I’ve known Corbett Barr for quite a while now and I’m continually impressed by the quality of content that he puts out. What’s interesting about Corbett is that he started out living the silicon valley startup scene by launching a VC funded company only to later realize that he wanted to leverage entrepreneurship to improve his lifestyle.
Today he runs Fizzle.co which is an incredibly awesome online business school program that you should all check out. And the nature of his business allows him to spend half of the year relaxing and working remotely in Mexico.
In this interview, Corbett reveals the process of how he created a successful membership site and how he maintains an engaged customer base.
What You’ll Learn
- How to get initial traffic for your site through partnerships
- What happened to Corbett in Mexico that caused him to quit his job
- Corbett’s twitter strategy
- How Corbett monetized his various blogs
- How to have a successful launch of your info product
- How to reduce churn for your subscription based product
- How to create a engaging community.
- How to constantly attract new customers for your course
Other Resources And Books
MyWifeQuitHerJob’s transcripts are done by Outsource2Africa.com, an awesome transcription service that is half the price of other competing companies. Highly recommended!
If you enjoy this podcast please leave me a review on iTunes, and enter my podcast contest where I’m giving away free one on one business consultations every single month. For more information go to www.mywifequitherjob.com/contest. And if you are interested in starting your own online business, be sure to sign up for my free six day mini course where I’ll show you how my wife and I managed to make over 100k in profit in our first year of business. Go to www.mywifequitherjob.com for more information. Now onto the show.
Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle so you can spend more time with your family and focus on doing the things that you love. Here is your host Steve Chou.
Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job podcast, today I`m really happy to have Corbett Barr on the show. Now I`ve actually known Corbett for quite some time now, but we actually didn’t meet face to face until recently in San Francisco. Now with two kids and a full time job, it’s actually hard for me to make it up to SF, but I`m really glad that I did so that we could actually finally meet up. Now if you don’t know who Corbett Barr is, he is the incredibly sexy mastermind behind Fizzle.co, which is a subscription based online business school that covers a wide garment of online business models. Now prior to Fizzle, Corbett ran various blogs that were all extremely popular.
I think he started blogging at corbettbarr.com and then he started an incredibly popular site called thinktraffic.net, and then finally merged all those domains together and amassed all the material under Fizzle.co which is now his flagship. Now Corbett is an incredible entrepreneur and what I like about him, is that he decided to quit the whole Silicon Valley startup scene, to start a nice lifestyle business and today he travels back and forth to Mexico, and lives his life as a lifestyle entrepreneur, so without further ado welcome to the show Corbett.
Corbett: Thanks that was a great intro.
Steve: So give us a quick back ground story, I`m actually really curious myself, because I haven’t heard it. You used to work in Silicon Valley, you had your own start up at some point, and you decided to just quit that whole thing, so let’s talk about that.
Corbett: Yeah, it wasn’t so much a decision as I was kind of left with not a whole lot of options in 2008, you remember the financial world collapsed.
Corbett: And I had raised I guess around close to three million dollars for my startup over a period of two and a half, three years, something like that. We started working on it in late 2005 and in 2008 you know we had been basically betting on trying to grow really big, and not really worrying about revenue until some later date, which is sort of a typical model here in Silicon Valley, and I think that might have turned out okay, except that in 2008 when the financial world collapsed. The venture capitalists and everybody that you would try to raise money from basically they were scrambling to figure out how to cut their losses. They weren’t sure about what was going to happen, and so they had to make a lot of really hard decisions about who to fund and who not to fund.
And basically we were just caught with our pants down in a bad position and you know, a number of other things were happening at the same time. I had a cofounder, and we were sort of arguing continuously for about a year or so about which direction to take the company. It was a little bit stressful, and you know despite having my own company, I guess I never really considered what I wanted entrepreneurship to be.
I guess I just jumped in thinking that hey! Being an entrepreneur is a great way to go, right. It’s a short path to riches and you are going to be your own boss and everything is going to turn out great, but in reality you know I ended up feeling– I guess like I had less control over my life than I did when I was a fortune 500 consultant. Because I had a cofounder, a board of directors, board of advisers, 10 employees of you know– physical office that I had to maintain and just a lot of weight on my shoulders, and so it’s kind of made the decision easier for me I guess. Aside from having to swallow my pride, it just seemed like we were kind of at the end of the road for that kind of startup, and so my wife and I took a sabbatical to Mexico.
Steve: And so just curios what was your decision making process for accepting funding for your start up?
Corbett: Well it was really the only decision, the only route that we decided to go at the time. This was in you know late 2005 as I said and I partnered up with someone I had worked with before as a consultant. He basically had built a company, sold it to the consulting firm that I worked for and he became a partner in that firm, and that’s how we met. And then five years later we hooked up to work on this start up and his idea was basically that we would shop around our idea, which was based around prioritization of email essentially.
Corbett: And we would shop that idea around and raise venture capital for it and that proved to be a little more difficult than I think he initially thought, and I had no clue going into it because I had never pitched VCs before.
