Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I do interviews with entrepreneurs about how their built their businesses. Today’s entrepreneur is someone whose business has intrigued me, whose business, frankly, in many ways I thought, “Damn, I should have done that. I really like what he’s doing. The model makes so much freaking sense.”
His name is Chase Jarvis. He is the founder of CreativeLive. It’s known as the world’s largest livestreaming education company. Basically, you go on there and you can learn everything from photography to a moment ago I checked it out and it was Ramit Sethi teaching people how to make money and still be creative, it’s that kind of thing.
The thing that always amazed me about it is that he has these celebrity instructors, which I always wanted to build Mixergy on, who had the credibility of actually doing, who were bringing in a new audience for them–tell me if I’m over-simplifying your model, Chase.
Chase: No, you’re laying it on. I’m recording this.
Andrew: I really liked that whenever they would go and do this, they would have an incentive to promote the hell out of CreativeLive. Their Twitter accounts would blow up with their CreativeLive appearances. They’d email their audience about being on CreativeLive. The reason they would do all that is because live audiences get to watch for free, and they want the interaction of the live audience and they want a lot of people watching and also the people that don’t watch live end up buying the course.
And I thought, “This is just a brilliant model. I really like it.” I’ve gotten to see Chase a couple of times over the years, and what I wanted to do was have him here where I can actually dig into his model and understand how it works. So that’s what we’ve got here today.
And this interview is sponsored by two companies. The first will help you hire your next great kickass developer. I bet you probably already know about them. Toptal is their name. The second will help you actually get meetings in person. Regardless of how many trips Chase is taking around the world, I was able to get him here on camera because we use Acuity Scheduling to book and we make it super simple. But I’ll tell you more about all those sponsors later. First, Chase, welcome.
Chase: Thank you, Andrew. It’s been a while. Last time we were with one another I think it was here in San Francisco where I’m at today and it was dinner. It was a great gathering. I remember that. Nice to see you again, bud.
Andrew: Same here. At that dinner is where you told me, “Look, we’re doing video streaming levels that are starting to rival YouTube.” I’m on–as much as I like you, I still wanted to check my facts here–I went to SimilarWeb and SimilarWeb says you have 2.79 monthly visitors, which for a video site is killer. The thing I–first of all, does that sound right? Is SimilarWeb accurate?
Chase: Would it be inappropriate if I said that I didn’t track that stuff personally? I’ve got someone who’s got the business operations. But it sounds in the neighborhood to me. Maybe a little–yeah. It sounds roughly.
Andrew: Millions of monthly visits. What I’m wondering is what about revenues? What kind of revenues are you guys doing with CreativeLive?
Chase: We don’t disclose those publicly. I think it’s a very competitive marketplace, but let’s say we’re six years in and we’re really happy with our progress. The consumer business is growing insanely fast, and the relationships we have with some of the world’s top brands in order to provide education to their constituents even internally is maybe the fast growing part of the business as the best companies in the world seek to–the word training doesn’t even actually match what sort of education I feel like we’re bringing a lot of–not just the creativity, innovation, design thinking that you think of when you hear the words CreativeLive, but also personal development, emotional intelligence, stuff like that.
Andrew: Wait, so I guess I brought up the consumer part of it. What’s the other part of the business I don’t know about?
Chase: We started some relationships with some great brands. We’re in collaboration with a handful of the Fortune 500 brands that I feel like are great matches for who we are, who our customers are, who we stand for, which is specifically creativity, access to the world’s top experts and the best ideas and community.
Andrew: So you’re teaching–they’re sponsoring classes you’re offering there, or what’s the model there?
Chase: The model is they’re basically providing access to CreativeLive for their customers and constituents or for their internal teams.
Andrew: I see. They pay you guys. You make those programs available to their people. I see.
Chase: Yeah. We’re pretty early on in this relationship, but it’s great. 99% of our headspace has been to date dedicated to the consumer side of the business. We’ve got more than 10 million students around the world, which is still a little bit of a head scratch. I like the number, but I also feel like we’re just getting started. We just crossed three billion minutes of video consumed on the platform.
Andrew: Fair to say you guys are doing over $8 million in revenue at this point?
Chase: Yes, fair to say.
Andrew: You are? Significantly more than $8 million?
Chase: Yeah, happy with where we’re at.
Andrew: And losing a little bit of money because you guys have taken on funding we can assume, right?
Chase: We are backed by Greylock, Social Capital. They led our A and our B, respectively. We’ve got some other folks on there, some amazing angels, folks like Richard Branson. Yeah. We’re in a great spot, man. I’m very happy with where we are.
Chase: First of all, my background is as a creator and as an entrepreneur.
Andrew: Yeah. Let’s get into how you did that, how you got here. You were a photographer who actually sold some of your work. Frankly, I saw this on a Wikipedia entry. Your first sale, was it to REI, the first big one?
Chase: The first one that really shifted my mentality from, say, small ball, to, “Oh my gosh, this is actually a really legitimate career.” You have a couple of smaller sales. The first dollar I ever earned from photography was licensing an image of mine to a ski company. That was for $500 and a pair of skis. So things change.
Andrew: What’s the image and why did they want it?
Chase: It was an image of a pro skier on their next year’s ski equipment, and they wanted it for marketing purposes to show off that their products were used by the world’s top ski athletes.
Andrew: How did you connect with them?
Chase: It was in the environment. I think that’s a huge thing that I preach, not just here on CreativeLive as a way of making your vision come true, but personally I’ve been advocating for this for a long time. In order to, I think, truly tap into your potential, you need to participate in the industry in which you have interest and be around not just the people who are making it but the people who are not and go to where those communities are meeting and gathering and thriving.
