Before the viral unicorn poop video, before the appearances on Shark Tank and Dr. Oz and Howard Stern — Bobby Edwards was showing his invention at conventions and sending it to alternative health bloggers in hopes of getting coverage. The invention? Squatty Potty, a plastic stool that puts you in a squatting position to poop better. Today Squatty Potty brings in over $30 million in annual revenue, but the quirky company’s ascent to viral fame was far from assured. In today’s episode of the Rework podcast, Squatty Potty CEO Bobby Edwards talks about the years of work that went into marketing the Squatty Potty before it got national attention.
I’ll share moments with my crying toddler, or scenes from the hospital with my sick dad. Why don’t I just stick to business?
The reason is the reason I do all of the things I do, the reason I work on Highrise, the reason I started Draft.
I want to build things I want to see in the world.
I look at all these other “business” videos on YouTube, posts on Medium, podcasts, and I see a great deal of people sharing success stories and the tactics they cherry picked which got them there. What I don’t see is them opening up about some of the difficulties of actually running a business. The other difficulties from life and its challenges that stack even further up from there.
You go to conferences and someone up on stage professes, “Hey here’s how I became successful and you can too!”
I’m sick of it. I want to hear from someone who’s in the thick of it. Some days are good. Some are bad. Most have good and bad moments. I want to connect with others who are going through the same things and emotions. To know that what I’m going through isn’t unique.
Everyone tries to put on this fake face while things are chaotic around them. They’re hoping they come out of it with a huge success story they can then start talking about. I don’t want the rosy hindsight. I want all of it.
So I try to share everything. Including the stuff that might not be so positive.
It’s my attempt at creating something that’s just a little different. A little weird. Something that I want to see in the world and hopefully something that people can relate to.
I’m hoping my work can inspire you. I hope I can give you some advice on how to do something better. But even more so, I hope that while you’re doing life, and going through the inevitable problems at work and at home, you know at least here’s someone else going through a lot of the same stuff.
P.S. Thank you so much for the convos over email and the comments in all these channels. It means a lot to me. If I can be helpful with anything please don’t hesitate to reach out (firstname.lastname@example.org). You should follow me on YouTube: youtube.com/nathankontnywhere I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life. And if you need a zero-learning-curve system to track leads and manage follow-ups, try Highrise.
It’s weird. It’s weird for a lot of people. So I get asked a lot: “How are you comfortable doing this?” “Do you have a history of doing something like this” But the umbrella question that I think most people are trying to ask is:
“Are you extroverted? Is that why you can pull this off and I can’t?”
The fact is, I’m probably one of the most introverted people you’ll meet. Some would maybe even label me fairly anti-social. 🙂
I really like one-on-one interactions and meeting new people. I love true friends. But I don’t like going to parties. You won’t see me at many conferences. If I am there, you’ll find me in the back row of something or closest to the exit so I can bolt.
And no, I’m not comfortable doing this. Even in front of a camera in a room by myself, I get nervous. Even though I know I have all this power to edit and redo. The first video I uploaded to my vlog was a Live video I recorded on Facebook but made it Private to just me 🙂 And I filmed it 13 times.
And I hate that attention on me as I walk around talking to a camera.
But I do it anyway.
Do I have some kind of inflated image of myself? Hard for me to judge I guess since I don’t know the self talk in other people’s heads, but I’m pretty hard on myself both in what I do and how I look.
I don’t even want to open up that therapist session on all the ways I hate how I look on camera. But some obvious ones. My complexion is terrible. Skin is oily. Now I’ve developed this recurring terrible allergic reaction that comes on when I even glance at a pine/Christmas tree and recurs randomly otherwise.
Kendall Jenner, one of the younger of the Kardashian clan, was at the Golden Globes, and it was crazy how many people called her out for the visible Acne she had on the red carpet.
What were people expecting? That she’d skip the red carpet? Stay home?
This is a huge thing that keeps people back. Vanity that they have to look perfect.
And that’s why the Kardashians are so successful. They have zero fear of putting themselves out there for every single person on the planet to see, flaws and all. It doesn’t matter what the public thinks of their skin or anything else they say or do. They aren’t afraid to embarrass themselves when most everyone else is.
