Getting Back to My Roots + A Personal Update

Note: Enrollment is currently closed for my Interactive Offer 2.0 coaching program.

A lot of people don’t know this, but the company that eventually became Leadpages started out selling marketing training and services.

We’re very different these days, and it’s been years since I’ve taught a marketing course. (Even at our annual conference, Converted, I didn’t teach marketing and instead spoke about our future product roadmap.)

Here’s the story of …

How I Became an Entrepreneur (the First Time)

At the age of 15, a friend and I raised $120,000 to start a software company. Around the same time, I left home, moved a few hours away, began my “adult life” and spent every waking hour on that company.

I was too young for that. Way too young.

It’s often easy to tell a cohesive story about what happens when things go right. When things don’t go according to plan, the story starts getting a little more complicated.

The company I co-founded at 15 did OK for awhile, but eventually it just fizzled out and failed.

Looking back on it now, I realize how devastating that failure was for me. To the point that I didn’t start a business again for 10 years.

During those 10 years, I started a lot of things, but didn’t finish many. And many of the things I did follow through on, failed. I wasn’t depressed or anything like that. I was just marching to the beat of everyone else’s drum but my own.

I ended up moving from school to school, from degree program to degree program, and from job to job.

I went to college and dropped out (but eventually graduated). Went to grad school and dropped out. Started grad school again and dropped out. Did some international travel. But never really felt satisfied.

This leads me to …

How I Became an Entrepreneur Again (Attempt #2)

After dropping out of graduate school the second time, I ended up moving back in with my parents. I taught myself how to create little ecommerce and affiliate businesses and I sold products in the green niche, like compost pails and red worms.

I had a website called I did consulting for brands that wanted to drive traffic with StumbleUpon (doesn’t really exist anymore) or by hitting the front page of Digg (Digg optimization?). I took on freelance copywriting projects.

I wasn’t really passionate about any of the niche products I was selling, but I was passionate about the mechanics of direct sales marketing in bootstrapped companies.

Traditional marketing at the time began and ended with the creation and placement of advertising. Digital agencies extended this a bit by creating websites (which were little more than online brochures) and coordinating online ad campaigns, but the fundamental model and approach were grounded in the Madison Avenue of the 1950s (think Mad Men).

I found this model of advertising to be infinitely boring. It offered no assistance to bootstrapped entrepreneurs like me who needed measurable results and who absolutely had to drive revenue this month (or miss their rent).

But there was another world of marketing that I found infinitely more interesting: the world of online direct response marketing. This world had a lot of flaws. It included scammers selling courses on “how to strike gold online” or “how to turn your computer into an ATM machine.” It attracted some people who needed to follow a guru and loved participating in the cult of personality.

In this space—at conferences and in forums—I also met folks who had a profound effect on my life. They taught me the kind of unglamorous marketing that pays the bills when you have no startup funds, no venture capital, no sales team, and are completely unheard of with no brand equity.

This world taught me to be scrappy and not to get caught up in my head. Lofty and philosophical notions about what products to build were a luxury I couldn’t afford. I didn’t have time for either myopic thinking or hypothetical thought experiments about what the market wanted.

There’s a kind of marketing you do after you’ve experienced real failure or worked your way up from nothing, when you realize you can’t get caught up in what the market should want. During this time of my life, I learned this kind of marketing.

How We Started in Software

Several years ago I did an interview with Andrew Warner of Mixergy.

In that interview we talked about the process I used to (1) get lots of people (in a given market) to tell me what kind of product they wanted to buy from me, then (2) co-create the product with me, and then finally to (3) purchase it during a presell to fund the product’s creation (think Kickstarter, but with your own list and website). I called it the Interactive Offer.

After the Mixergy interview, a listener informed me that my approach was total B.S. and that—while this process might work for information products, membership sites, certification problems, and physical products—it would never work for sophisticated modern software businesses.

I accepted the challenge. Tracy (my cofounder) and I used the Interactive Offer process to presell a video player called LeadPlayer. Later, we did a presell for Leadpages. Both were successful: they funded the initial software development costs, got a lot of early adopters a lifetime deal on the products, and launched businesses that otherwise would never exist.

It worked, and …

As Soon As Leadpages Launched, I Stopped Teaching Marketing

Leadpages grew faster than anyone had expected, and within a year our company had about 50 employees. (Now we’re at 165.)

I love teaching, but I stopped doing marketing education for two reasons. For one thing, I simply didn’t have time for it.

