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Stacking the Bricks - Real Entrepreneur Confessions podcast.

August 22

Donovan picked up JFS in December. Read it over Christmas. By the end of February, he'd grown his mailing list to 1,500 people. He created a landing page and JFS'd an email course on CSS animation, with a price tag of $49. In the first 7 days, he made 50 sales — for a total of over $2,000.


To learn more about how Donovan did it — including specific techniques for getting traffic to his blog posts — listen in right now…

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What's going on? Brick Stackers. I'm Alex Hellman, and this is a brand new episode of Stacking the bricks. For those of you joining us for the first time, welcome were super stoked. You're here and I'm excited to bring an episode to you that is, from our archives, an episode that we have not previously released. An interview with one of the customers, one of the readers of Amy's book. Just fucking Ship. And if you're unfamiliar with just fucking Ship, it's a book that Amy wrote in 24 hours using the principles in the book itself. How meta is that? 21 principles for building and shipping things, shipping them on time,

getting those creative ideas out of your head and into the real world. Nearly 3000 people have actually picked up a copy of just fucking shipping. Today. I'm excited to introduce you to one of them. Today's guest story may sound familiar to you. He had built and created some things in the past, maybe made a little bit of money here and there, but not had huge success. And by following some of the rules and just fucking ship as well as cobbling together some of the things on our site that we published for free. He's been able to build an audience in the thousands. And at the time of this recording, which was nearly a year and 1/2 ago, he had only just released his very first product, that audience. So he's gonna share some early numbers with you. And then at the end of this podcast,

I'll be back with some updates, including a code that you can use to get your own copy of. Just fucking ship for a couple of bucks off the sticker price. So enjoy this episode, Donovan, and I'll see you at the end for some updates.

Who is Donovan Hutchinson ?

He is a front-end developer, working full-time in Dublin at a company that helps athletes avoid injury. He is a dad and works on his own side projects whenever he’s not working.

I'm Donovan on dhe on a front end developer at the moment. I'm working full time for a company here in Dublin that helps athletes avoid injury on in my spare time. But I'm not chasing around my two kids. I also creates side projects on one of those is one called CSS animation Top rocks.


So you've done other side projects before CSS animation rocks. What other kind of side projects had you done before this?

What is Shop Ireland?

Donovan describes it as a basic affiliate site that works like Amazon, but shows the prices in euros. It was a site for Irish people because it had Irish branding and support where Irish people could seek help from people in the same country with similar perspectives as them.

I've been making a few different projects for the past 10 years or so, I guess the biggest one was about 10 years ago. When I started off doing this side project stuff. I created a site called Shop Ireland on. That was a kind of basic affiliate site. It just worked like Amazon, Bergen showed. Should the prices in Europe on had a bit of Irish branding and it's a bit of support as well. So the people in Ireland could actually contact somebody that would be in the same country and see things from the same perspective. Is them


How did you figure out to make something like that?


I'll admit it wasn't really discovered accident in sense in that I was interested in the technology and how to build it. I was learning about PHP learning about S, E O and honey AP eyes work. And Amazon has an excellent FBI for products. So I thought, Well, that's a massive amount of information. I can see what I can do with


that. But the thing I'm actually most interested in first of all, what was it that drew you to wanting to read? Just fucking ship in the first place. You sound like someone who knows how to make stuff happen.

Why should someone read JFS by Amy Hoy?

Following along to tweets by Amy, Donovan states that the way that she approaches branding and launching things, and it resonated with him. He was inspired how she wrote Just Fucking Ship within 24 hours, so he bought the book and used it as his structure to starting up his business.

