The profitable business model you’ve never heard of

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I can’t believe that today’s founder created a company that’s in my world, in my space, and I didn’t know it existed.

It’s a fantastically successful company with a model that just makes sense. How did I not know that it existed and how could so many of these businesses exist?

Shawn Rubel is the founder of Vecteezy, a freemium marketplace for photos and textures, vector illustrations, and high-quality video footage.

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Shawn Rubel

Shawn Rubel

Vecteezy

Shawn Rubel is the founder of Vecteezy, premium photos and textures, vector illustrations, and high-quality video footage.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of mixer. Do you want to interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses? And I can’t believe that today’s founder created a company that’s in my world, in my space. I didn’t know it existed. And here’s the thing that just blows my mind about, about the power of internet companies.

It’s a fantastically successful company with a model that just makes sense in a business. That’s just, it’s clear. How did I not know that it existed and how could so many of these business exists? And it’s kind of inspiring to know that this is possible. All right, Sean ruble is founder of Vecteezy.

It’s a freemium marketplace for creatives, where they offer stock photos, vector graphics, and stock video footage. Um, doesn’t, he didn’t think of himself as a, as an entrepreneur. He’s someone who thought of himself as more of a creative type. He got into the business side of, of the internet business kind of loved it and then created this business.

And the model just makes so much sense. Sean, tell me if this is the way it works. I run a lot. So I run, imagine on the, uh, golden gate bridge, I will often take, uh, my GoPro with me. Actually. I use the DJI Osmo, which I like the action camera and I’ll shoot video. And sometimes when I’m running on the golden gate bridge, I feel like if I’m shooting video, I kind of want a wide shot of the golden gate bridge to show where I am.

And then to show how I’m on it. Taking a wide shot. I don’t have the patience for that. I’m not getting a helicopter. I’m not getting a drone. They actually don’t want it. But if I go on bet easy, I can just download that. I can use it for free as long as I give attribution. And if I don’t want to give attribution, I can pay for it.

Right,

Shawn: Yep. That’s exactly right.

Yeah. We have a lot of video content on the site and a lot of times people need that content that they don’t have. You know, they don’t have a drone, they’re not in San Francisco, but they actually need a shot at the golden gate bridge. Um, you know, there there’s a million use cases for stock video footage, um, and we’re there to provide it, you know, whether it’s it’s paid or free we’ve, we’ve got a lot of it and it’s, uh, actively growing.

Um, like, you know, category in our marketplace.

Andrew: On the flip side, I saw someone took a video of people just walking on the golden gate bridge. I don’t like that video, but I could see how that would be helpful. I have my camera with me. I could shoot video for five minutes. Actually. It’s like 90 seconds is almost people need of the golden gate bridge of pedestrians walking, uploaded to the store.

And if I’m selected as a creative and somebody, actually, if I’m selected as a creative, I could get paid. How do I get paid? Do I get paid when someone used it for freemium?

Shawn: Yeah. So that’s how we’re a little unique is that we pay out both on free and pro content. So if you, um, if you share your content for free. Uh, we ended up paying a split of the revenue that we make from that through advertising. So we have a pretty basic model of, Hey, we know approximately how much we’re earning and we just split that 50 50, um, with the, uh, the contributors who are sharing that content.

Uh, it’s a. It’s a high volume game, right? So you have to have really good content that gets a massive amount of downloads, uh, to make any, you know, significant revenue, um, uh, that you’d be interested in. But on the flip side, if you want to give it away in our pro collection, kind of locked behind a paywall, um, you get paid a much higher share because we’re splitting that revenue that we’ve received from the buyer.

Um, so.

Andrew: because there is a free model where people have to give attribution and the PO pro model where they don’t give attribution and where there’s a bigger collection of video files straight up marketplace makes a ton of sense. I actually see, I have to be honest with you. I have ad blockers on, I do see, uh, the ad up on the site right now.

Shawn: Sorry.

Andrew: It kind of feels like as part of the video. And even if I didn’t have ad blockers on, I don’t know that I would feel that it was, oh no, they’re there. This banner that I would note, I noticed, okay, I get the model. The business is doing fantastically. Well, I invited you here, Sean, to talk about how you did it.

I should say that this interview is sponsored by two companies. One SEMrush. You said they use it. I’m curious about how we’ll talk about that later. And I should tell people if they want to use it for free, they could go to SEM, rush.com/mixergy. If you’re doing content online, you need it. And number two, it’s a HostGator.

If you need a good hosting company, You should go to hostgator.com/mixergy. Sean, I’m gonna ask you a question that you’re not gonna give me the answer to, but we’ll talk about it. Revenue. Where are you right now?

Shawn: Yeah. So we, uh, haven’t shared that number. Uh, we keep that pretty close wraps. I said at the time, uh, when you and I were talking before I, my personality is that I like to fly under the radar a little bit. Um, just doing this podcast is, is getting me really out of my shell, but,

Andrew: I’m glad you’re getting out. I got to tell you, this is a re forget about like w vanity and people knowing you. And it’s great for us. Yo, we’re going to link to you and all that. I think that that as a business owner, you should have people talking about you so that we know that it exists or that we’re talking about it as a resource.

So that if I’m looking for a photo from my site, I know about that these needed to be able to use it. All right. But you’re not going to give us your revenue. You’re not comfortable with it. Give me a ballpark. Give me.

Shawn: Yeah. We’re, I’ll give you a large range. So we’re between an eight figure and a nine figure company. So how does that sound for it? Right.

Andrew: Okay close. Are you close to a nine figure? Meaning close to a hundred million in sales?

Shawn: we’re now we’re on the low end of that

Andrew: low ended at okay. But over a well over 10 million.

Shawn: Um, I’ll defer to not answer that question. And the reason why is, you know, we’re, we’re privately held on the majority shareholder of the company. I’ve got two partners with me as well, but, um, we have, so we have large advertisers that know. Uh, what they’re doing with us.

And then we’ve got other, other folks who know what our subscription side of the businesses, and we’ve never given them the final piece of the puzzle, where everybody can tie everything together and, uh, understand what one side of the business is making versus the other side of the business. So.

Andrew: And why would you want to keep that private from them?

Shawn: We have been, um, well, one interesting thing is, you know, you had mentioned Unsplash earlier this year, uh, they sold to Getty images, Getty images as a partner of ours.

Um, they’ve been fantastic. They’ve been a great partner and it’s, we are one of the final holdouts. So in this kind of free freemium space, there’s not many other, um, freemium marketplaces out there that are independently owned. Like we are. So we do get a lot of people knocking. A lot of people kicking the tires.

A lot of people just, you know, feeling around, trying to figure out how big we are. So, um, again, we’re, it’s, it’s one of those things where we just we’re. We want to be careful to give, give too many pieces of the puzzle publicly to let everybody start connecting dots, uh, until

Andrew: of awkward.

Shawn: for those dots to be

Andrew: You’re saying Getty is a partner of yours and a competitor of yours. You’re not looking to give them every piece of the puzzle and still hope that you’re going to have a good relationship with them, or you’re

Shawn: Yeah. I mean, Getty is on the high end. Right. Um, and they, for know, for years they’ve been known as this premium brand of imagery. Uh, well, they just went and bought Unsplash, which is more in our territory. Obviously we’re in vectors, we’re in video as well, but I have no doubt that Unsplash will probably be moving towards that direction as well.

