Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses for an audience of real entrepreneurs. And today, for the first time, since I think Twitch TV launched, I’ve got a live audience who’s watching and hopefully will be participating with me the way that Chris Luck is, the way that Mary Katherine Johnson is, Emmanuel, and so many of you others, Greg O’Brian. So we’re recording this live. And this is an interview that I’ve been especially looking forward to because Joel Hooks is an Indie Hacker. Hey, Joel. Who decided that what he wanted to do was put coding lessons online for other developers to learn from.
And the way that he decided to do it was first by putting his business partners videos online, and then opening it up to other developers to record and teach on his platform. And then he started selling membership and splitting some of the revenue with teachers who are on his platform. And the reason I’m especially excited about that model is because it’s kind of similar to what I’ve done on Mixergy where I decided that we should have people teach here. But where he took it to the next level was he started opening it up to others to create content on his platform without him. I’m kind of like . . . I don’t know what it is, a micromanager. I’ve got problems letting go. You don’t. But you offer a lot more guidance than other platforms do and I want to talk to you about that. And I want to understand how he did this.
And I think anyone out there who’s teaching online and looking to sell memberships to it, really recurring monthly fees, could learn a lot from the way that Joel built up his model. It’s very much I’m building for you with you type of model where he shares a lot of the revenue from it. We’re going to find out how he did it. He is the founder of a site called Egghead. The website is egghead.io. It offers free and paid video tutorials for web developers. I found him on a website that I’ve been loving, Indie Hackers. And we can do this interview . . . Isn’t it a great site?
We could do this interview thanks to two phenomenal companies. The first will help you hire great developers and I’m sure their developers are viewers of your program, it’s called Toptal. And the second will help you hire . . . actually will help you host your website right, it’s called HostGator. What’s your revenue?
Joel: I think we’re right around a quarter million dollars a month.
Andrew: Quarter million a month.
Andrew: No outside funding, right?
Joel: No outside funding whatsoever, no loans, no debt. We’ve been profitable since day one. Like we’re truly bootstrapped and used training actually like doing live in-person training for corporations as a way to like fund the early days before the revenue increased to the point where we could sustain ourselves without doing that.
Andrew: And you’ve been doing this since when? 2013 if I remember it right?
Joel: Yeah, it’s just a little bit over five years. I’m actually like right now at my anniversary, like five-year anniversary of quitting my full time job to do this thing, which was . . .
Andrew: Wow. Wait, how much of the money that you bring in do you send out to teachers who are on your platform?
Joel: It’s that and payroll would be the biggest chunk. Like it’s significant. It’s somewhere in the 30% range I would say.
Andrew: I think the way you do it is you say we take 30% of our revenue and we divide it up by our course leaders based on how much based on the percentage of our content that they created that was viewed or viewer [percent 00:03:33]. How would you explain that?
Joel: So I lost sleep over this originally like how am I going to pay these folks? And luckily I had some friends I was, “Look, I’ll pay you some time,” and they cool with that. But I found an article that Spotify put out about how they calculate . . . at the time I think they’ve changed since then but they literally had the formula for total revenue, total minutes watched, you know, divided by individuals minutes’ watched times percentage and I just literally pulled their algorithm out and put it in my code and was like, “There we go. Problem solved.” And that’s been working pretty well since. And we do other things for folks beyond just the streaming. So we’ve kind of layered services on top of our like streaming service for content creators.
Andrew: Like what? What are their offers do you have?
Joel: So what people grow out of Egghead. So we’ll get, you know, an instructor will be creating content, and that’s fine. The streaming pool, there’s a general problem with streaming pools across all platforms that do like streaming revenue share of a pool that, you know, like you thin it down over time as you add more people and revenue really has to increase to fix that.
But then also people just they get their own audience and they have a big enough following that they want to do their own thing. They want to launch their own site. They want to have, you know, like sell directly because, one, the money is better and two, it’s just where they’re at in their life. So we help and support creators beyond that too, which changes the like overall sharing model but it’s still kind of the same process. Like we take our team and apply it like as a agency/management/service company.
Andrew: Okay. And, by the way, doing like, personal answers for people as we’re talking, it’s kind of distracting to have live chat. I’ve got to learn to not be too distracted by it, but also pay attention to it. Kind of keep one eye on that, one eye on the conversation. And if anyone out there is listening and they are a part of Egghead or have taken a course on Egghead, I’d love to hear from you what you think of it and how it’s gone for you or what you think of his model. What is sketch notes? That seems to be what you were doing before.
Joel: So I just like I like to doodle, right. Like I’m a meeting doodler. Like I have a hard time focusing in meetings so I doodle and at the same at a conference, right? If I’m just sitting there watching, I’ll get bored and drift. So I doodle during it. And then I tried for a couple of times going to different conferences or taking a workshop just doodling in context of what I’m listening.
So my first product I sold on the internet was this set of sketch notes I took it at Amy Hoy’s BaconBiz conference. And I was like, “Look, I could just post these or I could, you know, put a little pay me $10 and download the PDF of these.” And I was like, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to finally sell something on the internet.” And that was kind of it was like at the same time everything gets very clicking. You know, like when your brain figures it out and you’re like, “Wait, I can just sell things,” or, “I can, you know, pitch it this way and people will actually buy it.” You know, I made a couple $100, but still, you know, occasionally they still roll in, which is funny.
Andrew: Just taking notes at Amy Hoy’s event, making them look nice and you put it online and you sold it. How would anyone even have found it? Was it on your blog?
Joel: I’m pretty good at SEO. Yeah, it was on my blog. So yeah, you know, I did the SEO thing. I made sure the words around it were appropriate. I did that for that and then Brennan Dunn’s Consultancy Masterclass but he was given at the same time. And both of those events were really tipping points for me.
Andrew: And you were doing sketches and notes for that event too?
Joel: Yeah, that would actually made more money because like the people . . . I took the first spot for Brennan Dunn’s Consultancy Masterclass at Google and so people would look at that, buy my notes, and then purchase his class. It was kind of funny. I still will occasionally sell one and I’ll send Brennan a screenshot. And I’d be like, “Another 10 bucks, buddy.”
Andrew: And this was you saying to yourself, “I want to finally sell something online. I want to build a business,” right? Everything that I read about you, I don’t know if it’s someone else writing the headlines or if it’s you communicating a certain goal, but it seems like a lot of, “I want to escape the 9:00 to 5:00.” Did you feel trapped by 9:00 to 5:00? And this was your entry point into non-9:00-to-5:00 world?
