Daily screencasts built a cult following

I’m an admirer entrepreneurial stories. Well, I was on IndieHackers recently and saw this guy posted that he earned over a million dollars with his online business.

He’s a guy who used to work as a developer and did well but decided to start his own company. He started by saying, “I don’t know everything, but I know a little bit more than people less experienced than me–I’ll start by teaching them.”

Chris Oliver is the founder of GoRails where he teaches intermediate Ruby on Rails developers how to build common features of web applications, refactor and organize their code, stay up-to-date, and learn new libraries.

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Chris Oliver

Chris Oliver

GoRails

Chris Oliver is the founder of GoRails where he teaches intermediate Ruby on Rails developers how to build common features of web applications, refactor and organize their code, stay up-to-date, and learn new libraries.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs. I’m also an admirer entrepreneurial stories. I was on indie hackers and, and saw that this guy who you’re about to meet Chris Oliver posted that he earned over a million dollars with his online business.

And he’s a guy who used to work as a developer did well. Had this big issue and then decided I’m going to start my own company. And the one thing that he could start off with was he said, you know what? I don’t know everything, but I know a little bit and people who are further behind me, I’ll just teach that.

And so he started go rails where people can learn Ruby on rails. And then after that, he said, you know, there are other tools, other services, other things I could provide my. My audience, my customers, people who, who are drawn to my work. And so one of those tools that he created it’s called hatch box. It allows you, it’s basically Ruby on rails hosting my right,

Chris: Yup.

Andrew: and then jumpstart rails.

That’s Ruby on rails, SAS templates. So he’s, he’s got his niche. He’s doing really well in it. And he’s got such an interesting story. I invited him here to talk about how he did it and we’re sponsored by a brand new sponsor. SCM rush. I’m so freaking proud that we’ve got them. They’re going to let you guys use their stuff.

Software for free. All you have to do is there’s a promo code, but you know what? If you go to mixergy.com/sem rush, you’ll get to use it. And also delighted, which will allow you to check in with your audience and get a sense of whether they like your work or not. They’re willing to share it or not. And I’ll let you use their software for free too.

If you go to delighted.com/mixergy first, Chris. Good go. You here.

Chris: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Andrew: you did really well. What’s one thing that you bought when you were a developer before you started out on this entrepreneurial journey that we’re going to talk about.

Chris: So I bought a, I bought a mini Cooper, like the fastest, you know, maxed out everything. and that was like the gift to myself when I was like, you know, making money.

Andrew: mini Cooper go? What is it about this mini Cooper that drew you?

Chris: actually, it turned out that like my mom bought one and I always thought they were kind of dumb and tiny and whatever, but then I drove it, to my aunt’s one weekend and I got a speeding ticket and right away, that same day.

And I was like, you know, this thing is actually a lot of fun. Cause it’s so small. It’s really good in the corners. And, it turned out that there’s kind of a big club. So, on the weekends my parents have one, my parents have a couple, I have three mini Coopers and, I have three now. Yeah. And so we, we have a local group that gets together and does drives on the weekends.

And then the company organizes their cross country road trip every couple of years. So we do that too. And it’s, it’s a blast. There’s like last time we went there, it was like 1400 mini Coopers meeting in Colorado from coast to coast. we drove, you know, and met in Colorado. It’s crazy, like fun thing to do

Andrew: I always wanted to do a cross country drive. And are you doing it for speed or taking your time and actually getting to see things.

Chris: they organize the trip. So we drove down to Orlando and then drove across the Texas and up to Colorado with like 400 other cars every single day. And they’re taking us to  racetracks and things and putting on these little events every day. One morning. we started where all the cars pulled up on a runway in the airport and, we were able to like take these pictures of our cars on, you know, an actual runway and everything.

And there’s lots of cool things that they put together for that. It’s a, it’s a lot of fun.

Andrew: I can see how that would be a proud moment. You get to buy your first car brand new,

Chris: Yeah, we, yeah, we custom ordered it. They built it in England and then you’re going to watch the process and wait for it to ship over to us and whatever. It was a lot of fun.

Andrew: And still you’re, you’re not working at the company that helped you earn the money to do it because, well, how many hours a day did you work back then?

Chris: Oh man. I was working like. 14 hours a day, sometimes, you know, consulting and doing work for other, you know, other companies that were bringing their designing things like Facebook apps or whatever. And we were building it for them and it was, it was not super fun,

Andrew: You told our producer, not only was I working 14 hours a day, but there was one day when somebody smashed, what did they smash?

Chris: Yeah, we were, I was working late our office, wasn’t in a great part of town. And, so I came out, it was dark and come out there and something’s wrong. There’s the, all this glass everywhere. And I look and it’s like, yeah, my car’s window is broken into and they rifled through it.

And I don’t think there was anything in there, but they, you know, broken anyways. And that was like really frustrating until like I’m working 14 hours a day. Most of my butt to, build these apps. And then my, you know, core gets broken into, and I don’t really get any like anything, but a paycheck out of that.

And it was just really frustrating.

Andrew: No, he died even though your car, which now, now I understand your connection and affection for your cars gets broken into you, have a deadline. Did you finish the deadline, despite all this extra work and the headache of dealing with your car, you did. And then your boss does what

Chris: the client told my boss that, it was the best project or best, thing that they’d ever worked on some other team with. And I did, you know, a hundred percent of the work and they actually were. Asking us to do stuff that, I didn’t even know. So that’s why it was so hard.

I was teaching myself all this stuff, trying to build, mobile apps that I’d never done before. And I didn’t even know if it was any good. So to get that feedback, that it was the best thing that they had ever done. I was really good, but then, you know, my car gets broken into, we complete the project and my boss goes out to.

LA to party with the clients. And they tell me about this after, they get back and I’m like, wait a minute, this doesn’t add up. Like, what do I get out of

Andrew: Another 14 hour day.

And so you told our producer that was your breaking point. That was it. This was the breaking point. And in order to leave, you said I had to use scorched earth techniques. Why?

Chris: I have a. And, you know, it tendency I know in myself to do the same thing. So a lot of times that up until then I was working on stuff on the side, I’d go to work. And then in the evenings and weekends at work on my own ideas, but I would always do whatever I was comfortable with, which was just building stuff, never talking to people or customers or anything.

