Today’s guest on The Membership Site Success podcast is Russ Perry!'find your pickle. That thing inside you, that goofy angle that you can play.' - @russperry Click To Tweet
Russ is the founder of Design Pickle, a service that provides unlimited graphic design for a very reasonable monthly price.
For a decade Russ ran a full service digital design/branding agency and busted his hump the whole way. Shortly after leaving the agency and serendipitously reading Dan Norris’s The 7 Day Startup, Russ’s idea for a great service that has the potential to really scale crystalized. The rest is history!
In this episode, Russ shares how he crafted Design Pickle to scale from the very beginning, how he grew it a rapid rate, and how he marketed it while having fun in the process (the pickle costume shall be explained in full!)
Please comment below and rate the podcast on iTunes (it helps me get more fantastic guests like Russ on the show).
You can connect with Russ on his Twitter, @russperry.
Mentioned In This Episode:
1. Design Pickle – Unlimited graphic design with unlimited revisions for a low monthly fee. Boom!
2. The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loeher and Tony Schwartz – The seminal book about energy management in business and beyond.
3. The Dynamite Circle – A business group and community of entrepreneurs that both Russ and I belong to.
4. The 7 Day Startup by Dan Norris – This book is responsible not only for the existence of my productized service, MemberFix, and the existence of Russ’s productized service, Design Pickle, but for HUNDREDS of services based on the sound principles of validation and quick launch. One of the best business books ever written, period.
5. The Automatic Customer by John Warrillow – THE book about the subscription revenue model in business. A must read primer on recurring revenue chockablock with case studies and real life examples.
6. Fiverr.com – A huge services marketplace with ‘gigs’ starting at just $5.
7. FreshDesk – Online customer support/ticketing system used by Russ to run Design Pickle.
8. Evernote – A cloud-based app that lets you document, share and collaborate. Kind of like Google Docs but with more attitude. Russ uses Evernote to record processes/systems for Design Pickle.
9. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande – In his latest bestseller, Atul Gawande shows what the simple idea of the checklist reveals about the complexity of our lives and how we can deal with it.
10. Slack – A messaging app for teams.
11. The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ DeMarco – One of my all-time favorite business books with a live now philosophy. If you liked the 4 Hour WorkWeek, you’ll love ‘Fastlane’.
Russ’s Startup Decision Filters:
1. 3 years from now where will I have to be personally and professional to be satisfied with my progress?
2. What are the filters to run decisions through in order to achieve this? (RP Note: This was my checklist)
Russ’s Personal Filters:
Focused around my strengths
Another, and final kid
Financial foundations in place (3 month savings, able to invest, etc.)
Purchased dream home
Spending 2+ months a year abroad
Time to game regularly (RPG / tabletop)
Ample time running non-profit program
Summer in Italy
Summer in Japan
Mission trip with my family
Russ’s Business Filters:
– Residual income component (selling a software/platform)
– High value consulting components (builds my brand)
– Able to be executed remotely
– Virtualized teams for support on implementation
– There is a niche I can be an expert in
– Easy to sell – it just makes sense
Vic’s answers to the personal filters:
$120k/year profit (~$10k/month)
$50k cushion saved up
Brown belt in BJJ
Have a largely passive, largely automated business that doesn’t depend on me personally (resale value; processes, REAL business)
Squat 2x bodyweight
Do a full split
Time to sing and play guitar regularly
Get total testosterone up to 1000mg/dL
Vic’s Business Filters:
– Largely passive once business processes are set in place and marketing channels running
– Location independence
– Something I’m passionate about (health/BJJ/music)
– Scalability via enhanced distribution, deals with big names, high level of scientific rigor and transparency
– Easy to sell – it just makes sense” (stealing this one from you Russ)
– Makes a dent in the universe, however small it may be
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You are listening to The Membership Site Success podcast, where you learn from success entrepreneurs how to build and run a profitable membership site, so that you too can generate recurring revenue for your business month after month. And now, here is your host, membership site expert, Vic Dorfman.
Vic Dorfman: Today’s guest on membership site success podcast is Russ Perry, [00:00:30] , owner of designpickle.com, which is grown from 0 to 150 subscribers in just 6 months, and Russ is a super, super smart guy, in fact we were in productized services Mastermind together and every time this guy showed up, everybody would perk up their ears and listen, because he is just a wealth of business experience, he has been in business for over a decade, even though a designpickle is a new venture, [00:01:00] he’s been in business for over a decade. And every time he opens his mouth to speak, he drops knowledge and teaches something. And in today’s episode he is gonna be talking about his journey into designpickle, and how he very, very quickly he built himself a very profitable and scalable business that he doesn’t really need to be a part of on a super (?) level, and he’ll tell you all that by himself coming up shortly, so this is one of the best episodes [00:01:30] I’ve ever recorded, this is gonna be a lot of fun, very informative and valuable interview, so stay tuned and I will see you soon.
Vic: Russ, welcome. I guess the very first thing I wanted to ask you, the thing I ask everybody really, is how did you get into entrepreneurship, and we’re gonna get into you current business a little bit later, but specifically, how did you get into starting businesses, working online, working for yourself?[00:02:00]
Russ: Yeah, well, how back you wanna go? I mean, my first business was when I was 9, and I wanted read to people and try to people pay me to read to them, which was not a very successful business model I learned, most people with money already knew how to read, so it wasn’t a great idea. But pass that, I didn’t really get into entrepreneurship until after college. Kind of right as I was graduating, [00:02:30] I had worked for a couple of big companies and most notable, fun one, being Apple, I learned a lot there, but right when I was 22, had some life changing events happened, my firs first daughter around that time. And it was really, I was really frustrated that I had to file to take time off to go to a doctor’s appointment, and I thought it was the craziest concept. Like here I am having to request [00:03:00] permission to spend time with my family, and I thought it was ludicrous. So kind of a fortunate combo of events lined up, I was doing a tiny bit of freelance creative work, I went to school for design, studied a lot, was dangerous at Adobe apps, and I just had one client, so that was just kinda like on position where I was like “Ok ,a can do this, I’ll have a 3 month runway, either I’ll be looking for a job if it doesn’t work out in 3 months, [00:03:30] or I keep going from there.” And thankfully I was able to keep building things from that point, and I was able to build a small creative firm.