Joel: Yeah, I do. And honestly, I have a hard time with that structure and just the idea of, you know, I don’t know if it’s so much being told what to do, but just, you know, working on somebody else’s thing and getting up and having to show up and not having, you know, the idea that I have to show up at work, and I think you can work a lot of jobs and maybe it doesn’t feel that way. But for me, it was consistent feeling through that.
Andrew: Where did you feel that the most? When you were a forensic animator? What’s a forensic animator, by the way?
Joel: I was definitely. I think I have one video on YouTube that’s like my favorite that I took out. It was basically smashing cars and trucks on the highway in 3D for court.
Andrew: Oh, so there would be an accident. The lawyer would want to communicate in court what happened and it would be on you to create that . . . And you hated the fact that you have to sit at a certain time and do this because someone else told you to.
Joel: It was just there was no way to go. Like I really enjoyed the job for a long time because it was making cartoons for me outside like once you got past the reference material, it’s like a tragically sad job really, honestly, at the end of the day. But at the same time, I was never going to get promoted to lawyer unless I went to law school. And at one point I was even like, “Well, maybe I should go to law school and just do this thing that way.” And I was like I couldn’t imagine, you know, like putting the shackles on even harder making that choice. So I was like, you know, “I need to make some sort of product. I need to sell something. I need to, you know, have something that gives me the freedom and autonomy that I need like personally to feel whole not crushed by the slot of the whole.”
Andrew: And that was your first five bucks selling your notes from an event. I wonder if anyone else remembers the first dollar that they made selling something online? I think for me, it was I learned about how stocks worked and it drove me nuts. And let me know in the chat if anyone else remembers theirs. It drove me nuts that people would say . . . even smart people would say, Joel, things like, “How is Yahoo worth more than this other company?” And the reason that they would think that is because Yahoo stock price was higher than the other company stock price and I think that’s not how it works. You can decide whatever stock price you want based on how many shares you have. And I said people just don’t understand the basics because it’s been overcomplicated.
I learn this because I was just curious about it in college and the school wouldn’t teach us in simplified way how stocks work. And so I learned it and then I said, “You know what? I’m going to create a little book. And I remember I thought because I’m selling it online and has to feel like something worth paying money for. I’m going to print it up on my printer. I got one of those big staplers and stapled down the center. I folded it in half and then I mailed it to people who bought it for like 5,10 bucks,” and it felt great. It wasn’t a $5 or $10. I can make $5 or $10 in a better way than that. But, boy, I felt like this thing actually works. This internet machine works for something other than just looking at goofy videos.
Joel: It’s amazing too and I think it’s just emerging to me as well. It’s not we’re not at the end game of this whole thing, which is interesting and scary on some levels to see where it all takes.
Andrew: Meanwhile, John Lindquist, a friend of yours was doing what on YouTube?
Joel: He was making really cool . . . he did it for a while just putting out really cool and interesting tutorial videos that were like no fluff very kind of to the point. Resonated with me because I don’t like have a lot of patients who are watching extra-long videos. So these were these short videos that were really great and kind of like demo-driven where the examples were nice. And, you know, I was writing a book at the time. I tried to write my first book, and I’m going to do this AngularJS book. That was the popular framework. And John was making the videos and I was like, “Hey, man, I think I could take your stuff and sell it and people would buy it.” And he was suspect. It was a long sales process to convert John as my first customer in terms of like the creators that I’ve been assisting.
Andrew: Because John saw what was coming on YouTube which was?
Joel: And it’s blown up too. I think this is even kind of early. Like this was, you know, before, you know, if you needed to do to change a valve and your toilet, you went and watched the five YouTube videos, right? And now that’s what is so much of the experience is like, “I want to learn something. Where do you go for it first? I’m going to go watch a video of somebody doing the thing.” And that’s, you know, like we see more and more than that. That’s definitely going to keep flowing.
Andrew: But he also said, “Not only are people going to go on YouTube and just learn on their own, YouTube is going to start to monetize this for me.” And he said, “Give me time. I’m going to just play the long game. YouTube will add monetization. I’m going to jump in.” And you said to him, “Yeah, but give me the zip files. Let me see all of the videos that you record. Let me see what I could do with it.” And he said yes because of what? What did you do to persuade him to do it?
Joel: Well, I love like “The Terminator,” right? Like I play a long game and I’ll keep . . . until somebody gives me the hard no. So it’s like until you say no, I’m going to keep going for my yes. So I did that with John. And I was like, you know, “YouTube might give you some pennies, right? Like you have a donation button and you get $40 a month.” I was like, “I guarantee if you just give me these videos and let me sell them, we’ll be able to do it.” And he had an email list so he had donors so he had . . . we started out from a place of several thousand people on an email list, which is a really great spot.
Andrew: That is an amazing thing because he had an email list, which he was giving you. He had a website. Didn’t he own egghead.io?
Joel: Yeah, yeah. The logo was a caricature of him at the time. This isn’t a character.
Andrew: Did he have a shaved head?
Joel: Yeah, he’s a bald man.
Andrew: Okay, that’s why I thought maybe this Egghead was that. Got it. All right. So I see you heard the ding dong, right? And someone on my team just joined in to make sure that we were recording right and then they dropped off. I’m hearing it in my earphones. All right. Impressive. Tell you what? Let me take a moment to talk about my first sponsor and then we’ll come back and pick up the story with how well you did when you just took the stuff that he was selling on YouTube and you were selling it on his website to his audience, which is such a cool like minimum viable product for an idea.
While I’m doing it would you mind just tweeting out, let people know that you’re on here live? Just tell them, “Come to mixergy.com/live and watch me. I’d love to hear people who are part of Egghead be a part of this. Like I see that already one of your one of your members, Michael, is listening in live. And, Michael, I think maybe later on we can unmute you. I’d love to hear from you what you think of it. Michael, Angela, cool. Yeah, Michael is up for doing it. So if you do it, I’d love to hear it. And anyone else who is listening if you think that your people online would be interested in this story, bring them on. I’m curious about how this works. I’d love to chat with them.
Okay. So first sponsor is a company called HostGator. One of the things that blows my mind is that there are still people in the world who hadn’t yet tried selling something online. I have this vision for a world where everybody creates at least one website and sells one thing, even if they never want to be in business, even if they’ve never want to sell anything, I’d still love to see them do it. Like, look, I learned the Pythagorean Theorem. I’m never going to use it in my life.
