Articles tagged 'entrepreneur'

The Mistakes I Made Starting a Slack Workspace for Rebuilding Rails


Do you sell an online product? Or do you want to?

Have you considered some sort of an online presence for the buyers, to let them talk to each other? It seems like a really good idea. If a lot of people are trying to learn the same thing, letting them talk to each other could be amazing. I know I get some wonderful buyers of Rebuilding Rails and Mastering Software Technique. And I’m an old-fashioned geek. I always want to throw a party to get all my friends into the same room so they can meet each other.

My idol on this one is Nate Berkopec. In addition to being a great conversationalist, he sells the definitive ebook on Rails performance and runs multi-day workshops about it too. But if you buy the ebook, you get an invitation to the Slack workspace. And the Slack alone is worth the price of the book, because anybody who is anybody in Ruby performance hangs out there. They’re not all talking, but they’re available for questions.

His book is good. But it still pales in comparison to having everybody who’s interested in the topic centered in one place. There’s simply no way Nate could give you as much value as everybody else put together… So he doesn’t. He invites you to a group of everybody else put together. It’s a really good idea.

So I’ve sold you on it, right? It’s simple. Make a Slack workspace, all the cool people will hang out there, everybody will buy your product to get access and you can retire to Bermuda.

Not quite that easy, no.

Powdered Caffeine

Have a horrible revelation, from an appreciator of less sugar with my caffeine.

You can buy a brick of caffeine in pure powdered form for about $30. That’s for 500g – about a pound. Several years’ supply, easily. Weightlifters use it, so it’s going to be readily available for a long time. I got mine...

2015 End of Year Wrap-Up

I might be a touch late, writing my 2015 end-of-year post in February.

It’s been a pretty good year in some ways, not a great one in others. First off, let’s hit some numbers:

  • Rebuilding Rails revenue: $7478.82 on Stripe, $2269.00 on Gumroad
  • Special summer sale revenue: $4500-ish
  • Rails Deploy In An Hour revenue: $1683.30 (there may be more refunds happening, though.)

These are net of refunds, Stripe and Gumroad fees and so on.

That’s pretty decent Rebuilding Rails revenue, very much in line with the last two years. I also finally made the switch to Gumroad, so I’m not doing my own invoicing any more. The remaining chunk of time I spend on it week-to-week is debugging problems people hit with the software, and that shouldn’t go down much – the whole point is helping new people learn Rails. If they’re doing it right, they’re debugging. And talking programming with me isn’t something I can foist off on a remote assistant.

Why I Shut Down Rails-Deploy-In-An-Hour

Some of you may remember Rails Deploy In An Hour, a Ruby deployment class I tried selling last year. More of you probably remember Ruby Mad Science, the open-source software that went with it.

I’m not selling the class any more, though I haven’t taken down Ruby Mad Science, and I don’t intend to. But it won’t be getting the maintenance it would want… now that I understand just how much that is.

I wondered, “why aren’t there more good Ruby deployment products out there?” And “why don’t people know more about the books there already are?” And as I learned more I started to wonder, “why aren’t there more Heroku competitors?” And “why did Ninefold stop supporting Rails?”

These are interesting questions. I know the answers better now, and I’m happy to share them. Perhaps they’ll help the next person fix the problem better than I did.

What People Want

It turns out that programmers hate doing deployment. The programmers I’m targeting (hobbyists, early developers, small startup guys) extra-specially hate doing deployment. They just want it done and working with minimal work.

Fully-Loaded Engineer Hours

My favorite article on salary negotiation of all time talks about “fully-loaded costs” of an employee. The idea is that when figuring what it costs a company to employ an engineer (or whoever) it’s short-sighted to just take their salary and multiply by time. Patrick suggests that “a reasonable guesstimate is between 150% and 200% of their salary” and that the “extra” tends upward as salary does. Of course it depends on benefits and whatnot.

Many people think that’s complete baloney. Specifically, they tend to think that the “extra” is fixed (e.g. $30k extra,) rather than a large and increasing percent of salary.

But when you’re negotiating salary, or otherwise asking, “what does an employee’s time cost a company?” he’s right. Let me explain why.

What I Learned From My 'Hire Me' Web Page

Occasionally, you’ll see people put up a “why you should hire me” page, such as the one that got Jason Zimdars a gig at 37signals. These pages are effectively sales pages for people, though they read a little differently from a sales page for a book.

