Brian Clark Reveals Revenue Figures, Talks About The Importance Of Audience Building, And Differences Between Selling Software vs. Info

Brian Clark is one of the most respected voices in the blogosphere. He’s also one of the most well-read, knowledgeable, and interdisciplinary thinkers in our industry. He’s also one of marketing’s true intellectuals. Good thing he’s also one hell of a nice guy.

Anyway, here’s Brian’s take on . . .

  • Audience building
  • Bootstrapping
  • Marketing software vs. marketing information
  • Purple cows
  • And the rise and growth of Copyblogger media

It’s well worth your time, and I encourage you to watch the entire thing from beginning to end.


Clay: Hello everyone. I am here. I’ve got Brian Clark on the other line. This is the second installment of the 7-Figure Interview Series. I think there’s lots of people interviewing lots of other people online, and I think that’s fine and valid. I think that what’s unfortunate is that often, the people who are hardest to get a hold of and who are most sort of reluctant to do interviews, because frankly, they don’t need the publicity are the ones we need to most interview.

So I’ve got Brian Clark on the other line. He’s the CEO of Copyblogger Media. Brian, thanks so much for being here.

Brian: I’m glad to be here. Thanks for making time for me.

Clay: So did you – have you moved to Boulder, Colorado? Are you speaking to us from Boulder right now?

Brian: I am, yeah. Last time I talked to you, I was in a completely different office in a different state, and just 1-1/2 month later, finally and splitting, I’m between Colorado and Texas and finally made the transition just in time for summer, you know, thankfully.

Clay: Awesome. So you know, one of the things that I’ve always admired about you is sort of how widely you read. I’m always seeing you cite just from a breath of different sources on one hand, you’re talking with Jason Calacanis, on the other hand, you’re citing Clayton Makepeace, and then you’re bringing in, you know, social media, and yet you’ve got this software company that also has a blog that’s fairly prominent and then also does education.

So one of the things I’d like to talk about is sort of this intersection between the start of world in the tech world and all these other worlds that you’ve combined. So you moved to Boulder, Colorado, which is actually one of the major hubs for kind of the start-up scene in the United States. Was that a factor in what you’re doing at all or like why did you move to Boulder? Did the tech scene have any bearing on it?

Brian: Honestly no, not upfront. You know, we lived in, you know, spent summers in various towns in Colorado, considered Durango, which is down southwest and it’s kind of isolated, and then we just loved Boulder, and I was like this is where I want to be…

Clay: Yes.

Brian: …and then I was like oh yeah, and Brad Feld, and all these guys are here, and the town…

Clay: Tech town.

Brian: …little town is getting this really, you know, prominence in the larger start-up world. So that was a happy coincidence, and you know, it’s been great meeting those people and having a very tight knit community of people where everyone in this town is very smart and very tech savvy and all that. So in that sense, it’s a perfect fit, but it wasn’t anything to do with the business that led me here. It was the fact that my business allows me to live anywhere I want to, and I sure wasn’t going to live in Texas any longer.

Clay: Awesome, awesome. So one of the transitions that you’ve made that I think a lot of other people who started out primarily, you know, maybe identifying as bloggers, is you’ve made kind of this transition from a blog that sold information products, you know, in order to monetize, and maybe that was the plan all along, to a company that, you know, from what I can see does as much if not more from the software side of your business as the training side, and you know, I’d really like to zero in and talk about some of the key differences between selling information products and selling software. So before I drill down with maybe some specific questions there, do you have any like general thoughts on that and perspective on the transition that you’ve made from selling information to selling information, and you know, software?

Brian: Yeah. So on the idea with Copyblogger, which started as a blog, no VC, no investment money, just content. Me writing to begin with, and then, obviously, we added another people. It’s always been driven by what the audience is telling me they need. I didn’t go within any preconceptions or anything like that. You know, I was a big fan of what 37 signals was doing back in 2005. I thought that was beyond me, software development. I’m a writer, not a coder. I can’t code whatsoever.

So as we were serving the needs of the audience with free content related to essentially what’s now known as content marketing, at that time, it was hey, there’s an intersection between copywriting and content that helps you sell stuff. Now we call that content marketing and copybloggers above alone with the terminology, and the fact that that’s an accepted big thing now, you know, at the enterprise level as well as down at the lower smaller company level.

So when we first started out in 2007, the big thing was no one will pay for content, and we know that was not true, you know, if you’re paying attention. So the first thing our audience really told us is we need a way to make money that’s not advertising because advertising doesn’t really work very well unless you got just massive amounts of traffic and that’s not most people.

Clay: Right, right, and websites with massive amounts of traffic that were both getting traffic from Google and then selling that traffic back to Google with ads in are they’re so happy these days. You really can’t describe, you know, how happy and how well that panned out for them…

Brian: Right.