Somehow the school system thought we need to get Andrew to understand that, right? Lot of things that the school system tries to teach us that we don’t really care about. We’re never going to use. I’ll tell you what we will learn and what we will use is selling online. So if you hadn’t yet built a website, I really urge you to go to hostgator.com/mixergy. They’ll give you a super low price. Make it really easy for you with one-click install to get up and running with WordPress and you could start selling something. Look at what we’re seeing in the examples with this interview alone. Joel sold his notes from a conference and from of course he took. Imagine if you did that.
If you’re taking a course and you’re an obsessive note taker like I am and you just decide I’m going to sell my notes online, people who don’t want to pay for the course or aren’t sure if they should will at least get something out of your notes. And so that’s one thing you could sell. Another example we’re seeing and you’ll see it in a moment is Joel’s partner, John, had these videos that he was posting online on YouTube for free and he took that and he batched them together and he sold it. If you hadn’t yet sold something online, if you haven’t built a website, I urge you to go to hostgator.com, you just find yourself creating it naturally.
And if you hate your hosting company, go to an inexpensive option that will host your website right, hostgator.com/mixergy. Low price, good service, and let me know what you sell. And I’d love to have somebody on Mixergy here talking about how they built a business just on HostGator.
I did. I talked to someone, Joel, last week. I said I want to go to Cuba. I want to understand how entrepreneurs work in Cuba. This guy said, “Andrew, I’m learning it. I’m doing it. I can get you there. And I built my website on their hostgator.com/mixergy offer.” I’m excited about that.
Okay, your first thing on Egghead, you sold his videos to his audience, and you made how much money?
Joel: So I was like, “What if I just take a zip and I take all . . . ” he had 50 videos. It’s a nice round number. And I was like, “I can package these and I’m going to sell them.” I think it was $50 or $100 at the time. And, you know, he gave me the email list. I had my list and we send it out there and sold I think $5,000 or $6,000 in a week of the zip file of free videos that were available on YouTube. And to me, it was like it was his audience supporting the effort, right? Like they could watch them for free, and we were very explicit about it. We weren’t tricking them. But the idea was, “Hey, you can you can have these and you get the HD videos and you can do with them as you will.”
Andrew: You know what? That’s something that there’s something about my New Yorker brain that doesn’t accept that, that people just want to support the online makers that they like. I still don’t get that.
Joel: I think reciprocity is . . . I mean, you read the books and they talk about it over and over again, right, like the idea of reciprocity and just human nature and I see it for real on and it’s real and true value not, you know, snake oil or hyped up value. But if you’re really delivering to folks over and over again and then you’re like, “Hey, now could you do something for me, whether it’s financial or time or what have you?” Like they’re really, generally speaking, willing to do so.
Andrew: I have such a hard time asking for that because I feel like it’s not in their best interest. But I think that I just am a little anal in my way . . . like even asking you to tweet it out felt like, “Oh, it’s a little weird asking him to tell people to come and asking people who are watching. I have a hard time doing it.
Joel: I [traded 00:17:45] it.
Andrew: Thank you to. I appreciate it, Joel. That does mean a lot to me. I’m trying to like see if I could get an audience here for these things. It’s the first time I’m doing it. You’re the first person I’m doing with. By the way, I’m on his original website and he had a donate button on the site too.
Joel: Yeah. You know, you want to talk about things that I’m still philosophically opposed to, I really don’t like that model. I don’t like them, “Here is my hat in hand. Can you please, you know, generously give me something?” It’s like I want to give you value, you’re going to pay me and we’re to keep that relationship going. You know, you support me so in the future I can give you more value too. Like you get the access to this immediately. But by supporting this effort that you’re doing you’re able to, you know, make sure this . . . you know, this is true for maybe at like local restaurants, right? Like I want to support my local restaurant. So I’ll give them a positive Yelp review to send people there and they don’t ask me to do that. But, you know, it’s like this like give and take that we have of like a society thing I think.
Andrew: That worked out. Now that you knew it, what was the next thing? How do you now turn this into a business? Was it selling his stuff on membership or what?
Joel: Yeah, that was the first step, right? I mean, we didn’t have anything. I wasn’t a Rails developer but, you know, asked around and waffled over and over because I’m a software developer myself and so everything is a software project. And I’m like, “What’s the best way to build this? What should I do?” Everybody is just like, “Just build it on Rails, all right, like quit asking yourself.” I was like, “All right. All right.”
Andrew: Why do you think people are asking all those questions? I see that a lot. I was actually watching Sahil the founder of Gumroad respond to people by saying, “Stop like overthinking which language to write your site in. Your audience, your customers don’t care.”
Joel: They don’t care.
Andrew: Why do [you 00:19:21] keep doing it?
Joel: It does matter to me though and because I’m thinking long-term. Like I have to maintain this thing. And I need resources. But, you know, I couldn’t afford to hire anybody to code it for me so I had to do it myself. And there happened to be a Rails tutorial that was, you know, like how to set up authentication, you know, a site that has users and can take payments and is subscription. I followed a tutorial. So I spent two weeks on a tutorial and I was like, “All right, we sold all those now we have a subscription site and we can ask for, you know, people to join us.” Like, “Hey, you know, sent to the email list again, $99 a year your forever price. You know, join if you want. We will have pro-content. There will be premium content for you at some point in the future.” There was none but they signed up. Like people started signing up. So we had the pressure to deliver then.
Andrew: And they’re still on the $9.99 a month plan now, right?
Joel: Yeah, yeah. So the people that signed up at that point and I never changed prices on anybody. You know, I wouldn’t do that without adding like, you know, “Hey, you can go to this additional tier,” but we haven’t had to do that yet. There haven’t been any . . .
Andrew: I’m looking at that first site. I feel like your first sales process was almost like you’re too embarrassed to charge. It’s hard for me to figure out the pricing. It’s hard for me to see the payment. You wanted subscriptions but it doesn’t feel like you’re as good as you are now like getting them.
Joel: Yeah, I mean, practice is great, right? Like once you start and once you get past the initial . . . and there’s always a fear, it’s like public speaking or anything. There’s always, you know, that fear inside and this, “I’m going to ask people this and they’re just going to hate me because I even bother to ask, right? Like who am I to ask them for anything.” But, you know, being bold about it I think is beneficial but it takes practice. And that’s why, you know, to me asking for small things and selling small things is a pretty decent way to like start and ramp up.