People also commonly ask me if I’ve had a lot of practice doing this.
Not really. I have had some brief on-camera training as part of acting lessons I’ve taken over the years, and a big reason I took those classes was to get over my fear of performing in front of people and cameras. And that practice has helped some.
But there’s been plenty of videos, especially the live ones, where I’m sweating the possibility of saying something stupid or why on earth is my hair sticking out like that today.
So, if you’re holding back from doing something like a vlog because you’re afraid of what you look like, or you’re uncomfortable in front of a camera? I’m there with you.
But I refuse to let those things keep me back. It takes some practice. It’s still uncomfortable. It gets less uncomfortable… sometimes. And it’s worth it.
To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting. ― E.E. Cummings
A couple weeks ago we decided to get an artificial Christmas tree. I love real trees, but years of evidence have proven I’m allergic. We think the dog is too. And the cleanup is a nightmare.
So we went to Target looking for one.
I didn’t want to go to Target, but my wife and kid were going and I didn’t feel like spending the day by myself. Plus, I wanted to improve our Wifi network and Target carries the Google Wifi mesh devices.
I begrudgingly went along.
My hangup with Target is that everytime I go to look for something specific, they don’t have it. Which was made abundantly clear again on this trip. They didn’t have any Christmas things left. They didn’t have a Google Wifi mesh network either.
I began regretting tagging along.
But that Saturday I didn’t want to waste my energy on a bad attitude, so I decided to treat Target a lot less specifically.
I went back to the Electronics section and browsed what they did have. Turned out they had something called the Orbi from Netgear. I hadn’t heard of it, but a quick Google scan seemed to show it performed well despite some drawbacks in its application design. Ok, I’ll try it.
Also, my three year old’s interest in building things keeps growing, but she doesn’t yet care what kind of things we’re building. So we went on the hunt for the cheapest LEGO’s we could find to continue adding to our set at home.
What once seemed like another trip to Target coming home empty handed turned out to be quite the win. I’m enjoying the Orbi network we now have at home, and my daughter has torn through these multiple boxes of LEGOs we’ve purchased. We also bought a ton of other stuff we didn’t even realize we needed :).
This random trip to Target reminds me how important it is to know our place as businesses. Sometimes people need the accurate solution to the one specific problem, and sometimes people just need something that works most of the time.
On January 2, 2017 I published a video on YouTube telling everyone I was starting a daily vlog. I also told them I’d probably fail. I did.
I remember the exact meeting I was in at Accenture in 2001 when I found out a manager I was working with had started his own “blog”.
Though I was in a technology group researching trends, I still found it weird that someone at work would blog. What a strange word. “Blog”. I didn’t pay any attention to the blog after he told me about it. Who wants to read this guy’s personal journal online anyway.
Blogging went mainstream. My first blog was published after I started my first company in 2005. I wrote a couple posts, then lost motivation. I got a little more serious in 2010, but just barely. A post here or there. By then, there were so many good writers out there and I was so far behind. What was I possibly going to add to the wealth of good content out there? And how could I possibly stand out?
I’d missed the opportunity.
But in 2011, Dustin Curtis invited me to his new blog network, Svbtle, on one condition, that I post one article every single week. And that regularity and Dustin’s exposure helped get a ball in motion that hasn’t stopped.
From then on I’ve taken blogging and writing online seriously. My audience finally grew. That Svbtle blog and other writing opportunities started to propel my companies forward.
Now, I’m publishing at least twice a week. My writing is a major driver of traffic to Highrise and projects I work on. But I regret not using those years before more wisely — practicing, finding my voice, learning how to do it better, and growing (if even slowly) an audience. Imagine how much further I’d be today.
One of the biggest regrets I have in my career was that I didn’t jump on what that Accenture manager was doing.
It’s strange when my friends and family ask about my “vlog”. That word again seems so foreign and weird.
Yet, people have been doing it for awhile with Adam Kontras being celebrated as the first to post a video blog back in 2000. Now, dozens/hundreds of celebrities make 7/8 figures running their vlogs, often with teams of well skilled editors and cinematographers behind them. How can I possibly add to this and stand out?
