In the past 16 months, Daniel Vassallo has grown his Twitter account from zero to 35,000 followers. In the past six months, he’s made $190,000 on Gumroad.
We asked him to reflect on his journey. Here’s what we learned.
He Didn’t Set Out to be a Gumroad Creator
- “This started as an experiment and it wasn’t something I thought I’d be doing."
- In February 2019, he left a $500,000 job at Amazon to work for himself. He wrote about his decision, posted an article online, and started building a social media following from scratch.
- “I’m lucky to live in a time where I can do something independently in my area of expertise,” he explained, “So that’s what I’m doing. I’m going all in on independence, and I’m going to try to make a living with my own bare hands starting from nothing.”
- Daniel’s first product wasn’t for Gumroad. After he left Amazon, he started building Userbase, an ambitious SaaS product he knew would take years to scale. He also knew he wouldn’t be able to make a living from Userbase right away.
- He started describing his self-employment journey on Twitter and quickly attracted a following. He realized, “Twitter’s killer feature is in watching people’s story as it happens, uncorrupted by the knowledge of what will actually happen…; it’s a big part of what makes following someone interesting.”
He Found Proof of Demand on Twitter
- In July 2019, six months after he left Amazon, Daniel posted a tweetstorm about AWS.
- There was a strong response to the thread. Daniel started replying and answering questions in a tweet or two — and he soon learned he couldn’t encapsulate everything in the replies. The thread proved to him there was an opportunity to elaborate more.
- Daniel knew a lot about AWS — and he also knew there was already a lot of information about AWS on the internet, including from Amazon itself (indeed, there are more than 2,000 books about AWS listed on Amazon). What Daniel learned from replying to the thread, though, was people were interested in learning about AWS from him specifically.
- For a month these twin realizations stuck with him: he couldn’t put everything he knew into tweet form, and there was pent up interest in a subject he knew well. As he put it, that was the “inspiration for my first Gumroad product.”
- In August 2019, Daniel debated whether he should try to build a product, and he settled on writing a short technical book. He began to understand he could share his perspective, and he was inspired by other creators. Still, the goal of creating a product was not merely to express himself — the goal was “purely financial.”
- “My original goal was to write something around 50 pages. It turned out to be longer, but the idea was to write something with high information density, not an exhaustive product.”
- He found a co-author for the book, Josh Pschorr, a friend and former colleague at Amazon. Josh too was looking for something to do on the side.
- “This was quite a speculative bet. We had no idea whether it was going to sell anything or if it was going to make any money. I thought building the product together was a good way to mitigate the risk and split the work between us, and to make it a bit more fun.”
- In October 2019, when Daniel announced the product on Twitter, he and Josh hadn’t even started creating it yet. Daniel started taking pre-orders and got a strong response. “It was quite a good signal that there was interest: we made $5,000 worth of pre-orders at $24 per unit — this was over the course of a couple of months but there was a big amount on the first day.”
- “We took it as one of these small bets. We didn’t want to take months or years doing this book. We time-boxed about a month to do it. In effect, we spent roughly three weeks of full-time work.”
- “We released the product on Christmas Day 2019 and it’s been far more successful than our expectations. After 14 days the product had made $45,000 and since then the product is approaching $100,000 in total sales.”
- “The reason why my product was selling is because people had come to know me on Twitter and they were curious about my perspective, not just anyone else’s perspective.”
One Gumroad Product Inspires Another
- Soon after Daniel’s first product began selling, he posted a thread on Twitter about how the product was doing. He challenged people to ask him anything and he answered hundreds of questions in the replies. Like before, proof of demand — and the kernel of a product idea — came for these exchanges.
- At the time, Daniel had 12,000 Twitter followers. The most common question he was getting in reference to the performance of his first Gumroad product was, “How did you building your following?” He was answering the same question over and over again in a tweet or two, but he could sense people weren’t getting all the information they needed from his “tweet-sized answers.”
- This gave him the inspiration to try his second Gumroad product, and to elaborate again on a topic he knew well.
- “This time I wanted to go even more aggressive on my investment. At first I was thinking about doing another e-book, but those take a lot of time…; so I thought I could record myself and sell that as an information product.”
- He worked hard to summarize everything he knew, taking much of what he shared for free on Twitter and organizing it on slides. He shared his screen, gave examples, and produced a 100-minute video tutorial.
- He uploaded the video on Gumroad, didn’t take pre-orders this time, and announced it on Twitter. “This was even more successful financially. This has been out for exactly two months to the day and the product is now approaching $100,000 in sales.” The price was a bit higher, which has made some difference (there are two price tiers, $50 for the video and $65 for the video and an additional spreadsheet).
In Daniel’s Words…
Making a Living on Gumroad
I’m starting to realize you can actually make a living selling information products once you have a decent audience and you identify some topics. My strategy right now has been to give away everything I know for free on Twitter. I give it my best shot, but then you realize there’s a limit to how much you can answer on Twitter.
So that spillover starts to become the opportunity and potential for these kinds of information products. There are things that are impossible to explain in a short comment, so you can leave those things for products.
I admit I do these things for financial purposes. I tend to keep the fun on Twitter or blogs. But making money from products that have a broad interest where you can help people is what this is about.
The Gumroad Experience for Creators
I’m a big fan. Gumroad is the easiest way to put a digital product on sale. I can’t imagine a simpler experience. You just create a new product page, give it a title, drag and drop your file, whether it’s a PDF or video or anything, write a description, and that’s it. Then you have a link you can forward to people you know and your audience. There are advanced features for creating affiliate links, profit-sharing, and studying analytics, which are very useful, but the major differentiator is simplicity.
From the financial side, as well, I love that it’s very low cost. Just a 3.5 percent transaction fee. It pays weekly, so every Friday I get the sales from the previous week. Everything always runs smoothly. (Amazon takes between 30-65 percent of sales depending on the price of the book.)
One other thing I really like, unlike the other platforms, you get the email list of all your customers and you can build your own relationship with them. You can send them updates about new products that you’re doing.
If you have your own audience and you’ve already earned credibility on a certain topic, you’re much more likely to have financial success if you cut out the middle man and sell directly to customers. In my case, as a seller, I’m benefitting from having a bigger margin on Gumroad.