that’s kind of an interesting story, we made the video just because we thought it needed to be made and I reached out to Biz Stone at Twitter and we made a hand shake deal that they could use it on their front page if they credited Common Crafts and we would retain ownership of it and within a couple of weeks there was a link on the front page of Dropbox, I mean of Twitter.com that said watch a video, thanks to our friends at Common Craft. And I think that’s an entrée to a lot of people learning about Common Craft.

Andrew: And of course, over the years as we’ve all gone to dropbox.com we’ve seen your video with those cutouts explaining what Dropbox is. And before the interview started you told me why Dropbox didn’t remove the video over the years. It’ because, what did they do?

Lee: Well, I think it’s worked for them. We’ve done a slight alteration to the video that’s there now, but it’s pretty much the same video that’s been there for three and a half years. And I heard from them recently that they’ve done a lot of testing and that video has really worked out best for them. It’s viewed about 30,000 times a day, it’s probably been viewed 30,000,000 times overall.

Andrew: Wow. And so, obviously a tough product like Dropbox to explain to someone that has no concept of what it is, a video is a great way to do it and that’s why so many people go to Common Craft in the past to have you guys do it for them and now to get all the tools they need to create it for themselves.

Lee: Yeah.

Andrew: Do you remember when we were all talking about how big you were, feeling frustrated that the whole business was on your shoulders, that every time you needed to grow your business it meant going and recording another video?

Lee: Yeah, definitely. Common Craft is a two-person business. It’s my wife and I, and we’ve always had sort of a philosophical belief that we wanted to be a two-person business and that the size would be a constraint that would guide our business decisions.

Andrew: What do you mean, always wanted to be a two-person business and never grow from there. Why not?

Lee: I think that we are really focused on our lives, some people may not agree with this, but were very focused on our lifestyle, and in being happy. I think we know the business we want to be in and that we’re willing to trade maybe some short term money for the long term life style that we want to live.

Andrew: So what kind of lifestyle do you mean, that always blows my mind. I grew up with this feeling that you have to build a business as big as possible. And I’m interviewing successful entrepreneurs and instead of having them tell me that you got to go big or go home, they’re saying sometimes you know I need a lifestyle, sometimes I need to be out by 2:00. An entrepreneur who I talked to just few minutes ago told me. What kind of lifestyle are you aiming for? What are you going for outside of work?

Lee: I think in one word, I would summon it up as independence. I think independence is very important to us. We don’t, for instance we don’t have investors. I think investors are valuable and I think they definitely work and I think we could probably be making more money if we had investors who are also our advisors. But we value our independence and have confidence that we can make decisions that are going to best for us. And when I talk about independence and this idea of this lifestyle, I don’t want to make it sound like its less work. I think that we work a lot, like I tell people we work every single day. And I think people might picture me on a Saturday afternoon pouring over spreadsheets, but it’s just not like that. We are both so passionate about what we do that it makes our day better to work through a problem and figure out a way to do something a little bit differently.

Andrew: So why not hire one person and say, hey, you know what, instead of this weekend working on a problem, we’re going to have this person spend all five days of the upcoming week solving the problem, by Friday it’ll be solved. Not as quickly as we want it, not as well as we want it, maybe even better. But it’ll be solved, why not do that?

Lee: Yeah. I won’t say that’s not a possibility. I think we would have a necessarily full-time paid employee. I think there are contractors, and we work with contractors all the time for like our website. We don’t do web design and development, but they’re not employees. I think…there’s a cost to that too, aside from obviously paying the employee, there’s the cost of management of finding something for them to do and I think that when there are employees, even if you’re a big company and you hire a bunch of people then there’s this organizational inertia to find something for them to do. And I think that the constraint for us being two-people means that we can’t do it all. We’ve learned that we can’t do it all and it forces us to focus on only the things that we really feel need to be done versus trying to find something for someone to do. That’s not for everybody, but it works for us right now. But I think there might be day when we have a little more help.

Andrew: You know people who heard my earlier interviews would have heard me say, this makes no sense and I would have really said I don’t want more interviews with lifestyle entrepreneurs; it just doesn’t make any sense. Why not go bigger? And then, obviously the audience pushed back and said, no, we want to hear this, this actually does make sense to us, and it sounds like a good life, a creative outlet, I mean the business is. And I looked at him and I said, hey, I’m kind of run Mixergy that way too. I don’t want a bunch of employees that are counting on me showing up at 9:00, who I have to find work for. I like having a team of people who work with me, but don’t depend on me for everything.

Lee: Sure.

Andrew: It gives me freedom. So when we talked before I remember looking at your site and seeing – guy is reaching for something other than his own voice over work and his own video production. You created a directory where people who couldn’t hire you because you just didn’t have enough time could go to the directory and hire one of the people who paid to have placement in there. How did that go?

Lee: You know, it went over really well. We were really lucky I think and our timing because we started making Common Craft videos right when YouTube started to take off. And there was suddenly a lot of demand for videos like ours, like a lot of products wanted explainer videos at the time. Even if were continuing to make custom videos we couldn’t’ have kept up with demand. So we thought that if there’s demand then maybe we can find supply and be a middleman. So we went out to video producers who had started making explainer videos and said hey, pay us a monthly fee, we’ll put a listing on our website for you and then when someone comes looking for custom video, us personally or through the website we’ll point them to you. We call it the explainer network. And it’s been around since I think 2008 or 2009. Now it has nine members who are sort of handpicked.

Andrew: And what do you charge per month?

Lee: It’s in the hundreds of dollars. We don’t talk about specific dollars.

Andrew: We’re talking about $4,500 a month in revenue, that’s pretty decent.

Lee: That’s not too bad; we are always focused on opportunities that scale well and create passive revenue. And that’s an example of that.

Andrew: At this point that’s pretty passive revenue because you’re not looking for more people in the directly and it doesn’t sound like you’re spending much time bringing in more traffic to that directory.

Lee: That’s right. I think we’re lucky to get good search traffic and a lot of people coming, looking for videos and we can very easily point them to a good group of folks that can make videos.

Andrew: You’re hesitating a little bit as you answered. Did I push and miss that you were looking for new people, that you were spending some time on getting traffic for the directory?

Lee: No, our traffic to the directory itself as always been 100% organic, we’ve never actually done paid advertising for it. I think we’ve looked at opportunities, like I talked to a couple of D.C. kind of people here in Seattle and they say, which I think I really agree with them in a lot of ways, you can turn this into a market place where. You become a value at its service for potentially hundreds or thousands of explainer video companies, and you become sort of the Odesk of explainer videos or…

Andrew: You mean other videos, grow beyond that.

