Stacking the Bricks Podcast EP9 - How to clear a path for product success
58 min

In this episode…

Jim Gay is a busy dad. A REALLY busy dad, with 4 kids.

He really wanted a product business so he could spend more time with his family instead of working endless stressful hours to pay the bills.

But this episode isn't actually about making time at's about clearing a path for success.

Do you remember the approach to tidying we talked about in episode 6 and 7? We learned that the path to a tidy home is deceptively simple...and part of the process involves letting go of things that are holding you back.

In this episode, 30x500 alum Jim Gay talks about going through exactly that process, and how hard but important it was to start his product business with a clear perspective.

You'll learn how he rebooted his approach, immersing himself in the community to learn what they care about most.

Jim did so many smart, strategic things to build his audience: from turning his most popular ebombs as talks for conferences, to being really intentional about the KINDS of blog posts he wrote in the first place. And he's done very well for himself - his launch weekend topped $10k and he's earned over $60,000 from his first product since the first beta release.

But Jim made some mistakes, too. One mistake in particular had big emotional costs in additional to delaying his financial success for over 2 years.

It's a mistake that Amy and I have seen countless people make, and we've even made ourselves. You're going to have to listen to see what that mistake was, and how he recovered from it, and how selling products is helping him achieve his goal...having more time to spend with his family.

Links mentioned in this episode


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Jim Gay: I couldn’t build a mansion off of my first attempt. You know, I had to try building my little hut and seeing how it went.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: That my friends is the battle cry of a brick stacker; building a little hut before you move on to build the mansion. That’s how we do things here on Stacking the Bricks.

My name is Alex Hillman. I’m your co-host for Stacking the Bricks and the person you just heard from – and who you’re going to hear from the rest of this episode – his name is Jim Gay.

Do you remember the approach to tidying that Amy and I talked about back in episode six and seven? If you didn’t listen, or maybe you need a little bit of a refresher, the idea was to really just let go of things. It was a very specific process. It was taking a good, hard look at something and if it didn’t bring joy into your life, thank it for what it had brought you so far, and then to let it go.

In today’s conversation, you’re going to hear about Jim going through that very process and how hard, but important, it was to do so in order to start his business with a clear perspective. Jim did so many smart strategic things to build his audience, from turning his most popular ebombs into talks for conferences, to being really intentional about the kinds of blog posts that he wrote in the first place. But Jim made some mistakes along the way. One mistake in particular had big emotional costs, in addition to financial ones. It’s a mistake that Amy and I have seen countless people make, and we’ve even made ourselves.

You’re going to have to listen to the rest of this episode to see what Jim’s mistake was. More importantly, how he recovered from it. And most importantly, the impact that selling his product has had on his ability to achieve his ultimate goal, which is spending more time with his family. If you’re ready to hear how all that went, let’s get the show started.

Jim Gay: I was just sitting here waiting as we were getting set up and somebody called me via Skype and tried to bring me into a conference and I just had to quickly type back. I was like, “Hey, sorry, I’m talking to Alex Hillman in a few minutes.” And their only response was just “JFDI”.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: That’s great!

Jim Gay: You have a legacy!

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: The folks know, the folks know. that’s right. Cool. I’m really, really excited to have a quick conversation with you. You and I have known each other for a bunch of years through the 30x500 and the alumni group, and I’ve gotten to watch you build a product, sort of over a long period of time. That’s one of the things that I want to get into the meat of in today’s conversation. And why it took so long, what you think that gave you in terms of capabilities? What disadvantages and things like that.

But before we get into any of that, Jim Gay, how do you introduce yourself at parties?

Jim Gay: That’s a good question! It’s funny because I didn’t come at this as an expert. I don’t have like a significant computer science background. I wrote a technical book and I sort of had this feeling that maybe I didn’t quite belong.

So, when it comes to talking to people about what I do, in fact, just the other night, somebody asked me, “Who are you trying to become in the Ruby community?” And I don’t really know the answer, but the things that I care about have to do with not having to think when I don’t really need to, and being able to feel comfortable that I can work well with others. So when I think about the code that I write or that other people write or what we can do, that’s really the goal of what my product is. If I could sum it up, I think I would say I help Ruby developers become better.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: I also like the fact that it’s not just better for their own sake, it’s better for their teammates. I don’t know if you and I have had a chance to talk about it one-on-one but a big part of my personal motivation for basically everything I work on, including 30x500 and Indy Hall is working with other people. I don’t really do a lot of solo projects on purpose but in particular I do things – and I do them very intentionally – in a way where it helps not just me, but the people that I’m working with be sort of like the best version of themselves. So it sounds like the goal in a way of your work and of this product.

Jim Gay: Yeah. I mean, ultimately, no matter what you do, you’re going to end up working with other people. In fact, most of the time when I talk to developers who are going solo, they lament the fact that it’s very difficult for them to get feedback from someone else, so just having someone else is really a very valuable thing.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Yeah. Do you remember what motivated you to start getting into products in the first place? Because you can work with other people in all kinds of ways. Why did you get into doing a product?

Jim Gay: You know, I don’t know. Looking back, it was probably wanting some stability.

