Nathan Chan, CEO, Foundr
Success doesn’t happen overnight.
This is something Foundr CEO Nathan Chan knows all too well. Before he started his business, Nathan was in a common predicament: he hated his job and he had no idea what career path to take. It took many steps to plant the seed that eventually became Foundr.
Even then, it wasn’t an easy path forward. He stayed in his job long after starting Foundr, and at one point, Nathan even launched a webinar from his parents’ basement. There was no magic involved—only hard work, strategic decisions, and many lessons learned.
In this video interview, Dave Hobson, our Head of Growth and Marketing and one of the first to join the Foundr team, has a raw conversation with Nathan about his journey to building a global brand. Nathan opens up about what it took to get Foundr off the ground, shares the key takeaways he picked up along the way, and reveals the nitty gritty details around how he turned a webinar presentation he hacked together into a multimillion-dollar product.
This episode is chock-full of sage advice, life lessons, and even an embarrassing story or two from our CEO’s humble beginnings that you’ll definitely want to hear.
- How Nathan went from working at an IT job he hated to launching a digital magazine
- The steps Nathan followed to turn a webinar presentation to a multimillion-dollar digital product
- How falling into the trap of seeking perfection will prevent you from reaching your goals
- The difference between “painkiller” and “vitamin” products
- Why it’s so critical to build an audience and test your ideas first
- How to use concepts like “a thousand true fans” and the “Oprah strategy” to create a successful business
Full Transcript of Podcast with Nathan Chan
David: My name’s David Hobson. I’m just joining you again to turn the tables and interview Nathan Chan. First question, how did you get your job?
Nathan: This one’s always tough. It’s easy to actually… I say this to everyone always, and it always throws people off. But I’m not going to ramble. Look, the way that I started Foundr was it all started with trying to find work that I was passionate about. Throughout my life, I haven’t really, besides starting Foundr, really been able to accomplish much. I never really got good grades at school. I never really excelled in sport or even any craftsmanship. I never really found my path. And when I went to uni I did an IT degree, and I absolutely hated it. The only reason that I did that IT degree in computers was because the best course I could possibly get into, and I’ve grown up with computers.
Basically, what happened, long story short, is I got a job in computers and IT, doing IT support, and I absolutely, utterly hated it. I was just so frustrated. And I went on this trip around Europe for six weeks and took a little bit of a big holiday from this company I was working at, when I was working in IT support. And pretty much I said to myself, “I never want to come back to this.” I was dreading coming back to it. I did a few electives in marketing when I did my first degree, and I thought, “Okay, what if I actually go back and maybe explore this whole marketing thing? I really enjoy it.”
So I went back, did a master’s of marketing, and I got a new job, because I was working at this accounting firm and it was terrible. We used to have to track my time. Every single minute had to be accounted to. The pain to working at an accounting firm. Not saying that’s a bad thing, but it just wasn’t for me, it wasn’t for you either. Yeah, basically I got this job at this travel company doing IT support again, and I couldn’t get a job in marketing, even though I had a master’s of marketing, I went back to uni a second time. No one would hire me because I had no experience.
I thought why not merge my passions with online and technology and computers with marketing? That’s where I actually found out this actual little course called The Challenge, which I know you’re familiar with, by Ed Dale, who… He’s someone that’s actually mentored us, which is crazy. Funnily enough, I did that, and I tried to make my first dollar online, which was an absolute disaster. I just wanted to do it for fun, because I thought, “You know what? I want to find work that I’m passionate about.” I created this website called bestsmellingcologne.net, and it was just ridiculous.
Back like five years ago, what you would try and do would be to rank for a key search term in Google. You would actually try and make that the actual domain. Best smelling cologne actually got a decent amount of search volume, so I thought why not do a reviews website on colognes, and then see if I could have enough traffic that I could sell banner ads, like AdSense. That was me just playing around. Absolute fail. Don’t even know what I was thinking. But after six months, a year just playing around with that stuff and thinking that this is what I was going to do and have some fun with it, and still not being able to get a job in marketing, I decided to launch this magazine.
Now, the magazine wasn’t called Foundr at the time. It was actually called Key To Success Magazine. Ridiculous name. It’s not a ridiculous name, but not the best name. Within the first three months of starting that, we were sued for trademark infringement. I started this magazine around business entrepreneurship, it was a digital magazine on the app store, because I thought that there was a real need for really actionable, strategical, tactical-based content where people could learn what it takes to build and grow a successful business. It wasn’t fluffy stuff. It wasn’t the Forbes 100 list. It was relatable content. And there wasn’t really a magazine out there that spoke to aspiring founders, aspiring entrepreneurs or early stage startup founders.
Long story short, that’s how I got my job. That’s how I started this crazy thing called Foundr, and the rest is kind of history.
