9 Years Ago, 37signals Had No Products…

How the hell did 37signals go from an unknown little consulting company to a bootstrapped product juggernaut?

Below is a video lesson from my 30×500 Product Launch Class which explains how.

It’s called Stacking the Bricks, and it’s a no-nonsense look at how 5 businesses got started, and how they grew and are growing — including a couple famous businesses, a couple nascent ones, and mine.

This video lesson is part reality check, part battlecry, part kick in the pants. It is ruthlessly practical, and it’s an investigation of patterns and systems.

Based on feedback from folks who’ve watched it, I can tell you: It’s worth your time. Make it happen. (And let it load, because it doesn’t stream.)

Watch it now, here, or download it. Rip the audio and listen to it on your commute. Just don’t fave it for later, because we both know that means never.

Click here to download the MOV file

It’s 43 minutes long, and there’s a blip in the audio part way through. (Sorry about that, but it’s too important to get out there, rather than waiting forever to re-record.) Obviously this lesson is about a year old so the relative dates are a little off, but c’est la vie.

MOARRR! Liked this video? You’ll also looove Be Your Own Angel – How to make money happen, a blog post with two more real-life stories of stacking the bricks.

And if you really, really liked that message, then you should ask yourself:

Are You Ready to Make Your First Brick?

If you’re a designer or a developer who dreams of having an independent income made by selling products directly to the people who use them…

…if you’re not sure where to start, or how to get over the problems that have plagued you every time you have started…

… if you’d sleep easier if you knew how to drum up customers before you ever put pencil to paper or code to git…

Then my 30×500 Launch Class may be just the kick in the pants you need.

A huge kick in the pants followed up by sensible, actionable advice and a process (with workbooks! so many workbooks!) you can implement yourself. And, when you join, you get access to a community of nearly 400 alumni as well as your fellow students. Some folks have told me that the alumni group alone is worth the price of admission.

This video is just one of many useful, butt-kicking, inspiring lessons in my 30×500 Product Launch Class… and I’m adding more all the time. This lesson, specifically, is an accompaniment to the heavily action-oriented, workbook-based lessons. 30×500 helps you understand the why as well as implement the how.

The next 30×500 will begin in November; you’ll have to apply, and applications open on Friday, Sept 21st.

The only way to attend 30×500 is to apply — and the only way to apply is to join my mailing list today:

Funmail Guarantee: Obv there’s no obligation whatsoever. You can unsubscribe at any time. And I promise to send you nothing but information on the class, free goodies, stories, samples and discounts and awesome stuff like that!

There are only 75 seats available. I’ll be making them available first come, first serve, for those who apply. There are over 1200 people on this mailing list. Not everyone on there is really ready to make that commitment and shell out that cash, but… you do the math :)

Transcript for the Impatient.

I really recommend you watch the video and read the transcript, though. There’s something powerful about listening to a narrative spoken by a real person (aka me!) while looking at pictures which ground the narrative for your eyeballs.

Hello. This is Amy Hoy and you are watching Stacking the Bricks, all about what you should do with your product business. Do you recognize this logo? I bet you do, but I also bet you can’t name the company. Yes, that’s right. It’s 37signals, perhaps the poster child for creating paying products. As their website says, millions of entrepreneurs, freelancers, small businesses and departments inside big organizations rely on their web apps.

Check out all those logos. Check out that really authoritative looking stamp and the customer pictures. Kellogg’s, the WB, National Geographic, the Obama Campaign, Patagonia, USA Today, FOX, Adidas…whoa. Really impressive, right?

They have a bunch of products. They have four main products, four web apps and they have ridiculous numbers of customers. They make so much money that some of their founders are just getting into racing cars, or getting in the news because David bought some expensive car that he can only have in Italy because of the import laws, because it’s just too fast.

They have a lot of money, they have a lot of products. Oh, and they have a couple best selling books, just to add insult to injury. If you look at them and you think, “OK. I want that. I want to be that. I want to go to there,” as Liz Lemon would say. But how do you get there?

Well, we can find out by looking at the past. I like to consider myself a little bit of an Internet historian. I like to go and peruse really old web pages. Well, in this case, this screenshot came from the 37signals website from a long time ago, circa 2003.

That’s right, in 2003 they were like us, they were doing usability reviews and interface design and training and research. They were not just getting started as a consultancy, but they had no products.

