Stacking the Bricks Podcast
EP27 - You can ship. But will anybody buy?
In this episode…
Dave Ceddia knew how to ship, but none of his projects had ever made a sale.
Today, $15,000 in sales of his book "Pure React" later, he knows how to create new, bigger products for his loyal and growing audience.
In this episode, you'll find out how he stopped thinking of himself as a "lifer" at a cushy job to being in control of his professional future.
And - YES - the Stacking the Bricks podcast is officially back!
Links & show notes
- Book recommendation: Personal MBA by Josh Kaufmann
- Book recommendation: Badass by Kathy Sierra
- Dave's Website: https://daveceddia.com
- Pure React: https://daveceddia.com/pure-react/
Additional Episodes, Essays, and more
- Stacking the Bricks: http://stackingthebricks.com
- Amy Hoy: https://twitter.com/amyhoy
- Alex HIllman: https://twitter.com/alexhillman
Alex Hillman: What’s going on brick stackers! As always, I’m your host, Alex Hillman and I’m back with a brand-new episode of Stacking the Bricks.
If this is your first time joining us, this is a show about the small steps, the small wins and the lessons learned along the way from real people that have started businesses selling products online.
If you’re not new to the show, thanks for keeping us in your feed. It’s been a while since an episode, but I am so excited to be able to tell you that although we’ve been on a bit of a hiatus, the show is back! We’re kicking things off with an awesome episode with one of our alumni named Dave Ceddia; he’s the author of an ebook called Pure React and has made quite a name for himself in the React world.
But it didn’t quite start out that way. Dave had aspirations of selling products, but between the tactics and techniques that he had found online, nothing had quite worked for him. But now he’s got a product for sale, his audience loves it and he’s going to tell you about all the little steps that he learned along the way.
Now, again, this is a new episode of Stacking the Bricks, and I’m excited to tell you that there are new episodes coming. So, if you’re not already subscribed to this show, now’s the time to do it. Go ahead, hit subscribe, add us, and the next episode is coming out very, very soon – a behind the scenes with one of our star alum, Brennan Dunn, you might’ve heard of him from his new app RightMessage.io or his empire of products for freelancers at DoubleYourFreelancing.com.
Back in the early days, when we first met Brennan, we had to talk him out of trying to build an app that was like Airbnb for home-cooked meals. Yeah, not a very good idea! Well, a lot changed along the way and honestly, nobody executes like Brennan, so you’ve got so much you can learn from him.
That episode comes out in two weeks, so make sure you’re subscribed, but without further ado, I want to get into today’s episode with Dave Cedida.
Hey, what’s going on, Dave? Thanks for joining us on Stacking the Bricks!
Dave Ceddia: Absolutely! Thanks for having me, Alex. Super excited!
Alex Hillman: Well, I know we’ve got a lot of things we want to talk about today, but before we get into that, I’d love for you to introduce yourself to the listeners of the show. Tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do, if you’re out meeting new people, how do you describe what you do for a living?
Dave Ceddia: Usually I introduce myself as a software engineer - that’s my day job. And then depending on the audience, maybe I’ll say I also have a blog and I write about software; I write about React; I wrote a book, that kind of thing.
Alex Hillman: When folks hear that you’ve got a blog or written a book, do they have more questions about that, or they have expectations?
Dave Ceddia: Yeah. The blog doesn’t turn a lot of heads, but the book usually does. They’ll be like, “Oh, you wrote a book!?”
Alex Hillman: Interesting. We’re going to talk more about the book, how you wrote the book and who you wrote the book for and how you launched it. But I want to sort of rewind the clock a little bit. What I really want to know is what drew you to doing product to begin with? You said you’re a software engineer, you’ve got a day job. What was attractive about products to you?
Dave Ceddia: So my first job out of college was this place where people tend to just stay for a long time. It was a government contractor. People would stay for their entire careers and it was a really good place. People would retire there. One day my office mate asked me like, “Dave, are you a lifer?” I was like, “No, I don’t think I’m a lifer.” He was like, “Yeah, you are.” So, that sort of started me on this path of thinking, oh, I should be more intentional with what I’m doing. One of his random pieces of advice was you should go back to school and get an MBA and then you’ll have your software engineer plus MBA.