David: That’s what we were discussing the last podcast, and I’m feeling a little bit now… I’m used to the cameras, I’m comfortable interviewing. I remember we first met around the time… You’d just done around maybe issue number three, and you were just kind of stepping into this whole world. You were at that full-time job, living a bit for the weekends, kind of excited about this promise of online. I used to just remember you just trying to wrap your head around… You were reading from blog posts and trying to look at things and really just trying to focus on growth. We’ve definitely spoken about that transformation of going from being in that place of stuck in a could-destroying nine to five to then…
I mean it’s been a year since we caught up in a recorded way. What’s happened in the last year? Last we left it, there was a transformation. You had gone from frustrated nine to five, built a team, built a business. And we finished that off with what you were hoping to do in the next year. What’s happened at Foundr in the last year?
Nathan: Just some context. Yeah, when you interviewed me, that was an awesome interview, it was a tonne of fun, you asked me questions that I never even thought about, like no one’s ever asked me. It was awesome.
What’s happened a year ago since you interviewed me? Well, we’ve really expanded the team. We’ve really tried to expand our product base as well. When it comes to Foundr, we are like a two part business. We’ve got media content on the front, so we produce a lot of audio, video and written content, and the magazine as well, and then we’ve got… The other part is we’re an educational business, where we produce educational courses taught by world-class founders that have actually done it.
We’ve scaled up our courses. In the past year we’ve produced at least 10. No. Yeah, we’ve produced at least 10 new courses. Not all of them have gone live yet. And we’re really starting to carve out this niche in this market of the sea and wave of just so many gurus and all these different courses out there taught by gurus. We’re starting to really build this incredible platform for people that if they want to learn something they can learn it. Like let’s just say copywriting. Let’s say you want to learn how to hire somebody, we’ll have a course on that eventually. It’s going to be taught by somebody that’s actually done it. They’re a legit founder, they’re a practitioner.
We’ve really built out our platform. Most recently, we’ve set up an office in New York, which is super exciting. We’re starting to build a team out there, and the reason… We’re here in Melbourne, Australia right now, and the reason that we’re building this office out of New York is because we really want to scale up our video content. I think there’s a massive opportunity for us, especially on the media front, to build… The vision and the mission of the company is how do we impact tens of millions of people every single week with our content, whether it’s video, whether it’s audio, whether it’s written, whether it’s anything at all? How do we build this incredible brand, that in turn could potentially drive humanity forward with some of the businesses and things that that sparks from people consuming our content? That’s why we need to produce ridiculous amounts of video content. Most of our customers, most of our audience is in the United States.
A lot’s happened since. We’re learning as we go. We’re definitely not getting it right every time. But yeah, we went to Thailand. We celebrated an incredible year last year. 2018 was a rockstar year. We smashed all of our targets, exceeded them. We flew the whole team and we just hung out and planned out what’s going to be a big year this year as well.
David: It’s funny. I always catch you on these milestones, because all the years we’ve known each other, worked together on different things, that’s one thing I’ve always done with you. I’ve always tried to think like… I see these milestones because I see you talking about you can’t wait to do this, and then sometimes, because you’re always thinking ahead or years ahead you kind of blitz ahead onto the next thing. To me, what’s kind of crazy and what I was hoping you’d say is even here, you’re like, “Oh yeah, yeah, we’ve got an office in New York.” Like that’s huge. We started off where the idea of even setting up a company in another country and setting up an office and a team and going into somewhere as big as New York… I mean in terms of taking on the global stage, taking on America, that was something that was like an intimidating goal at one stage, and now it’s just like ticked off the list, and you’re onto the next thing. I thought that was a massive milestone.
Nathan: Yeah, I agree.
David: To really be able to scale.
One thing I wanted to do today definitely is really talk about the business model. I know I get a lot of questions. How many emails a day do you get?
David: Across everything, yeah. I know that’s across all things. Sometimes it’s just random spam. Sometimes it’s people who are just grateful. I know you get a lot of things where people just really appreciate the content that we put out. Also a lot of questions around the business model and what we do. We’ve been talking today saying, “Look, you’ve scaled this company, built a team, gone international,” and it all started with the desire for a digital magazine. It’s a company that started all based around digital products.
Nathan: That’s our humble beginnings.
David: I would love to hear a little bit more about why you did that and why you started with digital products versus any other business model.
Nathan: When you think of magazines, you think of physical straight away, and we do have printed magazines, we do have printed books. But that came later. To be honest, the reason that we started as a digital magazine, monthly subscription off the bat was purely cost. I had no money to my name when I started Foundr. It cost literally $3000 to purchase the software to allow us to build the app and to create the magazine, the first edition. I used to love to travel, so I used to spend everything I had on just travelling, and then I’d come back and I’d be at ground zero again. Cost was one of the biggest things. Then the second thing was when it comes to digital products, you only have to create them once and you can sell it an infinite amount of times, whether it’s SAS, whether it’s courses, whether it’s eBooks, whether it’s a digital magazine. That’s what’s really, really powerful due to the power of the internet, and that’s what’s changed the game.