Andrew: Right. That’s why I actually don’t . . . There were a lot of podcasters when I started who are asking for donations and I thought, “What they’re going to get good at is begging for money.” You know, saying, “Please support me.” And they’re going to become like the old NPR model. I’d rather start selling something really badly and keep improving it. And that way I get good at figuring out what people want and selling it to them.
And so you’re right I do see. I feel like now you guys are so dialed in, your site is super clean. The order process doesn’t ever feel forced. It doesn’t feel like we don’t love you unless you buy or you’re not going to get access to anything unless you buy. It just feels smooth and considered. And I could see that that would be an evolution where . . . I actually don’t feel you guys were great in the beginning. It feels like . . . I’m trying to find the old sales pages right now as we’re talking, they’re not super clear but I get it. All right. How did you . . .
Joel: And I started. There were designers who got hired later too. Like being able to . . . like bootstrapping is so slow. And that’s the drawback of bootstrapping. Like the idea of venture capital is to accelerate growth at basically all costs at that point. That’s why you’re getting the money to grow. But when you bootstrap, you don’t get that and like you have to kind of claw your way to it. And well, now I can afford a designer. That’s great. I can spend $2,000 on a designer, like, improve it and get some of the ideas flowing in that way.
Andrew: That constant refining and refining. I’m looking at people who are responding to us right now and Eric says, “Look, I can raise money for anybody else but it’s hard for me to ask for my own products to sell.” And I feel like that’s why we should push people to just sell one thing. It becomes so much better after you sell the first thing. And speaking of asking people for stuff, I ask people if they’d promote this. Chris Luck said, “This is awesome. I’m just going to email my whole list to tell them to come watch.” I appreciate it. Thank you, Chris.
Joel: Thanks, Chris.
Andrew: So you were up and running. How did the $9.99 plan do for you guys?
Joel: It went pretty well. We’re considerably more expensive monthly now. We haven’t . . . like honestly, like our prices are still very competitive. It’s not low in the grand spectrum of things. But we also have a, you know, like access is important, I think and being able to provide that to most people. Because honestly, we’re aggressively free to still to this day. Everything gets released free for at least a week and we really try to provide anybody that has an internet connection with the opportunity even if it’s a short window to access with what’s being produced.
Andrew: How did you figure out considering you’re content seller, how do you figure out what to sell and what to make available for free?
Joel: There’s no figuring out. It’s just . . . it’s like when the content creator is like, “Oh, I really want this to be free.” I’m like, “All right, that’s fine. I don’t care. That’s your choice.” And then like so they default going to paywall. But if there’s any request for free from the content creator, then we just opened it up.
Andrew: They say, “I’m putting up my content online to sell it, just make it available to anyone.” One of the things that I noticed with you was I could just hit play and watch one of the free videos. Why aren’t you asking for an email address there? And I want to switch to a little bit of marketing.
Joel: You got to keep watching.
Andrew: Oh, if I keep watching at some point, you pop it up. And you guys created that yourselves?
Joel: Yeah. So I think it’s like five or six videos in and we play with that all the time. Because it’s like, I want people to, one, achieve their goals and outcomes. And that’s to learn whatever it is they’re learning. And then also we have to keep the lights on. And emails literally are only marketing channel. We don’t do any sort of advertising and marketing otherwise . . .
Andrew: SEO too and your course creators, they help promote the stuff that’s on their site, too, right?
Joel: Yeah, that’s a good point too as well.
Andrew: By the way, Eric, who’s listening to us live says, “Bootstrapping has been really painful, both the speed and on my pocket book.” How long did you keep your job before you decide to go full time on this?
Joel: Three months.
Andrew: Three months?
Joel: Very short. But so I had to fall back of being able to like train. I did in-person workshop training for Angular. And like I started out at maybe $1,500 a day and walked that rate up to $10,000 a day. As our monthly revenue increased, my need to work decreased. So I raised my rates and I was like I was playing . . . I called it enterprise rate chicken just to feel like I . . . because I didn’t have any experience in the sales process and I really wanted to get a feel for enterprise sales and just how that goes. I’m like, “When do they start to blink? When do they start to . . . like when does the training budget flinch at large Fortune 100 companies?” The answer is like a lot later than I would have expected.
Andrew: They were paying you $10,000 a day to come in and do training?
Andrew: Wow. The initial marketing was to the people who are on John’s list. How did you start to build up a list beyond that and get more attention?
Joel: Honestly, we didn’t do anything. It was all SEO word of mouth because I was scared to email the list at that time. I was literally terrified to email my list. I’m looking at folks like Patrick McKenzie and Brennan Dunn, Nathan Barry or Amy Hoy. These are my pedestal heroes in terms of business and marketing. And it’s all email, email, email, right? Like that’s the way to go. But I was just scared. I was like, “If I email them, then everybody’s going to unsubscribe and they’re all going to hate me.” Like that fear that we were talking about of just asking was so deep. And it took I think a full year before I really embraced it and started using the email list as a sales tool. Otherwise we’re just kind of you know winging it and growing by word of mouth.
Andrew: It was just people finding your videos online. You weren’t even on Reddit or was it YouTube that you guys were starting to direct people to your site from? No.
Joel: No. Like, I don’t know, I have some things against YouTube. I think it’s great and then also like horrible, right? Like it’s run by an ad network. Its entire point is to take people away from what you have to say and push them to other things. And they do it really well. So, no, there was no YouTube. Chris Savage at Wistia actually gave me free plan. Like I asked him and he gave us free streaming video. And that lasted about six months and then I was able to pay him. But that was such a . . . shout out to him for being amazing.
Andrew: But Amy Hoy didn’t kick your butt? Amy Hoy is one of . . .
Joel: She always kicks my butt.
Andrew: Right. She’s so good. But she’s almost unknown outside of the developer community. When you see developers who sell real stuff, you can see Amy’s work, Amy’s vision in them. Why didn’t she say “Joel, start emailing already? You’ve got a list. Go, go, go?”