So, I think I did a little bit of research, stumbled upon The Personal MBA, which was Josh Kaufman’s saying before he wrote a book, just a reading list back then. I think that led me to The 4 Hour Workweek. And so, I sort of had this idea of I’d love to have more freedom and products seemed like the way to do that.
Alex Hillman: Okay, so freedom –that’s a thing that comes up a lot for folks that we talk to on this show and a lot of our students, but I’m curious what it actually meant to you, did you have an image in mind of what that freedom actually looked like?
Dave Ceddia: Yeah. So I think freedom to me, I think means kind of freedom with my own time. I’ve never been a big traveler. I think a lot of people are into freedom to location independence and that kind of thing, but really I think I’ve never really wanted to have a full time job.
Alex Hillman: So really for you, it’s being in control of your time, what you’re working on with your time?
Dave Ceddia: Yeah, that’s about right. I think I really liked that idea of not trading hours for dollars and products decouples those things. Yeah.
Alex Hillman: All right. So, you knew you were interested in freedom and you had a pretty good idea that products were part of the equation. Did you have some early attempts at trying to create and sell products?
Dave Ceddia: Yeah, so I had a couple little projects that didn’t result in any sales. I had a lot of projects that kind of started and didn’t go anywhere. The first project I attempted was this thing called Foghorn that would look at eBay and then give you search alerts based on things you were looking for.
Around that time I had found the Don’t Break the Chain idea, that idea of making X’s on the calendar and kind of like, once you get this long chain of successes, you don’t want to break it. So, you keep going. I got like 200 days into that project, did actually ship it, so it felt like a huge accomplishment, but at the end I didn’t have any way to sell it. Also, breaking that chain really hurt. I think that really killed my motivation. So that kinda of died off.
Then at some point I started a blog called Design with Dave. So, it was sort of my first attempt at content marketing. Since was a developer and I wanted to learn more about design, I thought like, “Hey, I’ll learn while blogging about it”. I got up to like 20 subscribers or so and maybe 10 posts or something like that. Eventually the sort of the imposter syndrome took over. I got this feeling, like what am I doing? I don’t really know design, I’m just learning. Who am I to be blogging about this?
That really hurt that project. I think it’s still online, but I don’t think it gets much traffic or anything.
Alex Hillman: One of the things I’m picking up on here is it’s not just the projects that you’re doing, but each one sort of is an opportunity to try out a new technique or tactic or something that you’ve discovered, whether it’s the Don’t Break the Chain calendar thing on your eBay project, or content marketing with Design with Dave.
It sounds like you’ve done your homework on other tactics and approaches and you’ve tried them, but they haven’t always given you the result you’re looking for. I’m curious what it was about the 30x500 approach in particular that resonated for you?
Dave Ceddia: Yeah, so the 30x500 approach really Safari, I think is the big thing that sort of flip the switch for me. A lot of the online business advice out there, and I had done a couple of courses and communities and that kind of thing, and they tend to emphasize, write down a lot of stuff that you’re good at and then kind of intersect that with what people will pay for, and then go find those people and ask them if they’ll pay. Then build the product. So, the idea, and then validating it.
My attempts at products had been neither of those. It was just kind of like, this is the thing that scratches my own itch, maybe there’s a market for it? I’ll try building it and see what happens. 30x500 with the Safari approach really gave me confidence that there are people that have this problem out there that I can help and instead of just shooting in the dark based on a couple of problems that I have myself.
Alex Hillman: I imagine part of that confidence also comes from the audience that you chose to do Safari on because in the past you had done the eBay thing and then design audiences, and it doesn’t sound like you were part of those audiences.
Was the React audience, the original audience that you chose for doing your 30x500 research?
Alex Hillman: So ultimately the right decision in spite of your fears. I’m curious, you push forward and you know that people aren’t unsubscribing, but maybe what I really want to know is what signals did you have that what you were doing for that audience, with that audience was actually having an impact?
Dave Ceddia: So I guess around this time I had been kind of corresponding with my subscribers a little bit. I set up an auto email that would go out a day after they signed up to say, “Hey, welcome to list. Do you have any questions?” That was kind of fun, to start interacting with people and to start getting some unsolicited feedback from people saying, “Hey, this post really helped me” that really kind of fueled my progress a lot there.
Alex Hillman: It sounds like the big difference here is that strangers are now reaching out to you. You create one piece of thing that you know is going to be useful and now people are reaching out to you.