When I think about what we’re building at Foundr, we’re building… As an analogy, I think like all of the products, whether it’s… Even if it’s not something that we can sell. Whether it’s a blog post, whether it’s even this interview, we can create this, put it out into the world as if we’re planting a seed, and that seed will sprout. It’s going to provide value. When I think of the business that we’re… We’re in the business of producing digital content, whether we charge for it or not.
David: The first digital product that you sold… So I guess there’s that distinction. There’s digital content that’s free that’s blogs and all these kinds of things, which we do still invest heavily-
Nathan: Yeah. 99.9% of our stuff is free. Really, really valuable stuff. Our goal is every single piece of content we put out, we want to it to be able to make a massive impact on your life or change whatever thought process you have about that particular topic.
David: The first paid digital product you had was the magazine, and how much were you charging? How much did that cost?
Nathan: Crazy, $2.99. $2.99 a month, and that’s the cost, still to this day. If you want to subscribe to the magazine, go and subscribe. We’ve got a lot of subscribers. $2.99 a month or $3.99 per edition.
David: Crazy. That was the first one, and you built that. That was the focus initially, that was the revenue stream. I know there were a few tangents where people would ask you to start a magazine. As you were figuring out different things, you would work on different things. But in terms of digital product, it was the magazine. Then tell me, what happened? When did you come up with another digital product, and what was it?
Nathan: The magazine still runs to this day. We’re up to like almost issue number 80, which is crazy. It still comes out every single month. It took about two years, so it took about… One thing that I did very strategically was when I launched Foundr, we got sued and all this stuff, and then it took a while to build it up… It took like 16 months, 14, 16 months, before I could go full-time on it, leave what I was doing in my IT job. Then I was starting to work out how to grow it.
One of the things that really changed the game for us was Instagram. I tried all sorts of different things to try and grow the magazine subscription base, because all the traffic we were driving not even to our own site. It was to the Apple store, and getting people to download this magazine on their phone or their iPad. Tried all sorts of things. Tried buying Facebook ads, tried blogging, tried Twitter, tried Pinterest, tried all these social channels, tried all these things that people said to do. But the only thing that worked for us was Instagram. That really changed the game, where within the space of two weeks we had 10,000 followers. Within the space of a month I doubled the monthly recurring revenue of the subscription for the magazine. I was like, “Okay, I’m onto something here.”
In typical Foundr form, everything we learn, all of our best stuff, we just share it. I wrote an in-depth blog post on how we went from zero to 10,000 followers in two weeks, and that blog post went semi-viral. Now, what happened next was something that I never thought that we would do, was all these people started contacting me saying, “Hey, I loved this article. Do you do any consulting? Can you do this for me or my business?” Funnily enough, that’s not something that we want to do. We don’t want to get into the services business. We just want to produce world-changing products for people and put out awesome content to just help people and build this business and build this brand, and how do we build… It’s an incredible brand. It serves people at masses. It serves people at masses.
Basically, I said, “No, it’s not what we want to do,” and people were like, “Oh, well do you have a course?” And that’s where I was just like, “Oh okay, well maybe we can create a course around this thing, and maybe there’s something there. Maybe we can serve people further or more than just a blog post.” This was like, what? Three, four years ago, and back then… Still, heaps of people were doing courses and all these other things, and I said to myself, “I don’t want to fall under that bucket.” I thought we’d just keep building the magazine and that was our thing.
What I did was I did a test. I put out an offer. I didn’t have a very big email list at the time. Still early days. Foundr, we had like 2000 max, 3000 people on our magazine. Unfortunately, back then it was very difficult to get all of our magazine subscribers onto our email list, so we didn’t really have many people on our email list. I put out this offer, and it was crazy that over 100 people bought this workshop, which was our first ever course. It was an Instagram course, and I basically revealed and detailed and went through this whole framework of how you can rapidly grow your Instagram account, get crap tonnes of followers and turn that audience, a small portion of that audience, into paid customers. That was the next digital project that we put out there.
Yeah, we’ve played with some eBooks and paid eBooks and all sorts of things like that, but probably what you’re referring to is yeah, when did we launch our next, other digital product, apart from the magazine, which was yeah, a course.
David: Just to keep it really actionable and tactical, I want to get into some of the specifics of that first one, because I remember when you were doing it, we weren’t actually working together yet. We were obviously talking a lot around these things. I remember taking that very first course, and we’re still even friends to this day with people that we met.
Nathan: Yeah, it’s crazy. Some of these people have had incredible success, like have hundreds of thousands of followers, got book deals, doing crazy stuff. These people become really good friends and people in our community, and they’re just like and you, because we know them, right? Some of them we haven’t even met.