But the other reason I stopped professionally teaching marketing is that the industry was starting to creep me out. I wanted to distance myself from that world. I no longer wanted to participate in, or be associated with, a space that lacked long-term vision, had little respect for craftsmanship and art, and put more effort into marketing than product creation.

So I quit cold turkey for several years.

To show you how frustrated I became with the internet marketing space, here’s a video I created the year prior to launching Leadpages:

Why I Changed My Mind and Will Teach The Interactive Offer and Preselling Again—for Free—to Some Leadpages Customers (Details to Follow Tomorrow)

Last month I did another Mixergy interview (4+ years after the first one). Much of the interview focused on how we did an Interactive Offer and pre-sold Leadpages before it was created, and how our Interactive Offer process—in a lot of ways—made the product successful before it ever launched.

This interview reminded me how much I miss teaching. I also realized that there was no better time to return to my roots for a bit and teach this material.

My wife and I are about to have twins this summer, and I’m convinced that if I don’t do this now, it’s going to be a long, long time until I can do this again.

The Interactive Offer 2.0 Is Going to Be Fun, It’s Going to Be Different, and It’s Going to Be New

When you come back to this space tomorrow, you’ll get a closer look at The Interactive Offer 2.0. I’m looking forward to teaching this material again, on different terms. There won’t be a three-video launch, a $2,000 offer with payment plans, a bunch of affiliates offering bonuses, etc.

We’re going to keep things simple and fun.

Stay tuned until tomorrow.

Warm regards,

  • Nathan Rofkahr

    Look forward to it!

  • Okay, now you’ve got me purring with curiosity. And hopeful.

  • Shane Sullivan

    Clay, thank for you for sharing your personal story with us. You have created a fantastic product and service with leadpages. Wishing you continued success.

  • This is great to hear, Clay! A lot of people probably haven’t had a chance to see what a fantastic writer/teacher you are, so I’m excited to see them find out.

    • Thats kind of you, Will. I’m looking forward to doing this without the pressure of a traditional IM launch.

  • Jane Tabachnick

    Clay, glad to see you teaching again. I have gotten a lot of benefit out of your past trainings.

    • Thanks, Jane! I’m really looking forward to it.

  • Jason Stuck

    I’m a father of twins, they are now 4. I think I’m just now getting back into the world. Good call an doing this now Clay, And I’m ready to learn more of what you have cookin’.

    • Thanks, Jason. Yeah, I’m pretty sure there’s no way to prepare for what’s coming. But I’m excited nonetheless.

  • Great idea Clay

    I have a 7 year old, a 5 year old and a 3 year old.

    Yes indeed, do it now while you have the chance 🙂

    Best wishes


  • Laura B. Poindexter

    Clay I wish you were passionate about biz vs business – LOL. I love your trainings (as well as your other LeadPages staff). I’m looking forward to whatever you are announcing tomorrow

    • Yeah, I’m not passionate about that at all.

  • Lisa Greathouse

    Great story – can’t wait to hear more 🙂

  • A break from the IM launch norm…THANK YOU Clay! So exciting to see this unfold.

  • Susan Peirce Thompson

    LOVE your video on “Biz” vs. “Business” and so glad to see you back in action teaching…you’re in your genius zone! I have twins. My biggest advice: buy the book “Twelve Hours Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old” by Suzy Giordano. And get packs of microfiber towels and keep stacks around the house. Sending love! 🙂

    • Nice. So that book will tell me how to get twice hours of sleep each night? I’m so buying it.

  • A few years ago I became disillusioned with the bold (and empty) promises of online marketers, and your material has always proven effective and thorough. I cracked up at your description of the marketing world as “creepy,” because I totally get that. Relationship building and growing something bigger with a purpose seemed to go out the window. So I’m excited to see your take on all this and what you’ve come up with to offer us tomorrow! Thank you!

    • Yeah, the sad part is that world does have a lot to offer if you can look past the corruption. They know a lot about high ROI marketing, but just don’t know how to scale it (that requires discipline and operational leverage).

      • Agreed. Scaling often systematizes away creativity and authenticity. I’m currently exploring the relationship between structuring a business and staying connected to my calling; figuring out the balance between systematizing, growing, and building community. It’s the difference between automating a program and/or funnel that promises the world, and leading a movement that inspires people into action and education. 🙂

  • Clay – Seeing the Marketing Show video above is a blast from the past… Reminds me of good ol’ Project Mojave days. 🙂

    Can’t wait to see what you’re cooking up this time.