At the time when I guess I started looking into 30x500 and thinking about building products, some people were coming out with eBooks and I don’t think I really understood how much money they were making or if they were really making that much.

But I just saw like, wow, they’re doing something that helps support them, making a good product, that’s useful to other people, but it helps support them financially and they’re not trading their time for it. In other words, I don’t work an hour and I get paid for the hour, but like if I make a product, then the product continues to sell, even though I’m sleeping at night.

Now I have four children, but at the time I think we had just had our third and I sacrificed a lot of my sleep and general health and wellbeing so that I could work more and provide for my family. When we had our third child, my wife decided this going back and forth between work and home is kind of too much, you know, I’ll stay home and it’ll be your job to try to bring in the money and my job to try to run the house.

That’s worked really well, but it also stressed me out to no end. So I wanted something that would give me stability that I wouldn’t trade like, well, I better stay up till 2:00 AM tonight working on a side project, I had my daily clients and then I have the additional stuff in the evening that will help make me money. And it was just burning the candle at both ends and you really can’t win doing that.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Right, and so introducing a product into the repertoire, both, the result is stability, but you also had to fit it in somewhere. Had you tried to build and launch a product before doing Clean Ruby?

Jim Gay: I hadn’t. Well, actually, no, I had – and I guess the reason I say I hadn’t is because none of them were successful.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Ah hah!

Jim Gay: Yeah, exactly! So I was doing a lot of development in an open source content management system. I loved working on it and at the time I had clients who used it. So I thought, Oh, I’ll host it, I’ll make a custom solution and it was a solution in search of a problem. I didn’t have an audience. I didn’t have people waiting. I didn’t have pain points that I knew I was absolutely killing, and that people would pay me for.

Everybody needs content management, but that was not good enough. It wasn’t like someone was going to decide to come to me just because they need it. They’re going to look at a bunch of different things and find something cheaper and easier or faster or whatever.

I just did not have it clear picture of what I should do to help people and then once I got that clear picture, then Clean Ruby came out of it. I had tried a couple of different things, testing the waters to see what people were interested in that never turned into products. But this one, I think really hit the nail on the head. It was me writing about an idea and about code that could really help people and they were eager to get the information. So that’s what I didn’t have, I had no eager audience before.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Oh, that’s a really, really good distinction. I was talking to actually a couple of folks that I work with here at Indy Hall yesterday, I think it was, and it’s sort of a similar description to what you had just laid out.

You were working on this open source product. There were people that used it and sort of the assumption that, well, if people use it, then obviously if I make it easier for them to use it, they’ll be ready to pay. There’s a bunch of hidden steps in between there, because they had sort of the traditional, “We’re a consultancy. We build stuff for people” and there’s people just like them, that would probably buy it. So if we make this easier to sort of spin up new instances that will just make it a product, or productizing, something that we’re already doing for other people. And they learned, I think the same lesson you did, and that just building it, doesn’t assume that there are people there ready and waiting to pay.

Even the people that you already know theoretically want it, they’re not ready for this from you. So I’m curious what it is that you changed about your approach. You touched on a couple of things, but I’d love to get really specific if you can about your approach with Clean Ruby, that was different. You mentioned that you had a couple of pains that you knew that you were going after and that they definitely wanted, they would definitely pay for pay for. How did you determine that? How do you distill all that information out?

Jim Gay: Well, I’ll take a step back. When I joined 30x500, I already had this product and I was actually hosting a couple of clients, but they came to me for one thing and it was like, the hosting was just an add on, they didn’t come to me for that.

So like that I did not see, but I thought I’ll join 30x500 and then I’ll really learn how to market this thing and I will turn it into a money maker. The first thing that I learned was I was going about it entirely wrong, and I needed to just kiss that idea goodbye and throw it in the trash, which was hard to accept, but was ultimately the absolute best thing.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: If you could, what was, I mean, we say that letting things go is hard, what was going through your head – again – as specific as you can be about, why is that actually a difficult thing to go through?

Jim Gay: Because I thought I had the problem solved, right? I had a product, and just having a product was not enough to be a success. What I didn’t have was a clear understanding and I thought that I would just learn how to market something, but what I ended up learning was how to better understand people. There are definitely things that I love about that project that I had that solved pains for people, but didn’t solve them in a way that they were ready to jump and just say, “I’m going to pay for that. I need that.” So I cleaned the slate and I just started looking around at what else do people have trouble with or what am I having trouble with and can I see what that is? The difference is I sunk a lot of time into this open source work, which I love doing. I had clients who had paid me to help them get set up on it.

I thought like this was a path I’ve clearly put a lot of time in. There are companies who are paying for this, so I can turn it into a product and thinking that all that time or years of work that I had put into either paid consulting work or my free time on the weekends, adding features and fixing bugs and things, was now a giant waste. You can kind of look back on what you’ve done and think how horrible I have just made a waste of my life. And you sort of think like you’re in a hole.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: This is like the cost problem, right?

