Stacking the Bricks Podcast
EP3 - We didn't hit our annual goals. But...
In this episode…
We didn't hit our goals (which was mostly our fault).
We let deadlines slip, and probably let some people down.
Amy got really sick. :(
So of course, looking back on 2014 feels like we didn't get all that much done.
But when Amy and I sat down and spent an hour going over the stuff we did do...we realized that holy cow, it was a lot.
A bit further down on this post, we've put together our comprehensive review of 2014. It's complete with revenue and subscriber numbers, where we have them readily share-able. You'll see that 2014 might not have been as unproductive as we'd felt.
After pulling this list together, Amy and I sat down again to talk about how the year went, and talked about the difference between how we felt... and what the facts actually showed.
And this time, we recorded that conversation so you can listen in! You can expect more audio stories and conversations like this one in 2015! That'll include interviews with successful bootstrappers (and not just our own students) and more chances like this one to peek "behind the curtain" and see how Amy and I truly work together, using our unique strengths and differing approaches to actually compliment one another.
This recording originally appeared on UnicornFree.com in an article titled "2014 Year In Review – The year that sucked, or did it?": https://unicornfree.com/2015/2014-year-in-review-the-year-that-sucked-or-did-it
Alex Hillman: So right after we hung up our little pre-call and soundcheck, before that wonderful email came in that I just sent you. I got a good chuckle out of that one!
Amy Hoy: Should we read it for them or part of it?
Alex Hillman: Just excerpt it. Yeah.
Amy Hoy: Oh, let’s see, what sentence should I read?
There’s a lot of extra quote marks and punctuation. “I just read your latest email about your ups and downs of your two 2014 goals”, et cetera, at which point I’m thinking, “Oh, it’s going to be a nice email!” Wrong! However, you assume that your readers enjoy your ‘Potty mouth’. I request that I be removed from your email list.”
Folks, there’s an unsubscribe link at the bottom of every email.
Alex Hillman: And he goes on and on and on and on and on and on about…
Amy Hoy: My garbage language.
Alex Hillman: And professionalism…
Amy Hoy: From the gutter. You think it’s funny? It’s not funny!
Alex Hillman: We’re laughing! We’re laughing and I’m sorry that he didn’t find it as funny as we do.
Amy Hoy: Well, if you know, it’s like, I didn’t go to the bookstore, pick up someone’s book, read it and then at the end, write a nasty letter to the author after I deliberately read it and then bought it. I mean, anyone can unsubscribe from our email list.
Alex Hillman: By the way, by the way, I did a little search and count to see how many expletives there were, there were none in your email and in the post itself, there were two “fucks”, both of which were referencing your book.
Amy Hoy: Just Fucking Ship guys.
Alex Hillman: It’s got the F-bomb in the title. So. Come on and four little “shits”, and it was like “shitty year”. Like it’s not really directed at someone. It’s like, “My year was kind of shitty.”
Amy Hoy: You can say “crap” on broadcast television now you can say “bitch” and “whore” on broadcast television. I think a little shit, frankly, we all do it. It’s just a word!
Alex Hillman: So two fucks, four shits and a partridge in a pear tree!
Amy Hoy: My favorite line, actually, I mean, everything is in quotes – which is hilarious. “I am a potty mouth”. Okay. “From the gutter”, which she makes me think of Oscar Wilde, but, his last closing line is “Change your language and you might change your profit line”.
Alex Hillman: How many dollars signs was that?
Amy Hoy: It’s five dollar signs.
Alex Hillman: Oh, I like dollar signs!
Amy Hoy: The funny thing about this, dear listeners is that this guy assumes because he doesn’t like the way that I use language – by the way, not language directed at him. If I had called him a bad name or said like, “Fuck you, readers”, which I never do, he would have a really fair point. But I would never do that. He thinks though that, because he doesn’t like it, my business must be suffering.
Alex Hillman: Right. By the way, he’s also, at his request unsubscribed, that was the first thing we did. And I went back and I looked and homeboy has been on our list for a year and there’s been, I would love to count how many expletives there have been in the last 12 months. I’m sure there are a lot. Maybe this was just his breaking point.
Amy Hoy: Yeah, no, I completely respect people’s unwillingness to read something they don’t like, if at any point he had said, “I can’t figure out how to unsubscribe, please unsubscribe me. I don’t like it”. I would have, we wouldn’t be laughing about it because that would be a same thing to say.
Alex Hillman: Totally. But this is just a perfect illustration of, I mean, it’s, it’s a caricature of an illustration, which is extra funny because this person happens to be a caricature artists, but it’s a caricature of an illustration of the kind of thing that people actually worry about, and just want to sort of share that, yes, this stuff does happen and people respond in all kinds of ways.
I think it’s also worth pointing out that, especially in the last year, You know, six weeks or eight weeks since Just Fucking Ship launched, the torrents of positive emails that we got far outweigh this kind of silliness. It’s not even, that this is a less than 1% fraction. It’s barely non-existent.
Amy Hoy: This isn’t the wall of a government courthouse. This is a private blog and mostly people who read it, they read it because they like it. They don’t read it and then silently see, because if they don’t like it, they can just stop reading it at any time for free.
Alex Hillman: It’s interesting because I think people also make an assumption that we punch up our language for the sake of connecting with a younger audience or something like that – which is one of those things where the truth is, is this is us being us. This is true authenticity. I think it’s like Simon Sinek in one of his talks, talks about how brands do a bunch of market research to determine how to be more authentic, which is the most asinine thing in the world. That’s like turning to your friend. That’s like Amy, if you were to come to me and say, “Alex, I’m trying to figure out how to be a more authentic me. How would you like me to be so that I can be more authentic?”, which is obviously insane.
Amy Hoy: Also that would suck because Alex, what you like and what I do often don’t cross paths.
Alex Hillman: It’s absolutely true.