Dave Ceddia: Yeah. Yeah, I think having that confidence of having done Safari and taking notes on what people are struggling with, kind of gives me a confidence that the stuff that I’m writing about, isn’t just pulled out of thin air. Prior to this blog, I was kind of picking topics at random and with the React audience and the Angular audience too, I could answer people’s questions basically in the form of blog posts. I kind of knew that at least it would help one person.
Actually, that idea of just helping one person or just getting one share or one comment or one subscriber, that also kind of helped the feedback loop because not every post is a smash hit success. I mean, most of them aren’t, right? For those posts where I thought it was going to do well, but it didn’t, I could look at, “Hey, at least I got one subscriber. This is good. I’ll keep going and next week I’ll write another one.”
Alex Hillman: That’s awesome. So just calibrating our expectations too, made a big difference?
Dave Ceddia: Yeah.
Alex Hillman: I’d love to maybe put this on a timeline, just to give people that are listening an idea of how long you’re working on each different part of the process.
Dave Ceddia: Yeah, so the timeline is something like I joined 30x500 pioneers in March, 2015. I think the lessons came out in April. I went back and looked, and my first blog post was April 26th. So, like a handful of days after that first set of lessons came out.
Alex Hillman: That’s pretty fast.
Dave Ceddia: The first one that I actually shared wasn’t until a couple of weeks later,
Alex Hillman: Reflecting back on that first post. So, at that point, you’ve got max five or six days of experience with the curriculum, with Safari, you’d published before, so that’s not entirely new, but what was different this time around?
Dave Ceddia: I had a little more confidence that someone might actually read it or that it might actually help someone if they stumbled upon it. So, I sort of wasn’t worried about that. I was like, I’ll just get the thing out there. Just kind of get in the habit of like, this is how I write a blog post, this is how I publish it, and then kind of worry about sharing it later. Within a year and a half, I had around 2,500 subscribers.
Alex Hillman: That was the list that you launched your first product to? So you’ve been spending time with your React audience. You’ve been doing your Safari. You’re turning out ebombs. Is it weekly, every other week, did you have a rhythm down?
Dave Ceddia: I was trying to do roughly weekly, every now and then I’d slip and I’d skip a couple of weeks. After a while I sort of got into the habit enough that it was kind of always in the back of my mind, like, Oh, I should write a post this week. I’d start feeling it like, Oh, I haven’t written a post in a long time.
Alex Hillman: Building that habit definitely makes a big difference, even if you’re not doing it perfectly. I’m wondering where it was that you shifted gears from working on ebombs every week to actually working on your first product?
Dave Ceddia: It was about a year after I’d started.
Alex Hillman: What was the pain that you had zeroed in on through your Safari to create a product, to help solve?
Dave Ceddia: I found that beginners to React were getting super overwhelmed by all the stuff there is to learn. So, I wanted to give them a slimmed down version of, here’s like one very specific path forward. That’s what I based the book around. I had a tough time, kind of scaling it down from like, I want to cover everything and especially compared to other products in that space, that cover sort of like full stack development or something, they cover a lot more stuff.
I felt like mine’s going to be like this tiny little sliver, maybe no one would really want this. Before I started the book, I sort of went through and outlined everything, just so I had a rough idea of what I was going to talk about and gave them exercises, I wanted to kind of create the structure of like tiny wins for them too.
I think that was kind of an unexpected takeaway that this whole idea of learning things in small chunks and making sure you’re kind of making consistent progress and feeling those wins that I tried to embed in my product too, and I think that has worked out pretty well.
Alex Hillman: That’s awesome! So, you’ve put in all the work, you’ve followed all the steps. Let’s go back to launch day, you’ve got your finger on the button. What was going through your head on launch day?
Dave Ceddia: I kicked off the launch I think the end of July and launch day was August 2nd. I took the day off from work, I was like, “I’m not going to be useful at all this day, so I’m just going to stay home and monitor this.”
The email was scheduled to go off at 9:00 AM and so I woke up super early. It was like Christmas morning. I was just watching my email; one guy actually bought the book before the first email went out. Thanks, Nick, if you’re out there, I still owe you a beer!
He’s actually still a subscriber, I checked!
Alex Hillman: That’s awesome!