Vic: Ok, and that’s the firm you left to start designpickle eventually, right?
Russ: Kind of, in my carrier I have actually found two forms that were very similar in terms of the business model. It was more of a branding design firm. From 2005 to 2011 it was just me [00:04:00] as the only owner, called King Creative, and then in 2011 I sort of rolled it up and formed a new business called NSPKeen? with two partners and we just did branding design, some marketing strategy, web sites, thing like that…
Vic: Ok, so what was the business model exactly? [00:04:30]
Russ: I mean, like old school, terrible, old fashioned. I mean it was fee for services, so you would have a problem and this big bucket of needs, like I need a website, I need an app for going to a tradeshow, our brand sucks. And we would come to you and say yeah, you do have a problem, let’s help you, and here are all the ways we are gonna help you, [00:05:00] and here are all of the creative things we’re gonna create, we’re gonna update your brand, we’re gonna do a marketing strategy. And we would go and implement that, at some things we would do we were great at, we were really with the visual identity, design and we were really great at marketing strategy, like how to get your name out there: some things we really sucked at, like managing timelines and budgets and all of that. So it was tough and the name of that game is “Bigger, bigger, bigger”. [00:05:30]
Vic: There is no reoccurring component in that business, is there?
Russ: No, you are fighting for every project, a client sneezes weird and you get nervous, because they are 35% of your revenue, and it sucked, it was stressful, there was a lot of volatility in the market in general, you know, people aren’t like lying on you door to buy creative ideas. So eventually we got to the point [00:06:00] where we were decent, 3 million in revenue, but no profit, and you are kind of like what’s the point of all this, all of this work and you are not even, you are barely getting a paycheck.
Vic: And how that sort of transition in what are you doing now, which is designpickle, how did you make that leap?
Russ: Well there was no leap to designpickle. In fact I just sort of jumped off a cliff, with no net into a black hole for a while. [00:06:30] In September, actually back one month, in November I had a really great talk with my former partner, over Skype actually, very similar with this conversation, and just, he knew me very well, we still have a great friendship, and he was just like “What’s up?” And I just got a tough month with sales, had been losing steam in terms of passion and interest and so we had a little bit of fundamental disagreements about business model, [00:07:00] nothing like traumatic, but it was up to the point when you realize you are not on the same page, and you need to kind of wrap things up. So we did, we closed the business on August, September 1st I was, I joke I was unemployed, but just really didn’t have a game plan, I mean my game plan was “Oh crap, I need to make some money”, so I kind of figured out that if you can solve things, arrangements to pay the bills and I just sort of sat out on my hands and, the natural entrepreneur in me always wanted to [00:07:30] like, think of the new idea and execute, but I decided that wasn’t the wisest move because I was in such a weird place, I didn’t trust myself to make the right decisions, and then through a lot of personal development and study and some coaching, I was able to get some space in my life and then that’s when…indistinctly…quite literally sort of came together in my mind. [00:08:00] But it wasn’t until I like cleared the field and let there be some time for soil to regenerate because it was just so blasted for the last 10 years, that that idea came about.
Vic: Yeah, that’s really interesting, that there is a physical process to your ideas and your clarity of mind that are just sometimes requires literally disconnecting from anything, going somewhere [00:08:30] remote or just be alone and just letting things settle down a little bit.
Russ: Yeah, and I think of like trying of, like if you are doing anything physical or taxing, you got to recover, you can’t just go run a marathon and like the next morning you are fine. And the business, I was running a marathon every single day, and to think that like, ok I’m not doing that anymore and I’ll start something new, I mean I was wiped, [00:09:00] I needed a lot of that recovery time.
Vic: Right, there is a really good book about this whole notion of cyclical work and recovery called “The power of full engagement”, and it’s probably one of the best business books I’ve ever red. I just wanted to mention it, because I wanted to put it in show notes for everybody. So, ok, so then you started do design “pickle’, what sort of inspired that and how did that go, give us a story here.
Russ: Well, so let me [00:09:30] give you a context. When I had my agency, I had anywhere from 5 to 15 full time designers at my disposal, I had account managers, it was pretty easy, like if I needed anything it was done. So when I was consulting, I literally was the business card guy, and ton to say I was above it, but it was like I’m gonna find a way to automate this. [00:10:00] So I was doing business cards, don’t get me wrong, but I was doing like brand strategy, so I figured out that if I hire some contractors and create a little system and process around them, that my clients actually for all the business card stuff, they could just dial right in to them, they can just request right into my system, and I would make sure things were ok, but it was like full service, like a vending machine of creativity. [00:10:30] So I built that and it was more, I’m not saying lazy, but just didn’t want to do that work, so that started to go and I had 4-5 clients using that, and that is when I came across, and I had join the Dynamite circle during this time, during this phase of transition. And through that found [00:11:00] “the 7 day startup” by Ann Norris and red that book and it was like, blew my mind, because it was like I have the model basically built that he is using, I mean I was using half the same tools and I didn’t even realized it. So that’s when I had enough space to say that, thinking back to my agency carrier, doing this production [00:11:30] design work is not glamorous, no one likes it, no one likes to pay 75-150 dollars an hour to do it, like for a client that has an agency. So is was like I wander if I can create a model that’s really bridging the gap in this market place for this, to high the volume demand of content, but doing it with this recurrent revenue model. So put the pieces together, put a silly brand around it and in January we launched it, and [00:12:00] and just sort of got it out there as we could, my network, and got some really attraction, and continued to double it every month.