And so when I decided to quit. I realized like I’m going to have to go force myself to do those things that I don’t want to do that I’m not comfortable doing. And so I had to basically burn the bridges and I quit consulting and said, I’m going to figure something out. And now the clock’s ticking. Like

my bank account is shrinking.

Andrew: You didn’t have a business in mind. Didn’t have us next gap. You just said, I’ve got to force myself to leave.

Chris: when I quit the consulting job, and on to consult on my own, and I did that for a little while and it was basically the same thing. I just made a little bit more money because I was doing it myself and charging the same rates that they were at that last job, but I get all of that money and then I quit consulting on my own.

After I had built up a bit of savings, like I was making good enough money to buy that car and to make some savings. So then I, you know, decided it’s, it’s done. Like, I hate this work. It’s not worth the money that I’m making out of it. Cause I, I don’t spend it. I’m saving it, whatever, like. It just didn’t it wasn’t fulfilling.

So that’s when I realized I needed to do something else. And, I spent a little time with a friend of mine. and he was working on a project and we started to make, a little Facebook app to help get reviews for his iOS apps and friends. And I got to watch him build a little product and, you know, make some money that way.

And I realized that’s. The first time I’ve ever made a dollar without trading my time for it. I was always thinking or working full time for someone else where they’re paying for my time basically. And that was a really great opportunity to, to see, like, I’ll go into the movie theater, get a notification on my phone that you made 25 bucks, like, Oh, this movie is free and I didn’t do anything for it.

And that was like, I gotta go to something else. No. It was a really like great moment to have that felt inspiring because I had never done that before. And it was good.

Andrew: And the idea for goal rails came from you saying, you know what? I know enough to teach someone who is like me about four years ago, four years before I learned all this stuff on my own. Right.

Chris: Yeah. So I had been blogging about development stuff that if I found anything, that I couldn’t find the answer to quickly on Google, when I did figure it out and write a blog post about it. So I bought a domain  dot com and decided to put those blog posts over on go rails.com. So that. You know, Google and everything is going to index that higher than my own personal domain, because it’s got rails in the name and everything.

So I started riding on there. and that was getting a little bit of traffic, but it was just a side thing. So when I quit consulting, I decided maybe I can take this traffic on that site and turn it into a product. So I decided. Maybe I’ll make screencasts. And that’s kind of the initial idea that led into trying to make a course at the beginning, which turned into a weekly screencast.

Andrew: The thing that I, I keep thinking when I hear about your story is I’ve interviewed people who created coding courses. I’ve seen them online there, tons of them. I’m going to interview. I’ve got someone coming up soon, then lots of them. Why did you say I’ve got something different? I can make money here when there’s so many other people.

Chris: well, I just needed anything that could make money at the time. I just needed to get my foot in the door somehow. So that, inspiration for that was really RailsCasts, which was a guy who was making screencasts a few years before. Who quit and kind of disappeared from the internet. But I learned everything from him.

Like I watched every single video of his probably multiple times and he had quit. About a year and a half earlier, and I really missed it. A lot of other people did too. So yeah. I was really craving to have that product again. And I thought maybe I’ve learned enough. I, I could teach a few things like he has.

yeah, that was kind of where I figured there’s a gap in the market. cause I really wish I could continue paying for this, but it no longer exists.

Andrew: Okay, let me take a moment to talk about my first sponsor. I’m so excited. I’ve got a brand new sponsor and then we’ll come back and figure out how you got your first customers. And also the difficulty of creating that first course, everyone says, just create is teach. It’s not that hard, but it’s harder than people.

Well, I interview make it out to be alright. I’m really excited. SCM rush is a new sponsor. Do you do any content marketing or do you do any jeez software to help you figure out what to do?

Chris: I don’t right now, but I’ve definitely.

Andrew: You know what, when SCM rush came to be a customer of mine, I went to my audience and I said, if you have any positive experiences, let me know. And this one woman said, Andrew, please don’t use my name, but here’s this here’s the thing said, I know my audience. I just started creating articles for my audience.

And then I hired people to help me create articles for my audience. And we just did it based on what we thought. Was right. What we thought was good, what we love because we were our audience and she said, but when we analyze it, we realized we weren’t making enough money from it. And she’s making money from advertising.

I didn’t think there was still money to be made from advertising. I thought it’s all just converted into, it’s all about converting into selling your product. She is telling me I’m doing really well. Probably why she doesn’t want me to mention her name. But she said, look, the problem we had was a lot of what we loved.

Wasn’t actually generating traffic. And she said, once I started paying safe $100 even to get somebody to write an article, I had to analyze and say, are we getting $300 worth of value from this? And we weren’t in SCM rush helped her just quickly see that. And so once you started using SEM rush to figure out what should she write about, what does she care about?

And our audience is still searching for, then she stopped wasting it on articles that weren’t being read and started leveling up and getting articles that drew in enough traffic to more than pay for the writers. I have tons of examples of people who’ve done the exact same thing. And I can tell you that it’s about search engine optimization.

But I’ll tell you that it’s grown beyond that. Yes. It’s so simple that I’m one of the people in my audience said, yeah, here’s a video I created for virtual assistants. They are now creating the basic content. She said, look, there’s a thing we want to create an article about. We see who else has created similar articles and you can see in the screen catching share, she created for her people.

She’s walking them through understanding that. Well, look, this article is not very good. Look at how much better we could do it. This article is not very good. Look at what we could bring to it. And now by seeing the competitive articles for the terms that she’s, that she’s trying to rank for, she can create better articles anyway, but it’s more than just search engine optimization.

It’s also about content marketing about social media. They’ve got all these tools where if you want to earn traffic, earn eyeballs, create stuff that people want to see, share and read. They’ve got these tools that will let you do it, but you know what. I’m not even going to try to sell you guys on it. I’m just going to tell you that if you want to use it, they’re letting me, you and EV you, Chris, you should do it.