Joel: I probably didn’t ask for one thing. I was kind of doing my thing and like I have a hard time . . . I won’t go to Amy and ask a lot of advice, right? Like she’s put out so much information and she has, like her blog is this immense trove of beautifully written works that almost her entire course you can go read through her blog post. And like I want to figure it out, but I also don’t want to like cash in the capital I guess. I know in my heart of hearts what I should be doing. Like having somebody tell me that I need to email wasn’t really the problem, the problem was like I knew what I should be doing I was just scared. And I suppose having somebody push you could help in that regard but also like I knew what the problem was and that I should just do the do the thing.
Andrew: I find that there are a lot of things in my life that are like that where I know what I need to do but I’m not doing it or I’m not aware that I’m not doing it. And that’s where certain coaches are really helpful. Like I went to Toptal, I got a finance person from them. He’s really good about constantly saying, “Andrew, we’re looking at these numbers over and over and over again. I’m telling you there are a couple of things to do. Why aren’t you doing it?” And a couple of others. Oh, Alex Hillman, he’s Amy’s business partner. He’s here listening live.
What do you think, Alex, that Joel should have done to get more feedback from Amy? Do you think Amy would have been bothered if he reached out to her? What do you think about this? And you know what? Let me take a moment and talk about my second sponsor Toptal, then we’re going to go into the next evolution of your marketing, which includes your prices. They’re so much higher than I expected.
Second sponsor is a company called Toptal. In fact, Joel, let me ask you, what do you recommend anyone who’s out there looking to hire a developer from Toptal or anywhere else? What do you think they should be thinking of or doing to get a good developer?
Joel: Stop thinking about whiteboards and algorithms and start thinking about relationships and how these people will fit into what you do and pay them up front to do the interview process I think is something . . .
Andrew: To do the work. So like you’re paying them so that you can see how well they do working for you.
Joel: Yeah. Find a real project, [payer program 00:29:50] and work with them in a short-term capacity to discover the truth.
Andrew: You know what? I love that you’ve said that. There are couple of things that I want to point out about that. The first thing that Toptal told me was, “We care about the way people work a lot.” And I go, “Yeah, yeah, who cares? I’m not going to include that in the ads.” “We care about the customer. How do they work? What’s their unique way?” And I said, “I’m not going to talk about it,” until they pushed me. And then I finally said, “Okay, I’ll bring it up.” And I realized that is important. It’s not enough to just get the person whose skills are what you’re looking for. You need to find that cultural fit.
And the second thing I’ve actually done a lot because I learned that from Hiten Shah. I said, “Hiten, you’re not a developer. You keep hiring developers for all your products. How do you do it?” He said, “We work on a small project to see how we work together to learn if they like to work, if we like it.”
Both those things you can do with Toptal and really with Toptal if you’re looking for just cheapo developers, you can brag to your friends about hiring a developer on the cheap, that’s not the place for you. If you’re looking for developers will make you feel like, “Wow, this is what Google has access to. I can’t believe I have access to that too.” And you’re willing to pay a little bit more for it. Not a lot.
They’re not going to. I think I’m scaring people with the prices but you will be paying a little bit more for them. You got to go to Toptal. In fact, if you go to toptal.com/mixergy, you’re going to get not only the best of the best developers and you’ll get to be set up with a with a matcher to make sure that you find the right developer for you, but they’ll also give you 80 hours of Toptal credit when you pay for your first 80 hours in addition to a no-risk trial period. Go get the details when you go to toptal.com/mixergy. Top as in top of your head, tal as in talent. Toptal.com/mixergy.
Here is what Alex is saying. Here we go. “Amy and I love getting questions from people who actually put our advice into action, even if it means we point you to something we already created. The only time we don’t like hearing from folks is when they ask for advice and then they ignore it over and over and over. Lots of people just don’t want advice.”
So good feedback from you. You know what I’m going to try, Joel, at the end of this? If you want to stay on or not, I’m going to try to get Alex and Michael especially and anyone else who I think is a good fit, but especially Alex and Michael to unmute themselves later on and just have them ask a couple of questions to see if that works. But we’ll wait to see if this interview is done without any issues before I introduce another layer of complexity. If anyone else wants to chime in, just let me know in the chat.
Joel: I love chaos.
Andrew: I do too within my structure. What I want is like this has to work. And now let’s experiment on top.
Joel: I love it. Not to the point of melting, right, like and then it’s . . .
Andrew: It’s what?
Joel: Up to the point of melting and then it’s obviously enough chaos. And then I have to say, Alex and Amy have been nothing but supportive.
Andrew: I know.
Joel: Like I couldn’t ask for better friends and mentors than Alex and Amy had been to me over the last seven years I’ve been here.
Andrew: I feel like Amy Hoy is a little scary, don’t you think? I’m a little scared of Amy Hoy and I’ve known her forever. And I feel like she’s the most supportive and has got the most reasonable direction for developers of just about anyone that I’ve seen for independent developers. You’re raising a lot of money, you’ve got other access to other people, and they’ve got a [inaudible 00:32:44].
Joel: She got a low tolerance for your bullshit.
Andrew: Right. Right.
Joel: Is that at the end of the day what it gets down to and it’s what Alex is talking about. If you ask for advice and then argue with the person that gives you the answer, I think, you know, one, that’s a mistake and don’t do that, right? If you can ask for advice, then listen and either take it and then put into place or quit asking, instead of like arguing back about the advice that you get.
Andrew: By the way, after we’re done with this interview, I will take some feedback from you guys. I want to know how this has worked and what we can do to improve this. I keep wanting to improve. All right. So, Joel, the next thing that I want to talk about for marketing is you brought in other developers to teach. I thought that was incredibly helpful for marketing and for increasing your content. You don’t have the same situation I have with Mixergy premium, which is we have to keep working and keep producing. Obviously, you do too, but it’s a different level of pressure. At what point did you say, “We’re going to bring somebody else on to teach and we’re going to find a way to split revenue?”
Joel: It was almost immediately because of the . . . you know, I’d seen other kind of prominent people in the developer space that they were teaching and doing videos online burn out and that constant pressure to produce and produce and produce and create, you know, new useful content every single week is a lot on any human. And I didn’t want to, one, do that to John. I don’t want to burn anybody out and I want to have a comfortable good job for him as well as myself. That’s really important to me. And the only way I could think to do it at the time was to like invite other people. And it’s a model that a lot of people use. It’s like that’s what YouTube is at the end of the day. But with the idea of paying them is also.
