Yo! Podcast #004 – Jason Schuller – Product Designer, Founder Leeflets
Jason Schuller (@jasonpatricksc) is a designer, maker and minimalist based in Seattle, Washington. His first success was with Press75, a WordPress theme shop that infamously sold $75 themes raking in millions of dollars over several years. However money is no driver for Jason, who sold the business to pursue stimulating side-projects like Leeflets, Droplets, Cinematico, RIVYT and even joined the team over at Plasso for while. Luckily for us Jason isn’t afraid to go deep. We talk about the moment everything changed, finding the right co-founder and the struggle of competing with previous monetary success.
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- Jason website
- Jason Twitter
- Sold WordPress theme business: Press75
- Side-project: Leeflets
- Side-project: RIVYT
- Side-project: Plaink Standing Desk
- Article: A Brief History of a WordPress Theme Business
- Mention: Nirvana, Nevermind
- Mention: Drew Wilson
- Mention: Jeff Sheldon (Ugmonk)
- Mention: AJ (Carrd)
- Mention: Brian Gardner
- Mention: Adii
- Cameo: Steve Schoger (next episode)
- Mention: Christopher John (The Molitor)
Rob: Yo Jason! Welcome to the show, my man!
Jason: Hey, thanks. It's good to be talking to you finally.
Rob: Cool. So you're based in Seattle, Washington.
Jason: I am.
Rob: Is it true that everyone still wears Nirvana shirts and listens to grunge?
Jason: I'd say, well, my generation does. If your Nirvana shirt still isn't full of holes, yeah, people are still sporting them. But I don't know about grunge. I still do, for sure. I still have that playlist, it pops up, and I'm still checking into it. All my friends do. But new generations, I'm not sure. Are they?
Rob: So I was trying to work out, you know, since you're born in '75, you must have been about 16 by the time Nirvana, Nevermind came out, man.
Jason: I was.
Rob: Did you ever see them live?
Jason: I had tickets to see them live, and I couldn't make the show.
Jason: So, no, I never saw them live, and that's a big regret of mine. That would have been an amazing show, amazing history.
Rob: That's got to be bigger than any.
Jason: Yeah, I mean, I've seen Foo Fighters and Sound Garden and Red Hot Chili Peppers, all when they're in their prime, and Nirvana was the one that kind of escaped me from Seattle.
Rob: Wow, that's got to be bigger than, like, any startup regret.
Jason: Probably, probably, right, because it's such a historical thing. You're never gonna see Kurt Cobain ever unless they do some kind of VR thing, you know, in the future. But yeah, that was definitely one I'd missed out on, for sure.
Rob: Okay, so before we dive into your current side projects, Death Star I, 1998, okay, and if my research is correct, you were a webmaster at Boeing. So, what on Earth does a webmaster actually do in 1998?
Jason: I don't know. I think I was pretty much... I think I sold that job on the folks at Boeing because I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know anything about the web back then other than there was like Yahoo and things like that. Pretty much what I was doing is reverse-engineering webpages. So I would, like, save them as local files and kinda comb through the code and try to make them, you know, do different things. So, if I had an idea for making this layout with a grid, I would literally download like a Yahoo store page or something like that and go into the source code and, you know, refine it and make it my own. And that's kinda how I taught myself web design and development at the time, and I was able to pass that off enough to sell Boeing on a webmaster job, which is kind of funny.
Rob: So, were you doing their internal sites?
Jason: Yeah, I was doing all the internal sites at Boeing. So they have thousands of internal organizational pages, and even to this day, they're still built on static HTML, which is it's craziness to me.
Rob: And what kind of tools were you using back then? Like, what is your app? I remember using Dreamweaver, but I think that was even 2003 or something.
Jason: Yeah, I think it was. What did Microsoft have at the time? What was that called? Microsoft.
Rob: Was it FrontPage?
Jason: FrontPage or something like that. I think it was FrontPage, you know. And then, when Dreamweaver came out, that was definitely the big thing that everybody was using, and I was too.
Rob: Fast-forward to 2007 and you got intrigued by this new kid on the block called WordPress.
Rob: Your starter online resource called WP Elements, where you blogged about how to create themes while giving away a few. And I'm just thinking, it's crazy to think, 12 years ago, you were actually one of the originals documenting while you are building.
Jason: Yeah, I mean, that was really a breakout moment for me, because I was working at Boeing and it was obvious to me that my career wasn't really going anywhere in a company like that, especially in web design and development. And I had actually pitched Boeing on WordPress. Like, literally, you could use a single installation of WordPress and manage the entirety of your internal, you know, organizational web infrastructure.
Rob: Like a multisite.
Jason: Yeah, like a multisite, like through one literal install of WordPress, and you could eliminate hundreds of jobs. Not that I wanted to get people fired, but you know, it was this thing where upper-level management was super impressed by the idea when I pitched it to them, and I even developed a theme, and they were impressed. And that's kind of what spurred me to start looking outside of Boeing and talk about what I was doing with WordPress outside of Boeing.
Rob: Interesting. So it's almost like they went on board with the progression of the web and they didn't wanna change that. And you were like, "Well, I have to move this way."