Think about that, it’s 2011 right now. Eight years ago, 37signals had no products. It’s been eight years. So how did they get there? Or rather, how did they get here from where they were?

Well, they started off as a consultancy and I’m sure their consultancy grew along the same ways that most of our consultancies grow, growing and changing and doing maybe one high profile project by accident. Then other people go, “Oh, I like your high profile project. Let me hire you so I can tell you what to do, because I don’t know what I’m doing, but you do and I’m going to tell you what to do because that’s what I do, because I’m a client.”

Right. That’s my experience. Anyway, that’s how we got big, inadvertently, almost by accident. Well, let’s see, what did they say?

This is a blog post from December 26th, 2003. Jason Fried is typing out little blog posts the day after Christmas for some reason. He wrote that 2003 was a good year for 37signals. We got back on track after a challenging 2001, 2002, post-bubble season.

That means that they got screwed by the Internet bubble. Right. They weren’t multimillionaires every month because their products were bringing in so much money. They weren’t posting sexy-ass videos of their brand new office and sports cars and stuff for people to consume, because they didn’t have those things.

They launched their first paper book. They launched an express, à la carte design service where you could pay only a few thousand dollars and they would redesign one page of your app or your site. They designed and developed Basecamp over a year, which doesn’t even launch for another month at this point.

They actually thought that it was worth adding to their blog post, they switched from Sprint to Verizon and back to Sprint. This is not the 37Signals we know. They list that they’re doing the Gawker Media CSS XHTML template. What? Yeah. Yeah.

Oh, they designed bulk bagel ordering for Panera, or rather, they restructured it. A bunch of companies you’ve never heard of on this list here.

So, how did they get there? How did they get there? They were about to launch Basecamp. How did they get there?

Well, in 2003, eight years ago almost exactly, so close, Jason Fried would write one line blog posts that would get one comment or two comments and then a bunch of spam comments because these posts have been up there for 11 years. “There are few things more satisfying than being motivated.” Is that the 37Signals blog that we know? No, it is not.

Or, how about this one? 22 January, 2004. They said they were going to launch Basecamp in January 2004, and here they are posting three line, unpunctuated, uncapitalized blog posts about their launch ideas. “Simple project management. It’s not about number stats or charts. It’s about communication for the little guys — freelancers, small shops and remote teams.”

Does that really remind you of their current list of clients? Millions of entrepreneurs, freelancers, small business and departments inside big organizations, all those logos? No. They got there organically.

Here they are struggling. They’re like, “How do we launch this thing? I don’t know, so I’m going to write three lines in a blog post and share it.” You’ll notice they have one comment, and then the REST are spam. Seven comments total. One comment. When they posted this about launching their product, they had one comment. One comment. Hold that in your mind.

How did 37Signals get to where they were as consultancy? Well, among other things, they did the 37Better Project. Now, look at this page. This page is so 2001 it hurts, doesn’t it? Granted, it’s designer-y 2001, but it’s still 2001. Hey look, yellow highlighters.

What 37Signals did was redesign a single page of a whole bunch of different really famous things, like a bank. Not a specific bank, just general online banking, or FedEx, or PayPal, or motor services for car dealerships and stuff.

They didn’t do a whole whitepaper. They didn’t design an entire app. They didn’t write up a report like, “These are our justifications for XYZ.” No, they just did this thing where they redesigned one screen and they got a lot of traffic.

Ever heard of Dustin Curtis? You might know him as the American Airlines redesign guy. Well, Dustin just took a leaf out of the 37Signals playbook. Dustin wasn’t famous before that. Now he is. 37Signals wasn’t famous before they started doing stuff like this, but now they are.

They also shipped another product in January 2003, which they didn’t seem to mention in their year in review post. This was 37Signals’ first paying product as far as I can tell. This was a report on ecommerce usability, specifically search and shopping cart stuff.

You can see that they did reviews of 1-800-FLOWERS, Amazon, The Apple Store, Best Buy, CDW — I don’t even know what that is — Crate & Barrel, Crutchfield, Drugstore, eBay, Finish Line, KB Toys, Lands’ End, L.L. Bean, Macy’s, Mother Nature, PC Mall, Petco, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Now, I remember when this came out and I think that it actually cost about $400, but the page that I found for it that’s still up from 2003, or 2004 lists it as $75. This was quite a few pages, this report. How many pages? Maybe about 100.