Amy Hoy: Which is part of why you like me, of course.
Alex Hillman: It’s the variety being the spice of life. But it’s not, the language choice, I mean, this is how we talk. Again it’s not an act. It’s not a performance. It’s not to segment our audience. We know because we know who our customers are, we know who our community is, that people run a far broader range of demographics than the folks who respond and assume that we must be trying to channel a particular audience.
So, that’s a whole lot of intro that has – I imagine something to do with our conversation today?
Amy Hoy: I cursed a lot in the past year.
Alex Hillman: We’re doing our year in review. That seemed to be the thing to do. I don’t know if it was just more noticeable this year. I know, Patrick for instance has like six or seven years in the bank and he always refers to the past as other people that do this sort of ritually.
Amy Hoy: Patrick McKenzie, our friend, aka patio11
Alex Hillman: Yes and his reviews are consistently very good. Brennan’s done at least two or three years in a row. I know Nathan has done them just the same in his are often graphs and beautiful.
Amy Hoy: We never really did one.
Alex Hillman: I don’t think we have? At least not together.
Amy Hoy: No, no, I never really did one. I did a charity post last year. To show off in like a positive, inspiring way how much money we spent on charity last year.
Alex Hillman: And you did that again this year. That was the charitable giving post and I’ve done sort of like statistical reviews of Indy Hall, like “We’ve had a good year, but here’s a couple of numbers that I think are interesting”, but I’ve never done sort of a comprehensive analysis, but we thought, 2014 was…it was a year!
Amy Hoy: It fucking blew!
Alex Hillman: So I know you had a rough 2014 and I know a lot of my friends had a rough 2014. Personally, I had a pretty great 2014. I mean, certainly not perfect and there’s things that I would’ve liked to have done differently and better, but I don’t have the animosity towards the year in our rear view.
Amy Hoy: It waited to bite your ass until the holidays. And that’s when you hurt your shoulder, see it’s 2014, it’s a bitch!
Alex Hillman: It was just like chilling. It was lurking until the day after Christmas and it’s like, “Oh, your presents are sweet. Fuck your shoulder!”
Amy Hoy: Totally. That’s exactly what happened!
Alex Hillman: The post that the person we were just talking about responded to was not actually the year in review, post, we’re going to be posting that along with this recording. That was more, you phrased it as a meditation, what prompted that?
Amy Hoy: So last year I did not write, I did not write a year in review for 2013, but the first week of January, of 2014 I did write a list of 15 goals. I thought, all right, I’m going to get all this whole goal setting thing, I’m going to set some goals. I’m going to set some audacious goals and that’s Alex’s, we had just that past year finished making the 30x500 bootcamp videos and materials. We had done, I think two boot camps or three boot camps that year, we had just created the exercise program at the very end of 2013. That was our goal for that year, that bootcamp and I wanted to do more than just one thing the next year, in 2014.
So I made a list of a bunch of goals. I wrote them and posted them on my blog and right after the New Year, I was like, “Oh wait, I wrote a goals post, did I do anything?” because I sure didn’t feel like I actually achieved anything in 2014 because I was so, so sick pretty much all year. And especially at the end was the worst.
So, I went back and looked at my goals posts and I had forgotten all the stuff I put on there. I think I did it wrong and I just really didn’t hit almost any of the goals – I definitely succeeded in five and then you and I completely changed our minds about a couple of them and like I said, I wanted to grow a Freckle to $700,000 a year in run rate. We totally didn’t do that. We did grow more than the previous year and faster, and did a lot of stuff to make that happen, so it’ll continue, but it didn’t hit. We didn’t run 30x500 as many times as we wanted, didn’t do a book contract, just tons of stuff.
I was looking at his goals kind of feeling bad, but then reflecting on what did I do and I actually did a lot, which makes me think maybe the goals wrong. So looking at the goalpost reminded me how much I did do and how much I did achieve and how none of that was reflected in the goals I had made, which made me angry at myself.
Alex Hillman: Right. So it’s like that ruminating feeling, I mean, even sitting down to write a ‘year in review’ can be sort of this angsty, “Oh, do I really want to look at that? I don’t feel like I got as much done as I wanted to”. On the other end of the process, you look back and you’re like, “Wow, I didn’t realize how much I did.” All of that is pure emotion, it doesn’t negate the feeling, but you sort of have to reality check, the feelings aren’t the reality.
Amy Hoy: Exactly. The map is not the territory either.
Alex Hillman: Totally, so because you and I did – about an hour and a half ago – sit down and just chat through what we accomplished in 2014 and wow, it’s a lot!
Amy Hoy: Yeah. Actually, especially considering I just got sicker and sicker and sicker over the year, culminating and like three months of basically having a concussion towards the end of the year.
Alex Hillman: Well and a couple of the things that stood out to me too, you had mentioned that sort of as we got to near the end, it was sort of did like…it was like a tooling and preparation year.
We did the things that we intended to do, but a lot of the things that we didn’t do, we replaced with things that will pay off dividends over a longer period of time. So, like for instance, we didn’t do that fifth bootcamp, like we planned, which would have brought us another…we do a boot camp it’s normally $65k/$70k in gross, we didn’t do the fifth cause you weren’t feeling great and it was getting close to the end of the year. So instead we opted to do a couple of things that were relatively smaller scale, less demanding – although that could be arguable considering how Just Fucking Ship actually panned out.
But we did Just Fucking Ship, which is something that had been on the goals list – I don’t actually think it was on the goals list, but it was something…
Amy Hoy: No, it totally was! I forgot about it and I looked at the goals list and was like, “Oh, I forgot I put that on there!”
Alex Hillman: Right. I mean because I remember putting up the landing page at the end of January and then it was that thing that we always like, “Yeah, we’ll get to that, yeah we’ll get to that.” We didn’t do that fifth bootcamp, but we did ship Just Fucking ship.