Jim Gay: Pretty much, yeah. I mean, it’s not like that at all, because in reality you are just at square one, you believe that you’re on top of a mountain and you just need to take the next step and that you’ll achieve success, but you’re not in a hole. You’re just starting from a better clearer perspective. That was good because the weight of thinking that you are farther beyond where you are actually are, is just totally removed.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Yeah and like you said, it’s sort of made up in the first place.

Jim Gay: Right! Exactly. It’s totally a figment of your imagination.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: It’s not that you’re behind, it’s that you are exactly where you are.

Jim Gay: Right!

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: So embrace that. No, that’s really awesome. So, where did you go from there?

Jim Gay: So, a lot of what we learned in 30x500 was to just go and observe. Just watch, see what people are doing in the community that you know, and find out what’s going on. That’s really easy to do and I think a lot of people don’t realize that. You just kind of immerse yourself in the community and realize, what are people talking about? What’s important to them?

At the same time, I was learning that I was learning about this concept in object-oriented programming called DCI. It was totally new, and nobody was really talking about it. I would find a few blog posts. I don’t even remember exactly how I came across it, but the goals of it were the same. Ultimately the goals were, you want to reduce confusion in your team. You want to be able to increase the value of the communication that you have in your code.

I needed those goals. I was working during the day on a project where there was a fight fast and drastic changes over time. A lot of churn on the project, the client was deciding it would need to do the work this way in one sprint. The next sprint they would say, “Actually, we need to undo that and do this.”

And so, I looked at this concept and I said, “This is awesome. I really need this” and would spend a bunch of time researching it for my own need. But then I looked around and I thought, nobody’s talking about this. How can I do any research to see who cares? While the goals are shared for what my book talks about, the strategies were sort of unknown.

So what I ended up doing was just blogging about it. In the Ruby community, people read blog posts, they’re eager for information, they’re eager for new paradigms, new ideas, or even eager for old ideas and just being, a rehash of like, “Hey, let’s, let’s not forget these old good ideas.”

And so writing a blog and getting attention for this new idea wasn’t too difficult because they eat it up and so do I. I’m always eager to read new things and think new thoughts and find ways to make my development life and team better. I wrote this blog post and at the last second I realized like I’m in this 30x500 class, they’re telling me to do research. I’m writing this blog post about something that I really care about that I think will be really valuable. I should put an email signup form on there. And so literally at the last minute I was about to hit publish, and I was like, all right, let me just hook this up, and it takes no time.

I had a campaign monitor account and I was like, alright, I’ll just hook this up. They give you a little snippet of HTML for a signup form and I just dropped it in there and I posted it to, I don’t know, one or two forums or something. I was just like, here’s this blog post.

Within, I don’t know, an hour or two, I had 12 emails in my list and I was flabbergasted because you could comment on my blog, but people rarely commented. So I thought that comments meant that people cared, but then here I have this new way of seeing that people actually want more information. They just give you their email address. I was like, “Holy cow!” it was mind boggling. And so just like having those 12 was a major step forward and seeing that like, wow, there are people who have opted in who have said, “Please notify me about more information like this.”

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: So this is for the uninitiated. This is the process that we call ebombs or ‘educational bombs.’

This is content marketing, but we’ve taken an even more narrow approach in terms of giving people, like you said, advice, actionable advice, stuff that can use right now. When people want it right now, then they say, “Give me more”. As soon as they get a win from it, they want more.

So you got to see that and, and it’s so funny when working with students, even today, they go through the exact same sort of emotional state. They don’t actually, I think, believe that anybody would want more of their stuff, which is, you know, it’s a funny place to be, I think until you get that result yourself, the first person who gives you their email address and says “This was helpful enough that I want more” completely shifts your perspective.

I’m curious along the way, because I’m sure that you have shipped more than one ebomb since that first one. Is that fair to say?

Jim Gay: Yeah, definitely!

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Any idea how many you’ve shipped since that one? Ballpark?

Jim Gay: I dunno, maybe honestly, so there’s more to it actually, before I answer that question. I was collecting emails and so I would send things out in a newsletter and then I would have blog posts, but then I would also do presentations at conferences. So there’s multiple ways to educate people and show them new ideas that they can take action on. I’ve probably got, I don’t know, a dozen blog posts and they were all probably newsletters as well. And then I have a couple of other newsletters that were not blog posts, and then there’s, you know, a handful of presentations I’ve done.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: So you’re shopping a lot of this, once somebody says this is useful, bringing that in front of other people, it’s new for them. You don’t have to update it a whole lot. Maybe adjust it for context. That’s really cool.

Were there any of those dozen or so concepts, did you learn anything about which ebomb seemed to get you the best response or the most signups, the most results? Was there something specific or noticeable about the ones that seemed to perform the best?

Jim Gay: I think I’m still figuring that out. There were some that I would do that had a lot to do with the words that we use in, the programming community where I would kind of do it in a tongue and cheek way and poke my finger in their eye and say, “Hey, there’s something here that’s important that you don’t understand and I’m going to explain it to you.” And so for the most part, there are some people who are very vocal, who don’t like that type of attitude, in an article or in an ebomb. There are others who recognize that, “Okay. He’s trying to get my attention so that I realize that there’s something important here.”