So, um, and they’re, they get way more traffic than we do. So they’re, they’re very large,

Andrew: What’s the deal with the investors. I want to get into the business, but it seems that you took angel investors, but you somehow paid them off. You needn’t.

Shawn: we borrowed money, so we never actually took angel invest. It was a pretty easy math equation. So, um, back in the day we went, we decided, Hey, there’s a whole bunch of small vector sites out there that we want. We, we think there’s a good opportunity for us to go after. So, uh, we just went to friends and family and borrowed money.

Um, it was a very easy math equation for us. Cause I could see the relationships I had. I could see the traffic I had. it.

was literally the exact same and I could do some simple math to say. We can just get our hands on these sites. We can double triple

Andrew: All right, we’re going to get into that. This is you saying I need money to buy other sites. I know how much money we can make with those sites. Lend me the money. We’ll make the money. We’ll make the profits and I’ll give it back to you. Got it. I’m blown away by a few things with your story. One is that you didn’t realize how successful this business was, even when it was really growing rapidly.

The other one you said to our producer, Ari, just our Mo you said w I was just too distracted with all these other things. Partially. Maybe you didn’t realize how big it was. Let’s get to how, how you came up with this idea. You are a guy said that you were, um, you thought of yourself as a graphic designer, right?

And meanwhile at some point, but I guess you were also reading tech crunch all the time, looking for, what were you just like getting into this new atmosphere? Or why were you reading tech crunch?

Shawn: You know, uh, I don’t know. I know the answer to that question. Uh, it was something that I was fascinated with. You know, this is probably 2005, 2006. I’m early in my career as a graphic designer, I was working for a startup, a web development startup, and I could immediately see that I was just a very small piece.

Of the larger machine that operates. Right. And, uh, that really interested me and I wanted to be part of the larger machine, but I thought, well, I’m just a graphic designer, right. It’s just a small piece. So I, you know, I probably had the entrepreneurial bug and the entrepreneurial spirit from a very early age.

And I immediately realized I was just kind of in this box and I wanted to break out of it. So I started to kind of expand my interests into internet marketing and things like that. Um,

you know,

Andrew: for side hustles,

Shawn: Yeah,

Andrew: it was what was one of the side hustles that you had when you were a graphic designer, trying to dip your toe in this.

Shawn: well, it, the first, my first attempt at a side hustle was brushed easy and it, it worked right. Like I’ve stumbled across this idea that just

Andrew: let’s let’s pause. Then at that point, had you already picked up your job at camping world and started do affiliate marketing. You had

Shawn: Yeah. So. Yeah. So let me think back for a second. I worked two years as a graphic designer for a startup, and then went to camping world as a marketer, uh, as a marketing job.

Andrew: This is you saying, I, I see some of the business side of this internet business stuff. I’m reading tech crunch. I I’m feeling some of this I want in it. And so you, you took a scary step, as you said, and you became someone on the marketing side of camping world. And what did you learn? And this is before brushy, which are the precursor to Yvette DZ.

Shawn: Yeah. So when I got that job, I kind of freaked out because I realized I was going from looking at color and shape and form all day to just, I was in a cubicle farm, staring at spreadsheets and numbers, and I was not a numbers guy. So, um, I needed this kind of creative outlet. So literally from like the first week I started at camping world, I’d come home at night and just tinker and Photoshop.

And, uh, design the product that I felt needed to exist. So I designed brushes in and launched it.

Andrew: What was the idea behind brush easy.

Shawn: it was really just a scratch, an itch of, let me try to build a thing that people can use and I can make a buck from, I was

Andrew: was brushes for Photoshop,

Shawn: Yeah. Photoshop, brushes.

Andrew: Photoshop brushes. You said, I, you said I personally need it, but more importantly, I need to find something to sell. If I know how to make these brushes, I could sell it. How, how did that business go?

Shawn: Yeah, it was really an advertising business, right. So I was thinking, what content are people looking for that I can rank at Google for and sell banners. So I was just trying to make, you know, 5,000, $500 a month in display

Andrew: free brushes, display banners. One of the things you told our producer was that you got into Facebook ads early and it was just like printing money.

Shawn: Yeah. So, so I started, um, so I had this website that just started getting traffic and I started exploring the idea of affiliate marketing. I was at camping world, the affiliate marketing manager. So the question you asked was what did, how did camping world allow me to kind of see this? It, it, what it did was it helped me, it allowed me to connect the dots and really understand how.

The affiliate space works, how affiliate marketing works. I’d be staring at spreadsheets where I could see, okay, we, we owe some affiliate $10,000. And I think, well, what do we owe this guy $10,000 for? And I realized, oh, he’s just got a banner. This one banner pays 10,000. And I say, oh, he gets a ton of traffic. Oh, this is a major company. And it just helped me kind of walk through that entire process. Um, so I started tinkering and affiliate marketing, and right around that time, Facebook headline. What they called flyers wasn’t even called advertising. They call it flyers. So I go through, I get my credit card out and I go through and, uh, build a few ads for some affiliate marketing company.

Back in the day, there was this company that was, um, uh, looking for high school athletes. So if you think back to the time, my space was still kind of a thing. And Facebook was up and coming and my space was on the way down. And there were all these other social networks popping up a lot of VC money.

Moving into this new opportunity. So there was a social network for high school athletes and they were paying like a dollar on an email summit. And I went through and like built a flyer on Facebook of like, Hey, are you a 16 year old or 18 year old, Uh,

football player in bowling green, Kentucky looking to get noticed by college recruiters. Just enter your email address and build your profile. And, you know, the first day I like maxed out my credit card. I spent like $500 and made like a thousand dollars. And I was like, oh man, this is there’s something here. So then I just went to town, building Facebook ads for years.

Andrew: When you were doing Facebook ads for years, why didn’t that distract you from creating something of more substance? There are a few people have gotten into the affiliate space and all they did was become these arbitragers and eventually all arbitragers go away and their business goes away and they don’t know how to do anything else.

How did you still get into selling brushes and other kinds?

Shawn: Well, I think at the core, I really enjoyed building things and I enjoy, uh, I realized that I needed an asset and I realized that, Hey, I am just a middleman. I am just an arbitrage. And this is great right now, but it’s going to go away. And for years I watched that go away. It took a while as big advertisements moved into Facebook.

So I knew that I really needed an asset to work on. So around that time I was trying to build other assets. I thought, oh, I’ll have to do is build a website and just traffic comes and I can start making money. So one thing I worked on was, uh, a Mar an RV. Marketplace. So I built a website called RV Zen.

It’s a, it doesn’t exist anymore, but the idea was you could just list your RV for sale and you pay $50 to list your RV for sale. And, uh, and it would be like this Craigslist for RVs. So I spent a ton of time, ton of resources building that and launched it. And, uh, I started getting orders coming in, just.

The first day there’s, you know, orders, $50 orders over and over and over again. And I was like, yes, this is great. I’m onto something. And then three days later, my phone starts ringing and uh, it’s like this little lady on the other end of the phone, she says, hi, I got A charge on my credit card for RVs Zen.

