In February 2014, I launched an all-new members-only section of Design Blender called Stoked.
And last Thursday just under six months later, I basically put the whole project on pause.
It wasn’t a flop. It wasn’t a failure. And I didn’t lose money on the project.
In fact, it brought in quite a bit of extra revenue which allowed me to grow Design Blender in new and exciting ways.
So today, I’d like to explain why in the world I would pause a portion of my business that was bringing in a decent amount of revenue. And I’d like to share a few lessons you might be able to take away and apply in your creative business.
First, a bit of background (I’ll make it short).
I’ve been running GraphicDesignBlender.com for more than five years now.
In those five years, our team has grown to include a (top-notch) group of writers, marketing specialists and a (stellar) Content Manager.
Without this team, you’d grow completely bored with my singular perspective on business and I would probably burn-out on the whole project.
Along with quality content and a growing community, comes extra costs and the need to develop extra revenue streams to stay profitable (making it more than just a hobby).
So, late last year, we started building Stoked, our members-only site dedicated to helping your build your design business in new, innovative ways.
We started building.
And in February of this year, we launched. We quickly filled the limited 100-member capacity and closed registration until April.
We LOVED having member forums, seeing how much everyone loved our free ebooks, watching people react to the audio interviews with creative pros, and interacting with a truly magnificent group of creative entrepreneurs.
And by the first part of April, we opened our doors once again and filled up quickly…again.
Since then, we’ve had even more sign-ups and people continued to show interest in Stoked.
But there was something missing
In the meantime, I hired a Community Manager to help me with customer support, community interaction and he did a great job.
But there was a certain spark missing. Something wasn’t quite right.
Our forums were pretty quiet. Members stopped logging in. And some even cancelled their membership with Stoked.
Stoked stopped being fun for us. And if it wasn’t fun to run, then how could we ever imagine it was fun to be a part of for our members?
So we pulled the plug (sort of)
One day, I woke up and realized I wasn’t able to deliver the kind of exciting content and community I wanted to through Stoked.
And since I promote “building a business you love” right here on my blog, I couldn’t keep taking members’ money every month for a product I wasn’t proud of. A product I myself stopped loving.
So I put our members’ payments on hold.
They still get 100% access to all the content, the forums, and all the features built into Stoked, but no one new can join and we won’t be billing ANYONE while we’re on pause.
(PS: if you are a Stoked Member, check your email for details on how to continue to access ALL Stoked content while on “pause” 100% FREE.)
It’s a big financial hit to the business.
But I just couldn’t keep doing things the same way and feel good about it.
Here’s what I learned from it all
Okay, long story. I know. But it’s important to understand where I’m coming from so you can learn from my mistakes.
Here are a few things I learned that can be applied to anyone building a business.
1. I should have started simpler and smaller.
Have you ever heard of MVP? I’m not talking sports here. In business marketing and product development, it stands for “Minimum Viable Product.”
The concept of the “MVP” is not new, but it has been recently popularized by the new book, The Lean Startup.
The concept is simple. When developing a product, ask yourself: “what’s the minimum product I can develop and release to start getting feedback and improving quickly on it?”
When I started Stoked, we had member forums, free ebooks, monthly Q&A sessions, audio interviews, member perks, and even more (believe it or not).
We had WAY too much.
And it was not only hard to keep up with, but (after some research) I learned most members only joined for a couple of the features and didn’t really care about the rest of them.
We should have simplified and started smaller.
Then, as members enjoyed the simple nature of the service, we could have added new features and scaled accordingly.
2. I should have built up more of a reserve.
I launched in February with only the content completed for February.
I, of course, had every intention of creating all the content I needed to for March, April, and subsequent months, but the weeks and months passed quickly and I found myself struggling to keep up.
I should have built up more of a reserve to guarantee top-notch content (and lots of it) for my first members.
3. I should have hired more help earlier on.
I eventually got smart enough to hire April to help me with content creation and Ryan to help with community engagement.
But by then it was too late.
From the moment the first 100 members signed up, I should have realized I had money coming in which meant I could spend more to build, promote, and maintain my new business arm.
I waited too long and it became hard (in some ways) impossible to catch up.
There you have it.
If you’re getting ready to launch a new campaign, create a new revenue stream, or just build your business in a new way, take my advice:
Start simple and small, build up a reserve (prepare well), and hire help as soon as cash-flow permits.
Learn from my mistakes.
I know I have.
So what does this mean for Stoked?
Lots of people have asked me “so what does this mean for Stoked?”
Stoked is not dead.
Again, all previous members can access all the content 100% free until we figure out our new direction.
And we have some really great ideas for what Stoked (or whatever we decide to name it) will be in the very near future.
So stay tuned. We think you’ll like it.
In the meantime, keep on building. Keep on learning. And stay honest. It’s the only way to go.
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