Their first product, their first dipping their toe in was a paid whitepaper. A research, review report. It was pretty nice, but this is not like, “Oh, we launched Basecamp and now we’re famous.” No, this is a small product that many agencies could have done, but that they didn’t do.

Before I move on, actually, I’m going to back up for a second. I watched 37Signals launch Basecamp. One of the more useful habits I have is that I consume everything. Looking back on the history of the past 10 years or so, I can name so many major product launches or people who became famous that I was there.

This is not to say it had anything to do with me, or that I’m special because of this. No. But what it has given me is an interesting insight into how people go from nobody to somebody, or how people go from a little consulting agency to the biggest bootstrapped product company that we know of with legions of fan boys and talks at startup school and so on.

In 2003, there was a private beta of Basecamp and they collected people from a designer forum that I was in called YayHooray, which used to be invite only and used to be higher quality than it is now. Jason Fried himself was the one posting about the design of Basecamp. He was in there interacting with people who would be using it, freelancers, designers who worked with project management tools to handle their clients and their review cycles and stuff.

We thought it was cool, but I don’t think any of us ever thought that it would become big like this. It’s different if you know somebody when they’re little, when they’re a kid or when they’re in college, and then a decade later they’re famous and rich. You know what they’re really like. You know where they came from. It removes some of the mystique for you.

Well, that removed the mystique from Basecamp for me. If there’s any company that I’ve copied, it’s 37Signals. If there’s any company that you should consider copying when you want to create products and create a large income or create an independent income, a freedom income, whatever it is that you want, you could do much worse than to copy from 37Signals. They’re pretty much the playbook that we should copy from. And I am so excited to talk about other people who are doing the same thing.

These are people who you will recognize in a few years, and you will say ah, I watched that happen. So I don’t know how to say Marc-Andre’s last name. So I’m not going to try. But Marc-Andre is someone who is rising in the ranks. As he says, he created Thin, Tiny.rb. He wrote a book and sold a few sites. And now I’m making a living online teaching rails and making things.

That’s very simple. He started with this. Create Your Own Programming Language. Do you remember when this launched? I remember some people thinking that it was a scam on Hacker News. People were like uh, is it a scam? What do you mean, is it a scam? It’s an ebook with screencasts and code samples. How could this be a scam?

People were skeptical. People were like I don’t know. It’s on the Internet. It’s by a programmer, and it costs money. How could it possibly be real? And yet, of course, it was. And the secret is that Marc-Andre made a lot of money doing this. Maybe not enough money by itself to quit his job, but enough to significantly push him that way.

And then he did. And now he’s doing training. He’s got an Owning Rails workshop. The ultimate online class. Total ownage of the Ruby on Rails framework. And he’s launching a new ebook. This is a mini ebook that he’s giving away for free. But you can…I can guarantee you that it’s going to turn into some other product.

Another product that he’s working on, Rails themes, ready to use and deploy. Now where is Marc-Andre come from? You know based on this screenshot here, of his bio, that he started off making open source, and then he wrote a book and did a screencast. And now he’s doing a workshop, and now he’s writing another book, and now he’s doing this other product.

Very cool. Well, I’ve emailed back and forth with Marc-Andre a little bit, and I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing this email. First of all, he’s saying nice things about me, which is always a good way to get somebody to help you. And the second part is he was wondering if I would be interested in being an affiliate and helping him launch his first workshop.

Well, this was when I was feeling very sick, and leading up to surgery, so I really didn’t respond in any kind of timely fashion. Then when I did write back, a week later, he said, I can’t even believe this yet, but I already sold half the tickets in 24 hours. Yes. He was worried. He was reaching out to people. He wanted to have help, and then he turned around and sold half out anyway.

He said that it’s largely due to one of his affiliates, Peter Cooper, who of course runs a bunch of newsletters and Ruby and JavaScript website, but nevertheless, I bet Marc-Andre could have done it himself. He’s developed a reputation. People love to Create Your Own Programming Language. People love his open source work. He could have done it himself.

And now he’s going on to bigger and bigger things, and he’s doing it full time on his own, and that’s so cool. He said I recently decided to quit my job to focus full-time on my products. And he says also that he’s been selling his ebook and a few other small stuffs for a couple years. He didn’t come out of nowhere. Not really.