Vic: Ok, you explained that in kind of a casual way, but, at the same time, you and I talked in the past, and you sent me this list of criteria that you…I mean, it was very intentional in the back of your mind, I’d say, about how you chose this particular service. Can you talk a little bit about those criteria [00:12:30], both the business specific criteria, but also personal kind of goals that you needed this business to accomplish to move forward.
Russ: You are right, there wasn’t just this magical moment of clarity, I did actually got through a process to get to that point. So during my Zen stage, as I call it, I worked with business coach Taylor Pierson, he and I worked on creating what we call a [00:13:00] decision making filter. And what that was, it was a filter of things unrelated with any business idea, that was sort of like, in the perfect world, what is your life like, and for that to be true…so the perfect example is, in perfect life I’m traveling the World. Well for that to be true, what needs to happen, what does your business needs to look like, so if I’m traveling the World I can’t have 9 to 5 job, [00:13:30] I can be in a brick in (?) environment, and my next thing was a restaurant, but that wouldn’t work out because you got to be there. So we created this list of decision filters as we call them, and this was months in advance of designpickle, and what that served for was really, like a bouncer out of door for my brain with these ideas. So it was entrepreneur, you have these ideas, like “Boom, I’m at a car wash, you know what would be a great idea, like the squeegees are too slow, so I’m gonna make a new squeegee”. [00:14:00] And you are like “Dude, you know anything about manufacturing, get out of there, that’s a terrible idea.” One of my decision making filters was that I don’t want to work in any industry. So that was super helpful, almost was like relaxing for me, because not knowing what I’m gonna do with my life, like basically 10 years of history closed, and you could get into the self [00:14:30] doubt conversations pretty easily. So rather that stressing out, I’m gonna try to figure out what I’m gonna do next, so I said look, here is what I know it was gonna work for me, I have a plan, a decision making filters, just hang tight until something passes that bouncer. And so when the Design Pickle started to form, it was, I was almost nervous to run it through the decision making process, because I was like so many ideas have failed, but, one by one, we were able to knock it out and [00:15:00] it was like wow, this idea does work, this idea is a match. So in that case, I was like all right, let’s do it, and that’s when I started to create the brand. And it wasn’t until that decision making filter process was cleared, that I spent even one kJ of energy than thinking about it. So like, until then, so many entrepreneurs would come up with an idea, they’ll by domain, they would make a website, [00:15:30] but it’s like they don’t think through whether or not this business is gonna be right for them.
Vic: Yeah, and I want to reiterate that to, especially after “the 7 day startup” became popular and the Facebook group now has thousands of people, and a lot of people are kind of noovies appealing to the veteran member saying “Hey, I had this idea etc. etc., but…” What I want to say is not all of the businesses are [00:16:00] equally productable, like you need those filters, because, as things grow as you scale, if your business isn’t inherently, if it doesn’t inherently land itself to scaling up, like my business does not land itself to scaling up at all, hence I am one member show, for now, and that’s ok because that will allow me to try to transition to something else, but, your business was set up for success from the start, and successful it has become. [00:16:30] Maybe you could share some of your bragging rights type figures…
Russ: Well, we, suddenly summer has been pretty brutal, we haven’t grown as much as we wanted, but the first month we posted I think almost 8000 dollars in revenue, and had 30 clients. And we just picked a thing everybody needs, like your business, not everybody needs what you do, you get really narrow , narrow thing. [00:17:00]
Vic: It’s a niche, it’s not a market.
Russ: Exactly. I think what you said is totally right, and a lot of mistakes firs time entrepreneurs make is they over value their idea, they think their idea is so great, they don’t tossed it, which is the number one toss that people buy it. But the other thing which not a lot of people talk about is like, having actual experience having a business. [00:17:30] Like, this is a major, major thing, and what that means is, you can have the best idea in the world, but if you are not a disciplined business owner you’re not gonna grow it, no matter how great that idea is. And you have all of these folks with probably some actually great ideas, some scalable ones, but they lack the background to break it beyond the what the media influence is [00:18:00], whether it’s management, financial skills, marketing, sales, you name it. So, that I think I had an unfair advantage when starting Design Pickle, I had 10 years of marketing and sales experience, you know, of doing that for other people. So taking that, an rolling that and just concentrating to one thing has been really helpful for us to get that momentum. And right now we have about 155 clients [00:18:30] and we’re, we just had a workshop yesterday and with like 2 employees here, we’re hiring almost 11 employees in Philippines now, so we’re going, but I couldn’t have 11 employees now in Philippines had I not had rock solid operations manual for them to work from.