David: Absolutely. It was very impactful, and I guess I always want to try and bridge the gap between… I guess it’s what we often do at Foundr as well, is try and bridge that gap between where people can be watching something like this or reading something, and saying, “Oh, that’s easy for you because you’ve got a crew and you’ve got this and you’ve got editors.” I want to really wind it back to literally what software you were using, how you planned out the course, how much you charged, and I might even drop in one or two embarrassing stories.
Nathan: What software did we use? Literally just GoToWebinar, so we used some webinar software because my friend Merrin at the time… Because I think when it comes to building and creating a course and stuff, one thing that holds you up is this thought process of having your cameras like this and shooting it and what do you say and all this stuff. My friend Merrin was just incredible. In a one hour phone conversation he said, “All right Nathan, this is what you have to do.” He said, “Do not go and record it, do any of this stuff. Sell an online workshop. Sell an online workshop, because from there what you can do is you can teach it. You can teach and just teach every single week, and you can work out… And answer people’s questions and really help them. And then from there that will form what is the recorded course.”
The software we used to deliver that first version of the course was GoToWebinar, where it was just like I think $100 a month, and that allowed me to deliver these webinars or live presentations online. Then with respect to landing page software, I used LeadPages… ClickFunnels. I think ClickFunnels was around, but yeah, used LeadPages for whatever reason to put together the sales pace. I got somebody on Upwork. Didn’t pay much money at all. Got them to write the sales page, and sales page is still to this day… Dave’s always helping me with the sales page. That’s why I’m hopeless, because I’ve never been good with sales pages and all that side of things. So I found someone at Upwork to write the sales page.
Then with respect to the checkout and receiving funds, just created a PayPal button, so it had PayPal account, had a PayPal button so people could go and buy. Yeah, that was the tech stack. Super simple, super down and dirty. Used MailChimp to email our email database, and then each person that signed up, when they signed up, the way that I communicated to them is if they signed up I would dump that list of people that bought from… buying through PayPal, added them manually to our MailChimp, and then that was my list of buyers and I communicated to them each week of the link to do the class. Then teaching the class, I just used PowerPoint and just had a series of slides, and they were like super ghetto slides.
The course, we sold it for $100. The course, we sold it for $100. We don’t really talk about revenue at Foundr, but I’m happy to share first experiences. We sold he course for $100 and we had 100 students, so it was a great launch for the first time doing anything like this. It was awesome. That was the nitty gritty of the tech stack, how I rolled with it, the price point, everything.
David: I do want to get into one or two stories because I was sitting live on those, because I just want to keep it relatable for people as well.
David: But then I guess the fast forward on that is started at $100, and then we saw people go through who… Now they’ve had book deals, hundreds of thousands of followers. It’s been extremely impactful, and you’ve gone and taken that course and redeveloped it again and again until it’s at a studio level. It’s I can’t remember how many hours of content.
Nathan: We’ve done that course… I’ve taught it like five, six times or something, yeah.
David: Of course as we know, and I guess we talk about being real in these kinds of interviews, is it’s a pain in the arse because Instagram changes things, and then you’ve got to refilm everything and keep uploading it, and you learnt a really painful lesson, was there was a super valuable course, super high in demand, but there was that vulnerability that when you teach something like that, that’s almost evergreen…
Nathan: When it comes to content at Foundr, one thing that we’re always really big at is Evergreen content, whether that’s courses, whether that’s books, whether that’s magazines, whatever it is, or it’s free content. How do we create something as an asset? I came back to the other analogy, like planting a seed and watching it sprout. Unfortunately, with an Instagram course, while it is still great and we still maintain it right now, it’s a lot of work because we really want to create something that you only have to create once and then it’s infinitely scalable.
David: But I think it was just interesting in terms of it began selling at $97, and it was… Let’s face it, that $97 version was pretty raw and dirty. That was keynote slides that you put together, PowerPoint slides. How early before… If you were going live at 9:00 AM the next day… The workshop was like what? It was six week?
David: It was once a week. It was like Friday mornings or Thursday mornings or something?
Nathan: Yep, Thursday mornings.
David: It was Thursday mornings, because it was Wednesday afternoon in the US. I’d actually listen to it on my phone on the way in, because I was working somewhere else. I’d listen to it on the way in. So I caught some of the early stuff. I just want to keep it real for people, because I think a lot of people, they really worry about getting started and what it looks like, and as you said, they try and start off with a studio presentation. When you were getting ready that first keynote, like if you were doing it 9:00 AM Thursday morning, when were you putting that together?
Nathan: The night before. The night before. Yeah, definitely the night before. But it was awesome. It was fun, and it was easy, because funnily enough, before I even sold the course, I put in a few beta testers. One of those people, which was a friend of a friend, one of Merrin’s friends, he was like really keen on this Instagram stuff, and I said to him, “What would an awesome course look like?” And he actually broke everything down for me, like what I should teach each week, what are the things, what are the lessons, what are the key things? And I literally ran off that. He said, “I want to learn this, I want to learn hashtags, I want to learn shout-outs, I want to hear how you grow follower base, I want to hear analytics, I want to hear how I set up my account, how do I produce content?” All these key pillars. The night before I’d just think of like, “Okay…” I’d spend a couple of hours, and I’d be like, “All right, what are those key pillars that I can teach and what are those lessons?” And each lesson would have its own slide
Then literally would wake up 8:30. Back then, I remember I had to move back to my parents’ place because I had a falling out with my housemate. So I was living in my parents’ basement, and I’d just literally roll out of bed, make my porridge, smash that, and then yeah, just get to work and do that presentation. It was so much fun back then.