So I was living in Steamboat, Colorado, which I think they actually even call it Ski Town, USA. A lot of the top skiers and snowboarders in the world come through there. I became a part of that crew and had a camera and was very passionate about it and started taking those photographs.
That was one of the things that catapulted my career, not just being great at the craft, but being a part of the community and then telling the visual stories of that community to folks who were happy to pay real money, advertisers and some of the brands in that space. That was, let’s just say, a long time ago. We’ll call it that.
Andrew: How long ago or what year was this?
Chase: It was in the mid to late ’90s.
Chase: As was some of the early photography sales.
Andrew: How did you become a celebrity in the photography world?
Chase: I think that’s a fair question, and I think it’s one that’s murky. I think if I try and deconstruct it and be as objective as possible, it’s being different, not just better and standing out from the folks that were in that paradigm or in that profession, specifically, I would say, historically photographers had been very closed about their methods and means about how they created a career and life doing what they loved. Their trade secrets were very closed.
For me, it was just the opposite. I was yearning to learn and wanted to connect with others and realized that it was a sort of fragmented and closed system. I didn’t let that stop me. I started reaching out and trying to build community where there wasn’t any. And at first vilified, I think a lot of entrepreneurs when you have a progressive idea–
Andrew: What do you mean? What did you do that they vilified you? This was before blogging. I know you as the blogger, as a YouTuber, this is before. How did you get awareness before those tools existed?
Chase: Before those tools existed, I feel like I was toiling. I was literally breaking in as in breaking and entering into the local community college to develop my film for free between the hours of 2:00 and 5:00 a.m. I was learning from books. It was very difficult to get meetings with other people who were the best in the craft because they didn’t want to divulge their secrets, and it was a very closed, limited mindset.
So through hacking my way and figuring it out, literally taking a picture, writing down my exposure, taking another picture, writing down my exposure, such that when you get your film back, you could actually figure out what the F you were doing. That was, I think, the early formative years.
But as the internet started to evolve and platforms, then it was Google Video before YouTube and Blogger, in fact, was the first platform that I was on, I started using those as platforms to share what I was learning, what it was like to come up and struggle, not just thrive and survive but the struggles as well.
It was in those early days and–I said vilified, I meant specifically people saying–this sounds a little bit dramatic, but it’s true, so I’m going to say it. I literally had death threats, like, “What are you doing, you punk ass whatever? You’re giving away our trade secrets and then anybody with a camera is going to be able to come in and make money as a photographer and you’re taking food off my table and money out of my bank account and giving it to some new punk.” To me, that seemed short sighted.
Andrew: Legitimately you’re not exaggerating here death threats because you were teaching other people how to take photographs and then enabling more people to be photographers?
Chase: Yeah. It was the internet. I’m pretty capable of taking care of myself. So nothing ever manifested from those. Yeah. I literally had like, “You punk ass bitch, I’m going to kill you if I ever see you because you’re taking money off of my table and out of my bank account and putting it into the hands of people who haven’t earned it, haven’t earned the right to be a professional.”
Andrew: You were on my radar for a long time because you’ve got a little bit of star power even though I’m not in your world. I’m not in the photography, creative space at all. But where I really noticed you was I remember back–maybe it was 2009, 2010–I did an interview with Ramit Sethi. Ramit loved it. I think, even though he didn’t know what he was coming in for, he got to be his best self in the interview. He didn’t post it on his site.
Then a little while later he was with you in an interview you did with him. I don’t know like the quality of it, the quality of the interview, I won’t speak to that–because frankly, I didn’t see it, I was too incensed at himself–I saw he posted your video and I instantly understood why. As soon as I hit play–in fact, before I hit play, the thumbnail looked good. It was a really professionally shot thumbnail.
As soon as you hit play, there are these guys carrying a catch over a camera to put down on the floor they’d set up just for the interview space. I realized Ramit was posting it regardless of the quality because it elevated his brand. It showed that he was worthy of being in this kind of interview environment.
I feel like that interview took you outside of the creative space and into a bigger space. I’d like to understand the thought process behind it and frankly the financing behind it. I heard HP paid you a bunch of money to put it together. How did you put that together and how did that fit in to your story?
Chase: Sure. I think that’s a decent segue. I wasn’t quite through the celebrity part, but I think it’s a nice transition, so I’ll bridge those two gaps from your last question to this one.
Chase: That idea of being different, not just better, telling stories about building my craft and making my career specifically around a living and a life that the world didn’t want me to have, I bailed on a career in professional soccer, I bailed on medical school and dropped out of a PhD in philosophy to become a photographer. That obviously was very radical. I started sharing that. The reality is there aren’t a lot of parents running around telling their kids to be artists or to be creative. It’s like STEM education and go do science and be a doctor or a lawyer. If you’re hardworking and you’re successful, those are things you do.
So I told that story. I think you have to be good at your craft in my world in order to get–information travels and people talk, and if you screw up on large jobs for world class brands, you don’t get hired back and they all talk so you don’t have a career. Over the time, I feel like it was the style of my work and the fact I was telling stories and blowing open the black box in a world that had previously been very secretive. That was one of the differentiators.
I parlayed that idea into building community and building people up rather than down and part of that expression was helping elevate my peers and learn from them at the same time. Not dissimilar, I’ve heard your show before. You talk about learning so much from other people and building a platform, not just for your fans and followers, but yourself as well. I had that sort of mentality. My experience–I think you talked about it, it was very intentional. I can’t say it was not intentional to build people up. It wasn’t down to the level of detail that you’re talking about.
My experience as a creator was working for amazing brands like Apple, like Nike, like Red Bull where a brand is first and foremost. I think osmosis created–it was embedded in the storytelling that I was doing around my career arc, and I sought to elevate those around me, people who I was inspired by.