So that type of thing, I’d post it on Hacker News and it would blow up and people would tell me I was totally wrong or, comment on my blog and tell me I was wrong or that I was right, or “Thank you for just explaining this to me.” So it was all over the board and that type of thing gets a lot of attention and I think it – I honestly don’t remember – I think it led to a good number of signups, but I also didn’t want to make myself the curmudgeon who was telling everybody they’re wrong about everything. So I would switch from that type of stuff, like “Here’s something you really need to understand and you probably don’t”, to “here’s some tools that you can take away and like go and try this in your code, do this exact thing.”

I found that the ones where I tried to be a little controversial, might have an initial spike where everybody’s talking about it, but if I could churn out little bits of content over a period of time, then people paid attention more and I think liked it more. So there were two different ways, one where you try to get a spike of traffic and have people listen to you and then another where the slow growth of people beginning to trust that what you’re talking about is important or that they can expect good things from you.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: So it’s a combo move in a lot of ways to get the best results. It sounds like one without the other is not nearly as good as the two working together.

Jim Gay: I think so.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. So, you’re building this audience, you’re building this list and had you already started working on a product or were you just sort of getting more connected to the audience?

Jim Gay: Definitely just getting more connected and in fact, my biggest fear was at the time, I remember it got up to like 170 emails and I was just totally blown away by that. If I could only get to 200, how amazing that would be. I realized I have these emails now I have to start sending content out to people, which is a lot of pressure because you think that everything you say has to be an expert opinion and I learned over time and through 30x500 that the people who are already experts often like to be validated, or they like to know that there’s someone else out there teaching good ideas.

So, it took me a while, but I realized that I can teach about things that are common to some that may be unknown to others, and I’m not going to be shouted down. People will actually be glad for that type of information. If there’s a concept that’s 20 years old and I come around and say, “Hey, don’t forget this concept. This is important. You can use it.” That’s a good thing. It’s not considered old hat. So there’s always people who are eager to learn something new or be reminded. I’ve had people thank me for writing about something or say, “I totally forgot about this”, or “I had never heard of this.” I’ve seen every aspect in my audience have a response like that.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: There’s a really awesome essay. One of my favorite essays, like maybe one of my top 10 favorite essays, by Derek Sivers, it’s

The title is Obvious to You, Amazing to Others and it’s exactly what you just described. It’s the thing that you think “Everybody knows this” and until you put it out there and realize that people go, “Oh, this is so useful”, whether they never heard of it before, or they’d completely forgotten about it. There’s a ton of value in bringing that to light for people who need it at that time. So for those listening, can go check that article out. It’s really, really good.

Jim Gay: Yeah. There’s one lesson though that I would say that I think I would guess everybody goes through in that there are going to be some people who are unhappy and early on, if somebody said something negative, it’d take me like three days to get over this depression of like, “Oh gosh, I can’t believe it. They hate me. The work I’m doing is crap”. Um, but as I have continued to just talk about what I think are good ideas, and show examples of things that people can use. I’ve found, like recently I wrote a newsletter that I sent out to over 3000 people and one person wrote back, or no, I think he mentioned it on Twitter. So I found him, I lurked around to see who was talking about it and he said, “What is this a 101 crap that’s in my inbox from somebody named Jim Gay.” He was frustrated and he wrote back to me from the email and said, “Why are you sending this to me?” Even though at the top of the email, it says, “Hey, the reason you’re getting this is because you either bought my book or signed up for my newsletter”. At the time when that happened, I was okay with it, but like early on when I only had the 12 or the 200, I was very, very worried about it.

But even though being in 30x500, I would get the advice that people will come and go and that’s okay. You might have people join your list and leave and come back. It doesn’t mean anything negative about what you’re doing, though you might learn from it. I mean, if everybody leaves then maybe you’re doing something wrong!

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: But it’s entirely possible that this guy was just having a bad day. His toast got burnt and he got stuck in traffic and that was the most recent thing that annoyed him and he decided to vent on you. So those sorts of things, they’re not necessarily indicators, single indicators of essentially nothing until there’s further evidence.

Jim Gay: You definitely don’t see it that way when you’re starting.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Without a doubt, without a doubt.

Jim Gay: I would get that advice from everybody who had been there, like, “Oh yeah, no big deal.” I was like, “What? No, this person hated it!” And, it’s okay, it really is!

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Yep. Absolutely. So where did you make the shift from building this list, you said up to 3000 people today, that’s awesome. Where did you make the shift from audience building towards figuring out that you’re going to build a product, and what to build?

Jim Gay: So I wrote, I think maybe three ebombs and after the first one where I got, you know, just a handful of emails, I thought, okay, maybe this will actually be the product that I’ll build.

I wrote two more and I started gaining more traction in terms of what I was talking about. And I got more and more emails. Even though I had this vision of like, I’m going to need thousands of emails. I knew that if I just worked with the 200 or 250 or whatever it was that I had, that I needed to just do it.

I couldn’t build a mansion off of my first attempt, I had to try building my little hut and seeing how it went. I think after the third ebomb that I posted, I had probably already started working on maybe some essays that it was going to compile into a book.