And I said, yeah, you’re selling an RV. And she says, Nope. And I was like, oh, what’s going on here? And I realized it was just fraud, just fraud, city

Andrew: They would check what were they doing?

Shawn: They were, they would upload a fake listing and pay for it on a stolen credit card, trying to get an interested buyer to apply to the ad, re replied to the ad and then essentially get a conversation going and get them to wire money.

Andrew: Uh, to try to buy this RV that doesn’t exist. So they were using a fake credit card with you to sell a CRA, a fake RV to someone else. Uh, wow.

Shawn: So that was just one example of a failed startup. So anyway, I tried to mitigate that and work on it, slammed my head against the wall for years, working on that marketplace and realized it’s I’m wasting my time when I’ve got this other business over here.

Andrew: Meanwhile, the brushes thing worked. What’s the most ridiculous side thing that you came up with.

Shawn: Uh, I tried to build an outdoor, uh, an outdoor like network called, uh, outdoors.

Andrew: Okay.

Shawn: a Z outdoors, Z Y. And, uh, I was trying to build like a, a blog network where I would have blogs about each type of outdoor. Uh, topic so kayaking and canoeing, and like Nate, you name it outdoor activity and that’s what outdoors he was going to be. And that was a complete disaster as well.

Andrew: Uh,

Shawn: It’s very hard to get traction.

If you go too broad, a it’s hard to get traction. And then there was a, another startup that popped up later for RV rentals called outdoorsy with an S a and that’s a very large business today. So

Andrew: That was somebody else’s business and you were just one letter away from it. And boy, that other concept makes a lot of sense. I didn’t realize that exists. Outdoorsy is a place where I can rent someone else’s camper kind of like, um, uh, Airbnb for.

Shawn: I believe it’s outdoorsy with an S yeah.

Andrew: Okay. Wow. All right. I see what you’re, what you were messing around with.

I see how all of this makes sense. I, I then see how you’re using a lot of what you learned at, on your job at camping world. And I could see how some of it made sense to copy, like what you were learning about advertising and others. Didn’t like jumping into all these different RV and camping websites at some point.

You showed somebody how you were doing with one of your sites. And they said, this is amazing. And when was this?

Shawn: So that was my boss, Neil Scott at camping world. Um, uh, he’s still in the RV space. You know, I, I would sit in his office and we’d talk about, you know, ideas and opportunities and things like that. And I told him about the brushes, the site that I built and, Uh,

at the time he was just like, oh, let’s, let’s cool.

And then like months later, he was like, Hey, how’s that little, that little brush website doing that you built. And I was like, I don’t know. Let’s look at it. And I pulled up Google analytics and it was getting like 8,000 visitors a day. And he was like, when did you launch this? And that was like a couple of months ago.

And he was like, getting. Eight 8,000 visitors a day. And that just seeing him kind of be surprised was kind of like the light bulb moment for me of like, oh, I’ve, I’ve actually got a thing here, but the problem I ran into and what that caused me, oh, all I have to do is build a thing. I didn’t realize I got lucky at the time.

Um, so that caused me to then go and build all these other startups failed years later. And what I really should have done is just focusing the one thing that was actually growing at the time and it.

probably could be much bigger.

Andrew: Why did that work so well, why, why were you able to get customer traffic over to the site?

Shawn: Um, you know, there. Today people call it people much smarter than me call it like a land and expand type business model where you give something away for free. This is where freemium comes from, and then you get them in, you monetize the free, but then you also try to get them to convert on a subscription.

So Spotify has a similar model, right? You can go and listen to the free music, you get served ads, um, but that they really want you in a subscription. So.

Andrew: So you’re saying in the beginning, but you didn’t have a subscription in the beginning. It seems like what you had was just free brushes at a time when it was hard to find there wasn’t one unit, one place where people can find a lot of them. And then how many did you have

Shawn: Oh, I, at the time there was, well, there was probably 10,000 or something like that. So I hustled for a long time

Andrew: ah, finding other people’s brushes or you didn’t make them all yourself.

Shawn: No, no, no, no. So it.

was, it.

was kind of like this, this thing where I’d reach out and say, Hey, love your brushes on your blog. Why don’t you share them over here and I’d feature you and they’d tell you like, yeah, sure.

Sounds good. So they would give me permission to just give them away. So, um, so we did that for a long time, so yeah. You know, the idea of free, I don’t, I don’t think there’s a huge market for Photoshop brushes. Uh, but there’s a lot of people looking for them or there was At the time, um,

Andrew: what point did you realize that you can sell it, that you can sell it on a premium.

Shawn: Um, I never realized I could actually sell it. I thought, you know what? I’m just gonna try. Uh, so, so,

Andrew: your experimentation.

Shawn: yeah, yeah. It’s always been one grand experiment, right? Like, Hey, let’s see if we can try this. Let’s see if we can try this. How should we sell it? Well, let’s package it up in a subscription. How would I, as a graphic designer, want to have access to this stuff?

So it’s always been one big experiment.

Andrew: You know what? So I’m looking at the internet archive. I see, uh, the 2007 version of the side. There are two things that stand out. Number one, it, the, the slogan underneath it is brush easy. It says stupid name. Cool brushes.

Shawn: Yeah. That just gives you an idea of how I thought about it at the time where I was like, this is, I literally don’t care about this. This is just one brand experiment.

Andrew: also feel like there’s been a part of you. That’s never loved the brand of the business. Like even today, you don’t love the name Vecteezy fully because it didn’t, it, it conjures up the image of vectors, the easy with the Z and the two ease is a little bit hard. All right. So I see that that’s a continuous thing that from the beginning, you hadn’t the model or the brand hadn’t fully sat with you.

The second thing I’m seeing is already you started expanding from there. It was. Brushes and patterns, even though the names seem to limit it to two brushes, you were starting to add these, these patterns on it.

Shawn: Yeah.

And from there, that’s where vectors came about, where I was like, well, if I, if I want a pattern and I actually want a vector pattern, What if I just spin up another website called , Hey, we’ve got a thing here. Then we just spin up a brand per content. That’s where videos he came from. So, um, what we realized years later as though that was, it was a lot of work and, and it was, yeah, you start having all these different brands on different domains.

And then now your marketing efforts are split three ways. Your hiring efforts are split three ways. Everything is split and.

Andrew: don’t know. So Sean, I’ve been thinking a lot about this with Mixergy. I started Mixergy with podcast interviews and then my vision had always been to grow into online courses. And I thought I’ll bring in the people who I interview, who are especially good at one thing and work with them to teach that thing.

Now we’ll make it a course available on Mixergy. I think in retrospect, I probably should have pushed that into its own domain that it feels like. People have a vision of what a site does. And it’s just that. And if you don’t give them a new name, they have a hard time connecting both things. Like if he, SPN does sports and video games or sports and further off cartoons, you don’t fully understand it.

Shawn: Yeah. it.

all depends right on the brand and how you market it and how you position your brand and all that. So it’s a hard thing to tackle like video easy. I love because it literally is video. Right? I don’t love videos on VEC DZ. If it’s easy. Well, what is it easy? Right? Well, it’s just a generic brand.

