5 Lessons From a $213,000 Launch

Two weeks ago our little 3-person company launched a new video training platform and community for online business builders.

The launch (which was actually iterated over 3.5 months) was a hit. We exceeded our expectations and brought in a nice chunk of revenue (which I’ll detail below).

We also learned a lot, partly through experimentation, partly by talking with other entrepreneurs, and partly by reading everything we could about launching this kind of service online.

I’ve been working online for a while now (Think Traffic will be three years old in March), but I still remember so clearly years ago wondering if I could really do it — if I could bootstrap a small business based around a blog that gave me the complete freedom to live and work how I wanted to.

I scraped by for the first year, hustling to make it work. Year two was about transitioning from services to products and finding income stability from month to month. Year three was about building a small team and identifying a product to build that we’d be proud and excited to work on for the long-term.

That’s where the idea for Fizzle came from. Instead of developing new courses and programs each year, how could we build something that develops a life of it’s own? How could we grow brand equity in something we make and sell, much like we have with the Think Traffic brand? How could we bootstrap something capable of not just six-figures in revenue, but seven-figures and beyond?

Fizzle has become the thing I’m most proud of building in my whole career so far. We’ve gotten stunningly great reviews and all signs point to this being the vehicle that helps us break from being a scrappy little “by-the-seat-of-our-pants” company into one with longevity and reputation.

I know this might all be a little candid, but I believe in transparency. Other peoples’ transparency has made what we do possible. We’ve learned so much from the online community and so many generous people who blog and write about their successes and failures.

We’ve learned a lot and want to pass what we’ve learned along to you.

So in that spirit of giving, here are the first 5 big lessons from our $213k launch.

1. This Whole Lean Startup Stuff Works

I finally bought the Lean Startup book over the summer after hearing so many great things about it and after following Eric Ries’ Startup Lessons Learned blog for years.

This was a book I couldn’t put down. Lightbulbs flashed in my mind as I realized how powerful Eric’s strategies (and those of his mentor Steve Blank) could be for a project like ours.

I wrote about this before here at Think Traffic. Our “launch” for Fizzle was actually iterated over three months. When we first opened the doors to charter members, Fizzle was almost painfully incomplete. We had very few courses available, and the platform was a little rough around the edges.

BUT, as the Lean Startup teaches, the biggest risk you’ll face as an entrepreneur is building something no one actually wants.

To eliminate that risk, you need to create the minimum viable product that will allow you to get in front of customers. By being close to customers from the beginning you can almost ensure your product meets their needs.

So that’s what we did. We launched early to 150 “alpha” testers. The spots sold out in 4 hours. We opened again six weeks later and brought on another 200 “beta” testers in 24 hours. We devoured customer feedback and kept tweaking and polishing until we felt ready to open the doors to the public two weeks ago.

When we finally had our public launch, there was little question that the customers would come. We had already proven the concept through our minimum viable product.

Note: we can’t thank our charter members enough for putting their butts on the line and their skin in the game. Their commitment to growing their businesses alongside others in the Fizzle community has inspired us to no end. Thanks, charter members… you know who you are. :)

Lesson learned: make something small and useful and get it out as soon as possible. Don’t worry that customers will revolt if your product isn’t complete. Get it in customers’ hands. Devour their feedback. Those early customers will become your biggest fans and your product will be far better by following the Lean Startup approach (I have no affiliation with Eric Ries or his method, I’m just a big believer).

2. Quality Gets Noticed

When we finally started working on this project back in July of last year, Chase (the creative director behind everything at Fizzle) pushed us to make our video production better than anything else we had seen in the online business training market.

First and foremost Chase wanted to make it as easy as possible for users to absorb the training and put it to work in their businesses. The quality of the on-screen experience, audio and video all played a part in that. And he also saw production quality as a strong differentiator and the kind of thing people would talk about.

Caleb and I were a little skeptical that we needed to put that much effort into the videos. Other people were selling mediocre screencasts shot with built-in laptop cameras and microphones. Why did we need to use pro-level equipment and lighting, and why did we need to spend so much time scripting and editing our lessons?

But as Chase proved during the Think Traffic redesign, paying attention to detail and quality of design/production can pay off. Also, he had some experience with video at this level, he knew it was doable, what it would take and what to expect.