Lee: Maybe so, but at the end of the day it just wasn’t the business that we really wanted to be in, I think it would end up being a bigger part and take us away from some of the things that we like, or really our core competencies.

Andrew: You mean, that’s not your passion?

Lee: It’s not our passion.

Andrew: What part is outside of your competency? It seems pretty easy, you guys are already an authority here, and others are coming to your site, looking for these explained videos. You’ve got a directory already.

Lee: Yeah.

Andrew: What part didn’t feel right?

Lee: I think that we could have imagined it taking over everything else was doing. To do it right and to compete, because there’s competition and there are other organizations doing it, that it would potentially take us down a road where I don’t know that it would necessarily make us happy.

Andrew: Because it’s not creative, is that the thing?

Lee: That’s part of it. I think we really want to be involved in education. I think at the end of the day we get the most satisfaction out of helping teachers do their jobs, trainers do their jobs, librarians do their jobs, and that’s just where were most comfortable.

Andrew: Ah, I see. Even if there was more money in connecting video creators with their customers and then maybe even helping those video creators generate more money from their customers you’re feeling, no, we are in the education business because we’re passionate about education, we’re in the creative business because we’re obviously creative, that’s where we’re going to stay focused.

Lee: That’s part of it, yeah, I think there’s some truth to that for sure. I think he goes back a little bit to the idea of our sells making these explainer videos, and feeling it just wasn’t the kind of business that we wanted to be in, we wanted to be educators versus promoters, or doing that sort of more commercial work. I think one of the ways we’d look at a situation, like the opportunity to be a market place, is we always ask this question: What if it works? If this idea works and we go down this path do we want to do that every day? Are these the people, and I don’t mean to sound like these are people that I don’t want to talk to, but from a higher level the question you want to ask is: When you’re on the phone all day, every day, talking to somebody is that who you want to be talking to? You know, what I mean, again, I don’t mean that against any video producers or people that need custom videos.

Andrew: That’s such a good way of thinking about it. If this works am I going to be happy talking to these customers?

Lee: Yeah, is this the world I want to live in day to day. Do I want to wake up in the morning thinking about this.

Andrew: I remember, there was one time, growing up, my dad who used to manufacture women’s clothing went into retail. He said all these guys were opening retail, they’re not that much smarter than me. I can open retail like them and we’ll have a chain of stores. And what he used to love ever Sunday was to go and talk to the retailers and collect his money and find out what new pants they wanted so that he could redo his line for them. When he got into actually owning the store and talking to people who were upset that something cost $9.99, instead of $8.99, which is what they saw down the road, I don’ t know how many blocks, he just didn’t want to think about how to solve their problems, he didn’t want to think about how to even respond to the dollar cheaper down the road. I didn’t want to be in that life and I can totally get what you’re talking about. And I keep thinking to myself, if I do this interview and I bring up for example, revenue only, is the person who’s attracted to that, who’s just into making more money quickly is he the kind of person who I want to fight for every day? Probably not. If I only talk about, I don’t know what, if that type of person is attracted to the topic, is that person going to be someone that I want to spend all my time on…no. I am so glad you said that actually, you kind of almost gave me permission mentally to think about my business that way.

Lee: I’m happy to help.

Andrew: All right. So you had the directory, it was going well, but it wasn’t the answer. How do you end up with the next part of the process which is creating videos that people can buy al a carte? How do you even get that idea?

Lee: Well, we started making videos in 2007; the first four or five videos we made were just RSS, Wikis, Social Networking, Social Book Markings, and Social Media.

Andrew: And you were explaining…RSS to people who didn’t understand it, there was no money in that, right? Why were you doing it?

Lee: You know we were at a transition point in our life, Sochi [SP] had quit her job and we chose she was going to become a part of Common Craft and we were kind of trying to figure out the next big thing. And YouTube had just taken off and I think we were convinced that it was going to create this wave and we could ride this wave somehow around YouTube that it would take us somewhere. And I think that we started to notice and I don’t know if we every covered this in the past, but we started to notice a lot of the new social, sort of social media technologies. At the time, they were often times free and easy to use, well designed, 100% available, and not being adopted. And one of the reasons that we felt strongly about was that they weren’t being adopted because of the all tech people explaining them. And we thought we could do better, that we could actually increase the adoption of Wikis by simply explaining it in a better way. And I think that there’s been some evidence that that’s been the case, certainly with Twitter. So we’ve always made, since 2007, our own videos that we own, that are generally about ideas. We made a video recently about plagiarism for instance.

Andrew: So you explained RSS to me, I’m one of the people who learned RSS through your videos. And then what I naturally did is said, who are these Common Craft people? And many others did, and then when some of those people needed to hire someone to create an explainer video for the homepage of their site to explain what their new software did or whatever new concept did, or business or whatever did they came and hired you and that’s the model. But then how do you figure out, hey, you know what we’re going to start to sell videos in this al a carte way where we create them once and let people use them for multiple uses?

Lee: Yeah, definitely. Along the way, after we had made a few of our own videos we started to get a lot of feedback from people asking for specific things. They were teachers and trainers and librarians who wanted to use the videos as a part of their work. They wanted to use them on intranets and training sections. And for the first time we kind of had an epiphany that, wow their asking for licensing. This is something that happens in business all the time and maybe we can create something that not only makes ourselves licensable, but gives them versions of it are better than their going to find anywhere else.

Andrew: Give me an example of something that someone asked for that led to this?

Lee: Yeah, I think that there are a number of trainers and big companies. To this day some of our members are from Fortune 500 companies, maybe even corporate directives that need their employees to understand social media. And especially in 2008 and 2009 when it was really taking off, these companies needed resources for teaching their rank and file. People all across their company needed to know about things like blogs, they needed to know about Wikis, they needed to know about these things that are going to have an impact on the way they talk to customers.

Andrew: I’m sorry, so tell me why wouldn’t these people do what many in the audience would do, which is to say, I’m going to go to YouTube, I’ll search for someone who’s explaining what a blog is? I’ll find the best five minute click or two minute click and I’ll show that?

Lee: I’m sure that some do. I personally believe that we can do it better.

Andrew: It’s because they say, hey, this guy can do it better, it’s worth paying a few bucks to get the better version.

Lee: I think so and you can certainly download a video off of YouTube, but what we offered at the time when we were doing al a carte, we offered it in different formats and we offered it without any kind of branding. We tried to create a product that even if our exact same video was on our own YouTube account, by paying for it you get a better version, you get higher resolution, and you get something that looks great on a big screen.

