“Once I actually had people and a process to follow, it was a lot easier to get over my mental roadblocks. When I saw that others in my 30×500 cohort had success doing the same thing and charging money for it, I realized I can do that, too.” – Justin Weiss, 30×500 Alum
Justin loved side projects
Rails developer Justin Weiss has always been a side project person. Even with a full-time job and an active family life (including two little ones and a loving spouse), “I get restless when I’m not working on something,” he said.
In the past, that meant dabbling in open source work and even releasing his own iOS app — but everything Justin had built over the years, he’d built for free.
“I was always coming up with excuses not to charge,” he said.
Justin would ask himself “Why should I charge money? This is a passion project. I should release it for free because everyone else should be able to use it the same way I want to use it.”
He knew, though, that his “reasons” roadblocked his bigger goal: building a product-based business that would provide him ample family time and the opportunity to tackle projects he truly loved.
Ready to tear down those roadblocks, he enrolled in 30×500.
Turning knowledge into process
After years in the field, Justin was a Rails expert. He had the knowledge, but couldn’t figure out which pieces people actually needed.
“I tend to see patterns everywhere, even when they don’t exist,” he said. “So I’ll take two problems people have, and try to find a way to relate them based on what I know — even if they aren’t related.”
Justin had been working on Practicing Rails, a book for Rails developers, but found himself stuck trying to solve too many problems at once.
“I was either turning information into an absolute monster of a chapter,” he said, “or trying to make it so generic that it didn’t actually help anybody.”
Seven thousand words into his first draft, he decided to scrap everything, frustrated that his book was morphing into yet another generic Rails tutorial.
Another 7,000 words later, he did the exact same thing.
“I just didn’t have enough information about what people’s problems were, and what they needed, to build the right product for them,” said Justin.
So Justin used the 30×500 Sales Safari method to break out of imaginary patterns and uncover developers’ actual pains.
“I finally started to notice people were having trouble with the second or third steps of learning Rails,” he said. “They’d get through tutorials, but when they actually got into building their own app, they’d get stuck. There are so many different types of technologies out there, they’d look at this empty skeleton Rails app and say, ‘Okay, now what?’”
Through his own experience and more Sales Safari research, Justin outlined a repeatable process for moving from step one — learning Rails — to step two: building an app’s first feature.
“Once you get that first feature done, the rest of the app starts to come a lot quicker,” he said. “When your app boots up and you see something you wrote actually working, it sparks an addiction that makes you keep going. So I wanted to help people get one little thing built.”
Mixing marketing and research
For Justin, writing, marketing and launching weren’t a set of 1-2-3 steps. Instead, they acted as strands of a rope, woven together into an ongoing series of events.
He began with a non-negotiable content marketing routine: new blog posts shipped every Tuesday morning, and newsletters shipped every Friday morning.
“That helped me know exactly what to work on, when,” he said. “If it was Monday, I’d be writing a blog post. If it was Thursday evening, I’d be writing a newsletter. That helped me keep the book from overpowering the other work I had to do to make sales.”
Each blog post acted as an ebomb: the 30×500 term for a concise, actionable piece of content that answers a real question or solves a real problem.
“I start with a problem statement — a direct quote from a forum post or reply I’d found during Sales Safari,” he said. “Then I explain the solution. That’s enough for a 900-1,000 word blog post. At the end, I do a wrap-up and ask ‘where would you try this?’ to get people trying it in their own apps.”
Justin’s ebombs and newsletters played double-duty: in addition to growing his list and (later) fueling sales, they also became key channels for ongoing Sales Safari research.
“As I wrote them, I’d hear back from readers and learn more about their problems, and the blog posts became Sales Safari research and marketing at the same time.”
Using his feedback loop and the process he’d learned from 30×500, Justin’s ebombs grew his list from zero to 2,000 subscribers by his final launch date.
Justin’s first paid launch
Rather than drop the entire book in one day, Justin split his launch into phases: first, a pre-launch with about 900 list subscribers.
“I was really uncomfortable opening up pre-sales without having the product finished,” he said.
But considering his revenue of $2500 on pre-sale launch day, “it was yet another thing I didn’t need to worry about.”
From there, he shipped additional content of the book every three weeks: stronger examples, better screenshots and additional file formats, generating a total of $12,500 in pre-sales revenue.
Within the first 72 hours of the final launch date, his final product brought in another $5,500 — and continues to sell.
Equally impressive as his sale numbers? The source of his sales.
“I didn’t get picked up on Hacker News, or Product Hunt, or see a bunch of success on Reddit,” he said. “My sales came almost entirely from my list, and from others who’d been recommended the book by people on my list.”
Lessons learned + looking forward
As Justin approaches his next product, he’ll do a few things differently — starting with a smaller idea.
“Everyone told me if you start with a book, it’s going to take over your whole life, and that happened to me,” he said. “There are other ideas I’ve heard people use as their first products that I could have launched a lot faster, while still doing well for me and my readers.”
He’ll also spend more time fine-tuning the launch details for maximum impact. For example, one sales strategy Justin used this first time was releasing a chapter for free, which “did well, because it was easy,” he said.
“But I knew it could be better after talking to a lot of people in the Forge. I could have tried a stronger CTA, or tracked campaign tags to figure out what was driving sales.”
Even so, Justin is confident 30×500 and launching imperfectly have been worth it.
“30×500 is definitely high-intensity, but it helped me realize how much I’d missed when I first started writing,” he said. “Now, whenever I try to write something, I start from the problem and then think, What’s a way we could fix this that actually solves the problem, that isn’t just what I want to build?”
Solving real problems through his book and ebombs has opened a world of new connections, too.
“People I’ve admired for years and people I’ve never met before actually want to hear what I have to say, ” said Justin. “It’s become a community of people who are going through these same experiences.”
And in the same way he’s helped his audience overcome the roadblock of building their app’s first feature, Justin has passed the first roadblock en route to his sustainable, product-based business.
“Once I actually had people and a process to follow, it was a lot easier to get over my mental roadblocks,” he said. “When I saw that others in my 30×500 cohort had success doing the same thing and charging money for it, I realized I can do that, too.”
Justin had launched side projects for years, but always found excuses not to charge. By overcoming that mental roadblock, he did more than just make money — he built a repeatable process for launching content people love and want to share.
Two more updates from Justin
Last summer, Justin sent an update in reply to or call for “Brags and Snags” from our alumni:
So many brags :-) Launched a (big) product my first year, over $45k total revenue, about 4200 mailing list subscribers, had some of my personal heroes in the community talk about the great work I’ve produced. It’s all been amazing.
For snags? Lack of sleep since the second kid arrived. All my habits revolved around the time I could take for myself in the evenings or early mornings. For a while, that time didn’t exist, and my habits changed. Now that the time is coming back, it’s more a question of being able to push myself during that time on a lot less sleep than I’m used to.
It’s fine, though. I’m comfortable with my priorities, and it’s not a stop, it’s a delay :-)
Remember, Justin earned that $45k on the side of his full time job, where he’s also earned himself at least one significant promotion, AND and the full time job of raising two kids. He’s not the only 30×500 alumni with family priorities and still doing great.
A second update came from Justin a little over a month ago:
I took an extended break from ebombing over the last year or so. But last month, the sleep got better and I moved to a new position, one that will take up a lot less of my time and energy. So I’m going to start ebombing again this month, and build the product business back up.
Still, in 2016, I went from 3300 to 4400 list subscribers, and made 200 sales (about $8400). Not bad for the time spent :-)
And that, my friends, is the power of selling products with the 30×500 system.