Corbett: But we ended up spending the next 11 months or so, first pitching VCs without any software, and then building a prototype, and then going out to pitch VCs again. And I would say we probably talked to 30 or so before we finally got funding from Draper Fisher Jurvetson based out of Palo Alto.
Steve: Okay, and so you ran out of money with your company, and then you head off to Mexico. So what happened in Mexico that kind of spurred this change?
Corbett: Yeah so, Mexico is this massive transformational experience for me. Basically up until that trip I guess I thought that either you climb the corporate ladder as fast as you could and try to retire you know somewhat early one day maybe in your 50s when you still had some good years ahead of you. Or you became an entrepreneur and swung for the fences and hoped that you hit a home run so that you would make a bunch of money and then be able to go on and do whatever you wanted to do with your life
Corbett: But when we went to Mexico, we kept meeting people who weren’t rich of retired, but somehow had figured out ways to live in a foreign country for many months every year. Some people lived there permanently, some people took their jobs with them, some people put their careers on hold. There is just this whole category of people that we were meeting in almost every town in Mexico who were just kind of putting their lives first, and figuring out ways to make their careers work around their lives instead of the other way around. And this totally blew my mental model of the way that you had to go about your career, and started to make me wonder if I could do that sort of thing.
And so I started a blog in 2009 on this trip about two and a half months into the trip, basically to chronicle the trip, to tell stories of these interesting people that we are meeting. To see if other people might be as flawed as I was to hear about these stories and then also to start asking myself questions in public about the nature of career and life and the balance between the two and what was possible. Basically because I was initially thinking that I would go down there and come up with another startup idea, raise venture capital, but this time pay more attention to how I built the company, so that I didn’t feel so trapped under all the different burdens. And instead I decided after I started that blog that this new lifestyle approach was probably worth giving a shot.
Steve: So which blog was this? Was this corbettbarr.com?
Corbett: It turned into corbettbarr.com, but it actually started out called Free Pursuits, and the idea was basically…
Steve: I remember that…
Corbett: Yeah, the idea was basically how do you live a really great life now before you are rich or retired, and how do you make your career work with your life.
Steve: Okay and then just– the chronology. So Free Pursuits– I remember that blog from long time ago and then it tuned into Corbettbarr and then you started think traffic, right?
Corbett: Exactly, yeah so basically about 11 months in or so, maybe about 9 months in actually, I realized that blogging was an incredible platform. I had about half a million visitors stop by my site in the first year. So…
Steve: Wow, okay.
Corbett: So I realized the power of reaching out and publishing content and building an audience around it, but I had been talking about how to build a lifestyle business, or just asking myself these questions. And then I started wondering like how am I going to turn this into a business because there was sort of a chicken and the egg problem. I was talking about life style business but I myself hadn’t built one yet, and so I started to just ask myself questions about well what skills do I have? What do I have experience with?
And you know I`d spent three years on a startup. We had built it to nearly a million registered users, and then I had built this blog to half a million people in the first year and I realized as I looked around that other people who were starting blogs and just trying to succeed in online business in general, that a lot of them had trouble building an audience. And this seemed to be my sweet spot of expertise. So I started think traffic basically to help people understand what it takes to build a highly trafficked website.
Steve: Yes you know, one thing I admire about you Corbett is that you are really awesome at building a large and loyal audience of followers, and we are going to talk about Fizzle a little bit later but by the time you had started Fizzle, you already had a large audience, right. And so what I was hoping that you could do is just kind of take us back to the old days. Maybe we can talk about Free Pursuits and how you generated half a million visitors in a year. But how did you get that traffic early on, and how did you kind of build up your name in the very beginning?
Corbett: So you know it`s– it was all a process of trial and error basically because I didn’t have any experience writing or blogging. And I remember those first like you know 10 or 12 posts or so. If you look back, some of them are still published in the archives at Fizzle or you know you can you the way back machine and look back any domain and see what people are up to way back. And I really didn’t have a clue and so it was a matter of starting out from scratch, publishing posts, asking big questions and then seeing if anyone will resonated with those questions.
And to jump start the audience you know, I just published on LinkedIn because I had a profile there with maybe you know 500 people or so. I would just post on my status like that I wrote a new blog post. I emailed everyone that I thought might be interested, which was probably 50 or so like former colleagues basically, that I thought might be interested, and really just tried to focus initially on sparking conversations to figure out what people are interested in. I was principally interested in seeing if people would comment on my stuff, because I figured that was a good sign that meant there was you know some interest there.
Corbett: And then a couple of months into it, you know I was asking these deep questions about career and life and I started to do a lot of research about what else was out there. And I stumbled into this whole genre basically in 2009 that involved lifestyle design, which was what Tim Ferriss, was talking about in the 4-Hour Workweek. And I wasn’t aware of that book until I started blogging, but somebody wrote me in a comment and said hey you should check out this book.
