The Inception of a Wildly Successful Lifestyle Business (FS210)
I’d venture to say that most of us, when we think about a “successful business” we’d want to create, it will look like what is known as a lifestyle business.
These are the kinds of businesses where your business serves your life, not the other way around.
And with the tools of the internet and extremely affordable training like Fizzle’s Courses, this kind of business has become a real, viable approach to revenue earning and wealth creation.
BUT — and this is a big but here — it’s still a difficult path.
Becoming a doctor is a viable path for you as well, but we all know it ain’t easy. You don’t just “fall into” becoming a doctor.
Now, though it’s true that many people really have just “fallen into” success of many shapes and sizes online, it’s not a smart strategy to count on it.
Just like becoming a doctor or a skydiving instructor (speaking of “falling in!”), it makes sense with an online business to understand what are the elements necessary for success, what expectations are intelligent to have and how success happens.
It’s that last one we want to dive into today. How does success in lifestyle business actually happen?
What are the steps and stages? What are the red flags to watch for? What are the common mistakes and the truly important things?
So, on the show today we have two very special guests — John and Dana Shultz from Minimalist Baker.
They’re a married couple who have found enormous success running a blog about how to cook “simple, delicious recipes that require 10 ingredients or less, one bowl, or 30 minutes or less to prepare.”
John and Dana are close friends of Fizzle. In fact, they teach a course within Fizzle called Exactly How to Build a Great Food Blog.
Because they’re close friends I’m hoping we get a really juicy interview with them, full of the stuff that most people are too afraid to share.
So, please enjoy this interview with founders of a truly successful lifestyle business. It’s our hope that you’ll find amazing insight here to help you as you develop your own path to success.
Chase: Okay so real quick, how long has Minimalist Baker been around? What are we talking here?
Dana:June of 2012 was our first month.
Chase:All right, so 14 years. That’s a long time for a business. Wait 2012 was how long ago, wait 4 years ago?
Dana:We’re all very old.
John:Coming up on 5.
Chase:Coming up on 5 years. Okay. Coming up on 5 years. Now here’s my first question for you guys. We’re going to dive right in. Are you okay with that?
John:Lets do it.
Chase:Lets do it. I want to know, when did you quit your day jobs to pursue this full time and if you can, like take me back. Was there a conversation? Was there like discussion beforehand, like should we do this or what? I want to know.
Corbett:Jokes on you they didn’t have day jobs.
Chase:Go for it, John!
John:I would like it if we didn’t have any of those conversations, if we just jumped in.
Chase:Yeah, just dived in, yeah.
But what was it like really?
John:Well I feel like the first discloser that we had another site before this one. And so, there were probably 2 years leading up to Minimalist Baker. That was more of just a hobby site.
Dana:It was just a, like basically a personal blog. I talked about what we did and occasionally I would share a recipe, or heres a workout that I did. So it didn’t really have any focus. It was just like, hey this diary?
Chase:Is this blog still around?
Dana:No it’s no longer online so. Don’t … [crosstalk 00:01:18]
Chase:Stripes! I’m really liking stripes these days!
Dana:They’re like really in season. So happy!
Chase:Here’s my fuzzy socks. I want to write about my fuzzy socks.
Dana:Have you guys ever tried planks? They’re like really hard.
Chase:That’s too true! You did that! You did that!
Dana:I did! I said that!
Chase:Hey. Now hold on. I think that’s actually a big point. I don’t know. I’m also from that era where we just started about blogs. We just could start blogs and so we did. And it was like, it seemed like people were being successful, but I’m air quoting successful there by just like writing about whatever and I was like, I don’t know. I was 25 or something like that maybe. And I just started, I had a blog called Write to Mean. Which was just like, I don’t know whatever I feel like. Right? And then it was, the things that I was writing about, fatherhood, that people would really start to click on. And then I started Father Enterprise, which was like my first, Hey I have a thesis with this blog!
Is that similar to how Minimalist Bakers started? Were the recipes themselves getting more traction? Or, if not, what did lead you towards lets do an actual website about food stuff?
John:I think the first thing that happened was a number of conversations and the point in life where we were getting. Dana actually came up with the idea of Minimalist Baker, but that’s kind of the end of the story. Getting into that we [crosstalk 00:02:49]
Chase:What do you mean by, that’s the end of the story?
John:Well that’s like, well that’s the beginning of Minimalist Baker. But getting there, to the point that we started was a whole transition. Probably goes back to when I begrudgingly, not begrudgingly. I chose to go to law school. Stupidest idea ever. Just a side note for listeners, do not go to law school. Oh my God. The most expensive way to figure out you don’t want to be a lawyer. Still so much anger.
I was in law school. I knew pretty quickly I didn’t want to be a lawyer, but we were living in a town where Dana was having trouble getting a job, even though she had a good degree in journalism. At the time when newspapers were shutting down.
Chase:Really so college graduates, both of you. And then you were heading off into law school, John. And you had your degree in journalism. Okay got it. Got it. Keep going. Keep going. She had a degree in journalism [crosstalk 00:03:44]
John:Yeah. I guess it goes even back further. So there was a point in our life when we just realized we didn’t know what we were doing. Or we didn’t know why we were doing what we were doing. And part of that even goes back to when we moved to go law school, we left Portland the first time. It was a terrible ride. We were driving this U-Haul truck of stuff we got from IKEA because IKEA was a luxury compared to [crosstalk 00:04:12]
Dana:Albertson, Kansas or whatever.
Chase:You actually paid to move IKEA stuff across the country.
Dana:Yeah, which as we know is not good quality.
John:I guess that shows you where we were in life.
Chase:Yeah yeah, and by the way, I still do that. So I don’t know. We just bought IKEA lamps yesterday.
John:Oh, I’m all for IKEA.