Andrew: That’s what Lynda was. And I feel like a lot of people are intimidated that Lynda has already got a lot is covered. That their platforms that got this covered. Why did you step into an environment where other people are already doing this and still say, “I think I could find my place. I can make my mark here?”
Joel: Yeah, if you look at the time like when we first started, Pluralsight, is the 800 pound gorilla in this particular space and they’re buying up all of my favorite boutique training companies. Literally, you know, Code School and tech whatever it was.
Andrew: Like they bought Code School?
Joel: Yeah, it was Code School. Yeah, because the owners are sitting on tens of millions of dollars now. And they contacted us too. Like they got their, whatever, hundreds of millions of dollars of VC and then went on a buying spree and then proceeded like shut everybody down too.
Andrew: Because they were moving everyone’s content and more importantly, their customers to Pluralsight.
Joel: Yeah, just their own in the marketplace aggressively and they’ve created great stuff and I think they have a place but it wasn’t what we’re doing it. But to me also like seeing them do what they do just as proof to me that this is a great place and always and forever when something like that exists, there’s, you know, we can niche down and carve out a chunk of that. It just proves to me it’s a good idea because Lynda, which is I think LinkedIn Learning now but all those folks are just proof to me that the concept is good. And I don’t know like you can even look at YouTube until . . .
Andrew: Why would somebody then sign up for you when they could go to a Pluralsight?
Joel: I don’t know. I mean, they have to make that choice. One, we’re different . . . like so I would say we’re more agile than Pluralsight, and we’re a little more focused and our topics are, I don’t know, the two are kind of a specific audience and our style is different. Though I think we’ve even had an effect on how a lot of other folks present this stuff because of our . . . just our condensed like this conciseness that we pushed out with. I really enjoy like that trend in video content in general just because so dense otherwise like the lack of editing and whatnot. I don’t know, it’s a good question. We’ve asked people usually for me Pluralsight is for large teams of developers and they focus almost all of their marketing efforts towards like enterprise team, you know, like managers, dashboards, whips.
Andrew: Yeah, from what I’ve seen, that’s what it is. That it is more of the bigger companies that are signing their people up for Pluralsight and the attitude and the communication is all . . . It all feels more enterprising.
Joel: And, I mean, one, I just don’t do that. I made the conscious decision not to cater to that particular audience. And it’s a huge . . . it’s so lucrative, Andrew, like that particular segment of the marketplace.
Andrew: Right, because businesses will then pay you for their whole people have it. I think we mentioned Toptal. I think Toptal pays for Pluralsight for all their developers, which is really hard to compete against. But then what you did was you do have now a team version. How popular is that?
Joel: I don’t know. Honestly, I have no idea how popular it is.
Andrew: You don’t even look at the revenue to see where it’s coming from?
Joel: No, I mean, it’s a good market. What I don’t do is put any sort of effort into building the oversight features that they really crave. So most of that is they want high touch sales processes so they feel like they’re heard the entire time. And then they want dashboards that they can use to hold against their people and kind of forced them into learning. And it really like I just don’t enjoy building that. I don’t want that to like affect the overall ethos of what I’m doing for myself and at the end of the day, I really have to enjoy my job or Egghead is a . . . you know, it’s a big problem for Egghead if I start to not enjoy my job.
Andrew: Okay. You know what, that’s why I thought maybe you didn’t want to do a pre-interview because of that attitude. So here is what I read on your blog a while back, I think maybe as you were starting with Egghead and trying to figure out where you’re going, you said, “Here’s my goal. I love nice things, don’t get me wrong but the primary success indicator for me however is not maximizing revenue, bold. Not maximizing revenue.” My success metrics is maximizing free time, the ability to do whatever the F I want. You still feel that way?
Joel: Oh, I do. Yeah, absolutely.
Andrew: Does it suck that today you had a scheduled meeting with me? Does it feel like, “I’ve got maker time and now Andrew is putting something on my calendar,” honestly?
Joel: Well, yeah. Mondays are actually my day like I have totally blocked off and don’t allow meetings or any sort of scheduled thing on Mondays. And I go through my calendar and just give myself, you know, like I think for June right now, I have three day blocks, five day blocks where I go through and set in my calendar where I can’t be scheduled because I live by my calendar. But I do because I’m doing a lot more of this, which is interesting to me, so we’ve gone from me, not really recording any content as a conscious choice to now I really feel like this sitting down with people.
And, you know, I love this platform actually, like Zoom is our platform of choice for this too but sitting down with people, having conversations with an audience that can participate like I enjoy it so much. And it’s like I’m so conflicted because it also requires that I do the thing, right? Like you can’t replace yourself in terms of being [the host 00:39:41] and, you know, it’s like other people can do this as well but it’s like still to get like what I’m looking for and to test it out, it’s like I have to do it. But, you know, I think it’s a big change for us, but it’s an interesting one that I like.
Andrew: That’s been a huge one for me too, Joel. I took my kid to a birthday party yesterday and on the way in, my wife said to me, “You know, the birthday girl is got a cold or a slight fever and she’s still going to do the party?” Usually I wouldn’t care because what’s the worst thing that can happen? Now I’ve got to be there on Monday, who’s going to take care of the kid? That’s not enough notice for me to get somebody to do backup and so suddenly now because everything is depending on me performing at a certain time, it does add more pressure and I don’t love that.
All right, so one of the things that you did to take a lot of the pressure off you and your partner was bringing other teachers. We talked about that. What I want to know from you is how do you bring in other teachers into your platform? Like how do you go and recruit them when you’re not a guy like me who loves sales? And then second, what do you do to empower them and to encourage them to promote especially considering that I didn’t even like asking you and other people to tweet out that I was doing this live? Promotion kind of sucks when you’re asking people to do it. So talk about the first one first, how did you get teachers on your platform?
Joel: I asked friends, that’s where I started.
Andrew: And it was just, “Please show up. I may or may not pay you. I believe there’ll be some money but let me figure it out.”
Joel: “I will pay you. I just don’t know how yet.” And so I tapped my immediate friend group. And I asked them for a favor at the end of the day. And it’s like sales in some ways is asking people for small favors up to big favors. So I don’t know that I don’t like the sales process when it’s done right. Like sales actually feels good when both parties are getting the value that they expect, right? Like the outcomes and the value that they expect from the transaction. So we have two categories of customer and the first and primary one for me is the content creators, the instructors that are making this material. They are my customers, and I’m there to serve them.