Right? What does it Etsy? What is a lot of these, these small brands, um, and then you start crafting the idea of, Okay.

this is everything. This is everything creative you need. So yeah, it’s a, it’s a gamble we’re taking, right? Like, I don’t know if it’s the right move, but from an engineering standpoint in front, A growth standpoint, it’s much easier to be laser focused on a single thing, as opposed to for years, we struggled with just being spread out across all these different brands.

Um, you know, it’s three X the work, so, um, we’ll get there. It’s um, it could be the wrong move. It could be the right move, but like I said, everything’s a one big experiment, so we’ll find out.

Andrew: I wonder what, like do, you’ve seen what Enbato does with their thing. It used to be ThemeForest and this and that. And now it seems like everything. Feeds into actually, it’s still confusing. It seems like I’m uninvited market. But if I look at the domain, it’s on themeforest.net. If I go to enbato.com, I don’t, I don’t know what I’m supposed to see.

So maybe they’ve also struggled

Shawn: talked with call us the founder over there as well. And they’d struggle with the same thing. Right? They, they built out this, uh, ecosystem of marketplaces all with a different brand, but at some point you realize. a bad move and you’ve got to, and you really want to refocus. So they’re refocusing on elements.

We’d consider them a competitor. Uh, they do a fantastic job and, um, you know, they’ve got a lot more content than we do right now, but ours is coming pretty

Andrew: I guess I think of them so differently. Maybe because themes are such a big part of their history. I only think of them for themes and maybe, maybe that is an issue with it.

Shawn: Yeah. They built, they built their brand off the back of themes. I remember talking to call us. When he was getting ready to launch that. Uh, and I thought, oh, it seems, why is he, why is he getting into that? And sure enough, it was quite the bet. It was a great move.

Andrew: So the experiment that experiment didn’t well, some of the experiments didn’t work out full sites had to go, some did work out going premium. Do you remember the first time that you added premium?

Shawn: I do.

Andrew: what was that first version looking like?

Shawn: Yeah. So we rolled it out on Vecteezy to start with. That’s where the traffic was and that’s where it stopped. The opportunity was. And it’s, it was a slow rollout, right? Like, um, when you have a price point as low as ours, uh, some people, a lot of people connected. With the value they’re getting of, oh, it’s cheap and there’s not much here, so I’m not going to pay that much.

So our whole mission of active the whole time has been to pack as much value as we can into this $14 a month subscription, just like a Netflix, right. They’re creating content, producing content, trying to make it as value as possible. So you literally never want to unsubscribe. So. When we first launched.

Yeah, you, you get subscribers sign up, but, um, we didn’t know how to market it. Right. We didn’t know how to, you know, adjust our product and craft our product to lead people into the subscription. So it’s, it’s been a learning experience the whole time and I would argue we’re still not great at it. And we’re still constantly talking as a team.

Hey, we should be doing this over here. We should be doing this over here. We got a lot of drop-off over here. So.

Andrew: a bigger part of your revenue then advertising, but you don’t even want to say, say

Shawn: yeah. Uh, don’t want to talk about that. specifically, but, uh, it is the fastest growing piece of our business and it’s what a huge part of our focus is on right now. So it’s, it’s growing, uh, very, very quickly.

Andrew: The challenge with, with your site for a membership is you just get so much for free. I mean, even I discovered you because of this interview. And then I said, I would like for my, for my videos on running, for some reason I love shooting videos, my running I’d like to have some video to put up. I pay, I paid for audio.

I pay, I pay, I have a music subscription just so I can have music underneath some of my running. That’s not, uh, that, you know, that’s, that’s illegal. I said, well, I don’t mind giving attribution who cares? It’s just giving them a mention in my video. That’s fine. It just doesn’t seem like it’s worth paying

Shawn: yeah.

Andrew: so much for free.

Shawn: You know, every project is different. right, And I would probably argue that maybe you’re not, um,

Andrew: right.

Shawn: like our core customer. So in one of your, I was listening to one of your older interviews. I won’t name the name, but one of the entrepreneurs you, you had spoken with had tried to launch a free photo site or some sort of photo site, and you had asked, well, why didn’t you.

And his answer was, well, nobody wants to pay for photos, but that’s not exactly true because there’s major billion dollar companies, public companies that sell photos. Um, so people do want to pay for photos, but they’ll, they’re only willing to pay for the right photo, Right.

Like there’s a lot of free photos out there that are beautiful to look at.

And they’re very generic, but if you’re a graphic designer and you’ve got a client that says, I need you to build me this baseball web. And you need a photo of the perfect photo of the kid holding the baseball with his dad. Well, then you’re not going to find that for free anywhere. That’s a, that’s where stock agencies come in.

Um, and there’s a lot of specific need. So it’s, it’s really like the long tail. Uh, if you’re familiar, like the head head terms of like what you’re looking for. Uh, a generic, beautiful landscape image versus the long tail. You need a, a little girl playing baseball with her dad on it, blue sky background, Right.

Like it’s so specific to fit your need. You know, people are willing to pay a lot of money to get that photo. So it becomes a big data game, uh, uh, a search game. Like we’re essentially a search engine for images.

Andrew: And are you good now at predicting what people will pay for.

Shawn: no, not at all. We’re terrible, but we’re getting better and we’re working

Andrew: do you, what do you use to try to guess at it or try to get good at it?

Shawn: So we’ve got, um, we’ve got two guys we’d call them like, uh, our BI team that just sift through the data. Right? So basically we we’ve spent the past year hooking up those data pipelines, hooking up, we call it?

the plumbing and then you get these data scientists in there and they just start going through the data and, you know, finding opportunities.

Andrew: Search? Um,

Shawn: Yeah.

Andrew: Weird, which so, um, the, the reason that I lost you is I’ve been experimenting with, um, I’m now in Austin and. I’m working out of an Airbnb and I thought, how do I make this work? Well, I want to be challenged by the new environment, you know, and I, I put my computer far away from me, but I really wanted to have something that allows me to hit mute close to my phone.

And there’s a, what is that thing called? There’s a stream deck. But I didn’t want to have another device. That’s a stream deck. The stream deck is this the thing that gives you buttons that you can move anywhere. You want, you hit a button and it basically runs a macro, or it does it an action on software.

So I can’t get that. So there’s an, I just didn’t want to have another thing here. And, uh, I didn’t know if it would work. So I put stream deck, stream decks, iPhone app on my phone, and I could control zoom from my phone, which is now sitting right next to my hand. My computer. Anyway, further away. It’s not a hundred percent, but it’s still so fun to experiment.

It’s so fun to say, you know what? Everything is perfect, but I want to try a different way. Let’s let’s try this new stuff.

Shawn: And I really believe that’s how you identify the next opportunity, right? Like at the end of the day, You’re never going to find something new and interesting and different unless you’re sitting there rapidly testing and iterating over time. So, you know, that’s, that’s one kind of thing in our company too, is what it’s, it’s really, how fast can we rapidly test this new idea and get it out there and understand it.

Andrew: that. You talked to Ari disarm, our producer, you said that’s one of the challenges. How do I experiment enough that it’s meaningful, but in an organized way so that it doesn’t throw chaos into the company. And I imagine you want to think new, not just make constant marginal improvements on what you’re doing.