Vic: And that’s the thing that struck me and I think everybody else at Mastermind, because you were a part of our Mastermind now [00:19:00]. The whole point of Mastermind is to help you elevate your business if your business is doing well, that takes priority. But every time you came on with us for a call, you have been dropping hardcore business knowledge and we were all kind of wrapped, because it’s clear that you are season business dude and I have no doubt at all [00:19:30] that has a big part of your success, on top of the fact that you chose your business pretty well, which probably cycles back to the fact that you had experience to begin with. So, I was gonna ask this question later, but let me just go ahead and aks you now: maybe like one or two things from your background do you think helped you to make this project successful? [00:20:00]
Russ: Niching down was the hardest thing in the World for us to do as an agency, and I do believe ultimately that was the demise of that business. All the HR problems, all the cash flow problems, really took a second seat to the fact that we were a generalist agency. You could hire us to do anything, we worked into industry, and this was a point of contention between my partner and me. I regretfully didn’t push the issue [00:20:30] as much as I think I should’ve, and now in retrospect, he wanted to be that way, and I knew in my heart, and I kind of brought it up sometimes, and didn’t want to rock the boat too much. We could have niched in two ways, by deliverable, so we are the Facebook add company, or whatever, or by industry, so we are the corn marketing company, we only work with people who grow corn. And we did neither. So that lack of [00:21:00] experience, that mistake, I now rolled into Design Pickle, and you see that because now we only do this narrow subset of graphic design. And we had hammered all the time, so how about illustrations, how about this, how about the web design, you know you can make so much money if you’re printing too, and it’s like “no, we’ll just do this one thing”. So I think that being one, and if I have to say another, it’s [00:21:30] building systems and processes too scaled. So when I’m doing things, I’m acting as if I’m a 10 million dollar company. We have automation and employee manuals, and documentation and everything that we do, even if I’m only doing it for the first time…I take that back, I’m doing it the second time. Then I’ll get a (?), and I’ll just screenshot process and it will be perfect, but what we’ve been able to do [00:22:00] with that, is we’ve been able to bring on other people, contractor benders, and it allows me to delegate quicker and easier. And I learned kind of a same thing where I didn’t do that a lot at a previous business, and I was the bottleneck at all times. Anyone that needed anything was me, so I learned from those lesions. And I’ve got better towards my agency carrier but [00:22:30] now it’s like, here is the process for your email signature, and I don’t have a lot of employees at the email signatures, but when I do, it’s right there, I know how to do it.
Vic: Ok, so, your company, I think you wrote that your company grew to 150 subscribers in 6 months, is that correct?
Russ: Yeah, we’ve kind of bit stuck at 150 unfortunately, we’ve been oscillating between 160 and 150 for about 45 days [00:23:00].
Vic: Ok, that’s a good problem to have, but to get to 150 you’ve done some unusual thing that I will be remiss, not to mention…The first thing that comes to my mind, and this is not to make fun, just to illustrate, it was funny earlier too, because you’ve kind of insinuated you are above the business card hustle, but here you are dressing up as a pickle, crashing conferences with [00:23:30] branded pickle cards, handing out pickles wrapped with your flyer for Design Pickle. So what inspired that and, more importantly, for the people who don’t have that kind of sense of hustle, of do whatever it takes to get clients, how do they acquire that trait?
Russ: Well, again back to unfair advantages, I spent two years in high school as a mascot for various companies. [00:24:00] So I had actually professional training as a dressed up mascot. There was a pizza company in Tucson, Arizona called “magpies pizza”, and AAA games, baseball games, handing out coupons, and then I worked for another company at like grocery store grand opening.
Vic: To grow your own business, you’ve done some very unusual things like you go on conferences and you’re dressed up as a pickle, [00:24:30] and you gave out pickles wrapped in your business marketing materials. So the question is a kind of about your sense of hustle, and did you acquire that and how can people who are less hustle-icious sort of pick that quality up, because it is important, especially at the beginning of a startup, you are doing a lot of shit that doesn’t scale up at all. [00:25:00]
Russ: I think the foundational part of hustle is you really, there is one of two outcomes, is that you are really good liar, which there is a lot of people out there, making hustle people in negative way, and by the way I don’t recommend that being your strategy, but the other piece of it is if you just believe in what you’re doing, or selling, or your service, or your products. And for everyone who always feel like [00:25:30] nervous about getting out there, being silly, doing whatever it takes, I find that, if you know what you are doing is true the great and awesome, then it’s pretty easy to go out there and talk to people about it. Now, what I see, the pitfall of most entrepreneurs, is they don’t have that confidence, they’ve just put up a website and a couple of ideas, but they haven’t got non [00:26:00] validation around what their product is, whether the people like it or enjoy it. So to go out there and hustle does feel super uncomfortable, because they are in back of their minds like “man, I don’t know if this works, this is still an experiment.” The event that you are referencing was the InvisionSoft conference. That was in March, so we had about 5 weeks after launch, if you will, that we under a bell. To know that by the time we got to this thing, like, what we were doing was working, it was [00:26:30] really helping people and, just to go and do a stuff like that, the end goal is like “look, here it is, here is what we are doing, check us out”, and in my mind, no matter how silly or crazy I looked, or what we were doing, it was one of those things where I was super excited for people to try us out and check us out, because I knew we had a good solution on our hands.
Vic: That’s interesting, and I just want to say too, that I don’t think [00:27:00] it’s beneath dignity to do wacky things to get business. I mean, you are being like funny and unique, and that really resonates with people, especially who go to conference everyone is kind of stiff and nervous, and that (?) can really play to your strength.
Russ: And the term that I like to, that I was starting using, is to find your pickle, like what is that thing inside you [00:27:30], that goofy angle that you can play. Because, you’re right, there is so many people trying to be serious about things and at the end of the day, we are emotional consumers. We buy things emotionally, not rationally. Whether or not your tool is the only one on its market or it’s one in a thousand, you’re gonna have to win people over, and I just find the easiest way to do that is to do it through creativity, and to find a creative idea, [00:28:00] a funny, unique memorable thing. And tradeshows are actually like primed for it, because if I was just walking down the street in a pickle suit, it will still kind of work, but the tradeshows are this weird, or any trade event, doesn’t have to be a tradeshow, it could be like a conference, it could be like get together, they are just these weird manufacture environments, that everyone kind of, it’s not like normal life, you don’t [00:28:30] just normally go in and hand out your business cards all day and listen to all these speakers. With that said, you know, it’s just a throw in a curved ball, and like “wow, I didn’t expect that”, I find it totally works, better than just an everyday marketing, I mean I’m not dressing up like a pickle every day and handing out pickles. That would be fun, that’s kind of my back up plan if this Design Pickle didn’t work, to take my car and sell ice cream pops out of it, but thankfully I’m not gonna have to do that. [00:29:00]
Vic: Ok, that’s interesting, you have mentioned that a lot of people who go out there are really not that confident in their idea, so that comes across. So my question is how did you arrived in sort of your unwavering confidence in your business idea where you could stay behind it with authenticity that people can feel like “oh, this is good stuff.”