Andrew: So right now, now that you’re . . . I’ve noticed that that’s your approach. These makers are my customers, they then bring their audience. If I take care of them, they’ll take care of their audience. I get that. So what’s your process now for getting new teachers and new instructors on your platform?
Joel: Spending obsessive amounts of time on Reddit, Twitter, reading blogs, like I’m really stoked, I think there’s a blog resurgence going on right now and people are starting to write more on their own. But I read and I read and read and I scroll. And I just like try to personally have my thumb on this zeitgeist of what’s going on in the space that’s relevant to [inaudible 00:42:17] . . .
Andrew: And then you personally will reach out to them and say, “Hey, we’ve been chatting. I’ve seen you on Reddit. I like what you’re doing on Twitter. You should consider posting on my site too”?
Andrew: And it’s you doing it from all mediums—email, tweets, whatever it is, direct messages, however you’re communicating with them. That’s how you’re soliciting them.
Joel: You know what I ask people and it’s really hard especially when you start getting into folks that already have an established audience or are busy or they have a developer relations job, and they just have a constant people pulling at them from sides. So it’s taken me upwards of two plus years from initial contact to publishing folks. And some have never yet done it but I don’t give up and I have like a logarithmic approach where I’ll ask a couple times and I’ll increase the length of time between the ask up to the point where it’s, you know, every six months or a year.
I’ll be like, “Hey, you know, we’re still really interested, I saw what you’re doing in this stuff, and that would be really great. You know, we would love to help you. Here’s our new materials and processes that can make it easy for you. Let me know if that’s something we can do.” And that’s been great. And lately to me, doing this type of activity, like I’ve started doing the podcast, so I can learn how to interview and I’m doing more and more live events. And it’s cool because it adds a layer to the process that’s a lot easier ask than asking people to produce an hour of tightly edited videos.
Andrew: You’re saying it’s easier to ask somebody to do a podcast than it is to get them to do a course.
Joel: Yeah, 20-minute podcast is no big deal and . . .
Andrew: Will you follow up afterwards and say, “By the way, we have this course. It’s just a little bit harder than this but the rewards are much better”?
Joel: Yeah. And like what I’ve learned over time is that people need . . . you have to have incremental wins, right? Like you have to have small wins and you have to incrementally succeed because when we first started, we were really bad at it. And we asked for some instructor feedback at one point a couple years in and they were . . . what was the hardest, most challenging part of becoming an Egghead instructor? And the answer was dealing with John and Joel’s personalities. And I was like, “Yeah, that’s probably true. I can totally see that.” And, you know, like how do we fix that has been an interesting challenge as well.
Andrew: What do you mean? What’s tough about your personality?
Joel: I don’t know, we’re both just kind of maybe brusque with our feedback, and like straight to the facts and like dealing with this isn’t right and there’s no documentation or anything. It’s just this isn’t right.
Andrew: When somebody creates a course it’s hard to . . . Yeah.
Joel: So they spend six hours making a three-minute video for us and we’re like, “No, we just, you know, totally crap on it.” Like that’s hard. And it’s just like our nature but since we like built documentation. We have a video course on making video courses and really kind of leaned into this idea that if we . . .
Andrew: I saw that. You even have a site on doing it so you to teach them how to put the content together. You’ll even send them the mics and all the equipment that they need so that they could record and sound good. All they have to do is just get a certain way forward, I think, maybe create a rough draft and then you’ll take them to the next step with all the equipment that they need. So I see how you’re making them better. I think that’s actually something I shouldn’t brush over. What’s the website where you teaching your instructors?
Joel: It’s howtoegghead.com.
Andrew: Yeah, howtoegghead.com teaches them how to create courses for you. And that’s a really effective thing. What do you do to get them to then promote the courses that they create?
Joel: I don’t, we’re really, really bad at that actually. And that’s something we’ve talked about. Some people are natural, like they really take to presenting to their audience. So lately, we’ve been talking about, you know, how do we kind of incorporate that support into what we offer because it just makes a lot of sense, right? Like, we can help you communicate with your audience and help you build your brand and get your personal email list and your website all straight because at the end of the day, that helps us because their audience grows and then selling directly to their audience or promoting directly is huge.
But, you know, like through this process. It’s like, “Hey, can you tweet this out for us? Or can you do that.” But you have to encourage people because a lot of time they don’t naturally do that sort of thing. So that’s like, honestly, five years in something we’re just starting to figure out, and it’s probably, you know, in terms of like a marketing channel, or whatever. I think that’s our best avenue is to lift all these creators up to . . . it’s not about Egghead, it’s about them.
Andrew: And what if you make them marketers? They’re going to get more results from your platform and then it’ll also help the platform grow.
Joel: And it does like it has all these auxiliary benefits for them in terms of like career and just when you build that brand and you’re recognized and you’re somebody that instructs and you’ve published over here or whatever, like that stuff really long term is beneficial to them. But you don’t see it up front, so it’s hard and then getting over the even just sending a broadcast email to a few hundred people is a big step for a lot of folks in terms of, you know, I don’t want to interrupt people. I don’t want to be that person.
Andrew: In a moment, I’m going to ask the people who are watching live who have something to contribute to just jump in here. Alex, I’m looking at you. I’m looking at you, Chris Luck, and a couple of others. But, Joel, there a couple of things that I want to close off with. When an instructor comes onto your platform, creates all the content, then tells their audience, “Go watch me on this platform,” there’s a good chance that their audience will watch them for a few minutes and then go watch someone else, in which case they’re doing all this work for promoting and content creation, but they’re reaping very little in return, right? What do you do for that?
Joel: And so we mentioned that earlier. This is the idea of like, what’s next, right? Like what’s after the streaming platform? And so we’ve worked with content creators to do their own product launches. So similar content, but, you know, like three tiers where we’re selling, you know, the $50, $140, $250 one-off purchases and allowing them to market it directly to their audience, right? If you are a content creator, and you have an email list of, you know, 10,000 people, it doesn’t make sense to like strictly focus your revenue stream like from your content creation on the streaming stuff for sure. So we work with them to go beyond that and just do like . . .
Andrew: But it is possible that a course creator will create content and bring somebody in have only a few minutes of viewing and then that person goes to watch other people and so they make a little bit of money. You don’t do like a signing bonus or something when they get a new person in because of their link they get paid a percentage. You don’t do any of that?