Jason: Yeah. I mean, for them, it came down to open-source software. I mean, you cannot have open-source software powering something that is internal to the company. And so I don't know if their mentality has shifted since then, but back then, it was definitely like a big no-no to have open source.
Rob: Just quickly back on WP Elements, you know, you were documenting as you were going. You were giving away freebies, resources. You're helping people. Would you still say that's solid advice in 2019 to just document as you go? Because you were learning while you are building templates.
Jason: Yeah. I mean, that was natural marketing, right?
Jason: People who were getting started in WordPress were following me along as they were getting started on their own journey. And so it was just this natural progression of marketing. And I need to actually kind of go back and do the same thing I was doing before, because as I learn now, I find that I'm not talking enough about it, right. It's such a powerful tool to be able to blog about what you're learning and your journey. And I think people are naturally attracted to documentation like that, to online articles like that, and to follow that journey.
Rob: It's quite interesting, just when we're chatting before we hit record, is that someone can follow your full journey just through a podcast, and you can record a lesson every day of your build and just put it out there. You just need a microphone and you can...I mean, Spotify, there's no barrier to entry, really. You can use, get Anchor, and you can create a podcast for free. And so this is like almost the new ways people can follow your journey, it can be through a podcast, and that's consumed pretty passively and easily.
Jason: Yeah. I mean, I think if I were to do it today, it would definitely be in this form of audio or, you know, video as well. So, probably audio with supplemental videos here and there. I don't know that I would go back to writing articles.
Rob: Right. So, let's very quick, an intermission I like to call True, False, Maybe.
Rob: Simply shoot back any of those three words. Are you ready?
Rob: A modern-day webmaster is really just a designer that can code?
Rob: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication?
Rob: You work no more than six hours a day?
Jason: Absolutely true.
Rob: Minimalist design is actually very difficult?
Rob: And the correct price for any premium WordPress theme must be $75?
Rob: I know you've told the story so many times, but I'd love if you could just share it one more time with Yo audience.
Rob: So you released your first premium WordPress theme for $5, and then you go for a walk.
Jason: Yeah, man, it's true. I was seeing with guys like Brian Gardner and Adii from WooThemes we're doing. So I think, back then, it was like Brian was doing his premium theme, which was like a news theme, and Adii was doing his news theme as well. And I had this idea for a video theme, because nobody was doing video at the time for WordPress. And I threw this thing together, it was literally this simple, like grid layout where you click a thumbnail and it played a video, like a YouTube embed. And I kicked it out there, I was like, "I'll just gonna charge $5 for this thing and see what it does." And my wife and I went for a walk. An hour later, I come home, and it had sold, God, I don't even remember. It was a lot. It was a lot of copies. It had sold a lot. It was enough to kind of, you know, set the light bulb off in my head and spur me to kind of follow that trend.
Rob: Wow. Would you say that was safely a moment that sort of changed everything?
Jason: It changed everything for me. It absolutely did. It just kinda opened my eyes to what you could do on your own versus working for a company versus, you know, doing client work. You could actually build a product, put it out there, and sell it, and create a sustainable business. That's the idea that was almost instantaneously put into my head, and it hasn't left since.
Rob: So, without diving too deep, it's around June 2008, and you're shipping these video-centric WordPress themes, okay.
Rob: Birthing Press75 theme shop. Was this video niche an obvious gap you spotted or was it more like you are passionate just designing video themes?
Jason: Yeah, I just think it was more I was passionate about designing video themes, because everybody was doing blogging themes and they all kinda look the same. They were all kind of this newsy layout with text and long-form, you know, articles, and there wasn't a lot of visual, I don't know, essence to them. And what I liked about video themes were there was a lot of visual noise on the page, right. You could have these beautiful thumbnails and just a little bit of text, and you know, there is this interactivity of clicking that thumbnail and launching a video. Nobody was doing it back then. I wanna say, honestly, I was like the first one to kinda carve out that niche for video WordPress themes, and it definitely worked in my favor, I wanna say.
Rob: Wow. So I'm just actually thinking, I haven't got this question down, but YouTube, I think, was acquired in 2006, and then, obviously, kicked things off, you know, just ram things up. And this is, you know, two years in.
Rob: We've got your themes going up. So, were you eyeing that out? Were you eyeing out those trends, so you just keep designing as you were, putting your head down?
Jason: No, I was just designing as I was, keeping my head down. I wasn't doing any market research. I wasn't following along what the trends were. I was just doing what came kinda natural, what I wanted to do. I knew that designing video-centric themes was just something I love to do with my time. And so I just kept cranking them out. And, you know, it fell into line. I do wanna say there was a lot of luck, I wanna say, a lot of stars aligning, right, to my business growth as it was back then. Because I didn't market my stuff, I was just kind of playing and having fun. And everything kinda aligned in a way where it just kinda worked out.
Rob: Yeah, I find this fascinating because you are designing video themes because you kinda just love designing them, you love the idea of what you're gonna create and how people are gonna use them. And someone else probably spotted that Google trend, you know, well, the video trend with the Google acquisition, saw what you were doing, heard about your sales, and then was like, "I need to get in," but they actually weren't that passionate about videos. And your product probably was better because of your passion.