Right.

Shawn: Yeah, and it, it gets difficult because a lot of times you do a lot of work to get these tiny margins. And then you kind of have doubt of like, well, did we really increase conversion or 1%? Or was it noise? It’s a very hard game play. Um, and So then what you start doing is you’re looking for big swings, right?

Big wins, um, where you’re not just testing the copy on a page or the color of a button, you’re literally redesigning the entire thing. And then you’re testing. Bigger changes. And then you find one that wins and then you try to understand, okay, why did this win? Was it the copy? Was it the design? And I don’t claim to be a split testing expert.

Um, but it’s just one of those things that.

you’ve to be successful. You’ve got to have the Right.

framework set up to do that over and over and over again. So you get a million failures and then you end up finding the wins, um,

Andrew: Before you figured this out. What was what, what’s an example of how you were doing it wrong. You know what, let’s take a moment and pause, right? My first sponsor is SEMrush. You and I have talked about how traffic is important to you. You do a lot of good search engine optimization. You’re a customer of SEMrush.

Why do you SEMrush? What’s a good use for SEMrush.

Shawn: love SEMrush.

So we’re constantly looking at, um, you know, key pages, key categories on our website, understanding. Uh, what happens to those pages when we make changes organically? So we do a lot of rank tracking with SEMrush and it helps us understand, okay, where are we? Where are we showing up in Google search results?

And we made this change last month here. And I’ll look at here, they’re tracking our progress. Sometimes it goes the right way. Sometimes it goes the wrong way.

Andrew: Meaning, you might say it’s important for us to rank high for water photos, because a lot of people are looking for photos of water. You’ll you’ll check SEMrush to see where you’re ranking now make changes to the site. And if your ranking goes down, you realize the change you made is wrong. If it goes up it’s improved and that’s what you do.

Shawn: Yes. Uh, and that’s very hard. Uh, it’s a, it’s kind of a general like directional change. Um, it’s very hard to split test Google, organic SEO traffic, the feedback loop. So slow. Uh, so SEMrush kind of gives you a directional idea of how we’re doing. Uh, and then we’re constantly, you know, with competitor analysis and things like that, our industry is very competitive.

We want to make sure we’re, we’re tracking and watching all these other

Andrew: What can you see through search engine optimization tools like SEMrush that helps you understand what your competitors are doing? What are you looking at? What are you

Shawn: Uh, it’s called visibility is a key metric. So the idea of if they’re appearing in Google, they’re probably getting more traffic. So SEMrush has a great, uh, visibility chart. We, we keep tabs on. So you could look at visibility. You could look at all these other websites, visibility and get an idea. And the lay of the land of like, okay, this is the biggest, this is the smallest.

And here’s everything.

Andrew: In an overall space. And can you see what the biggest is doing well that you can learn from and add to your site?

Shawn: Sure. Yeah. I mean, it’s directional, right? So you can see, You can.

get a sense for size of, Hey, we think that right. Probably getting a million visitors a month. Okay.

Why are they getting a million visitors a month? And then you start peeling back the layers and figuring it

Andrew: it. I do love that. I can just get to dig in and dig in and understand what they’re doing and then see this stuff that stands out. Um, and the woman who introduced me to SEMrush, she started off just being a social media manager at a company and was, I think, competing with Michelin and they were doing well.

And they want, and she wanted to do social media better. And so she signed up for SEMrush and then through that she did better. And then she discovered SEO wasn’t as hard as she thought. And as she improved, do you do any of those other tools, the search engine marketing, the social media, or is it mostly SEO for you with them?

Shawn: Um, so we do have, uh, the marketing folks on the team. We have a small marketing team and we’re starting to get back into the social media game for years. We’ve kind of ignored it. Uh, and now, we’ve kind of realized, Hey, we need to be. On our game. So Instagram has been the first, uh, kind of social media platform that we’ve started to focus on.

Um, so, uh, really proud of the progress at the start of the year. We only had a couple of thousand followers on Instagram and we’re going to cross a hundred thousand before the end of the year. So the team is crushing it on Instagram at the moment. Um, that’s a very easy handle on Instagram. Yeah,

Andrew: Graham. All right. I should say anyone who wants to use it for free. Um, I’ve got, uh, I’ve got a discount code and a URL URL super long. They don’t usually do this, but they’re going to let you use it for free. And instead of you having to type in this long discount code, I created a redirect from my site to let you use it.

It’s available for a limited time. Every once in a while, they get to advertise with me. They bought actually 12 ads for this year. We run the ad, the free goes out and then they cancel it and then we’d run it again. So anyway, if you want to do a jump on it now, before it goes away or else you have to wait for me to randomly do it again next month, here’s the URL.

Go to mixergy.com. SEMrush mixergy.com, M I X E R G y.com/semrush, S SCM, M R U S H. When you do that, you’re going to get to use it for free for a limited time. Go right now. Oh, these images are good. Uh, oh, I see. It’s not just good images. It’s also for painful truth videographers deal with daily. And then you’ve got these things that we all relate to.

If we’re videographers, I see what you’re doing on Instagram. I mean, I’m seeing a little bit of it. Let’s uh, let’s go back then to, um, brushes you were starting to do well. And you were saying, I want to do more experiments and do it in a right way when you weren’t doing the right. Can you give me an example of a problem that you encountered?

Shawn: Yeah. I mean, there’s been problems. I mean, it’s, it’s just, uh, you know, running a business and trying to grow as you know, is just a rollercoaster of wins and losses

Andrew: about specifically with, um, With these experiments because your experiments have, have worked, but I could see that you were also all over the place at one point.

Shawn: Yeah. I mean, with the experiments specifically, you have way more win losses than you do wins, right? Like it’s a constant failure. So you just have to get used to failing and get good at failing as quickly as possible. Um, and you know, in terms of building the business, I can’t sit here and tell you, oh, we split, tested our way to success where we are right now.

Um, You know, in the early days the tech stack was terrible. We had to rebuild all that. Right. The engineering, there was no engineers, right? Like, and it wasn’t till Adam, our CTO came in and saved me and helped me build out a or he helped me build out a fantastic engineering team. So, um, it’s just, you know, it’s a little steps along the way, little decisions along the way to, to build a big foundation to then scale.

Andrew: Okay. All right. Let’s talk about the issue that you had with your site brush. Easy was hacked Mixergy in the early days was hacked. I got by Agra ads all over the site. People thought I was literally legitimately promoting Viagra.

Shawn: Yeah.

Andrew: What, what was yours?

Shawn: Okay.

So I’ll, I’ll go back and talk about the start of how the business started. Um, you know, I, I had made the decision, Hey, I want to, I want to have my on a website and I want to make some money. So I went on a site. back in the day where you went to hire programmers called SitePoint. And I found some sort of, uh, some programmer that said, sure, I can build that for you.

And I went back and forth with them and, uh, he built it in PHP.

Andrew: Okay.

Shawn: I said, Okay. I have the site program. I need somebody to host it. And I reached out to a friend of mine. He was a mutual friend at the time. And I said, Hey, I heard you’re into hosting websites. And he said, sure love to host it for you. So he hosted it and we started working together that way.