And so I checked it out I learnt about that. Then I learned about other concepts like location independence, meaning that you can live anywhere in the world and build a work from anywhere in the world. Digital nomading, you know meaning travelling around and working at the same time.
And there was just sort of this confluence of interest in these things because, a lot of people were– their foundations were shaken as well because they were laid off or friends that they knew well were laid off, where they thought maybe they had a stable career and all of a sudden because of the financial collapse things were really called into question. So a lot of people were interested in these things, and also just because of what was possible now because of the internet.
So I found myself, you know interested in those conversations and I just kept trying to push my little blog into that conversation going on. And the thing that really tipped the scales for me they were two things. One was I decided to run a survey, because we were asking these big questions about what do location independent people do for a living? How are some people able to live anywhere in the world and work from anywhere in the world?
And I decided to run a survey to find out answers to these questions, but my audience wasn’t big enough really to make a dent in that survey. So I reached out to the biggest blogger I knew at the time around these concepts. Not Tim Ferriss, but the biggest one was that accessible and that was a blog called Location Independent at the time run by Leo Woodward.
And I reached out to her and I said Leo, and I would be happy to handle all of the details, and I would like to get a lot of different blogs involved. I would like to reach out to the community of bloggers in general that are talking about location independence and digital nomading and all this stuff. But I would love you to cosponsor this survey, because your site has more credibility than mine and I will put your logo right up there, and you’ll be cosponsored and I will send you everything for review basically.
So I partnered with her, she said sure it sounds great because I was planning to do all the work. And basically the idea was, we run the survey and that gives us a bunch of really rich information that we can then blog about to our own audiences, and she and I got first pick of all the info and then we would give it to all the other bloggers that participated later.
So basically I was able to get about 30 some blogs to participate in the survey, and what they did was they sent all of their readers over to my sight to take the survey, and so then they became aware of Free Pursuits and Location Independence and others. So basically it was a just a great way to sort of jump start awareness of my site.
So that was really, you know how I got my start and started to figure out that blogging really is– the goal of blogging is two things. One is to figure out what people are interested in, but then the second goal is to figure out where people are already hanging out online, and how you can get in front of them there. And relationships are often the key to making that work.
Steve: So did you just cold email Leo or?
Corbett: I think I commented on her blog a number of times, and I may have at that point written a guest post for her as well just unsolicited to send her a post to write.
Corbett: To run on her site because that was pretty common at the time.
Steve: So if we fast forward to 2014, how would your strategy have changed in building such a blog?
Corbett: Well you know that strategy in particular was based on running a survey to find out answers in a space that there wasn’t a whole lot known at the time you know this was learning new things.
Corbett: So I don’t know if that would work exactly, but the idea of reaching out to other bloggers first of all, I think a lot of people who are starting blogs or podcasts or whatever try to do it in isolation and they are scared to reach out to other people. But the fact is you know, whoever you think is fairly big on your radar, probably isn’t really that big and most people are really kind and will actually respond to you pretty easily. In fact you will find if you write even some of the bigger names like Seth Godin or Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Guillebeau or anybody like that, they will probably respond to you today. I don’t think they’ll have time to partner with you on something, but it just goes to show you that people are listening and they will respond.
But if you reach out to people who are like B list players in your space, chances are they will be receptive to different ideas not only guest blogging, but perhaps partnering on something bigger like the survey that I talked about or whatever it is that you can come up with. The third element– so we talked about finding out what people are interested in and then you know finding out where people are hanging out and how to get in front of them and where relationships are important for that. But the third element that I was about to talk about…
Steve: Was the most important one.
Corbett: Oh men! There it goes. I was on a roll and there it goes. It must be this glass of wine that I’m sipping on over here.
Steve: Excellent, have a couple of more swigs and I will ask you the real questions.
Corbett: It will come back to me exactly. So, creativity and coming up with your own ideas. The issue with a podcast like this, or an interview like this is– I mentioned something like a survey or I had a course called start a blog that matters, and I gave some specific instructions about doing a round up post, where you would go out and interview a bunch of people and publish that on your blog. The trouble with giving specific advice like that is that then people use that advice and it becomes ineffective over time. Because enough use it and just the bloggers fear in general, especially the space that were sort of in you know in general becomes numb to these different tactics and techniques, and so one of the important things to realize is that you have to use your own creativity to come up with new ideas.
So I mentioned something about doing a survey, well think about in your own case in your own space, how you could do something similar that has the same goals of uniting your little corner of the blogger sphere towards one specific goal, where you take ownership of the project and therefore reap more the benefits in everybody else involved, but they also get benefits and they don’t have to do any work because you are doing all the work.
So take a blueprint like that and remove the specificity of having to do a survey or whatever it is, and just try to come up with something on your own that you know that satisfies some of those requirements. Same thing with doing a round up post, the goal there is like to publish something that your audience will be interested in because there are a lot of different experts opinions, and then you reach out to experts and gather those opinions without having to do the actual writing yourself. That format is– has been very useful, but again it’s been sort of beaten to death, enough people have done that.