Amy Hoy: That wasn’t on purpose.
Alex Hillman: No, it was not.
Amy Hoy: You and I sat down and it was right at the end of…so reader or listeners – I didn’t have a concussion, what I appear to have had was an increased pressure on my brain with a lot of concussion symptoms. So, you know, can’t deal with light, sound, motion, being vertical, thinking. So I couldn’t do anything. And I was coming out of that and we’re like, well, we’ve wanted to do with fifth bootcamp in the winter, and it’s getting close to the holidays. We wanted to do it earlier. It’s getting too late. Should we do it? Should we try to squeeze it in before the holidays? We just looked at each other and said no.
Alex Hillman: Right. And then the other thing was, we had been sort of gearing up to launch The Forge since like July and because you got sick and I was getting pulled into other things which just kept slipping and slipping. So instead we were like, “All right, well, we’re going to do something before the end of the year let’s do The Forge.” So I hunkered down and I was really doing a lot of the prep work to get that first week of The Forge out.
Amy Hoy: Yeah, because I was still feeling like shit.
Alex Hillman: I had just come back from, oh, that was when I was in Portugal. I came back from Portugal. Day one back was first day of The Forge, which is our new sort of exercise and support group alumni community for 30x500 alumni. It was like setting up exercises and things like that and out of the blue Nathan jumps into our chat room and he’s like, “Hey, I’m doing this challenge. What do you guys think?”
Amy Hoy: Yeah. “Would you proofread my blog post about this 24 hour challenge?” I read it. I was like, “I’m going to do it!”
Alex Hillman: Yeah. Yeah. I was like, “Uh, okay!”
Amy Hoy: So by saying no to the fifth 30x500, we unwittingly opened up the space for me to do this book.
Alex Hillman: Which is something that with the trade-off of 60K plus at the end of the year with another bootcamp and exercise program, which would have required a non-insignificant amount of work, we were able to do The Forge, which had been waiting all year. There’s no way we would have gotten The Forge in if we had done another boot camp.
Having our Forge members prepay for the first three months so that we know that they’re going to be bought in and participating in all those things, plus Just Fucking Ship, which opens up the other end of our sales funnel, which we’d been really, really, wanting and needing to do; those two things alone, the things that we did in place of that $60k, there’s no doubt in my mind that those two things will out-earn “missed revenue” total in the last quarter of the year.
Amy Hoy: So when people say “It takes money to make money”, I honestly think it would be better to phrase it as “You have to sacrifice potential money to make more money in the long run”, but it just doesn’t roll off the tongue the same way.
Alex Hillman: That’s true. What were some of the other things that were kind of interesting as we were going through that exercise of gathering our goals? Hidden thing?
Amy Hoy: I forgot that I redesigned the blog.
Alex Hillman: Right.
Amy Hoy: In December, 2013, we signed up for Infusionsoft to up our email marketing game. It’s amazingly awesome and horrible all at the same time. We set up those email courses and with the new much refined blog design, much, much simpler we then put tons of calls to action on every single post. I paid someone to go through every single post and put up a mailing list sign-up thingy on there that went to Infusionsoft. That was like a tailored email course, so that grew over the year that doubled our list size from like 3400 or so to over almost 8,000 now.
Alex Hillman: Over 8000 I did the math. It was a 2.4X growth.
Amy Hoy: 240%. That’s pretty great.
Alex Hillman: Yeah. So that’s work that was done mostly in January and February of last year, but it’s the kind of thing where whenever we did a new post, we always made sure it had a good, strong custom call to action and we had infrastructure in place that made it easy to do that. Those were little things that we did that we don’t really think about as things that we did, but the result, the payoff was huge.
Amy Hoy: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a lot. Now we’ve got 8,629 people on the list.
Alex Hillman: Yeah.
Amy Hoy: We’ve added 5,449.
Alex Hillman: In 12 months.
Amy Hoy: In 12 months.
Alex Hillman: I mean, and that’s like a pretty consistent thing. Like any given time throughout the year, there’s at least 200 people in that. So, if we were to do a little bit of extra work at promoting that course, that number would be much, much larger. So that growth is…
Amy Hoy: It’s ready and waiting for us.
Alex Hillman: It’s the result of a couple of small operational things that we did that sort of dialed up really the automatic growth. I mean, it was all the posts that are out there continuing to grow.
Amy Hoy: We haven’t done a single guest post or co-webinar or anything like that to really get our name out there.
Alex Hillman: If you even look at the traffic graph, like a lot of times when people are growing their list, it’s the result of, like you said, a webinar or some individual post or a handful of individual posts that go gangbusters. I don’t think there’s any one thing that stands out above the rest. Everything just sort of relatively equally levelled up.
Amy Hoy: Lots of little bricks that are becoming a giant wall. In my parlance. A wall is a good thing!
Alex Hillman: Totally. The other thing was leaving behind Wufoo. We were using Wufoo for all of our registrations and things like that for 30x500. Now we’ve got a more workflow based set of forms built with Gravity Forms and WordPress, and actually one of our alumni’s plugin that connects Gravity Forms into Stripe.
Amy Hoy: And we use GroupBuzz, which is another product from an alumni, and Alex, you’re a partner in that somehow. I don’t know the details actually. I don’t remember the details.
Alex Hillman: What are some of the other, like little…
Amy Hoy: I created the Make Time to Make Money guide and then at the end of the year, which is by the way, that’s the hidden eighth bonus on the seven part series when you signed up for the email course and we don’t advertise it at all.
Alex Hillman: It’s true!
Amy Hoy: We don’t advertise it at all and it’s actually really awesome. At the end of the year I went through and totally redid it, so it’s amazing now. It was good before and now it’s awesome.
Alex Hillman: It just needs it a new title.