Andrew: I see, and maybe they don’t even know how to download it off of YouTube so it’s available to them offline at a meeting.

Lee: And something I think is important about this, especially in the business world, is that a lot of companies have legal teams that have to make sure that they have permission. It’s not good enough to just rip something off the web and use it in corporate training. Like they need to know that there’s permission and I think that was a really valuable lesson for us, that we weren’t just selling a product, we were also selling permission. And that’s something that is really valuable for big companies, especially who are always careful about that kind of thing.

Andrew: You know what, one of the things I pride myself on at Mixer G is even from the start when I wasn’t selling ads even, when I didn’t want to generate any revenue at the site. I never came to an entrepreneur and said, how dare you charge for your content. I said, why did you charge? How did you know to charge? So let me ask you this, in a world where information wants to be free did you feel nervous about charging?

Lee: You know, I think that was sort of a thought for us about that, but the weird thing about the way we’ve done Common Craft is that the videos remain free to watch. Like we’re not going to keep you from e-mailing your mom, and saying, hey, watch this video. Like that’s not business that we’re in. The business that we’re in is providing permission for people who want to use the video in professional situations. It’s really like we’re almost a business to business kind of business. Where, we’re not selling our products to viewers, we’re selling our products to educators who are using those products to show to viewers.

Andrew: How did you even know that you could even do that? That these people were willing to pay for it? That these people were, I mean, it just doesn’t seem like in your world, you’re a guy that who doesn’t even want a third person at your business. You had to understand the Fortune 500 mindset so you could sell them something that’s reasonable and meaning full in their world.

Lee: Oh, I think it’s talking to them. I think that being available for people to e-mail you and say, this is what I want to do, or this is what I think would be useful to us, I think was a big thing. Everything we do at Common Craft we do only after it becomes a knowing how much people are asking for it. You know, I think like, the cut outs are an example, we’ve heard for years, I want to make my own Common Craft video, I want to use your cut outs. And, you know, the first time it happens it’s interesting. You know, the tenth time it happens it’s like, maybe there’s something here, the hundredth time, it’s like, if I don’t do this tomorrow then I’m going to freak out…[SS]…

Andrew: The cut outs are one of your signature elements in your video is that you have cut outs of people and you move them across the screen and it kind of feels like, it feels homemade, but at the same time you know that you can’t make it at home by yourself. So what you’re saying that there’s a small group of people who think can and probably can do it. They want the cut outs, they don’t want to have to draw them; we’ll create it for them in a way that they can move around on their videos.

Lee: Yeah, definitely. I’m not sure if I totally answered your question before, but that is the case where we figured out that a byproduct of what we do is create these digital images. We have, right now on our website, we have over 800 available for our members to use. Their all different, there are people, technology stuff, household items, and whatever it is. Because I think people need something interesting to use in PowerPoint presentations, as well as videos.

Andrew: I was just going to check out one of the images, download a sample so that I could talk about what these cut outs were. Then I saw something that I’ve been meaning to ask you about. You use Wistia.

Lee: Yeah.

Andrew: You talked about how YouTube was the platform you were going to ride, and you did ride it to fame. Why are you using Wistia?

Lee: That’s a good question. We use Wistia’s API and every video that plays on our site, every video that is offered for download to our members and through embedding happens through Wistia. And we’re big fans of Wistia and I’ve know the Wistia guys since their early days, they’re really, really great support and I don’t want to sound like this is a Wistia commercial, but I feel like have control in Wistia. The big thing with YouTube, and the reason we don’t want to use YouTube, is their terms of service, that’s one big thing. Because basically, if you put something on YouTube you give up almost any right to control that media, like people can just, I don’t want to say do whatever they want, but it’s much less controlled then what we want. And by paying Wistia, which is a reasonable thing for us to afford, we can guarantee uptime, we can guarantee people being able to view the videos and mobile devices, the list goes on, but they’re a reliable host for what we want to do, which is offer embed codes for people to embed our videos, that’s part of being a member. There are any number of reasons.

Andrew: And you get to embed, give each of your customers, each of your members, their own embed videos, so they see an explaining video on your site, they get to embed it on their site and once they stop their membership does that video away from their site?

Lee: It does.

Andrew: It does.

Lee: The embedding…yep. I mean, there’s a sort of…

Andrew: I didn’t know you guys were doing, but first of all, full disclosure, Wistia is a partner, Mixer G has been from the very beginning when I couldn’t get videos up on uTube that were longer than 10 minutes, and Wistia stepped in and helped out. But I didn’t realize you…this is brilliant. So your customers, once they put a video on their site, just pay you monthly, they don’t ever have to have someone…

Lee: Oh, it’s annual.

Andrew: Annual. I see. Then as soon as the membership is over the videos don’t work on their sites anymore so there’s a reason to continue the membership, unlike Mixergy where there’s no reason to continue the membership unless you want the next course.

Lee: That’s sort of the thing for us too is I think that there is some motivation to keep the videos on your site, keep them working. We’re also adding new things. I think that’s one of the reasons that we see members sticking around is they want to be able to use the next video we do. Part of being a member, for instance, is being able to suggest and vote on video titles. Over time the best ones bubble to the top. Those are videos we make and hopefully it creates sort of a virtuous cycle where they stick around because they know that we’re going to be doing things that they voted on.

Andrew: Let’s go through and understand your process of how you discovered this. By the way, I know how many members you have. I can kind of do the revenue in my head. What do you feel comfortable saying to the audience about what your revenues are?

Lee: We don’t talk about specific numbers. We have people signing up everyday. Every member that we have is a paying member. They renew annually and our renewal rate is healthy, I think. We’re still working towards, we have about between 750 and 1000 members or so.

Andrew: Somewhere between 750 and 1000 members on the site.

Lee: Yes.

Andrew: That’s impressive.

Lee: If you account for the people that we licensed videos to in the past, it’s a much greater number when we were doing a la cart. The membership is a little different.

Andrew: I can see that if I wanted to go, if I had an organization that had 51 people or more, and I wanted the Pro plan, that would be 800 bucks. If I were someone like a single entrepreneur in the audience or see, actually, how about if I were a school and I had just one person, might be as low as 49 bucks. That gives people a sense of what the revenue [??].

Lee: As for the $49 and that’s 59 for for-profit is just for cut outs. We have three plans. There’s the cut out only plan, there’s the cut outs plus three video plan and there’s the everything plan.