And I see all these trends in video taking over the content of site after site after site. Facebook and Instagram are investing heavily in video as Zuckerberg has already predicted he: “wouldn’t be surprised if you fast-forward five years and most of the content that people see on Facebook and are sharing on a day-to-day basis is video.”
YouTube is surging with hours of video watched growing 60% year over year, even though it was acquired over a decade ago and the product isn’t fundamentally different.
Six year olds are making $11 million a year on YouTube and being featured on primetime-old-people-television like SNL. Ask a bunch of kids or teenagers what they want to be today, and it’s rarer to hear “athlete” than it is to hear “celebrity vlogger”.
Another missed opportunity?
Well, I could keep missing it, or I can take a dive like I did with writing back in 2011 and finally commit to it.
I failed at actually completing a video every single day. I started out strong, but petered out at one point trying a bit too hard to game the numbers and perfect individual videos. Motivation would also wane.
But I don’t like giving up on things I promise I’d do.
So in July 2017, I re-committed myself to getting a video done every day. Even if it was something tiny. Like a quick YouTube Live video. I mostly kept to that promise minus some days I got pretty sick.
The result: I tripled my audience. My editing got faster. My ability to find stories in my content got better. My camera work improved. I think the quality of my current videos are 10 times where they were a year ago.
And these videos have helped me snowball other content. A good idea on the vlog judged by views and likes often helps me focus on things that become even better ideas in articles I write. And so my writing has gotten even stronger and more useful to building my audience and supporting our business — all because of the vlog.
Apart from failing to meet the daily goal, I’d say running this vlog has been a big success.
But it’s still far from where I want to be, far from the people I look up to.
So what will 2018 hold? More of the same. I’ll keep at that vlog. I’ll keep experimenting and trying to improve it. I’ll keep trying to grow it.
Because sure, it still feels weird opening up about my day and life so much in a “vlawwg”. But I remember how I felt the same way about the manager blogging so many years ago.
“We all know we need to build an audience. Out-teach the competition. Collect those fans and emails before I even have something to sell, so when I do have something to sell, the money will come rolling in. Enough already. I haven’t accomplished anything. No one cares what I have to say. I can’t build an audience with this track record. And I’m a terrible teacher.”
I was a broke college student. I didn’t spend much besides getting the essentials, but money made during the summer, even working as much overtime as my boss would allow, evaporated quickly. The quintessential example of how broke I was — I rolled up to a gas station on my way to an interview for an internship, pumped the car full of gas, and went inside the station to get cash from the ATM.
Except there was no cash. My bank account was empty.
I was ashamed and embarrassed going back to my car asking to borrow money from my passenger. Thankfully she was already planning on giving me gas money for driving her to her own job interview.
I was eager for any job I could find that would alleviate my situation.
So when I realized I could become a teaching assistant (TA) even as an undergrad during my senior year, I jumped on it immediately. Free education. And a small monetary stipend.
Now, traditional TAs at a place like a huge University are mostly there to help augment a professor’s lectures and curriculum. Students usually go to a lecture 2–3 times a week and meet with a TA to get some homework help and take quizzes.
Imagine my fear then when they asked me to be a TA in this experimental program where I’d be these kids only teacher. There wouldn’t be a professor or lecture. They’d come to me 4 days a week and I’d be their only source of teaching chemistry.
I wasn’t a bad chemistry student. I was after all a chemical engineering major. But I was by no means the best chemistry student I knew. And I had zero experience teaching anyone anything. And these weren’t kids. They were freshmen and sophomores. They were me just a few years ago.
How was I possibly going to teach them anything?
There’s really not some long conflict here. I just started.
I picked up their assigned chemistry book, which was similar to the one I had when I took the course, and went through the chapters just like they would. I’d work out the problems on the weekends and see how well I understood the concepts myself, and then 4 days a week I’d get up to the blackboard and try to show them what I had just learned.
I wasn’t great. But I wasn’t awful. I helped some kids through the course who themselves didn’t think they could get through it. Received some decent reviews from the students. Was even invited back to teach the same course again the next semester.
But what this whole thing impressed on me was how valuable being a teacher is, even one who isn’t all that experienced and is struggling to teach at the same time. Of course, I’m not belittling how awesome the teachers are who have insane amounts of experience. My life has been incredibly touched by them. But we shouldn’t be intimidated by them so that we don’t even bother to start teaching ourselves.