He started somewhere, and he kept building, and he kept building. Now how about this guy? Do you know Peepcode? Have you ever bought Peepcode? Well, a Peepcode screencast or a Peepcode book. Peepcode is pretty much everywhere. And I think everyone considers it the absolute best source of JavaScript and Ruby, especially, Rails screencasts.

Whether it’s about RSpec or rests or backbone or get, Peepcode’s got it covered. Well, Peepcode is mostly one dude named Geoff. Now where did Geoff start? Well, perhaps we say when did Geoff start? Geoff got into Rails pretty early. You can see his first blog posts giving away a library, a graphing library for Ruby, was July 2005. And this was his first Ruby-related blog post. He created a website called Newbie on Ruby, Newbie spelled funny.

And then later on he started the Rails podcasts, and I was one of the first guests, because I was releasing stuff at this time. And then he kept doing tutorials for free. You could see he had spark lines tutorials, spark line speech, podcasts, a typo theming tutorial posted about the Rails pluralizer, so on, and so forth.

They started in 2005. Six years ago. And then in February 10, 2006, six or eight months later, he did a Carson workshop. He did his own workshop somewhere before this. I couldn’t find the exact date. And then he got invited to do a Carson workshop. The Carson workshop invitation didn’t come out of nowhere. He’d been writing tutorials and posting open source libraries and writing about stuff and teaching for some time at this point.

So you can see in October and September, he’s been doing more and more stuff. And then a workshop, and then another workshop. And then where did he go? Well, check this out. Here’s another screenshot of his archives. I love that he has it all in one page, so I can just screenshot it and move up the timeline. In August 2006, over a year after his first blog post about Ruby, Geoff launched Peepcode.

Now, the thing about Peepcode was that it was supposed to be one screenshot…one screencast a month. He was doing it on…by himself. And that was his first paying product. In October 2006, he released this awesome cheat sheet, and I think he got the idea from my cheat sheets, which is probably part of the reason we’ve been friends.

To promote his REST screencasts, you could October 2006, this cool cheat sheet has all the REST stuff. REST was super hot, yet confusing at this time. And then there in the top right, there’s the big badge logo, the bright pink. The REST screencast, nine dollars at peepcode.com, 85 minutes of restful goodness. And this really launched…this really launched Geoff.

And he grew, and he got other people to make screencasts, and he hired his wife, and he grew some more, and he…more and more screencasts. And then he started doing ebooks. And then I convinced him to raise his rates last year, raise his prices, and on and on. Geoff did not start from nowhere. Geoff did not start a screencast…a successful screencast company from nowhere.

For the longest time, he did one screencast a month. Everybody could do one screencast a month. This dude did, and he started blogging in July, 2005. And now, in 2011, he has an extremely lucrative business. He’s kept it small on purpose, but if you’ve seen Geoff at one conference and then another conference and then another conference, you’ll notice that Geoff obviously has the money to continue flying and traveling to these conferences to promote his business, and that’s because his business makes pretty good money.

But these people, they’re both pretty far along, aren’t they? They’re people you know about, so you think, OK, well they’re famous. Well, what about this company? Have you ever heard of it? No? You will soon. Little Stream Software is a consulting business that’s focused around Redmine, and now the new Redmine offshoot which I believe is called Chili Project.

Little Stream Software is basically this guy. This is Eric Davis who is a 30×500 alumni. Actually, he attended my very first year of Hustle workshop call, which was three and a half hours of just talking about business stuff that I learned. He then joined the entire year of Hustle class which followed, and has basically taken the course over and over again and been an extreme help on the mailing list this time around. Great guy.

I’d love to see him applying what I’ve been teaching because if you know Eric at all, you know that this is his first ebook, $39, and he’s reported recently that he’s made a solid, what was it, six or seven thousand dollars off it. And now that he’s marketing it some more, it’s selling some more.

And this book, this ebook, is just a compilation of his blog posts. He had a regular blog post series about refactoring Redmine since he’s one of the core contributors, and apparently the code was pretty bad to start with. He had his regular blog post series, and he edited them all together and made them flow and he sold quite a lot of copies with, I’ll be honest, sort of so-so marketing effort.

And I think he would tell you the same thing, because the other day he wrote me. He said, “Hey, so it turns out when I market more, I sell more.” I’m like, yep! Because when you learn that lesson the first time, it doesn’t matter how many times people have told you. When you learn it for yourself, it’s amazing.