Amy Hoy: Yeah. No one knows it’s there and it’s really good! We started to create an automated – they’ll use the seven-part course to have a rolling launch of 30x500 to keep our coffers constantly full of people who want to take 30x500.
Alex Hillman: That was one of the biggest ones since – I did a lot of the hands on sort of concierge style work with prospects for 30x500 in 2014; there was a big change from how we had done it before. I think I’m a little more relentless with my inbox and keeping it all organized. It was really cool was having that rolling mention of, “Hey, there’s a 30x500 coming up. If you reply to this email and let us know you’re interested. We’ll let you know when it is and we can get you on an early access application.” And so what that meant was by the time we were actually doing a launch, of which we did four in the year, by the time we were doing a launch, there were as many as 15 out of the 30 seats of people who had already applied and in some cases already registered. So pre-sold, so that made having a sold-out class just so much easier. It took off a ton of the pressure of knowing whether or not there was going to be people in the class.
Amy Hoy: Yes, because doing four huge launches a year is basically hell!
Alex Hillman: I remember. I mean, there’s so many of the launches the way we used to do it, that I remember.
Amy Hoy: So much stress!
Alex Hillman: Well and the one that stands out in my memory where Patterson and I were on vacation, which obviously we weren’t really on vacation because I was working on this. But we were in Sonoma, we were in wine country and she went inside. I was like, “You’re going to go inside this, upscale wine and cheese shop. I need 45 minutes to process these applications as they come in with Amy.” And I sat in the parking lot, connect tethered with my Wi-Fi and you and I went through applications. We don’t have to do that anymore. I can enjoy my time in wine country.
Amy Hoy: I don’t think you told me you were in the car. Did she at least crack the window for you?
Alex Hillman: Yes! It was beautiful and it was probably nicest scenery I’d ever had for doing a 30x500 launch, like doing all that, that back and forth email processing. We don’t have to do that anymore and that’s great. And with the new product that we’re working on, that rolling launch is something that will be always there. People always be getting into it. And we also have Just Fucking Ship at the earlier end of that. So, you know, everyone who bought Just Fucking Ship and were like, “This is great, this helped me”, the number of people that have emailed us in the last 30 days since Just Fucking Ship launched, saying “This helped me do a thing that I had literally just been dicking around for however long and there’s no good reason to not done it.”
It’s been so cool and every single one of those people, I think we have the ability to – for those who want it – to do a little bit more. For those who are like, “Okay, I shipped the thing, but I didn’t get quite as many sales as I wanted” or, you know, “I’m not really sure what I did wrong.”
The way we sell 30x500 moving forward is going to be helping people fill in those gaps between getting out from behind the procrastination of shipping things and being more consistent and strategic about choosing what to ship, how to ship it, when to ship it and so on, and so on.
Amy Hoy: So actually that right now brings up this Reddit comment that our alumni Sean pointed us out to today. Sean mentioned our book, which by the way, I wrote all by myself in case there was any – I’m going to be selfish and claim credit.
Alex Hillman: Nope. 100% of the work, I was launching The Forge!
Amy Hoy: Yeah. That’s your baby! We split parenting duties really well! So Sean mentioned JFS on Reddit, which usually is like a terrible idea.
Alex Hillman: This is Sean Fioritto.
Amy Hoy: Right, awesome dude!
Alex Hillman: Yeah. One of our alumni is sketching with CSS and he’s got a new angular course that I believe is out, right?
Amy Hoy: I’ve been in a rabbit hole, I have no idea!
Alex Hillman: I think so. But Sean Fioretto, Sketching with CSS is awesome.
Amy Hoy: We’ll include him in the show notes. This guy said “You might want to tell her since there appears to be no sort of contact link on that page, that at no point does she tell you what your $19 buys you? I assume you get a PDF, but is that true? And is that all? Do I get MOBI and EPUB? How big is the book? 21 chapters could be a page per chapter, for all we know. Typically, in situations like this, there often tiered pricing options with videos, templates, and other materials. Where’s that in the steal?” He said, “I want to buy it. I just don’t know what I’m buying.” It’s not the price tag. It’s just he doesn’t know what’s going on.
Alex Hillman: Right.
Amy Hoy: He said, “Your friend mentor seems to have left out all the important stuff and I’m trying to decide what that means.” So yeah, we ridiculed the guy emailed us earlier because it’s hilarious and worthy of ridicule, this is actually extremely good feedback.
Alex Hillman: Totally.
Amy Hoy: I wrote back and explained, “You’re totally right and there’s a reason why I haven’t done that yet, it’s because I wanted to get the book out.”
Alex Hillman: By the way, it’s not that it hasn’t harmed sales, if he’s one to say it, I’m sure there’s others that would have bought, but had the same concern.
Amy Hoy: Absolutely. But it is better to make fewer sales because you’re imperfect than no sales because you’re waiting to be perfect.
Alex Hillman: That’s true.
Amy Hoy: So you’re looking at losing money that you would never get. You got to avoid the loss aversion and focus on what you can do or else you’ll get tied in knots and ever do anything.
Alex Hillman: Right. And there’s so much room for incremental improvement; from day one of this book coming together, and me seeing the outline that you had put together, I was immediately thinking exercises and being able to build more stuff – and now that we’ve got people that have actually used it and had successes with it, we have people that we can interview, the packages, the exercises.
Amy Hoy: I took screencasts while I was working on the book, screencasts showing how I used the techniques in the book to make the book, but I didn’t have time to edit them.
Alex Hillman: While I’m pretty happy with the sales page that I put together, it’s by no means the best. There’s so many things that are missing from it, it’s a bunch of text dropped into our existing WordPress template with the only real custom bit is a header image and that pink button that you made. That’s it.