We might not be the successes we have pictured in our heads, but that doesn’t matter to the person who’s trying to get past an obstacle we just recently got through. It doesn’t matter how young you are, there’s always someone younger who wishes they were exactly where you are with something, or someone older who’s just going through their learnings in a different order.
Building an audience and teaching your potential customers something isn’t the only path to running a business, but it sure is a good one. And, it isn’t as out of reach as you probably think.
Domino’s Pizza was in the spotlight of the Wall Street Journal the other day. It was a front page story on the success of the Domino’s mobile app allowing you to track your order from start to delivery.
Over 480,000 people have left reviews on the Apple app store giving it 4.8 stars out of 5.
In the modern world, we continue to have more and more options for things like coffee, rides to the airport, clothes, and pizza. And as we get more and more options, they just become noise.
Domino’s though has been successful at breaking through with a signal. Why?
There are two very big lessons to take from the pizza chain and one potential pitfall.
Giselle Auger, an assistant professor at Rhode Island College, involved 290 participants in a study on the effect of transparent organizations. It probably doesn’t shock you that the more transparent these organizations were to the outside world, the more people were willing to do business with them.
One reason the Domino’s app works so well is it opens up a process of their business that used to be closed. Before you’d wait at home hungry, wondering when food might arrive. Now you might at least have some satisfaction knowing it’s being made or on the way. It’s transparent. We know what’s going on. It establishes trust. And we tell others how great it is.
I’ve taken this lesson about opening up very seriously. I now host a YouTube Channel where I share a video every single day. Sometimes it’s just answering questions on how we run our business, design software, write articles, or make decisions. And other days it’s more about how hard it is for me to balance life and work. You’re likely to find us nursing a sick toddler (who might be throwing up in the background), so we can all get back to sleep.
Speaking of tired parents, Domino’s just launched a baby registry so that friends and family of new parents can get them something they so very much need — easy, convenient food. It’s tough cooking while exhausted from keeping a newborn alive.
Crazy experiment? Not really. Domino’s launched a wedding registry earlier this year that went very well.
Where most companies are out trying to automate offers and emails to the largest number of buyers they can find, Domino’s is trying to connect with customers during the most important events in their lives. Their wedding. Their kid’s birth.
This is another lesson we strive to mimic at Highrise. Instead of sending bulk robo template emails to new customers welcoming them to our product, I personalize the email every single day. Even if there’s just a little something in there about my weekend or current day when my kid is home sick, it results in tons of replies back with well wishes or consolations about another terrible Chicago Bears loss. 🙂 And best of all, sometimes it results in a customer opening up right back.
We also lookup new customers and record an individual welcome video through a tool called Bonjoro. It obviously doesn’t scale well to do this with thousands of new customers. But we do as many as we can because the connection we make can’t be beat.
As I write this, however, I’m inspired to do so much more at Highrise to address these same things Domino’s has. Internally here at Highrise, the team has used our own product (a simple CRM) to organize weddings and baby showers. Celebrating these events better with our customers would be a fun connection.
The WSJ coverage of Domino’s this week though hasn’t all been roses. The title after all was “Domino’s Tracking App Tells You Who Made Your Pizza — Or Does It?”
It included a story of a guy tracking his pizza order with Domino’s. The app displayed that Melinda was delivering his pizza. When he answered the door to receive his pizza from Melinda, the delivery driver definitely wasn’t Melinda.
So what? Maybe there was a bug in the app. Maybe the drivers switched orders. Maybe Melinda is just some clever little ruse of the app that was finally uncovered. Does it really matter?
In that same article, another Domino’s customer, Alecia Smith from North Carolina describes a time the Domino’s tracking app told her the pizza was on its way. Knowing where the pizza was coming from it should have taken 20 minutes to arrive. It took over 50.
But it wasn’t that the pizza took an extra 30 minutes. She was concerned because the pizza was still piping hot as if it really hadn’t been made over 50 minutes ago. Had the app lied? Alecia described this experience as “traumatic”.
Once you starting developing this trust with your customers and creating these more human connections, the result of breaking them is well… more human.
