Gumroad Case Study: One Month to a Product and Revenue
If you’re working on a blog, podcast, or something similar, you might be wondering about the best ways to monetize it...without feeling icky. You’re working hard to build the trust of your audience. You don’t want to blow it by selling something to them in an inauthentic way.
So we turned to entrepreneur, weightlifter, and travel photographer James Clear for tips on how to start selling a product the right way.
James writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares ideas for using behavior science to improve your performance and master your habits. He offers a class via Gumroad called The Habits Workshop - a 1 hour 42 minute class filled with practical, down-to-earth ideas for transforming your habits and changing your behavior for the long-term.
In this case study, James walks us through how he went from no product to doing a workshop (with $20,000 in revenue!) in less than a month, primarily by listening to his audience.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- How he got started
- His goal for his blog and newsletter
- The tipping point that got him to over 100,000 subscribers
- Why he decided to start selling a workshop
- How he set up and launched his workshop
How did you get started?
Nov 12th, 2012 was the first day that I published on JamesClear.com. I decided to start publishing on a Monday/Thursday schedule which I’ve kept every day since then. The reason I did this is because I was being a huge wimp about my writing. I wrote in private for about a year. I kept telling myself that my writing wasn’t good enough or that I wasn’t ready yet or that my ideas weren’t fully formulated or whatever.
I was having a conversation with Todd Henry who’s a published author, and asked him, “Todd, what do you think about this idea that I should only write about something when I feel really inspired or motivated?” His response was, “Well, that makes sense, I only write when I feel motivated too. It just happens to be every day at 8am.”
So that was when I realized that professionals do things on a schedule, and amateurs do things when its easy for them or when they feel inspired or motivated to do it. That’s when I set this schedule for myself of publishing an article every Monday and Thursday.
That’s the main thing that has made the biggest difference for my writing: doing it consistently. I figure, if I write twice a week, that’s 8 or 9 posts a month. And if I write 8 or 9 posts a month, that means 2 or 3 will be decent. I try my hardest every time, and I don’t know which 2 or 3 are going to be good, but I know that if I show up 8 or 9 times I’m going to have something to show for it.
Why did you want to build a blog and newsletter? What was the goal?
Jamesclear.com is my personal blog, the home of my life’s work. I share not only my articles and writing and ideas there, but also my photography and work that I’ve done across 20 different countries at this point.
Its very much a mission-first project. Mission-first, business second. That’s what I always say as far as how I make my decisions.
I didn’t start with a bunch of products that I was going to sell. I started with a mission and a set of ideas and a worldview that I wanted to spread. The idea that tiny gains and 1% improvements can add up to something significant over time. The idea of trying to live the strongest life possible for you, not only in a physical sense (sometimes I’ll talk about weight lifting, weight training, and my career as an athlete), but also in a mental sense. What does mental strength look like? How can you be a strong person on a day to day basis? And how is that tied to the central thread of all my writing which is habits and behavior change?
And so that was the goal, was talk about that stuff and spread that worldview. Not build a $10 million business.
Were you concerned about eventually selling to your list?
I worry about that kind of stuff pretty much every day. Am I doing business with the utmost integrity? Have I made decisions that are good for the long run? Am I doing things for the right reasons? So those things are always running through my head.
I don’t think I was worried about launching to my audience simply because I had been through it before. If this is your first product launch or the first one or two times you’ve done something online, I think you absolutely will feel that way. Its just natural. Asking people to pay for something you’ve created is a skill that is not taught anywhere in school, and can only be learned by actually doing it.
What was the tipping point that enabled you to grow your list to over 100,000 subscribers?
I should mention that I wasn’t a total newbie when it comes to blogging or design. I had built an email list up to 20,000 people before so I knew what I was doing. I knew that an email list was important, I knew that subscribing to my list was going to be my main call to action on all my website's pages. I knew that I liked really simple design and eliminating distractions. So I was able to start with a little bit of knowledge already.
That said it still took me a little while to grow. It took me 6 months to get to 3,000 subscribers. In the 7th month was when things really started tipping for me. That month I doubled from 3,000 to 6,000. The next month I added another 7,000. And then it just took off from there. Today we’re at 300,000+ uniques/month, 100,000+ email subscribers, and 67,000+ Twitter followers.
