13 Successful Founders Share First Product Stories

Written by Chase Reeves

Hear how they made their first product along with lessons learned, what they wish they’d known and their best advice.

The Fizzle Show dedicated the month of January to helping folks think better about making their first product by sharing the stories of others:

  1. Finding The Idea for Your First Product
  2. Pricing Hangups
  3. Conversion Essentials
  4. The Failure Plan
  5. 13 Successful Founders Share First Product Stories (this one)

Below we’re making available each interview featured in the series… of course, you’ll miss out on our brilliant commentary in the podcasts, but we thought you’d like it this way as well.

Anne SamoilovBlogger and founder of Fearless Launching, a step by step course for launching your first anything.

Things to Listen For

  • She didn’t have confidence at first… which was crazy, she had already done TONS of this kind of work.
  • Struggled with “this isn’t sexy enough; not good enough yet.”
  • She didn’t see how valuable this stuff was… “the stuff I just did every day was super valuable to people.”
  • “I wish I had charged more.” She was afraid people wouldn’t show up.
  • She was a great team player… helped others with their products even if they were in competing spaces; saw it as a chance to grow her own reach and influence.

Matt Alexander — Founder of NeedLifestyle.com, a startup in men’s fashion with all the right backers making all the right moves.

Things to Listen For

  • He had a feeling of inadequacy. It ended up becoming an asset… the fresh pair of eyes and naiveté was useful.
  • He had nothing but the value of a good idea… thought it wasn’t enough, but it really was.
  • Be humble, you don’t know what you’re doing. no one does.

Leo Babauta — Founder of ZenHabits.net, one of internet’s top 50 sites (!). A guy who drinks tea slowly and serves his audience matterfully.

Things to Listen For

  • He wanted to create something of value instead of selling their attention with advertisements.
  • The product idea came from a handful of posts titled Zen to Done that his audience liked a lot.
  • Your first product is a learning process. Expect that.
  • Because he was blogging, the audience already trusted him.
  • He worried a lot about numbers early on… traffic, affiliates, launch day. None of that matters. Put something out that really helps people and it will grow.

Josh Shipp — Founder of Youth Speaker University and an insanely popular youth speaker. (He does balloon animals. He toured with Bill Cosby. Literally).

Things to Listen For

  • In order to one day make the product you want to make, you have to start with a crappy first draft.
  • Learning before earning: let the first one be about what you learn… not just the results of the sales.
  • Realized his speaking career was a “high paying manual labor job” that limited both his income and his impact.
  • Wondered how he could put his service oriented business in a box.
  • On Creating: really define your audience… have a visual reminder of them WHILE you’re creating the product.
  • On Selling: presell your product. If you decide 3 months from now you want to sell a thing: pre sell it now for 3 reasons:
    1. creating a sales pitch forces you to make decisions on what a product is and isn’t.
    2. if you presell you can fund creation of the product this way.
    3. if you presell you now have 11 people expecting it, no procrastination.

Chris Johnson — Founder of SimpliFilm.com and Flowtility. Also, the best salesman I know; and I mean that in the best possible way.

Things to Listen For

  • It’s never gonna be good enough, just get it released and see if the market likes it or not.
  • The idea for the product was in the client work he was already doing. People wanted what they did but couldn’t afford it.
  • Plan ahead, have a checklist, follow through.

Paul Jarvis — Writer of books, designer of websites, blogger of blog posts at PJRVS.com.

Things to Listen For

  • Note: this one gets a bit cussy. Avoid if you’re not comfortable with grown-up language.
  • Come at it with the spirit of “lets see if this works.” Try it — whatever the results — and be OK with what comes. Don’t get attached to any particular result.
  • Take some more risks and get it out quicker.
  • Meat Matters: all this ephemera about conversion, button color, etc., none of it matters. What does matter is the actual work, the thing.
  • His first book was really small… that’s fine. Make yours small if you want.
  • Say no more. Focus on what you’re working on.

Jason Glaspey — Founder of Paleo Plan, a weekly meal planner for folks who want to eat paleo.

Things to Listen For

  • There was no business in his first project but opened up a ton of doors for him.
  • The first sale mind blowing in this one is pretty good 🙂
  • Solve a problem that’s exciting to solve.
  • He wished he would have hired people to help sooner.

Jenny Blake — Founder of Life After College and author of the book by the same name. Check out her 10 week course Make Shit Happen.