And one night I came home from work and pulled up the website to start working on it. And it redirected. To a very awful, awful website. The image is burned in my, to this day. Yes. But even worse than

Andrew: Oh, wow. Okay.

Shawn: like, yeah, it wasn’t just at all content. It was the most vulgar. Thing you can try to ever imagine. So, so I immediately freaked out and started messaging my programmer, who was asleep at the time.

Uh, he lived in Germany and, uh, I thought, uh, there’s been a terrible problem. We gotta fix this. So I don’t remember much about the next 24 hours other than the next day I talked to him and he said, Okay.

so I’ve spent the last 10 hours going through every folder on my server to make sure that there was no back doors to all my other clients’ websites.

And he said, Uh, I think we’re good, but he said, here’s the deal. I will not host this website for you anymore, unless you let me reprogram it. And I was like, sure, whatever you say, I just want it. I want the site back up. So he said, pay me some money. And I’ll reprogram for you this week. It was super simple.

And he, he recoded it in rails. Like one dot O rails had just come out, come out and he reprogrammed it. Um, and it turns out that he was a fantastic engineer. Uh, and I got to know him over the next couple years. We worked back and forth and I just became a client of his and I would say, Hey, let’s build this feature and he’d say, Okay.

here you go.

Here’s an invoice. And we just worked together that way. So, uh, so yeah, in the early days, um, that’s how I kind of built the site was with his help. And now he’s a senior engineer on our team, uh, and is one of our heavy lifters. So he’s fantastic.

Andrew: What did the site do in the beginning? When I look at it, it seems like it’s, it could have just been a WordPress site. In fact, I thought it was, uh, one of the, one of the blogging companies that was a precursor to WordPress. I thought it was, it was using that. What did it have that was so fancy that you needed?

Build your own site for

Shawn: Uh, literally nothing. Right. I literally just had upload a zip file and download a zip file. And that was

Andrew: just flat. HTML is what it had in the beginning.

Shawn: Yeah. It w I don’t know if it would be considered flashed TML, but it was a very basic, basic,

Andrew: Why didn’t you use WordPress or what was it live journal or any of those other things? Was it just that they weren’t considered back in

Shawn: I didn’t know any better. Right. So I had, I had this guy who I thought was a fantastic engineer, who said, Hey, let me rebuild this for you. And I said, okay. And I looked at the cost and said, yeah, that sounds good. So he custom built it. And it’s funny because over the years I’ve had all sorts of people would be like, why is your engineering team so big?

Um, you know, you’re just kind of giving away free downloads, but the reality is it’s so complex on the backend. I mean, there’s so much happening now.

Andrew: Now back then it was. Pages with ads on them today. There’s gotta be something that keeps track of who’s on the site of whose content is where. Okay. Got it.

Shawn: We’re tracking literally everything. So,

Andrew: okay. Brush easy was the first site Beck DZ became the second site. Right. And then where did you go from there?

Shawn: So when we launched VEC DZ again with the same programmer, um, I launched it and I had some content on there?

and, uh, on a Friday night, I’ll never forget. I submitted it to dig.com

Andrew: Uh, huh.

Shawn: and, uh, I woke up the next morning to just a stream of messages from my developer saying I’ve been trying to keep the site up all night.

It got on the homepage of dig and it was crashing our servers. So at the time there was no like cloud fire. There was nothing to like help manage load like that. So he sat there and managed load for hours while dig, just like crushed our site with track. And from that kind of tipping point. We got a ton of bookmarks, delicious was a thing back then we got a little bookmarking and coming back to us.

So I still talk to people today and they’re like, oh, you’re the VEC DZ guy. I love that site. I’ve been using it for years.

Andrew: And they found you on dig

Shawn: yeah. Yeah. That was a huge,

Andrew: did was huge. It was all for

Shawn: We went to number one,

Andrew: Sorry, you ranked number one on

Shawn: one on VIG for a weekend. Yeah. So it was a really big launching point for us.

Andrew: All right. And I could see how that would be a perfect audience for you. All right. The business is building up at some point, you started to tell us that you thought, I think there are other sites out there.

I think I could, I could buy them. What, you know, before we get into buying the other sites. Well, what point did you realize all the other sites you were building that are not one of these easy type sites you need to let go of them? When did you say I’ve got something here? I got to focus.

Shawn: Yeah. The, the, um, letting go of those other sites that were non easy branded was fairly easy. Um, we saw, we saw competition coming. And kind of, you know, doing what we were doing, doing it better than us. And that’s when I realized I was like, I need to focus.

or, or I’m going to get our lunch eaten here because these guys are doing it better.

Right. They’re doing it bigger. They’re doing it better off my idea. So, um, that was around the time when I was like, Okay.

I need to focus. And that’s when I got rid of all the other things. Uh, when I say junk, I mean, outdoor related sites and things like, um, in a different, totally different industry. And then, um, probably a few years ago we started having the conversation of like, Hey, what do we want to do with brushy easy?

Hey, what do we want to do with the VDC? Do we really want to build out this. Um, house of brands or just have like a branded house. And, you know, we made the decision to do the branded house, uh, and really make that, build that house as big as we can make it. So, um, it’s not unique. There’s a lot of companies doing that.

Um, and, uh, so yeah, it was probably a few years ago we started hiring people much smarter than me. Uh, the come in and ask questions, Hey, why are we doing this? And you’re like, oh, good question. Let’s talk.

Andrew: Why, why didn’t you go with the eezy name instead of  Vecteezy? It seems like easy encompasses all the other sites. Brushy easy theme, easy videos.

Shawn: Yeah.

So I touched on this at the beginning, but, uh, if you think about what what’s required, um, we’ve, we would take four domains and merge them into a single domain. Uh, very scary from an SEO standpoint. So if we screw that up and traffic goes like, We’re in trouble. So, um, we’ve kind of moved towards that.

Um, but we haven’t like pulled the trigger on really diving in yet, but we’re heading in that

Andrew: It meaning the easy domain will be the dome, the main domain, the

Shawn: W Z Y what do you think? Do you think that’s a better brand?

Andrew: I do, I do. I’m a little concerned about people spelling it, like the word easy.

Shawn: Yes. Yep.

Andrew: And I feel like as long as now, you’re rebranding. Maybe now’s the time to come up with your own name. That’s not as confusing and start from scratch, but.

Shawn: Yeah. If you can remember devily, uh, that, that helps.

Andrew: easy. Why? Yeah.

Shawn: But, uh, but Yeah.

I mean, It’s all, they’re valid concerns and things. We don’t know how to tackle yet. So, um, we’re watching other brands, there’s other brands in our space. Uh, there’s one specifically that’s actually in our space. So that merged four sets into one and we’re watching them pretty closely to see what happened and, um, you know, TransferWise.

Rebranded to wise, um, Angie’s list rebranded to Angie, right? Like they, so there there’s all these little things that happened over the years and it becomes an evolution of the brand and as

Andrew: really challenging. Yeah. You know, frankly, Mixergy is not the best name. I just started with these mixers that had synergy and call the mixer. Jian.

Shawn: great. Yeah.