I didn’t change anything with my publishing schedule during that time. I was still publishing every Monday and Thursday. Obviously I learned some things along the way and became a better writer and found my voice and was able to produce better stuff because of that.
But the thing that made a big difference in the 7th month was that I started spreading my content to as many places as possible. I got published in Entrepreneur magazine and Lifehacker and Business Insider and all these other places that started sharing my work. And so that led to this influx of traffic.
Why did you decide to do a workshop?
Well, because I care about the mission and because my list was growing quickly and because I was getting a lot of great feedback from my audience, I decided that I want to be able to spend all my time on this, not just do it as a side project. So, I knew at some point, it had to turn into a business, or at least I had to have something that made it viable, even if that wasn’t going to be the number one way I made decisions.
I had been writing about habits and I had a lot of people asking me questions like: “How do I build a habit for nutrition? Or weight loss? Or strength training?”
I also have a fair number of CEOs who read my stuff, and they would tell me that they send my articles to their whole staff. But then the follow up question was: “How do we get them to follow your advice? How do we get them to implement it?”
So, the natural extension for me was to run a habits workshop.
The reason I did a workshop as opposed to an ebook was because I had this idea, and I wanted to make sure I did it. The friction of going from 0 to that first paying customer was very little because all I had to do was create the Gumroad product, put it up and tell people about it.
How did you do it?
I didn’t really plan very much for the product creation. I had this idea to create the habits workshop, and 5 days later I had it for sale on Gumroad. It was really quick. That’s one of the reasons I love Gumroad so much is because it made it so easy to get something up and out there.
The reason that I went with a workshop is because I could charge a reasonable price for it (I started the price point at $29, today it sells for $49, and at some point I’ll probably increase it to around $69). I didn’t have to create much to start with. I just had to create the description with the date and time and how to access the workshop. People pre-ordered throughout the month leading up to it, and then I had the live event, which was a two hour workshop followed by 30 minutes of Q&A.
And then it was done! It was easy. I didn’t have to spend tons of time building something, I didn’t have to worry about the marketing plan and launch and all this stuff. I just put it out there. My thinking was, if people don’t buy, or if I only sell 16 tickets, then maybe I’ll just cancel it and move on and try something else.
Turns out over 700 people attended the first live workshop and I only mentioned it to my email list a couple times.
How did you launch it?
The very first time that I launched a product I did no pre-launch. I created no buzz. I just built it and I sent out an email one day and was like “Here it is! I’m selling it! You should all get it!”
And it didn’t go over well. So, I think you should give people a touchpoint, let them know it's coming, build a bit of anticipation.
This time I pretty strategically did this through three emails.
Email 1: Regular Thursday newsletter with basic details about the Habits Workshop at the end.
Email 2: Regular Monday newsletter with a short mention in the P.S. section.
Email 3: Full email announcement that addressed questions like: Who will find this workshop useful?, Why am I teaching it?, What will it cover? How will it be different than your weekly articles? It also added more of a sense of urgency because registration closed the next Tuesday at noon. (Read the full email here.)
Here's James' entire launch laid out with his revenue for that first month:
A workshop can be a great way to get started selling a product for a few reasons:
- Low setup friction: Using Gumroad’s pre-order feature, you can start taking registrations in a matter of minutes. James didn’t have to create much more than the concept and a product description to launch his workshop. Rather than planning every detail of the workshop before telling people about it, he didn’t start formally preparing until he saw there was interest.
- Validate an idea: Think your audience would be interested in a particular topic, but aren’t sure? Test out your content with a short workshop. The workshop format allows you to tweak and retry ideas, or scrap them and move on to the next without investing too much time.
- Immediate audience feedback: What resonated with your audience? What did they have questions about? There’s nothing like getting live feedback to hone in on what’s important to them.
- Win-win pricing: You can try out your first workshop at a price that delivers great value for your customers, while still earning you more than you might from a book. James offered the first live version of his workshop for $29 and now sells the improved version for $49.
- Hard deadline to get it done: If you’re the type of person that puts things off, there’s nothing like a hard deadline where you have to speak in front of people to get you motivated.
James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.