Joel: So we haven’t done any affiliate marketing whatsoever. So technically speaking, I actually have the code all written for that and I think that’s something that we want to do, because I agree like that’s that would be a great way to give them, you know, like any affiliate. I wouldn’t open that to the general public because affiliate marketing gets weird pretty quick, but our instructor group like they should be and that’s something like high on my list actually for this year to do.
Andrew: Okay, I’ll close out with this. Your prices are no longer 10 bucks a month. Where do you get the guts to charge $250 a month?
Joel: A year. That’s a year.
Andrew: A year, oh, got. Got it. It’s 300 bucks per user a year. If it’s team, got it, $250. Got it. Got it. Okay, never mind. That’s still a lot of money.
Joel: Like that would be hard. I don’t know who would pay it but . . .
Andrew: That’s still a lot. You’re like twice now what you were before. Do you have any hesitation about that? Is that an issue at all?
Joel: Oh, pricing is hard. It’s always hard.
Andrew: How do you figure it out?
Joel: It’s just guessing.
Andrew: You just go in and you guess. All right. And then . . .
Joel: So $40 a month. So $40 a month is expensive. And because people want to do monthly and the reason people want to do monthly is because they want to watch one course that’s paywalled. So I like the idea for me is like what was one course worth? So 40 bucks. And that’s where that actually comes in. And then $250 was, yeah, it’s like looking around. What are other people charging? I’ve raised it. I’ve had it higher. I’ll drop it. I try not to run like a sales cycle driven business. But at the same time, like people love discounts, especially time-limited ones. So we’ll run sales and drop the price a few times a year. Like our big one at Christmas is your lowest price and we’ll do all that kind of thing.
Andrew: And you know what? I didn’t see it. You do offer a monthly option. I just didn’t happen to see it. And it’s not highlighted.
Joel: Not ready to commit?
Andrew: Right, it says, “Not ready to commit.” In like little text underneath it, “Not ready to commit, click here to pay 40 bucks a month.” Got it. And the team plan I thought was just brilliant but you’re telling me you don’t even look at how much money comes from that.
Well, you mentioned earlier Patrick McKenzie. I loved that he said, “You know, there are companies that want to pay for this. I’m just going to create an enterprise plan. And what I’ll do is I’ll just not . . . ” I think, and I could be wrong, I think the first version had no difference. It was just, “Here’s our enterprise plan. I trust you. Give this to your people. If you’re going to pay more, I trust you that you’re not paying for the cheapo plan when you’re an enterprise.”
Joel: So I used to give them discounts up until last year and now I actively don’t give them discounts and charge more if you want team features, which I think is perfectly fair and equitable as far as these things go.
Andrew: And you know what? And the team features are just helpful. You know, I hired a course developer for us from MarketingProfs. And I’ve noticed that MarketingProfs over the years shifted from, “We’re going to sell to you marketing courses,” to, “We’re going to sell to your company marketing courses and they’re going to provide it for all your users and your business. And they’re going to pay for a bunch of licenses.” That’s been an interesting models for me to watch. All right.
Joel: I think it’s smart business, like honestly. Like you should, you know, like catering to businesses is really like smart money business. I also have the kind of just a cap, I don’t know. Like we don’t yacht dreams I guess is the idea.
Andrew: Yeah. You don’t have yacht dreams, you just have F.U. money dreams. And how much money did you make last year profit?
Joel: I don’t know. I’m super bad at metrics. It was like . . .
Andrew: Do you remember when you able to at least see a million dollars in your own personal bank account?
Joel: Oh, I’ve never seen that.
Andrew: You’ve never seen that?
Joel: No. No.
Andrew: Half a million?
Joel: Like maybe like around a big sale within then it quickly goes out. I’m super good at spending money. I’m not a very good financial planner.
Andrew: On what? You look like you are very good economical.
Joel: Let’s see. I don’t know, we moved during that time. I have five children. We moved to a more expensive part of the country. I really love electronics and gear. You know, like, I’ve traditionally not been a finance guy. Our first like when Egghead started, the first people that I hired were an accountant and a bookkeeper. Because I will literally ignore all of that until like there’s knocks on the door. You know, like, I’m just really poor at it. So, no, I haven’t seen that myself yet. It might occur. And then I put it back into the business. So it’s all like flowing back . . .
Andrew: Into what? What’s the future investments?
Joel: So I love working with consultants. So, like later in this process, I’ve worked with, you know, Amy and Alex and pay them as consultants to come in and help us build the business. And that runs across a lot of disciplines in, you know, like from marketing to design to development and the rest of it working with smart folks as consultants. That’s a good way to burn some money especially if you’re not applying the advice that they give. Like I don’t know how many, you know, tons of how many reams of paper are used each month to unimplemented UX consultation but it’s a lot, right? Like people get that advice. They feel good about it, now they’ve joined the gym, they push it to the side and it’s never done. We’ve really tried to, like, apply what we’ve learned in that way too.
Andrew: Well, site looks good. It works beautifully. And frankly, for a researcher like me, who needs to zip through a lot of data, a lot of websites are just way, way, way too disorganized and cumbersome. And they’re full of what the founder thinks people need to know. Instead of what someone who’s brand new to the site wants to understand.
All right, for anyone wants to go check out the site themselves, the site is at egghead.io. In one moment, I’m going to just turn this off from the podcast and I’ll ask people in the audience, just asking questions. And we’ll kind of do it kind of sort of private. But I want to thank my two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first will host your website right, it’s called HostGator. Check them out at hostgator.com/mixergy. The second will help you hire a phenomenal developers, check them out at toptal.com/mixergy.
And finally I should say my goal this year is to run seven marathons on seven continents. I just ran the first one. I flew to Texas and I ran from Texas to Mexico. And then I interviewed entrepreneurs in person in Mexico. They would not come to me, I’m going to them so I recorded those interviews. They’ll be up soon. But if you want to follow along with me as I hit my goal and wants some help as you’re hitting your goal, go to runwithandrew.com. Basically, what you’ll be doing is scheduling monthly calls with me where you’ll keep me going and I’ll keep you fired up. And I’ll talk to people from all these different parts of the world. Last one was from Mexico. The next one, I think, will be from here in the U.S. and then after that I’ll be in Chile, and we’ll do a call with everyone there. So that’s runwithandrew.com.
All right, Joel, stick around. Thank you for doing this. Stick around. I’m going to hit stop record so that we have this locked.