Andrew: Have you ever revealed the number of members that you have or is this the first time that you ever did? Do I have an exclusive?

Lee: I think it’s the first time. It’s obviously always changing.

Andrew: I understand the a la carte comes to you. Now to get the basic idea from a user is a healthy way to come up with an idea. To execute on that idea is still a challenge. Just because they told you, ‘Lee, we’re willing to pay your licensing fee. Create a video for us.’ Doesn’t mean that you understand what videos to create for first. Doesn’t mean you understand how to find more people like them. Doesn’t mean that all those other problems get solved. What are some of the issues that you had as you were trying to execute that first version, the a la carte?

Lee: Definitely. Starting in 2008, 2009, we knew that we could always do custom work. We could make custom videos and support ourselves the way we wanted and still make time to make our own videos and explore this other thing which was licensing. There was always a balance and starting then, it’s always been, our goal is to move away from custom videos and into licensing.

It’s been a long path. It’s always been, ‘We’ll do one less video and then focus more on licensing. The thing that’s been really important, I think the lesson that we learned was that we could put a video on our website with a watermark that would mean it was free to watch but you need to pay to use it professionally. That would actually rank really well in Google. A lot of our videos do really well on Google. Over 1/3 of our traffic comes from organic Google searches and those are people coming and watching a video that helps them learn and there’s a percentage of those people who are teachers and trainers, or know a teacher and trainer that says, ‘I want to use this. I want to embed this on my website. I want to download this and put it on my Internet.

That’s where the customers come from. In a lot of cases word of mouth happens but also people who are out there looking to understand something like Twitter, seeing Common Craft on the front page or two, coming to the site and then discovering, ‘There’s this resource that can help me teach others.’

Andrew: I see. Right. If I were a trainer in a company and needed to explain social media, the first thing I might do is Google and one of the first results I’d see is your video. I might check out the others in addition to yours, say, ‘This is simple enough. I can use it.’ I see. You don’t . . .

Lee: [??]

Andrew: Uh-huh.

Lee: An important point about that, that works because we stopped using YouTube. Once we moved, we left some videos on YouTube but made Common Craft the home of our videos and that way we were actually having people arrive on our site versus YouTube, but we can actually control everything to make it an experience that would highlight all of our stuff and show that we’re a business and not just some YouTube channel.

Andrew: Ah, I see. The thing is that I understand Wistia as a marketer. Wistia gives me insane data. You just don’t seem like a guy who needs that data. You don’t obsess about it, but you do want people to watch your videos on your site. With YouTube, they can watch it either on YouTube or your site, and you want the conversation to happen on your site.

Lee: Yeah, definitely. That’s where we can do a better job of showing them what we can do for them.

Andrew: The other thing is, you don’t seem like a guy who’s going to obsess on the video stats. Maybe I should check that with you in a moment. You do?

Lee: No, I’m not that stats oriented, really.

Andrew: Do you look within the video and say, “Hey, you know what, at this point I’ve got more drop-off. What am I doing that’s boring people? Let’s go back and remake the video”?

Lee: No, I don’t think we really do that very much. I think that we might look at the videos overall and get a feel for what’s doing well and what’s not and realize that, okay, this kind of video, meaning this general genre or subject matter that recovering is just not something that people want.

Andrew: I don’t want to make this into a Wistia commercial, either, but I kind of get the feeling that Wistia probably started that way, with that in mind. In fact, I know that’s they wanted, the stats; but if you’re not using the stats and you have the ability to really adjust the videos and you’re playing videos, then I could see why that model probably didn’t work for you.

Lee: Yeah. I think your point you made before about marketing is an important one. If I was using Wistia for a video on my front page and that was one of the major reasons I was trying to convert customers, I would use Wistia’s analytics to see where the drop-offs were happening, and I would A- B test the video over and over because it matters to conversion. We have 50 videos in our library, and they all sort of contribute to the greater whole of, “Do I want to be a Common Craft member or not?” There’s not one video in a specific location to measure that way, if you know what I mean.

Andrew: Now I’m thinking of the creative person in my audience who’s saying, “All my work is about my own time, just like Lee’s was in the past. I don’t have any more hours in the day, and I don’t have any more passion to create more work that will take more of my time. I want to do something like Lee.” You’re telling them that you got your customers through SEO. My thinking is that they’re going to say, “I’m not into SEO.” You don’t look like someone who’s on SEOmoz’s message boards all day and trying to find a way to get more SEO juice so that you can get more traffic. Are you that person?

Lee: No. I actually have an aversion to it, to be honest.

Andrew: What do you do, then?

Lee: I love SEO. Rand is a guy I know here in Seattle, and I have a lot of respect for SEO, and Rand, and Danny Sullivan as a friend. I am a really big believer–this something really fundamental about me that I’ve realized over the couple of years: I believe in organic things. I want things to happen organically. I don’t like to push it. I don’t like to use strategies that are sort of loopholes. I want things to be organic. That’s the strategy we’ve always had. I think that we hit on something early on with Common Craft, that I know our videos solved a problem. I’ve actually written a blog post before that’s like, I’ve got an SEO secret for you. Make stuff that people want to see. That’s the thing.

Andrew: How do you know what people want to see? How do you know what videos will be a hit on line and drive you traffic because people want to see them?

Lee: It’s a good question. I don’t have a secret sauce necessarily. I think that Sachi and I are both keen observers of what’s happening on the Web and what we call the zeitgeist, like what’s top of mind right now. We’re always making videos that our members want and might be really popular for educators, but we make videos that are also hot right now. A year an a half or two ago, we made a video about augmented reality. It actually has what is now on Google Glass in the video. We talked about glasses that could have augmented reality built into them a couple of years ago. I think that we saw Twitter early on be something that’s going to be something. I think that’s been a secret for us–it’s not a secret, but we’ve been lucky to be able to kind of see things and guess what’s going to be big, not today but a little bit down the road, and we’ll be there to help people understand it.

Andrew: What do you do to see that?

Lee: There’s Twitter. Ha-ha!

Andrew: You don’t have any–see, there are some people whom I follow who I feel like are so cutting edge that I can understand what’s going to happen in the future. I remember, even in the early days, watching Jason Calicanis use his name in social media when people were creating fake names for, I said, Jace is a smart guy, people are going to start using their names, if he feels it’s safe to put his name out there, I’ll put my name, my twitter handle will be Andrew1 or my name on other networks will be Andrew1, just people like that who you have turned to who you leave in, because they are doing it I can trust that this is the future?