Russ: Great question. So I had an unfair advantage and that was [0:29:30] I knew 100 percent I was solving the real problem that people had with Design Pickle. I wasn’t trying to create a new thing and say “het, here is this new thing or widget or service you don’t know you need, do you wanna buy it?” People have real problems with design, like I ran in agency for 10 years; I knew that this was a problem people had. So that was step one, and I think that’s [00:30:00] goes back to probably a lot of the same, top leadership you and I both red is solve a real problem. Don’t try to sell someone on something that’s completely (?), because you are gonna have really uphill battle. You have to create market in that case and nobody has finances to do that. Now, once we knew we were solving a real problem, it was simply solving it well enough for people to like it, you know, you get that customer feedback, and [00:30:30] customer feedback is money. So people were giving us money for it. The best customer feedback is actual feedback, like “hey this is awesome, and shed a tear the first time that happened” , because in 10 years running the agency I got a lot of opposite of positive feedback, let’s just put it that way. So people are paying us, people are saying they like it, more people are signing up, [00:31:00] what more do I need to know that we are on to something, and now the name of the game is just finding more of those people.
Vic: So part of your advantage is you are always too is your business model fundamentally is set up for success, because of the recurring relationship, and this is kina direction that I want to into now, it’s something that kind of grows, whereas if you are now billing your clients, they’ll feel they have been nickel and dimed sometimes, and this is something [0:31:30] I red about in “Automatic customer” and something I have experiences too as a freelancer, obviously the show is about membership sites, about recurring revenue, so, my question for you is how did you sort of arrive at your business model, because it wasn’t what you were doing before and do you think it served you in terms of not just the fact that you are earning recurring revenue, but just kinda like, how does that model serve your business holistically?
Russ: Well, the [00:32:00] reason I went into way I went was because there was no one else doing that this way, and that to me was gonna be an opportunity; trying to figure out recurring revenue is, everyone thinks how great it is for the business owner, but actually for the byer it’s pretty sweet too. So if you have a fixed fee for something, with enough [00:32:30] like you’re getting enough out of that whatever what fixed fee is, you always feel you’re getting a good deal. No one, who have signed for a fixed fee for NetFlix or (?),and thinks like “I’m sure I’m getting a good deal”, otherwise you wouldn’t subscribe to it. So I wanted to see where that point was in a pricing model that I could try to test a recurring revenue in design service. Now, that’s super risky if you think about [00:33:00] the whole world of design, and this comes back to the problem part. I shared that when we were at mu peak at the agency, we were doing like quarter of million engagements and nowhere in that whole project which included a zillion things where we’ve seen much gratitude. However, when I rewind back and thought to myself when did we actually deliver like really crazy value to our clients through those engagements, it wasn’t with a huge fancy app or design platform [00:33:30] or brand, it was like the CEO forgot about the meeting and need some PowerPoint images the next business day. And when we did that kind of arose to the occasion and worked hard, even though it was a super simple thing, the clients loved us, and so I thought damn, there is the opportunity right there, like let’s not try to do all of the creativity and just model, let’s just focus on where I know that value point is. [00:34:00] And then, I want to say a did some crazy pricing, research or whatever, I just put myself in the mindset of the wire, I just said look, I know people are paying 50, 75 or 150 dollars an hour for this kind of stuff. What could it bee that’s like totally disruptive price point, that’s when I came into the 200 dollars, 185 range. Now that price point I reversed out, like with the financial model to say ok, based of [00:34:30] this many requests per person, per client and the designer taking this much time, what’s the supply that we would need, for how many designers, how much designer cost etc. So I just picked up a price point where I actually created a financial model around that, with presumptions. And surprisingly, presumptions are held pretty truth, even as we scale. We got less efficient, because we had to add more layers of management,[00:35:00] but it worked pretty well, in fact we have found out that we are undervalued and raised our prices last month, and we see no decrease in sales because of that.
Vic: You can probably raise them again, too.
Russ: Yeah, we probably will. There’ll always be like the 195 plan is part of our brand now. I also think about what the buyer can buy and most of these folks that we are going after have authorization to hire an agency [00:35:30] or hire a freelancer or hire a full time designer. So asking them to spend a couple hundred of bucks, or less than a thousand bucks a month, it is an easy thing, they can out that on a credit card, no problem. And we’ve shifted our target audience, too, to focus on these types of folks. We still like startups, still little entrepreneurs and we’ll always have a place for them, and within our service. But now we’ve aligned [00:36:00] all of our marketing efforts and our sales efforts to find more that marketer. And that came we saw these were the people that value our service the most, it wasn’t that we were doing anything for them versus the other people, but they were the ones who valued it the most.
Vic: Those kinds of people, they have the budgets, they have that all kind of thing, but their design demands are also quite substantial and you offer unlimited revisions, do you not? [00:36:30]
Russ: Yeah, unlimited anything. We have a couple of safety (?) to kin of not break it.
Vic: Can you talk about your sort of business governors that keep you from being taken the advantage of?
Russ: Yeah, so the first one is simply your time is our biggest governor. So our service is email driven, and it takes time to sit down and write an email. We find that most people [00:37:00] don’t just sit at their computer and request things all day, they actually had to go to the meetings and lunch and they are doing a lot the other stuff. So that’s one. The pace of delivery is one that, we advertise for most plans next business day delivery, but we do clearly communicate that that’s brand promise, it’s not the guarantee, so after about I’d say a two or three request a day, like if you are submitting one or two things [00:37:30] a day, it’s not a problem, but if you are beyond that, you can continue to submit requests, continue to process them, but you’ll see a bit of a pacing kick in, where one or two are delivered next business day, two and three maybe two days, and then kind of goes on from there. And that we find is totally fine, no one has ever complained about that, even two or three business days for these marketers, we used to think it’s taking a week, just to see one revision is awesome, but that’s [00:38:00] the other governor for it, and everyone sort of finds their natural equilibrium with our tool in the larger context of their design environment, because we are not here to replace the designer one to one, we’re just here to augment, to offset, to be, it’s like you have Adobe illustrator in design, Design Pickle, it’s one of like many other tools you can use for getting some design done, but we’re not gonna be a full time equivalent for 200 bucks a month. [00:38:30]
Vic: Right, that would defeat the purpose of why you started this thing.