Jason: Yeah, maybe so. I don't know. I mean, in hindsight, like when you do follow your passion and you're just doing something because you love it versus doing something because you think you're gonna make a buck, I do think that that stars aligning moment can come more often than not. If you're gonna do something, do it because you love it, not because you think you're gonna turn around and sell it. That's why I don't like all these startups whose goals are to literally kick something out in six months and offload it to Google or something. Because you're not doing it for the love of the product, you're doing it for the love of the money. And I feel like the product suffers because of that, sometimes, and you're not really innovating in those moments. You're kinda just kicking things out because you think you're gonna turn it around and make a whole bunch of money.
Rob: So we'll get into the peak now, but I'm just looking at December 2008, you had a short partnership with Brian Gardner you called Revolution Two. And you guys split after a couple months, obviously still friends, but you quoted in a Medium article, "I quickly realized that Brian and I were too much alike in all the wrong ways in order to foster a good working partnership." So I wanna ask you, what is the perfect symphony needed for a founder partnership to work?
Jason: I don't know, I haven't found it yet. I've been looking for it. Actually, I do wanna say that, you know, I have worked on projects with other people, and it has worked out in favor of the project. I think when you have two people like Brian and I who are so aligned in how we work and how we build and what we wanna do, and when you have so much alignment that you're kind of stepping on each other's toes, it's not necessarily a good thing. I do think there's something to be said about having that opposite, right, that kind of fills the gaps. And Brian and I didn't have that, and I think that's what the problem was. We realized it quickly.
Rob: Stepping in here, like, what about just accepting that maybe you don't need a partner ever, it's just not for you?
Jason: Yeah, maybe that's what the world is telling me. I don't know. I'm trying to figure that out now. Like, I'm going through this huge transition period of having sold my business five years ago and having worked with startups and having built new things and kinda seeing them through and what's going on. And I'm trying to kind of, you know, read the signs a little bit and take, you know, what I can learn from those experiences and figure out what my next thing is. And, yeah, I mean, you learn those lessons, and I'm starting to feel that maybe it's okay to be on your own, right.
Jason: Maybe it's okay to launch your own things. And absolutely, something I've learned is that it's okay to keep small, to stay small. You can launch something and have your own little pool, right. And it can be successful on your level, and it doesn't have to grow beyond that. And I think that's one of the biggest mistakes I made with Press75 and my WordPress theme business is I saw what other people were doing, like Adii, Brian Gardner, and how fast they were growing their businesses into these huge enterprises. And I had this small piece of the pie with Press75, and it was doing really well. But I had this ambition to grow it even bigger than what it was. And that's where I started to make mistakes, to be honest. And if I could go back, I would keep it small.
Rob: But it's just interesting, at this point, you know, we're in July 2009, I think you peaked at about $40,000 a month. Did you ever think that there was a ceiling at this point? Because WordPress is now exploiting Azure.
Jason: Yeah. I think there are way more opportunities in WordPress now. It's just a matter of getting your footing in that game. So I think the opportunities in WordPress are much bigger now, I mean, especially with Gutenberg. I mean, Gutenberg is changing the game for WordPress. There's so much revolving around that editor experience and what you can do with that, and people are taking advantage of that. But I don't think getting your foot in the door is as easy as it was back when I was doing it, right. There's just too much noise.
Rob: I mean, there are so many plugins that can come bundled with the theme, and it actually becomes a bit of a support business at times if you haven't played your cards right.
Jason: Yeah, I'm not sure that themes are the future for WordPress. I do feel that when you, lie plugins and maybe blocks for Gutenberg, products like that where you're adding functionality on top of WordPress and allowing people to do things that they couldn't otherwise do with just a standard theme, I think that's kind of the future of WordPress. It's not necessarily like the designing of a theme and releasing of a theme.
Rob: Okay. So fast-forward to 2014, earnings, but more importantly, motivation had dropped off quite a bit, and you sold Press75 to Westwerk. I got a question here from Gilbert from Scotland: "Hey, Jason. How did it feel to sell Press75, and what did you do afterwards?"
Jason: You know, the timing was right because it was in 2013, my daughter was born. I mean, that changes your life when you have kids. You'll never know until you have kids just how much it changes your life. And I just wanted to take a step back, you know, and immerse myself in that moment of my life. So I just felt like the timing was right to offload what felt like a burden at the time, because WordPress had become this monster, right. WordPress went from being this cool little platform that you could do specific things on to being this massive platform that wants to do everything. And that's really where I started to disconnect with WordPress, WordPress theming, and my WordPress theme business. And so, after my daughter was born, I really wanted to just take a step back, sell the business, spend some time with her when she was, you know, a baby and kind of experience that full on. And, yeah, I mean, the stars just kind of aligned that way. And from that point forward, I just let go of WordPress and started working on things that interested me at the time, kind of back to square one.
Rob: Just before we get into the new side project stuff, I'm currently fascinated with two things, and I wanna use your story as context.
Rob: Clearly, one of your metrics for success is motivation, and you wanna be stimulated while you work, yet you were writing Press75 for years, making 30k-plus a month, and that's fair. But do you feel that your life is better in any way right now by having those funds over two years, versus selling sooner and moving on faster?