When you shoot a lot of photographs and you get to be great at anything, I think this is a takeaway, focus on being world class at something that you’re deeply passionate about because it’s just going to get hard. Once it gets hard, you have to care deeply about it if you want to push through. That’s going to keep a lot of other people out.
When you’re world class at something and you put in the 10,000 hours and the trite stuff we hear about how to become an expert and you are world class in your craft, you become peers and friends with other people who are world class–the world’s best designers and the world’s best snowboarders and the world’s best fill in the blank. That became my peer group and those were the people that I learned how to hack the photography industry from. I brought in Warhol and Basquiat, those were major influences for me. Folks like Tim Ferriss is a really good friend.
I was just borrowing and basically remixing culture around me into my industry. So I figured that’s something that’s not talked about. How about I blow that wide open? Hey, everybody, this is where I get my best ideas. This is where I get my positioning from, guys like Ramit. This is where I get my writing around influence around blogging around 2005, 2006, 2007 was inspired largely by Tim Ferriss. I think that’s the paradigm that I was thinking about by creating a show called Chase Jarvis Live and having amazing guests.
Then when you’re, again, at the top of your industry, the people who would say yes to being on my show were–they were pretty high caliber folks because those are your friends and peers and they’re interested in the spectacle as well where you’re having 10,000, 15,000, 20,000, 50,000 people sometimes on these live broadcasts, especially in the early internet days of 2010 livestreaming.
Andrew: You used to do that with Ustream, right?
Andrew: Was it $50,000–that’s the rumor I heard–$50,000 from HP per episode.
Chase: I don’t know where you heard that rumor, but it was substantial.
Andrew: Is that crazy off or in the neighborhood?
Chase: It’s not crazy off.
Andrew: Okay. How did you get an audience to come watch you at that point? I get the money now allows you to create that beautiful intro and also your artistic style. How did you get the audience to watch?
Chase: It was different. You talked about the money facilitating the creation. The creation facilitated the money. I was making stuff like that on my own dollar. Everyone else in the world is saying, “Don’t spend your own money. You’ve got to get a sponsor and do this.” I did all kinds of shows before any sponsors came around.
Andrew: What are the shows that you did before sponsors where you invested money?
Chase: Basically all of them. I don’t remember what year the HP deal started. Polaroid, I had a relationship as a photographer. I endorsed Nikon with Ashton Kutcher at the time. So he was sort of the public face. I was the professional face. We launched some cameras that were some of the most successful launches in Nikon’s history. Did the same thing for Polaroid with Lady Gaga.
Again, I’m a photographer taking pictures of me and my friends skateboarding and living this action sports sort of lifestyle and I’m like, “What am I doing backstage with Lady Gaga?” We’re occupying the same dressing rooms and same spaces. That was a mind-F for me as well. But ultimately creating great art gets noticed and then the brands notice the people noticing you. It wasn’t like I reached out to these brands actively. They said, “You’re doing something really cool in the space.” I don’t know who said it, maybe it was Kevin Spacey, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
Andrew: I was the guy who used to say, “I’m a wild and crazy guy,” Steve Martin.
Chase: Steve Martin.
Andrew: Good book too.
Chase: Nice save. Yeah.
Andrew: Let me do a quick sponsorship message and then we’ll come back to how you got that audience and then you also had that app that you did a very revealing video and post about what happened there and we’ll talk about the launching of CreativeLive, who is this cofounder, how’d you get the cofounder. I know you. I didn’t realize there was a cofounder there even though he was running the company for a bit. And then how you grow this company once you get to such a substantial level.
But first, here’s the sponsor. For a company called Acuity Scheduling–have you ever heard of Acuity Scheduling before?
Chase: Only from your email suggestion, email signature or something like that. I think it was pretty effective.
Andrew: Yeah. I think I can even eliminate that reference when I send out a reminder email, but I intentionally keep it there because I’m such a fan of Acuity Scheduling. It’s a tool that we use to book guest here at Mixergy. The problem I used to have was I’d ask somebody to come do an interview and then it was just like a ton of back and forth. I know the more back and forth there is about doing the interview, the more it’s a drag and they don’t want to do it and stuff comes up and I get off their radar.
So someone introduced me. I remember the guy, Bob Hyler, did a bunch of research, said, “Here, try this.” I tried it and it changed everything for us. I got to Acuity Scheduling. I connect my calendar to it so they know when I’m busy and when I’m free. I intentionally say, “Here are the times that I’m available to do an interview. I shave on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I go real animal style Friday and Monday.”
Andrew: So I’m willing to do interviews then. Then I need a couple of things. Like I need your Skype name so when I’m sitting here I’m not trying to figure out how you’re connecting with me, etc. So, I put all that in. they gave me a link or an embed code. I actually choose the embed code, not the link. I take the embed code. I put it on my site and now I can send you a link and say, “Hey, Chase, can I do an interview with you?”
And I don’t have to go back and forth. You see my calendar. If there aren’t any available dates, you can come back and say, “Hey, Andrew, I’d like to do it Monday. That’s when I shave.” And maybe we can adjust it. But for the most part, everybody goes with what’s on the calendar, picks it at their convenience. I have everything ready on my side and as Chase just mentioned, he gets a link with everything he needs to do the interview, including like a few suggestions for how to look good on camera, etc., which Chase does not need but other people do.
That’s the idea. Now, most people are not doing interviews, so why would they use it. I’m seeing people who sell software say, “I want to talk to every customer. I want someone on my team to talk to every customer. So part of their online drip campaign after you buy is you get a link to Acuity Scheduling. Other people have more expensive software. People should not buy from them until they talk to a rep. So on their site it doesn’t say buy, it says schedule a demo.