I've been following the tweets and the e mails from mostly from Amy over the past, I think a year, year and 1/2 or so, Um, I like the way she talks about branding and launching things that it really cuts through the bullshit in their approach. Um, that's something has resonated with me for a while, I guess at the same time, I've bean working full time for the past four years. Prior to that, I was self employed for about six years, and I felt maybe a bit of an urge to get back into that kind of living on dhe. That's still maybe with me, that feeling that I wanted to control my own time a bit more


so, having having read the book, which mind you is. This is actually one of the first conversations that I'm having with someone in our audience specifically talking about just looking ship. Folks have heard a lot from people who have taken 3500 and it sounds like you've been following along the unicorn free playbook in a lot of ways and figuring out how to build and launch. So before we even get into that. I'm curious what it was about. Just fucking ship that got you going in that direction.


I think it was, um it was that kind of fuck it moment that you talk about some times where I've bean. I'm seeing what other people do for quite a while. There was a great course that was run on line by rarely on it. Baker last year, cult right up on its I just saw them Twitter. It captured my imagination is something you can to three email. It was une male long course on writing, and I had never occurred to me that you could leverage email in that way before. So that was something also in my mind whenever that book came across then, um, I have been looking for a way to do it just to kick it off on dhe. For me, writing the book in 24 hours is quite inspiring on dhe. I guess it just triggered something in me at that point. When I read that, I thought right.

That's it. I'm gonna do it. First. Thing is, I actually read Heidi. Do it. So I buy this book. Might set out some rules or something to follow, and it did to give me a structure. It talked about to be creating amazing class before getting into actually launching products, doing it in small chunks on. I've taken that approach, but I didn't learn from the book in terms of actually building the site bit by bit. Small atomic chunks. I started off just literally a block post. The home page didn't even have any mechanism for showing listings of what was on the site. I just manually put the link into the page on, then gradually over the month of May have been outing in more features, making it work across our says and building at the site, adding better design on more book


posts. So over the first month or two, I guess we're talking January, February or so Take me through some of the steps you said you started with just one block post on what sounds like a super duper Flintstone website.

How does blogging help a business?

For Donovan, it was a way for him to test out which topics worked and gained traction. It encouraged him to write certain posts that people would like. To help gain more notice from his posts, he would reach out to some CSS or web design sites looking to feature writers. This helped him gain an audience quicker.

In terms of context here, I've be in blogging for a couple of years, a different in different ways. I started blogging on my own personal sites that hopped out I e. On dhe through. That's I guess I kind of did a safari, this kind of thing and that I tried ideas and saw what worked. What didn't Andi that encouraged me to write certain types of posts that I knew people would like? That was the background to starting this project. Um, technically, them with this site, I I set up a jackal based website which is like, static pages that generates normal extreme island C. S s threw up on to get hub touch to your all to it on DDE. To go from that to actually getting momentum and actually getting traffic. There's a few steps involved.

First thing was to, well, pick a topic on dhe. I have been thinking about CSS in general, but it's such a big topic that it couldn't possibly take it on and write anything useful about such a big topic itself. But within that, I've been doing a lot of writing about creating uh, examples of CSS that are animated, so it seemed more interesting to boil it down to more specific topic like that. So I I had a list going of thoughts of different things I could cover. I just picked one of them, which happened to be a Twitter faith animation I put together Post, for that explains how to make the animation in the Post. And then to get it out there, I first put it online and then contacted some mailing lists that I know there are. There's all sorts of making this to Ryan,

but for my kind of posts, I would talk to sites like CSS weekly or Web design weekly. Um, they're always looking for good stuff to feature, so the first step was to get in touch with them and say, Hey, look, I've written the Post. You want to talk about it to your next newsletter And that's that's for me, a great way to just within the reach of quick audience.


That's awesome. I want to go back to one thing You said that was really interesting and see if you can dig into it a little bit more for me. You said that when you've been blogging for a while before you started this project, you're sort of, uh, trying things out and writing about different things and seeing what got the most response, seeing what people actually seem to like. Did you notice any patterns in what worked well And what was it? How did you know


the kind of things people liked, where things that had a very clear visual goal of creating. And it's a demonstration or example, Um, ideally, something that was a bit of wild factor there. Two types of posts I do really. There's there types of posts that have something that's a bit right there, like I made a three D market plus using just CSS html. It can turn an animate on. People would look at that and say, Well, Highness, that done. And so the block post talks about it, breaks it down into steps, and then second type post is more practical.