Clay: …except not, you know, but…

Brian: Yeah. I mean 5 years later, it’s funny the initial education program that we put together teaching sales was based on my background and – Clark’s background in instructional design, learning psychology, and direct marketing like total deep topics that all actually worked quite well together, and now, the whole online education thing, a dull education has become mainstream. You’ve got like Mark Cuban saying, “I don’t want an employee with a piece of paper. I want someone who knows how to get things done.”

Clay: Right.

Brian: And I think you’re seeing that 5 years later, it’s validating what we were talking about then, which is education is changing. Education is going to be a just-in-time thing that comes from subject matter experts, not academics necessarily, right. So that was the first product, but as we kept moving on, the audience was telling us more things like we can’t do this stuff. Technology’s hard, you know, and that lead into the WordPress base, and the themes, and all the plug-ins, and the tools that we’ve developed because we built in for ourselves because we’re basically our audience. We publish content online, you know.

Clay: Yup.

Brian: So it’s been an evolution that looks like it was some master plan, but the real secret is you have to be in tune with what your audience really wants. We’ve never had a failed product not because I’m a genius, but because I listen very, very, very carefully.

Clay: Okay. So man, there’s two really cool forks that we could down in. I’d like to pick up actually both of them. So one is sort of the evolution of value, so you know, what people are finding valuable over time. And the other one is sort of this discussion. It’s almost a debate about whether or not your market can truly tell you what it wants. You’ve got Henry Ford saying, “If I had asked people what they want, they’d say a faster buggy,” whether or not that’s a valid critique, and then you’ve got the lean start-up people saying, you know, don’t ask people. Put a minimum viable product out and then iterate rapidly. So let’s start with the first one.

Brian: Yeah, let me jump on that one right away.

Clay: Okay.

Brian: I’ve never asked anyone what they wanted. I know better than that. I’m not big. Whether it’d be Henry Ford or Steve Job who says it’s not their job to know what they want, right?

Clay: Right.

Brian: If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s your job to figure it out, and it’s your job to deliver it, and if you’re improving on another product that may be out there, you’re seeing feedback, discontent, shortcomings of that product, it’s your job to make a better, you know, version of that. So never ask. I don’t even do surveys. You can do surveys smartly with open-ended questions and whatnot. I’ve never done one. I don’t necessarily recommend that to everyone because I do have some kind of mutant skills at absorbing and kind of pattern recognition and stuff like that, but really, it’s just – It’s like Einstein says. He’s like, “I’m not a genius. I just worked on the problem longer than anyone else.”

Clay: Right.

Brian: That’s kind of how I am. We’re trying to figure out what people want, but asking them is never an option, and the lean startup thing is right, which is actually a throwback to the old school direct marketers, which is what they actually buy is the only correct answer.

Clay: Right.

Brian: You know, there’s – Everything else is bias up until someone opens their wallet and buy something, and that’s valid.

Clay: Yup. So you know, I think a sort of an interesting distinction there. We do do surveys and we’ve been incredibly successful with them. What I found is that users won’t say I want a $47 e-book that has 12 chapters, and these are what many chapters, which is sort of the fantasy.

Brian: Yeah.

Clay: What they do tell you is what they’re frustrated with and the outcome that they want. So I think Henry Ford got it wrong. I think that if you really listen to people, they’d say they want an easier way to get from point A to point B, and it’s Henry Ford’s job to come up with the solution. So users do know sort of kind of how they want to benefit, but they don’t know what the features should be that line up with these benefits.

Brian: They are very good at telling you their problems and desires, and there’s nothing better than social media for, you know, tapping into how people really feel.

Clay: Yup.

Brian: And again, I didn’t want to come down on surveys. I just happen to have not done them. They can be incredibly valuable. Also, it can be invaluable as paying attention to this broader market that’s out there talking upscripted, unprompted. You know, you get some really raw material, gold if you will.

Clay: Yup.

Brian: It’s what you do with it that can be difficult, and you got to find a way to – Before we started this interview, you mentioned something that I guess it was a 37-signals guys you said if it’s not worth remembering it’s not that important.

Clay: Yup.

Brian: I kind of operate that way. The stuff that sticks with me is what ends up being not only our products, but additional features of our products.

Clay: Yeah. Yeah, the brain is an amazing filter. I find that when I give presentations, if there’s a point that I have to memorize, I’m probably not going to deliver it that well…

Brian: Right.

Clay: …because you know, it hasn’t made it through the filter of my ADD, and so it’s not going to come out…

Brian: In the same way.

Clay: …in this pure incised chunks, you know.

Brian: I’m glad someone else said that. I just thought I was only weirdoed that way, you know, because I’ve never been the type who will just sit there and memorize something like a can. Oh, I would hate that, you know. And there are – You know, everyone from standup comediennes to probably the best presenters are probably more rehearsed when they come across than in their – That’s why they’re brilliant, but I was like Seth Godin’s approach, which is he puts a picture up as a slide, usually kind of ambiguous, and that prompts him to tell us a story about it, and that story has made it through, you know, his ADD, his filter. It’s right for telling. And that’s his presentations. I love that.