Chase:Okay thank you! I was feeling a little bit attacked in that. So you were moving.
John:We were moving and it was just terrible. We don’t even talk about this trip very often because it still makes us sick to our stomach.
Dana:I would say that’s the trip John became a man and I lost 10 pounds. From anxiety, basically.
John:It was so bad.
Chase:So hold on, was there anything about why this trip was so difficult, that is some metaphorical way reflects on what your guys strategy or confusion about what you were doing in Minimalist Baker or anything online or career in general? Is there some sort of crossover there?
John:Yeah. I mean I think that’s kind of the joke of the IKEA stuff in the back of this truck. Driving, risking our lives to get this crappy furniture to Kansas.
Dana:Well and to elaborate, it was like the worst ice and snow storm of I don’t know, the last decade or something.
Dana:And so we really were risking our lives because at one point we were driving on 2 inches of ice. And then we got stranded in Wyoming for 3 days. So and we were towing our car. And we had no chains.
Chase:Nobody told you not to drive across country in January.
Chase:I have one of those trips myself. Yeah from California through the passes and the whole. I’m like, holy crap. It’s harrowing!
John:But we definitely got to that part and we got to the end of it and were like, why did we do that.
Chase:And that was coming to Portland?
John:Going to Kansas to go to law school.
Chase:Okay. Going back to Kansas cause John has decided I’m going to be a lawyer. Still just so upset.
Chase:So angry. Okay! So this is the early days of Criminalist Baker. This is the scene that Minimalist Baker starts growing out of. Tell me about the moment that you guys decide, at this time it sounds like Minimalist Baker is a thing yet. Is that correct?
Chase:When does it get like, its inception?
Dana:Well, fast forward a little bit. I had my lifestyle blog during that move and I continued to have it into Johns law school experience. And I had found a couple of side jobs, like being a barista and cleaning houses and that’s, basically we were throwing pennies at a mountain of debt. And we were also really, not happy. John decided he was going to finish law school, but knew he didn’t want to do it. So that was a huge conversation. And I was you know working on this blog that I really enjoyed even though I would get like two comments a day, or three comments there and or our traffic was really low. We weren’t monitoring it or anything. But people did start to resonate more, to answer your question, with the recipes and so that kind of, I feel like in a lot of ways guided where we went with Minimalist Baker.
And so through a series of events, we ended up moving back to our hometown of Wichita, Kansas and[crosstalk 00:07:23]
John:Well, that’s where it cuts in again with all this IKEA crap. We had this really big New Years in Wichita. And that was the like, I don’t want to be a lawyer, you don’t want to be a [crosstalk 00:07:31]
Chase:Hold on. Hold on. I got to know, where are we New Years Eve, a little apartment in Wichita?
John:To pica, Kansas.
Chase:To pica, Kansas. Mom and dads house or something? Or
John:No this is just bad, bad place. To be.
Chase:And this is like, 2011 or?
John:It was 2011.
Chase:And you are like, I don’t want to be a lawyer.
Chase:That sounds like a lot of feelings.
John:Yeah for sure. It’s a lot of money to be spending. [crosstalk 00:07:58]
Chase:If you had to name the feeling, what was it?
John:I don’t know if it was feeling, just like back against the wall.
Chase:Back against the wall.
John:I had no other options. I def don’t want to do this. I think I would be okay at it but I hate it.
Corbett:But then also was there some relief, like getting that out?
John:I think so.
Dana:Yeah we were both just not, basically the whole talk was, we don’t like anything about our life right now. And we want to change everything about or life right now. And also realizing we had just like mindlessly bought this stuff and moved here and done all these things, and we weren’t happy. And so we just decided, okay, well we need to start making better decisions and stop reacting to life. We need to stop reacting and start making a plan. And so we were like, what are the things that are going to make us happy? And so John was like, well I don’t want to be a lawyer. And we were like, we’ve never left the country. We want to travel more. And I was pretty set on just trying to make us more money, so I was like, well I’m going to get this other job or something. And he’s like, well what do you really want to do? What’s going to going to make you happy. And I was like, well I really like this blogging thing but it’s not making us any money. And so, I feel like that was actually a very pivotal moment because John was like, well what can we do right now to invest in that. And so we ended up selling all of our furniture that we bought [crosstalk 00:09:18]
Chase:The IKEA furniture?
John:The IKEA furniture. The beloved IKEA furniture. And that is the symbolic part. So then we go from having all of this crappy, I mean it wasn’t that bad, it was just like unnecessary. We had this cube system that [crosstalk 00:09:27]
Dana:We had a leather couch that John didn’t even fit on, like when he laid [crosstalk 00:09:37]
John:It hurt! It hurt to sit on. Like it wasn’t a comfortable thing.
Corbett:Oh the frugal poking.
Chase:Clutch in the moment. In the pocket, comes up with a name for IKEA furniture and absolutely nails it. If there’s such a thing as a podcast award that moment deserves it. And that man should get that tattoo.
Chase:Okay. So this is where the metaphor of the IKEA furniture, it kind of symbolizes where you thought you were going.
John:Yeah, not only symbolizes, we actually sold our couch for about 5/6 hundred bucks. And a couple of other pieces of furniture. And we literally walked downtown to the local camera shop and bought Dana her first good digital camera. So there was like a real, yeah we didn’t have a couch but now I have this digital camera. We are really going to do this. We’re going to start moving in this direction.
Corbett:And was this for the lifestyle blog? Or
Dana:Yeah. Because Minimalist Baker was yet to come.
Corbett:Yep. And so you bought a camera because you wanted to pursue taking better food photography.
Dana:Yeah I knew my photos weren’t [crosstalk 00:10:44]
John:And photography in general.