You’re going to love this. They’re gonna let you just try it for free. You don’t have to pay anything for it. You don’t even have to put a credit card in. I went in, I double checked it to make sure there’s no credit card required. You just get to go and experience it. It’s so fast. You just tell them your name and email address.

They want to make sure that you don’t have an account. If you do have an account, they won’t let you have this deal. But if you don’t have any, they’re not just going to give you their, their software. They’re going to give you the guru version. Yeah. The software, which has, Oh, you know what, it’s the best level available to us right now.

All you have to do is go to their, they couldn’t even create this URL fast enough for me. I just created redirect if you need this, if you want this, if you’re curious about how to create stuff that people love, here’s the URL that will let you use their software for free limited time. They’re just testing me to see if this ad will convert for them.

All they have to do is go to mixergy.com/s E M. Rush, mixergy.com.  dot com slash se, M R U S H. All right. I feel like that’s exactly where you are right now. You’re at a place where Chris, you are creating a lot of the work yourself, and we’re going to get into the headaches in that. And now you’re starting to think like, how do I optimize?

How do I organize? How do I systemize? But let’s get back to the first course. How long did it take you to create the first course? What’d you even put into that course?

Chris: That first course was easily three or four months, just to get through making like five or 15 videos. It was really tough because as a developer, all of the work that you do is in your own head, you’re thinking through these problems and looking up, trying to think of like, I’ve seen this problem before, how did I solve it in what project was it?

You know? And there’s just a lot going through your head and unless you’re a peer programming or something, you’re not talking out loud. So when I sat down to record these videos, I hated the sound of my voice. I couldn’t even put a full sentence together sometimes to explain what I was thinking and what I was doing, because it’s just like, not something I was used to doing.

So it’s okay to me a very long time. And I, I mean, I forced myself to record 15 minutes a day because I hated it. And I knew I was never going to record if I didn’t just. Do something, even if I throw it away. So it was a real struggle to, to even put the first 15 videos together.

Andrew: No, of course I’ve been doing this for over 10 years. I still can’t just talk into the camera on my own. Even if someone says Andrew, we’re flying you out to our conference, we’re putting you up in a really nice suite. We want you to just do interviews at the conference. Would you please create a 62nd video saying that you’re coming out to the conference?

I just can’t do it. It’s a pain. I get stuck. The hard part for me is just talking to myself even great speakers. I remember that bill Clinton used to have to do the weekly radio address from the oval office. He couldn’t do it. They brought people into his office to sit down as he talked and that brought him to life.

And here’s the person whose whole life is about talking. For me, I just have to, I bring my wife in, I bring someone who’s a stranger in on zoom. I do something. I got to talk to someone else. So that’s one of the problems that I could see. You broke it down by chunking it into 15 minute increments. But what about the other part?

How do you know what to put in? Is this making sense? Is it taking people? It was step by step process. They understand.

Chris: Yeah, that is, that is tough. And I definitely have that same problem of like, I can’t, it’s really hard to talk to myself. So I kind of just imagine that I’m talking or explaining it to one of my friends and yeah, there’s so many layers in programming of, you know, can I assume they understand this or this?

And there’s so many foundations, so, One thing I realized was like, when I was watching RailsCasts in the past and learning, there were a lot of things that were glossed over where it was like a lot of programming videos. They tell you what to type and they don’t explain the why. So I try and go a little bit overboard and go explain a lot more than you’re used to.

Probably, I don’t want it to feel like we. I don’t want it to feel scripted like a lecture or anything. Like, I want it to feel like you and I are sitting down programming together and we’re just talking it out as we go. So, I tend to kind of overexplain stuff where if there’s something. That we’re not going to dive into completely.

I’ll just talk about it, roughly the concept of what that does and how it gets us to, where we need to go. And then I’ll, you know, go through and, you know, get through whatever topic we’re talking about.

Andrew: That’s what I’m hearing you say is your, you use. What was existing before rails cast as a model, but you adjusted it based on what you wish he had done to make it more interesting for you. So you’re not starting from scratch. You’re just improving what you are already experiencing. Am I right?

Chris: Yeah. Yeah, because there was countless times where I’d watch a video of his and I’d be able to copy paste what he. Created and while he’s explaining it, it seems like I understand it, but then when it comes time to change it, which every single time, you know, you can’t build a feature without tweaking it.

So if you copy paste from stack overflow or something, You’ve got to change it to work in your use case. And that’s where I realized like most of these tutorials are not explaining the behind the scenes, like the stuff in the dark corners that people gloss over. I wanted to try and shine a light in there and be like, it’s not that scary.

It just does these things for you. And you didn’t realize it.

Andrew: I know what you mean. Like even for podcasters, they’ll talk about the mic to get, and then they say, get a mixer and plug it in. They never stop and say, here’s why you need to mixer instead of getting a mic that plugs directly into your computer. Just take a second. Tell me why every part. Matters. Alright, so you did it.

other people were charging a hundred dollars. You said I’m not there yet. I’m going to charge how much.

Chris: Yeah, I think the course was like 39 bucks. originally, I had the go rail site with a few articles on it before that was getting shared and getting a bunch of traffic organically and, I just tried to put links in the sidebar to get people to come to the homepage, which I converted into, like here’s the course sales page.

So I was just trying to take those people who are, you know, discovering me from other articles I wrote and say, maybe if they’re interested in that and they learn something, they’ll check out other things that I have. And that was kind of just how I drove people.

Andrew: How well did you do that first year?

Chris: First year, I think I’m maybe made $6,000

Andrew: The whole

Chris: best the whole year. Yeah,

Andrew: Why didn’t you give up on this? Why don’t you say all right, I did it. I tried it. I’m done. Let’s go back to work.

Chris: that’s pretty much what I did at a point. So I ran out of savings or it was going to run out of savings around September and. In may I believe was when the first course launched and I made, I don’t know, $200 in may in July or June, maybe July. And at that point I decided selling courses is not going to work because I don’t know how to do the marketing.

And no one knows who I’m, who I am. So I don’t have any credibility. You’re not going to buy these courses without learning other things from me. So I decided I’d change what I’m doing and do the weekly screencasts, which were just like a rails gas back in the day. And people really miss that. He doesn’t seem like he’s coming back.