So, now he’s marketing it more. He recently did an interview, with Marc-Andre actually, and Marc-Andre asked him, “What have you learned?” And Eric was talking about how he realized later that people think that this book is a Redmine book because the title “Refactoring Redmine.” It’s actually a Ruby refactoring book, and he said that he learned a lot by producing this book and noticing the mistakes.

He’s actually turning what he’s learned from launching this book, the failure perhaps. People expected a Redmine book and it’s not, and so he’s turning that actually into another product. Oh, and check this out. Speaking of his marketing efforts, he’s one of them right now. A free nine days Rails Control and Refactoring email course. Pretty cool.

Because he realized people were really excited to buy a Redmine book and not so excited when it turned out it was a refactoring book, he’s making a Redmine book. So, his shipping of his first product actually led directly to his creation of a second product. And he’s actually putting this up for preorder. It’s not done yet and he’s selling copies. How cool is that?

And Eric also has purchased the rights to this ebook, which is really originally written by Jeremy McConnolly who wrote…I don’t even remember what his original book was on, but he made $40,000 off his technical ebook. And Jeremy McConnolly was not particularly famous either. Moderately well known, perhaps.

So, Jeremy didn’t want to run this project anymore, so he sold it to Eric, and Eric is continuing to expand his information publishing empire. And this guy, Eric, didn’t have any products a year ago. He didn’t have any products a year ago. When he attended my Hustle call, that was, gee, what year was that? My sense of chronology is not so good. Let’s see. So, in December 2009…No, that can’t be right. [laughs] Pardon me.

Anyway, let’s see. [reading] Year of Hustle was spring…I’m just confused. Not last year, but the year before. So, a year and a half ago, he had no products. Sorry about that. I should prepare better. And now he has three products. He has one product that’s out and that’s sold pretty well for a very first product. Several thousand dollars in sales. Not bad, especially considering he admitted himself that his marketing efforts were only so-so until now.

A new product that’s coming out that he’s pre-selling, and a third product that he acquired and he’s updating. Pretty great, right?

Well, let me tell you another story. This, of course, is a screenshot of my company home page, Slash7. How did I get involved in this business? If you follow me on Twitter or you’re on my mailing list, you probably think, oh God, Amy has, like, 80 million products all the time. But that wasn’t the way that it was.

My entry into this world started in December 2004, when I started to learn Rails. This is all related to me finding Basecamp, and then ignoring Basecamp for a while because I didn’t have a use for it, and then hearing about this new programming technology that was used to build Basecamp because, I don’t know if you remember this, but 37signals released their Building of Basecamp for free on the Internet and posted a lot about Ruby on Rails the very beginning.

I was like, oh. I saw the controller code and I fell in love. So, I started to write about it and I wrote my very first tutorial on January 24th, 2005. And this sort of rocketed me to moderate fame [laughs] in this tiny niche of Ruby on Rails, because there were so little out there and because I did a ping back on one of the popular tutorials.

So, 2005. Six years ago. And then I did some cheat sheets. This is my first one. You can tell it’s not very good and I didn’t finish it, because I didn’t understand what was going on in the test directory at that time. It’s not very good, right? It doesn’t look like an Amy Hoy production, does it?

Well, my next one got fancier. Then I got invited to do a workshop for free for charity by a guy named Jeff Casimir, and now Jeff and I are friends, and actually Jeff would be great for this presentation because he also launched his own business, and this was the beginning of it. Jeff was a teacher at the time, and now we runs a training business.

This was in…Let’s see. June 16th, 2006. So, five years ago almost exactly. I did this free sort of hamfisted workshop with Ezra Zygmuntowicz and Jeff. So, that’s five years ago. Then three years ago almost we launched our very first product, Freckle. So, from my very first Rails tutorial, January 2005, to my very first product, 2008, was three years. Sorry. Four years at this point, because it’s December, from January to December. Four years.

But even then the course was not nearly as smooth as it looks like. I started off with a couple Rails tutorials, and it led to cheat sheets which led to the Workshop for Good, which indirectly, years later, led to the JavaScript workshop in D.C. because my friend Jeff and his wife Meg came and visited us in Vienna right before their baby was born. Their last trip together before having a family, and we were complaining about something or other. The price someone offered to pay us to do a JavaScript workshop, and Jeff was like, well why don’t you do it with me?