And with Fizzle it paid off in a big way. We have bucketloads of testimonials and public comments from people who love the video quality and share Fizzle with other people because of it. Like this one:

Fizzle has really impeccable design, formatting, and video quality. It is absolutely, by far the best for those three elements out of any single online entrepreneurial course or school I have seen or partaken in. Period. – Elizabeth Bradley

Lesson learned: find some area where your competitors’ product quality is lacking. Improve on it. People will notice, sign up and share your work if the quality is better than anything else. Production value can be a strong differentiator.

3. A Team Can Be Much Greater Than the Sum of its Parts

For the first year and a half of building Think Traffic, I basically worked alone. I was leery about hiring people because I didn’t want to give up flexibility and control over the business. I also wanted to see just how much I could do on my own.

There’s an archetype in the blogging world of the strong solo entrepreneur who builds an impressive one-person company and lives happily ever after. For a long time I thought I’d run a one-person company forever, aside from using an occasional contractor here or there.

Having done it both ways, I can tell you that the right team can be far more productive than those same people would be working on their own.

Synergy really exists. With Fizzle, none of us individually could have produced anything close to what we built. Each person on our team fills certain important gaps.

Lesson learned: running a one-person show isn’t always as perfect as it might seem to be. Teams can be much more productive, engaging, encouraging, ground-breaking and fun. The key is to find the right people to work with, and the right terms and conditions for your partnership. Don’t jump into things too deeply at first. Find ways to work with other people in a trial mode to see how it works out.

4. Having Fun Isn’t a Luxury

We have a lot of fun at Fizzle.

At first, I thought it was a little too much fun. I thought our customers might not take us seriously enough because of all the jokes, pranks, off-color comments, etc.

The exact opposite happened.

Fizzlers (what we call our members) started participating on our little jokes. When we sang a song, they sang back and asked for more. When we mocked Chase for something, they started mocking him too.

Now the culture of fun has taken on a life of it’s own. We set the tone early on and Fizzle has it’s own personality. A big component of our brand now is having fun.

Building a business is serious, meaningful and important. It turns out people learn really well when the business and learning environment have personality, energy and fun.

Lesson learned: having fun isn’t a luxury or a risk. Your customers will appreciate inside jokes and even a little off-color humor. Don’t be stiff. Stiff is boring. Be yourself, bring a flavor of your personality to your business. There’s enough boringness in the world already.

5. Recurring Revenue is a Fascinating Business Model (With Lots to Learn From)

When we started looking into building a subscription model business, I found myself looking more and more to the startup world for information than the blogging or “internet marketing” world.

The culture of the startup world is based around sharing open/honest information about what works and what doesn’t work with various business models.

This is especially true with Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) businesses. There are hundreds of articles and interviews and presentations from founders of startups that sell software online through monthly subscriptions (any type of online service you pay monthly for could be considered SAAS).

Fizzle isn’t software exactly (it’s a learning platform), but most lessons that apply to SAAS businesses will also apply to other online recurring revenue businesses.

Lesson learned: if you’re thinking about building a recurring revenue business, the term SAAS will be your friend. Start Googling for any question you have and add SAAS to the phrase. For example: “SAAS pricing models” “SAAS pricing pages” “SAAS terms of service” “SAAS reducing churn” “SAAS metrics” etc. etc.


Stay tuned for lessons 6-10…

Whew, these 10 lessons from the Fizzle launch turned out to be a little more in-depth than I expected.

We’ll deliver the next 5 lessons in a post here next week. In our next post, you’ll learn the following:

  • a full breakdown of the revenue from the Fizzle launch
  • how low-priced products can deliver BIG revenue results
  • the single metric that will make-or-break your recurring revenue business
  • the most effective promotional tactic we used during our launch
  • and a lot more…

Cheers until then,

- Corbett

Get the free guide to defining your audience
  • http://contentmarketingup.com Michael Chibuzor

    This is impressive Corbett? You’re truly an expert at online marketing and I appreciate all your lessons. One thing is for sure, recurring revenue is the best way to live the internet lifestyle, love your family and have enough time to create exclusive content.

    Thanks a bunch and I’m going to implement the tips right away.

    • http://www.pocketchanged.com Caleb Wojcik

      Thanks Michael, I’m glad you picked up a couple ideas from this.

  • http://getbusylivingblog.com Benny

    That is awesome Corbett. Thanks for opening the curtains and telling us about it. I do keep wondering, how did you come up with the name Fizzle and what does it mean?