Chase:And this is symbolic because I would say so much of this symbol of Minimalist Baker, so much of what makes it such a great site is the photography itself. Obviously coming up with all of the ideas and the recipes and all of this stuff. But it preaches so loudly through the photography itself, it almost becomes like aspirational when you see these dishes put out on the plate. Right? And so this idea that you guys sold frugal poking and got your first camera. Early days. How old were you then. Do you remember?
Chase:24, which is like the beginning of, I’m supposed to know where I’m going.
Chase:And you guys are going like back to square 1 in some ways, with just like a, with John asking the question, well what do you really want to do.
Chase:Right? So much of that to me sounds so relatable to so many couples, thinking things through. And just like you said, I hate so much about our life right now. There’s like nothing I love about it.
Dana:Yeah literally nothing.
Chase:You know. I don’t know. That is the scene from which Minimalist Baker, I don’t know, that seems like the backdrop where after a little while the idea of Minimalist Baker comes up. I mean these are the places where business ideas come from in our lives. I mean Corbet, when you did your travel around, you were blogging as Corbet Barr, right?
Corbett:Yeah similar. I had a little bit more of a focus. I wasn’t writing any post about planking.
Dana:Its a shame.
Dana:I would so love to see you plank.
Corbett:But, yeah similar thing I think. It was like I knew that blogging was fun, but it felt like the direction I was headed wasn’t leading anywhere specific.
Chase:By the way, I’m just.
John:There it is. There it is.
Chase:Pouring Corbet a little more wine berceuse he was out, and just to let you know, the scene here is Portland. And its sunny. It’s the first like sunny Friday afternoon.
Dana:I stared into the sun today and never felt happier.
John:I laid in the sun in my office like a cat, just like stretched out and stuff.
Corbett:By sunny, I’d say we’ve got about 70% cloud coverage but there’s some sun.
Dana:Yeah. I saw the sun today.
Chase:Corbet, you can take that negative attitude somewhere else.
Corbett:Its not negative, I’m just putting the context for people outside of Portland.
Chase:Okay. So. Back to this story at hand. I want to fast forward when we’re deciding to work on Minimalist Baker. Was there a conversation there? Was that like a failry easy, like, I want to put this together and see if that can go. Or was it like, I’m stopping this lifestyle blog, stopping the Dana dot biz blog and I’m doing Minimalist Baker. What was that decision like.
Corbett:Dana Dot Info?
Dana:That’s to come.
Well I had continued with my lifestyle blog and then we moved on to Wichita and John wrapped up law school and I had.
John:Well. I’m not to take the reigns of this. But I think it’s more for.
Dana:Well you’re a man speaking so.
Chase:Hold on Dana, tell us what you really felt.
Chase:Keep going, keep going.
John:Well she was happy but
Chase:No no! This is not going to devolve into a bunch of white people feeling guilty about what some man said. Keep going keep going.
John:No I think it’s interesting because there is a point when we started Minimalist Baker and in hindsight you can look back and see all these little steps we took and it obviously makes sense. But at the time we were just trying to kind of figure out what we were doing and seeing what was next. And so Dana kept doing her personal blog at the time, and she kept getting better at photography. Kept doing more recipes. We saw those were working better. And she ended up getting offered a job in Wichita working at a health and wellness tech site. I think it was largely because she had this blog, she was just putting it out there and kind of seeing what stuck. And so that’s what brought us to Wichita and it was kind of at that point, she’s working at this website so she’s getting a little more experience there. I’ve always been kind of messing around with websites and then comes Criminalist baker.
Chase:Okay. Tell me more. Like tell me more about this moment, this time in your life. You know where Minimalist Baker went after this. You know how far you’ve come from there. What do you see there, in these early days that ended up being important throughout all the phases.
Corbett:Yeah like which decisions were really important at that time?
Dana:I just, I feel like we started making really unconventional decisions. Like the only thing that ever mattered in any apartment that we were ever going to live in again was, does it have good light? Because otherwise, it’s not working for me. And so like, we found this apartment that was working for us. And I found, you know, I had this job where I was also doing photography and writing and that was building into my skill set.
Corbett:And the light was because of the photos?
Corbett:And you still take mostly natural light photos?
Dana:Like 99.9%. Only when I absolutely have to have to.
And so basically when I was working at this website, I still had my lifestyle blog and then the idea for Minimalist Baker became, I don’t know exactly where it came from. But we.
John:Well, we’ve been living more simply and intentionally. And so the minimalist part is kind of a weird part that can almost be a part of but not. Like I don’t know. We just felt like we were trying to be more intentional and think through our life. And
Dana:And also just I’m a lazy cook and so that was the whole crux of the thing. I would look at recipes online and think, oh my gosh that looks great. But I’m never going to make that. Because it’s this, and too long and too complicated and I don’t know what cardamom is.
And so it really was just, I wanted to make the blog that I would actually cook from because I didn’t think it existed. And I think that’s a really good lesson, hopefully listeners who, like we do get a lot of people asking us questions like, oh I just cannot find my niche, you know. Because everybody says you really have to find your topic and your thing that you’re an expert on. And I don’t even know if I would say that I was an expert on that yet. I just knew that I saw an opportunity and I had an extreme interest in it. And I was really really passionate about cooking. And I was getting better at photography.
And so I just told John, I have this idea for a website called Minimalist Baker. It would be only recipes and it would be just this, like ten ingredients, 30 minutes, one bowl. That would be the focus. Because as we were seeing with my previous blog, if you talk about anything into the void, no one listens. Like I’m just talking about everything, so that was one of the hugest lessons that we learned from the first blog. You cannot just shout and talk about everything, like sure I’m an interesting person. I have much more interests than just vegan cheesecake. But unless you focus then nobody cares.
John:Which was kind of hard because at the time, there were plenty, I mean, there still are, personal lifestyle bloggers that talk about everything. But they’re like, they’re almost legacy at this point.
Chase:They are! Right! They’re legacy, literally.