Clay: So let’s talk about the evolution of value. You know, there’s something that I found sort of we – You know, in the past, we’ve done a lot of, you know, just driving traffic to random offers on sort of nonpublic pages that are kind of below the radar, and I’ve kind of seen this evolution in what people find valuable in terms of opt-in drives. So back in the day, it was sort of the free report, and everyone kind of wanted that free report. And then videos at some point were getting a higher opt-in rate than free reports, and then later after that, it kind of was like this sort of random handwritten notes on napkins were doing better. So kind of like – And video started to suck because everyone was giving away videos, but then we tested giving away a software bribe, actually giving away a pretty awesome WordPress plug-in, and nothing to date has gotten an opt-in rate like that. In fact, it’s getting linked to from forums all over the internet. People are writing reviews of it. There isn’t that typical oh, this is an opt-in bribe and I’m going to go on your list and be promoted to. What’s your take on that? Are you finding something similar? I mean there’s definitely this progression that I’ve seen you guys make, investing more and more in software, and I’ve just found that sort of the, maybe not the quality of people, but the quality of thinking that happens in the tech world around software seems to be a little bit more sophisticated than kind of this sort of homegrown, you know, entrepreneur ripping out, you know, some sort of report that no one cares about anymore. What’s your take on that? Do people care about free reports anymore?

Brian: I think they do. I mean there are incredible marketing tools. You know, the vast majority of the training we create is free because it educates people enough to do business with us. In the software world, I love it because that means people are doing something. I can’t stand the idea of selling something so I make some money, but they never do anything. They’re just stuck. They go off and buy the next overhyped marketing package, whatever. I mean there’s a lot of money made from that space or at least there was. I don’t know. It’s kind of backlash now, but to me, that’s not interesting. I want to help people do stuff. I mean beyond building a business and making money, that’s what excites me, and if I can’t get people to take action, I’d rather just not do anything. You know, go do something else.

Clay: Right.

Brian: So that’s what led me into software development when I initially didn’t think that was something I was capable of because it was actually the audience having the reach, having someone saying hey, I want this, sell it to me, it’s a wonderful thing that you figure out a way to get it done, and likely, I’ve had some very talented partners, and now we have a development team that blows me away. We can make anything. The question is what should we make?

Clay: Right.

Brian: But as far as using software as the next level of ethical bribe – I mean basically, all marketing is an arms race, right? Everyone will outdo each other, and it’s nothing worse than in our space where we’re competing against each other in some sense. You know, I like to think that if you truly care about yourself you’re not really competing against anyone, you know, and that’s the goal.

But yeah, so you’re having to offer more value, and of course, free software, free apps, that’s a really cool thing, and people don’t think about it as opting in. they’re registering for software like Twitter or Facebook, right?

Clay: Right. I mean Facebook has…

Brian: Twitter and Facebook e-mail you all the time.

Clay: Yeah, they do.

Brian: So people have been conditioned to sign up for web software or other things, and it’s a service, so therefore, I wouldn’t think a plug-in standalone would work as well as some sort of perhaps web-based service that’s free. You have to register for it, and you legitimately have to stay in contact with people, you know, related to that.

Clay: Yup.

Brian: But we still do fairly well with just, you know, instead of putting it in a report that someone can download and unsubscribe or whatever or give you a bias e-mail address and grab it, we drip it out over time like our internet marketing for smart people course. It comes out in 20 installments. Give us a bad e-mail address, you’re not getting it. I’m sorry. And we respect our list, but that’s where our best promotions go, you know, when we’re launching new version software and we’re doing, you know, a small price, right, then those people get that. So you got to reward them with the content that they’re getting it first then you have to reward them for being on the list itself.

I think that’s what it comes down to. You said it. It’s value, but how does that value work for both sides in business and perspective customer?

Clay: Yeah. You know, I think that, you know, what I believe you’re doing, and certainly, you know, what I hope we’re doing is in some respects, when you can provide the right software, you can make education obsolete. So rather than putting out an entire course on SCO, you can for example, publish the word press plug-in that automatically, you know, forces people to, you know, incorporate best practices in SCO, and so the knowledge sort of behind it becomes irrelevant because the service is taking care of that, or you know, with the WordPress theme, you can have it incorporate all the best SCO practices, and as someone doesn’t have to read a 50-page book necessarily or it’s going to save them, you know, from having to memorize a large portion of that every time you go and write an article.

Brian: Well one thing that we found with our Premise software is that bundling the how-to seminar type education. It’s not a recurring product so there’s no motive for us, you know, to keep people signed up or anything like that. We really are just trying to get them better. But upfront at purchase time, we’ve heard time and time again like I would have paid just for the education, you know, but here’s the software that allows you to implement the education. So to me, that’s very satisfying and it’s a hell of an offer as well.

Clay: Right.