Steve: Sure. Yes.
Corbett: So creativity and just coming up with your own ideas, and that’s important in general in business.
Steve: So you mentioned some of the traffic you got was through the survey and direct traffic. Were there any particular traffic sources that you kind of focused early on with that blog?
Corbett: Yeah, so at the time Twitter was sort of gaining steam and I was definitely spending a lot of time there. I didn’t focus on Facebook for some reason; I’ve always not been interested in Facebook. But the big one at the time was StumbleUpon. That site…
Steve: Yes, that’s how we met I think, right?
Corbett: Yeah, I think you are right. I think you are right. StumbleUpon just at the time if you knew a couple of people who were popular on there, and you could sort of seed a blog post with them to say, hey I just published this would you mind stumbling it or whatever it was you click the little thumbs up thing on there. If your content was interesting and had a lot of photos and some sort of you know buzz feed like headline, then you might be able to get a jump start on it. And I had a couple of posts really take off and drive tens of thousands of visitors to my site sometimes overnight which was interesting.
But then you found out quickly that StumbleUpon visitors were pretty flaky. So it was interesting from raw numbers stand point, but as far as like conversions into regular readers and email subscribers and things like that, you really weren’t able to net a whole lot of those people. So you know 95% of them might just click a little stumble button and move on from your site to the next site.
Steve: So let’s talk a little bit about Twitter for example. So what do you kind of do in Twitter in order to kind of gain a following that way. What’s your Twitter strategy?
Corbett: Well, for Twitter I use it for really more for engagement than driving direct you know clicks through to my website.
Corbett: So the greatest value I’ve gotten from Twitter has been the relationships that I formed with other people who are in the blogger sphere or the podcast world or whatever it is you known just meeting people online. A lot of those relationships started via Twitter, and the other thing is that a lot of times you are able to engage directly one on one with readers or with potential customers who ask you know, maybe you ask the question on Twitter and they respond and then you are able to respond back.
And that goes a long way towards becoming or towards building people who become fans for life. You know because there’s this massive universe of people trying to be active online through blogs and podcasts and what not. And sometimes you know when you are just starting out, it really feels like you are anonymous and like nobody cares, and when you respond to someone on Twitter who seems to be like an A lister for some reason, and they respond back that really makes an impression on people. And so I try to spend much more time just relating to people on Twitter and responding to them, than I do trying to share my own stuff and generate clicks.
Steve: Okay and then is that the same– do you hold the same principle for the emails that you receive as well?
Corbett: I do although things have changed for me a little bit because I don’t run a personal blog anymore, and so people don’t reach out directly as much as they used to.
Corbett: And that’s something to consider. You know when I ran a personal blog, when I ran Free Pursuits and then when I ran corbettbarr.com, I got a lot of email. Sometimes you know close to 100 unsolicited you know stranger emails a day, and some of those would basically spill their entire life story.
Corbett: And you would get paragraph after paragraph, right. It would end up taking you minutes to read this unsolicited email from a stranger because they feel like they know you and that’s a great thing. But with podcasting, you don’t get that as much because people are listening, but there is no clear channel for them to reach out to you. And with just the way that I built Fizzle I get less of that. And I’m not saying it’s necessarily a bad thing, in the beginning it’s a great thing to get those emails, because you learn so much about people and you learn so much about how your work is affecting them.
But eventually you know it’s nice to have a trickle of those, but not a flood of them because the flood is hard to keep up with, and then you have to kind of make a decision. I’m I going to go ahead and seem like a dick to these people because I don’t respond to their emails, or I’m I going to spend hours after hours every day responding to every single email. And I still respond to everything I get, I’ve just made it so that I try to receive less overall because I am not as public.
Steve: I guess that’s what’s nice about Twitter right, it’s limited to 140 characters you are not to get life stories on Twitter.
Corbett: Totally, exactly.
Steve: Okay and so you got the traffic and how did you kind of monetize some of your earlier sites?
Corbett: So it took me a while to figure out and I kind of kicked myself for waiting so long because I didn’t release my first online course, until about 15 months into blogging. And prior to that basically all I did was consulting. And the consulting was good and I figured out ways to raise my rates and after reading the book– have you ever heard of Book Your Self Solid? It’s…
Steve: I have heard of that book, I haven’t read it yet.
Corbett: It’s by Michael Port. And about I don’t know, you know six to nine into blogging I opened some different services that I offered coaching and what not. And then when I launched Think Traffic I made a really big push to do some strategic consulting to help people figure out how to build a bigger audience for their site. And at first I got a little trickle of interest and it was pretty good, but then I read Book Your Self Solid and applied that stuff, and within like a week of applying his techniques, I mean honestly I was booked solid for months in the future and that went really well.