You don’t want to change for no reason. Right. And, and the reason is that right now we still experience a lot of people where they think, oh, vector is, he still has all this other content. I thought you were just vectors. So if you, if you create a hard stop on say, Hey, we’re not VEC DZ anymore.

We’re easy. And here’s why, and we tell a story around that. Um, it could resonate with customers a little more.

Andrew: Whatever was easy.com. Like the word these domains are such easy as not even a great domain, easy the portal home of easy family of brands, the fullest of businesses with easy family brands. Oh right. The jet easy. Yeah, easy jet, easy card. They’re not letting go of this. Those, those people are, even though they have horribly out of date site, it’s like these people.

Shawn: Envato used to be, um, eden.cc back in the day when they first

Andrew: Oh really? Yeah.

Shawn: Yeah.

they’ve gone through multiple, um, rebrands over the course of their years. So, you know, it becomes a natural evolution of the brand over time. And then the trick becomes okay, can we make sure customers realize this?

Can we make sure Google realizes this and Google sees the switch and directs everything the Right.

way. So it’s a very challenging, very scary. Uh, we’re not there yet, but that’s the direction.

Andrew: Where’d you find the site. So you just said, I see that my model, my model is I put out free content, people see ads. I know how much I’m making from that. There’s a, and other people are doing the same thing. I know how much I could make off of their content because it’s so similar to mine. And on top of that, we have a bonus that they don’t have, which is membership right now.

Let’s see if we can go and buy other sites. Well, how many years ago was that?

Shawn: Five or six?

We started buying them sites. We probably bought four or five home.

Andrew: What’s an example of one. The first one, maybe we can talk

Shawn: Uh, well, free vector.com would be an example of a site we own. So it, you know, it’s, it’s, uh, it’s an exact match of what we do. Right. We wanted it, we wanted it, we wanted to own it. So, um, it’s just the idea of, you know, there’s a lot of these other smaller players in the space that we’re we’re we felt it was an opportunity.

So we went and borrowed the money, borrowed a couple million dollars and bought it up and paid it off fairly quickly just

Andrew: How’d you end up with a couple of, with friends with a couple of million dollars. So you told us a little bit about your background. Your dad was an entrepreneur, but not like a.com type entrepreneur. What was he doing?

Shawn: Uh, my dad was a contractor, uh, you know, renovations, repairs, additions, things like that. So yeah, the story was that it was just me and I was, you know, my partner now, our CTO or our CFO, Richard, he’s the numbers guy. He was just a friend of mine at the time and we would talk about it and I’d show him and he would say, well, why don’t you just go by him?

And I’d say, I don’t have that kind of money. Where would I get that kind of money? And he said, well, I get that money for you. I say, you can’t have. And he said, oh, he’s a, you know, I can just go talk to so-and-so or talk to so-and-so, you know, he’s got

Andrew: Mike, he had specific people who he knew who had done well, I’m imagining in the tech space.

Shawn: Yeah, yeah. In our, in our, you know, friends and family and church groups, things like that, folks that have been successful and they’re just looking for investments and get a return on their money.

So he said, oh, I could get that for you. And I said, how would you do that? And he said, well, I would go talk to so-and-so and I talked to so-and-so and then as long as we can give them X rate of return, I bet they would trust us enough to give us that money and we’d pay it back. But he was like, by the way, like, you got to believe in this because you’re selling your house.

If this thing doesn’t work. Right. So,

Andrew: Cause you’re personally guaranteeing it.

Shawn: Oh, yeah. Yeah,

Andrew: Well, what about your partners where they also personally guarantee.

Shawn: So Richard and I formed a new, a new partnership, uh, together to go do this, this venture of the business. And then, yeah, I personally guaranteed my percentage of ownership. So, so yeah, it was a big risk, but we, it was like a no brainer to like looking at it.

Like it was easy to make those, do the math and realize, Hey, we can make X, assuming we don’t run this thing into the ground over the next couple of years. So.

Andrew: Wow. How long did it take you to pay.

Shawn: Two and a half, maybe three years max. So that’s a pretty good ROI on an investment like that.

Andrew: good. How’d you find a free vector. You just saw that they were online and started talking to the founder.

Shawn: Yup. Yup. You just send an email and you start talking to them. Hey, are you interested? And it just so happened that, um, that he wasn’t interested. And then, uh, you know, others took a little convincing, uh, but you

Andrew: Do you start off with, I’m starting to buy companies like yours I’m in this space. Would you be interested? You do just start right off.

Shawn: Yep. Yep. Yeah. Introduce, tell them who you are. Um, and then, you know, the, the free vector guy specifically, uh, he’s still out there hustling, you know, building, building other websites.

Uh, he reached out to me once in a while his name’s Daniel and we talk quite a bit. Um, but yeah. But yeah, it’s, you know, everybody’s different if somebody doesn’t want to sell or, um, uh, you know, they’re really interested in selling you, you, you learn that pretty quickly just in the first few conversations.

Um, and a lot of them, people say, no, not interested. And that’s all you get is one email. And then depending on how bad do you want to buy them? You, you know, you keep going after it. You say, well, let’s talk about it. Why, why do you not want to

Andrew: Huh.

Shawn: You know? And there’s all the objection handling and sales is, is a whole art.

Andrew: to selling.

Shawn: Um, well, my objection to selling.

is I see a huge opportunity to grow this right?

Andrew: what is there is when you’re talking to people who are potential

Shawn: um, there there’s a lot of people run around on the internet wanting to buy stuff. Right. So a lot of times it’s a trust thing of like, who who’s this Gmail address. They just reached out to me. Why there, why do they want to buy my thing?

I don’t, I can’t figure out who this person is

Andrew: And is he just trying to spy on me? Is Sean just trying to see what our numbers are? Was that a concern? Okay.

Shawn: I get people reaching out to me all the time. They’re really just, I call them tire kickers. Right. They don’t really want to buy your business, but they tell you they do, but they’re really just trying to figure out, Hey, is this something we want to go build ourselves?

Just a couple months ago, large public company guy reached out to me and I thought, oh, this is interesting. And I talked to the guy and then I realized after a conversation, he’s just a junior and he’s just kicking the tires and he literally doesn’t even follow up after I sent him an email like there, they’re just trying to, they’re doing their own.

BizDev internally trying to understand, do research on other markets. So.

Andrew: I also feel like there’s a group of people who just do it to feel important.

Shawn: Maybe. So maybe so.

Andrew: maybe there by maybe not, uh,

Shawn: yeah, the guys that reached out to me, I, I get a lot of people that reach out and I can tell pretty quickly, Okay.

I probably should give this person my time there at a large public company. I can see who they are, what they’re doing, but then you talk to them a little more closely and realize they don’t really have a plan yet.

And they’re just. Looking at the industry, right. Like analyzing what, what they want to do next. So

Andrew: So, um, my second sponsor is HostGator. I know we’re close to finishing this, but I’m inspired by what you’ve done here. It seems like at least in the beginning stages, the model is very basic and easy to execute.

Shawn: Okay.

Andrew: A lot of you posting on people’s Facebook and other groups and telling them about this and getting booted off of those.