Acuity Scheduling works with so many other apps. There are so many features. I can’t even begin to tell you guys. I gave you all the basics and I know Gavin, the creator, is going, “Andrew, tell them about the integration.” Gavin, I can’t. So, here’s what I’m going to do instead. If you’re listening to me, Gavin is a longtime Mixergy fan and a longtime sponsor now. He’s going to give you 45 days free of Acuity Scheduling to really see how it improves your business.
All you have to do is go to the special URL, AcuityScheduling.com.com/Mixergy. Try it out. See if it grows your business. If it does, great. Keep going. If it doesn’t, complain to me. I would love to hear from you if you think this does not work. Frankly, I’m always out there standing up for my sponsors and I’ll give you my email address, Andrew@Mixergy.com. If they don’t deliver 100%, I want to know about it. All right, AcuityScheduling.com/Mixergy.
The audience–tell me more. How did you get people to come watch you? Is it weird to like interrupt the whole conversation with a sponsorship message?
Chase: No, I think you’re good at that.
Andrew: Thank you.
Chase: You’re a natural. I was listening. I was like, “I want to ask him about this service.” It was compelling. I think it’s a little bit change to talk in the terms in which you framed the question because I never thought of it as building an audience. I really didn’t. At some point, you realize, “Oh my god, there are a million people paying attention.” At some point, it’s just sort of putting information out and sharing.
Again, there wasn’t the term–behind the scenes videos didn’t exist, building an audience online didn’t exist, those were sort of things that came after people were actually doing it. But I realize now looking backwards that’s the only way to connect the dots. That’s what was happening. So I invested years, literally, in putting out information about what I was doing, what my successes and failures were as a photographer and a professional creative, what inspired me, what troubled me and I created a community around that conversation and my work indirectly.
It was years of doing that before we said, “Hey,” I never sort of monetized them, never gave them an opportunity to buy anything or do anything. There were two of those opportunities, one of which was this iPhone app that you mentioned right before we took the break, called Best Camera, which was the first iPhone app to allow you to share photos directly to social networks, which today we take for granted, obviously. CreativeLive came after that.
But this idea of live broadcasting happened in 2009. Ustream, a company that had been–I think they were for military families to connect with one another over video. They changed that into a consumer offering and they said, “Hey, look, anyone can stream.” So I streamed a photo shoot. I had been putting videos out on YouTube prior to that and had built up that following I just mentioned.
I said, “Hey, everybody, I’m doing a photo shoot of this alt punk band called Brent Amaker and the Rodeo shooting their album cover. If anybody wants to watch, we’ll have this livestreaming.” Well, something like 25,000 or 30,000 people showed up to watch this photo shoot. I was like, “That’s interesting.”
So it was at that time that I had been working with a friend. At that time, the guy who was taking care of all of the tech assets for my photo studio where I employed maybe 10 or 12 people at the time, he was interested in transitioning out of being an hourly gun for hire on the tech support things and he was trying to build some sort of a learning product. He was experimenting. I was experimenting with live internet. We said, “Gosh, maybe we can put these two things together.”
So, in part, this live interview series was a precursor to CreativeLive where we were experimenting, turned that into a live show, started having guests starting in 2009 and early ’10. We launched CreativeLive in the spring of 2010. Our first class at CreativeLive had about 50,000 people in it.
Andrew: Watching live?
Chase: Yeah. I think it was over the course of two days, two and a half days, something like that. Then the next one had 100,000 and the third one had 150,000 people in the class.
Andrew: I’m looking at an old post on your site from that photo shoot. You said it was called Brent Amaker–I see it. Man, you use social media really well, even back when social media basically meant blogging. You were asking people which of these two shots do you prefer and I can see the engagement level in there. I get that.
All right. So I see you’re a photographer. You realize you can sell some of this stuff. You then build a name for yourself by teaching people on your site and other platforms. You then do the Chase Jarvis Live. You create the app. The app folds and you did a piece, as I mentioned earlier, saying why it folded. Can you talk about that? What happened? Why did the app not do well?
Chase: Sure. Well, ironically, the app did insanely well. It was the app of the year in 2009. We launched in September. As I mentioned, it was the first photo app that allowed you take a picture, add filters, which didn’t really exist, and share it to Facebook and Twitter directly.
That was, as I think all great entrepreneurial ventures are, that was a product of my pain, my direct personal pain of I was taking pictures with my then–early on the flip phone, then the Palm Treo and people thought I was crazy because I had basically unlimited access, hundreds of thousands of dollars of camera gear, yet I was taking pictures with a camera that had 0.2 megapixels at the time.
I wanted to share those things because there’s this idea that I all of a sudden always had a camera on me and instead of saying, “I wish I had a camera,” I realized that the best camera is the one that’s with you. I ended up trademarking that. That’s where the name Best Camera comes from, a derivative of that phrase, which is reasonably popular. I helped popularize that, trademarked it.
The concept was inimitable, the fact that we had connected cameras and that we could share these things, except by taking a picture and then trying to share it, it was literally opening six and seven apps in order to do that Facebook, Twitter, the app that allowed me to add some effects to the photos. I was like, “This was bullshit. This is a pain. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could collapse that all into one and then directly connect these into the social networks instead of using their apps?”
They were starting to create APIs. Apple opened the App Store for developers. We put this thing out and it went straight to number one in the App Store and was app of the year for Apple in 2009, App of the Year for Wired Magazine, New York Times, seven-figure downloads and at that time, they were $3. You could do some math. It was lucrative.
Andrew: It was $3?
Chase: $3 or $4.
Andrew: Wow. People were willing to pay for apps back then.