Jason: You know, if I were to go back, I'd say the majority of the time I did Press75, I actually probably wasn't extremely happy as an entrepreneur. It was really in that first couple of years I wanna say that I was truly kind of embracing what it was to kinda do my own thing and do something driven by passion versus driven by, you know, making a business successful. And then, shortly after, when your business is successful, it's kinda hard not to be, you know, taken back by the success and just get wrapped up in, "Okay, what do I need to do next? What's the next theme I need to build that's gonna make that churn for the next month, and the next month, and the next month?" And so you get wrapped up in that...I don't even know how to put it. You just kinda get wrapped up in the business a little bit, and you kinda lose your way. And that absolutely happened to me a couple of years after. So, if I were to go back, I mean, I would still sell my business. If anything, I'd sell it sooner, because, I mean, if I'm honest, even in the high of making 40k a month on WordPress themes, that's probably where I was the least happy doing it.
Rob: I mean, that's perfect, that's exactly what a fortune would say. And then just on the second part of that question is that founders often talk about, you know, being a one-hit wonder, and you know, a lot of people mention this. And I'm just wondering, why are we competing with our old selves and our old businesses?
Rob: You know, surely, our current motivation is way more important than comparing to a once-upon-a-time monthly recurring revenue.
Jason: It's a hard lesson to learn though, right, because once you have had success like that, and you did make something work, and especially for somebody like me who is working a job in a cubicle, making, you know, I think I was making 50k a year when I left Boeing, which I mean, I guess that wasn't bad for a newly married guy just getting started in their career and kinda moving forward. But to leave that and, within six months, build a business from scratch into a $20,000, then $30,000, then $40,000 a month business, I mean, that definitely kinda skews your perception of...
Rob: Of what's possible.
Jason: Yeah, of what's possible. And so you kinda get into this place of, "Oh, shit, I did it once. It's gonna be that easy again," right. Like, I can just do the same thing over again, and that's just, like, the sad truth is you can't do that. You can't just make something and people are gonna show up because it's good. And that's the thing I've struggled with over the last five years, because, and I'm rambling, but by all means, like I feel that the work that I'm putting out there and the ideas I'm putting out there are on a whole new level better than what I was doing with Press75 and WordPress themes, and none of them are as successful. And that doesn't mean that they don't lead to other opportunities, because they do. But if I were to gauge based on previous success, I mean, none of them have kind of reached that pinnacle of success that I had with Press75.
Rob: Yeah, I guess this leads back to the fundamental question of, you know, what are you defining a success though?
Jason: Right, and that's kind of what I'm going back to now. And for me, it's definitely not the success of the business and how much money you make. But it is definitely the ability to do something you love, right, and not feel like you're going to work during the day. I wanna feel like I'm just going up to my office and doing something I love and providing value. And if I can make a living doing that, which I am, I'm cool with it. So, in that way, I feel like what I'm doing now is kind of a success in and of itself even though it's different from what it was before.
Rob: Absolutely. I mean, that's a great answer, you know. For myself, my metrics for success right now, and I also am aware it can change, my metric is freedom, and it's the ability to not do the same thing every day, the ability to not work for three or four days, you know. I've spent years designing that life, and I can safely say, I'm not even near 30k recurring, but I feel like I've got a successful career if that makes sense. And I'm super motivated and satisfied with each day-to-day's work, no matter what it is, and it varies.
Jason: Yeah, absolutely, it varies, and I think that's a really good word to describe it, the freedom, the freedom to do kind of what you want and drive your own future. And I think it's really important for me to show my daughter that too. Like, she grows up and she's seeing that her dad is there every day and that he is doing something he wants to do, versus getting in a car, driving to work, sitting in an office, being a cog in a wheel, coming home, having an hour of time before she has to go to bed, you know. She's seeing that there's a different way to do it, and I'm hoping that I can, like, see that in her, whether she decides to become an office employee, I mean, that's her choice. She could become an accountant for all I know, and she might be extremely happy doing it. But I wanna show her that there are other ways to this life than just the traditional, "I got to go to school, get an education, be hundreds of thousand dollars in debt, get a job, work in an office eight hours a day to make a living," you know. I just don't...I can't comprehend going back to that at this point, and I wanna show her it's one of the most important thing is for me to show her that there is other ways of going about this life.
Rob: Amen, brother. That's wonderful. Let's transition into a quick intermission I like to call No Context, okay. So I'm gonna give you two words, you choose either of them, no context.
Jason: I'm ready.
Rob: Analog or digital?
Rob: Instagram or Twitter?
Rob: The Killers or Death Cab for Cutie?
Jason: Oh man, Death Cab.
Rob: Nirvana or Foo Fighters?
Jason: Oh, God, Nirvana.
Rob: Okay. Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture or the Pacific Science Center?
Jason: Pacific Science Center.
Rob: Snowboarding or mountain biking?
Jason: Mountain biking.
Rob: Standing or sitting desks?
Rob: Okay. So, in 2015, you've built a standing desk called Plaink.
Jason: I did.
Rob: It must have been awesome to build something tangible.
Jason: Yeah. I'm always building tangible shit. I never do anything, but I'm constantly working on things.
Rob: I mean, did you ever consider replicating it? It seemed like it had pretty good response online.