Russ: Yeah, and it’s kinda back to the pay point that we are having. Most of our clients have a freelancer they love and agency that’s contracted with, or in house designer that’s on staff. So when I do sales actually, it’s tough because they are like they shut down and already got somebody. We are not a or proposition, we are the and proposition.[00:39:00] We want to be on your team, so when you have 10 ebooks covers you need to do, or social media graphic that day, you send it to us, and let your main guy focus on whatever your larger strategic stuff.
Vic: You guys are kind of like a better Fiverr, but 195err.
Russ: And Fiverr like do use it, and we ‘re not gonna beat Fiverr if you just need one thing done, because they are gonna be cheaper [00:39:30], they probably are going to take the same amount of time, and they actually can do more stuff, like if you want jingles made on Fiverr. But, you can have people pretend to be your boyfriend and girlfriend on Fiverr, it’s like craziest thing ever. But if you can, you could pay like for 30 bucks for switch to be in a relationship with you on Facebook and post it for you for a week, it’s like so wild. [00:40:00] The Fiverr has keep us in business, because at certain point, you hit a natural friction point with Fiverr when you have 5,10, 20 things and you say ok, this doesn’t work for me, I need another tool, and that’s what we want to be.
Vic: One thing that you’ve mentioned that was interesting is, first of all, your turn around time being 24 hours, which I know is possible primarily because you have a team in place, you have human resources and systems, and processes [00:40:30] in place, and the same thing with letting the tasks build up, because in my service I don’t have a team, I don’t have a processes, it’s just me, so I can’t offer more than one task at a time, and I can’t offer anything faster than 48 hours, so a question to you is how did you develop your processes and did you start from the very beginning to sort of make your service run efficiently even when if you are on kind of vacation or whatever it is. [00:41:00]
Russ: So, full answer is, and I little touched on this during the first time, I can’t remember, is I just was kind of lazy. I didn’t close my business last year, I didn’t want to have to manage people, for this production graphic design that I was doing for a lot of my consulting parties. So what I did I created a system and process to delegate and outsource this, that still required some of my intervention [00:41:30] but it was something where, like literally every time that I had a job, I would document what’s the best way to do it. Now the actual creativity part wasn’t documented, it was up to the designer, but here is the request, here is how you create it, here is how you name a file, here is how you send it back to me to review. And then when I review it, I would traffic it to the client or not, so that was the bones of it, and my background, my experience running an agency, I had a team in Argentina [00:42:00] that we had worked with remotely. So I knew really well how to manage creative process digitally. And when I simplified it and focused on the graphic production design, that even became easier because now we are just doing really one to one kind of things. I need this, here is my brand, I need this here is my brand, give me this. The big breakthrough for me was finding a ticketing system process that allowed us to really just [00:42:30] increase volume and streamline everything.
Vic: You built that system in your house?
Russ: No, no, we use fresh desk, it’s off the shelf, it’s like Indian competitor of Zen desk. We’re gonna have to build it on our own, probably in the next twelve months, I mean we are starting that kind of stress out system with the volume that we are doing. But the main thing is that every time I was,[00:43:00] something I was doing repeatedly I thought how can I document this, how can I automate this, and then I just started plugging people in to take over these documented processes and system that I created when I was doing it by myself. And I don’t want to simplify it, but that’s just how it is, and now every time like the whole team, everybody knows, like if you do something or whatever, we created, we have a public Ethernet folder for notebook for the whole team, [00:43:30] you create a process, you do screenshots, and you may not be delegate this time, however, when it is time to grow and to scale and move this responsibility to this responsibility, that’s ready to go and we’re not gonna have to sit around and do that as the business running and moving. Frankly, people often don’t delegate, because in their mind it’s more work to document and to process into train, a new person that [00:44:00] it is just to that themselves, so to do that before you need to do that, actually it makes it super easy to delegate it when the time comes, versus trying to do that at the heat of the moment.
Vic: I think that’s just super solid advice, just think ahead and then document it before you need it and you’ll have it when you need it. And you also said that you don’t want to over simplify it, but, a guess it is kind of that simple, you do something ant then you document it and you have it on file. [00:44:30]
Russ: Now, the best book I’ve read on this is “checklist manifesto” and the guy who wrote this book was very curious about a couple of industries, specifically medicine and aviation, and found that most of big safety advances in those two industries were because of simple checklists. They were just like do this, do this, do this, and if you look [00:45:00] at the checklist for flying an airplane, it’s actually very simple, like flying 747 or something, I mean there is a lot of technical knowledge that you know what this word means and this thing is, but it’s like 10 steps, 5 steps, 3 steps, 2 steps just to do that. And when I first started I actually had checklist, when I red that book I was super inspired, like I’m gonna document everything, my whole life is beyond me. [00:45:30] And then I got kind of paralysis, I was like how I’m gonna do this and, so, my advice is, is you start these processes, just bring them, don’t be worried about it being perfect, and what happens is when you finally end up delegating it to somebody, you’ll see how good it was by how good they are following your directions, and if they don’t do it correctly you modify it. And often I have this with my team, we would all create a process and all set a tone [00:46:00] and I’d come back and like, I put in a wrong link to a wrong document or whatever, and like oh yeah, that was confusing, sorry.