Chase: Yeah. It was back in the day. What was more interesting to me was the community. It was the first time someone had given a tool that was really effective that made use of the modern and next generation of social tools and integrated this idea that the best camera is the one that’s with you and it was available for a couple bucks. So, my audience just pounced on it and at that point it was probably maybe a million folks.
Early on, that was a game-changer, so it went to the top of all of the charts. When something is at the top of the charts, it perpetuates. Apple thought it was interesting because it made use of their camera. The story was a very beautiful one. It aligned with their mission and vision. I was part of a global speaking tour and it just parlayed it into something that was great.
You wanted me to get to the punchline about how it failed. Without going too deep into the weeds, you can read the story on my blog. Just type in, “My biggest failure,” and my name. Ultimately I had an agreement with an external developer. I owned the code, but out of a sort of casual nature–the contract was relatively tight, but it specified a development schedule, not the actual features because it’s technology and it’s going to change.
You don’t want to get locked into that over a year-long contract. The app cost $250,000 to develop. We had an agreement that until they were paid back, it was going be 70% to them and 30% to me of the revenue.
Chase: Then when it was paid back, that would flip and they would have some ongoing back end and I would then make the 70% share. Well, we planned for that to take about a year to pay back and we had it paid back in six days. So, with that, it was take the motivation for the developer develop further versions of this thing, it took it basically down to zero.
Andrew: If they still get 30%, that’s a lot of money, 30% of millions of sales, no?
Chase: Yeah. But this is the narrow minded version of this particular development team was that apps were flashes in the pan and it was just going to have a boom and then go away. I was like, “No, apps are going to be billion-dollar businesses.” That was a place where we butted heads.
So if they have 30% of something that’s going like this or 100% of something or 70% of their next deal with a company–they were very talented, so they had a lot of business lined up. They didn’t see it that way, so they pushed the edge of the contract up to what was the minimum to fulfill it by the word but not by the intention and basically it grinded to a half the development.
After about a year, the fan base and the community that had been built up around it of millions was saying like, “What’s happening?” I also had publicly traded companies trying to buy the thing. I had venture capital offering to give me millions of dollars to build it out. It was in that sort of year and a half post us creating it that then Burbn, now Instagram saw what we were doing, did basically a lift and stamp copy. All of the UI, the filters at the bottom, all of that was a direct lift of–
Andrew: Were you there before Hipstamatic? I thought they were copying Hipstamatic at the time.
Chase: Hipstamatic, they had filters, but they were just–it was the whole window. It wasn’t the bottom tray that slid.
Andrew: I see. So the whole image slid.
Chase: Yeah. It was basically you clicked it and then I think it actually flipped or something like that. It was also the first time that our app was the first time that there was the idea of a photo feed, where you would see new images. You could see in real time when people were adding images from all over the world.
Andrew: Because they could add it to Best Camera just like they could share it on Facebook. I see.
Andrew: Was this Ubermind, the name of the company you partnered with?
Chase: Yes, it was.
Andrew: Did they end up owning any piece of this? I know you guys–
Chase: No, they don’t.
Andrew: They were doing work for you but you couldn’t free yourself of them and take control of this and take it to somebody else. You got involved in heavy lawsuits.
Chase: Without going into the details, yes to everything you said. Ironically, it was a couple weeks before we wanted to launch and it was like we have to have an account with Apple. They said, “We have an account. We can just use ours to upload it to the store. We’ll pay you on the back end.” That little thing was the difference between us having access to our own code that we owned wholly outright in a work for hire agreement–so, short story long, it was sort of being offered never work again money, like private jet money and not being able to exercise that.
Plus the fear of success–I’d spent so much of my life unbecoming all the things everybody else wanted me to become and focusing on becoming an artist. Now I was faced with being an entrepreneur and having a lifelong bank account at my disposal. It was a little bit of an identity crisis. Those two things combined to create some paralysis.
Andrew: Can you talk openly about–when you say fear of success, on your site, on CreativeLive, there have been people who have talked about their fear of success and what happened to them. I haven’t heard you talk about that. Tell me more. I’m curious.
Chase: I’d spent so much time and energy sort of undoing–again, I was going to be a professional athlete and everyone was telling me I had all the roads open to me. That’s what you’re supposed to do. If you have that opportunity, my god, it would be stupid not to do it. There was a lot of cultural pressure, the same thing to be a doctor and a lawyer.
To walk away from those things–I want to acknowledge that I grew up lower middle class. I was very poor. I had upside down Nikes and Adidas with four stripes, not the proper kind. But I want to acknowledge that even lower middle class white suburban kid, I still had tons of privilege. But the privilege that I had, I felt like I had to overcome so much to become the person I wanted to become, to follow the career path that I wanted for myself rather than what everybody else wanted.
It’s important to acknowledge that a lot of people don’t actually have that choice. If it was hard for me to overcome, what must it be like for other folks as well? That was part of the story I was telling across those early social channels that I think helped people identify with this idea. The fear of success was, “Oh my god, what is the world going to think if I suddenly have $50 million or $100 million and it’s in the papers? Am I a sellout at that point?”
Andrew: I see. Interesting.
Chase: It was somewhat of an identity crisis. Of course now I realize that the artist and the entrepreneur are the same thing and in the future, all the world’s CEOs will be considered artists because building a company is very artful. There’s a ton of analogies. I can go on and on with that. Ultimately that was what I meant by the fear of success, like it’s going to be in the papers that this app is worth all this money and yet I’m to doing anything about it. Is he a sellout? I spent the last five years telling the story about being a creator is the most valuable thing you could possibly think to do.
Andrew: Did you end up with $1 million in cash from that deal?