Jason: Yeah, I wanna kick-start it, I really do. I do wanna get to a place where I kinda get over that fear of launching a physical product, and I've watched so many people do like Ugmonk, with his, you know, clothing line and his brand and what he's done. He's such an inspiration, Jeff Sheldon.
Jason: And I definitely wanna get past that fear of building and manufacturing and selling a physical product, because it's a realm I definitely wanna get into. Yeah, I did build a standing desk because there really wasn't anything out there that kinda suited what I wanna do. It's kind of the same as web applications, that's why I build solutions for the web because there's not something that exists that does exactly what I wanna do. And so I built this standing desk using materials that I already had, and I still use it today. It's, I think, the best solution for me, and it seems like a lot of people were interested in it. So it's still one of those things I kinda wanna kick-start and see what I can do with a physical product.
Rob: I mean, all those reasons you described, your fear, are all checkboxes for me on why you should do it.
Jason: Right, exactly.
Rob: You learn a lot.
Jason: Yeah, you learn a lot, and it's so much easier with the web, right, because you can just kick something out, and it makes itself.
Jason: Like, you don't have to put in the time to gather materials and figure out how it's gonna be manufactured and what are the costs that are involved with that. With the web, you can just kick something out, and it can exist relatively easily. So the barrier to entry is just so much lower when it comes to building web products, but I'm getting so much closer, I feel, to like breaking into that physical product realm. I have so many ideas and I've worked on so many things that I can't ignore anymore, I don't think.
Rob: So tell me quick your setup there on that standing desk, what are you running? What's your hardware and what software are you using to, you know, build your projects? I know you got a pretty minimal setup when it comes to software.
Jason: Extremely minimal. I mean, I have a 2017 MacBook Pro that I use. I don't have a screen or anything. It's just a MacBook. It's by far the worst MacBook I've ever had. It was the first one with the touch bar, and from day one, it's been horrible. I hate the touch bar. The MacBook itself, it just seems buggy. And I maxed the thing out because I was doing a lot of video production at the time for like all the drone videos and stuff I was doing. And it doesn't perform, it's laggy, the touch bar is awful, and you know, I'm still using it today. But from the standpoint of other hardware, I just have an external keyboard and a little mic for doing podcasts, and that's about it.
Rob: And software-wise?
Jason: Software-wise, I mean, Sublime for writing code.
Rob: For sure.
Jason: And I don't really use any, like, design tools. So I do all my design in-browser as I code.
Jason: It feels more freeing to me, and that's why I haven't been able to get a job as a designer, head of a company, because they see that as something that is, you know, not good for the rest of the team, I guess.
Rob: Yeah, your CV is like, design tool, Chrome.
Jason: Yeah, exactly. Absolutely. And I've definitely had these experiences where, like, a company comes to me because of the designs I'm putting out there. They're like, "Yeah, we want you as a designer," and then they realize how I design my stuff and they're like, "Yeah, you're just not gonna work." So, yeah, it's frustrating.
Rob: Got you. So November 2016, you joined the team at Plasso.
Jason: Yeah, that was rad experience.
Rob: Led by Drew Wilson that earlier was on the team, and it seemed like a swell time here.
Jason: Oh man, what a great team. That was so fun. That year-plus, almost two years I think I was with Plasso. Yeah, I mean, Drew is an amazing guy. I followed him ever since he launched, I think it was called Quixly, and it was his first, like, payments platform. And I wanted to use it for selling my WordPress themes. And that's when I first kind of found Drew and knew of Drew is through Quixly, and I remember hitting him up about a bunch of questions I had about selling my WordPress themes through Quixly. And I think we just started chatting from then on, and that's how we knew each other. But, yeah, he was building his team at Plasso. He was not taking no for an answer, and he raised a bunch of money and he invited me to join along, along with a bunch of other really cool, talented people, and I definitely jumped at the chance because I just respect Drew on a whole other level. He's an inspiration to me for sure.
Rob: And what happened there?
Jason: Yeah, I mean, he raised his initial round, and he brought on everybody that he needed to bring on. We designed a bunch of new products. We rebuilt Plasso from the ground up. And then a year passed, and I think what it came down to is there just wasn't the growth there needed to be to warrant keeping the team that he had in place at the time. And so he kinda swapped out his design and development team for a marketing team a little bit and then drove it home. I mean, there was a couple months there where I was kind of unsure what was happening to Plasso. I wasn't a part of it anymore, but eventually, you know, GoDaddy reached out to Drew and, you know, Drew is happy at GoDaddy now. So, I mean, that's a pretty awesome success story in and of itself.
Rob: It is good. And what exactly was your role there in the team?
Jason: I don't know.
Rob: I was about to say, I can't find it anywhere.
Jason: Yeah, I don't know. I don't even know what I do now, to be honest. Like, I think he wanted me because I was this mix of designer and developer. I understood code, and I understood design, and I understood how to conceptualize and make new products. And so, for him, it wasn't a crutch like other companies. Like, if I were to go, again, for a role as a designer at a Squarespace or Facebook, I'm not traditionally schooled in just design. So they see how I go about my work as a crutch. And with Drew, he was like, "Yeah, you get the whole picture." And so, to him, it was a benefit, it was a plus. And he wanted people like that on his team. And so I wanna say I was a designer, a developer, I was conceptualizing and creating potentially new products for Plasso. I had been working on like a donation type space for Plasso and like a Kickstarter type space Plasso and a bunch of other little things. But, yeah, I mean, working with that team was just such a treat.