So maybe I can, you know, offer my version of that. So I charged $9 a month for. A weekly screencasts and the comments on that change were, you know, pretty funny because there were people who were like, Oh, this is amazing. I miss RailsCasts like, I’m happy to give you $9. And then there were all these comments of like, who are you?

Nobody, he knows who you are. Why are you going to charge $9 for this? You don’t even have any videos. Yes. And I had, you know, I was kind of scared seeing some of those comments because I’m putting myself out there for the first time. And, you know, seeing some, some malicious comments like that, you’re like, Oh, I hope that this is not the audience that I’m attracting.

I want people who are supportive

Andrew: right, right. It’s not that you were hurt that people said, how dare you charge? It’s just. You want it, you want to know, am I really attracting the wrong person? And then it’s hard to shake them off and have them not distract the people who are interested. How well did it do.

Chris: Well, it was interesting because I started to learn over time to ignore those people. because it turned out that if anyone learned something from me, Then they were, they didn’t even question the quality. So I had a terrible mic. I was very monotone. I didn’t know how to explain stuff. Their quality was awful.

So the people who would say those things usually didn’t learn anything from me. And then the rest of the people who did started to ask for more stuff, they wanted me to cover other topics and. it started to grow slowly, definitely anything at $9 a month, it’s going to be pretty slow. So I think around September, it was at 450 bucks a month, somewhere around there,

which is like 45 customers.

Right.

Andrew: It’s not bad, but okay.

Chris: But at that time, that was roughly the end of my savings because I stopped consulting and making money in January. And by September I’ve spent all of my savings and I need to get a job or go back to consulting. And I didn’t want to do consulting. I already knew that route. It was just going to be the same thing over and over again.

So I decided to apply for a job and try to maybe do go rails on the side even. No, I kind of hated making videos and it wasn’t making money. And I just, I didn’t like anything that I had so far.

Andrew: Why’d you hate making videos? It seems like I thought that once you switched to weekly videos where you’re talking about new things, that you were starting to get engaged, that you were starting to enjoy it.

Chris: Yeah, there was pieces of it. Seeing the results for people was inspiring. You know, that kept me motivated, but like, As a, as someone who’s a developer and gets a lot of happiness out of it, learning new things. Teaching is not a good way to get happiness because you’re not learning new things.

Andrew: you’re teaching the basics that you already knew well enough to share with someone else. I see.

Chris: Yeah. So you’re not doing the thing you love. You’re regurgitating the same thing that you take for granted now. And you’re trying to figure out what stuff you even take for granted. and it’s, it’s painful to do that, and it’s not super fun, especially if you’re working on topics, you don’t find interesting, like what people are usually asking you for, which is like, how do I upload a picture?

You know, like, There’s a million tutorials on that. I don’t really want to do that. and I was doing a lot of that at the beginning. You know, what people were asking for, was the easy thing for me to do. And, I would just do a lot of that and it was causing me to be pretty burnt out after nine months.

Andrew: Not making money, not doing work. You love not getting a lot of love from your audience. Got it. did you, from the beginning create the private Slack group? I know eventually you increase your price to 19 bucks a month and you started to focus on community too. How long that take you to get to.

Chris: I think that happens somewhere in the second year. So when I ran out of money, I got a job working for YC startup and moved to New York city, but kept doing go rails on the side. And I was there for about a year just doing that. I’m working full time. We’re in sort of a similar education sector. And so on the side, I’m doing go rails and.

I think during that time I heard, I remember very clearly when I raised the prices, my black Friday sale that year. the second year was. basically, this is your last chance to subscribe for $9 a month. Cause after black Friday, it’s $19 a month. And that was like a big growth in revenue, you know, and these are subscribers, so they know that they got to continue paying.

Otherwise they lose that price, which is a great thing for me to do around that time, because it was still after about a year and a half or two years, it was not. Making enough to live on. So I was still working full time, but it was starting to creep into, you know, minimum wage territory. So it took quite a long time, but it’s some

Andrew: up at that point? Why didn’t you say, you know what? This thing doesn’t work, I’m just going to quit. It let’s start something different. I thought this was going to work. It turns out that.

Chris: Yeah. I didn’t give up because there were so many people who found it useful. And I was starting to build an audience and I knew that that was going to be useful regardless. And I thought if I did do anything, I would probably still make the videos, but talk about things I wanted to talk about now, what they were asking for.

And then worst case, I would just give it all away for free and become like a YouTuber. Right. It’s like, Use it to build the audience, but give it all away for free and, you know, work somewhere or whatever. but having that job allowed me to just continue doing that. Cause I didn’t have to rely on income.

And after about a year I left there and it was making like 3,500 bucks a month and I

Andrew: not great.

Chris: no. And that was living in New York city. Good luck. Right.

Andrew: you live in New York city.

Chris: what’s that.

Andrew: Where’d you live? What part?

Chris: I lived in Bedstein Brooklyn, so it was a ways out there. it was not a great apartment and, you know, it was, to be cheap enough.

It was quite a ways away from the train. So every night when it’s raining, you got to walk 15 minutes in the rain to get home. And it was just not fun. Right. And I’m used to, I grew up in the Midwest and like, No car in New York city was really weird. You know, I can’t just go to target and buy something and carry it home.

Like, you know, it was weird. So it was quite the lifestyle change. But, I took that plunge to move to New York city because my dad, we went on vacation and right after he came back, And started to go back to work. He passed out in the shower and my mom called me and was like, your dad’s in the hospital.

He passed out in the shower. We don’t know what is going on. And we were all freaked out. And that was one of those times where I was like, thank God I’m working for myself. And this happened before I went to New York city. So, we went up there and found out through some scans that he has colon cancer.

And, that was, that was tough. So they did the surgery removed it, and he was supposed to be fine, but he’s in recovery and not really getting better. And that was, that was rough. So we got another, another doctor who came in, did another surgery, and actually fixed it and he was able to recover, but he had to have the class me bag.

Andrew: more of his colon had to get removed.

Chris: Yeah. It was like, it was abscessed when it, it was basically just wasn’t healing when they sewed it back together.