Brian: I think what you’re talking about, and we’ve been getting into much deeper. We’re now geeking out about user experience pretty heavily, which is how do you really smartly have the education right there in the tool. We’ve been working on that for the last 1-1/2 year or so. It’s fascinating stuff, but if you get it right, that experience goes through the roof. I mean you’ve got a really usable and valuable tool.

Clay: Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so let’s go back to kind of the differences between selling software and selling information. You know, I’d really love to hear your take on this. It seems like in the information world, you’ve got more launches where there’s scarcity. The cart closes. You’ve got more people with squeeze pages on their front pages. You’ve got more sort of bonuses that are going away whereas in the software world, things tend to be sold more on an evergreen basis. You’ve got sort of the home pages of software companies not making a huge push to get an e-mail address, and you know, it’s just different marketing. There’s something at its core that is different about selling information than selling software and time and time again, you know, with my clients, and you know, even in – I see this reflected in your business that more aggressive marketing is used doing selling information than software. Why is that? Do you think information is inherently harder to sell or do you think it’s just a different style like what’s your take on this?

Brian: Yeah, so no matter what you’re selling, for us – and this is what we’ve been preaching for 6 years – if you can establish an upfront relationship with content, people know you, they like you, they trust you, they’re going to be a little bit easier or more willing to give something you offer a shot. On the flip side, you’re probably making stuff that they want if you’ve been in tune with this very spe – It’s not a broad market. It’s a very specific group of people that you’re talking to over time…

Clay: Right.

Brian: …so that’s number one.

Number two, with software, it goes back to what I just said, which is you have to be very smart about creating something that people actually want, and then you just use copy to, you know, lead with benefits, and then if they’re okay with the benefits, then – because that’s why they would want to buy it and why you create it in the first place, right?

Clay: Yup.

Brian: …and then they dig into the features to see how it actually implements those, and then you buy, right? And then you do occasional bundles or temporary price or whatever when you want to move the needle, but you’re right, people show up and buy everyday without being beat over the head. And again, with our model, I think the free content we deliver day in and day out has earned us an incredible amount of goodwill, plus we’re on our fourth, you know, level of software product now, and we’ve had people that have had a great experience with StudioPress, great experience with Scribe, great experience with Premise, so now when we launch a WordPress hosting division, people are like sign me up, you know.

It’s not overnight success. You earn it every step of the way, but it becomes very powerful down the line. Now, information. You have to sell information with information without giving away the information. That’s not easy.

Clay: Right.

Brian: There’s an art to those fascinating bullet points. I mean that is classic direct response copywriting applied to selling information, and some of the greatest, you know, financial newsletter, companies, boardroom, you know, with all the reports, even up to the data analysts who are delivering rather drying information. They still have to find a way to make it enticing, right?

Clay: Yup.

Brian: So it’s not necessarily harder because if you’re delivering information that people actually won’t need, you have to communicate enough that it’s on point, and you got to make a great offer. So the essence is why do we have to use some form of long copy? I mean we try to make it look like not long copy somehow whether it’s the large sequence where you drip out, you know, the sideway sales letter, whatever you want to call it. It takes a lot of copy to sell information because you have to basically describe the information without giving it away. And people are very skeptical about that.

And again, with software and information, strong risk reversal. You know, stand behind your product. Don’t worry about the people who are going to rip you off. They’re a minority compared to the increase in sales, and this is still true today that you’re going to lose to pirates or whatever. And in both cases – And this is something that was kind of novel I think 5 years ago, but a lot of times with software, we say we’re actually selling support, right, you know.

Clay: Well, with the GPLU, you kind of are supply enough greats.

Brian: Right. But I mean that’s actually the benefit people want the most.

Clay: Right.

Brian: I mean people don’t realize that on the outside sometimes. Same thing with information. I think there’s got to be something more, and back in the teaching sales days, and it’s still a core component that you’re really selling access, not information, that’s another key component. So in software, the way it is with open source, you’re selling support. Red Hat became a multibillion dollar company doing that with Lenux.

With information these days, with all the free information out there, you’re selling something more than that. Sometimes that’s access to you or it’s access also to software that works with the information like we discussed earlier. So they’re different animals, and one requires more elaboration, and again, it depends on what kind of market you have. Long direct response copy can be used in any niche, it just can’t look like the yellow highlighter stuff, you know.

Clay: Yup.

Brian: That works or has worked with the business opportunity market, and people find it still works. That would never work for us. Not only do we kind of preach against it, but people in the WordPress community, oh, they would kill us.

Clay: Yeah, totally.

Brian: It’s the wrong approach, but the fundamentals are the same.

Clay: Do you think that has shifted over time? I mean I don’t want to name – You know, I don’t want to name this specific incident, but I remember back in the day, you guys came in as a fairly like top level affiliate for a $2000 information product, and then I saw you guys promoting that a little bit later, and it seemed like you promoted as hard, but you didn’t do as well. Do you think your audience at some point shifted after you started selling WordPress themes and just sort of the way you go about things changed, or do you think the whole world changed? What’s your take on that?