Rob: Awesome. So, you know, I'm gonna transition into RIVYT soon, but you know, in the back of the last few things you worked on, you were always working on Leeflets, okay. So it's gorgeous, minimal, single-page sites that took, you know, many different roads, but it always kinda had the same premise, you know, beautiful one-page websites. What is it about one-page websites? You and me have been hanging out in this niche for a long time.
Jason: Yeah, One Page Love, right?
Jason: It's the challenge of making something that does something so focused and specific that solves a specific problem. I'm just drawn to that. And so the initial version of Leeflets was this downloadable content management system that allowed you to create single-page websites. And that quickly didn't work, because it just didn't. And I just won't give up on it. And so it went through this iteration, "Okay, I'm gonna create single-page WordPress themes." And I wasn't able to break into that space, and now I've kind of built this platform where it's this really niche-specific landing page generator, where you can come in and you can create a single-page site online and publish it on your own domain. And these things do really specific things. So it's not like a page builder. I'm designing landing pages that do...like if you wanted to raise donations for a product, there will be a solution for that. If you just wanted a card for your Instagram profile that points to links, you can do just that, you know. Little things like that that do very specific things where people can come in, create their landing page, and get it off the ground without having to fiddle with, "Oh, I wanna drag this over here and drop that over here," you know. I'm trying to create that experience where there's no, you know, drag time in creating your page. You just create it and you're done.
Rob: It's interesting because you chose to host them, right, at $25, one soft payment. And I'm just interested in why you chose this pricing point and why not recurring. I know we've been there before.
Jason: Yeah, I mean, because it's not...I mean, and I know AJ and I, AJ with Carrd, has built this amazing platform where you can go create a website, and you can configure it however you want. And he's turning this platform into this awesome page builder, right, that you can create anything. And to me, that warrants like a yearly subscription or a monthly subscription. But personally, I wanted to create something that was more one-off, right. And I feel like a lot of the things that I'm creating are temporary in nature, whether they'd be like a one-off product.
Rob: A book launch.
Jason: Yeah, a book launch, I mean, that's something that's temporary. And so, to me, I wanted to kinda overcome that subscription fatigue that I think a lot of people have. Like, seriously, I have to pay monthly for another product, another service. Like, how many products? And you kinda lose track, right. Like, "Oh, yeah, I'll check this out for a couple months," but then you forget about it, and you've got this monthly payment of something you're not even thinking about. And so my thought is that, with Leeflets, these are things that may be temporary in nature, and I can sustain this business on one-off purchases. And if I can do that, I don't need to turn Leeflets into this massive moneymaking platform. I just wanna create landing pages for people and have them be able to launch on one-off and they're good to go.
Rob: So, how did you get to $25?
Jason: I think that's temporary. I mean, it just seemed like a good launching point. So, just last week, I implemented on a template basis, pricing on a template basis. So most of them are 25 bucks. Like, I have this little card one, which is literally just a card of links, like Linktree basically, but better. And it's five bucks, so like five bucks, you can sign up for Leeflets and launch a card for your Instagram profile with links to all your other platforms that you're on. And, you know, I'm gonna be doing a fundraising template that'd probably be like 75 bucks, and then I'm gonna do...somebody's actually commissioning me to do like a courses template, where you can watch your course, like a video course. And, you know, I'm not sure how much that's gonna be because that's gonna be a little bit more involved.
Rob: Okay. So, now, pretty much your most current project, if I stand corrected, is RIVYT. You teamed up with Christopher John, the Molitor, and you guys have created this hosted platform where you can just pump in a YouTube URL and other platforms now as well, and you can actually create a beautiful-looking, yeah, I wanna say portfolio site, but just a beautiful-looking home for your videos.
Jason: Yeah, I mean, the idea behind RIVYT, I mean, it kinda goes back to that passion of doing video-centric content, video-centric solutions. And with the popularity of YouTube and Twitch and other platforms like that, I mean, Chris and I just felt like these people don't have a home. Like, they're on these platforms, but at any time, these platforms can change the algorithm and they're fucked.
Jason: Right. So you should have your content in a place where you're in control. And so that's kind of the idea behind RIVYT, you literally plug in your YouTube channel and it generates a website for you. And you can choose templates, and then you can publish it on your own domain, and you can manage your content under your own domain. And it's kind of this platform-agnostic solution that's automatic instead of a Squarespace, where, I don't know, we've talked to so many YouTubers where they're like, "Oh, yeah, I'm working on my site. I've been working on it for months. It's on Squarespace. I just haven't had time to launch it yet."
Rob: Fifteen dollars a month.
Jason: Yeah, and that's where RIVYT comes into play. You can launch your site in 10 minutes, you know, choose a design, get your content up there, get your newsletter hooked up, and you're done.
Rob: Am I right in saying that it's a 20-second time limit from when you pump in your URL to what your content looks like within a template?