So, that led to our workshop in D.C., which was run by Jeff. Our very first workshop together, me and Thomas, and honestly looking back on it now it was kind of embarrassing, and that led to the workshop in Berlin which we put on by ourselves. And that led to a workshop paid for by Nokia in Tampere [Finland, a corporate workshop, our first one, which led to several other corporate workshops. Then we did our own workshop in Vienna.

Then we did one in Philly, and then we got sick of arranging locations and renting and trying to get people to buy tickets soon enough that they could buy flights to come and blah-blah-blah, and so we did an Internet version. And that changed a lot of things, and that led to our [internet] workshop, but during this time also my tutorials and cheat sheets had led to several failed book contracts. Three, actually. One for Pragmatic Programmers, one for O’Reilly, and actually the third one was unrelated

And those failed books and the work we were doing in consulting led to the JavaScript Performance ebook, which again, connected to the JavaScript workshop because the Performance ebook came first. Then the workshop came second because we found out people actually needed to learn JavaScript.

Meanwhile, doing my Workshop for Good actually led, in a lot of ways, to me to have the confidence to submit for an OSCON workshop on JavaScript, which was related to my failed JavaScript book for O’Reilly. And in there, doing the consulting work led to absolute hatred of all the tools that we had to use, which led me to design Freckle, and using Freckle and doing customer support made me all those tools, which led to me designing Charm.

As you can see, it’s all connected. And this isn’t all. All of this led to the creation of Year of Hustle call, the three hour teleconference, and that led to the Year of Hustle workshop/class, which lasted several months, and that led to the 30×500, and that led to the class software that I’m having developed, that I designed to run my online classes.

More and more and more leads to each other. I couldn’t have jumped from tutorials to having a JavaScript workshop, or tutorials to 30×500, or even from tutorials to writing the ebook on JavaScript performance. And that’s what I mean by stacking the bricks.

When we get started, we thinking that somehow there’s a clear, straight path from where we start to millions of entrepreneurs, free lancers, small businesses, and departments inside big organizations relying on our web apps. We think we can go from a lowly peons to rich and famous, and if we can’t, do that in a straight line, that either there’s something wrong with us that we can’t do it, or that there’s something that we should hate in the people that do do it. People who go from zero to hero, we’re like, whoa, fame is bad because blah-blah-blah-blah-blah.

They went from straight blah-blah-blah, marketing is evil blah-blah. Well, that’s really unproductive thinking, because if you’ve ever known somebody before they got famous, then you know that it’s never just overnight. There’s always so much more. It’s an iceberg, or a duck. You see the tip of the iceberg and you know that there’s 90 percent more iceberg under the water. Or you look at a duck. Calm on the surface, paddling like hell underneath, and occasionally diving down for some seaweed and sticking its butt in the air.

I’ve been lucky, I guess, fortunate to meet people when they were “lowly peons,” before they became rich and famous or successful. I’ve watched the process. Take the GitHub guys. They asked me to design their first product, which even at the time I knew wasn’t going to succeed, and I was too nice to say it, so I quoted them a large price so they wouldn’t end up wasting their money on me.

Or Shopify. I was approached to design Shopify for a percentage. I said, “I really need the cash right now, and I can’t do it,” because of course, people were approaching me with start-up ideas for equity all of the time. Boy, do I kick myself over that one!

Or Kickstarter. I was invited to design Kickstarter, and I really didn’t think it was going to go anywhere.

Or let’s see, what else? The Gilt Group. I fumbled that one.

Gary Vaynerchuk. Somebody who I consider a friend. I did a lot of work for him before you ever heard of him. Watched his rise from a guy who put out this crazy wine show once a day to you know, hundreds of viewers, to someone who can hit the best-seller list with basically anything that he would care to write.

Now he’s a social media marketing guy, and like, real social media marketing, and customer service expert, and all of this stuff. I knew him when he still worked at Wine Library, the actual business. We worked there, and we came there, and we sat in offices stacked high with boxes and paperwork under nasty fluorescent lights, and we worked on software for Gary.

I’ve been able to see that this graph here from lowly peon to rich and famous is a lie. There are 80 million twists and turns in this story, from one to the other, and a lot, a lot of work, and a lot of side trips, which you don’t know about.

Yet, we think that we can just sit down and start building, and at the end of our building efforts, we will have something amazing and perfect and finished, like I don’t know, St. Basil’s Cathedral, which is awesome looking.