I had big visions of what I was going to do and I have advice for people out there as well. I think I bit off more than I could chew when I decided to do what I was going to do.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: What was the actual, when you said you sort of went from, writing essays about a topic, how did those things sort of start to wire together in your head? You said you got sort of a clue that maybe this would be the product. What made you think that?

Jim Gay: People just kept talking about the topic that I was talking about. There’s one other developer who had written about it before I ever had, and I don’t know how much traction he had got on his blog about it but I started talking more about it and very quickly for this concept called DCI, very quickly I became the DCI guy. I was a typecast and without my knowledge, really, I would go to a conference and somehow my name would come up or I’d introduce myself and then they’d say, “Oh, the DCI guy.”

So right off the bat, I knew that there was a captive audience, or there was an interested audience who already understood something about what I was talking about and I could move forward with teaching more.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Cool, and you started making, in addition to like compiling essays, you actually started with a presale, right?

Jim Gay: I did. So actually the only reason I started with a presale was because somebody on Twitter who I didn’t know, kept asking me “When can I get this?” And I kept just putting it off.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: The shut up and take my money! That’s the best!

Jim Gay: Exactly! I kept putting it off thinking like, Oh, this is probably the only person who wants the book. I’m not going to upend my life so that I can get it out for this one person. I kept putting him off and he kept bugging me, tell me about it and I said, “Okay, well, how about March? And I think it was March of 2012.” And so when I said that, I think it was either January or February. And so March 1st came around and I said to myself, “Thank God. I didn’t say March 1st, I still have a month to get it out” because I had a lot to do and I was nervous about putting out a product that would somehow turn people off.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: In the fact that you had established yourself as the DCI guy and the last thing sort of what you were saying before about the sunk cost, you don’t want to lose whatever it is that you have somehow built., right?

Jim Gay: Right. I don’t want to put out something that like the initial people who buy it are going to say, “Oh, what a waste of money that was”, there was a big fear in that. But I think part of the reason I was that fearful is because I hadn’t yet honed in on providing actionable content. The topic that I attempted to write about was very challenging to write about and understand. It took me, I would read academic papers about it and I would read them 10 times each, just so I could get it in my head and there’s value in doing that and trying to distill the problem down so that other people can understand it. And I think I’ve successfully done that, but it was very difficult. I thought if I can’t explain it to you succinctly then how’s my beta version going to succeed.

So anyway, March 31st comes around and it was the night before…

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Can we sing like a “t’was the night before launch day.” We should probably do one of those at some point.

Jim Gay: We should! I was up late of course, because I know the next day is really my last day to launch this thing and I’ve got to work and so it’s got to happen in the morning and I’m not going to do it during the day.

So I threw together what I had. I tried to fill in content where I knew there were places to fill it in. My writing style is probably not a good writing style in that I think through things in an unorganized manner. And so I had like a bunch of things, different things, and I had to fit them together. I remember that I was talking about a big concept that really required an introductory chapter on what that concept was and I didn’t have it. So, I quickly threw together concepts, I did some research. I had to actually find some books and read some things and make sure that I had quotes and terminology correct before I put it in. It was a late night, but I got my beta out.

To my incredible surprise people on Twitter – the Ruby community is very active on Twitter – blew up and they were all super excited that it was finally released and they would use the word finally, as if there was this pent up desire for my product.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: That’s the sound of credit cards being taken out of people’s wallets and whacked right against their screens.

Jim Gay: Exactly!

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Literally throwing money at you through their computers.

Jim Gay: Yeah. The next day – I don’t even remember what project I was on when I launched it, but I was useless at work the next day, because I was so excited about the attention that it was getting and I was seeing those credit card notifications coming in via email, and I was just floored. The whole formula of figuring out how to find out what people really need and want and how you can actually help them and give them things that they can better themselves – it worked and so people really eager for the topic that I was talking about.

That first month, I think I made $4,000 and that first month was one day, and so it was just crazy.

The next month it was another month like that, where it started to trickle off, but still I was just on a total high that the work that I had done, having not been an expert, just a person who did research and tried to whittle down a massive thing into an understandable bit, I was able to succeed that way.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: So this wasn’t exactly a presale in a traditional sense, because when you got those first sales, there was a thing to read. It was knowingly, incomplete. You had a lot more work that you wanted to do with it, it was usable. I think you referred to it as a beta product versus a like a presale, so to speak, is that right?

Jim Gay: Yeah, so it wasn’t like, “Hey, buy it at this price and then when it comes out, you’ll get it.” It was “Here it is in its current form. I will be updating it, but you can get it at this discounted rate right now.”

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Sure. So how did things evolve from there? You said the second month, were you like doing monthly updates or something else?

Jim Gay: I was doing updates as quickly as I could, which with a bunch of little kids and a daytime job to worry about was really difficult. In fact, at first I kept up, I think, a decent pace. I don’t even remember what the dates are. I have a file where I tracked my changes and releases but I kept it going and then, all kinds of things happened in life that really killed my productivity.

I sort of went into a hole and stopped developing, stopped talking about the concepts and the ebombs. It was this weight that was hanging over my head and, friends would constantly ask. I would see them, and they wouldn’t say hi, It would be like, “Hey, is the book done yet?” So that was difficult.