John:They started way before everyone else.
Chase:Name somebody who started recently and got big, talking about everything. They don’t kind of explicitly call out, here’s what I talk about. Like Corbet always says, once you call out what you are about, you now have freedom to talk about whatever you want. But because I know where to place you in my mind. I think that’s a really big point you just said, I want to restate it. I mean, you called attention to it, like that’s a really big lesson for anybody to learn. I wanted to make the cookbook that I was going to, I would cook from. Right? What is that? Tell me more about that? What was cooking to you then that there was this whole world of cookbooks of cooking teaching of cooking blogs of the Food channel. And every time it’s like someone going, okay just grab your soup strainer and the this that and the other.
Dana:And I’m like, I don’t have that.
Chase:I don’t have that thing.
Dana:I mean, as you can imagine from out backstory, we were obviously on a very very tight budget. I didn’t have, I didn’t have the resources to go out and have a high speed blender. Now, fortunately, now we can afford to have one. But like back then it was like all the things we got from our wedding, and I only had like ten spices. I was just really intimidated by anything from the Food Network, or like Ina Garten is amazing as she is, I don’t think that I could have attempted 90% of her recipes just because, not because I lack the skill. I just felt that they were too complicated.
Dana:And you know just way too time consuming.
Chase:Some sort of like 30 years in the kitchen as the person before you can like
Corbett:I’m curious when you were at this point, did you think about the audience and what would appeal to people, or were you purely thinking about what you wanted in a food blog?
Dana:I think it was pretty selfish in terms of the focus of the content. I would say. The only time or I guess, in capacity that we were thinking about an audience was, we’re going to tell them exactly what we’re doing here, that’s why we made the parameters. And the John, of course, built the site to be very user friendly and set up and email list and all those things so that from day 1 we could begin forming this community around this concept. But I don’t think it was ever premeditated in the way that, well there’s no good 2 ingredient pancake recipe out there, so since that’s searchable, I’ll do that. Like I didn’t, and I have listened to the episode on reverse engineering content. And I do think that’s valuable in terms of some parts of your content. Like for instance the headline, like that should grab people. But when it comes to the food we post, it really is like, and John has encouraged me in this, what actually sounds good to you. What sounds like the most fun thing that you can wake up and make today. And that’s like very very important to me and to us.
John:But we did throw those parameters on the site. So there was something like, this is what people can expect.
Chase:Okay hold on. I like where this is going and I want us to dive into this place. Can we just dogear that for a second for coming back to in a little bit. Like the content that you guys choose to make. Now what you’ve learned about what content you’ve learned to make. That reverse engineer stuff from thisoleshow dot slash 86 I believe it was.
John:Like a library.
Chase:That was a good one. It’s a really big a really really big concept, this idea, because of what to me its like the skating on, what do I want to make verses what’s already big out there. And this like where all art can choose to get popular or become consumerist bull crap, right? I don’t know. I just love that. It seems like such a powerful bridge to skate.
So, coming back to this story just shortly, lets put a bow on this story of the creation of Minimalist Baker, the inception of the early days. You’re working at this
Chase:Health website. Photos and journalism and you’re doing more of your stuff on the side. Recipes and stuff. You come up with the Minimalist Baker idea in this season
Chase:And you just decide, I’m going to make you, what you said was, ten ingredients, or one bowl, or things like that. Was that a constraint that you put on yourself from the start?
Chase:From the start it was the kind of thing that I want to make for myself.
Dana:Yeah because that really is how I cook. I mean sometimes I do make a recipe and I am like oh shit that has like 12 ingredients. But, and so I try to cut it down. You don’t really need garlic powder.
John:Well we we had those conversations early on, you know she would make a recipe and she was like, well it’s 11 recipes but I really.
John:Oh yeah, whatever. Ingredients. And we just did it. Which was kind of hard, it was hard to kind of like yeah they have to modify the recipe. Or,
Corbett:Well its a guideline, not a law. Right?
Corbett:Or an expectation. So you came up with those three parameters or whatever, just because that’s how you cook and you were tired of recipes that were complicated, basically.
Corbett:And it happened to be a great hook. And you know I think that’s the thing that a lot of new bloggers, new podcasters, new YouTube channels whatever they lack. They lack a hook. They lack a way to explain what they do. And forever, you guys have always had on your about page, something to that effect. And whenever I have to explain what you guys do, either i remember it off the top of my head, or I know I can go to your about page and grab that one sentence
Chase:This happened yesterday, or the last time we recorded for the last episode.
Chase:Of the show, when Steph, I was talking about Minimalist Baker, its a great idea, a great example of a niche business idea. And Steph, piped in with, well what I love about them is its always been ten ingredients, or one bowl, or ten minutes or whatever. Right? And I mean, I never read your about page.
Chase:Right? No I don’t care
Chase:I collect pretty people, but I don’t read your website. But like Corbet was saying, that was just like in her. Now Corbet tell me just for a second about hook. You said people don’t come up with a hook enough these days.
Corbett:Well I mean the thing is like if someone comes to your website, you have just a split second to grab their attention, otherwise they are going to bail. And this is why anytime you publish a blog post, it’s so important to get the headline right, because the headlines job is to grab somebody’s attention for few more seconds so they’ll read the first paragraph, and so on and so forth. And when there’s a whole site that’s just unclear, muddy in terms of the focus, it’s really hard to expect people to give their time if they haven’t been prepped. And a lot of people, when we hear them give their pitch for a business, they can do okay if you give them two minutes to explain it, but you don’t have two minutes in the real world. And this is why I just love this idea, you know?
Corbett:For us, with Fizzle, it was always online business training. That was our stitch, it was like none of the full, none of the BS. We’re going to give it to you straight.