Lee: Yeah, I think so. I mean, there’s a lot of people I have a lot of respect for. I think Evan Williams is a person that I watch. I think that Ev has a really strong history of not only seeing the trends, but creating products that serve those trends. There is a lot of people that I follow on twitter. I don’t know that I can think of them right off hand, that, it’s not necessarily one thing. I think that someone like Scovell a while back, said the way that he deals with incoming information now is if he sees more than one person, or a few people talking about the same thing in, like, over one or two days, then he should probably be paying attention to it. And that is kind of how we look at it. It’s not just one person’s perspective, but is it a part of his, like, guise, are people kind of talking about this a little bit?

Andrew: OK. So are the carts working pretty well

Lee: Yep. In 2009 or so.

Andrew: In 2009. Why add a membership?

Lee: Again, customer feedback. I think that people started to say, you know, every time a new video comes out I have to go buy it. Can’t you create a way that gives me sort of ongoing access to everything?

Andrew: Right. Who needs to buy more than five videos? Who needs to buy every new video that comes out?

Lee: Our trainers. I think people whose job it is to teach technology. That’s a lot of times, librarians these days, are doing that, teachers, trainers, there’s a lot of people out there whose job it is to teach technology, especially to even, like, seniors and there is just a lot of that out there. And our videos work in that audience really well. But also it’s recurring revenue. I think that the a la carte works, but, it takes a lot more work to get them to keep buying, whereas a membership service that has recurring revenue, as long as we can continue to show value and continue to make sure their needs are met, they will stick with us, and we don’t have to get that sale again.

Andrew: I see. I see. I’m looking to see if you have, for example, a video on what Android is. I’m trying to think of what I need to explain to people who are outside the tech world. And you don’t right? There’s no what is Android?

Lee: Nope. Not right now.

Andrew: So, it’s librarians who are looking for that. How are librarians using it? Where are they getting it?

Lee: A lot of people are making the videos available in schools and institutions, in general, there is learning management systems that are often used. There’s a whole world… Conn Academy is an example of videos used in education. But there’s a whole world of educational videos and there’s platforms out there that are built for doing that. And a lot of our videos, I think, end up on those platforms. An example is, which is really more of a CMS, but it’s an open source platform called Moodle. A lot of teachers use Moodle and they just embed our videos on there and show them to their class.

Andrew: Then the teacher will pay for it?

Lee: Yeah.

Andrew: Does the teacher pay for it themselves or does the school pays?

Lee: We don’t have that data on every member. But it’s a mix. We hear people all the time, unfortunately teachers in the US are strapped a lot of times. So sometimes there’s library budgets, sometimes… I don’t know to what extent they are paying themselves.

Andrew: OK. So, now, how do you structure the revenue model? How do you figure out, well, we are going to charge a different price for teachers then for businesses and businesses who have just one person are going to pay a different price then someone who has more people, and …

Lee: Sure.

Andrew: … what’s going to be included in a low end and a high end.

Lee: Yeah. Yeah. I think, you know, going through our sort of join page, as I think you did earlier, you know, we offer a 20% about… I guess it is a 20% discount for non-profits, so that’s, we want there to be more teachers, more librarians, people who are in a non-profit situation, we feel like should get a discount. And then it’s just a matter of the way we do it is by the number of employees and part of that, is in education it’s often by number of students but we have just as many, I don’t know the exact numbers on this but, we have a lot of corporate customers too, and a lot of teachers, so the student thing doesn’t work, we try to keep it simple, so we say, number of employees, no matter what kind of organization it is. So that goes from one person, and then we go from two to five hundred, and five-hundred and one to twenty-five hundred, there is a couple of tiers there. And that’s just because that’s the way the business world works in a lot of content. There is site licensing and licensing that accounts for greater use. There is things like bandwidth costs for us. We pay Wistia every time someone watches a video and if you’ve got a thousand employees, then that’s more views.

Andrew: What about someone who works at a company who says hey you know what, I’m kind of a teacher. I’m just going to use this teacher thing. Lee is not going to come and police me. What do you do about that?

Lee: I think that people want to do the right thing. You know, I think we have a choice of whether we want to be educators or policemen. I think that we’ve chosen to be educators, and I mean that specifically in the IP kind of thing you’re talking about where our time is better spent helping people see what the right thing to do is versus keeping them from doing it or policing them from doing it. And I think that that’s one of the great things about working in education is, it’s been proven to us over and over that teachers really want to do the right thing. They really care about that. Some are strapped for cash and there’s things…we’re focused on the people who want to do the right thing. And also, I think there’s a growing philosophical idea, in general, that, everything on the internet is not free. And if you love a company, if you love what they do, then you feel good supporting them. We do that at Common Craft. I never, always… if I have an opportunity to pay for content or pay for something, that’s something that we do because I believe in that model. It’s like the…

Andrew: More and more people are starting too. They’re starting to see their favorite software go away, their favorite sites go toward side boob or something weird, and they’re saying, you know what, maybe it does make sense to start paying for it. Maybe the times when I pay for it, they’re software is going to be better and it’s going to survive.

Lee: It’s a pretty young model [??]. I think the example is Louis CK, the comedian who made a lot of waves a few months back by offering his show for fives bucks online, I think it was $5.00, and saying you know what, screw all that distribution stuff. All those middlemen, we don’t need those guys anymore. And that’s the way its always been for us; we manage the process from A to Z and there’s nobody in the middle taking a cut or influencing what we do. And for the people that believe in that model, I think that’s part of being a member, is supporting a model that actually works. Because, I think our members would agree, that working with Common Craft, it is us. You call the number on the website, me or Satchi [SP] picks up the phone and talks to you right then.

Andrew: Wait, you have a number on your website? I didn’t know that [??].

Lee: We do. I think it’s on our contact page.

Andrew: Alright, speaking of members, one of my members asked the question, his name is Christopher Sutton, I told him you were going to come on and he said, he’s very relevant to my business at the moment. At some stage Lee knew that he had valuable content and a waiting market. And what Christopher is saying is, why didn’t you go for info products, for paid courses, for live webinars [??]?

Lee: I think that goes back to the scalability issue. That there is some scalability, there. But if I understand what he’s asking, like paid courses. This is like me doing a webinar.

Andrew: Like teaching. [??] You have a book called The Art of Explanation. You are clearly good at teaching and you’re the authority on these explainer [??] videos. The guy from Grumo Media [SP] who created explainer videos too, he went towards the direction of I’m going to teach people how to create their own explainer videos, that will be my model. That seems like that’s wanted anyway. One of these models. [SP] Why didn’t you go that way, instead of the way you went?