Brian: I think it’s a combination of things. I think we changed. You know, I was one of Jeff Walker’s original product launch formula customer. It was the very first time he released it, and it was important to me. At that time, it only cost $1000. It was important to me because I looked at it and I’m like oh, I get all this.

Clay: Right.

Brian: That’s important to me. That was worth $1000.

Clay: Totally.

Brian: What I didn’t have was that kind of tactical framework of releasing it out over time. It’s really a great content marketing, you know, approach, instead of a 2-week launch to 2-year campaign or whatever. And then, I think Sonya bought Mass Control and thought it was okay. It’s worth $2000 just to remix – you know, Dan and Kennedy remixing Eugene Schwartz. That’s up to you. But for some people, you know…

Anyway, so eventually, we were just kind of like, you know what? Now that we’re in the software business, we just – We can teach people this. We’ve always thought that just give it away for free that stuff, and your business model has to sell something related, and for us, that become the tools.

So I don’t know if the audience shifted or we just kept giving away so much of what was being offered, you know, at very high prices.

Clay: Sure.

Brian: So I guess you’d have to say that probably the audience shifted, but so did we, you know.

Clay: Yeah, yeah. Wow, this is a fascinating discussion. So one of the things I’ve been thinking about – and I’d really like to ask you about is – well first, let’s talk about Seth Godin. By the way, when was the last time Seth Godin came out with The Purple Cow product? What he would do – The Domino Project – Anyway, I know you’re a big fan of him. I think you are, but do you think information can be a purple cow? All the examples cited in The Purple Cow are sort of like physical tangible things where we can readily comprehend sort of the uniqueness of the product, but information is one of those things where maybe your marketing can be remarkable or maybe the marketer, maybe someone like Frank Kern can be a remarkable person, but the product itself, you know, unless it’s a book called Go The Fuck to Sleep or some sort of like rare pop-up novelty item…

Brian: Yeah.

Clay: …information itself, you know, you don’t get a shot at that information product until you’ve bought it, so do you think that’s a challenge with information or do you disagree with what I’m saying altogether?

Brian: No. I mean the essence of the “purple cow” is positioning, and that’s purely a marketing concept. You know, Seth uses the example in his next book about the wineglasses that are marketed as making wine taste better, but they don’t when you do the correct double blind taste test kind of thing. It doesn’t matter though. People want to believe it, and therefore, their subjective experience is enhanced, and that company is doing quite well.

And Seth is very big about, you know, that everything is marketing. It’s baked into the product. Apple is the greatest, you know, example that brilliant marketing company on the surface, but also by using design and other elements. They’re baking that desirability into it. They say apple products just sell themselves. That’s not true. A lot of incredibly smart people made it seem that way.

But anyway, to get back to your point. So – And again, coming from a perspective where we’ve been selling less as far as training and using content more as marketing, right now, you’ve got to have fantastic positioning just to get people to pay attention to you for free, right?

Clay: Yeah. Just leave a comment on your blog, you know.

Brian: Right, yeah. It’s really tough out there, and again, it goes back to that arms race, the value.

Clay: Yeah.

Brian: So I think all information comes down to positioning. I mean look – go to the bookstore or see what the latest – I mean not to pick on my social media guru friends, but you know all of them are saying the same thing. They’re each positioning themselves differently, right? Okay, that’s fine. I even did a post one time that showed how the original – what was it? – guy who invented the term USP. You know his name. He’s one of – Rosser Reeves.

Clay: Yup.

Brian: Okay. He wrote a book on advertising and introduced the USP. And then it moved forward, and then you got Al Reese, and then doing positioning…

Clay: Jack Trout.

Brian: …Jack Trout, right, positioning the Battle For Your Mind, then Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, which is really a positioning book, and then Made the Stick by the HeathBrothers. I showed the progression I’m like you know what they all have in common? They’re all talking about the same thing, but they’re positioned differently. It was the most meta post ever…

Clay: Right.

Brian: …but people were like oh, I never realized that.

Clay: And the USP dude wasn’t the first guy because then you’ve got like Eugene Schwartz, and then the guy before him, and like…

Brian: Yeah. Well, he’s the one who came up with the – He came up with the buzz phrase for us.

Clay: Right.

Brian: Sometimes, the first one with the buzz phrase gets all the credit.

Clay: Yeah.

Brian: You’re right.

Clay: Totally. So but I mean would you agree or disagree that when you are selling a product that people can actually, on some level, manipulate and interact with in a product that kind of does things like either software physical product that you have sort of a wider array or maybe a broader palate of options for baking sort of remarkability into that product or do you disagree with that?

Brian: Yeah, no, I agree with that. I mean so some of the stuff we’re doing now, as far as really geeking out about user experience with our software is that happiness literally goes up when the functionality is the same, but the experience is better.

Clay: Yeah.

Brian: But isn’t that the same though as, you know, the same functional information in a very dry academic course or something that’s written with flair and fun and great analogies and whatnot?

Clay: Right.