Chase:For people who didn’t want to sell their soul to become entrepreneurs, to earn a living online. We’re still figuring out how to really say that, because honest online business, there’s a lot of ways that that can mean things but we always pick that angle. And you felt that was a good enough hook from the start.
Chase:I mean obviously we’re here, we’re still a successful, and again, air quotes, business. But when you’re talking about lifestyle businesses, here’s the thing. When you’re doing venture backed, yadda yadda yadda, it’s very clear if you’re succeeding or not. It’s very very clear. It tends to be very very clear and very few of those actually end up succeeding. But when you’re doing lifestyle business, meaning, compared to how many are out there trying to be successful. When you are doing a lifestyle business, when you’re doing a solo entrepreneurial business, when you’re doing these kinds of things, you’re the one who defines if your successful or not. If it’s successful or not.
Corbett:I think it’s the opposite.
Chase:What do you say? Say that again.
Corbett:I think it’s really hard to tell if your succeeding as a VC backed business because there’s vanity metrics that you measure yourself against.
Corbett:When you’re a lifestyle business, you know if people are reading and if they are buying your stuff, basically.
Chase:Yeah yeah yeah yeah. No, so I’ll clarify meaning like, you’re a success at a VC company if your keeping the story going, with your board, with your vestors, with your this that and the other. And then, seasons change, the wind changes and suddenly you’re not a success.
And like the episode we did with Nevel, where it’s just like, that changes without you wanting it to change. Without necessarily your fault
Corbett:Or you thought everything was fine and then the next day it’s not.
Chase:Whereas with the lifestyle business and this is why I will forever love this kind of business. And lifestyle business is probably not the right term because it tends to conte too much. But a solo entrepreneurship business. A by the book small business is succeeding or failing by very clear and simple metrics. And it’s not how many Twitter followers you have. And it’s not how many people are on the email list. And it’s not, you know what I mean. That’s one of the things that I hope to get to in the episodes coming up.
What were you going to say?
Corbett:Yeah and you guys have a tremendous number of followers on all kinds of platforms, Instagram and so on. And I’m sure that feels great. And other people probably measure themselves against you guys. They probably follow your Instagram feed and like, oh if I only have X hundreds of thousands of people following me. But at the end of the day, that means nothing to your business. What really matters is, you’re putting out stuff that people care about, it’s resonating with them, and they want to take it a step further and buy something form you. Buy your book, buy a course from you, advertisers, you know anything like that that really matters at the end of the day.
Chase:Okay to keep our story going here, can we go fast forward to when you like earned your first dollar for Minimalist Baker.
Dana:That would be a John question, I don’t track our.
John:We still haven’t earned a dollar.
Chase:Wait hold on.
John:It’s pretty bad.
Chase:I keep sending my email subscribers to my bank and they keep giving me money and we haven’t figured out how to actually take that bank and make it work. So when was the first sort of dollar made at Minimalist Baker?
John:I think we were actually, I remember trying to make money and being very afraid about it. That would turn people away. They wouldn’t be interested. All that stuff.
And so we did a series of three different things. We first created an e-book that we gave away for free, no email, nothing else, just like here’s an e-book. So okay, we saw, whatever, a thousand people downloaded that.
Chase:That was for free.
John:That one was for free. And so then we partnered with a group of I think 9 or 10 other food bloggers and we did, this was actually right after WDS and got charity water guy comes and talks and gets everybody excited about charity water. And so we did a collaborative e-book for, like you can download for free if you promised to go donate to charity water.
Dana:We’re very good people, is what we’re saying.
Chase:I don’t know if you can tell but we’re very morally upright and we’re really good people so.
John:Probably the best. A little bit better than other people.
Chase:Take me to the first dollar.
John:Yeah so. That was to not be afraid of not charging money and then we created a 2.99 e-book, that we.
Chase:Two dollars and 99 cents.
John:Yeah yeah. This is 2011. [inaudible 00:29:35] got crazy.
Chase:There’s people with 299 dollar e-books that they’re like launching with are like I don’t know why nobody’s buying.
Chase:They said I should value my work highly.
Corbett:And what was that e-book.
John:I’m trying to remember. I think it was just called 5 ingredients or less. So it was even more restrictive. Does that sounds right?
John:It was either that or a course.
Dana:About right, it’s been awhile.
Chase:2.99 for what, 10 recipes?
Dana:Yeah it was like 10 or 15 or something.
John:10 or 20 or something.
Corbett:And reprints of things that were on the blog.
Dana:No they were new.
John:That’s was something we’ve always tried to do was keep that stuff original. So there was something special about buying it.
Corbett:So you put this together. How did you sell it.
John:Well it was PayPal and ejunkie thing.
John:Just this simplest possible.
Chase:Oh man, ejunkie. When was the last time we heard that?
Chase:It was like a ball of fire. Yes. But there was like a jumping ninja guy.
Corbett:Di anything feel sleezeier than that?
John:That site still looks like it’s from, you know 98.
Chase:Yeah so for people who don’t know, this is the kind of stuff you had to do, to sell an e-book online at some point. Now it’s really really easy. You could just sign up for gumroad for free and do that thing. And you can pay what you want if you’re really uncomfortable with charging money, right? Or just use Paypal or Shopify has a digital download sort of thing. I don’t know what you would use right away besides Gumroad. It just seems like the quickest easier thing that I know about. I literally stopped learning after I realized you could just do that. But back in the day, it was like
John:It was like coded into your site. It was such a mess. I mean it wasn’t. Ejunkie was easier that most places but still a ton of work compared.
Chase:Okay, so this is our first dollar that we’re making.
Corbett:Do you remember that moment. Like what it felt when you hit publish and sent the email or whatever.
Dana:I don’t actually.
John:I think it was 2.99, we probably sold a couple.
Chase:At this time your traffic was like around, do you remember at all?
John:We actually remember. It was a vanity metrics. We remember the day we hit 1,000 Facebook likes more.