Vic: Probably not a bad idea to an entrepreneur is to sort of make a habit out of externalizing your actions and the process that you go through to do xyz.
Russ: Yeah, because how can you improve your business if you don’t know the [00:46:30] process points and what things might not be working or breaking down. At my agency this was a huge issue, because when I had a problem at a very end of a three month project, there was no line I could trace back to say this is where the breakdown was or this is where we could improve more, this worked really well. It was like a black box, like we got a contract and then we blacked down and all of the sudden we had a problem [00:47:00] later. So what I have found is even if you just have a lite, lite level, document what that is and try to create systems or step by step pieces, then when something doesn’t happen on time, or someone is fall out of radar, or there was a miscommunication, you can actually go back and see and identify why that happen. Like “oh this was set in this way, and this wasn’t documented” and elaborate on this part. That to me was big game-changer too, [00:47:30] because now I have a feedback loop that we can measure and follow, so when the thing break down, which they always will, where was the breakdown, or when the things go well, why is going well and how can we learn from that.
Vic: That’s very interesting. On top of being an entrepreneur, you are also being a father and a husband. And we talked a little bit about this before, you and I, but I thought it might be [00:48:00] interesting for readers, because you have three children, you have third on the way, right? And that’s a full time job too, in and out itself, so how do you manage, how do you keep balance in your life, not just on the business side, but also in life?
Russ: Well, I sucked at it for a really long time, to be honest. And let’s just say my wife was not very happy for many years to get married to entrepreneur. [00:48:30] It’s not easy and it’s been a huge learning process for me. Probably some of the biggest breakthrough has been to, was my opportunity to build business completely around those (?). So with my daughters, I have two daughters and like you mentioned one on the way, I wanted to have an environment and a business where I knew [00:49:00] that I could engage in their lives, be available, have a flexible schedule, I mean that’s why I became entrepreneur, my oldest daughter is 10, and I started this business when she was born, because I was like “this sucks, I don’t have time off to see my daughter and hang out with her”, so it’s like “ I’m gonna quit my great job at Apple and start a business” , which was always interesting decision to reflect upon, like that was like back…indistinctly…[00:49:30] and I did have stock options back there, so…like feeling confident or not, whatever, there is a business on entrepreneur experience out there, that’s perfect for your family and for your life. I don’t believe in this notion that you have to have extreme sacrifices up front to have a super great benefit down the road, and [00:50:00] so, I used to believe that. I mean, when I was in my agency I was like I’ve got to put in all this time, I’m working non-stop, late calls at night, traveling to visit everybody because this is my future for my family, and if I don’t focus on this, then…Well I’m an entrepreneur, my (?) is my business. So when I realized that I was just tearing myself apart, tearing my family apart, [00:50:30] because of the stress and the hectic nature, that’s one of the main reasons I closed the agency last year. And I was like, what is the greatest kind of business that I can have and, back to what we were talking about earlier, with the systems and processes, how can I create a system and a business that supports that it that doesn’t conflict it, and does it now not when I have ten employees or five employees, [00:51:00] or even one other employee, but does it now. That was the genesis of all the DNA for Design Pickle, was literally doing it so like, if I go home, I know things are getting done, and I don’t have to check my email. And even now with communication, the only thing that I have, that will push up a notification to me, is a text message, or a private (slack) message. So all the other emails, all the other [00:51:30] stuff that comes in from 4 or 5 in the afternoon, I want see it until the next morning, and nothing in my world is even urgent enough to worn to text or a (slack) message. Because we’ve created enough structure, so that there is people handling stuff until then, and if something does come up that persists, then I’ll see that in the morning and handle it right away.
Vic: That’s beautiful. And I also want to add to that, [00:52:00] kind of echo your sentiment, is you are in a tough spot essentially, because, well not tough, but let’s say that a having a family puts a lot of pressure on you to deliver and deliver PDQ with money and lifestyle and all of that kind of thing. When I came to Thailand, I had my back up against the wall, and that’s when I built my business and made things happen. And I fear that if I had stayed in the US, and [00:52:30] went to my dad and ask him for money, I never would’ve got myself out of that crappy mentality, and you’ve mentioned too, that working ant saving up for some discount payday, there is a really good book that addresses that specific topic, its called “The millionaire fastlane” by MJ DeMarco.
Russ: Yeah, he’s actually living in Phoenix.
Vic: Yeah, he drives like Porches and stuff, right?
Russ: I’ve never seen him, but I’ve red that book. [00:53:00] Kind of like poorly written, like you could tell “ he really wrote that book?” The quality wasn’t the best, but that was fantastic story and good philosophy. Well to that point, you are not to (?) automation in process, but I think when back is against the wall, you have to outsmart yourself, you have to do things differently, [00:53:30] in a way where you have to be more than you, because you don’t have unlimited amount of time in a day. So when you’re in a place whether it’s like legitimate emergency or artificial scarce, which I tend to create myself, then you become extremely resourceful and creative with you problem solving, that sort of come out of that. [00:54:00] There is like, max out my calendar, max out my resources, max out everything, because for me, that’s like tearing a muscle when you’re lifting weights and you can’t grow that muscle until you stress it and tear it. And I feel that’s the same with our systems and processes in life and business and live, you have to continue to stress and grow, and stress an grow.
Vic: Since you brought it up, does fitness play any kind of role in your life and in your business?
Russ: Yeah, it’s absolutely [00:54:30] immense. As we are recording this, I am taking a week away from it, because slight injury I have on my wrist, and that’s persisting, and I feel like crap this week. My energy is down, I’m eating terribly, I’m tired, and I’m not getting any less or doing anything differently other than not factoring that in. So it’s 100 percent, and diet too [00:55:00], I’m pretty clean eater, but with kids we have like Saturday bender, or like Friday night to Saturday bender. But even still, if I don’t keep to kind of eat healthier diet, same deal. So that’s like any father or any married guy is looking for anybody out there, I mean I wouldn’t be able to [00:55:30] get up at 4:30 and go to bed at 7:30, work all day if that wasn’t the part of my routine. And, I do it in middle of day usually, which is a big change from working out in the morning, my mornings are dedicated to study and meditation and prayer and all that stuff. And my afternoon lunch hour is the fitness focus and it gives me a huge boost later that day.