Brian: To me, copywriting is, you know, user interface design of the informational world.

Clay: It’s the same thing, yup.

Brian: It’s how you’re making people more engaged, the information becomes more memorable. This is instructional design. It’s interesting. I forgot the name of the book, but it was really an epiphany for me the day where I learned that at least in the adult education space where you can’t force someone to sit down in a chair and listen, it remains to be seen whether that’s everything good for kids either, but for adults, you know, they’ve been applying copywriting techniques to the course materials to keep people paying attention, and also awake, you know.

Clay: And game mechanics as well.

Brian: The ramification is the same thing. It’s exactly right. It’s engagement. Engagement is not just a word. It’s like what do people get into? What fascinates them or at least makes them want to keep going because teaching this people stuff in this day and age is hard? ADD doesn’t begin to describe what we’re facing.

Clay: I know, right. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. So okay, this is really cool. So you know, I really like some of these contrasts we’re talking about, you know, information versus software, and things like that. Let’s take into this a little bit deeper because you kind of – you took a turn. It seems like a little bit with what you’re doing with Entreproducers. So you’ve got Copyblogger where, you know, you don’t have to opt in to see the content entrepreneur. Copyblogger where it seems like when you post the videos or maybe you haven’t really done that, but you tend to use YouTube Entreproducer their unlisted Vimeo videos, and you even made a comment that like, you know, YouTube was for suckers. You’ve got this incredibly open environment and you’ve got a close environment. Is it that your opinion on how things should be done has shifted or is it that it just sort of a different objective, and so you’re doing things differently because the outcome you’re seeking is different? What’s going on there?

Brian: Yeah. So really, Entreproducer, to begin with, is me writing a book and applying this concept of agile content development to the writing of the book itself because that’s the story of how Copyblogger actually evolved, grew and learned what people actually want to buy. So I’m writing the book the same way, and it’s funny. I only wanted – There’s no RSS feed. You have to sign up with e-mail. I just really only wanted people who were serious, you know, because I’m going to be depending on their feedback, and I’ve gotten so much thoughtful, you know, comments. We’re getting more comments. Less exposure, but more comments because they know this is the deal.

Clay: Yup.

Brian: You’re seeing things before anyone else does, but you’re helping me adapt it, tweak it, reorder it, all this kind of stuff.

So 3 weeks in on Entreproducer, the whole focus of the book changed just from the feedback that I got.

Clay: So what was that change? What was that shift that took place?

Brian: You know, it’s weird because I’ve been living with this now for 6 weeks or more and developing content, but I just had a general outline of what I thought the book was going to cover, and looking at it, I was like this is not remarkable at all, you know, that kind of thing, but it’s some place to start, and then I don’t know. It just hit me. I can’t point to like one comment or whatever. It was just one of those things.

And so then I’ve continued on that course, and it’s really proving itself to be the better way to go. And it actually is more lean startupish than I had anticipated, but we were applying lean principles to content development in 2006 forward and then 2007, starting with products. It was my partner, Tony Clark, who introduced me to agile and lean and all that. I just thought it sounded like a sensible thing to do.

Clay: They’re like I’m boot strap. This fucking makes sense, you know.

Brian: It does, exactly. If you don’t have money to burn then who does? But to answer your question, Entreproducer, the site, after the book will be actually very open and very different than it is right now. It will be much more broader. It will look more like Copyblogger, but it will be a focus on a different type of online activity.

Clay: You know, it seems that, you know, what you’re doing with Entreproducers more lean start up than the lean start up. Sort of where – I think Eric Reese kind of assumes ventured capital, and a lot of resources that most people don’t have – I don’t think most people have the resources to quickly put out a software product or any product at all, and respond to user feedback for 4 months until they get it right? I think most businesses are out of business at that point, and I think that most people don’t even have the traffic within the first 4 months to be able to run a statistically significant AB test in the first place. So you know, I like that you’re starting out talking a minimum viable audience because, you know, without that, there isn’t much else, and so I like what you’re doing there.

Brian: Well you got to realize that Eric is, you know, speaking from his experience and a real startup, right, based on the principles of his mentor Steve blank. So I don’t really fault that at all, and I wrote an article over at Forbes. We’re kind of riffing on another article about how, you know, the Beastie Boys did this early pivot from punk band to rap, and the fast company article that I was riffing on didn’t really focus on the fact that it was the audience that made all the difference with that pivot, and Eric actually re-tweeted that because I think he understands that you have to have real live people to begin real live buyers and that can be the tricky part. So to me, audience development is my VC.

Clay: Right.

Brian: It’s more valuable than taking VC, and no one gets a part of my company, right? I mean to me, it makes way more sense and it’s the story of Copyblogger so it’s my experience. I’m just trying to give a different perspective on it because there will always be people running off to go get investment money.

Clay: Right. And…

Brian: I think bootstrapping is way better, at least until the point when you really know, okay, we’re not going to be like go for it or we’re not going to be compete effectively without a little bit of money.