Dana:And John was like, babe we made it. I was like, I don’t think we did.
Chase:She’s like, don’t interrupt me when I am making a one pot pasta.
Dana:I mean, to his credit, I feel like part of the reason Minimalist Baker exist, is because John kept looking at me like, you can do this.
Dana:Yeah because I would be like, honey have you seen my photos are not that great. Or my recipes are not. I don’t know, I just didn’t believe in myself and I feel like having a cheerleader is so so crucial.
Chase:Okay. Hold on.
John:Not really, I’m just like a blind entrepreneur.
Chase:Lets camp out here for a second. Hold on hold on. Pull out your little REI camp chairs. Sit down. Put your beers in the coozy. I want to hear more about this. Why do you think that was so important for you.
Dana:Well, to backtrack when I was telling you that he was in law school, and I was just like, I just need to go get a job. I’ll get 3 jobs. I’ll just go get 3 minimum wage jobs and I’ll just work all the time. It’s fine.
John:That was her solution.
Dana:And he’s like, no well what do you really want to do? I cannot tell you how many times he had to be like, sit me back down in a chair and be like, what do you really want to do? And so I feel like.
John:Which is probably just escaping from my problems.
John:I don’t want to be an attorney. Lets not worry about me right now.
Dana:But even in the early days of Minimalist Baker, and we were looking at our traffic, and it was like growing but we weren’t, you know, making an ad revenue and we weren’t making that much money. And I was like, look I don’t want to have to live on beans and rice for the rest of our lives. Do you actually think we’re going to make this work? And I cannot tell you how many times John just looked at me with blind confidence and said, I believe in you, you can totally make this work. You are going to be awesome.
And I don’t even know if he was telling me the truth.
Corbett:But it was convincing.
Dana:It was so convincing.
John:I got her to marry me.
Dana:So I feel like when you have someone who tells you that, it just kind of puts you up on cloud 9 and you’re like, I’m making badass content. And people are going to care.
Chase:So tell me about that, because you and I are both 7 on the angiogram.
Dana:I’m either a 3 or a 7. Nobody knows.
Dana:Okay thank you.
Chase:A little bit. Not much. But but all that to say, I infer and project way too much of myself on to you. So for the point being, I’m putting your story in my movie, of my life and I’m looking at a boy who’s trying to feel secure, or valued in some way, or like enough, right. Just to feel like I am enough. And to have that cheerleader would have meant a lot, and I didn’t have that cheerleader, thanks a lot dad. But, just kidding! Just kidding. No no I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.
But I think about who are trying to do stuff right now and how much that voice in my head personally, and I’m like an accomplished, skilled person in a lot of things, and still loudest voice in the world, just is like, your stupid why are you even trying this. Nobody going to pay attention. Right? That must have been something akin to the voice that was in your head, before he started filling your head with a bunch of lies about how you are going to succeed, right? But I think of the people who are trying to think about that very same question that John gave to you. But what would you really like to do?
Dana:I think that’s the only question that really matters.
Chase:How do you mean?
Dana:Like in life?
Chase:Tell me more.
Dana:Like having someone give you the freedom to say, putting your bills aside, your whatever else aside. And of course we had the luxury of not having kids at the point, so we weren’t providing for other people.
John:We also still do not have kids.
Chase:Yeah but we do have more IKEA furniture. We can feel like kids.
Dana:But I just think that was the best gift he ever gave, what do you really want to be doing? Like and I really really thought about it. At this point of my life, I really loved taking photos and I really loved cooking, and a blog is the best way to go about that.
Chase:Now I am curious as to how much, it seems like a girl with a wish and a prayer. Right? I love taking photos and I love writing about, I love coming up with ingredients for recipes and things like that. It doesn’t seem incredibly thought out. It doesn’t seem like methodically researched. It doesn’t seem like it was just, I feel like I like this right now.
Dana:Yeah but I will say that I do, I do think that going through journalism school, it kind of changed my thought process in a way that. Basically what I took away from journalism was say what you want to say in as few words as possible and be as loud about it as you possibly can, and get to the freaking point. Because nobody cares. Nobody has time.
And so with the photos, and with the recipes, all I am really trying to do is grab peoples attention. And that’s why the photos are so punchy and vibrant. And that’s like when I describe a recipe there’s like bullet points. Because people don’t really have time. And also with the recipes, people don’t have time. Like not only do they not have time to read your blog post, and maybe I’m just, this is just like a peak into my world. Maybe some people do like reading a novel about someones day. But that’s not what our site is about and I feel that defiantly influences the way that I approach the recipes and that’s, at least in my mind, set us apart. Is like, we had this focus, I was focusing really hard on my photography and I was really driven to get people hooked and get people into the recipes and like if they just made it I knew they would like it, and then keep coming back.
Corbett:So we’ve heard like two really important part of the backbone, I think. One is this hook, in terms of the structure of how you create a recipe. The second one is what you just said, right. Which is, you get to the point. You make things punchy and important and you draw peoples attention and you get into it. The third part of it, to me, is also, how much freaking work you put into the content creation. All the recipes that you make. Tell us about what that process looks like every week, and how often do you publish, and how many times have you missed publishing? One of your deadlines.
Dana:Well we’ve never never missed a publish it line. Because that’s.
Chase:In 14 years?
Dana:Yeah we’re really old. And really damn consistent.
Corbett:But in almost 5 years, you’ve’ never missed a deadline.
Dana:Never missed a deadline.
Chase:What is this publishing schedule.
Dana:Well we used to post every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. Now we post every 3 days which, it’s basically, I mean not the same thing, but it’s almost, it’s like 1 or 2 recipes less a month.
John:But then we do other posts so it’s about the same.
Chase:How many posts a month is that?
John:About 11 or 12.