Lee: That’s a good question. I don’t know that it was something that we felt like it would scale the way we wanted it to scale. I think…and I know Grumo and I think he’s great. He’s a really great guy. I think that’s a good model. I love to see people doing that kind of thing because if you can record it and create a library so maybe its a little bit like the courses that you’re doing. There’s definitely revenue there. I think that that’s something we might look at in the future. But we’ve always been so oriented around building this library of content, versus educational, webinar kind of things. But I don’t think that that is some thing we would not do in the future by any means.

Andrew: Did you get any push back the way I did, when you started charge for content? With people saying information wants to be free.

Lee: I don’t think so. I’m sure there were people that thought that. We might have gotten a couple of emails. But its never been a big deal for us. And part of it is, is that you can watch the videos for free on our website. And there again, the paywall [SP] is permeable in some ways. Like you can still watch the videos, you can still point your mom to a video that she can learn from. We’re focused on the business to business side of that.

Andrew: I see, and as long as you’ve got all of that free then people don’t feel like you’re keeping your knowledge on your side and away from them.

Lee: Yeah. Definitely. It’s been a big subject for us because by making the videos free on our website, we feel like that it develops goodwill, like it’s something that we choose to do. And we could probably make more money by saying, you’ve got to pay to even see the videos. But, it doesn’t help our SEO, for one thing, which is one of the real cores of where our business comes from. And I think that there’s a lot of teachers who develop a sense of good will and good feelings for Common Craft because we’ve left some things out there that are free. Even if they have a watermark. And trust me, every day, there are teachers using the watermarked videos for free and that’s great. We put them out there, that’s our choice, it’s fine.

Andrew: And you’re okay with them using it to teach for free?

Lee: Sure. Sure, it’s introducing, it’s happening on CommonCraft.com, they’re aware of what we’re doing and we may at some point make some of the videos, we may make some of the videos that are currently available, members only. But it would not be the most popular ones, and it would be a very small amount. But I don’t want to say that they’ll always be free forever. Like that’s just not something that I’m comfortable saying.

Andrew: Like you said, serving up videos cost’s money.

Lee: Yeah, that’s right.

Andrew: At least if you want to do them right.

Lee: That’s right, that’s right.

Andrew: What about software, you are really into technology and you understand it, which is a double edged sword. Because if you don’t know how to code it yourselft and you know what’s great, how do you get your site to work so well, that even as I play on it today, I can pretend I’m a teacher who has five employees at his company and see what it would cost me to get each of them on. Like, it’s a really well done site. How do you get that done?

Lee: Having great partners is a big thing. We work with some guys, here in Seattle. It’s just two guys, the name of their company is Number 10 Web Company. Their Josh and Jared, our CMS is drupal, so it’s a drupal site. And they are kind of wizards, I kind of dream up things we want to do, we’ve worked with a creative agency here in Seattle called, Creatavelo (sp), that did the design work on the most recent site and they’ve been really great about. Both parties have really helped us make our ideas sort of reality in a way that I think works.

Andrew: How do you transfer your ideas to them. Do you, what do you do, how do you tell them what your looking for?

Lee: I usually build wire frames, they kind of, a lot of it’s discussion. First of all, I want to be really clear, I know that I’m the face of the company, but my wife Sashi (sp), is, she’s in the background but she is an incredible part of what goes on. And I have to say that a lot of the, a lot of the best ideas and the most productive things that we’ve done have been actually from Sashi.

Andrew: For example?

Lee: So, she’s a big part of that. That’s a good question for example, I think that, we call her the chief party pooper, because I’m always, I have all these ideas and she’s the one that is thinking about risk and thinking about opportunity. And if I can get things over the Sashi bar, then that’s really what matters. And I think that when we started doing the membership service, I had had some discussions with friends and I came home excited about it. And the question for me at the time was, can I sell this to Sashi. Is she going to feel, is she going to be on board with this, and she was. And I was like, Okay. If she’s on board, that makes both of us, we’re going to make this happen. And, I think that’s the beauty of having, sort of a couple, is we know each so intimately and we can deal with decision making in a pretty effective way I think. So, I’m sorry if I didn’t answer, that was a bit of a detour from the original question.

Andrew: No, that helps. I want to know what else you do as a two person team to get so much done.

Lee: I think we’re really different people with different skills. I’m sort of the creative person that has the ideas, and she’s sort of the person who makes it happen. She’s very detail oriented, she does a lot of the technical stuff regarding the videos. She edits all the video and audio, and manages the website in terms of getting the videos up, and getting the subtitles done and getting the translations done, and all these things, for the videos specifically. And, I’m always the one making cut-outs. I was just doing this today, I colored, here’s some cut-outs that I colored today. That I drew and colored.

Andrew: And you turned them into essentially clip art, and people can use it in their…

Lee: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Definitely here’s like another one, it’s a story telling scene. But, yeah, I will actually scan those digitally and cut them out, using basic tools and then save them in the library. And they might appear in future videos, and also be available to members to use.

Andrew: Do you ever get jealous of some of the people who created videos for, who now exceeded both, exceeded you and me, frankly. Founder of Dropbox, Drew Houston (sp), Karen Williams (sp)…

Lee: No, I don’t think, I don’t get jealous…

Andrew: Do you ever think, hey what am I doing, just creating these explainer videos, and those guys are doing something that’s freeing the people of Egypt from tyranny because of their Twitter platform.

Lee: They are such outliers. You know as well as I do.

Andrew: But I measure myself, sometimes, against outliers. I measure my worst against people’s best sometimes.

Lee: Oh, no, I do to.

Andrew: When do you do that?

Lee: I think that South by Southwest is an example. This is getting kind of personal. We were just there, and there are all the parties and people, and there are these luminaries there, hanging out, and as much as I identify with that (and I feel like we’ve made some good progress with Common Craft, and Common Craft is a well-known brand), I don’t necessarily have that network, being that person hanging out with Gary Vaynerchuk and Kevin Rose, and all these people, that’s just not what I do.

Andrew: How do you feel when you walk around and see that?

Lee: I don’t know, I guess I would like some of that access, in some ways, but at the end of the day that’s not really what is going to make or break Common Craft. That’s the South by Southwest thing. Having Kevin Rose watch a Common Craft video is not going to make any difference.

Andrew: How do you put that out of your mind, in moments of doubt, in moments when you want to create something but you think, “oh, this is not as big as what Kevin Rose is going to do”?