Dave Ceddia: I felt bad, I was going to include a discount code in the email and he bought it without the discount. I tried to refund him the $8 or whatever it was but that felt like a good sign, if someone’s buying before I even send that email, this is good!
So, the email went out and people actually started buying it and it was an awesome feeling.
Alex Hillman: That’s really cool, man. Nothing like that first sale from a stranger!
Dave Ceddia: Yeah, absolutely!
Alex Hillman: That’s cool. What was some of the feedback that you started getting from people about this?
Dave Ceddia: I was kinda worried about the focus of the book and being so narrow in that kind of thing. But actually, it seemed like people really enjoyed that. I’ve gotten some feedback from readers saying that, “I love that you focused only on React.” They liked the way the book focused on one thing at a time and layered on new things gradually. That kind of felt that I chose a good way to teach it because after all this work of building an audience and building a product and stuff, hopefully it actually helps people. It’s great to see that it actually is helping people, which I also kind of have to give some credit to Kathy Sierra’s book Badass, which was required reading for the course, while we waited for the lessons to come out, which was actually a really beneficial delay, I was excited about it. So, it kind of got me to read the book and that was a great book.
Alex Hillman: Would you be game to share a little bit about what those launch numbers ended up looking like?
Dave Ceddia: Yeah, sure. I recently relaunched it. I can talk about that later, I guess, but I think I broke a thousand dollars on launch day and by the time the discount closed, and the launch window ended, it was $2,500.
Alex Hillman: Nice. Very nice. How long was the launch window itself?
Dave Ceddia: About a week. And so, the book actually kept selling pretty well between the initial launch and this relaunch. The relaunch brought in around 4,200, but like lifetime sales are, I think I’m one sale away from $15,000.
Alex Hillman: That’s awesome, congratulations!
Dave Ceddia: Thank you! I think that the biggest thing, and this kind of keeps me going too, is the feeling of helping people is just awesome. I didn’t really realize, you know, I had done a little bit of teaching in the past, I was a TA and stuff and I enjoy teaching, but this ongoing feeling of like, I get emails from people saying that they really got a lot out of my post, or they love the book or something. It’s great. It feels like I’m actually making a real difference for real individuals instead of just churning out code and widgets or whatever.
Alex Hillman: Now that you’ve learned that you can do these things and you’ve sort of seen how the bricks stack, what are you aspiring to now, now that you know you can create products that sell?
Dave Ceddia: I think I want to do some sort of larger products, probably some sort of course, maybe videos or something like that, whether that’s an add on to the book or a separate thing. I don’t know.
Alex Hillman: That’s great. As we wrap up, I’m wondering if there’s something that, whether it’s in the course itself or when you were just getting into products to begin with, is there something that you wish someone would have told you or maybe even something people did tell you and you didn’t listen to?
Dave Ceddia: I kind of wish I had accepted the fact that this whole business thing takes a while. There’s so much information out there. You see people doing $30,000 in their first business in their first month and that kind of thing. It just sets this, I think, unrealistic picture of how common is that really?
I guess I still don’t really know, but I know from experience that it can take a while and going into it, I thought like I had this idea that I wanted that quick success, like all these launches that I’d heard about and that sort of thing, but two years in now I kind of look back and say, I’m really happy with where I am and I’m proud that I’ve made it this far and kept shipping things because before this, a lot of projects would kind of fizzle out and I wouldn’t get that far with them.
Alex Hillman: Dave, this has been really fun to catch up with you.
Where can people go online to check out you, check out your book?
Dave Ceddia: My main site is DaveCeddia.com. And I’m @DCeddia on Twitter.
Alex Hillman: Awesome. Dave. Cool, man. Well, I hope you enjoy your weekend. Thanks again for taking the time to share with us.
Dave Ceddia: Thanks, Alex.
Alex Hillman: Absolutely, I’ll talk soon.
I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Dave, I hope you learned a lot - took some good notes and I hope you’re inspired to try some of the things that Dave has done as well.
If you want to make sure you get the next episode of Stacking the Bricks – our exclusive behind the scenes interview with Brennan Dunn, in the early days that led him from Airbnb for home cooked meals – bad idea – to the first version of Double Your Freelancing Rate, the eventual Double Your Freelancing empire and his new product -
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That’s it for this week and until next time, keep on stacking those bricks!
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