Things to Listen For

  • She had the website for 4 years before she started the book. Took her 2.5 years to make the book.
  • Nervous: never asked anyone to buy anything from her before. Fear of money being exchanged. It was different than just writing and making stuff.
  • She was scared people would say it was “no good,” “a pile of clichés.” Somepeople did say that. I’m still here, just fine 🙂
  • 2nd product fear was different: “if this doesn’t succeed all my hopes and dreams are questioned.”
  • Tip 1: it doesn’t help to put that much pressure on a situation. It’s a learning experience. every aspect will in fact pull up fears. Expect that. Take the pressure off, you’re brave.
  • Tip 2: it’s all good. the things you’re worrying about are not a problem. You’re WAY more resilient than you think.

Derek Halpern — Founder of SocialTriggers.com where he blogs about the intersection of psychology and marketing.

Things to Listen For

  • He started the blog with an idea for the product but focused on building the list first. However, as the blog started growing the product he wanted to make wasn’t the one people wanted to buy… he took that feedback and made the changes.
  • Email Tip: reply to every subscriber and ask “what are you struggling with right now?”
  • Blog posts are easier than creating a course. The hard part is creating a roadmap and walking people the whole way from A to Z.
  • If I Could Do it Over: spend less time creating the product (do it in 2 months instead of 6) and more time getting small amount of people to go through it. Do a round, get feedback, THEN make it better and release it bigger.

Dan Provost & Tom Gerhardt — Founders of Studio Neat, purveyors of insanely successful Kickstarter campaigns, makers of delightful products like the Glif (a tripod mount for your iphone) and the Cosmonaut (the world’s best fatty ipad stylus).

Things to Listen For

  • Make some fake product for fun; it’s helpful to pretend… going through motions of branding and telling story.
  • Just start with the rough draft. The hardest part is still knowing how perfect to make it… when to stop.
  • Kickstarter: we pre-sold it so now we HAVE to make it.
  • They were making these products for fun, on the side. They still had full time jobs. Taking the pressure off helps.
  • Mentors: advice from people who walked the path before was invaluable.
  • Some big time bloggers shared their campaigns… not because of some email script, but because of relationships that had grown naturally with those bloggers over time.

Danielle LaPorte — Hot n’ steamy writer at DanielleLaPorte.com and creator of the Desire Map, an holistic approach to life planning.

Things to Listen For

  • The heart part: I knew I had something to offer. I was confident I had something useful to share.
  • It’s never going to feel perfect. Just get it out the door. You have the space to iterate! You can do 2.0, 3.0, etc.
  • Declare your launch date… even before you know what you’re making.
  • Do a pre order campaign. They can order it in advance and get a chapter or something for free now.
  • Be totally turned on by it. You need to feel the surge. It was like a NEED to make this product… or it would whither on the vine.
  • Talk about the process while you’re doing it. She wrote a post about how nervous she was to launch, that boosted a lot of sales.. they loved the vulnerability.
  • Mistake:  launch and then take your foot off the gas pedal… keep sharing and promoting it.
  • Mistake:  asking people if they want it. 1000s said “YES!” But it did not translate to sales.

Tara Gentile — Business strategist and creator of the Customer Perspective Process for building truly social business models.

Things to Listen For

  • She was teaching already: people kept asking “how do you come up with blog post ideas.” That was the point of frustration for them. So that’s the problem she addressed in the first product.
  • Product took 2 weeks to make from start to finish. Worked on it every day for one hour at Panera bread.
  • Making the product was a new way to make something valuable for her audience, a new way to translate the value that was already coming in the blog posts.
  • Lesson Learned:  the email list is SO important. She realized just how difficult it is to get purchases from facebook, twitter, or blog posts alone (even if your audience is super engaged). They weren’t buying from there. They were buying from email.
  • While a launch is important, also put time and energy into the long tail of the product. Over time the reputation of this product built up and now sells much better than it did then. you can make the product work for you over time.

Brett Kelly — Founder and creator of Evernote Essentials. He literally wrote the book on Evernote (and it was so good Evernote hired him).

Things to Listen For

  • The inception is fun, the launch/sell stuff can be fun too, but in the middle is the real work. The slog of finishing it…
  • Get the hard stuff done everyday… and pepper the fun in throughout the thing.
  • Start writing things now that relate to what you’re going to be selling… writing about it repeatedly helps the audience self identify AND helps you see how they respond, where the questions are, where the pain points are, etc.
  • The launch formula will not make or break you. Even though Brett sucked at ALL the launch stuff, it sold well because the right pieces were in place: good product, honest problem to solve, trustful relationship with audience.
  • Selling: it’s not black and white, one or the other. You’re not either TOTAL douche or NOT AT ALL.
  • You’re always going to annoy someone. Worrying about what they think of you is a mistake.
  • Getting feedback helps build the product.

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