It's something like if you want to show items in a list on a Web page, what is the process to actually build that? And to do it well as animated as well if you want, and that's something people will use. I think people are going to use three D. C. S S Mike pluses on the pages, but everybody has lists of things. The show. So they're two different types of


posts. Yeah, well, and what's what's what I love about this and you sort of happened upon something that we teach very discreetly and specifically within 3500 is. I mean, you're creating a bombs, whether you whether you knew it or not at the time on the thing that defines an e bomb is delivering a fix that it actually solves a problem. And one of the cool things that I like about what you just described is even in the sort of conceptual, you know, you know, how does this work? How does this impressive sort of crazy thing work? You set up a question that either they didn't know they had, um or you, you know, connected. Teoh.

You know, I do have a question. I have a list and I want to be able to animate the way new flies in and things like that. And the job of that blood post is to get them that that answer is so that they can do it on their own. If it doesn't have a fix, it's not any bomb. And the reason that those fixes air so valuable is that's where you start getting not just traction, where people are gonna read it and maybe apply it. But then they say, Well, Donovan can actually help like he showed me how to do something. I understand it now. I could go do that. I wonder what else he's got for me. So you very intuitively pulled that out of what seemed to be working best. But you hit the nail on the head in terms of something that we teach our students every day. So well done.


Thank you. That's great to hear.


Yeah, it's incredibly interesting how hard it can be to get people to narrow and focus and get specific. Another thing you did very intuitively saying CSS is too broad. Let me zero in on animation And it sounds like even within that, it's very practical animation, which is which is really great and you shipped. I mean, how many blood posts over over a month or two?


I am for once every week. I didn't quite hit every week, but I got a seven or eight posts before it launched


the product. Great. And were you collecting email addresses for mailing list as well,


right? Right from the start. You know, the first thing I did was to put a sign up form on then I was putting out an update every week.


So when you dropped a new blood post, it was another email. Say, Hey, I've got another new thing for you and that starts to build and build and build. So the people that got the that first taste of your Mac pro how to the following week? Maybe it's a little more practical and you can come back and tell


them that that's right. Yeah, on each week. Then they get an update. For what? I'm working on the moments. And at the same time, I could put in a subtle hint that I'm working on a different products. That kind of things to build interest before launching


it. At this point. Where where are we in time? You read? Just fucking ship in December. It sounds like we're in February or so. Yeah, And you started this more or less from You have been blogging for a while, but did you have a mailing list before you started this CSS animation? Siri's or this was this built from the ground up


it pretty much from the ground up. I had tried before with cycled learned some on dhe again. The problem of starting too vague was This site was meant to be a site about online sort of CSS type topics, things that might be interesting. But it never really focused on anyone specific topic. So in a year, I think I had maybe 200 subscribers on the mailing


list versus this more, more narrow, specific version. What did you What did you see this time?


I import those to start off on. Then after a posts, it's up to about 1800.


Wow. And in just six weeks or so, So consistent posting schedule. And you were you were also being strategic. You aren't just hitting publish and then sitting back,


that was the biggest thing. Yeah, that every time a new post comes out, I would make sure that I scheduled an email for the next morning that would then start off a process where it would launch the email. I would tweet about it. I was maybe contact a few people that have had back and forth with on Twitter in the past and say, By the way, did you see this on that? Got momentum up. I noticed. Have helped.


I think a lot of people have a an anxiety about during that where you know, if I'm sending that, basically that machine happens every week. Did anybody get sort of annoyed and say, Hey, stop sending me this stuff?


No, Off maybe 100,000 people that have visited the site I have seen two negative comments on both them were on reddit sometimes really


matter. Ah, that's great is all been. I mean, you've been out there, you've been helpful. And generally speaking, Reddit notwithstanding, when you're helping people, you're met with with warm reception,

How can you handle negative feedback?