Andrew: You did. Okay. All right. Let me do a quick break. That brings me to CreativeLive. Around this time, despite the fact that you launched this application, constantly producing online, you somehow created CreativeLive. I want to find out how you did it. But first I’ve got to tell people about a company called Toptal. Do you know Toptal at all, Chase?
Chase: I don’t. But we hire a lot of people at CreativeLive and I’m guessing it’s a talent placement agency maybe.
Andrew: Yeah. What kind of–how big is your engineering team?
Chase: We’re about 20 and our product team is about 10 or 12. It’s legit.
Andrew: I like how smoothly your freaking site works. I actually was on it. I was watching something while I was researching you and then I was able to like go over and pause. There was not stuttering, no hesitation. I couldn’t even tell if Ramit, who happened to be like available live, was he really live or not? You allow replays of certain shows.
Chase: Yeah, of course.
Andrew: It was so beautifully done. Well, anyone out there who wants Silicon Valley-level developers but they’re kind of stuck trying to figure out how I can get those people, I should tell you something. The idea of living in Silicon Valley–Chase, do you live here in San Francisco at all?
Andrew: Can you imagine if you had to travel from your house in San Francisco down to Mountain View, how much of a nightmare would your life be?
Chase: There are people that do it. I don’t envy them one bit. They just look like they get the shit get kicked out of them every day.
Andrew: Every day. I see it, because it’s an hour, hour and a half drive on the Google bus all the way down. Everyone talks about the amenities at Google, but the hour and a half would crush me each way. There are a lot of great developers who say, “I don’t want to put up with that. I do want great challenging work. I do want to produce, but I don’t want to be in San Francisco driving to Mountain View or worse, be in Mountain View in this environment where it’s very expensive but also there’s nothing to do there.”
So they want to live wherever they want to live and still do great work. That’s where Toptal comes in. Toptal tests people to make sure they get the top three percent of developers on the planet so when someone out there wants to hire a developer, they contact Toptal, Toptal has a real conversation with them, understands their needs and then connects them with a Silicon Valley-level real high quality developer. That’s why people have been using them for years. I think Airbnb was one of their early customers. We’re talking about some of the best companies out there are using Toptal.
If you’re listening to me and you want to try them out, get your best developer ever from Toptal by going to this special URL. It’s created by two Mixergy fans, so they’re offering something they’re not giving anyone else–80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours and that’s in addition to a no risk trial period of up to two weeks. You’ve been listening to me do interviews and talk about them for a long time
You see how many people who I interview will write down their names and we’ll call them up and work with Toptal because these are the best of the best and if you want the best of the best, you’ve got to go to Toptal.com/Mixergy. Top because these guys are obsessed with being the best, tal as in talent, Toptal.com/Mixergy. And bonus–they have the best freaking looking model on Toptal.com/Mixergy at the very top. They have other people that look okay. But the top, oh my goodness. Don’t tell Olivia I said that.
All right. On to the CreativeLive. While you were dealing with this and with the lawyers, you had the idea for CreativeLive?
Chase: Yeah. It had been something, as I mentioned in an earlier segment on the show today with you, that my friend, Craig, and I were–
Andrew: Craig Swanson?
Andrew: How did you know Craig Swanson?
Chase: Craig was the tech support for my photo studio. When you’re creating millions of images, you’ve got real actual data infrastructure. This is before such thing as a cloud, so you had hundreds of terabytes of storage on site and this elaborate backup system and network set of probably 10+ machines to do all the post-processing and making videos and commercials. So there’s real heavy overhead and infrastructure and Craig serves those.
He was very interested in getting out of the hourly sort of hamster wheel that being a tech consultant was, and I was also looking for opportunities to further connect this community that I had built over a number of years with the world’s top experts. I didn’t want to be the only person they looked up to. I like to inspire rather than to teach in the classic sense of teaching, but I did have so many friends who were the peers, the best in the world at their craft and would spend time teaching either online or at the top design or art schools and boy, what if we could give them a platform?
We basically put our heads together and over a period of months whiteboarded the ideas behind CreativeLive. In parallel, I started doing a live internet show which was called Chase Jarvis Live. That gave us a lot of clues about what to do and don’t and how to move the camera, also the power of an internet celebrity, people who had actually done the work, not just someone who’s good at teaching a craft.
In parallel, Craig started working on this model that we talked about around if you want to watch it real time, then it’s free and only pay if you want to own it and was getting good traction there. So we sort of tested those two worlds, put them together and launched CreativeLive in the spring of 2010.
As I mentioned earlier, the first class had 50,000, second class had 100,000 and third class over the course of four months, we did three classes. The last one that I’m referencing here had about 150,000 people in it. We threw a live wedding. We found a couple, paid for their entire wedding and did a wedding photography class with a woman named Jasmine Star, who’s still star power here at CreativeLive and in her own right is a photographer and entrepreneur.
We did a class with her and it trended globally on Twitter because people were watching this live wedding and there was an amazing intimate photography workshop going on in parallel. I got a great screen cap somewhere of Lindsey Lohan, Barack Obama and CreativeLive above them on a global trending map. It was a fascinating experiment and that helped us realize we had a tiger by the tail with our concept and then we leveraged everything we could into helping CreativeLive grow.
Andrew: What was that first class?
Chase: The first class was DSLR filmmaking a guy named Vincent Laforet. It was the idea that these cameras had traditionally been still cameras but were now starting to be able to capture video with the same set of lenses. So the camera that used to cost $100,000 was now $2,000, and it was the tool behind helping create this wave of independent and online filmmakers that we know so well today. This was the earliest version of that. It was nuts. It was from a grimy little warehouse in South Seattle, not too much bigger than the room I’m standing in right here. It was fun. It was duct tape, a ton of volunteers. But we made it happen. That was a fun and interesting initial seed.
Andrew: What’s your process for teaching people who are going to be leading classes how to teach?