I think really it was because I chose a topic that required a significant amount of research. I’ve been digging up academic papers that are 20 or 30 years old and trying to understand concepts properly so that I could write a really good advanced resource and that was really hard as a first product, especially with this presale or beta launch where people had already paid me. I was under the gun, like I have to complete this, in fact, just like there’s always one person who complains, there was one person who said, “Hey, I want my money back. I don’t think you’re ever going to finish this thing.” And that was like, you know, a shot straight through the heart.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Brutal. I want to just grab onto one word that you said you referred to as an advanced resource, which I think is, you set your own difficulty level early on saying this needs to be an advanced resource. Was that your decision? Is that a decision you would have made a second time if you were to rewind the clock and do it all over?

Jim Gay: It was my decision and it was a foolish decision to kind of shoot for the stars and really provide a font of knowledge for people, which I still could have done had I just shrunk the target a little bit more.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: You set the expectations in a certain place and then, oh, my God, we got to fill that box.

Jim Gay: Right, exactly. And so, I mean, it’s sometimes good to reach for something that’s difficult, but not in this case. I would not recommend it! It would have been way easier, in fact, I remember Brennan Dunn, he had done Planscope and then his second product was his Double Your Freelancing Rate. When he announced it, he said, “This is going to be 30 pages.”

I saw that – and I had already pre-launched – and I saw that and I thought, why did I not do that? Why didn’t I just pick something that’s like, “Here’s the most concise guide to X” and just solve a problem for people as quickly and briefly as possible, because ultimately if I’m going to buy a technical book or a product for anything, I don’t want to spend time reading a lot. I want to spend time just understanding and moving on to my actual problems.

In terms of, what would I do differently? I would definitely find a smaller thing. I would say, “I’m not going to go beyond this length or this range of a topic.” I definitely chose to do something that was difficult and it was a self-fulfilling prophecy that it was difficult for me to do.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Well it’s an easy, easy, easy mistake to make. We see it. I’m sure you’ve seen it in other friends, alumni. Amy and I have made this mistake before, numerous times and most recently sort of reteaching ourselves in a way through launching Just Fucking Ship and doing that 24 hour challenge with Nathan. Sort of forcing ourselves, “This isn’t allowed to be any bigger than that”, actually sort of a liberation like you were saying, that says, “Okay, well, if it can only be this big, let’s make sure that the things that are in it are really good and we can’t go any bigger than that.” Of course you can, there’s no actual law that says you’re not allowed to, but the constraint helps a ton.

Jim Gay: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I already have ideas for areas that I still need to research, but my follow-on products and they are way smaller and way more targeted and I think there’ll be far easier for me to implement this next time around.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Sure. So, for those playing along at home, you had said the date of the, sort of that prelaunch – a beta launch, if you will, was March 31st of 2012.

It is now very close to approaching the end of 2014. So that’s two years of building. That’s sort of that stressful time that you were talking about before, but the good news is, is you launched version one. Was that two weeks ago?

Jim Gay: I think about two weeks ago, yeah.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Two weeks ago, the first complete version. I want to hear about that launch, how you actually executed the launch, and what results you got.

Jim Gay: So I had watched how other people had done their launches and I wanted to make sure that I at least kind of revved up the audience for the fact that the book was going to be done and I wanted…you have them ready, for the people who had not purchased, now’s the time to purchase. There are definitely people who wait. They are interested in the book, but they’re going to wait until you’re done, either because they don’t want to read an unfinished text or they don’t want to read it and then get a new update and have to read it again and continue on with you.

When I was planning to finish it, I had actually had it done for a while, but I wanted to make sure the formatting was correct and then I wanted to make sure that my email launch sequence was ready to go. There really wasn’t any significant planning or scientific research behind what I should do when I launched, but it was just the fact that I needed to send out some ebombs and get my newsletter going again. I had been writing on it and it became popular people loved it. Then I took time off and that time that I took off ended up being an entire year.

I didn’t write to people and they may have forgotten about me for a very long time. So I started writing articles for my newsletter and for my blog, so that people would just remember who I was, remember about the product, learn some new things and then I would finally say, “The book’s out, it’s ready.”

I kind of picked a date and I said, all right, that’s when I’m going to do it. I’m working back from that date. If I send this email this day and the week before send that email, I figured out, I don’t know how many emails it was, four or five emails before I finally hit the trigger to launch it would be enough for people to remember who I was. But what I did was I sent out newsletters to everybody, so whether or not you bought the book or didn’t, everybody got that same useful content, the ebombs. But then the weekend that I was launching it, I told people “The price is going up on Monday, Clean Ruby 1.0 is out it’s ready and available.” Everybody in my newsletter, I sent them a coupon code to get a quarter of the price off and I said, “look, you can use this coupon.” The price at the time was $42. I said “On Monday, it’s going up to $49”. So, people jumped on it. They used it. That was an incredible weekend for me. I think it was a Saturday or maybe Friday I sent that out and Saturday and Sunday were big days.