Jason: Yeah, I mean, that was kind of the dream we had when we set off to launch this thing. I mean, APIs are so cool, and YouTube API was a really good starting point, because we could literally take all the information you've already pumped into YouTube and spit that out into, like, a really beautifully designed webpage. So, like, we take your About content, your avatar, all your videos, your video thumbnails, your video descriptions, and it all just gets generated and pumped into this site. And then you can go in and configure it if you want or you can just leave it as is. So we give you the control to kinda go beyond just connecting to the API and bringing the content in. You can actually go in and change your thumbnails and change your descriptions and things like that. But, yeah, 20 seconds about from start to finish.
Rob: Excellent. So I want to just get in your head now as a maker is that you guys take pride in the onboarding of RIVYT, and you know, just to see that, you know, satisfaction within 30 seconds of what things are gonna like, incredible for the onboarding experience. But when I go back to Leeflets, you have an email signup before you can actually interact with any templates. I wanna know why you did that.
Jason: I'm gonna change that actually. I'm gonna RIVYT-ize that.
Rob: I was about to say, you know, AJ from Carrd has really done a great thing, where you can actually create almost your final product before getting an email.
Jason: Yeah, I don't know why I did it that way, to be honest. I think it was a second thought. And now that I'm going back and I'm thinking about it and I have all these people using fake email addresses to test out Leeflets, I'm definitely kinda gonna go back and change that onboarding experience where you can just generate a Leeflet and play around with it and then publish it if you want, not to publish, you'll sign up. So that's coming soon.
Rob: So your first $5 theme was TrailerFlick, you did Press75, you did Cinematico, you got RIVYT now. What is it about video?
Jason: I don't know. I think video and audio are the future. I really do. I think it's such an engaging way to interact with your audience that just isn't there with text, and plus, I'm dyslexic, so I have a hard time reading words anyways. I like the ability to...yeah, I'm totally dyslexic. I would love to read more books, I just can't because of the way my brain works, and I just have a hard time reading books in general. But I don't know, I think the imagery and the visual you get with video, and even the engagement you get with audio, it's just not the same as text. And I do think that there is a huge future there, not that it's not already here. I just think it's gonna grow substantially over the next several years, and I really do think that video and audio are the future.
Rob: So your partner, Chris, are you guys in a 50-50 partnership with RIVYT?
Jason: Yeah, we're in a 50-50 partnership, but we're in this place now where we feel like, in order to kinda get this thing in front of people that haven't seen it, we're wanting to take on a partner. So, like, we're kind of...
Rob: In sales.
Jason: Yeah, we're considering like bringing on a strategic partner that could drive this thing in the right direction, because it comes down to...I don't think it's a product problem. I really don't, because the people we have onboarded have given us like so much craze for building this thing, and they say it's the thing they've been looking for forever. And we've gone to YouTube meetups and YouTube conferences, and we get the same reaction. So it's definitely...we're missing something on the marketing side of things, how do we get this thing out there.
Rob: So you were saying that you meet up with Chris, you know, every now and again, and you chat about product and so on. How important is it to meet face-to-face when it comes to having a co-founder?
Jason: Yeah, I mean, when we were building this thing, we were meeting at least once a week, if not twice a week at a cafe that's kinda central here in Seattle, and it gave us that opportunity to sit side by side. And half of the time, we didn't even have our screens open. We had a piece of paper in front of us, and we were, you know, flowing out, like, processes and what the product is gonna flow like, and potentially new ideas for template options and features. And it was all done on like paper and pencil. And you can't do that, you can't have that process.
Rob: Yeah, it's just too slow.
Jason: Yeah, it's too slow. You just don't get the same feeling. And plus, you can sit down, you can have a coffee or a couple of beers, right. And, you know, the conversation leads elsewhere, and you don't get that over a mic.
Rob: A few more questions and we wrap it up. So just say RIVYT explodes, you know. You bring on the new person and things get crazy. You guys have...I mean, I don't actually really like talking about numbers, to be honest, but let's say you're making a million dollars per month recurring revenue as a business, okay. No, I could go there. So I still feel that you're gonna be working on side projects.
Jason: I think I will too. I don't think I'll ever...it's just the way my brain works. I feel it's kind of a curse at times, to be honest, and I see it in my daughter too. And you can call it spiritedness or you can call it...
Jason: Or whatever you wanna call it. I would say ADD is the most, like, technical term for it, I guess.
Rob: Fair enough.
Jason: But, yeah, I can't let something go. Like, if I have an idea for something, I have to make it, and that's one of the reasons I made Leeflets, because most of the ideas I have for the web can be done within that realm of Leeflets. And so, now that I have this platform where I can iterate on new ideas, it kinda solves that problem I have and that itch I have of, "Oh, I've got this idea for something new. And, wow, I can go create a Leeflet for that." Literally, somebody tweeted out a couple weeks ago how they didn't have a page for a paid contact form. They want it just a way to have a paid contact form on their website, right, where somebody can come in and say, "Oh, I have a question about this." And before the form is submitted, it goes through a paywall. And so I took a week and made that on Leeflets, and put it out there, and it exists.
Jason: And so, yeah, I mean, it's the ability to do that. But at the same time, it's kind of I have to force myself to focus, and it's really, really hard is one of the things I struggle with most. And I see it in my daughter too, where she has this super, super hard time, like, focusing on one thing. But once she's focused on the one thing she wants to focus on...