    • Dude, I miss talking. Where are you these days?

      • Ditto. Boulder. LOVE it here. I’ll be in MN in July; will try to swing by leadpages HQ again when i’m in town.

        You always seems to be two steps ahead of the marketing world so I’m stoked to see what you’ve got in store for us this time around.

  • Christian Schade

    Thank you so much.

    I try to teach happiness and I am not a marketing guy. I love simple solutions, because I can use more energy on helping people live happier lives. I am tired of gurus promising millions I just need enough money to live a good basic life – Please, show me a way, a simple concept, that would be much appreciated…
    I am an alcoholic, but I dont drink anymore. I have been sober for 14 years and I love my life. I know very little about selling or marketing….this is my first real attempt to make a product:

    I am ready to learn 😀

    Thanks again.

    Best wishes
    Christian from Denmark

  • Clay, I’m really excited that you’re doing this! After hearing you speak during a mastermind session at Leadpages HQ in Minneapolis about a year ago, I definitely wanted more! I was of course glad to see you share your vision for company growth at Conversion in October, but it’s great to see that you’re willing to jump into some nuts-and-bolts stuff like this as well. Can hardly wait!

    • Me too, Tim! I look forward to working together, if it comes to that.

  • I loved learning from you back in the day. You were instrumental in all i’ve done since. Looking forward to learning from you again.

    • This means a lot, Matthew. I value our friendship.

  • Clay,

    You epitomize authenticity and personify the importance of relationship. Your emails are engaging and genuine. Congratulations on living your purpose, the courage to evolve as a person and with respect to your business.

    Clearly your focus is not on money to the exclusion of bring others along in their own missions. You Rock, my friend

    Looking forward to the ride.

    • This means a lot to me, Linda. Thank you. Trying hard over here. I appreciate the kind words.

  • Julie Hamilton

    Hi Clay, I am a mother to boy/girl twins and now offer coaching to professional women supporting them through the transition into motherhood from career changes to breastfeeding twins. 🙂 Hoping Leadpages will help me reach and convert! Best wishes

    • We’ll do our best to help you with everything.

  • My favorite is the bold sentence at the bottom. I recently heard two well known people joking with each other in a podcast about how they were trying to beat each other in racking up sales for an affiliate partner. Which is fine I guess, but something about it left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s like a game where they play on every little psychology/dopamine-raising trick in the book in the name of sales and under the guise of providing value.

    • That reminds me of the saying, “if you don’t know what the product is, then you’re the product”

  • I remember buying Leadplayer years back and thinking at the time that sure the product was cool but this Clay Collins guy was awesome. It was a mentorship in authenticity and genuine ‘business’ that helped me move from just thinking about trying to sell a product to make money for myself to building something that people valued, needed and would go out of their way to refer to others… Thanks Clay for being the real deal!

    • Thanks for sticking around this long. Leadplayer was literally our first paid piece of content.

  • Cathy Nguyen

    Thanks so much Clay for emailing me today and your good advice .

  • melindamoses

    Looking forward to it Clay! I’m excited too!

  • Mothering Business

    Great you are teaching. I certainly need training. I’m very interested in what you are saying.

  • Had to read it again just for fun 😉

    Love it! Keep crushing it @claycollins:disqus

    ~Kyle, (CEO) Chief Experiment Officer

  • Maria Gamb

    Clay –

    The whole marketing landscape totally creeped me out too. Big time. And I walked away from everything the gurus told me I should be doing. I just said forget it. I can’t work in such a gross manner. It felt completely synthetic to me.

    So when I saw your email I perked up. I’m VERY interested to hear what you have to say. And learn more about the new frontier in marketing. Please let that be a place of integrity and respect for the end client and business owners like myself.

    Warmly –

    • Going to work hard to make good on your faith in us.

  • Clay– we also believe in teaching. With no strings and with complete transparency. I’d love to collaborate with you to help young adults get jobs as digital marketers at no cost to them.

  • KimW

    First and foremost I am SO excited to hear that you and your wife are expecting twins this summer! You know I have your back in the sleep department. 😉
    Second– you have been so influential in my business life– you helped transform my business and on some level –me. Thank you for sharing your gifts with me. So grateful for the day I found you so many years ago! And yes, I am happy to see your return to teaching and sharing of your gifts and talents. In support of you! Warmly, Kim

    • Kim – you are an inspiration to so many! And, by the way, I’ve been reading some of your material as I plan out the course (and have my own newborn on the way in August) – really awesome work that you’re doing for families. I’ll be in Ellicott City next month and hoping for a chance to meet up with you.