Amy Hoy: Yeah. It’s totally unideal, but, if you don’t have a readership, if you didn’t journal your making the product and all, you know, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get as many sales as we are if you do things this way. But, one of the chapters in the book is “Choose your difficulty setting.” And I chose to do it the easiest way possible so I could actually ship the book in 24 hours and then wrap up all of the editing and writing within the next week and sell copies. I could have waited. I know how to make a really amazing sales page, but we decided that was less important than making some sales and reaching some people quickly.
Alex Hillman: Right. And again, probably the biggest success in my mind of the book being out there is not the money that we made in November and December. It’s the people that we reached that we hadn’t reached before and most importantly, their excitement, and even more importantly than that, their actual success. It worked. This thing got in the hands of people and they said, “This was awesome. I told a bunch of people that I know they need to read this because it will help them. I know it will help them because it helped me.”
The sales page could never do as good of a job as that.
Amy Hoy: No.
Alex Hillman: So, I think getting it out there in the hands of people that already trust us, because of all the stuff that we put out – and there’s been people that have been waiting for it. We got people telling us, “I’ve been waiting to buy something from you guys, but 30x500 is just not in my price range.” We’ve known that all along. When you go from, you read unicornfree.com for free, the next option is to pay $2,000, $2,500. I’m not surprised that there’s people been anxiously waiting for something.
Amy Hoy: Yes and if you took a business analyst and sat down and looked at that fact, the business analyst will be like, “Whoa, where’s your other price points for the different types of customers? You want to sell them an entry level, something or other to get them in the funnel. Blah, blah, blah”, which is why there’s like every car maker except the top highest end brands have an entry level vehicle. But, we are only two people. We have other things going on. We did what maximized our impact and our money.
Alex Hillman: So other things going on, I think it is an interesting thing. I don’t know how many people that follow us – I know some people – I imagine a lot of people know that you do Freckle and some people know that I do Indy Hall. It’s one of the things I have no idea, I’m curious how many people sort of realize that this collaboration between you and I, as large as it can be, it is a fraction of what we do.
Amy Hoy: It is. Yeah. So in case you don’t know, I run a Software as a Service company. Our app is called Freckle it’s time tracking, productivity, invoicing, reporting – really sounds sexy – I know. But, my first love is interface design. I love anything that I can do that helps people do better, so interface design is one way. Writing this stuff is another way that I help people do better, make better choices. I have my husband who does all of the technical lead Thomas Fuchs. We have a part-time junior programmer. We have one marketing person, one part-time salesperson and one support person. So,it’s a team of five
Alex Hillman: Nice little family.
Amy Hoy: Yeah, so I do the interface design and a lot of the marketing strategy and a fair amount of content, but all of the design stuff, definitely.
Alex Hillman: Given that it’s a team of five that means that you almost doubled in size last year because you added Amber and Rasa.
I mean a small team growing is not an insignificant thing, not just in terms of adding head count and costs and things like that. It’s more work, the payoff is there for sure. But among all of the things that we have to do, because we grew the team at Indy Hall as well and I’m feeling that firsthand, that working as a team, beyond a duo in terms of operations, just like you and I are just like me and Adam for the last few years, having a third, it’s a total mindset change and a lot of new things to learn. I know that also last year you had, and this is one of the most popular blog posts from last year, was, is a big copywriting change that you made on Freckle that helped you sort of pull through a revenue plateau.
Amy Hoy: Was that in 2014? I think it was 2013. I think so. I have the worst sense of time ever though.
Alex Hillman: Entirely possible.
Amy Hoy: Yeah. I already wrote the copy on the Freckle landing page and that dramatically improved our conversions. I also, this past year, started a redesign of the application itself – and don’t cringe, because I’ve watched a million redesigns go south. All that I did was to change the frame of the app first and then we have more room to expand inside the frame of the app. That frame of the app had not changed since 2008, so it was looking at really out of date and we were running out of space to put menu items. It really had had to go, so incremental redesign – which is really critical because a big redesign is always doomed.
Alex Hillman: That’s gone well?
Amy Hoy: Really well. We had several upset emails the first couple of weeks, people saying it’s too dark because there’s some gray in it. I was like, I completely understand why you’re saying that. Can you give it a couple of weeks because the gray will fade into the background. It’s just because it’s new.
We worked on some new features. We worked with some contractors to do some more development. Having only two developers, we need more time, developer time, made a lot of business decisions, hired somebody to help us create lifecycle emails. We created an onboarding, pretty much I say we, but Thomas really did all of it. I only gave feedback. We switched to Stripe, which was a team effort. We raised our prices. We dramatically improved our help site. We added a support team member. We added a salesperson. We created a sales process. It’s a lot!
Alex Hillman: That’s a lot in a year! That’s a lot of things for a small team. That’s pretty incredible!
Amy Hoy: But we didn’t hit my crazy revenue goal, because I was stupid!
Alex Hillman: In how you set the goal, not because of anything that you did?
Amy Hoy: In how I set the goal.
Alex Hillman: Right. So setting yourself up for a win versus setting yourself up for ambition, I suppose?
Amy Hoy: Yeah, right. I don’t think that there was really any way that we could have hit that revenue goal that year, but I feel very confident that we will hit it next year, through 2015, because of all this stuff that we’re doing and we now have the correct base to build on.
Alex Hillman: Right. So that’s got me excited and then I would be remiss to not mention the fact that, while it’s a relatively small percentage of both of our efforts, Brad Pauly, who is my collaborator in GroupBuzz, which is our email discussion list app, we use it at Indy Hall, we use it in our 30x500 exercise programs and for The Forge and in a bunch of other things. It was our first full year of having paid subscriptions with that SaaS app as well. We cracked 10 grand in revenue for that. So, yeah, that feels really, really good. And we’ve got a really awesome game plan for growing that in the year to come.
The thing that I should say is that number is in place. There’s no way to self-serve sign-up for the app. So that’s $10,000 in revenue that comes from customers that I manually demo the app for, help them get on board, signed up. So, going from a manual process to, like a turnkey is actually what we’re going to be launching in the next month or so.