What I did was I marked everybody who had purchased in my newsletter list, as you know, purchasers or customers already and so on Monday morning, I sent out a reminder to all the people who had not purchased and I said, “Look, today’s the last day you have until the end of the day to make a purchase and use this coupon code, it’s going up to $49”. Then throughout the day, I would mark anybody who had purchased as a customer. I’m on the East coast, in the US and it was probably around three o’clock in the afternoon here when I sent another reminder to anybody who had not purchased, “It’s going up, you, you should buy it”. I had seen Amy, I think do this for maybe the BaconBiz Conf, and realized that the people who are interested might see that initial email and get distracted and forget. My initial thought was, “Oh, well, if you send too many emails, they’re going to be annoyed.” But if they’re on your list to get whatever your product is – and your product price is going up – they will be thankful that you reminded them to go and make the purchase at whatever price they can get it at. So, Monday was by far my biggest day. I don’t remember how much I made, but my previous record for a month was $6,000 and I thought that was gonna be an insurmountable thing to get over and just in that launch weekend, I made. $10,000 on the sale.

I reminded people. I was there and there was the pent-up desire for the book and the people who forgot to buy it, when I reminded them on Friday, got reminders on Monday and it was really fantastic.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: That’s awesome. So, a $10,000 launch weekend, close to double what you thought was an insurmountable previous record?

Jim Gay: Absolutely.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: That’s really cool! So where does that put you at total lifetime? Because in like two, almost two and a half years, since the beta release, how have you done?

Jim Gay: It’s right now at about $62,000.

Alex Hillman: [00:44:49 That’s busy dad – holy crap – busy dad side work money, and most importantly, something you can relaunch and keep building. That was just two weeks ago, you could do that again in 30 days and potentially to the new audience that you’re adding via more ebombs keep going.

Jim Gay: Exactly. That’s my plan and you know what, if you look at the way I’ve done it, you could say, “Well, he did it wrong. He didn’t offer levels.” You see a lot of people who sell products like mine, there’s an eBook, and then there’s the eBook plus a couple of extra things, and then there’s an eBook plus a couple extra things and some videos, and maybe like a one-on-one session with you or something like that. And I didn’t do that and I knew that my launch would probably be better, had I done, but I just needed to do it. I just had to get that thing out there and so I did that, but, having gone to Baconbiz conf and hearing about other products similar to mine and how their launches were done and redone and redone. I realized I’m not finished when I launched this thing. I can continue adding content to it and to packages. And so I’m absolutely going to relaunch the book and provide other things for better resources that if they want the bigger package, then they can do that.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: That’s so great, dude. Congratulations!

Jim Gay: Thank you!

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: As we’re wrapping up, you’ve touched on a couple of things along the way and difficulties and worries, concerns, fears. If you had to think about one thing that you struggle with the most today, or maybe looking forward, the thing that you’re most hung up on, or you’re most concerned about, you sounded like you’ve gotten over a bunch of the things in the past. What’s the thing that you should think you struggle with the most today?

Jim Gay: I think focus, because now that I’ve done this, I can see the need that people have for different things and so I have these visions of all these potential products that I could go and do research for and I really just have to pick one, time box myself to it and find like the best solution for this particular problem and put it out there.

I’ve been doing research all along, as I would see the need in the audience that I have, I would take notes and I record blog posts that were popular and things like that. So I have all these resources for potential products, but now I have to just pick one and make it that one.

I also have to make sure that it fits within my current audience. I’m not going to pick a completely different audience and try to gear towards them. But I think that’s it, just focus, and I think that might’ve been my initial problem as well. Like finding that right product. I didn’t fully understand what I saw in the audience that I had.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: I want to tie it back to one of the questions at the beginning about why you got into product in the first place. It sounded like you had some specific goals around stability and easier time juggling family and work and all those things. So far at this juncture in your journey, how does having Clean Ruby for sale and launched in version one out there in the world. How does that impact your life? That’s your personal life, your work life, however you see that, what is the impact of having a product business in the universe that is yours?

Jim Gay: Well, firstly, it’s a relief to have it done, but other than that, I feel like I have a lot more power over my future than I did before, because when I was just a freelancer, just a consultant, I was dependent upon someone else paying me a lot of money to do one thing. But now I realize that I can solve problems for many people at once and they can individually pay me and pay me over time. If I need to come up with more money, I can solve problems for many people.

So there’s that, I feel more at ease even though, my family will have financial trouble, just like everyone else does things come up in life and you need to somehow eat into your savings and do certain things. And that happens, but I’m less worried about what’s going to happen to my family, whether or not I can support them because I have gone through this process and taken charge of it.

But then also actually finding consulting work, which I’m slowly getting away from was way easier because people knew that I knew a topic very well. I would write about it in ebombs that were available anywhere and I have a book that you could buy to find out more about my thinking and how it can help your development team. So people looked to me for advice, whereas before I was just another hand, another hired hand, so it definitely changed perceptions on what people could use me to do and how they could improve their businesses by hiring me.