      • Jeremy Dyen

        Bob, congratulations on your baby on the way! Thanks for all you do at Leadpages to educate and help us all reach our best potential.

        Sending you a special care package for your growing family 🙂

      • KimW

        Absolutely Bob!! Please email me and we can figure something out. Ask Clay or Tracy for that. Congratulations on your newborn due in August! Happy to help!! Look forward to talking soon!

  • Marcia Dolgin

    Thank you for tuning into your passion. It will make the results even better (for the lucky people who see it). BTW, I have twins and I can tell you for sure that you will have an enormous change in your life. I feel that at this point, it is critical to use your energy only for things that bring passion because twins change your energy output priorities. I’m looking forward to the 2.0 program.

    • “twins change your energy output priorities” –> I’m worried this might be a euphemism for never getting sleep.

      • Marcia Dolgin

        No sleep for a little while, and you’ll figure out how to remedy that by being more efficient and selective in where your energy goes. That’s why concentrating on what you love and what feeds your soul is what can drive you back into balance. It’s the best of the best. Don’t fall into the competitive ego game of (others) parenting, it’s a waste of time and energy. Your family is of the utmost importance in your own lives and gives you strength to carry on, more efficiently and with love. It’s a lot of work, no joke, but the best work ever!

  • Jonathan DeVore

    Awesome! The first time I saw you teach was on a Pete Williams co-hosted webinar. You completely changed how I do our marketing, and I often reference the simple image you created of a lead magnet with arrows going out the other side showing emails going out.

  • KimW

    First and foremost, I am so excited to hear that you and your wife are having twins this summer! You know I have your back in the sleep department! Call anytime! 😉
    Secondly, working with you so many years ago was instrumental in transforming my business and in the end —me! You always encouraged me to stay true to my authenticity and being genuine in my business and marketing efforts. I am so deeply grateful for all you have taught me. So happy to hear that you are teaching again and sharing your gifts. You are the best! Kim, The Sleep Lady

    • Kim! It’s been so long and this post is a blast from the past. I miss working with you. Is there a magic potion our kinds can take to make them sleep from 10PM to 10AM every day? I would so pay for that :-).

      • KimW

        It is indeed a blast from the past! I have arranged for your magic potion for twins sleeping 12 hours at night to be delivered during their adolescence. Sometimes timing is an issue with magic ;-). In the meantime— call me!

  • Being one of your “early adopters”, I am sold on anything you do, Clay! :0)

    • Thanks, David! I appreciate your faith in us.

  • Thats how I first found you man through your videos super cool though you are not a cute cuddly black man there is hope for you yet … 🙂 count me in 🙂

    • !! That’s hilarious. I’m pretty sure if I could figure out how to pull that off we’d have 1B customers right now :-).

  • Larry Brock

    Clay you may have been too young at 15 as an adult but you were a mature 15 but you did not work at your start up all the time. I recall fondly our long late night conversations when you were living with me at 15.
    I am sorry I did not help you more at the end.

    I am proud of what you have accomplished. We are trying to use it with my new model for estate planning. 10+ years since you and I discusses the Internet and estate planning I am creating a new model. It is a bigger and better market for the Internet than I thought at at at time.

    I will admit when you were15 I did not think of you as a future teacher of marketing. The fact that your are is evidence that as we grow and mature we excell in new areas.

    Larry brock

    • Thanks, Larry. I think at the end of the day I’m a software entrepreneur who teaches, rather than a teacher who happens to create software. Both are important, but at the end of the day my first love is product.

      • Larry Brock

        Neither will be successful for without the other
        Product combined with a teacher (not a salesman)
        You are blessed to know your first love.

        Soon your greater love will be your twins. Heather had twins and they are 5 now. I keep telling her she will have triplets next. NO WAY is her response. She has one older & one younger than the twins.

        I look forward to your announcement tomorrow.


  • I think way too much of IM is like everything else in life… no matter how much you learn and perfect, it all boils down to who you know instead of what you know. In fact, I teach IM to students and clients and so much of it is about how to get tight with other marketers (JV’s)… rather than the quality of the product. I think you’re about to turn things around, my friend… look forward to it.