Donovan says that the less positive feedback is still helpful for him. People have offered him solutions to problems that they have seen, or thought something wasn’t done the right way, so they’ll offer him an alternative.

absolutely. And even if it's even in the last, more positive ones have actually turned out to be quite helpful. In some ways, people have offered solutions to problems they've seen. Or maybe thought something wasn't done in the right way and offers an alternative. It


was very constructive. That's that's great to hear. So you've got the 80 think you said 1800 or so subscribers, um, up on your list and then you start putting together a product. So take me through what sort of lead you from this collection of blood posts to an actual product that you could you thought

How can you go from writing blog posts to creating your own product?

Donovan first had an idea to collect his best posts to create into a book that talks about CSS animation, but he wasn't ready to commit to the project. He then had the idea to write a course about introductory concepts regarding transitions and animations, and where you may want to use them. The next step was to make an email course, then work on a landing page.

you could sell? It imagines back in Christmas that I was going to write a book on DS. That was the initial goal, that I'd get together my previous posts and put together a book that would talk about the entire topic of CSS animation Pretty quickly into it, though I realized it was quite even just even our own. Each like that is quite a big topic to cover in a book, and I wasn't really ready to to commit to that yet. Which is what brought up in mind the example I mentioned earlier from From Really, who published on email course over the course of one month. I thought I could do more with that and try on a basic level high to teach people the introductory concepts about what our transitions and water animations and where might you want to use them? So that started me off thinking about making an email course. ATTN. That point it was really a question of making a landing page on Dhe, working out a strategy for launching that landing page with a block post the same time that I could then direct people to the page and see how they respond.


This is really interesting that the thought was a book which has a bunch of connotations to it in terms of scale and formatting and even design and typesetting and all these things. Sure, but you have this bit of inspiration to say, Wait a second. There's a simp attention, a simpler version of this. If I'm just focusing on getting people started with Cem, really important basics. How many? How many parts were in this email course that you were putting together?


It is made up of four main topics spread over four weeks on end the way, I'm figuring I'll have one email each day. Five e mails, then per week on DDE within that time, discover in a gradual way to cover the entire topic from zero to basically a solid understanding of what transitions


are cool. So in total, about 2020 minutes, 20 emails, 20 little little units. But compare that to ah, book, which could easily swell. I mean, even if even if those were were a few pages apiece, you're already thinking about Okay, now I'm thinking about like 100 120 maybe 150 pages um, it starts adding up really fast, but the thing I love about that email courses both as a medium and a wayto actually reach people also. Ah, style of writing. We write e mails all day long,

and some of us, I hope, right e mails. What? We're trying to be helpful so you can write e think in a different style. There's a different, um, it's just a different way of writing an email than you would've book. Did you see something similar to that when, when you were sitting down actually write the course?


Definitely. Yeah, it's it's easier, I felt to connect. I felt when I was writing of Imagined was writing to someone I know and telling them what they need to know to understand the topic. So there's more of a director felt like that anymore. The drug connection in terms of writing a conversational


tone. Cool. So the you put together a sort of a landing page for this. How did the landing page actually describe? People can go and see this. Now I presume it's that sure. CSS animation dot rocks. That's rights. Yep. Why don't you take me through some of the components. How how How did you decide? And what did you actually put on that landing page?

How do you create a landing page?

Inspired by a book that he read over Christmas, Donovan followed the structure and aligned with the goals of a landing page, which are: describe the pain, describe the problem, offer a solution, and then take the call to action. Then, include links to validate your own expertise, then follow the call to action again.

A big part of it. One of the other books are read over Christmas was authority Nathan Barry, and he said, very clearly the goals, the for landing page in terms of describing the pain, describing the problem, offering a solution to that and then called to action and then some sort of social proof in terms of quotes from somebody or links to to validate my expertise in the area and then a call to action. Again. I followed the basic structure,


and it sounds like it worked. So how did your launch actually go?