So I don’t mean to oversimplify, but I wonder if there’s a similar model that someone was listening to us and says, I’ve heard Andrew talk about host gate forever. I’ll go sign up for HostGator. I need an idea. What’s a good idea that you’re not going to pursue, that you can share right

Shawn: Sure. So, I mean, the basic concept of what I tried to do was just get eyeballs, right. Get eyeballs to sell advertising and. What I was trying to do at the time was get content that people wanted, which would then come to the site. And when I started the company, I was thinking, I’m not a writer, I’m not a podcast.

Or what, what type of content am I familiar with that people want? And the answer was graphics and Photoshop brushes. So for anyone, you know, wanting to spin something up, right, like give stuff away for free on the internet and it’s going to start. You know, it’s going to rank and it’s going to bring in eyeballs.

Um, if you build it right, if you have any sort of product traps to build, get something out there that the world wants, if you build a crappy product, people aren’t coming to

Andrew: trying to think of what’s still available right now for free that somebody could even aggregate there.

Shawn: Yeah. I’ve thought a lot about that too. I used to think about that back in the day when I was spinning up more easy sites. Uh, haven’t thought about it much anymore, but, um, you know, one thing is, you know, the concept of digital downloads, right? So anything. You have no cost of goods, right? Like you create it.

And you sell it over and over and over and over and over again. Um, that’s a fantastic thing. So, um, you know, I’ve, I’ve looked into house plans, you know, and things like

Andrew: Ah,

Shawn: architects or, you know, they’re doing a lot of work to create, um, you know, the layout of a house. But then you’ve got this, this valuable thing that people pay a lot of money for it and you can sell it over and over again.

Now that’s not a unique idea. There’s lots of people doing that, but that’s a, an idea, an idea of something you could do over and over again.

Andrew: You’ve kind of seen, uh, sites where they’ll teach you how to build a thing for your kids to play in, in the backyard. Those place structures seem, I guess, people are willing to pay for those plans,

Shawn: Sure. Yeah. plans,

um, you know, architectural drawings, things like that, where it’s, it’s clear that anybody can’t just spin one of these up themselves, right?

Like in marketing, you get a lot of eBooks, white papers, data, and things like that. And they use that for a lead gen source to, to, to bring in more customers.

So.

Andrew: Ooh. I wonder if like, you know how, when you set up a checklist to do something, it’s a pain in the butt, but once you have it, who cares if other people have it, is there like a marketplace of checklists of the, of like SLPs? Alright. I don’t know what it is, but I’m with you on this. It seems like almost the thing that we, that we struggled to create for ourselves that we’re done with afterwards.

That’s a thing that we should be thinking about. How do I, how do I make it available? I think about obviously for school papers, that was a thing early on in the internet because people spend a long time and then, okay. All right. Whether this idea sparks something in you or you’ve had something already in you, when you need a website, go to hostgator.com/mixergy.

When you do, you’re going to get their already low price. Great, dependable hosting service. And they’ll even cut it lower because you’re using my URL. And of course, uh, we stand behind you because if I’m recommending that you use them, I want to make sure that you have a good experience with them for ever go to hostgator.com/mixergy.

All right. Let me close out with this. Where are you taking this in the future? What’s your hope for the business? What’s your plan for the business?

Shawn: That’s a good question. We, um, I, I don’t think too far in the head, uh, ahead. As in years, I plan about one year at a time right now. Um, of course we have this three-year five-year 10-year vision, but it’s so far out that we don’t spend a ton of time. Working on that. We, we pretty much focus one year at a time and quarter to quarter.

Um, you know, the future of our business is we’re going to continue to grow. We’re going to continue to, to scale the team scale, our content, make our product better. And that’s what we’re focused on the short term, uh, going up market, see if we can, um, you know, figure out how we can, uh, build our product to be more useful for larger companies, right?

Enterprise customers, things like that. Um, there’s a lot of opportunity there in our space. So. You know, in the next year or two, that’s what we’re going to be pretty laser focused on is just improving the product over and over again.

Andrew: So it’s more that than saying what other things can we, what other digital downloads can we add

Shawn: Yeah. Expanding our content, offering, you know, breadth and

Andrew: you, will you think you might go into gifts for example, or, or other types of downloadables?

Shawn: Uh, we would go into things like, you know, 3d elements, right. Are a thing that people use, anything that a creative think graphic designer would want to use in a project. Right. So you’ve got icons, you’ve got 3d elements.

You’ve got, you know, um, uh, PNG images, you know, with transparent backup. There’s a million different things like that, that we could go after.

Andrew: All right. And you do every year, I imagining around new year, you sit down and you say what your goal is for the year.

Shawn: Yeah.

So we. We meet quarterly as a R you know, middle management team. We call it the rock habits team. We follow, uh, this book right here called scaling up lever and Harnish. I don’t know if you can see it. Um,

and you know, the meeting rhythms and cadences are all around quarterly planning and annual planning and then three to five year initiatives.

So we, uh, meet quarterly and talk about the concept of big rocks, right? If you’ve got your here, that analogy of like the teacher that stands up in front of a classroom. Okay.

kids. And he puts a bunch of big rocks in the jar and says, is the jar full? And they say, yeah, well then you put smaller rocks in the jar.

And it says this jar full now. And they say, Yeah.

and he put water and sand. And the concept there is that, what are the big rocks that have to go in the jar? Right? What are the big things we need to go work on to push the company forward? So we, we sit around each quarter and talk about that on a quarterly basis.

And then again, You know, like you said, in December, we start thinking, okay, what are the, what are the big rocks, big initiatives we’re gonna start working towards in the new year. Um, and then we planned it all out and then we just try to execute as best we can. And even after we plan it all out and think we’ve got this perfect plan, it never goes as, as planned, always gotta make adjustments on the fly.

So one of our core values is being nimble. So we try to be as nimble as we can and, and adjust accordingly.

Andrew: I’m glad you’re out there talking more about the business, by the way. I didn’t realize that, uh, Vern changed, I guess, scaling up is the new version of Rockefeller habits, like Rockefeller habits, 2.0, I didn’t realize that he’d done that,

Shawn: Yep. Yep. We call our group the rock habits group. So we’ve got, uh,

six, seven of us that meet and we internally we call it the rock habits group and we, there, there are directors, so executives and directors meet, and then we plan things out and talk about what we’re working on and then,

Andrew: yeah.

Shawn: uh, execute.

Andrew: Apparently not the only one who does that for the whole team. Vern is selling like a box of these books so that you can hand them out to the people on the team and I’ll work together. All right. Okay. But that’s in the new site that I discovered that now I’m digging. It’s, um, it’s very easy and I’m really especially excited about the video stuff.

I find that video is very hard to find online. That’s good stuff that you can use and it’s, it’s super helpful. Obviously. You’ve got good photos and you’ve got vectors and there’s so much more. And I appreciate you coming here and telling us about the business. It’s. Easy.com and I want to thank two sponsors who made this interview happen the first, if you need to do any online marketing, you should go get my free offer for SEMrush it’s available@mixergy.com slash SEM rush.

And if you need a website, go to hostgator.com/semrush. No hostgator.com/mixergy. What am I talking about? Sean? Thank you so much for being on here.

Shawn: Thanks for having me, Andrew.

Andrew: You bet. Bye bye. One.

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