But I figured that I didn’t really want to be a service provider forever, and I didn’t want to just trade my time for money as they say. And so I started looking into other ways and I found that a lot of people sold eBooks or online courses as a way to produce something once and sell it many times over and scale your business up. And so I had some experience with affiliate marketing. I had sold a number of things from my site and had earned revenue from that. And just in talking to a lot of bloggers, they were really curious about how you do that, and so I decided to start a course or to build a course called Affiliate Marketing for Beginners.
And I hand and hot about it and started it and then delayed and delayed and delayed, and I think it took me about six months to finally get that course out. And once I finally did, I used you know whatever launch strategies I had heard about in order to launch a course successfully, and I ended up doing $11,000 in sales in the first 72 hours or so.
Corbett: And it was– it felt great. It showed me that this online course thing might be possible, and it also made me realize that I probably shouldn’t have delayed for six months in creating that course.
Steve: So what were some of the tactics that you did for that launch, so I was just curious?
Corbett: Well the first one was that I spent a lot of time telling people on my site about the course that it was going to be coming out, instead of just one day saying hey I created this thing and here it is. I had followed a number of other people specifically Chris Guillebeau at the Art of Non-Conformity, and I’d watched his launch techniques and sort of head picked them apart. I noticed that people who seem to be successful spend a lot of time talking about the product sort of behind the scenes, about this is what I am working on, here’s what you can expect, here’s when it’s going to come out, to sort of try to build anticipation, but also to answer any objections that people might have before the product comes out so that on launch day they are ready to buy.
The other thing was I– to my email list spent even more time telling people about it, and then I offered a special discount ahead of time to say you know during the first 72 hours I’m going to launch this thing. I’m going to open the doors and the price will be half or whatever I think. Eventually I sold it for $79 and $99 depending on the package. But initially I said I’m going to offer it for $39 and $49 depending on the package. It’s going to be available for 72 hours, and I’m doing this because it’s my first course and I really want to get people’s feedback on it before opening it to a broader audience. So I offered that discount, opened the doors, sold 11k worth, closed the doors, got feedback from people, tweaked the product, and then reopened it about six weeks later.
Steve: Wow, so 11k this was just from your email subscribers?
Corbett: Yeah, exactly.
Corbett: And you know I had been blogging for 15 months, so it’s been a lot of time focusing on that email list, but I am guessing at the time it probably wasn’t much more than maybe 1500 people or 2000 people.
Steve: Okay, and so that was kind of your beta launch so to speak. That’s a pretty big beta launch.
Corbett: Yeah, exactly yeah.
Steve: Okay and then you just got feedback. Did you tweak it before releasing it to the public or?
Corbett: A little bit but not much really. You know I think I learned that people liked what I had done. I think that there were a couple of modules that I hadn’t finished, so that was another reason for offering the discount you know, is that there were some things that post launch I still needed to finish. And so I finished that up before doing the full on you know whatever, public launch.
Steve: Okay and then you know I noticed later on you kind of merged Think Traffic and Corbett Barr, and all of your courses into Fizzle and I was just curious what the motivation for doing that was. So first of all give us an intro of what Fizzle is and then why you chose to do what you did.
Corbett: Yeah so you know after the course that I mentioned, I ended up starting up a bunch of other courses. I think I had four other things available for sale online at one point. And I also ended up starting a whole lot of different blogs, partly because I really loved writing and partly because I was exploring different ideas through blogging. So at one point I had three different blogs and four different online products, and you know I mentioned that a lot of people were writing me for personal advice and things.
And so my day was just really consumed by just maintaining all that I had, and just sort of thinking into the future. I’m not a young guy, I want to make sure that I focus on scaling my business to a point that you know will provide for my retirement and everything. And so I just started to think more strategically about where I was spending my time. And I decided that instead of having four different courses out there, that it would make more sense to bring everything under one roof because I could combine the value that I was providing throughout all this different courses, as well as the community aspects that I was duplicating for every course.
Every time I launched a course there would be a community aspect to it meaning forums or comments or whatever, some way for people to interact with me and with other students throughout the course. And that was difficult to duplicate in each case, and I also found that every time we launched a course the community would be something we’d focus on and build up. But then as that first group or that first wave sort of diminished, the conversations and the community would start to diminish as well.
So I wanted to house everything under one place, and I wanted to focus on the community aspects of it. And so we decided basically to merge all of those different ideas under one roof. And so Fizzle is a community and training library for entrepreneurs. And it’s not unlike the product that you have Steve, I think you know we’ve just decided to maintain this on a monthly basis. We put out new courses, new interviews, new perks for people and really just to spend as much time as we can in there working with the community, helping people make progress every day.
Steve: So a quick question about your other courses that you released, were they like kind of a launch and then you closed it off after that and you just kind of did a bunch of launches periodically through the year, or was it always open.
Corbett: I did both.
Corbett: And I had experience with both and there were pros and cons. The launch model tends to I think maximize revenue. It seems that way anyway from my experience and from you know other entrepreneurs that I know, because you open this thing up, and there’s just a lot of little tricks that you can build into it, and a lot of pressure that you can place on people who stop by your site in order to make a decision because you are going to close the door in three days.