It was great. I was quite surprised, actually, my initial goal going, I was that if if I could get 10 people to sign up in the first month on in the first week, it's quite a lot past that. It was closer to you, I think. 55 sign ups in


the first week. That's awesome. Congratulations.


Thank you. It's carried on it. It has dipped in the middle of the month, but I've bean continually putting out the bombs each week on Dhe talking to more people Well, and getting word I did about the course. I'm coming up to the of the month. No, I think it's just checking the stats here. It's about 121 sign


ups. That's awesome. That's so great. I have two questions for you. One is going to be about what you're saying. Keep putting out any bombs when I want to come back to that. But before you do, What did you do? Anything leading up to the launch? Do people know that this was coming or was it just proof? One day? Hey, I've got something for you. How did you actually do


that? I may be a bit a bit shire around this launch. Then it could have been. I did mention it in passing in a couple of e mails. I had it by the way section at the end of each email that went out on. I used that to kind of test the water to see where people interested in this, so I don't know, but maybe there are better ways to do it. But I just hinted for a week or two before hand, Sure, and then on the day itself. I worked the day on which are really getting word IEDs and making sure that as many people heard about it as I could

How can I fail a product launch?

Every successful product launch has things to improve on later, but the only way to fail is to never launch at all.

well and the nice thing about a launch, it was to really nice things. One is, even if you don't, there's there's no points for perfection. The only way to not really succeed is toe, not pull the trigger and launch it all. So, you know, technique wise, there's always things you can improve every launches, got things you could make better for the next time. The fact that we even see some things that you could improve for the next time is is awesome. I'd like to hear a little bit more about any correlation you see between you know, the continuing publishing of blood posts and new


sales. Definitely, I think its momentum. That's the biggest thing I've seen in this, rather than maybe one big post that goes out once every month or two, which is closer to what I used to do with this time. Having weekly blood posts is initially was a bit more work to get the rhythm up, but I find it has had a much more profound effect on the number of visitors on. People are expecting an update regularly, and they're looking forward to it. And then coming into the site checking, I think that works him.

Why was Donovan nervous about his product?

He was nervous that it would work. Donovan says that it was a little easier to think if it didn’t work, then it woudn't be a big deal. His fear was that if his product really took off, then he wouldn’t know how to react because he’s never been in that position before.

Did you have any hesitations or reservations going into this?


Absolutely. I was very nervous that it might work.


What would happen next? Well, tell me about that. You were nervous that like, is that the like? What if I succeed now? What?


I guess I mean, it's almost easier to think that maybe if it didn't work, then no big deal. But I guess it was the fear. Like what if this really takes off? Then why would I just never be in that situation before? So I didn't know how I'd react. I have to say, though it's bean, it's being fantastic. I'm learning as I go, though, so I'll keep monitoring really high. Things go on trying the ideas, but so far I'm quite pleased with the way it's going in.


That's so great. The I'm curious if there's been any surprises along the way, it sounds like you've been trying things out, and you have been getting generally positive response. But was there anything that really caught you off guard or went differently than

Why are the following weeks after the product launch more difficult?

Donovan says that when he had the first initial week, he was surprised by the amount of signups. The later weeks were tougher because the momentum wasn’t there yet. He says that the early adopters were his big rush during the first week, then it was quiet for a couple of weeks afterwards.

you expected it. So I think when when you have a big initial week that my case was surprising. It didn't expect quite so many sign ups Initially, the following couple of weeks were a bit tougher because the momentum wasn't quite there yet on Dhe the initial rush any early adopters had already jumped in, so it was relatively quiet for a couple of weeks.

How do you get past when your product has plateaued in sales?

For Donovan, he looked at the first week and viewed it as a success, even if he didn’t have any more sales the rest of the month. He was mainly focused on getting through the course and was happy that people were paying him for his course.

How do you push through

How do you get past when your product has plateaued in sales?