Vic: That’s actually in line with current research that says that your [00:56:00] testosterone and cortisol ratio is optimal in the later afternoon about 4 or 5 o’clock. That’s really the best time to go and workout, not in the morning.
Russ: Bodybuilders know this, I mean all the bodybuilder research that, like, if you want the maximum performance games, you work out in the afternoon.
Vic: And I just want to reiterate what you said, if there is one non business thing you can do to improve you business, I would say lift weights, lift heavy ass weights. [00:56:30]
Russ: And the communities that exist, I mean I say do it with group or community, because I now created a whole other support structure with bunch of dads like me, because guess what; dads that can work out in two in the afternoon are typically entrepreneurial folks, they’re not working from 9 to 5 and it’s a great way to just develop another great community, [00:57:00] aside from your typical friend or business group.
Vic: I love how you sort of weave in your, you know most people come pre (?), and I suppose you do a fair bit of that, you work for few hours, you’re in the gym for a few hours, but…I just love this idea that you’re weaving the business into your personal life and you have this support structure of other entrepreneurs that you’re working out with, which intern as a positive feedback loop [00:57:30] with your business and your energy and your family life. And I think that’s absolutely beautiful, and I think that to hear people talk about it.
Russ: Well, it took a lot of work to get here, I mean, I think the realization I had was that, to do all of that was simply me realizing like “ I could just do it” . [00:58:00] I didn’t have to make all this sacrifices like, where I live, where my office is, all of that is a choice, and it sound really basic, but it really is, and when I look back at the last 10y years, I was, my decisions were driven by external factors a lot of the time, and it’s still a challenge, I still feel like, looking at long and short and midterm [00:58:30] decisions all the time, and sometimes I am worried about being true to myself about the outcome, but knowing, having known the bad experiences helped me realize that it’s just as easy to make a choice that aligns life, like you mentioned it, as it is, to fragment it. But you have to be present and aware of that at all times.
Vic: That’s not easy. Ok so I think [00:59:00] we’ve pretty much breezed through all of the questions that I had, and we’ve touched some really interesting deeper topics too. I like to talk about that stuff on the podcast, I don’t like this machine gun ABC formula, because we are business people, but we’re human beings and it’s easy to gloss over non business aspect that contributes to your business, like fitness, like diet, like religion, or [00:59:30] meditation or these other habits that support your business, and your business supports them. The final thing I want to ask you, I feel like I sound like Christopher Walken today, is a what is a number one piece of advice you would give to people who haven’t quite made it yet, or maybe who are in similar position to you were at, [01:00:00] with your agency, taking it to a next level.
Russ: Well, that’s great question. I would say don’t live a life upstream, especially with your business, don’t be try to fight upstream with your business. I tried to swim upstream for 10 years with the agency, focusing on outdated business model, trying to convince clients they needed something that they didn’t really need, that really wasn’t providing a lot of value, and I was moderately successful because I was [01:00:30] great sales person. So, you could say I was a hustler in negative sights. Now, focus on creating real value and focus on doing it in a way that doesn’t require you to just totally change who you are. One of my decision making filters was like, “I don’t want to learn anything new, I don’t want to start something completely new and have to figure it out, I’m just gonna go with something I am good at, and [01:01:00] create something around that.” Creating authentic value in a way that is gonna be pretty natural is gonna just allow you to leverage that to whole new level. And people are gonna see that, you’re gonna feel more confident and it’s gonna create a snowball effect, that every entrepreneur is hunting for when trying to start a business. So hopefully that’s ok…[01:01:30]
Vic: By the way, would it be cool to provide your filter, your checklist for when you created Design Pickle, the personal and the business one, to my audience, can we give that away?
Russ: Yeah, you have the copy I sent you?
Vic: Yes, sir.
Russ: Yeah, share that. I mean that’s like, part to the answer is getting clarity with what you want, that’s not part of your business. So knowing what your life, [01:02:00] desired life is like, and creating enough space so that you can evaluate that and then make the decisions, and you’ll share the decision making filter. Having a set of decisions that you know, if I want this in my life, these are need to be true, and now just starting to focus on those truths, as fast as you can, because it’s a causing a fact kind of relationship. [01:02:30] And once you get those in place, for me, being able to spend time with my family is what I started with, and I’m back and say “ok, to do that, I’m gonna need the kind of business that runs itself”. I didn’t say I’m gonna try to run a creative business that run itself for fun, there was a deeper reason there.
Vic: That is such a good point, the reason why, the more you can get into your reasons for why you’re doing what you’re doing, the more motivation you’ll have to…[01:03:00] because, I mean the business is hard work, you still have to put your nose in grindstone and do a lot of thing that you rather not be doing, you’d rather be out and taking a walk in a perk, but instead you’re inside, staring at computer screen. But the reason why is really important, especially it revolves around your family and your passions, your purpose in life, it’s very important to take time away and meditate on those things. [01:03:30]
Russ: I just discovered Diablo 3, which is like the worst thing I’ve ever found in my business. I’d rather be playing that right now, it’s such an addictive game, I know its super old and probably everyone has played it by now, but I’ve never got into it, so it’s like a huge, that’s mu current personal struggle in my life right now, is work on the business or stay up to 3 in the morning playing Diablo 3. Terribly not profound way to end your [01:04:00] video podcast, but, you said “walk in a park” and that’s what I thought of really.
Vic: If there is a man without vices, I don’t want to meet him.