(If you don’t believe that a “hire me” page is a sales page, I recommend reading a bit more Patrick McKenzie.)

Most frequently you see pages for less-established entry-level people — people who try using a sales page because they have to, not because they want to.

And I thought, “hey, what if I tried that?” As a great fictitious man once said, “we try things. Occasionally they even work.”

So when my last company went out of business, I put a “hire me” page together. I had a little breathing room before missing a paycheck and reasonable savings. Why not try it?

Yeah, Why Not Try It?

The Tragedy of Yelp: Forced Into Extortion

If your startup does certain things, you wind up with the same business model as Yelp. It turns out you really, really don’t want the same business model as Yelp.

Not the same Emma (credit: Wikimedia commons.)

Let’s tell the story of the fictitious Emma Goldfarb founding a seed-stage startup called (unrelated to the URL shortener.) is going to be a site where people leave reviews of some kind of business. Emma isn’t quite sure about the details. She’s working on it.

Spoiler: she’s in an ugly situation because her startup wants to be like Yelp… And she really doesn’t want it to be.

Follow the Money

Where does Emma’s money come from? Advertising doesn’t pay much, unless you have people who are about to buy something online in a trackable way. Emma doesn’t. Most of her reviewers have already bought their thing. Users looking for reviews are (in her case) not going to buy through her, so she doesn’t get paid that way. Some sites can avoid that, but Emma can’t.

2014 Year In Review: One Programmer's Side Business

As Patrick McKenzie celebrates his 9th year in review and many other folks write theirs up, I believe I’ll write my first. It’s been a big year, and I have a lot to be thankful for.

Don’t know me? Makes sense. I wrote Rebuilding Rails, an ebook about understanding Rails by building a Ruby web framework from the ground up, as a result of Amy Hoy’s excellent 30x500 class. I’m writing a Ruby web app deployment class called (edited to add: now-defunct) Rails Deploy In An Hour. I’m employed full-time as the Analytics lead at OnLive, a cloud-gaming company. I have a wife and two kids, so selling products on the side is an adventure I don’t really have the time for — but I don’t let it stop me :-)

Let’s start with dollar amounts before explanations. That’s why I’d be reading if I were you.

Revenue in 2014

Amounts are net of processing fees and refunds. Also, it’s Dec. 23rd, so not quite done. But pretty darn close. Tell you what: if anybody buys a professional package of Rails Deploy In An Hour, I’ll update this to reflect it :-)

  • Rebuilding Rails: $7,679.35 - 208 non-refunded sales, 6 refunds
  • Rails Deploy In An Hour: $1,277.70. That’s three pilot students and one professional package buyer. Plus 1 sale-and-refund of developer package from a guy who thought I was farther along than I was.
  • Misc - affiliate sale, guest episode: $600.00

Rails Deploy In An Hour is doing… okay. I reopened the class a few weeks ago and I haven’t done much for it since then. I’m waiting until more of the class is finished to seriously advertise for it, which means no sooner than January and more likely February.

Amazing how little traffic it takes to make money.

Rebuilding Rails is basically flat year-over-year. That’s not amazing, but honestly better than I expected. My flurry of activity for the new class is breathing more life into it. I’m not doing much marketing for Rebuilding Rails itself right now. It has some nice posts that still bring in visitors, and an autoresponder email class. I’m playing with the idea of doing more of a second edition of Rebuilding Rails, but I just can’t justify it right now. Maybe in 2016?

(Do you just want more dollar amounts? My First $1000 in Product Revenue may be the right place for you.)


Last Year’s Goals: I knew I wanted a new product. I didn’t think about much more.

This year I launched Rails Deploy In An Hour to its pilot class of three people, and I’ve made one continuing sale. It’s a deeper, more involved and more expensive product than Rebuilding Rails and it’s going to take awhile to really finish — not that such a product is ever 100% finished. I have three chapters done of seven, and two videos of at least ten, plus several miscellaneous guides well under way. Overall the class is probably 35%-40% done, though the software works fine now. This class? It’s too many pieces. I’m managing, but it’s a lot.

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Why this specific newsletter? You want to be an expert. Expertise comes from learning the fundamentals, deeply. And that comes from the best kind of practice. I write with that in mind. I won't waste your time.

(Yes, I also sell things. They're good, but I'm fine if you don't buy them.)