Lee: I take a lot of pride in the way we do things. I think that the lives of people that are sometimes the most well-known – like Andrew Mason from Groupon, right – a lot of those people, they get a lot out of being the leader of this growing crazy thing, and having huge peaks and valleys. There are other people who get 30 million dollars in funding for their company, and they make all the tech blogs, and they’re famous in the tech world, but I have to think, are they happy? Do they like their life? When they wake up in the morning, are they looking forward to that day? Are they able to take time off? At the end of the day that’s what matters to me. I want to have a happy life. I want to feel good, I want to be healthy, I want to look forward to tomorrow.

Andrew: Enjoy sketching.

Lee: Yeah, and enjoy being able to listen to the podcast and make some drawings and record a video and do my thing.

Andrew: So can you do that now that you’re no longer the voice that has to create a new voiceover, new video, new everything for a company like Dropbox? Are you now able to take some time off?

Lee: Yeah, definitely. The way Common Craft works is that we work every day. It doesn’t matter if we’re out of town or in town. We’re available, we’re answering emails, we’re doing our thing. But we’ve structured it such that we can do that from anywhere. So we can leave the country for extended periods, and still continue to do our work just like we were at home. That’s really our goal, to have the independence, to keep our members happy, to keep the business going just like it would, but be able to do it from anywhere. And the first time we talked I think you were in Buenos Aires or something, right? You’ve done that, too.

Andrew: As long as there’s high-powered internet, I can do it.

Lee: There you go. That’s like it is for us. We’re in the process, right now, of shooting a bunch of videos and doing a bunch of work because our spring is crazy. We’re doing some personal travel. I’m speaking in Australia and doing some other things, and we’re just not going to be able to make videos on a regular schedule, so what we’ve done is take February and say “That’s video month.” We’re going to do five or six video so that this spring we’ll constantly have new videos to push out without having to make them at the time.

Andrew: That’s why I do all my interviews on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Lee: There you go.

Andrew: Your site looks just beautiful. So that ‘s the company that does it, number10webcompany.com?

Lee: Yeah, they do the development and theming. The design was done by Creativello.

Andrew: OK. Anyone who’s watching this has got to go over and take a look at the design of your site, if for no other reason than just for inspiration. I love sites that have a lot of information on them, but it’s no busy, and it looks simple. I love that.

Lee: Thanks, I appreciate that.

Andrew: What else? There’s one very important question that I want to ask you. First let me do a quick plug for MixerG. I have to write it down so I don’t forget – there, I wrote it down because sometimes I forget my questions. I’m just going to quickly say, guys, if you’re into – you know what, screw it. I always say go to mixergpremium.com, sign up and get the courses that we teach by proven entrepreneurs and hundreds of interviews and so on, but now we’re just going to say, here’s the book. If you guys are interested in doing, there it is.

Andrew: The Art of Explanation, you explain how to create an explainer video. You explain, basically, how someone can make you guys not obsolete, but unnecessary.

Lee: There is, there is a little bit of that. The book itself doesn’t have that much about videos specifically, it’s more of a communication book for anybody who depends on clear communication for their work. I think the book is for them to rethink how they make things easy to understand. We provide some, a lot of experience that we’ve had at making videos, but also, just a lot of simple tips for how to approach an explanation, solving an explanation problem.

Andrew: Give me an example, where, what, someone was listening to us, what are they going to need to explain that you can help them explain? And, I’m looking at the table of contents (??).

Lee: Yeah. Sure, sure. We use an example in the book, which I think a lot of people might identify with. It’s about a team inside a big company and they have a major change coming to their company health plan. Right, so, the idea is that the CEO has said that they’ve got to get over 50% of people switched over to the new plan voluntarily by a certain date. How are they going to do it? And they realize that the way they’ve been explaining it is not working. Nobody’s paying attention, nobody’s caring, so that they actually intentionally create an explanation to solve that problem. And that means, not only speaking clearly, but using media to make something remarkable. So in this case, they create a video, I believe using PowerPoint, something that every company has. And they think about, how can they use analogies and create connections to things that people already understand. How can they tell a story about someone that involves them sorting a problem and seeing something new again. How do they, I’m forgetting some of this.

Andrew: All right, well the book is called The Art of Explanation, and here’s my final question that I didn’t want to forget to ask. At the top of the interview, I feel like I made a promise to people, which is that they’re going to learn in this interview how to go from running a business that depends on them to building one that’s more independent of them.

Lee: Yeah.

Andrew: What’s the one thing that someone who’s listened to your experience here is gonna struggle with in your experience? Based on what you’ve seen, where others have tried to make this leap. What’s the obstacle that’s going to keep someone who’s listening to us from doing this?

Lee: That’s a good question. I think that a lot of people, it’s easy for a lot of people to assume that what they’re doing or what they’re product is, is not worth as much as they think it’s worth. Am I saying that right? I don’t want to…

Andrew: We undervalue what we create.

Lee: Yeah. You undervalue what you create, yeah. They think that nobody will pay for it, or that it’s not worth it, people won’t be happy about it. And a lot of times, it’s philosophical. I have friends who do really valuable work, who just philosophically are not oriented around the idea of making people pay for it. And, I’m a big fan of making some simple experiments to do what I call like creating a path to it. You can watch a video on a website, like Common Craft, and you can have it for sale, but unless you show people that path to get there and what it can do for them, then it’ll never happen. So, I think it’s part philosophical to be Okay with doing it, and then experimenting, like there’s simple tools. E-junkie is what we were using for when we were doing a-la-cart videos, and that’s so simple to put a button next to your video and say buy now, and they handle it all and I think it’s experimenting.

Andrew: So, your saying, if your not ready yet to be a guy who sells his content, maybe your not ready to sell everything. Just try selling one thing.

Lee: Yeah, totally. Totally. I think.

Andrew: And actually, I’ve gotta let you go, cause we’ve gone over, but I can’t stop without asking you this. I had someone come in here and basically help me with my email. I pay people to come in and help me finish all my incoming email.

Lee: Sure.

Andrew: And she saw that a lot of the questions that I was getting via email had a lot to do with this idea of a counter-mind. That you want to do something, and immediately your mind says no. And she say’s I have that too. She started talking to me and I said, can I write down what your counter-mind is saying. And she said, yes. And she said, it makes me feel a little scared, but yes. And here’s what she said, she goes, I don’t deserve to make money from creating things that I enjoy creating. She said, I don’t know how people go from ideas to businesses. She said, I may not even deserve money. She says, I don’t know what this work is worth. She has a creative idea, and then of course, I’m afraid of failure, I’m afraid of being judged. Did you feel any of these things?