I’ve gotten into doing training now and architectural thinking, instead of just doing lower level things with code – “Here, go implement this feature.” My value to my clients is way higher now and they’re willing to work with my schedule. When you are a lower level freelancer, they expect you to be in doing the work and if you are elevated yourself to a consultant who really knows his stuff, it’s much easier to say, “Listen, I’m not going to be in this day. I go into, I don’t know a school pageant” or something like that.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Whatever it is, your value to them is you’re no longer a commodity and they see how you fit into their world.

I think that brings us to a really great closing question. Some people find this one to be a little bit tougher, but who’s the first person that comes to mind for you when you hear the word successful?

Jim Gay: Huh!

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: I told you it was a tough one.

Jim Gay: That is! Gosh, I don’t know, because I think my notion of successful has changed over time in that I used to think about it in terms of career and maybe finances and now I think about it in terms of my family and how much time I can spend with them.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: That’s actually a more useful answer than you might think. That’s really great. And I mean, part of the reason I like asking that question is that the who is not really what we’re looking for, it’s sort of what are the values behind it and why? I think if you’ve got the ability to jump to that without actually having to think of a very particular person, I think people still get a lot of value out of seeing that perspective, that shift for you and one that they can sort of see for themselves. So that’s actually really great.

Jim Gay: Yeah.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: Awesome. Well, let’s wrap up today. Where can people find out more about you and your book?

Jim Gay: Well, they can definitely go to I’m SaturnFlyer on Twitter. My website is I guess, Saturn Flyer’s the place where I’ve got a lot of blog posts and newsletter articles posted there, is where you can sign up for my newsletter and stuff for free and potentially coupon codes in the future.

Definitely go and check out my book and I’d love to have feedback. I always love to hear people’s thoughts. It gets them thinking about new things either be it building a product themselves or the code that’s there and they’ll write and say, “Hey, I have this problem and this really helped me think through it.” So check it out.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: That’s awesome. Thanks, Jim and I hope you have a great rest of your day and your weekend!

Jim Gay: Thank you. You too.

Alex Hillman Alex Hillman: All right. Take care, man.

I love conversations like this one, because it is just so satisfying to be able to spend time with our alumni who are doing the work, getting what they really want. You know, in Jim’s case, that’s power over his future and the control to spend time with his family, the way he wants when he wants, where he wants. Really there’s just no better feeling for Amy and I than cheering on students like that. We’re so thankful that Jim was willing to come on the show and be so candid in sharing this episode with you guys.

Soon there’s a whole mess of new things that I’m excited to share with you. It’s more interviews with successful alumni, a lot like this interview with Jim, a couple more live coaching sessions, like the one with Amanda from last week and a whole lot more.

Now you heard Jim talk a lot about 30x500, and we’re actually gearing up to watch the game newest version, Amy and I’ve been working really hard on, and we’re super, super, super excited about it’s the best version of the class we’ve ever shipped.

But what exactly is it? Besides being impossibly hard to say out loud? 30x500 is a course that Amy and I created to help people build and ship their first product, and their second product, and their third product. Hence Stacking the Bricks. A lot of our students started out a lot like Jim – as freelancers or consultants.

Maybe they have full time jobs that are trying to build something on the side, but they all have something in common and that’s that they trade their time for money. What they’re trying to do is build a product so they can disconnect the amount of money they can make from the amount of time that they work.

It sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well, if you read the startup tabloids and things like that, you might have gotten this idea that the only way to create a business like that is to go out and chase venture capital or seed money. And that’s just not the only way you can do it. So Amy and I created 30x500 to teach another way.

The whole idea of 30x500 is that by going out into the world, studying an audience, learning things about them, learning how to help them, you can build an audience. Anyone can build an audience just by helping people. Then while you’re helping them, you can learn what kinds of things they’ll buy? What kinds of things they already buy and what kinds of things you can build that they’ll buy and then brick by brick, build your own product business?

We’ve been teaching this course for five years to literally hundreds of students. And in the last two years, we’ve evolved into a two-day boot camp version that’s gotten our students the best results that we’ve ever seen, but we’re going one step further. We’re launching a version of 30x500 that you don’t have to apply to.

We’re launching a version of 30x500 that you don’t have to schedule an entire weekend to take. We want you to version of 30x500 that you can do on your own time, at your own pace. Everything we’ve learned from five years of teaching is going into this new product: new lessons, new examples, quite literally the best course we’ve ever taught.

But if you listen to a few episodes ago, Amy was talking about how hard it was to launch this new product in a vacuum. We want to be able to work closer with a smaller grouping of students to see how the new material works – and that’s where you come in.

If you check out, you’ll find out about this very special launch that we’re announcing next Friday, March 6th.

This is going to be a limited seeding opportunity to join a onetime only version of the new 30x500 that Amy and I are going to be more involved in than we ever will again, but here’s the deal. We can only send you the link if you’re on our launch list. So head to that page, and you’ll be able to read about the pioneers program and down at the bottom, there’s a place where you can put in your email address, where we can let you know about when the first set of seats are available. In fact, the first 75 seats are going to be discounted. So you really want to get on that list and looking forward to seeing you in the pioneers program.

Once again, I want to thank you for sharing some time in your day with us, love spending time with you. And I look forward to seeing you next time on Stacking the Bricks!

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