Andrew: then how does this bring you back to New York

Chris: so this whole thing happens in my dad recovers. And I’m back at home, running out of money, but I’ve been able to go visit my dad in the hospital for as long as possible. Right. I never had to go back.

I could work from their house and I was like, incredibly grateful for that freedom. And then when I’m running out of money, I’m like, I could absolutely go back to consulting, but life is super short, so I’ve always wanted to live somewhere else. I’m going to go apply for a job that you know, is totally different than what I’m used to.

And so I moved to New York city and did that for a year and I hated it. Like it wasn’t great for me. And yeah, it was one of those things that I learned an enormous amount of stuff and go rails steadily kept growing. And by the time that was that year in New York city was over. I was making. Enough to live here in the Midwest.

So I moved back and was able to just scrape by, but I could put my full time focus in then on S that had grown enough to pay rent. And I knew that now, knowing what I learned, being out there for your working in that company, I could grow it better and faster.

Andrew: What’s one thing that you learned.

Chris: So one of my friends that I met there was really good at sales.

And, and he worked at one of the, your sponsors delighted. And,

uh, yeah, so he and I became really good friends and he’s in sales and as a developer, you’re always like, Salespeople are scammy. You know, they’re telling customers that they can, we can build anything that you ask for. And then it comes back to the developers and we’re like, we can’t do what you told them.

And so typically like developers have this like bad feeling of salespeople, but he was telling me and basically saying like, look, you know, your job as a sales person is to help people. solve their problems. It could hopefully it’s the product you’re representing and selling. If it’s not just tell them that and tell them where they can go, you know, use a competitor, if it’s actually better for them.

And I was like, that’s really interesting. Like, you can just, you don’t have to be a bad person to be a salesperson. You just help people. And it’s like exactly what I’m doing. At Gorrell. So like I’m just helping people solve programming problems and hopefully I can turn them into videos that solve the same problem for a thousand people instead of just one off.

And so I realized that I could apply that to my videos and, you know, make it a little bit more targeted, right? Like I can choose to solve problems in the videos. Instead of just recording whatever I felt like, which is kind of what I was doing at the beginning.

Andrew: How do you know what problems to solve? How do you know what videos to create? I was looking at your site from 2017, you had about 300 videos up on the site of you teaching 300 different things. How did you pick out what, what to create a video about.

Chris: Yeah, it is. I’m not an easy thing, but a lot of it is people want to replicate, you know, features of Twitter or Facebook. And those tend to be the most popular

Andrew: How did you know that? Did you go to stack overflow and look, did you go to a Reddit site and see what people were asking about?

Chris: as a developer, you were looking up that stuff. And so I started to take note of what I was searching for and when I’m building an app, I’m looking at that stuff, to see how other people solve their problem. And then I would take notes and then it’d be like, when I figure this out, I’ll make a video on it.

And then I was also keeping track of the comments where people were like, You know, Hey, I need to upload photos. How do I do that? And I would just kind of aggregate the comments and group them together and figure out what are people asking for. And then how, how important are those problems? Cause some people who want to implement Stripe payments, those people are probably willing to pay a lot more for that versus a simple thing where it’s like, I want to add likes.

To posts. Yeah. It’s kind of simple. And you know, they’re probably, it’s not probably something they’re as willing to pay for someone who’s trying to make money. They’re going to spend a little bit of money to, to make money.

Andrew: And that helps me understand too. Why on jumps are, you have you, you explained that you have templates to help people build things that have already been built a lot, and you explain it by showing how to add Stripe payments. Even though you have other things you could have talked about.

All right. I’m with you. Let me take a moment to talk about my second sponsor, delighted, and then we’ll get into then where the other products came from. How’d you know what else to create? Why hosting again, another product that’s got so much competition, right? I don’t think a lot of people know what delight it is, but we know we’re supposed to check in with people and say, do you even like our products?

Like this guy, Andy. Selling online pants, believe it or not wanting to figure out if his site was actually working the people. Nevermind. Did it close more sales? You could see whether a change in your site resulted more sales. What he wanted was he wanted people to talk about his pants. Talk about the experience, tell their friends if not to get more customers, at least to know that they liked it enough that they would.

So Andy said, how do I figure that out? He could have absolutely created a questionnaire on his site that asks people, what did they think? How happy were they? How likely were they to share with their friends said, you know what, sweetie, that went to delighted, delighted.com signed up for one of their forms and they make it super easy.

You pick the form, the design, the questions, make it look nice and understood that he could put it in email on his website, et cetera. And have the light. It makes sense. And it turns out the change that he was making was actually leading people. Well, not just to lose sales, forget that more importantly, to not like the experience.

So he ripped out this thing that he and his team built and removed it and shares in conversation went up and Andy’s business grew up to be Bonobos, which we now know is the pant company that is talked about tremendously and has been sold. So the point I’m making is if you want to get a beat on what your customers are, feeling, get a sense of whether they like your product enough to share it.

Get a sense of whether what you’re doing is on the right track. Whether anyway, you want to ask people, if you were running a coffee shop, you’d kind of get a read of the room by looking at people’s faces or asking them you can’t do it online. The way to do it is to go to delighted.com/mixergy and use their tools to quickly and easily ask your audience.

And more importantly, they help you make sense of the feedback that you get from it. Now. Sky Tam worked for me. I saw him on a Facebook group saying, Hey, does anyone know a competitor to delighted? I really liked delighted, but I don’t have the budget right now to pay for delighted for this project that he’s working on.

I quickly went into the comments and I said, yeah, I do go to delighted.com/mixergy. And you don’t have to pay. I did it. I haven’t had to pay a cent for it. And if you go to delighted.com/mixergy, for a limited time, you won’t either. You just go there. Yes. They will ask you for your credit card. And then they haven’t charged me.

They’re not going to charge you.  They want to make sure you’re not spamming. So they need something to connect. This free account are real human beings. Because you can send the email, you can do things like that with it. And if you like it, you’ll use it. You can use it for free.

If you want to upgrade, get more questions out there, \ , get feedback from more people, then you can level up, but I’m telling you go jump on this before they get rid of this free offer. It’s delighted.com/mixergy, delighted.com/mixergy. And if you’re listening to an older version of this interview, if you came back months later, I’m sorry that offers gone.