I’m pretty happy, I’m more than pretty happy, I’m actually quite happy with the progress that we’ve made and know that the only thing that’s stopping us moving forward is the time that we dedicate to it.
Amy Hoy: Yeah. I think that it’s easy to hear, “Oh, it made $2,000 this year” and think,
Oh my God, how much is that developer’s time worth.” But of course, because it’s a product and especially because it’s a Software as a Service, that’s just the beginning.
Alex Hillman: That’s going to grow. I have no doubt in my mind that’s going to grow.
Amy Hoy: Yeah. Well, again, you look at what could like Brad have earned if he had just consulted with that time instead and that’s like up here, I’m holding my hand above my head. Then you look at how much GroupBuzz actually made this year and it’s like down here, but it’s, again, that’s that gulf of potential earnings, but in the future, it’ll be worth so much more. Just like with the book.
Alex Hillman: Totally, and then the last thing that is sort of like trying to recap, what did we do this year that this sort of almost slipped under the radar was that Rooster Soup Company project that we did with Felicia. Actually, honestly, you led the majority of that. So that was in Philadelphia, there’s this really awesome company, it’s like a restaurant group, one of the higher end restaurant groups.
Amy Hoy: They also do chicken and donuts, which is amazing. It’s called Federal Donuts.
Alex Hillman: The Federal Donuts team collaborated with an organization that feeds homeless people, right?
Amy Hoy: Right. I don’t think that they would like the way that you classify that, but they don’t really have any better way to put it. It’s a like home type environment where people who have no place to go or to eat, can go and sit at the table and be served good food. It’s not the demeaning kind of bread line where there’s a lot of control involved. Apparently homeless shelters are like little fiefdoms. They control everybody all the time.
Alex Hillman: This church that runs it, it’s not actually a church, The Broad Street Ministry.
Amy Hoy: Yeah. They’re very chill.
Alex Hillman: Yeah, the thing that they really focus on the standard is this is an experience where you can sit down and feel like you’re at a family dinner.
Amy Hoy: Feel that you have dignity, even if you don’t have anything else.
Alex Hillman: Yeah, so really tremendous effort. And what’s interesting about it was this collaboration allowed them to create a business that is neither Federal Donuts, nor the Broad Street Ministry.
Amy Hoy: A for-profit business.
Alex Hillman: A for-profit business that uses chicken carcasses from the fried chicken, the remnants.
Amy Hoy: Right. Exactly. But not post-consumer remnants, but you know, you don’t actually fry the spine or the neck or the skeleton.
Alex Hillman: To make delicious, delicious soup broth. You would think they would send that over to the Broad Street Ministry? No!
Amy Hoy: Apparently the logistics in donating food are absurd and not helpful.
Alex Hillman: Instead, what they going to do is this business is going to turn that delicious soup into a for-profit business, a restaurant that you or I, or anyone in Philadelphia or visiting Philadelphia, you can go to get awesome soup and the profits from that for-profit restaurant business get donated to Broad Street Ministry to help them run a 100% of their profits. They’re obviously gonna run this restaurant business as lean as possible.
Amy Hoy: All the management team is donating their time. This is not one of those fake charities where the people who run it get crazy salaries.
Alex Hillman: But here’s the thing is when we first heard about it, we didn’t understand any of that.
Amy Hoy: I read the Kickstarter like three times and I couldn’t quite figure out what’s going on, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and because someone else whose Kickstarter I had funded had tweeted this Kickstarter, I wrote back and said, “I don’t really understand this. The page doesn’t really explain what it is. I think that you need to work on that.” And then they actually wrote back and I was like “I’ll help you!” and Felicia from this restaurant management group offered to bring fried chicken and donuts to my office and I gave her a bootcamp and copywriting.
Alex Hillman: So lesson folks is we can be bribed with delicious chicken and donuts!
Amy Hoy: Yeah, we’re pretty easy! For a good cause, it’s true. So they were struggling at that point to get donations, so to speak, to the Kickstarter because it was so unclear and it didn’t answer the question, “Why don’t you just donate the soup?”, for example or “How much of the money is actually going to be the profits for this thing?” and whatnot.
So I helped Felicia with that. She did an amazing job. I helped tweak it when she was done rewriting it, and then they exceeded their funding goal, which meant they also got an anonymous, private backer to match it. They’re going to build out that restaurant. But the best thing that Felicia said, “You know, now we understand how to communicate it to people they don’t ask, ‘what is it, or why should I care?’ Or they don’t just tune out. They say, ‘well, okay, how can I help’?” And that was awesome!
Alex Hillman: And the boot camp that you gave her was very discreetly in the sort of Pain-Dream-Fix sales copy format that we use. So, you know, when people think about selling and get turned off or don’t want to seem salesy, it’s not about seeming salesy. It’s about effectively communicating. It’s about connecting with somebody and effectively getting a message in front of them. So the same techniques that we use and we teach were able to be used for a very good cause, which I would love to see us be able to do more things like that moving forward.
Amy Hoy: Me too. I really enjoyed being able to help use my skills to create more impact than I could if I just went and volunteered somewhere. Oh, BaconBiz!
Alex Hillman: BaconBiz! How do we forget BaconBiz?
Amy Hoy: Two day retreat afterwards.
Alex Hillman: Second year in a row, we made some minor improvements from the previous year, but it was the same general idea. 50ish attendees hosted in your office, which takes off a whole lot of the stress. Super focused, short talks. Lots of time to hang out. The best speaker to attendee ratio, I think you’ll ever get, so lots of time to hang out.
Amy Hoy: 5:1
Alex Hillman: Something crazy like that. You mentioned that retreat we did afterwards. I think that was a new addition that was hugely impactful. A mix of spending time with friends, we’re not necessarily what I would qualify friends with all of the people that we invite to speak. We reach out to people that we admire and those who say yes, come and speak as well.