    • Thanks @DavidMerrill101:disqus. I think JV traffic just isn’t a scalable traffic source. We really value our JV partners and we don’t absolutely require their traffic to grow. I think this lack of dependency helps make it a win/win for everyone involved.

  • Marc Arizabal

    Your genuine care about your customers can save the industry.

    Its true that there are lots of scammers out there who promised gold online and they end up getting all the golds.
    It’s frustrating especially for those who are starting.

    So I’m glad you’re up for something more honest and impactful marketing programs again.

    Keep it up Clay!

    • That’s what we’re shooting for. Thanks, Marc.

  • Awesome stuff, time flies, I have always learned a ton from you since the marketing show days. Looking forward to what you have in store for everyone.

    • I’m so glad we had the opportunity to work together when we did. Please let us know if you’re ever in town (and/or please come to

      • Same here man, will definitely let you know and check out converted

  • Shayne Sullivan

    Hi Clay, Simple and fun sounds great.Looking forward to tomorrow’s installment.

  • Jonathan Biss

    Hi Clay. Sounds exciting. Look forward to your message tomorrow. I join the many others in this discussion thanking you for your authenticity & humanity. It feels so good to relate with/to a genuinely nice person (& with something meaningful to say). ALSO, congratulations on the twins, you’re definitely in for a BIG adventure there. All the best to you & yours. Jonathan

    • Thanks for the note, Jonathan. I appreciate the connection as well.

  • joe

    Hey Clay, I’m glad you’re talking about real businesses, it’s refreshing. Genuine question, do you feel leadpages is primarily designed to be used by biz’es or businesses? For example, is this for a biz or for a business:

    • Great question. I think leadpages is a tool that can be used for both a business and a biz. The tool doesn’t make your business, it’s how you apply it that matters the most.

  • Joe

    Looks like my link didn’t work, its a leadpages video called, “Product Launch Funnel From Top to Bottom With LeadPages” and it references Jeff Walkers product launch teachings.

  • You’ve been a light for lots of us and an inspiration seeing the beginnings of LeadPages, its growth, and it’s unrelenting goodness you’ve delivered to all of us business folk out in the world.

    It’s been amazing to see you and the LeadPages team build a LEGACY and I’m excited and proud to help you guys build up a life-changing company for all of us.

    We all want to hear from you, so bring it on!

    • Chris, thanks for this amazing note. This made my evening.

  • David Betke

    Clay, it’s good to see that there are some of us who are repulsed by the quagmire. I am a very happy Leadpages member and have always resolved to use it as it was intended, for good.

    I just watched your video and was inspired to share a parody I made on the same subject. There is no call to action or promotion. I just felt inspired to share it because it aligns so much with what your video said… and It has folks around here belly laughing.

    I know you’re busy, so only if you have time… otherwise you can stash it for later whenever you need a good laugh.

    I look forward to tomorrow’s announcement. Maybe we can change the landscape and elevate the whole space.

    P.S. Thanks for making my life easier with Leadpages and staying dedicated to continually empower us to be our best.

    • Ha… that’s funny. Got a good chuckle out of this.

  • Leslie

    No affiliate blah blah? Wow!
    Twins? Double Wow!!

  • Soetan Uwaye

    Never thought i would look forward so much to any lesson, but i am so waiting up for this. keep me informed

  • You’re a cool dude, Clay. It’s nice (and affirming) to see you do what you do.

  • Following you for years – I can tell from my perspective that every word you wrote is true. It’s a pleasure to have you in the space and see how much value such an authentic approach can bring. Thank so much for your contribution and inspiration..

  • Jeremy Dyen


    This is so great to hear! Thrilled to hear both your children on the way, and your return to teaching.

    The Presell Formula/Interactive Offer, and especially YOU had a profound influence on me, my wife Madhavi, and our business from the beginning, and we still incorporate your concepts.

    I look forward to seeing what’s in store for the Interactive Offer 2.0.

    Congratulations again! (and sending you and your growing family a special care package)

  • Kat Von Rohr

    Now Live: Enrollment is now open for Clay’s all-new coaching program, the Interactive Offer 2.0. Go here for all the details:

  • I’m relatively new to Lead Pages and was referred by another customer of yours. This article and video was refreshing to say the least – it puts into words what I’ve been thinking and feeling for years, while running a real business and serving our customers and our team with a product that is tangible and in-demand, not a soft good. It takes guts to step up and serve rather than use hype. Thanks for pointing out the elephant in the Internet that keeps poking it’s snout at us.