Dana:And that was one of the things that John really, I feel like, in so many ways, where I was the creative voice, he was the business voice. And he did study a lot of your guys writing and Corbet’s writing about how important it is to show up and like continue saying the thing that you’re saying and not change course. And keep getting better at what you are doing. And it was so important to us to keep showing up every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. It didn’t mean that every recipe was going to knock it out of the park. But I was going to try, keep trying because I want people to come to our site and like say wow I really didn’t think you could do it again, but you did it again.
Chase:Hold on what is that? Why do you want them to think that.
Dana:I don’t know. It’s probably egotistical or something. But also just the reality that at this point there’s probably a million food blogs in the world and we had to not only set our parameters, this is what we’re doing. We’re ten ingredients, thirty minutes, one bowl, but also we’re the best at that. And we’re going to keep getting better. We’re not going to get stagnant and just post the same thing. We’re going to keep moving forward and I’m going to keep becoming a batter photographer, and I’m going to keep inventing new ways to use dates, and things like that. Like I want to keep raising the bar on why we do otherwise like.
Chase:When you say dates, you’re talking about the large raisin.
Corbett:The large raisin.
Dana:It’s not a raisin. I hate raisins.
Chase:I love dates. They’re such big raisins.
Dana:They’re so good.
Corbett:Nice cockroach sized raisins.
Chase:I really apologize, because you’re in the middle of something so good, but I had to clarify. A new way to use dates, and I was like.
Dana:It’s a fruit.
Corbett:From the middle east
Chase:Oh that is delicious. That is delicious.
Corbett:So I also love, Chase was saying before we started, we could do a whole separate episode just as how you guys work as a couple. Because it’s kind of a unique thing, but it’s really interesting, Dana you just get to focus on content. And when we ask, what was it like making your first dollar, you’re like, I don’t remember.
Dana:I don’t know because John, honestly, I haven’t looked at our blog traffic since 2012, the first month we started. Because we immediately transferred all of that stuff on his shoulders, because I was realizing, oh well if someone like that posts then I’m going to make that post again. And, oh well if someone like that post then I’m going to make that post again. And that really gets in your head. And so that’s why Johns like, you just go over there and you just do you and I’ll be over here, monitoring things, making sure.
Chase:Okay, this is really fascinating. Because a lot of people are trying to do this as one person. They’re trying to be both.
Dana:And so many people do.
Chase:Both the John and the Dana in one person. And so many people do successfully. But there is this skill to being able to do both. And in some ways Corbet and I sort inhabit those different roles as well. I want to know John from you, as you’re watching statistics, as you’re watching the analytics, as you’re watching that you and Corbet watch. And I try
Corbett:Dashboards. So many dashboards.
Chase:So many dashboards. And then you know, you’re probably in some fundamental way, I’m curious. Do you see Dana’s creative drive, almost passion, as a delicate sort of thing that you just want to keep moving? How do you picture that sort of, because I bet you can see that it’s fragile.
John:And if I was to disturb it, it would be off course?
Chase:Either you can move it off course, I bet you can see how much she can get in her own head. Or when she’s really free and just doing her thing. I bet because you guys are married, you can see how that energy works in the household in some ways.
So I’m curious throughout if you’ve seen, hey this kind of thing is working, or hey can you do. What have you learned about how you kind of guide or coach Dana?
John:Sure. I mean she’s always open if I want to bring up some idea. Like hey this might be a post that works. Or this might be something people would really find useful from your perspective. But I don’t really try to push to much. I think part of the separation was letting her kind of be pure with what she’s doing. It’s a little romanticized but I really think, if you’re really just making something good, that you really care about, that you’re putting out there, I mean we’re lucky enough to make money form it, of course, but even if we weren’t, there’s something amazing to be able to do that as a person.
So I like just kind of letting her do that, and run with that. That’s been I think part of where we’ve come from, from the beginning.
Dana:Yeah and sometimes he’ll jump in and say, wow people are really loved that sangria recipe that you made. Do you think you can simplify it? Or do you think you can make it more seasonal? Or do a white version? And I’ll be like, totally, I can do that.
Chase:Yeah so he provides new constraints that are more like invitations. For me, in the design world we used to always say, constraints are creativity. Like when I want to realize in my paternity leave, I’m like a phenomenal chef when there’s just like leftovers. Like I can put together like a bowl of whatever we had and I’ll like get the garnish out and the whole 9 years. From Lisa’s plate I’m like a little bit of salt and 3 olives on the side with some chives, and just like a dollop of yogurt. It’s just like there you go. And I care so much because I’m constrained profoundly that I know now what can i make out of this, instead of, what can I make.
What can I make out of this is so much more of an invitation. So when he says, can you make it like a white sangria, these kind of constraints in my world are invitations to more creativity. Without making it feel daunting in this sort of, oh I don’t think I can do that kind of way. So he can come up with ideas to just sort of, how can we just do that again. And shape it. I don’t know. For some reason, I think that’s brilliant.
Dana:Yeah. And it’s extremely fortunate for us too that I don’t have to worry about like, oh no, our servers down. Or what’s up with our email list. Or how can we do this. Somethings wrong. Basically any time our sites down I like tell John, hey our sites down, I’m making recipes, can you fix it?
I have the luxury of that, whereas so many of our friends are the blogger making the soup and making sure the site is running well. That’s also one of the reasons why we’ve grown quickly is because we brought our skill sets together and he manages all that stuff, keeps it going. More of the business mind, and I can just be floating off on my creative cloud.
Chase:Now, I’m curious from your prescriptive Dana, knowing like at least having a sense of what he does, the roles that he plays, what would you say in your mind, what do you think is like the hard thing about what he does.
Dana:Probably just trusting me in a lot of ways. And that’s been, I wouldn’t say a huge tension or a struggle, because honestly we have a really great marriage relationship and our working relationship is really healthy. We don’t get in each other’s way much, we’re just like, what are you working on? Great. What are you working on?