So, the retreat afterwards was specifically for speakers to have a little bit time to relax after a two-day conference, which can be kind of intense. And also – and this was the part that I think everybody got the most out of – is you go to a conference as a speaker and you put yourself at the mercy of you are giving to everyone there. You’re giving your knowledge, you’re giving your time, your energy. And it’s not that there’s nothing to be gained. It’s that you’ve spoken at tons of conferences, I’ve spoken at tons of conferences, anyone who’s gone to as a speaker to a conference, knows that you leave and you’re exhausted.
Amy Hoy: Plus often your job is to challenge other people. Very few people then will challenge you because there’s just a skills mismatch.
Alex Hillman: So we thought, how cool would it be to, in addition to having some chill time, to set up some structured time for the speakers to actually be able to help each other.
Amy Hoy: The first day we all had brunch together and then we walked, I took everyone on a little historic walking tour around a the city of Philadelphia, and we hung out at the park and we hung out at the pier and it was awesome. We got sunburned!
Alex Hillman: It was great. Yeah, which was surprising to me because it wasn’t hot.
Then day two, we went over to Indy Hall and did sort of a two part thing. One was around sharing some of our own goals, not just the little stuff that we’re working on this year, but like the big picture reason we work on stuff. It was a great way to sort of bring our very small community that much closer together and talk about the things that we really care about and find out that many of us care about the same things.
Then the next part was – rather the last part – it was sort of everybody got 20 minutes to pick one thing that they were working on or that they were struggling with and workshop through it with a panel of their speaker peers, and everybody got time, it was a really broad range of kinds of things that people wanted help with. It was a nice blend of catharsis, “I’m not the only one who gets stuck on these things”, but also having people who are successful in different ways, look at your problem and help you solve it. So those two days were two of my favorite days of the entire year workwise.
Amy Hoy: Totally agree. And we’ve heard from other attendees that was true for them as well. Also, that was the time – I mean – you have to understand listeners by the end of the second day, which is fourth day for me as the conference organizer, I was literally falling asleep at the table. Not because I didn’t have enough sleep – I got plenty of sleep but because I was just so wrung out. I’m not a big stressor, but my body can’t do that because of my illness.
But I managed to stay awake long enough to talk about my growth issue with Freckle revenue and Patrick said, “You should hire a salesperson. I’ve seen this happen. I’ve seen how this works. You need a salesperson, instead of all this low touch stuff”. Everyone around mostly like nodding their heads and like, “All right, well, I guess we need to get a salesperson.” After that I was thinking about it and someone fell into my lap because I had been thinking about it.
Alex Hillman: You got that out of those two days and the other big thing that we got out of that was a conversation with Josh Kaufman about…
Amy Hoy: Over two days, yeah…
Alex Hillman: About the book.
Amy Hoy: Publishing, self-publishing Josh’s talk is awesome, and you’ll be able to see it soon. We’re going to release the videos closer to BaconBiz time, so in April. His talk is about how to make book publishing, writing books and actual business, not as a way to upsell expensive speaking engagements or workshops, but the actual books themselves. And he’s brilliant at it.
Alex Hillman: He broke it down in such a way that it appealed to our style, which is very systems oriented. We look at the problem, we go, how do we break it down into smaller pieces and then have them build on each other? And that’s exactly what Josh did in a way that I imagine over many years we may have come to on our own, but it was totally not obvious to me or you until we saw it. And then after that, sitting down with Josh and talking about the route of going with a publisher versus independent, because his first two books were traditionally published.
Amy Hoy: And they did very well.
Alex Hillman: Very well and I think it was that conversation in combination with the one with Rameet that really had us change gears completely from, we want to publish a book – that was one of the top line goals for you at the top of 2013. We really pulled a 180 on that with a lot of confidence that came from those two discrete conversations.
Amy Hoy: Yep. It was very much a, “Oh, is that how it really works? I don’t want that.”
Alex Hillman: Exactly, but I think that’s the key. It was, we knew what we wanted to achieve, and we assumed that the only way to achieve it was the one that was in front of us.
Amy Hoy: Or the best way, I think. Fastest.
Alex Hillman: Right, and with our own resources and things like that. So I think having a more realistic glimpse into what we would be giving up to go that route and like you said, that is specifically not what we want, made that decision a whole lot easier.
Amy Hoy: It really did. Yeah. It really, really did. Also Remy emailed me today and said you made the right decision that was his entire subject. There was nothing else.
Alex Hillman: There was no body to let email. I love those emails. So, you know, a crappier – in some measures, health wise and productivity.
Amy Hoy: It felt like crap.
Alex Hillman: It felt like crap, but looking back and you know, along with this recording, you’ll be able to see a more detailed outline of all the things that we did do, numbers that go with it and things like that. Experientially, it may have been a crap year, but we laid a lot of foundations to make this year pretty excellent.
We can work to keep our health in check and keep our energy and attention and focus in check – all of the pieces are there for us, which makes me feel really, really excited about this year. I have no doubt. This will be our best year yet.
Amy Hoy: I’m counting on it. I mean, even with all the things that went wrong, we came within 11% of the estimate for our revenue for 30x500 related stuff. I made the beginning of last year,
Alex Hillman: Which was not super audacious, it was based on some concrete things, but we didn’t hit it because of specific decisions we made.
Amy Hoy: If we had done the fifth bootcamp, we would have surpassed it.
Alex Hillman: By another 10 or 15%. Yeah. So, it was a decision. And like we said at the beginning of this conversation, the revenue that we did not collect at the end of 2014, because we didn’t do that fifth boot camp, I believe will more than exceed using the tools that we built in those two months instead.