    • http://www.pocketchanged.com Caleb Wojcik

      Hey Benny,

      Fizzle means a lot of different things to different people.

      To some it may mean fizzling out, quitting, or failing.

      To us it means you’re sizzling with excitement or sparking the fuse for your next big project to launch.

      “Fizzle” is taking on its own connotation with all of the Fizzlers though, is easy to remember, and allowed for a simple domain name. It also perks up the interest of people like you instead it being named with something straight forward. ;)

      We were close to going with another name, but after looking into trademarks it was a no-go. One really great naming resources is Igor’s guide here: http://fzzl.co/igorguide

      Perhaps this topic is a whole blog post on its own…

  • http://Monthlyexperiments.com John Muldoon

    Awesome post, Corbett. And huge congrats to you, Caleb and Chase!

    I’m really proud and thankful to be a Fizzler. That kind of says it all.

    Cheers

    • http://www.pocketchanged.com Caleb Wojcik

      And we’re glad to have you John. Thanks for being a star Fizzler.

  • http://anchortab.com Justin Westbrooks

    Wow! This is awesome! My team and I have been trying to stick to the Lean Startup rules as closely as we can – and it’s pretty tough. Fighting the temptation to “launch” something you don’t think has all the right bells and whistles is definitely a gut check. We’re one month away from our launch and needless to say, it’s a bit nerve-racking. Nevertheless, we’re in it for the long run and ready to learn as much as we can. Thanks for sharing your experience, it’s always encouraging to hear from people on the other side – all the best!

    • http://www.pocketchanged.com Caleb Wojcik

      Best of luck with the launch Justin!

      It is definitely hard to launch something that is not 100% perfect or includes everything you wanted in it, but the reasons to do so (test the MVP, getting feedback, the ability to pivot, etc.) outweigh the reasons to be a perfectionist.

      Build, launch, iterate, and grow.

  • http://www.inboundpro.net Hector Cuevas

    Wow.. Talk about a successful launch. Those are very impressive numbers man.. And I’m taking notes on the lessons learned. Looking forward to the rest.

    Hector

    • http://www.pocketchanged.com Caleb Wojcik

      Thanks Hector. Glad you enjoyed the first five. We’re learning so much that this may go beyond 10… haha.

  • http://www.thesmallbusinessplaybook.com/ Gary Shouldis

    Great article Corbett, I remember first finding out about you a few years ago via Pat Flynn. You’ve come a long way since then and it motivates many of us to do the same. Keep up the awesome work!

    • http://www.pocketchanged.com Caleb Wojcik

      Thanks for the kind words Gary and we’re glad you’re here. :)

  • http://www.chrisducker.com Chris C. Ducker

    Guys

    I can’t say that I’m at all surprised at the success of the launch. Seriously.

    The fact is that:

    a) you’re all smart, savvy guys.
    b) you’ve hard your arses off to get to where you are.
    c) the focus on helping people that ‘find you’ online has been untouchable
    d) Corbett has (just) more hair than me
    e) Caleb is (just) better looking than me
    f) Chase is a funny bastard!

    But, seriously, I have a feeling that Fizzle is going to be a massive, long term hit for you all and I wish you all the best.

    It’s a great community, with HEAPS of value already – I can only imagine what you’re gonna be pulling out of the hat in the coming months and years…

    Keep rockin’.

    C

    • http://www.pocketchanged.com Caleb Wojcik

      Thanks for the support Chris. Means the world.

      And yes, Chase is the funniest dude I know that has that whole mustache thing working for him.

  • http://www.talktherapybiz.com Linda Esposito

    Great job to the Three Cs! Corbett–you responded to my “Just wanted to say thanks….” email Sunday, so you know how grateful I am to be a member. Fizzler offers a great user experience–Chase was on the money with the direction of the aesthetics.

    I love the idea of launching before your product is complete, and I believe this puts the fire under your seat to actively listen to your customers and improve, tweak and polish. You’ve all been very responsive to the forum threads about how to improve Fizzle. It takes experience and class not to respond defensively.

    Thanks again :).

    • http://www.pocketchanged.com Caleb Wojcik

      Totally Linda. During pre-launch, Alpha, and Beta phases we poured over customer surveys, email feedback, forum posts, etc.