So it seems like that might be a good way to maximize revenue. But for me personally what I found was that gearing up for that launch took a lot of time and effort, and it just felt really stressful and a little bit in-genuine to open this thing up. This resource that really– you know it’s not like you are creating the resource new every time, it’s the kind of thing you know it’s videos and workbooks and things like that if it’s an online course.
And so it just kind of felt like I did the launch model because I heard a lot of people say that that was the right way to go, and in the end I decided to make Fizzle available on an ongoing basis. In fact you can get it and try it for a dollar and see if it’s right for you for 30 days basically. I decided to do a lower priced product and to make it available all the time because it just felt right to me, and it was the lowest stress option, it was the easiest way for us to go. And now you know Fizzle does far more in revenue than any of those other products that I had created in the past partly because my audience is bigger, and because we focused on it but also because you know it’s interesting the launch model despite all those different tricks you can build into it.
I think if you have something that is available on an ongoing basis for a very long time, you really get to optimize the entire flow from people learning about you on your blog, or your podcast to finding out about your product, to checking out your product to signing up for it, to becoming a member. Just that entire flow you can optimize so that people get a really great experience out of it. And with a launch model when something is available for 72 hours, you are so busy with the launch that you really don’t have time to sit back and do a bunch of split testing, and a bunch of user research to find out what’s working and what’s not with each launch.
Steve: Okay, interesting. And you took on two partners in this venture as well and what was the motivation for that.
Corbett: So for the longest time after I started blogging, I thought that I would be a lone wolf. You see people out there who are fairly well known. You know I mentioned before like Seth Golding and Chris Guillebeau or Danielle Laporte or whoever Marie Forleo. You see these people who are the brand themselves and they seem like, they do everything on their own, or Leo of about to behinds and habits who is a friend of mine. You see these people and it seems like they do everything on their own and I think that was the model I was going for. You know why not build a business where I don’t have to worry about any employees, and I don’t have to answer to anybody and I just do all the work myself. And I think that is possible, in fact you pretty much do that sort of thing right Steve, do you have…
Steve: Sure yes, that’s correct.
Corbett: Yeah exactly, and so I thought that would be a good way to go and I did it for at least the first couple of years. But then I realized you know I had this whole lifestyle business thing going on, and I had a lot of freedom in terms of where I could be, but I didn’t end up with a lot of freedom in terms when I could take time off. I wanted to just take a vacation for a couple of weeks, and I realized what a massive backlog I would end up with, and I also just realized that if I was in vacation and I really wanted to disconnect I would be so worried that you know the site would be down or the product would be down or whatever.
So I hired Caleb Wojcik to join me, first as an intern and then he ended up becoming a co-founder of Fizzle, basically to let me take time off. And then I kind of reconnected with how fun it is to work with a team especially a team that really shares your vision and you know your motivations. And so I you know I started out with Caleb. That went really well and then I brought on Chase Reeves because he was great with just creative endeavors and designing things like that that I didn’t necessarily have, and that worked out really well and now we’ve brought on another guy Barry Brooks.
And we are just having a blast as a team, and I have really built it in a way where we all feel like partners sort of working towards a common goal as opposed to me having to keep track of what everybody is working on, and you know being more of a managerial kind of role. I’m trying to build it as a company of equals.
Steve: So all these people are in different parts of the world, is that correct.
Corbett: Yeah that’s right, so Caleb is in San Diego, I’m in San-Francisco, Chase is in Portland Oregon, and Barrett is in Georgia. And then a lot of us travel fairly frequently and me in particular you know I tend to spend summers for a month or two in Europe, and then in Mexico in the winter for about three months.
Steve: Okay and then how does it all work out in terms of the coordination for working on the course and that sort of thing?
Corbett: So we’ve evolved over time, and we like to call it our company operating system. Basically the idea is you know just like when you turn your computer on; it has a bunch of rules for how it boots up and how it gets work done. We have an operating system for our company that spells out how we work together, how we interact, and I think it’s really important when you’re you know distributed like we are. So we have a bunch of different practices you know at the macro level, we operate on three month long themes, where we decide as a company that there is one particular goal that we want to work towards.
Our most recent theme was member success, meaning how do we measure and impact how successful our members actually are? And so we define a bunch of goals based on that, and then we break those up into three week long chunks of work, followed by one week of wrap up, three weeks, one week, three weeks, one week. So basically we just look at our overall year and sort of break it down.
We get together every three month as a team, all at the same time in the same place so that we get that physical you know contact and intimacy and whatever, so that we can do our strategy work then to define what the theme is. And then on a smaller basis, we define our weeks so that every Monday each of us checks in, which means that we review our task list and we send a note to everyone else to explain what we’re going to be working on over the following week. You know any time that we have off anything that we need from other people, and then on Friday we check out to say “this is what I was able to accomplish” “here’s what I’m waiting on” and “here’s what I am going to be pushing off till next week.”