Chase: Well, first of all we curate very, very carefully. That’s a big difference. It’s not an open platform. We handpick people. So both from the aspect of we handpicked people in our community of 10 million folks recommend or request people, but also when we want to teach something, we ask ourselves, “Who are the world’s top experts in this thing and are they great teachers?”
So we tend to not go to folks that don’t have any sort of teaching experience or star power or are good on camera or motivated to learn to do so. We focus specifically on those folks, and then we assign them to some content producers who helped craft the ideas and vision they have around the craft and what we know to be a great online course. We work hand in hand with them. It’s high-touch and extremely well curated, which is part of the allure and the big differentiator between CreativeLive and all the other online learning sites.
Andrew: So how do you know then what topic to create a class for?
Chase: We listen to our community. We ask them and they tell us. There’s search volume. There are popular topics. There are trending topics.
Andrew: On your site?
Chase: On our site and just on the internet at large. Inclusive design is very popular. How do we design products that anyone can use regardless of ability or disability or how can we–like design thinking, photograph is obviously massively popular with these devices that we all have in our pockets, phones. We listen to the marketplace and we listen to our community and we build classes around those needs.
Andrew: What’s the one that’s done the best?
Chase: Wow. I don’t know off the top of my head, but we’ve had several.
Andrew: What’s one or two that have been at the top five?
Chase: There’s a portrait photography workshop with a woman named Sue Bryce, which is very good. There are numerous classes from people like I already cited Tim Ferriss. A lot of them are–you mentioned Ramit Sethi, some folks who not only are they world class, have their own sort of identity that they wanted to bring to CreativeLive with other top talent–that’s the thing. When you have a curated world like we do, as a student at CreativeLive, you know that you trust that we have done the work to vet the people to make them super high quality.
It’s that trust that begets trust not just on the student side, but also on the instructor side. That’s how we have people like Mark Cuban, Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington. If you want to learn entrepreneurship, those are some pretty good names. I think. They want to go where they are curated amongst other people held in high esteem and also at a company that will do their best to make them look their best and produce the best work.
Andrew: I didn’t realize Mark Cuban taught. How did you get Mark Cuban?
Chase: I don’t know. Mark is a mutual friend from way back. The folks that are folks like Richard Branson and Mark Cuban, their version of teaching is it’s more important for them to get their ideas out, so it’s more a casual conversation where they’re looking into the camera. They’re talking to me on the couch and saying, “Don’t do this, do this. If anyone tells you to do this. . .”
Andrew: It is more of an interview at that point, right?
Chase: Yeah. Again, we also try and–we believe that while video instruction classes are the primary vehicle for knowledge at CreativeLive, we also have more than 3,000 articles on our blog. So, you can learn from a written blog post. We take our social really seriously and try and put a lot of value there. There are classes. There’s podcasts. My Chase Jarvis Live podcast is on the CreativeLive Network. We also have another one called Pursuit Profit Power. That’s hosted by a woman named Tara Gentile.
So we look at that whole world as a learning ecosystem. So class is the primary consumption vehicle, but it’s not the only one. We try and fill that pipeline with those top quality folks. In Cuban’s class, yeah, you get Cuban for 90 minutes, that’s a lot of information from someone who’s sold his third company for $5.5 million at age 39 or something.
Andrew: I was looking to see where you got your traffic. As I mentioned earlier, I use SimilarWeb to see how much traffic people have, but also where they get it. ShareASale is a big one for you. On your homepage on the very bottom, I see a link to an affiliate program. How much of your customers, what percentage are coming from something like ShareASale, which is an affiliate program?
Chase: Got it. I don’t know the answer to that. That’s the woman who runs marketing here is a woman named Jill Callan who’s incredible. But I know that an affiliate, the affiliate channel is something that it’s reasonably new for us and we were finding a lot of growth there and the folks that like what we’re making at CreativeLive. I think there’s a reasonable vetting process so that we’re not getting spammy people out there. But I know that’s a growing channel for us.
I think the fact that CreativeLive has people who endemically have built followings on the back of their world class work, I think that’s a really key part of helping CreativeLive grow and be successful. The nature of live classes when people are tweeting about it and using our chat feature to share with other people, I think the virality of just really high quality content is also an important part of it. We’ve recently experimented and been successful with some of the Facebook paid marketing. It’s a pretty multi-channel strategy. It’s I’m guessing maybe 20 people who go to work every day and think about marketing CreativeLive.
Chase: Yeah. We’re north of 100 people now. We’re 115 people or something like that.
Andrew: How do you manage? What’s the structure that allows you to manage so many people?
Chase: It’s a pretty classic management structure. I consider myself more of a leader than a manager, although I do have to manage the business, and ultimately my head rolls if it doesn’t go well. But surround one another here at CreativeLive with people–there are so many things you can’t choose. You can’t choose the weather. It’s pouring rain in San Francisco today. You can’t choose the market conditions.
But you can choose by in large who you work with, who you hire. I think we make great hiring choices. In that case, I’ve surrounded myself with amazing operators. I’m more of a leader than a manager, so I focus on doing those things. There were definite times–
Andrew: What’s the difference? How do you lead versus manage?
Chase: I think leadership, it’s about setting vision and helping people understand where you’re all going about getting the right people on the boat, deciding where you’re going and making that very clear, getting the right people on the team and then motivating and aligning around common goals and a bigger mission and making that super clear, relating to not just your community but to other people in the marketplace.
Andrew: When you say using goals, technically, how do you communicate the goals to everyone on the team? How do you make sure they all know what you’re doing?