      We’re glad your a Fizzler too. :)

  • http://Rethinkreality.net Christian Martin

    Corbett,

    I love the candidness and transparency. It’s what makes the breakdown useful. Seeing how things are done (and thought and talked about) behind the scenes is incredibly helpful when planning my own product and service companies. I’m a Fizzler, so looking for many good things to come.

    Cheers,

    Christian

    • http://www.pocketchanged.com Caleb Wojcik

      Thanks Christian. There’s no reason why we can’t be transparent with the things we learn along the way.

      Glad to have you in Fizzle too. :)

  • suree

    I am so proud of you corbett. Keep up the good work!

  • http://lifestoked.com Deacon Bradley

    Great insights Corbett. I’ve been closely following Lean for a project I’m working on and love it. I’m curious, what was the first thing you tested for Fizzle (if it wasn’t the alpha users)?

  • http://repossible.com Bradley Charbonneau

    Congratulations, Corbett and Caleb and Chase! Thank you so much for creating Fizzle and especially for being so candid about how it’s all working.

    #3 really hits home as I find it the most difficult of your 5 points above.

    John Muldoon gave me a copy of The Lean Startup that I will now crack open.

    Looking forward to Lessons Learned 6 through 10 and then 11-15, 16-20.

    • http://www.pocketchanged.com Caleb Wojcik

      I find working in a team is actually *easier* than working alone. The ability to bounce ideas off of people, split up the work, focus on the strengths each person has, etc.

      The camaraderie can’t be beat either.

    • http://passthesourcream.com Bradley Charbonneau

      Hey Caleb,

      Sorry, I meant actually building that team! I 110% agree that working in a team has huge benefits, but it has to be the right team or at least a good team. I’m trying to find someone for my WordPress website design business and it’s hard to know where that person fits in: partner, project manager, production, design, all of the above, some of the above … you get the idea.

      Believe me, I’ve done the Solopreneur long enough, I’m very much looking forward to the benefits of a team.

      Thanks for the note!

  • http://www.barry-overstreet.com/is-an-online-coach-the-answer-youre-looking-for/ Barry Overstreet

    Excellent article Corbett!

    Transparency, especially in the online world, is critical. It’s one of those things that adds a human factor to a webpage. It’s all too easy to get lost behind a computer screen and forget that not only are we real people, but we’re dealing with real people too.

    We all have apprehensions and fears, struggles and triumphs. By being transparent, we allow our readers to see us as a real person they can relate to, which is ultimately what we’re all looking for. We want to find some people that we can relate to that can help us achieve our personal goals.

    Thanks for sharing the first 5 lessons. I can’t wait to see the last 5, also!

    ~Barry

    • http://www.pocketchanged.com Caleb Wojcik

      Thanks Barry.

      The transparency and human connection is another reason we made Fizzle. Every Fizzler in the community and on the forum is *real human*. They have skin in the game. They’re making real breakthroughs in the business that are having an effect on their lives.

      And they’re not alone.

  • http://youronline.biz Darnell Jackson

    Congrats Corbett and team,

    Now can I borrow $5? Lol

    Hey, no surprise this was a success:

    1. Quality content – check
    2. New Innovative approach – check

    The only thing that’s left is, well, the check!

    CHA CHING!

  • http://heard.fm Chris Jacob (heard.fm)

    Bravo!

    Fantastics results guys. Well deserved!

    I’m proud to have been a “beta” member and watch Fizzle grow up. Your commitment to releasing early, taking feedback and iterating fast is inspiring.

    So glad you highlighted to *fun* factor. It really differentiates you guys and the Fizzle community from every other course/group out there.

    Thank you so much for sharing these insights. I can’t wait for the next post!

  • http://www.ThinkDoBusiness.com Noor Shawwa

    Great article and very impressive results guys.

    It’s very encouraging to see you guys do so well and share with te world with such transparency. You provide great confort during the times of doubt.

    Great lessons; The lean startup method was eye opening for me also. Glad to see you apply it successfully.

    Looking forward to the next lessons learned and more great stuff from you guys.

  • http://www.thebounceblog.com Bobbi Emel

    Hey 3 Cs,

    Thanks for reinforcing the lean start-up idea for me. I keep getting reminded about the value of the minimum viable product model and now I just need to get off my ass and do it!

    Looking forward to the next 5 lessons.