Rob: She's all in.
Jason: Yeah, she's all in. There's no getting her out of it.
Rob: I mean, there's pros and cons to that. I don't think there's a wrong answer there.
Jason: Yeah, there's pros and cons to that, yeah. I don't think so either. So I'm trying to better myself and be a little bit more balanced in just seeing how my daughter is kinda growing and struggling with that a little bit. I'm trying to help her out. And so I feel like I'm learning a lot about myself and I'm able to help my daughter a little bit more based on what I'm learning about myself.
Rob: Awesome. So second to the last question, let's just say you've had monetary success in the past, and you said your wife, I think she's an accountant, and you guys have, you know, done quite well financially. So I assume, right now, you're not struggling. It's just total assumption. What is stopping you from being an architect right now? Because you've mentioned, that was your childhood dream. It would be a side project, a big one.
Jason: I think, I mean, it definitely was my childhood dream, but if I were to go back and think on it, it's not that I wouldn't wanna design houses, I still do design houses. I just designed a house that I wanna build for us within the next 10 years. I sat down just this last year and designed something from the ground up that I hope will be our next house. But the struggle is there, yeah. I've had monetary success in the past, and what people don't understand is that that can go away, like right away.
Jason: And, you know, I've had...it's not that I haven't been able to sustain the living I need to sustain in order to make a bias. Just, it hasn't been what it was in the past. And so most of that success that we gained from Press75 and WordPress themes, that went into like savings accounts, right, that shouldn't or can't be touched until you're of a certain age type of thing. And so we try to think of that money as like nonexistent. And so, if you think of that money as not existent, I'm nowhere near where I need to be right now to be comfortable with just saying, "Oh, I just wanna go off and be an architect."
Rob: I think that's a pretty smart mindset to take.
Jason: Well, I hope so. Some would say it, like Drew is way more a risk-taking guy, right. Like, I think he's mentioned in the past like he's got kids and, you know, before Plasso he just said, "No, I'm just gonna sell my house. I'm gonna take the kids in an RV and tour the country for a year. And then I'm gonna raise money for Plasso, and we're gonna move back to Carlsbad." This is what's happening. And I'm like, "Holy shit." I would never do that with one kid versus, you know, I think he had three kids at the time. And I think he said in the past, he hasn't had a savings account up until now, and he's just kinda living by what he does, what he puts out there. And, you know, awesome for him, Plasso worked, you know, and he has kind of changed. It's changed who he is and it's changed his lifestyle, I'm sure.
Rob: Respect to him.
Jason: Yeah, respect.
Rob: Final question, I'm just gonna say that I feel like you're a restless founder, and so is a lot of the listeners out there.
Rob: And what advice would you give anyone listening right now that is also restless? They wanna start but they don't know how to start. There's this big no-code movement, and it seems like you're an advocate of designing in a browser and like hacking the way together. But what is your advice for anyone who's trying to get their foot in the door and create their first product?
Jason: You know, I see a lot of people trying to make things perfect before they launch it, and I was absolutely the same way. I would take months to get a product out the door because, again, it's kind of like my obsessive-compulsive, like, need to have things absolutely pixel-perfect before I launch something. And I've totally changed my tune on that. I think if you have drive and you have passion for something, like you wanna build something, there is no one perfect way to do that and that it's not set in stone. I think you should do it however you can. And if there are ways that you can build that thing, and it's not perfect out the door, but it gets the idea out there, I think getting it out before it's perfect is better than not getting it out at all. And that's how I'm living now. I definitely iterate way more quickly on ideas than I have in the past. Absolutely a restless founder, but at the same time, having a kid, the other thing I wanna say is I'm not willing to give extra hours that I don't have to something. I'm not this hustle kind of guy where I'm up all night working on things. I work generally four to six hours a day, if that, and other than that, I need that sleep so that I have, you know, the energy to kinda get through the day with my kid and, you know, with the other things I'm working on. And for me, it's not worth it to kind of stay up and crank out 12 hours a day on something.
Rob: Good for you. I mean, let's take that away into a lesson. Do you feel that it is possible for upcoming new makers to find success and only work six to eight hours a day?
Jason: I do. I mean, Leeflets was created on the side, like an hour a day for, I don't know, I think it took me two months to kinda get the initial platform out the door. And so, like, even if you only have an extra hour in your day to do something, instead of thinking about it, maybe you should just start doing it. And I need to take my own advice because, you know, there are so many other things I'd like to do. And like jumping into that physical product realm, I should just take a little bit of time that I have extra during the day and put it towards something like that if I wanna do it.
Rob: Launch it as light as possible.
Jason: Launch it as light as possible, yeah.
Rob: Awesome, Jason. Thanks so much for being on the show, my man.
Jason: No, thank you. It's been too long. I feel like we've known each other for so long, and we don't get often a chance to chat like this. And so it's cool.
Rob: Yeah, we should do it again. So the end of the show, I actually want to transition the listeners into an awesome day of work or just anything that's, you know, motivating, and I play an outro song, and I wanna know what kind of genre I should end for you.
Jason: Go for the grunge, man.
Rob: I'm gonna play something rocky and grungy.
Jason: There you go.
Hope you enjoyed the Yo! Podcast interview!