And then the tools that we use are really important as well. So we use Asana for task management and we use Slack for internal company communications, which is– Slack is relatively new, but it’s sort of like hip chat or some others where essentially they are group chart rooms where you can reach people in real time, and you can also send notifications from different apps and other things that we use.
So really that has replaced email for us and email was starting to become a burden because it’s sort of a instead of like a hobbin spoke model, it’s really a kind of point to point thing, where each additional person that you add to your team grows your you know the amount of emails that you’re getting. Literally it seems like and it just wasn’t scalable beyond two or three people. So Slack has replaced email for us, I’d say 99% I’m not exaggerating here, I would say I probably send maybe one email to a team member every couple of weeks, and that’s just because I’m forwarding something that someone sent me, but otherwise all company communication happens through slack now.
Steve: Interesting. So you kind of pitch Fizzle as an online business school, but the term online business kind of encompasses so many different facades. So what does Fizzle kind of focus on and how do you tailor your content for your customer since there’s such a wide slot of stuff to cover?
Corbett: Yeah, and we don’t claim to try to cover things like ecommerce, which you do so well Steve, we don’t try to claim to cover that well. I don’t think you see any mention of that really on our site, because we know that there are other places that people can go to be better served in that way, but what we do know is that being an entrepreneur is a lonely emotionally charged road especially for people that are trying to start one person businesses. I’m not talking about venture capital backed businesses; these are people that are trying to become freelancers, online course producers, maybe writers, things like that, creative types.
Corbett: And so that’s really what we focus on, and we find that the people who have the most success through our platform probably are building an audience first around a blog or a podcast or maybe videos that sort of thing, and then they’re connecting with that audience to learn what they need and then solving problems by creating eBooks and online courses and things like that.
Steve: Okay, okay that makes sense. So let’s talk a little bit about the nuts and bolts of Fizzle. So how does one go about starting a membership site with recurring billing? Are you guys using any standard platforms to do this?
Corbett: Yeah, we are we are, Fizzle is based on WordPress first of all.
Corbett: And then to process payments we use Stripe, and at the time that we chose Stripe, we knew we wanted Stripe because it’s just– it was at the time– two years ago just you know leaps ahead of any other product that was out there. I had wrestled with Authorized.net and some other ancient garbage before, and we wanted to use Stripe, but in terms of WordPress plug-ins that handled memberships as well as allowed Stripe, there weren’t a whole lot of options. And we ended up with something called paid memberships pro, which is pretty good, but since then there have been just an explosion of different plug-ins on the market place like Member Mouse and…
Corbett: And the classic ones like Wish List and Aweber, they all supports Stripe now as well.
Steve: Okay, and then I imagine the upfront investment was practically nothing, just the cost of the plug-in essentially and then WordPress.
Corbett: Yeah, I think so in our time of course.
Steve: Of course your time yeah. So let’s talk about like some of the intricacies involved in running a subscription based site. So what are some of the things that you do to kind of reduce churn, and ensure that people kind of stay on month after month?
Corbett: That’s a great question and you know first of all we measure churn on a weekly basis. We look at how many people left, and when someone does leave we send a survey asking them about their experience with Fizzle, and we try to you know take that feedback very seriously, and respond to it and categorize it and see what we can learn from it. That’s part of the feedback engine that’s important.
The other thing is a lot of churn happens very early on simply because someone signs up for your service with the intention of using it, but for some reason they get distracted, they move on, life gets in the way whatever. And they kind of forget why they signed up, or why it felt important enough to sign up for it in the first place. And so the member on boarding process becomes very critical.
Basically the idea is you know within the first couple of weeks that’s when you know the problem is intense for people, for us in particular people are trying to build an online business and they feel like they don’t have the knowledge or they don’t have the connections, or just the support and accountability that they are looking for as an entrepreneur. And so they sign up for Fizzle under those premises, and then if life gets in the way, our job is to sort of coax them back into the fold and remind them of all the different things that we offer, and to show them how easy it can be to plug in to the community, to take a course, to make progress in their businesses. So that member on boarding process becomes really critical.
Steve: So you give away you said the first month is only a dollar? Is that right?
Corbett: Exactly, we’re actually testing we’re doing a free trial right now as well, but the idea is to put the burden on us to prove that it’s worth people staying.
Steve: Yeah, so that actually puts even more pressure on this whole on boarding process, right? So can we go into a little more detail on what’s kind of involved when someone signs up for that first month?
Corbett: Absolutely. So we stumbled on a really interesting new category of tool about 18 months ago. We use something called intercom to communicate with our members, and there are a couple of others as well, but the idea here is that intercom basically helps us keep track of all our members. It allows us to feed any data that we can capture from the app to intercom, so we can know for example how long someone has been a member, which courses they’ve taken, how many courses they’ve taken, how often they’ve logged in, how many posts they’ve published within the forums, whether or not they’ve communicated one on one with other members.