We never consider, “Well, how do we get started? How do we get there?” Well, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, allegedly Confucius has said. Something like St. Basil’s Cathedrals requires that you start with single bricks. You have to start with a single brick.

You have your one brick, and you’re like, “Wow, I have a brick. What can I do with this? It’s a fucking brick. Nothing. I can use it as a paperweight, or a door stop, or maybe I can hit somebody in the head with it.”

Then if you keep working, you get a second brick. Then another brick. You keep working, and you keep hustling, and you keep working, and suddenly you have a big pile of bricks. You have a lot of building material. Then you’re like, “Ah! Now I have enough bricks! I can do something with these bricks!”

You grab your trowel, you grab your grout, and you start the work of laying those bricks together into a cohesive thing.

You take all of the different things you worked on and you start putting them together and gluing them together in cohesive framework. Then you have a wall and people will walk by your wall and say, “That dude has a wall.”

They won’t say, “Gee, I wonder how he collected all those bricks to build that wall.” They will just look at that and they will think, “Huh, millions of customers. I want that,” or “Millions of customers, they don’t deserve that,” or “Gee, I should be able to do that tomorrow. If I just get the formula right, I can create a product and suddenly that will happen to me.” But that’s not the way it works.

But there is good news. When you start with a single brick, then you want to make it two bricks, you’re not starting over. Each brick leads to more bricks. Because every time you create or acquire a brick in some way, you’re gathering up courage. You realized, “Hey, I built this brick for brick and nothing happened to me that was bad. It was OK, I’m not longer afraid.”

You have experience that you can draw on. Now you know how to make a brick, acquire a brick. You have knowledge that you can draw on.

For example, think about when Eric realized that he gave his first ebook or a poor title. He could have said, “Oh, woe is me. I failed.” Instead he said, “Oh, well this gives me some interesting insights I can use to sell my next ebook. People really thought it was a Redmine book, but it wasn’t. So gee, I’ll make a Redmine book.”

It gives you connections. Don’t you think that Marc-Andre had an advantage because of all of the work he put into Open Source when he started selling his ebook. It wasn’t an enormous advantage, people still thought it was a scam. But he had an advantage.

Then, once he sold one ebook to people, don’t you think they’re more likely to take one of his workshops or recommend his workshop or buy his next book. Hell yeah.

What about Geoff? Geoff started blogging in 2005 and he started releasing little bits of Open Source here and there. People trusted him and he used that to begin selling products. It doesn’t meant that he had an easy time, that it was all swinging by the hand in a field of daisies.

It took a long time for him to build up his company, but he had help. With every screen cast he released, his reputation grew, people’s trust grew.

You build a customer base too, when you release any kind of product or tutorial or goodie. People buy from you once, assuming you don’t terribly disappoint them the chances are very good that they’ll buy from you again.

The people who came to my “Year of Hustle” workshop call, almost all of them attended the “Year of Hustle” class, even though it was four times the cost.

Many times, people attend one of our JavaScript workshops, and then end up attending the other JavaScript workshop, and quite a few of you have even attended my 30×500 Launch Class, even though they’re not really related.

When we emailed the list of customers who bought our JavaScript performance ebook about our new workshop product, the HTML5 Mobile Pro downloadable version, they went nuts over it. We sold like, $4,000 worth right away. People who had bought from us, and then they wanted to buy from us again. We gave them that opportunity, and they were excited.

Finally, one of the top six things you get from having one brick and then another is raw material. From the consulting, Thomas came up with the concept for the performance ebook, and he even had a lot of data that we then repurposed into an ebook. Then from that, we actually made a performance workshop for the guys in the Finland, they paid us extra.

Then from that, we expanded our JavaScript Master class, and from the JavaScript Master class and Thomas’ other consulting work and stuff we were doing on ourselves, we realized HTML5 is big for mobile devices. It’s big, it’s exciting, people don’t know how to use it, we’ll teach them. Then we made this workshop.

Now that we don’t have time to teach live workshops four days a month, we’ve turned one of those workshops into a downloadable product.

We get raw material, everything we create, everything we do, feeds into the other things that we do. This isn’t true when you’re employed, but it is true when you run your own business. You don’t need to be brilliant to architect it this way, you just need to have a little bit of savvy, and to work with what you’ve already got.