David: It was cool. I remember . I guess the point that I was trying to hit on I think with that, in terms of not being like, “Oh, you got ready late,” was because you knew it, because you were good at it, you were an expert and people were asking you, it didn’t stop you. You set that date. Again, like how we’ve talked about in the previous podcast, what was great you setting up that habit that the magazine ships every month.
The thing about selling a product, then you’re committed to people, you’ve got to deliver, you’ve got that workshop, you’ve got a time it’s got to be ready by, because otherwise I think… There’s that rule where obviously things take as long as you plan for it. If you just set the time to teach the workshop, you know enough to… It’s about getting people results, giving that value. We’ve seen people fall into that trap of… People could spend three months on their slide deck if they’re not careful, or that first workshop. I think that’s what I was trying to get to, is just that it doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s about getting results, and most people, they know enough. They know enough.
But I guess the thing there I’d like to talk about as well, I guess not to be missed, is you validate it effectively.
Nathan: Yes, 110%. I think there’s so many people, whether it’s course, whether it’s a magazine, whether it’s software, whether it’s a physical product, and we have courses on all these different things… I think the key thing to take away always is you want to create what we call a painkiller product, not a vitamin. There’s vitamins, and there’s painkillers. When you think of a Panadol, you really need it. If you’ve got a headache, you want to take it, you want it to go away. When it comes to vitamins, it’s a nice to have. The way that you get that painkiller product is you validate. One of the best ways to validate a product idea, if it is a painkiller or not, is to see and put it out to the market, and let the market decide. That’s what we’ve done with like Kickstarter and stuff. We’ve done all sorts of things where… If you think of Kickstarter, we pre-sell. I’m very, very big on pre-selling to validating a product idea.
This is not new stuff. This is stuff I’ve learnt from Mitch, this is stuff that people talk about. But it’s so important. Everybody thinks that they have a great idea. Everybody thinks that everybody would want what they think is a great idea, but you don’t actually know until you pre-sell it. And that’s what I did. With that Instagram course, for all I know, plenty of people wouldn’t have cared, and we mightn’t have got hardly any sales. But there was a decent amount of uptick and a decent conversion rate to show that yes, there was demand there, there was something there that people wanted to know. There was interest.
Even with the magazine. When I launched the magazine, the first day at launch we made $5.50. And this is a product created by somebody that was working in IT support that knew nothing about entrepreneurship, nothing about apps, nothing about design, nothing about business, nothing about marketing. But I put something together and for whatever reason, there was demand, enough demand for somebody… I don’t even know who those two people are that believed in me and thought, “Wow, this magazine looks awesome. I’m going to subscribe. It’s the first edition, never heard of it. I don’t even know if there’s a promise of another edition coming,” and they believed in me. There must’ve been something there, so that’s why I kept going.
I think that’s so key when it comes to launching any product, is you need to be able to validate, you need to be able to sell it.
David: Then on top of that, I mean we’ve done so many versions of that since then… You rolled out 97, you did it live, and then obviously what I know was useful, is when you do it live you get Q&A, so you get feedback, you see where people’s problems are, something you missed, and that’s another reason not to go out and spend six months building something, because you don’t know where the holes and the gaps are, what people’s real pains are. So you got live feedback, and then you just kept iterating. You do a new version. And as you increased the production value and the depth of the course, the price also went up to match the value. What started off as a pretty humble $97 live workshop sharing here’s what I’ve done, it’s now up to a $1000 course.
Are you comfortable sharing around any numbers around how many people we’ve put through the course or how much you think it’s helped with Foundr?
Nathan: Look, we’ve had thousands of students. It’s a multimillion dollar product. We’ve had thousands of students. It’s a multimillion dollar product. It’s been incredible. And it’s helped a lot of people. I can confidently say with that course, it is responsible for… People that have taken it have generated tens of millions of followers, respectively in the community, maybe even more, from what I’ve gathered from my research and the success stories that we’ve been able to produce. So yeah, it’s been an incredible course. I don’t even know how much revenue people have been able to generate collectively, but yeah, no, it’s been an incredibly successful course.
David: I think embedded in what you’re saying is something that we do and you do when we’re building these courses, I guess why I guess we’re happy and congruent to sell things, is we always make sure that A, that they’ve got to work. It’s got to have at least like 10x the value of what we’re selling it for. I guess that’s something in terms of that values alignment. I guess bringing digital products in line with passion and purpose and legacy, because obviously there’s the Foundr brand and what you want to do and build that out, and then there’s the training to go with that, but it really only succeeds when people succeed, and just being able to line up something you’re passionate about with the mission of the business, but still obviously be able to fund the business and grow the business through that kind of training I think is really important.