All these different things that we’ve identified as being important characteristics of members who end up sticking around for the long term and getting a lot of value out of what we do. We’re able to measure those and monitor those, and then intercom allows us to send communications to our members based on time, based on events, based on actions, based on anything that we want to keep track of basically.
So for example you can say if someone has been a member for three days and they have watched a course, but they have not yet published anything in the forums, then send them a reminder or send them an email that says “hey we noticed you haven’t published anything in the forums. Did you know that 80% of the people who publish in the forums make X progress on their business,” or whatever stats that we can give them, and you can send that via email or with intercom you can also send that via an in app notification. So that next time somebody logs in they see a little pop up that basically communicates the same thing or whatever it is that you want to send within that message.
Corbett: So intercom also allows you to A-B these messages and to see what you can say that will be most effective in that situation, and then to measure what actions people take after receiving that message. So it’s fairly sophisticated and then it becomes our job to constantly measure and try to improve that overall process for member on boarding. And then later on as well, we have messages that go out if we notice that somebody hasn’t logged in, in seven days or 14 days or whatever it is at the time that we’re testing or running with, and that helps us to get people back into the fold and to again try to demonstrate and to deliver the value that we can.
Steve: So is this intercom, is that a WordPress plug in, or does it just integrate nicely with wordpress?
Corbett: All the pages on your website and you can use it for any kind of app.
Corbett: Yeah, so you can pass it…
Steve: I see. Interesting I have to go check that out myself.
Steve: So just curious and I think we talked about this before in a private conversation, but you probably have a good idea of how much a member pays you know through the lifetime of a typical customer. So why did you chose to go the subscription based route as opposed to like a lump sum payment upfront?
Corbett: Yeah, we had a good convo about that when you were in San Francisco. Basically the idea is any sort of subscription product, you have a lifetime value of the customer, and so in some ways let’s say your lifetime value is $200 meaning on average people stay for X months and they pay X dollars per month, so you know that equals to $200. Then effectively it’s kind of like you’re paying or you’re selling a $200 product. The thing that we like about a membership based model is that it again puts the owners on us to prove every month that we’re worth sticking around for, and prevents us from playing games you know.
I’ve seen people launch products where let’s say it costs X dollars and maybe they are on a three month payment plan and they have some bonuses they don’t kick in until month four or whatever until you’ve made all the payments. This you know just kind of requires us to earn the customer’s trust and business every month. The other thing that allows us to do is, if you are selling you $200 product you are only going to earn $200 maximum for many customer and customers who don’t necessarily get $200 worth of value are still forced to pay $200.
But with a monthly membership, customers who come in and they try us for a dollar and figure out that we are not right for them, they are only out a dollar. Customers who come in and they decide that this is the greatest place they’ve ever found as far as community goes, and they stick around with us for two years as many customers have since we first opened the doors to our alpha version back in September of 2012. Those people have now paid us $35 a month for the past 24 months, so you can do the math on that, but it’s far more than $200.
Corbett: So in a way it’s almost like having different tears of your product that people get to self select into based on the value that they are getting.
Steve: Interesting and when they sign up they get access to everything, right?
Corbett: They get access to everything right away.
Steve: Okay, and one thing that we kind of did not touch on yet was how you kind of get new customers for Fizzle. Are you running any sort of PPC ads or is it just straight podcast, blog sort of engagement.
Corbett: Yeah, it’s all based on you know publishing content, owner blog and owner podcast and people you know listen to our podcast and we have people who sign up and say I’ve been listening to your podcast for the past year and finally something clicked and I decided to sign up. So you never know how long that sale cycle is, but people read our content and listen to our podcast and sign up through that.
And then we do a little bit of affiliate marketing meeting. We have some people who send us customers, and we pay them on a commission based on that. And we also have a pretty strong referral program where members can refer other members. And about 10% of our new members come from that referral program.
Steve: Wow, that’s pretty amazing.
Steve: Cool, hey Corbett we’ve already been talking for like 50 minutes. I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but if anyone has any questions for you regarding Fizzle, where can they get a hold of you?
Corbett: They can write me directly Corbett@fizzle.co, they can check fizzle.co and find our podcast or a blog. We have tones and tones of episodes and articles and all kinds of really great stuff for free. They can also try Fizzle as I said for either a dollar, or maybe free, kind of depends on what we are testing at the time, but we always have an offer up at fizzle.co.
Steve: That’s an amazing offer to be able to get access to such a wealth of business information for just a dollar or free, it’s pretty amazing. So I’ll be sure to link all that stuff up in the show notes, and hey Corbett thanks a lot for coming on the show, really appreciate you coming on.
Corbett: Thanks Steve, thanks so much for having me.
Steve: All right man, take care.
Hope you enjoyed that episode. I have known Corbett for quite some time now, and what I like about him is that we both have similar philosophies about entrepreneurship. Now entrepreneurship doesn’t mean that you have to hit the ball out of the park. You can use entrepreneurship as a way to improve your lifestyle. Whether that means hanging out more with your family, travelling or pursuing your true passions.
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