That is the bottom line. That is what it means to stack the bricks. As far as the grout goes, what you need is discipline, and the willingness to put it all together, and the willingness to email the people who bought your other ebook and say, “Hey! We have a new product you might like. Here’s a big discount because you’re a loyal customer.”

You need to be continually working on stuff. Keep moving forward. Not buying into the idea that if only you come up with a great idea, suddenly you’ll be a millionaire. Someone will buy your company, you’ll have millions of users. It doesn’t work that way. What works is stacking the bricks. Brick by brick. Then all of the bricks and the wall and the thing you build are yours.

Additionally, when you build your business this way, you get money. The money cannot be underestimated for keeping things going forward. Thomas and I use our workshops to fund the development of Charm. Charm is going to launch at the end of August 2011, so very soon now. We’ve paid people to help us grow based on the things we were already doing.

[NOTE: Charm did soft-launch in Aug 2011, but we decided it needed more work and our staffing situation required a total overhaul. Charm is ACTUALLY about to launch now. Yeah, I learned my lesson. Another story I'll tell you about in 30x500.]

Every brick that you get, that you make, that you stack, that you let feed into each other in this ever growing cycle of virtuousness also expands your freedom as well as your power. Then you can hire help, or buy more bricks.

Then if you keep at it for a long time, you can build your cathedral. So, the question becomes, “What’s your first brick?”

Are You Ready to Stack Your First Brick?

I mentioned 30×500 above, but just in case you missed it:

The next 30×500 will begin on Sept 13th & 14th, 3 - 5 pm Eastern time; you’ll have to apply, and applications open on (TBA).

The only way to attend 30×500 is to apply — and the only way to apply is to join my mailing list today:

Get our 7-day no-BS guide to common startup mistakes… and how you can avoid them. And be first in line to apply for the next 30x500. Drop your name in the box!

Funmail Guarantee: Obv there’s no obligation whatsoever. You can unsubscribe at any time. And I promise to send you nothing but information on the class, free goodies, stories, samples and discounts and awesome stuff like that!

There are only 30 seats available. I’ll be making them available first come, first serve, for those who apply. There are over 1200 people on this mailing list. Not everyone on there is really ready to make that commitment and shell out that cash, but… you do the math :)

See you in class!

Discussion

  1. Jordan @ simpixelated.com

    It seems like a consistent starting point for a lot of people is consulting and freelancing. Obviously it gives you a lot of experience, it gives you access to a network of people who have already paid you before, and it gets you in the practice for working for yourself. But if your ultimate goal is to create assets instead of selling services, it seems like a waste of time. In fact, it seems like it would be counter productive to building assets, since you would be focusing on trying to pay the bills with client work and would have even less time to create bricks.

    Reply
    • Amy

      Assuming you’re at least somewhat organized and disciplined, consulting is a lot stronger position to start from than employment. You have leverage — less leverage than a product, but you can still decide that you’re charging your next client more money, and it’s easier to bank savings when you can quote higher prices, or work fewer hours per week. And there’s rarely a legal question of who owns your work, either. Many people (foolishly) have employment contracts which limit their ability to create & sell on their own time.

      The power & leverage continuum is:

      [least] Employment -> “Freelancing” -> Consulting -> Products [most]

      I say “freelancing” because most people who bill by the hour are creating poor leverage for themselves by the way they sell themselves, the work they do, and how they approach the client/freelancer relationship.

      Reply
    • Chris C.

      Jordan,

      That mindset is intuitive on the surface. However, I think the value comes in building the skill-set and experience that allows you to pull off a successful business/product. It’s about building your chops. Jimmy Page worked as a studio musician for a while before he became a rock legend. A similar argument could be made that his time would have been better spend on tour and writing albums. Would he have succeeded without that experience? Maybe, maybe not. Point is, as long as you’re learning, the time is never wasted.

      Reply
  2. Geoff

    Bad ass! LOVED the video, Amy, thanks a lot for putting it together. Continuing on the conversation above about freelancing, my problem with that model is the “billable by the hour” structure. In other words, work your ass off to find a job, finally convince someone to hire you, do the job (which always takes more hours than you can bill for, and always leaves you feeling dissatisfied with the final outcome), then repeat. In other words, it’s a “work once, get paid once” model, which sucks. How about work your ass off once and get paid over and over (and help a ton of people in places you’ve never even visited before)? That’s much more exciting and motivating for me.

    Reply

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