Alright, the lighted.com/mixergy. Go use it while this is up there. Had you known what to do next, Chris?

Chris: there, there was a point where I had grown revenue, enough that I was making, I just broke like six figures and I started optimizing for. Working as little as possible. So if I’m making a video, I only need to publish one video a week. And if I can teach something, I already know, well, I only have to work like one day a week.

So I was really doing, at one point I realized I was doing like a four hour work week, literally. And that

Andrew: But you, you were doing them. Why? Because you were burning out or because this was the better way to grow

Chris: Yeah, no, I was doing it cause I was burning

Andrew: burning out. This was the way to survive.

Chris: Minimize the amount of effort I had to do, because it is exhausting to record videos and teach stuff that you don’t know. You’ve got to spend on some topics. I have to spend 40 hours practicing, you know, building this thing that I’ve never done before that I have to teach myself and learn.

The things not to do so then I can teach you the right way to do it. Right. And that’s really time consuming. And that’s one of the reasons why the guy who was doing RailsCasts before me. Burned out. And he stopped doing that. And I was afraid of doing the same thing. Like I knew it was coming and I was exhausted recording videos every single week.

And I was like afraid of committing to do that, which is why I did the courses at the very beginning, because I didn’t want to commit to a weekly thing forever. So once I got to that point, I was making, you know, good salary for being in the Midwest and. Working very little. And I started to enjoy that for a while.

And then of course, as you know, most people are, they get bored and they’re like, what’s the next thing I’m ready to like work on another challenge. So, it turned out that one of the most popular articles that I’ve written on guardrails before the videos was how to deploy your rails app. and I keep that tutorial up to date.

In case anything changes, I just, you know, update it every time a new Mac version comes out and so on. So it’s always there to reference. And, we can, we have two guides, one to set up your computer and one to deploy it to a server. And the deployment guide is like really popular. And one of my friends was telling me, like, why don’t you just automate that and sell it?

And I was like, that’s a good point because. To set up my own server for my own apps I go through and do it all manually following my own guide. And I can keep an idea on like, is it working or not, but it’s like a 45 minute process. And then you do it. Things work for a while. Six months later something’s changed and it doesn’t work anymore.

And you got to go figure that out. And it’s six months, that’s one spy. So you forgot all those steps that you took to set it up in the first place. And. Then we got talking. and this guy who gave me the idea, it was one of the gorals customers and, you know, so I was like, that’s a great idea. Like why not take the popular tutorial and just turn it into a product.

And that was what we ended up doing. And, that became hatch box, and became a, another pretty significant piece of revenue. But also like an enormous amount of, of maintenance that I didn’t realize I was

Andrew: It’s half your time now goes to that product, right?

Chris: Yeah. It’s quite a critical thing for anybody who’s deploying their app, you know, on your website to go down.

So like you have to be pretty on the ball with support. Whenever something happens.

Andrew: there any competition in that space? Tons of it.

Chris: There is, there’s Heroku is probably the big one. there’s, you know, AWS services, but similar to AWS and DigitalOcean, those are all like, we’re going to give you the raw servers. You can log in, set it up, how you want. And that takes a lot of time sometimes. And so. That also gets very expensive either with time or with, you know, you’re paying Heroku to do a lot of the server set up for you.

And then it becomes quite expensive to run little hobby projects and stuff. So I was always deploying to my own servers cause I can do them on DigitalOcean for five bucks. And, to set up that server was like, you know, A few hours, the first time you do it, then things break and you got to do that six months later.

And that just is never ending process of maintaining that. So turning this product into something that we can set up your server in 10 minutes, you don’t do anything. We’ll let you deploy your apps to it. You don’t have to worry about any of that either. you can basically use the cheapest option. And host as many apps as you want on that server and its way, it can be way cheaper for, you know, hobby projects and everything.

I’m not trying to be, you know, AWS or anything big. I’m just like, there’s a lot of people out there who want to run a little, lots of little ideas that they have put together, but you don’t want to pay 50 bucks a month for each one of

Andrew: Do you have an example of something that’s been built on your platform on hatbox?

Chris: yeah, there are, there’s one guy who’s doing some genomics software, which is pretty cool. So he’s got lots of genomics data and processing that he does and that’s, like something interesting. That would be very expensive. To host somewhere else and he can kind of optimize his costs there because genomics data can get into terabytes pretty easily.

Andrew: No. I was wondering with goal rails, you kind of have the model that I have, where you’re creating everything and you get to keep all the revenue. I wonder if I Mixergy premium. If I made a mistake, if the better approach would have been for me to say, I don’t have to teach everything and I don’t even have to help people teach.

I just do my own and then allow anyone else. Who’s good at something to come on the platform and teach. And what we should create is a way for them to get paid a percentage of the revenue based on how much we make. In fact, maybe make a killer good in the beginning and say, okay, I’ll take 50% of the revenue.

Even though I have the vast majority of the content. And I’ll split the other 50% with all the creators who are on the platform. And if it’s only one creator, great, he gets, or she gets 50% of all the revenue that we get. And it’s an incentive for the early people to come on and, and, and build on the platform.

I wonder if that’s a direction you and I both should have taken.

Chris: Yeah, it’s interesting. there is in the JavaScript development world. there’s a company called egghead. and you may have talked to Joel before,

Andrew: Yep. I

Chris: and they do a lot of that where, originally it was him and the co founder, I think creating content. And now they have a really easy way to get new instructors on, and then they pay royalties based upon whatever percentage of use watch that month was on your content, which is pretty cool.

I definitely thought about that, but then there’s a. You have to have your standards enforced some somehow like your quality of content you want to make sure is still roughly that quality, that gets harder. And then also, you know, your payments out to all those creators are going to be quite a little complicated thing for your accountant to deal with.

And so

Andrew: becomes a big, but they’re tools to do it. My sense is, is as I hear you do this, the tools for sending out rev, I just talked to a potential sponsor, said, well, you’re gonna have to use this one tool. I said, why? He said we can’t deal with all these different companies. We don’t want to deal with payments.