Chase: I love your obsession over this question. It’s something I have learned is critical in an organization, especially north of about 30 people. You can’t stand in the middle of the room, see everybody and tell everybody what you’re doing, communications and structure becomes really interesting. We have a reasonably traditional structure and I have a COO and he operates a large part of the business, some marketing executives, but the idea of having very, very clear goals.
It’s my mandate that everybody who comes to work understands what part of the business they’re contributing to and what success looks like. We do that through just the traditional management structure where the leadership, we have a lot of off sites we care about clarity and goal setting and we say who we are and what we want to do and we have core values that are very, very clear. They’re not just some bullshit that’s written on the wall. We make decisions with those core values, like creativity, access, and we make decisions.
Does this support what we want to be as a company? We make sure that the whole company knows those. We have regular all hands meetings where we’re in two locations, San Francisco and Seattle and we have the technology to connect us so we can all feel like we’re in one big room. There are all these different mechanisms. But the point is and I think to underscore your question, the answer to your question is we take real effort and pride in making sure that people know what it is we’re asking of them and not just the what but the why. Why do we care? Why is this important?
Andrew: Why? Why is CreativeLive important?
Chase: Because we help people live their dreams. To call it a learning site, it with misses the point because there are so many people–I have lived the trajectory of pursuing somebody else’s dreams because that’s what I was told to do.
What we help people do is unlock the realization that the world will be a better place for you and everyone around you if you actually follow your calling in life and learn how to understand the things that are true to you and not and then give you the skills, give you the inspiration, give you world class advice on how to learn those things, whether it’s career, hobby or just life in general.
I think we help people live their dreams and that’s why it’s very sticky. We have insane engagement. It’s off the charts. As I mentioned earlier, 10 million students, we reach every country on the planet. You don’t actually–that’s what I love about it is you don’t actually get that unless you’re adding real value. I think the term double bottom line is how we track how many minutes are consumed on our platform.
If people are leaning in and we’re creating value, then the consumption meter is ticking. If for some reason something we’re doing is not, it’s slower than we want. I think we do a good job of listening. I also, fair to say, I think we’re just getting started. We’re five or six years in now and for everything we’ve done right, I’m sure there are plenty of things we’ve done wrong.
Andrew: How are you doing with this? The fact that now you’re back in the CEO role. You travel like a mad man, at least you have historically. How does it feel to be the guy who has to be there all the time and run the company all the time?
Chase: I think being there all the time is not accurate because being there is, again, being my best self. That’s what the company wants me to do in the same way I want the person who’s running paid marketing or brand marketing or the developer working on our app–we all want to bring the gifts that we have to the table. So, for me, there are elements, but I also have a great operational partner. I’ve learned so much from him. It’s not just me. It’s super critical.
There are 100+ people who go to work every day that are super, super committed to making CreativeLive awesome. I think you have a mission and vision led company where people are excited to go to work every day and pour their heart into the product because we get these student stories of people’s lives being transformed. We spend real time capturing those stories and sharing them not just with our community, we talk at every single all hands meeting, we tell stories about our students who have achieved great success or come from a hard place.
It’s not just about money success, it’s about personal transformation. I lost a ton of weight. I helped connect with my autistic son. I was able to quit my job as an accountant and become a designer. These are just inspirational human stories, so the fact that we have people who can come to work and do those things, things that are not just adding money to their bank account, but adding value to the world.
The culture of that, I think it creates a place that’s nice to work. My role is, as I said earlier, setting sort of the vision and the mission, rallying people, making sure we have the right people on the boat. That’s what team is. It’s a system set of people who we all rely and trust on one another to deliver the things we’ve said we’re going to deliver.
It’s weird. I’m not going to lie to you. Prior to CreativeLive, the biggest company I’ve managed is maybe 15 or 20 people. It’s been a humbling experience. I’ve learned a lot in the process, especially from the thing that I think is exciting for me personally is that value for me and inspiration for me has come from every quarter.
The PA who might be one of the lower paid people from the company could be insanely inspirational and I can learn a lot from there or the developer that I mentioned who’s maybe working on our iPhone app. There’s endless inspiration when you do a good job of picking people you go to work with every day. It ain’t easy.
Andrew: Thanks for doing it. By the way, you do sound a lot better with the earphones. I’ve been looking at a lot of photos of you. You’re wearing earphones a lot. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve switched over to the wireless, these things are freaking so good.
Chase: I’ve heard they’re good. I was in New York last week. I dropped my phone, smashed the case. I was like, “Man, this would be a great time for me to pick up some Air Pods.” Of course, like most great Apple stuff, they’re sold out.
Andrew: For weeks and months. The only thing is they look really weird, but I figure if you’re wearing them, you’ll help validate them, make them look better and then if enough people wear them, they won’t look so doofy on me, but man, they’re good.
Chase: I heard. So that’s another ringing endorsement. I trust your opinion. I’m on it.
Andrew: Cool. All right. Thanks so much for doing this. The website, of course, it’s CreativeLive. We’ve been talking about it. And the two sponsors are the company that will help you hire your next great developer, Toptal, and the company that will help schedule meetings, get you in front of people like Chase Jarvis. It’s called Acuity Scheduling. I’m grateful to them for sponsoring. Thanks for you for being here, Chase. I can’t stop snapping this. Thanks, Chase.
Chase: Andrew, can I hijack your show for a second?
Andrew: Yeah, hit it.
Chase: I think you’ve done an amazing job over a long period of time interviewing a lot of people. I think one of the most undervalued and under-discussed things in the world of starting your own business, being an entrepreneur, solopreneur, whatever prefix you want to put on it. I think grit and tenacity and stamina are underrepresented in that conversation. I think you’ve done a killer job of embodying that. Congratulations on the show and I’m honored to be a part of it.
Andrew: Thanks for being here. Thank you. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, everyone.