Clay: Right.

Brian: But at least you know then. You’re not just walking up to someone, you know, a shark in a suit whose basically job is to make a lot of bets on a lot of companies and how one or two of them hits. That’s not the most nurturing environment, but you know, I know some VCs are better than others so take it with a grain of salt.

Clay: Right. Well, you know, I’m not knocking Eric. I think that he wrote that, like you said based on experience, and he’s speaking to, you know, what is his minimum viable, you know, audience. Well, it’s really silk and valley entrepreneurs and that’s a very different reality than most bootstrapped people, and that book absolutely changed my life, so you know, the principles there are solid, but I guess I was just sort of speaking to how applicable, you know, I think your message is . . .

Brian: Yeah, even – That was the whole minimum viable audience. I mean you don’t have to have a huge audience, you know. You got to have the equivalent of, you know, the Beastie Boys and their punk ace. They had a small – I’m sure – rally audience, and when they would do their rap songs, everyone went crazy.

Clay: And they were like let’s scale this.

Brian: Exactly. It’s the same concept. I mean, you know, I’m kind of famous for using pop culture analogies, but they’re more valid than I think some people realize because we’re all kind of playing the same game when it comes to figuring out what it is that people actually want.

Clay: Yup, yup. Yeah, you know, I’m big on the bootstrapper thing as well. I think that if you can make it, you know, as a bootstrapper, certainly, you know, being profitable right out the gate, you know, doing that when it comes time if you ever actually do want to raise ventured capital, it’s going to be pretty easy, and you’re going to get much, much cheaper money…

Brian: Yeah.

Clay: …as long as you have your IP lockdown and your legal shit in place, but – I mean you guys could probably go for a pretty significant round if you wanted to, not that you guys don’t want to.

Brian: Oh, we got people trying to give us money. It’s funny when they come to you, and they are like come on, take some money, you know. And it’s not completely inconceivable, but I’m still holding out. I have – I think we got some more legs under us without taking any money, you know, so…

Clay: Yeah, awesome.

Brian: …we’ll see.

Clay: Awesome. Let’s – You know what, I want to be respectful of your time here. Maybe we’ll go for about 5 more minutes if you’re cool with that.

Brian: Sure.

Clay: Okay. So you know, I would love to hear your thoughts on – You know, you mentioned it before, so I’d just like to bring it up in this interview since this is the 7-Figure, you know, and sometimes, we have 8, 9-figure people on here. At least we hope to in the future. You mentioned what your revenue was. Could you share that? I know you mentioned that in the past publicly.

Brian: Yeah, so we did $5 million in revenue last year.

Clay: Awesome.

Brian: We have – You know, we sell digital download software primarily so…

Clay: Margins are good.

Brian: …the profit margins are nice. We’re almost halfway through this year, and you know, we’re – I think we’re on pace for a 40% increase so far…

Clay: Damn.

Brian: …which is a good sign because our big push is for the new version of scribe, which just went in to beta. It’s a whole new reinvented product. We poured a lot of money and time into it over the last year, and basically, coming on the heels of panda and penguin, we look like we’re geniuses, but it’s really it was just where we wanted to take the product as a piece of content marketing software, but Google catching up with, you know, basically the tactics they don’t believe in is really good timing.

So anyway, there’s going to be a huge push in the second half of the year, so it will be interesting to see how it shakes up for this year, but I’m really looking forward to 2013 at this point as far as, you know, taking that next big leap, certainly in the 8 figures. It’s just, you know, how many, how deep in the 8 figures can we get is I guess the question.

Clay: Yeah. Have you – You know, this is a question I’ve always wanted to ask you. You could start an incredible ventured capital like fund. You’ve got an audience that if you back someone, you could give exposure to. You definitely – Like what is Y Combinator giving away like 10 grand for 7%? I think you guys coming up with, you know, 15, 20 grand to back 3 to 4 companies per year wouldn’t be a difficult idea, but you could provide something that no other ventured capitalist firm, or you know, small seed fund could provide, and that is, you know, access to an audience for that very first launch to kick them off, and that’s worth so much more than any amount of money. Have you ever thought about kind of going down that road?

Brian: What do you think Entreproducer’s for? Actually, there’s lots of things I can do with Entreproducer and I’m really – I mean I’m passionate mainly about content and entrepreneurism. You know, marketing is just part of it, and yet, that’s what I’m most well known for, but yeah, you know. I mean I want to be able to highlight people that are doing great content, kind of focus startups and independent media if you will, but yeah, the opportunities to actually help as – I think of it more as a production company than a venture capital company because really, you don’t need a lot of money.

Clay: Right.

Brian: I mean Y Combinator is a great example of that. So you throw in 20, 30 grand, but what you’re really doing is introduction to the audience, introduction to key people in the industry.

Clay: Right.

Brian: Just getting it off the ground, right?

Clay: Yeah.