The payments come from this one company. They handle all, all this stuff that you were just talking about. Like 10 99 is a long, could be a pain in the butt. Right? But there are companies that handle it. My sense, listening to your answer and watching you as you talk about it is you don’t want to go big.

You even told Ari our producer. I want to see how long I could go without even hiring anybody. Can I just keep it small enough? So I don’t have the headache, right.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve been really curious. I don’t know why exactly, but I’ve been really curious how far I can take it with a single employee myself. and that is something that you see. You know, Apple with however many millions they make per employee. And then you’ve got companies like Boeing and stuff, and you’re like, there’s so much bureaucracy in these companies.

How do they make that much money that they can just throw away all this money and wasted time and meetings and all this stuff. And that always had me kind of curious of like, how big can I get things on my own? and so I’ve just kinda been going that route. I probably will have to hire someone to continue.

Andrew: Because you’re hit, you’re hitting a breaking point. You’re doing well. And my sense also watching you talking to you before is you kind of go between near burnout too. I can’t believe this is working and I’m doing this thing that I love near burnout. I can’t right.

Chris: Yep. It feels like a swing back and forth on that all the time. the biggest taxing thing right now is the support for production apps on, on your hosting, right? Like that is critical stuff for every customer of yours. So you need to be on the ball in the past. That has

Andrew: middle of the night people contact you.

Chris: Yeah, like 11:30 PM.

As you’re heading to bed, you might be in bed, checking your phone before you fall asleep. And then you’re like, Oh no, customer side is down. Now I have to get up after go downstairs and, you know, debug this thing that may or may not be my fault. And you know, it is what it is and it’s, it’s exhausting. And then to hire someone to help out with that, you need someone, at least with hosting, you need someone who’s like.

Very good expert. And then they need to be, you know, the other side of the world, because you really want to be 24 hour coverage and then you have to deal with paying someone in a different country and it gets complicated. So I’ve been trying to intentionally stay small, just see where I can make it, you know?

Andrew: Wonder if there’s a service that would get you that like I’m not promoting them now, but top is clearly one of my sponsors. I wonder if they’ve got somebody, the other side of the world just gets paid when they do the work, you know, they’re reliable because they do this for another company. That’s similar.

I hear you, the headache of having to bring in somebody new. I understand why base camp keeps saying, wait until you absolutely have to. Before you hire. But I’m also seeing from you that you’re, when you get to burnout, what do you feel? Do you want to just stay in bed?

Chris: Oh, yeah, there’s lots of that. Lots of ’em. Should I just shut this down or sell it and, you know, get my time back. It is tough. And I feel like one of the reasons why I want to see how profitable I can get things on my own was working at that company in New York city for a year, I watched them spend like 40 grand a month on ads and they, you know, had investment and we were just spending money.

Outrageously and not making money. And I was like, I’m going to never do that. So I’ve maybe went in the other extreme, but yeah, the burnout, portion of, of trying to do that is not worth it. But then once you start to make enough money, you don’t have to. And I’m at that point of where I probably gone too far and I should have invested reinvested more of that into, you know, help.

Take out to go further or to make

my

Andrew: to make sure you had enough money in the bank to cover it. Right. You were telling me before we got started. You do you feel like you have enough money? Can you, is it inappropriate to ask you how much you now have in the money in the bank for go rails?

Chris: yeah, I’m not gonna share that exactly. But I have enough to easily cover me and someone else full time. and hopefully that continues to grow monthly and yeah. I wanted to make sure that before I hired someone full time, I didn’t want to do it too soon. Like, I don’t know, you know, and I’m sure this is a conversation that I should be having with other founders, but when you hire your first person, you don’t want to hire them too soon and realize, Oh, we had a bump in the road and we’re going to have to lay this person off for a month or I’m going to have to go without a salary for a month.

You know, six months in now it sucks. So I don’t want, I wanted stability there. and to just, you know, have enough growth that I know that if I’m hiring someone that they’re covered and it’s not going to be a problem, hopefully that person doubles

Andrew: you are not a risk taker. That’s the thing. Now I understand earlier why it was so hard for you to leave your consulting job.

Chris: Yeah. Like

Andrew: of entrepreneurs would say, I got an opportunity I’m growing. I’m getting attention to the indie hackers post that you did, where you shared that you hit your million dollar in revenue from this business.

Did that, did that bring you a lot of new customers

Chris: I have no idea, honestly, I don’t

Andrew: did that month grow in sales any more than any other?

Chris: maybe, but that’s not necessarily my customer base. I share that more because to me, like if I’m teaching stuff too, The version of me from four years ago, these were the kinds of posts that like got me into wanting to build my own business. Right. So that was why I ended up sharing that.

It was like, I don’t have any idea if any of these people are going to go be customers, but I wanted to share this because it’s possible, you know, and I would have liked to see, to seen that a few years ago. And I don’t think I ever thought I would get to this point on my own. So it was cool to do that.

Andrew: Jumpstart rails. Where did that idea come from?

Chris: actually there is, so Ruby on rails is a framework to build websites. And then in PHP, there’s layer Val, and they have this template that, has payments and all these things built in. And something that I’ve struggled with over the years is building apps and having payments and. All these features that you kind of need.

And I do them from scratch every single time. And that leads to every single app being totally different than the last one. I’ve learned a bunch of stuff and I changed the way I do it, or just did it differently just because I wanted to try something new. And over the years, I’ve learned a lot of mistakes from that.

And seeing them build a template that I know Taylor, Ottewell the creator of, larva, well posted on Reddit that he had made a million dollars from that. And that was one of the things. Yeah, that’s really surprising. And it’s also sad that we don’t have anything. Like that in rails and it needs to also be affordable.

So selling that in Laravel for like a hundred bucks. So I was like, what if we make it that for rails and try and make it affordable as well? So, so, jumpstart ended up being 150 bucks and it’s got, you know, payments and all these other features that. You pretty much need in every single site. Like if you’re building Mixergy premium from scratch, you’ve got to build your memberships and the payments then, you know, failed payment emails.

And maybe you need teams cause you want to sell a package of licenses or whatever, lots of features that you have to build. And so I ended up building all of that into. Kind of the thing that I would use to rebuild go rails or hatch box or any of my own apps. So it’s kind of building it for myself to save time in the future.