Lee: That’s a good question. I do think it’s a very, I’m certain that I did, I still do. I think it’s a, I don’t know that you ever get away from that. Of course, the more data, incoming data that has positive reinforcement helps with that, but I think we often . . .

Andrew: Like sometimes when you’re getting started you have nothing, no one doing data

Lee: Yeah, it’s true, it’s true.

Andrew: so what do you do about this fear of being- or actually, what were your sentences like this, what was your counter man telling you?

Lee: You know, it’s a lot of the same kind of things, that people wouldn’t pay, that there’s just not a market there. This is, I think at the time we were thinking, this might be something for the future, but I don’t know if people are ready for this right now. I think we were lucky, just a little bit of a data point, the night we turned on the a la carte videos, we got our first sale within the first half an hour. And that was a freak kind of thing, but that was like, OK neat! It works.

Andrew: And how did you recognize that you had these feelings, that people aren’t ready to pay now? Maybe some day, not us, all those things. How did you recognize you had them and how did you overcome them?

Lee: Well, I think we talked to people. I think that when people, I mentioned before that we base a lot of what we do on feedback, and if you talk to people and say, “Hey, is this something that would interest you? Would you pay $20 for this?” which is hard to get good data asking that question. But for us, it was kind of like that 20% project, right? Where we’re able to pay for our lifestyle with custom videos, this was at the time, this was something on the side. So we weren’t putting everything on our life in this idea of a la carte sales, it was a side thing. And it was sort of like we looked at it like, custom videos this, and then over the years it’s been doing this kind of thing.

Andrew: [??] goes down, and the products go up.

Lee: Yeah, yeah definitely.

Andrew: Was it like, you had these thoughts that no one would want to pay, and you were looking to combat those thoughts, and you were looking for evidence to disprove them instead of accepting that those thoughts were real?

Lee: I don’t know, you know, I don’t really remember specifically being that anxious about it, I’m not anxious in that way. I have my share of anxiety, trust me, but in business, I’m an optimist. Like, by nature I’m an optimist and I believe really strongly in some things. And it might not happen immediately, but I really believe in it, and I think that that’s the way it’s always worked for Common Craft, is that the thoughts of failure didn’t loom as large in my mine as the potential. Like, if we can just let the match lit, then this will burn. I’m sure it will, we just have to get the match lit.

Andrew: Were you feeling those thoughts, even away from your desk? Like when you were driving down the road, did you think, “Boy, once we get this match lit, this thing’s gonna be huge.”? While you were making breakfast, was it one of those thoughts that kept spinning in your head?

Lee: It is, like that is my life. Like, whatever it is, that I’m happiest in my life when my head is spinning on that next thing. So that-

Andrew: When most people might, including this woman, might say, “I can’t think that this thing’s going to be successful because I might jinx it,” you think, during the day, what are some of those positive statements?

Lee: Yeah, it’s just like, “I can’t wait to get done,” like the cutouts, the most recent thing we did was we added a whole membership level for using the cutouts, and having had so much feedback about it and being so confident about it, based on that feedback, like it couldn’t happen fast enough. And I really am happiest when there’s this thing that we’re about to unleash on the world, and I’m in inevitably disappointed. Like it always happens, my expectations are always much higher, because I’m an optimist, than the reality. But over time, it has a way of, like building and being “OK, maybe it’s pretty close to what I wanted.”

Andrew: So if you and I were going to do the same exercise that I did with this woman, now I paid her, and we just sat here and, you know, she wasn’t like a study of mine. She just wanted to talk. So we did- I shouldn’t show it to you- but we did one sheet with all this countermind [SP] stuff, and one other sheet where she just listed all the things that could go right with it. The sheet with things that could go right was tiny, like maybe I had to pull sentences out of her. For you, it might be the opposite. Your list of things that could go right would be huge, that’s what’s going on in your head. Things that could go wrong, I’d have to pull that out of you.

Lee: I think that’s a much more accurate portrayal of the way my mind actually works. Like I have, I do have anxiety, but I am much more focused on the positive, the potential. It’s more about, like, you know, the most core level for us has always been getting to the licensing kind of idea, and then it being the thing that allows us so that the lifestyle we want to live, and these things, and it’s all- every idea is based on, like, “that’s going to make that happen a little faster, a little faster”. Like maybe next year, we can go away for a little while, if this works the way I want it to work. And it’s not so much about failure as not achieving the success at the level that we think it will. And there’s always failures, like that happens. Like we’ve done things, like we did a set of Kindle books that were basically Kindle books of the videos, that were like a dollar, I forget how much we sold them for. But that never went anywhere, we spent a lot of time doing it, and never did anything. I was excited about it for a little while.

Andrew: That sounds brilliant, but I guess you can’t predict which way people want to consume things.

Lee: Yeah, yeah totally.

Andrew: Well, well thank you so much for opening up about what’s going on in your head, that I think to me is one of the most useful parts of this conversation, and who was it? It was Christopher Sutton for helping me think through questions for this interview, thank you. You helped guide the direction for this conversation. And of course, for everyone else, if you need an explainer video, or if you want to understand how to create your own explainer videos, watch some explainer videos, get cutouts so that you can pretend to be Lee LeFever yourself, just go to commoncraft.com, and frankly I would just go there for inspiration, insight.

Lee: Thanks a lot.

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

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Question for the comments

What do you think is the single most powerful thing that Lee did to make his business grow beyond his voice & personality?

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  • http://twitter.com/MikeKimbell Michael Kimbell

    Great interview Andrew. Easy to relate to Lee LeFever making decisions on how it affects his lifestyle instead of just revenue or growth.

  • Arie, Community Manager

    Happy to hear that.

  • http://www.liftdevelopment.com Dave Yankowiak

    I really enjoyed your first interview with Lee. Good to see him back for an encore. Big fan of what he’s doing.

  • http://grumomedia.com Miguel Hernandez

    So happy to learn a bit more about the story behind Common Craft.
    Thanks for mentioning Grumo! I am big fan of Lee too!

  • http://www.commoncraft.com/ leelefever

    Thanks for the interview Andrew! it was a blast.

  • http://www.commoncraft.com/ leelefever

    Thanks Miguel! We must get together sometime in the NW!

  • http://www.commoncraft.com/ leelefever

    Cheers Dave!

  • http://grumomedia.com Miguel Hernandez

    Anytime Lee! If you come by Vancouver cervezas are on me :)

  • Evan Wilder

    This interview came at a perfect time, Andrew.

  • Arie at Mixergy

    :)