Nathan: Yeah. Look, when I think about Foundr, I think we’re a media company first and foremost. We’re a content company, and the way that we build our audience is by providing value. The way that we have people in the Foundr community is we just provide ridiculous amounts of value. We have tens of thousands of hours, maybe even hundreds of thousands of hours’ worth of free content out there to help serve people. It’s not just about one particular topic when it comes to entrepreneurship. It could be anything. It doesn’t matter your business, it doesn’t matter the model. From there, we build a community. We build an audience of these people that we are constantly helping. There’s some people that are not that engaged, and that’s okay. There’s some people that might just read an article and go, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard of Foundr.” They might be just following us on Instagram or whatever.
Then when I think about what we’re doing, we’re building this incredible community of people, of founders and entrepreneurs, and then we’re helping them with our free content, or we’re helping them with our courses. That’s not just going to be the only way that we serve founders. We want to be able to impact and serve founders however we can, whether it’s through software, whether it’s through connecting people with mentors or whatever it is. There’s so many things we can do. We’re building this incredible platform that really serves entrepreneurs in a very, very deep and action-orientated way that actually provides people value. What we’re really focused on right now is courses and education.
If you listen to a podcast episode and hear that person, you want to learn more from them. Well, how do you? We’ll work with them, and if they’ve got an expertise and they’re a legit founder and they’ve actually done it, they’re a practitioner, where if they’ve built a large multimillion dollar a year eCommerce four times, like Greta, well let’s get her on. Let’s get her not just doing a podcast. Let’s get her to teach how to build an eCommerce store. If it’s somebody that’s built a large brand using content marketing like Eric Banholz, let’s get him to teach a course on content marketing. The thing with us at Foundr is we would only teach courses, like myself, if we’ve actually done it. I think that’s really important.
David: Before we switch topics, there’s a few other things I want to get into, but just to keep it really, I guess, actionable for people who are watching and thinking, “Okay, so…” They understand you started with the magazine, that makes sense, and that was validated as well, and then you were getting asked about Instagram coaching, consulting, and you validated that into a course. You did a beta, you sold it, did it live as a workshop.
What do people need to know? Like what would stop people? Like this sounds great obviously. What do you think stumbles people? Because there are so many people we see in our audience, where they think, “Great, do I just have to do a course?” I can think of a few things, but building an audience or people who feel like maybe they’re not an expert… What do you think stops people, or someone watching this video who thinks, “I would love to have an online business, I would love to do a digital product.” What do you think stops them, or what have you seen stopping people from succeeding here?
Nathan: There’s a few things. I think there’s a lot of people out there that sell the dream of selling courses and they make it look really easy, and it is . That’s the thing, right? You can do well from it, but you have to be able to have an audience, and you have to be providing a lot of value and doing all sorts of things, which… We could show you. We’ve worked it out, how to do this. But first and foremost, you cannot just create a course, and then expect to be able to sell it and even do like a $10,000 launch or whatever it is, like what I did.
Foundr, even in the humble beginnings, we had a small audience of people that were getting value for a couple of years from the magazine. Now I’m not saying it takes you two years to build up an audience, but you do need an audience. You do need to be going out there and providing value to people, and I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions that people have, because everyone wants to teach a course, everyone thinks it easy, and then when you try and actually launch, you launch to crickets, or you don’t get any sales. I think if you do have an audience, that’s awesome. You don’t need a large audience, and that’s the key part. You don’t need a large audience to generate a decent amount of sales and to build a sustainable business from this.
But I really like this concept by Kevin Kelly called 1000 true fans, and that concept is that basically… And it’s true, and he talks about it to Tim Ferriss on Tim Ferriss’ podcast, and he’s wrote a very, very famous article, where… If you want to build a business that serves you for the rest of your life, all you need is 1000 true fans, 1000 people that are willing to spend $100 a year with you. If you can work and aim to have 1000 people in your community that know, like and trust you, then you can build a sustainable business. Now, you can’t make it happen overnight. Like any business, you can’t be successful overnight. But if you’re prepared to go out there and slowly build your tribe and your audience around a particular topic that you’re passionate about, or a topic that you have a certain level of expertise in, you know like 10, 20, 30% more than the rest of the world, then you can go out there and confidently teach that.
I think that’s the first thing. You need to have an audience. It’s not that easy to sell a course. You don’t need a large audience, but you need a audience. The second thing I think a lot of people get caught up on is the software side of things. You just need to follow what I did. Just validate it with the webinar. Pre-sell a workshop. I think that’s one of the best things you can do to actually work out and see if you’ve got a painkiller product. Another thing is you need to validate it. I think that’s a very common misconception. A lot of people have this idea of a course and it doesn’t do well because one, they don’t have an audience, and two they haven’t really validated it.
