Note: Enrollment is currently closed for my Interactive Offer 2.0 coaching program.
A lot of people don’t know this, but the company that eventually became Leadpages started out selling marketing training and services.
We’re very different these days, and it’s been years since I’ve taught a marketing course. (Even at our annual conference, Converted, I didn’t teach marketing and instead spoke about our future product roadmap.)
Here’s the story of …
How I became an entrepreneur
At the age of 15, a friend and I raised $120,000 to start a software company. Around the same time, I left home, moved a few hours away, began my “adult life” and spent every waking hour on that company.
I was too young for that. Way too young.
It’s often easy to tell a cohesive story about what happens when things go right. When things don’t go according to plan, the story starts getting a little more complicated.
The company I co-founded at 15 did OK for a while, but eventually, it just fizzled out and failed.
Looking back on it now, I realize how devastating that failure was for me. To the point that I didn’t start a business again for 10 years.
During those 10 years, I started a lot of things but didn’t finish many. And many of the things I did follow through on, failed. I wasn’t depressed or anything like that. I was just marching to the beat of everyone else’s drum but my own.
I ended up moving from school to school, from degree program to degree program, and from job to job.
I went to college and dropped out (but eventually graduated). Went to grad school and dropped out. Started grad school again and dropped out. Did some international travel. But never really felt satisfied.
This leads me to …
How I became an entrepreneur (attempt #2)
After dropping out of graduate school the second time, I ended up moving back in with my parents. I taught myself how to create little e-commerce and affiliate businesses and I sold products in the green niche, like compost pails and red worms.
I had a website called businessideas.net. I did consult for brands that wanted to drive traffic with StumbleUpon (doesn’t really exist anymore) or by hitting the front page of Digg (Digg optimization?). I took on freelance copywriting projects.
I wasn’t really passionate about any of the niche products I was selling, but I was passionate about the mechanics of direct sales marketing in bootstrapped companies.
Traditional marketing at the time began and ended with the creation and placement of advertising. Digital agencies extended this a bit by creating websites (which were little more than online brochures) and coordinating online ad campaigns, but the fundamental model and approach were grounded in the Madison Avenue of the 1950s (think Mad Men).
I found this model of advertising to be infinitely boring. It offered no assistance to bootstrapped entrepreneurs like me who needed measurable results and who absolutely had to drive revenue this month (or miss their rent).
But there was another world of marketing that I found infinitely more interesting: the world of online direct response marketing. This world had a lot of flaws. It included scammers selling courses on “how to strike gold online” or “how to turn your computer into an ATM machine.” It attracted some people who needed to follow a guru and loved participating in the cult of personality.
In this space—at conferences and in forums—I also met folks who had a profound effect on my life. They taught me the kind of unglamorous marketing that pays the bills when you have no startup funds, no venture capital, no sales team, and are completely unheard of with no brand equity.
This world taught me to be scrappy and not to get caught up in my head. Lofty and philosophical notions about what products to build were a luxury I couldn’t afford. I didn’t have time for either myopic thinking or hypothetical thought experiments about what the market wanted.
There’s a kind of marketing you do after you’ve experienced real failure or worked your way up from nothing when you realize you can’t get caught up in what the market should want. During this time of my life, I learned this kind of marketing.
How we started in software
Several years ago I did an interview with Andrew Warner of Mixergy.
In that interview we talked about the process I used to (1) get lots of people (in a given market) to tell me what kind of product they wanted to buy from me, then (2) co-create the product with me, and then finally to (3) purchase it during a presell to fund the product’s creation (think Kickstarter, but with your own list and website). I called it the Interactive Offer.
After the Mixergy interview, a listener informed me that my approach was total B.S. and that—while this process might work for information products, membership sites, certification problems, and physical products—it would never work for sophisticated modern software businesses.
I accepted the challenge. Tracy (my co-founder) and I used the Interactive Offer process to presell a video player called LeadPlayer. Later, we did a presell for Leadpages. Both were successful: they funded the initial software development costs, got a lot of early adopters a lifetime deal on the products, and launched businesses that otherwise would never exist.
It worked, and …
As soon as Leadpages launched, I stopped teaching marketing
Leadpages grew faster than anyone had expected, and within a year our company had about 50 employees. (Now we’re at 165.)
I love teaching, but I stopped doing marketing education for two reasons. For one thing, I simply didn’t have time for it.
But the other reason I stopped professionally teaching marketing is that the industry was starting to creep me out. I wanted to distance myself from that world. I no longer wanted to participate in, or be associated with, a space that lacked long-term vision had little respect for craftsmanship and art, and put more effort into marketing than product creation.
So I quit cold turkey for several years.
To show you how frustrated I became with the internet marketing space, here’s a video I created the year prior to launching Leadpages:
Why I changed my mind and will teach the interactive offer and preselling again
Last month I did another Mixergy interview (4+ years after the first one). Much of the interview focused on how we did an Interactive Offer and pre-sold Leadpages before it was created, and how our Interactive Offer process—in a lot of ways—made the product successful before it ever launched.
This interview reminded me of how much I miss teaching. I also realized that there was no better time to return to my roots for a bit and teach this material.
My wife and I are about to have twins this summer, and I’m convinced that if I don’t do this now, it’s going to be a long, long time until I can do this again.
The interactive offer 2.0 is going to be fun, different, and new
When you come back to this space tomorrow, you’ll get a closer look at The Interactive Offer 2.0. I’m looking forward to teaching this material again, on different terms. There won’t be a three-video launch, a $2,000 offer with payment plans, a bunch of affiliates offering bonuses, etc.
We’re going to keep things simple and fun.
Stay tuned until tomorrow.