But I feel like because John has basically hitched his train to mine, he follows me wherever I go, you know. And so that’s extremely challenging I would say. I cannot imagine what that’s like, waking up being like, how does she feel today? What’s she going to do?
Because I’m like, you know.
Corbett:Hopefully you don’t go all Howard Hughes on him one day.
Chase:I need more milk!
Dana:Give me red M&M’s. I only want red M&Ms.
Chase:For some reason I only remember milk from that movie.
Chase:I don’t know what it is.
Corbett:He’s locked in a room.
Chase:That’s terrific. So you think one of the hardest things is for him to kind of go, be like hitch his wagon to the storm of your creativity and your impulses in some way.
Dana:Yeah. Basically he’s trusting my instincts every day and some of that, I would say where that has kind of come up in the past, it’s not even necessarily on the blog, it’s more like something I tweet about. He’s like, is that representing our business. And I’m like, oh man, I guess it’s not.
Dana:But I want to talk about something else, you know. So honestly that has really been the only place where we’ve had these conversations where I am like, stop censoring me, and he’s like but it’s for business.
It’s very childish for me to be like, no I don’t want to. I want to talk about this. And he’s like, okay but you know people are here for the food. And so.
Chase:There’s a lot that similar between you and me.
Chase:There just is. That’s a total [inaudible 00:48:01] thing.
Dana:Like I have a million thoughts throughout the day that I can be tweeting but I don’t, and it feels like someone is just choking me.
John:Yeah I’m that someone.
Corbett:You did start your own Instagram channel a while back, so.
Dana:I did I did.
Corbett:For your own outlet.
Dana:I have that. And any time I want to share I can, I think that has been another thing he has really helped with. Like honestly, I don’t know how many emails a day we get where someone is like, hey we want to send you this free shit, can you promote it?
And John’s like, no. But I would be like, well you know. He helps guide and shape all of those things. Basically he’s just saying no.
Corbett:Just say yes and then send it to Chase.
Dana:Yeah yeah, seriously.
Corbett:He loves free shit.
Chase:I do. I’m into free stuff. The boxes of backpacks over here are a signal of that.
Now I’m curious to ask you the same question John, of all the things she does, from your perspective, what do you think is the hard thing about what she does?
John:She’s got a perfect mind. She’s got it all squared away.
Chase:Laky and then?
Corbett:You married guy?
Dana:He’s a little douche.
John:Yeah. I think for people kind of like me, it’s hard to think of something new every day. And to sticking to that deadline. I think a lot times for creative people, it is hard to say, I’m going to post Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. I’m going to stick to that every single week. Dana’s like never given up on that. That’s gotta be daunting.
As well as like, to trust me sometimes. And I mean, we’re not perfect for sure, but there’s sometimes where I say we’re not going to do that, or I don’t think we should do that and she has to, we just have to talk through it, or kind of agree on that.
I feel like that would be hard as an artist to kind of create something and then hear, no we’re not going to completely do it that way. Or we’re going to throttle that in some way. I imagine that’s got to be difficult.
Chase:Yeah, now Corbet in closing here, because we gotta send our show out here. I don’t know, there’s just something about how they individually represent, like your words John, she’s the artist. What would you say you are?
John:The hand model.
Chase:The hand model. She’s the artist and you’re the hand model. Or whatever, the business side. The creative and business. I like how you said, what was the word you said, Dana, was it the intuition or was it your, I think it was intuition.
Dana:Yeah I think so.
Chase:So you’ve got this creative intuition that’s like, I want to make something like a salsa or a watermelon something something. I totally got stuck watching your frozen watermelon thing.
Chase:Yeah the slushie.
Dana:Oh I love that one.
Chase:I don’t even know how I stop watching it at this point, there’s no sound even.
But you know, you’ve got the creative in Dana and the business in John, probably to over simplify it in some ways. But Corbet, what I’m serious for you, our experience knowing so many entrepreneurs who are trying to do this by themselves, both of you. Right, and when we envision a roadmap, I love the way that we guide people through things. For instance, in stage 8 or something we’re in the growth. The way that we have this spreadsheet, that helps you figure out exactly how to look at your analytics from the past year and to do some insights on where things are going next. You can outsource your business side of you brain into spreadsheets if you know what you’re doing in some ways. All that to set the table for you to set the table on what you see in, I don’t know. What do you see?
Corbett:So one thing I’ll say, is that I think any business that has the luxury of separate creative and business departments or people operates better when each side understands the other well. And you can see the other side and why something is important. I think at Fizzle we’ve grown as you’ve started to understand the business side and I’ve started to understand the creative side more. If you’re operating just as yourself, you have to be able to compartmentalize those things, because you can make yourself crazy if you’re constantly having a battle in your mind between business and creative.
We’ve talked a little bit about in the phycology terms there’s this concept of the elephant and the rider. You know, and you cannot control the elephant, it’s the emotions, that’s the creative side. And the rider’s the intellectual side.
We’ve also talked in one of your courses about this mental framework called the CEO and the worker bee. Sometimes you gotta be the CEO and you got to do the strategy stuff, other times you just have to knuckle down and be the worker bee and get done the thing you need to get done.
I think likewise, you have to do the same thing in terms of business and creative. Sometimes you have to wear the creative hat and just let yourself be the creative person who is thinking solely about the art and the product and how it effects the users. And other times you have to be the business person but you cannot really do both at the exact same time. So if you have the luxury of having two people great, if you don’t, just compartmentalize it and try to do one role at a time.
Minimalist Baker | Simple Food, Simply Delicious
Minimalist Baker’s Everyday Cooking: 101 Entirely Plant-based, Mostly Gluten-Free, Easy and Delicious Recipes
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