For Donovan, he looked at the first week and viewed it as a success, even if he didn’t have any more sales the rest of the month. He was mainly focused on getting through the course and was happy that people were paying him for his course.

that? In my case, I looked at the first week ons knew that that in my mind was a success. If they'd had no more sales for the rest of the month, it was fine because it was launched. It was live. People were paying me money on the Internet and expecting a great course at the end. So as far as I was concerned, there was nothing else to think about except get the course done that help me focus on getting to the end of the month and then starting


a course. Where are you headed now? So you've got you've got a product in the portfolio that's still making sales. You've got people going through the course now, right?


Not yet. The course will start on Monday, A couple


days time. Ah, that's very exciting. So that what's next? Maybe is you start hearing from people as they're actually going through. You start getting some some dialogue from the folks here, actually helping.


Yeah, that's the biggest thing for me. I'm really looking forward to hearing how people get on a big part of why I'm doing this is the feeling of connecting with people and helping them understand a topic I find interesting. That's gonna be a big deal over the next month as I work with people through the course. And maybe he knows that might influence next course or new ideas or improvements for this one. But I look forward


to hearing from them what something that you would say to someone who has not shipped a product like this before. What's if you could give one piece of advice, whether and it could be something you learned in just fucking ship? It could be something that you learned along the way. What's the one thing you would tell someone who hasn't done this yet? Maybe is on the fence there. No, I'm not really sure I want this, but I'm not really. I don't think I'm ready for this. What would you tell them?

What is one piece of advice to individuals who aren’t ready to launch a product yet?

Donovan says that rather than jumping straight in and build something big, if you really want to get some momentum started, the best thing that he did was write a blog post. They are easy to do and they require minimum commitment.

I think rather than jump in and try to make something really big and try to charge money necessarily Fords or or or just jump to the chase If If If. If you want to do something on Dhe, get some momentum around it and get started in my experience. Anyway, the best thing for me was just writing a block post its very little commitment. Easy to do. You could stick it up a medium or create your own blow. Could put it there. For me. The biggest part was when people started talking about it and sharing it. And I saw the visitor numbers go up. A big part also of the writing, is learning for me. I just liked learning new stuff on dhe, learning about CSS learning how to make cool things of CSS. Big part of why I do that is because I want to learn how to do it on dhe. There's no better way to learn in my mind than by teaching or at least writing about what


it is you're learning. Yeah, I totally agree. I I get a better understanding of the things that I do when I put myself in a position to explain it to somebody else. So it makes me better. It makes them better. Everybody wins. Cool. Donovan, this has been so great. Andi, I want to thank you again for for taking what you learned putting it into action. Uh, you get hauled, the benefits we get to listen and watch on and enjoy your success. And I hope you keep us posted as you move forward. I want to hear when you're nearing the end of this course how it went.

What new things you learned where you want to go forward from There. In the meantime, how can people that are listening to stacking the bricks follow you? Follow your work. Where can they find you?


You can find me on Twitter. I'm Donovan H. Twitter on DS. You can find out about the course on CSS animation dot rocks.


That's super. All right, man, I'm gonna let you get back to your day. I'm gonna head along with mine. This has been awesome. And thank you again. So,


so much. Thanks I'll explain your time.


Take care of it by now. All right? I hope you learned a lot from Donovan story. I was super inspired by. And if you're inspired to and want to take some of your own work to the next level, the ship products that people actually want to buy you could take lessons from this podcast. Mix it up with the things you learn in Amy's book. Just fucking ship until the end of October for offering 10% off. But just till the end of the month, there's new stuff on the way. If you buy now, and I need to get 10% off what you do, get updates in the next version you go to just fucking ship dot com and use the code. Stacker S t a C k E R will take 10% off either package. Either the book itself, at $19 or a premium package, includes,

um, after templates and videos and things like that for you Thio. Use and enjoy. That's $39. Both of those options 10% off those prices with the code stackers. Head over just looking ship dot com. Grab your own copy. When you do ship something, let us know what it is. Let us know how it went and maybe get you on the show in a future episode I hope you enjoyed. And I hope you haven't awesome. Week ahead. Keep on shipping and I'll see you next time.

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