And then it was like, if I package it up and sell it, maybe it’ll help other people too. And it turned out to, to sell really well. And it’s kind of like, A quarter of revenue now. And I didn’t expect that, especially from something that everything else I’ve done before is sass. So it’s monthly subscriptions.

This is a gamble on a onetime payment. Will that just die off? I don’t know. So I thought I would try that and see what happened.

Andrew: No, the one field, the one piece that seems missing from your business. Is like the OnRamp. Yes. There’s a forum and SEO for articles and stack overflow seem send you traffic, but you’re not at all aggressive about getting email addresses right there. Isn’t that people come do this, you get their email address.

And then naturally there’s a progression to sales. It’s. The bottom of the forum. there’s a want to stay up to date with Ruby on rails, enter your email address. You’ve always been good about saying here’s the number of people who are on the list. That social proof has always been good. I think even looking back at your early website, you had it up on the homepage, but there isn’t this natural flow from watching something to being asked for an email address, right.

Chris: Yeah. that’s kind of intentional because going back to the very beginning of go rails, nobody knew who I was. So I was first trying to teach you anything. And then if I taught you something, then you trust me, then you’ll give me your email address. And it also is a natural filter to, you know, get those people who actually care.

They’re the ones who have gone and watched five or 10 minutes of a video. And then they’re like, Oh, I want to keep. You know, seeing more of this and I’m sure I could be more pushy with that and have like the exit, you know, when you’re move your cursor over to the back button and have the popup and whatever.

But, you know, I just, haven’t been too worried about that. I’m more worried about, can I help people in the community because if I can do that, then they’re willing to support me. And that’s like the philosophy I’ve taken with it. Just building trust with people and trying to help as many people as they can.

Andrew: That’s a good place to leave it, because that is what I keep seeing here. You’re almost apologetic about asking for email addresses. You’re very clear. Like if I want to join the discussion. It’s not a natural right now. Enter your email address now. Gotcha. Go create an account. And that’s a barrier to collecting an email address when you tell people to create an account, but I could see how, if someone’s really into your work, it makes it, a natural next step for them.

All right. I feel like the first place anyone was listening to, I would want to go is to go rails.com. Right?

Chris: Yup. Yeah, that would be kind of the source of everything. That’s where I do most of my work. And then it’s got links to hatch box or jumpstart or whatever, if you’re interested.

Andrew: I also think that have you gotten a investor emails, investor calls? I feel like you should get a bunch of them.

Chris: yeah, I’ve gotten a few, and an acquisition offer at one point or the discussion of it. And you know, it is, it is one of those things where it’s like, unless it’s going to mean that I don’t have to work for the rest of my life. Like it’s not really that appealing yet. so it’s, it’s a weird feeling to be in where I’m like, You know, I’ve gotten six and a half years down the road, and now it’s grown to significant revenue every year, working at Google or something it’s sometimes depends.

They can be pretty good about some of those packages they offer, but I don’t have any like interest in, in going and doing that anymore. So there’s like, yeah, maybe if someone threw you 10 million bucks, then you’d be like, Hmm. Okay. Now we’re

Andrew: I don’t feel, I don’t feel you’re there. I feel like you’re at a point where maybe investment would help, but you’re also at a place where if you’re willing to just suffer, then you may not need the investment. but you hit on something, you hit on a community of people who trust you, who know you, you’ve invested a lot of time in cultivating them, you know, the problems and the needs that they have.

And you’ve proven that you can create a product for them. This is just, it’s a, it’s a wonderful, it’s wonderful business.

Chris: Yeah, it’s been, it’s been interesting because rails used to be a lot more popular when base camp was first getting started. And over the years, there’s a lot of people asking is Ruby and rails dead. And are anybody ever going to like it? Will anybody use this in the future? Everybody’s moving to JavaScript or whatever Facebook is using these days.

And that worried me for a long time of like, Am I investing a lot of time and effort into a community that is just shrinking and like, will this business just naturally die? Cause no one’s here anymore. And it’s pretty amazing to see you. That was definitely wrong. But also like the community just wants someone to take the reins and start making cool stuff.

And sharing that and teaching it and whatever. So in a sense of kind of hopefully filling those shoes of the people who came before me creating RailsCasts and other tools like that, you know, and, and rebuilding part of the community that I feel like is, has waned or was lost over the years.

Andrew: Yeah, I do see the lack of enthusiasm in the beginning of mixer D it was rails was such a thing to that. Frankly, I wasn’t, I didn’t understand enough how to talk about in interviews, but I could tell the people were talking about it, but that there was a lot of passion there. It was base camp, and then it was also a Twitter, right?

The Twitter was almost the high point and the warning

Chris: Yeah, that was

Andrew: the way the Twitter did in the early days?

Chris: yeah, and I think Twitter blamed rails for a while, things that were their own fault. And, that was a lot of negative, you know, negative press for something that didn’t really deserve because at the same, it’s the same go Airbnb, get a hub, Shopify, giant, giant websites. They’re all using Ruby and rails and doing just fine, you know?

So it is what you do with the technology. You may want to, I meant for your problems, but it’s probably, you just need to go like, actually understand what you’re doing and maybe it’s not the right solution for what you’re doing. Twitter’s a unique case. Like that is a, that is a very, very high traffic site.

So it is a little bit different than, you know, other things,

Andrew: it’s also unique company that we’ve seen has had other issues, both, hatching, Twitter. The book’s so good at talking about some of those issues, but frankly, we still see it to this day. All right. So the site go rails.com and I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. These.

Free free access software is not going to last long. Basically they are introducing my audience to their software. So if you want to know what content to create, how your content is doing compared to other people, it just, others. So many great stories of SCM rush. I’m just going to tell you if you’re listening to me, go try it for free explore.

Put your domain in, go see what it can do for you. By going to mixergy.com/s E M rush. And if you want to get a beat on how your audience is feeling, go to delighted.com/mixergy, and I’m grateful to them for sponsoring and you, Chris. Thanks for being here.

Chris: Thanks for having me fun.

Andrew: Bye everyone.

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