And you can validate it not from just pre-selling. You can validate it from even other ideas. Are there other people out there in the marketplace serving an audience or an industry with a course, and then are they selling a course? If they are selling a course, then there must be something there. This is a big, big industry. There are so many markets, there are so many niches, and it doesn’t matter how big or small the niche is, there is always… You can definitely service a niche or a market with a course. But at the same time, you have to always look does it exist currently in the market, and you have to validate it.
I think those are some of the key things that come to mind. Does that answer your question?
David: Definitely, because look, it is something we see in terms… Look, there’s two ways I would see it. One is because we’re doing so many courses now, one thing we see is people just think it’s easy. They just think, “Oh okay, so these guys just put out a course, some magic happens, and everything just works,” whereas we know and our team knows from blood, sweat and tears, what goes into it. I think it’s always something we rely on, is getting that framework, understanding a framework, and then reapplying it, which is very different to people assuming something is easy. So on the one hand, sometimes people assume it’s too easy and they go out and they probably learn the hard way, because sure, anyone can shoot a video and say some stuff, but having a course that adds value, solves a problem, builds a community, sells all of these things, it’s simple but it’s complex at the same time.
Then I guess the other one would be, as you mentioned, I think people often do struggle where maybe they understand that side, but they underestimate needing an audience, and that seems to trip up a lot of people.
Nathan: Yeah. When I think about building an audience, I think it’s really about focusing on one channel if you can, like we did, like in the early days all we did was focus on the magazine. Just focus on the magazine, build up the magazine, build up the community there. Then we moved to another channel, which was Instagram, which really accelerated our growth. But when it comes to building your audience, I think the key thing to take away there is you need to build your email list. I know a lot of people talk about messenger bots and all these other things, but you need a way… You need something that allows you to communicate to your tribe and foster your tribe and foster your community.
Still to this day, there’s nothing better when it comes to selling online, email marketing, like building your email list. Nothing beats it. Messenger bots, all these other things that people talk about, blogs, all these other things. You need a one to one communication method where you can speak to people and you can get them to click through and all these other things. And email is the best way to do it. When it comes to building your audience, you have to have a focus on building your email list, and I believe you have to focus on one channel at a time.
A lot of people talk about using Instagram as a channel, using blogging, using podcasting, using YouTube. Whatever channel it is you choose to build your audience, you have to be focused, you have to be disciplined, you have to be consistent on providing value within that channel, and you have to always try and get people to join your email list and build your email list. It’s not about the numbers game. It’s just about building a tribe of real people like you or I that actually are interested in what you have to say, are actually interested in the value that you can provide them, and you actually speak to them on a regular basis. You don’t build an email list or an audience of people on your email list for six months and then the only time you email them is when you’re launching a course. That’s not going to work. You need to foster and you need to build your community and build your tribe, and I think that’s really important.
David: One thing I’d love you to unpack just a little bit more, because I think it really jams people up… You touched on your 1000 true fans, and I know a lot of people that might be watching this get excited. They want to go and do something, they want to go and teach something. But I’ve seen so many people, and I’m sure you have as well, they go and start doing a bit of research, and they almost freeze because there’s already a course on that, or there’s someone already doing something. I know that it’s a little bit of a loaded question because I know where I want you to go with this, but I understand that 1000 true fans, but how does that solve that problem if someone’s thinking, “Okay, so Nathan’s saying 1000 true fans. I’ve just got to get 1000 people.” But then you go out onto Instagram or you Google it and you look around, and it just seems flooded. Can you talk about that?
Nathan: It’s tough. I’m not going to lie. I’m not going to say that anyone can go and do it. But I think what you have to really think about is are you passionate about this topic? If I go back to my roots and try and think of how I can answer this question to you as authentically as possible, plenty of people could, and plenty of people did say to me like, “Well Nathan there’s tonnes of different business magazines out there. What you’re trying to do can’t be done. Wow, that’s awesome that you got Richard Branson on the front cover of the magazine, but he’s been on the front cover of every successful business magazine on the planet.”
I think what you have to think about is if you’re really passionate about a particular topic and if you don’t approach it just from, “I want to make money,” but if you actually genuinely care about the topic around what you want to build an audience around… Let’s just say you’re really passionate about yoga. If you’re really passionate about yoga and you do yoga right now or you’re a yoga instructor and you really care and you’re really fascinated and you’re obsessed with this particular hobby, or it’s a passion of yours, then you want to go out there and you want to provide value and you want to build community and you want to produce content for this community and these potential people that might join your community, and you want to provide value.