Amy Hoy: Yeah. Currently we’re doing like three to six sales per day of Just Fucking Ship without having any marketing tooling and with having all those problems with the sales page.
Alex Hillman: It’s about as Flintstone as you get.
Amy Hoy: Right, and that’s like 30 grand a year.
Alex Hillman: It’s more than that. It’s like almost 42k. The other thing is, you and I, it’s not like we work in a vacuum and you and I work really well together and we support each other really well, which is something I’m really grateful for.
Amy Hoy: That’s what I wrote your Christmas card, which I haven’t given you yet!
Alex Hillman: Those of you, it’s hard to be in a good partnership I’ve been fortunate to be in a handful of very good ones and I’ve also been in crappy ones. I know you have too Amy, right?
Amy Hoy: Oh God. Yes.
Amy Hoy: It’s one of those things where, when you’ve got a good collaborator, like a partner who’s actually a collaborator where the sum of the parts is greater than what you could achieve separately. Not in a “Amy can’t do anything without me and I can’t do anything without her”, but together we actually create something better.
We’ve got a really great working relationship that I don’t think we can do all the things we do if it didn’t work that way. However, the one thing that we’re really missing or have been missing is the contact with people other than us that do things like what we do. And so between BaconBiz, which I think really catalyzed a lot of that for us and we’ve got our chat room with a handful of other product people friends. People that are becoming friends.
It’s really fun to have a place to invite someone that you admire and get a lot of, “Hey, whenever you speak, I think it’s worth hearing. We’ve got this little watering hole that we hang out in. We’d love to have you there.” And every time we add a new person to the group that way, it sort of like lights up our little world a little bit more. Then the amount of successful alumni of our classes is growing as well.
Amy Hoy: I love how many of them are teaching me things now.
Alex Hillman: Yeah. You’re totally right. The people that the students that have surpassed the masters is increasing quickly and it’s one of those things where like, it’s the slowest way to do it, to create your own peers.
Amy Hoy: That’s really what we set out to do. I don’t know if you remember why I wanted to host Schnitzel Conf, I was like, “If I can’t find any fucking friends who will go talk about this with me, I’m going to make them, I’m going to grow them in a Petri dish.”
Alex Hillman: And that that’s where Indy Hall came from as well. Like Indy Hall was the, “Where’s my crew? I can see them in what feels like almost any other city than my own” and Indy Hall grew out of that effort. So this is just one more little universe where the 30x500 alumni that are active, the ones that are in The Forge and the ones that aren’t in The Forge that are doing great work, that’s the stuff that also, that’s some of that semi-invisible support structure that helps us move forward. Knowing that there’s people out there succeeding, not by our hand, but by their own, but that we’ve been able to play a little bit of part in it and that gives us the confidence to keep going and do more, make us feel, really feel like this is all worth it. i
I know I have a very clear and personal theme to all of my work that community is at the heart of it and if you look at everything that I touch, bringing people together and not just like in a room, but actually connecting with each other and having them add to each other’s lives is what makes me tick. Our business together, as successful as it is, and increasingly so, but also fulfills in that goal makes me feel really good about what we do together and also, I believe allows us to set a great example for other people that do not believe that this kind of business is possible. We want to be here to say “Shut up, because it is.”
Amy Hoy: Right. We don’t really care if you never buy anything we make. The reason that we put this out here is not some sort of calculated cold marketing effort, although it totally works as marketing, but I’ve been writing about how to be a better designer, developer, businessperson, well before I could make any money off it, for a long, long time, because I know that. I grew up in a shitty suburb, completely isolated, everyone around me was an asshole and they thought that they were like God’s gift because they were at dental hygienist. I could tell you stories about my neighbors that would make your toes curl. No one did what I did!
Alex Hillman: The fact that it’s dental hygienist. I don’t know why that makes me giggle, but it does.
Amy Hoy: They were so full of themselves!
Alex Hillman: If you’re going to be high on a horse, that’s not the horse I expected.
Amy Hoy: It’s horrible! I hated it. The reasons I am who I am, doing what I do is because of books I read that inspired me. It was books that inspired me to quit at school and un-school myself in high school because I was so unbelievably miserable. It was the people I knew on IRC who had these tech jobs, who didn’t have a degree that made me realize that it didn’t really matter.
It was watching the small world of Mac Shareware, which used to be small, but mighty, you know, like watching panic and whatnot and then make all that money and do things the way that they wanted to do it. That made me realize that was possible because literally no one I knew ran a business growing up. I didn’t know a single adult who ran a business – ever.
Alex Hillman: Yeah.
Amy Hoy: All those examples are the only reason that I’m doing what I’m doing. I want to be that for other people.
Alex Hillman: Amen. And a good note to end on. So, I’m going to finish up the more calculated posts. By the time you’re listening to this it will be done, because you’ll be reading it.
If you’re listening to this in iTunes or on SoundCloud, you can head over to unicornfree.com and check out our 2014 recap post.
We’ve got a lot more coming up, actually a lot more audio stuff too. So we’ve got some conversations around some particular themes, the questions that people were asking, some of our alumni that have been doing incredible things, some deeper insight into what it’s been like to be them while building their BaconBiz, and a lot of good stuff. So if you’re listening to this on iTunes or SoundCloud, go over, click subscribe, if there’s a rating or review or comment, we’d love to hear it. Hit us up on Twitter.
Amy Hoy: Just don’t complain about our language if you’ve then continued to listen, pick one or the other, please!
Alex Hillman: I think that our opening, Amy, may have been a perfect filter.
Amy Hoy: I don’t know! All those emails I sent that said Just Fucking Ship in the title didn’t make that one guys unsubscribe, so just saying!
Alex Hillman: Well, the podcast will be marked explicit in iTunes so we don’t have to worry about it. Alright, cool. Have a great rest of your evening and I’ll talk to you again soon!
Amy Hoy: Yes, bye!
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