    I’m proud to be a charter Fizzler!

  • http://thelifeleveler.com Leon @ TheLifeLeveler

    Awesome job guys! I’m loving Fizzle, the videos are so insightful and helpful, the ones with Chase in it actually make me LOL out loud sometimes :)

  • Zack

    I’d really like to hear more about this:

    The key is to find the right people to work with, and the right terms and conditions for your partnership. Don’t jump into things too deeply at first. Find ways to work with other people in a trial mode to see how it works out.

    I know I have a great business that will explode if I can get the right people. It’s already kicking ass with just me.

    Running Lean Methodology – You stepped into the big time.

    Did you read Running Lean by Ash Maurya?

    Are you going to set-up a cohorts based analytics dashboard?

    • http://fizzle.co Corbett Barr

      Hey Zack, what specifically did you want to hear more about? Finding the right people isn’t easy. I’ve taken over 3 years just to add two people to the team.

      Obviously you could move faster, but the point is not to jump too deeply until you’re sure someone is a good fit. I like to do a mutual “audition” process where I work with potential partners on a small project for a while before we commit to something larger.

      I haven’t read Running Lean yet, thanks for the recommendation.

      And yes, we have cohort analysis set up on our dashboard. We can track by sign-up month, sign-up source, package type, etc. It’s very useful to break things down by cohort to see what’s really happening.

  • Zack

    Yeah – Corbett, I’d like to hear more about adding people. Do you just straight up hire someone for smaller projects as an audition process?

    What analytics are you using for the cohorts?

    You really should check out Running Lean. It gets into a little more detail. Now that you have your product built you can use the experiments and cohorts to test different channels & product changes.

    The method is pretty ingenious right. Awesome that you used it here.

  • http://blog.rebreezer.com Orrin

    Congrats, that’s a fantastic launch. And thanks for sharing the lessons and insights you gained along the way.

  • http://www.mylearningprocess.com Miki Vicioso

    Definitely a great article. Looking forward to the series of posts you guys will be delivering on it.

    Also congratulations on a great launch.

  • http://www.biddytarot.com Brigit

    Congratulations and thanks for sharing these lessons.

    I would be very interested in learning more about how you create the perfect partnership with your business partners. The leap to going from a one-man/woman-band to a team is huge, especially when you are looking at different payment/compensation models. I would love to hear more about how you set this up with you, Caleb and Chase – what reward models do you have in place, what terms and conditions do you set, how do you make sure everything is ‘fair’ (even distribution of work for a fair financial reward), etc.

  • http://www.herviewphotography.com Darlene

    Congrats guys on a well deserved successful launch!

    I’ve been following this site and doing the Start a Blog that Matters Course by Corbett and eating up any and all content he put out. I had the chance to meet both he and Caleb last year at the World Domination Summit which left me with even more respect for them both. My only experience of Chase prior to Fizzle was his karaoke skills, which were quite stellar!

    So when they opened Fizzle for Alpha members I think I hit refresh a few times and managed to sign up within the first ten minutes it was opened. I wasn’t 100% sure what it was all about yet, only that whatever these guys were putting out, I wanted! I have not regret a moment of it. The courses inside Fizzle are only one of the benefits of membership, I’ve also made connections, friends, and gotten support. I’m hooked and not going anywhere any time soon!

  • Pingback: 5 More Lessons From a $213,000 Launch — Think Traffic

  • http://goinswriter.com Jeff Goins

    Fascinating stuff. I’d love to hear about how, as this continues, what retention and attrition rates are. I’ve heard that’s a battle in recurring revenue businesses.

  • Pingback: Is Turning an Ebook into a Print Book Worth It? — Think Traffic

  • Pingback: Our New Podcast Starts June 3rd! Plus, Welcome Chase Reeves — Think Traffic

  • Pingback: Two Years Later: Looking Back on the Million Dollar Blog Project — Think Traffic

Up Next:

5 More Lessons From a $213,000 Launch

Two weeks ago we first wrote about the launch of our new training platform for online business builders in 5 lessons from a $213,000 launch. Today we have 5 more lessons from our launch to share with you. If you're building an online business or launching a new product, this post is for you.

The Sparkline

For independent creatives and entrepreneurs building matterful things.

Popular Posts å % Stay inspired, productive + on track—get a weekly email from us. Short n’ meaty, built for speed. Get it Weekly