Brian: And that is – I’ve made 5 people millionaires from doing that just for Copyblogger, so…

Clay: You know, it’s awesome.

Brian: …I think there’s a good story to go there forward if we chose to go that way. And I think honestly, no matter what happens, you know, whether we sell the company or whatever, that’s the kind of role I’d like to be in, you know. Find the smart young people with the great ideas, and you know, just be that old guy in the corner. It’s like oh, you got to do this. Come on now.

Clay: Yeah. I mean I’m sure you taking an 8% stake in a company in exchange for advice and access to your audience is not something that’s inconceivable by any stretch.

Brian: Again, the audience gets all the credit. I was just I guess smart enough to focus on that’s the first thing that you build.

Clay: Yup, that’s awesome. Cool. Well, you know, you’re a huge influence on me. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this for my audience. This is the second time we did this interview. The first time, I completely screwed up, and wasted an hour of Brian’s time, so he was very gracious to do this with me again a second time. So Brian, thank you so much. I absolutely want to respect your time. Thanks for kind of evolving the online business model for people like myself who, you know, did not conceive of a lot of the things, you know, that you’ve been doing years ago, and so it’s been great to have you kind of pave way in a number of regards. So thank you for the amazing work that you’re doing. Thank you for being here today. Thank you for so generously sharing your time, and maybe we’ll talk again.

Brian: Yeah, thank you very much, Clay. No worries. I think this one turned out better than the first one, so this might be…

Clay: I think it did. I think it’s a little bit more polished.

  • Thanks again for doing this, Brian. I learned a ton, and so will all the Marketing Show peeps.

  • Damn clay, sooooo proud of you bro, awesome, awesome, awesome

    • Dude. . . glad you like the interview. Dude, it’s been wayyyyy too long.

  • I graduated from CU-Boulder and would love to live there f/t! Especially since Copyblogger is there. All the best folks live in Boulder. Thanks Brian and Clay for doing this interview. 😉

    • Yeah, Boulder is incredible. And there are some amazing people there, and an excellent tech scene. Glad you like the interview. Brian did a great job.

  • Very cool interview. It’s seriously one of the best I have ever heard with Brian, mainly because you’re just as passionately piercing him with questions 😉

    Well done, Clay 😉

    • Thanks Mars. Brian Clark is a smart smart guy, and I think it’s unfortunate that (after all he’s accomplished) folks too often squander their time with him by asking questions like “how do I come up with ideas for blog posts?” or “how do I write a good headline?” Those are fine enough questions, but they’re kind of like asking Waren Buffet how whether they should open an infestment account with Scottrade vs. Ameritrade vs. Charles Schwab. Its’ really a lost opportunity.

  • Hi Clay
    I’m a big fan of Copyblogger and their products.
    Premise, Scribe and Studiopress (Genesis) are all great tools.

    Never ask the audience what they want… counter intuitive, but makes sense when Brian explains.

    Audience problems and desires leading the way also makes a lot of sense.

    Good interview sir.

    • Thanks, Keith. I’m glad it was educational.

  • Nice interview, Clay. I learned some new things and look forward to fine-tuning my entreproducer skills at the owner of the Resort Lifelstyle Network (ie. Looking forward to your webinar tonight with Danny Iny, too. Keep up the great work.

  • yasmike

    Always great to hear the interviewer asking challenging questions and even better to get awesome answers.

    • Thanks Mike. Brian did a great job with the questions.

  • WOW! this is seriously great content. Game changing information in here.

    • Robert! Awesome! I’m really glad you liked it.  How’s the Zappos Insights membership site development coming along?

      • It’s going great! we have a lot of new content now. thanks for checking in! 

  • Top notch interview. Thanks for introducing me to brian and copyblogger

  • Clay, this interview was so cool! So many classic quotes in this. It took me an hour because I had to rewind a few parts more than once. I think a lot of us struggle with giving people what they want. Brian hit right on the head when he said… “it’s not their job to know what they want.” What an epiphany!!

    Thanks Clay! Awesome stuff!

  • That was a wonderful and super-valuable interview Thanks.

  • franco

    Very interesting stuff. What was the “Bootstrapping” book that you alluded to?

    • Hum . . . I’m not sure what you’re talking about.  How many minutes in is the comment?

      • franco

        Looks like I miss understood your comment starting at 39:55. I thought you were referring to a Bootstrapping book that “absolutely changed my life.” What was the book that you were alluding to? Thanks

  • Really cool. Huge thanks to both of your for your (double) time. Really want to echo the point about engagement. I just did a presentation earlier this week to a WordPress Users Group on online business models alongside an leading-edge teacher educator who talked on innovative learning models and one of the big big common factors was – guess what – engaging your audience whether it’s clever business folk like us 😉 or a bunch of 16 year old physics students!

    • Awesome about your presentation, Cathy.  Thanks for sharing.

  • Susan

    This is so content-rich! Thanks so much Clay!!!

  • WOW that was an awesome interview, I learned so much good stuff. Thanks Clay and Brian.