It has to be something that if you weren’t even paid to do it, you would do it for free, because trust me, when we were making like $100 a month off the magazine for the first month and then $200 a month the second month, like that’s not a lot of money but I still enjoyed it. I still remember my first interview. There’s plenty of interviews with all sorts of founders and interviews with all sorts of business owners and whatever, and I remember thinking to myself, “I had so much fun and I really enjoyed it. This is what I was born to do.” I think for anybody that’s sitting there thinking, “Oh, that’s really intimidating,” well just remember that you can always provide value as long as you are really passionate about that particular topic.
You don’t have to be an expert. I certainly wasn’t an expert. We’ve created a whole brand and business. This is something that I’m actually quite self-conscious about to be honest, is we’ve created a whole brand and business around entrepreneurship, and this was still my first business. It’s crazy. You can be the investigative journalist. You can go out there and report your findings. You can do the Oprah strategy. The Oprah strategy is when Oprah started the reason that people at first used to watch her show was because she used to get famous people on her show and people were really interested in what those famous people had to say. But as time went on, people were much more interested in what Oprah had to say, and that’s exactly kind of like what we did with the magazine. We interviewed these successful founders, kept interviewing them. We just interviewed these successful founders, and really strategically tried to get incredible knowledge and incredible action items that would help people.
Then as time goes on people were interested in the Foundr brand. Yes, they’re interested in the founders we interview, but they’re interested in the Foundr brand and the content that we produce. I hope that answers your question in a roundabout way.
David: Yeah, definitely. Just as you were talking, one thing my mind was turning over, just to be really clear for people watching, because one thing that can be a bit abstract is saying something like digital product, and maybe you and I can get caught up in how we talk and what we think about… And so today I just want to get clear and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, because we’ve talked about digital magazine, so digital magazine being it’s digitally delivered, it’s on the iPad, it’s not a physical print magazine, so it’s information, interviews in the magazine, and then we talked about courses which were in the form of really starting off with a workshop which was delivered live streaming, and then recorded so people had access to videos.
Nathan: Some people would call them information products. Sometimes people call this a knowledge-based business, where you’re sharing knowledge. It’s education. It’s a digital educational product in some way, shape or form. If you have a skill or an expertise, you can package that up and turn that into a digital product, an information product or a knowledge-based product. I hope that answers your… Does that-
David: It does. But can we just list out… Even just freestyle what you think…
Nathan: It’s like online courses, digital magazines, digital eBooks. It could be an online workshop, so it’s something that’s delivered over streaming. Was there anything else?
David: That’s nailed it. I just think in terms of then just quickly… Just recapping… We talked about it earlier. It’s a pretty basic tech stack. In terms of what’s required, what would you say that people need to be able to do it?
Nathan: Look, you could go as ghetto as literally delivering it over YouTube. You’ve got your videos on YouTube, or you could just use Zoom. You could go as ghetto as just using Zoom, and then one other tool, which would be PayPal, to accept payment. It’s few and far between. Or you could use a tool like Teachable where it takes care of hosting your course and charging and all these other things. For us, we have our own custom stuff. It just totally depends. But I don’t want to intimidate people. It is really easy to get started. I really do believe if you want to produce a digital product, even if it is a magazine, you have to start small, and you have to just start, and you have to what I call throw your hat over fence, so always pre-sell. When you want to climb a fence, and you’ve got a hat, you throw your hat over first, and then you climb. I think that’s a really good analogy and a way to think about when it comes to selling your digital product or an information product.
David: I mean we’ve covered a lot of ground. Really happy with what we’ve got into. Is there anything that I’ve missed, anything you wanted to cover or say about digital products or the course? I think we’ve hit pretty much everything.
Nathan: Yeah, no, man. I think you did an amazing job. It’s just been so awesome to share this journey with you and be on the other side of the microphone or the camera and have you work your magic as always, bro.
David: Thanks for that. I appreciate it.
Nathan: Awesome. I guess we probably should say if people want to find out more about the Infinite Scale course, you can go to foundr.com/infinitescale. We’re launching this course very soon, in the next few weeks. Probably when you’re watching this, it might be just about to come out. So make sure you sign up to the wait list. We’ve got all sorts of early bird specials and bonuses and all sorts of crazy stuff. We’re going to do some crazy stuff, so you don’t want to miss this. When we do relaunch this again, the offers going to be much different. You don’t want to miss this. It’s foundr.com/infinitescale.
David: Awesome. I’ll just recap really quickly. Foundr.com/infinitescale. We’ll do a launch special for the very first time. I know there’s going to be some pretty cool options there, including some live workshops as well. It’s all prerecorded, but there’s going to be some live training in the first round. And if people don’t take up this round, this launch, the next time it’ll probably be something like double the price.
Nathan: Something like that, yeah. All of courses when we first launch them, we do it like a really low price just to really get a lot of people in the door, and then get them insane amounts of results, and then yeah, once we’ve proven that out and finessed the course, then we launch it again.
Awesome. All right. Well thanks so much, man. It’s been great jamming with you.
David: Thanks, bro. Appreciate it.
Key Resources From Our Interview With Nathan Chan
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