It’s one thing when an app crashes on you on your phone. It’s another when people feel betrayed and manipulated.
Trust and connection still occur too seldomly between organizations and customers. When established, the results are incredible and they feel good on both sides. But if you fake these elements, it’ll bite you when it’s uncovered. And given the internet’s world wide web of amateur sleuthing and sharing, you should assume: it’s always uncovered.
My 2011 startup with Y Combinator imploded, largely because we couldn’t get enough traction. What was I going to do next? And more importantly, how was I going to avoid repeating my mistakes?
A couple weeks ago my wife was out of town, so my three year old daughter and I had our weekend together. We went to see My Little Pony.
I enjoyed it. Lots of great voice actors. Including Sia! She pretty much plays herself as a pony. Similar hair/wig style, and she sings in it.
My daughter was traumatized.
Well that’s a bit strong. Let’s just say she was in my lap the whole time worried about what was going to happen to those damn ponies. But she’d stop covering her eyes and be right back in the movie. Only to again fear for the ponies lives.
There’s something interesting there. How did this movie succeed at capturing her attention so well? So much so that she’d be afraid but go right back to being engrossed?
Robert McKee is a popular teacher of screenwriting. A well read book of his is “Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting”. It’s a book I’d recommend to anyone pursuing writing of any kind.
But there’s one bit in there that will instantly improve your ability to tell stories, write, vlog — make anything, really.
A Story Event creates meaningful change in the life situation of a character that is expressed and experienced in terms of a value and ACHIEVED THROUGH CONFLICT.
That’s it. That’s the nugget that all good stories revolve around. An entire film, according to McKee, is 40–60 of these story events. And what is that “value”?
Story values are the universal qualities of human experience that may shift from positive to negative, or negative to positive, from one moment to the next.
Human experience. Love/hate. Anger/peace. Fear/calm. Alive/dead. And so many more.
Telling people a story is all about showing how someone goes through conflict and changes the “charge” of those human conditions. They start out in love and end up in hate. They start out broke and end up wealthy through a bunch of difficult terrain.
That’s what keeps us in our seat.
Toy Story does this so well. Go watch Pixar’s work. Every minute there’s a value change. They’re happy, now their sad. They’re safe, now they’re not. Now they are. Now they aren’t again.
My kid was glued to her seat at My Little Pony because their writers also know this basic tenet of interesting writing and storytelling.
The ponies were in a wonderful stupor setting up for a party. Now terrible danger and monstrous creatures ruin their lives. Now they’re running. Now they’re safe. Now they’re at death’s door again.
And when you think about the boring drivel you read or hear all too often — maybe it’s your friend talking about work, or someone going on about their day — I bet it’s because there’s simply no conflict, and even more so, there’s no value change. They went from doing well at work to still doing well at work. They went from depressed to still depressed.
Of course there’s a ton more to practice and learn about the craft of telling good stories — things like the Hero’s journey or three act structures — but just get this little part right from McKee and you’ll already 10x the stuff you write and tell people about.
It’s happened for me. I went from that miserable failure of a startup to realizing I needed to get better at audience building before my next venture. And so I practiced my craft of writing and storytelling on my blog. One article a week. Tell a good story. Me or someone else figuring out some problem through some conflict. My audience grew.
And that audience grew to support my next project, Draft, which turned out rather successful in a crowded market of writing software. And then someone in that audience picked me to take over the business they were spinning off, Highrise. Mostly, all because I finally learned to capture people’s attention better through storytelling.
Back in 2010, I saw Andrew Mason give a talk at Startup School that included a slide that really blew my mind. The slide wasn’t about Groupon (Andrew’s company), it was about Meetup.com.
Andrew heard Scott Heiferman (CEO of Meetup.com) describe the initial version of Meetup.com as a matrix of cities and interests. He put it in spreadsheet format and here’s how it came out:
It doesn’t matter how many rows or columns — it works at all scales. It’s such a simple representation of what is ultimately a simple idea (meeting up with people in your city who share a similar interest), but it could just as easily been diagrammed in a complex way.
I’ve come back to this slide over and over for inspiration when thinking about new concepts or product ideas. It’s a great exercise in clarity. Can I boil down the idea into something as simple as a column and a row?