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Intro: Welcome to the Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast with JP Stonestreet, episode number lucky 13.
JP: In today’s podcast episode, we have Brad Zomick joining us all the way from New York City, actually Long Island and he is going to help you get skilled up, but before I get into that, I have a question to ask you. Are you serious about starting your business or if you are already in business, are you serious about taking it to the next level? If you are, then please go to my website right now and sign up for my newsletter at JPStonestreet.com. If you go to the podcast page, there is a little sign up thing on the right hand side that you can put you name and email in there and I promise not to share that with anybody. I send out links to my podcasts, I send out newsletters, and as a major thank you for signing up, I will give you my resources list that I use to help me do all the things that I do online and also I will give you one-fourth of my book The Web Startup Roadmap that you can download in a PDF format and read and see if you like it. If you like it, then you can get the rest of it, but the first fourth of it has a ton of great information, I am sure you are going to enjoy. So, do that right now. Go sign up for my newsletter at JPStonestreet.com/podcasts. Now, let’s get back to the interview at hand. Brad Zomick joining us from Long Island and he is going to talk about his business SkilledUp.
Welcome Brad to this episode of the Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast, how are you?
Brad: I am doing great JP. Thanks for having me.
JP: Yes, you bet. I am excited to talk to you about your business. We met at New Media Expo, as several of the past interviews that I have done in this week or the past week have been people that I met at NMX and so I am anxious to hear your stories about that as well as your business and your background. So, let’s just jump on in and tell me about yourself and your business.
Brad: Will do. My name is Brad Zomick and I am the Chief Content Officer at SkilledUp and kind of essentially what that means is I run the blog and the content marketing strategy for our website and SkilledUp is actually – I guess we could say it’s a technology, it’s a tool. What we do is provide people who want to learn something, a search tool for online courses. So, over the past couple of years, online education has started to make, I guess a ripple in the education landscape and there are lot of great courses online where people can really learn a skill and translate that success. We are at a pretty interesting time in, I guess, history because here in the US, the price of education has just gone up and up and up over the past 20 or so years and students are getting burdened with a lot of student loans and the efficacy of college education is now coming under question when we have this growing skills we have in America and just a lot of college students are not really prepared for the workforce and it’s tough to find jobs and a lot of times you get those entry level jobs too, you just spend first year learning all those skills that you need for the new workforce, marketing or Excel, Photoshop and what not. So, if you want to learn something at SkilledUp, simply come to our site and type in the skill and you can compare a bunch of different courses in a matter of minutes, price and I guess content, duration – we have a bunch of different filters that help you to search your contents and really what drives all the traffic to this tool – we haven’t really invested in any paid advertising. So, it’s all about the blog and that kind of what brought me to New Media Expo, it was actually formerly BlogWorld and it was pretty interesting experience for me because I came there as a blogger and I met all sorts of interesting people doing podcasts and video. So, it’s a very exciting experience for me.
JP: Yes, NMX was very exciting. Okay, so are there reviews for the courses that you have on your website as well as all of the other details?
Brad: In the blog, we write about hundred different things. So, to give you an idea, our most popular skills by search in the engine are around the programming, web development, graphic design, and online marketing. So, to support that, we write about those skills and we write about it in a general sense, what are those careers like, what are the skills needed, how do you acquire the skills, how can you do it for free and then we also start writing about courses themselves. So, we do, do fairly detailed course reviews that I guess – though I would say out of all of our content it’s probably the highest value. I myself do most of the course reviews and I spend a week or two, sometimes longer in a course checking the course, doing the exercises, interacting with the instructors, if there are instructors, different grades of online course, sometimes there is a community in the course, so you can interact with people who are taking the course. So, some courses actually really in a way replicate the college experience, you read or watch a lecture and then you show up for your section and you talk about it with the instructor, the other students and then you do your homework and some of them also quizzes and tests as well. So, it has been a really cool experience for me because a lot of the skills that I use on a daily basis, I have learned through some of these courses, so we kind of drink our own Kool-Aid.
JP: That’s good, that’s really cool. You mentioned a valid point about people coming out of college and not being prepared. It’s funny because that’s the whole point of college, right? It’s to educate us so that we are prepared for the workforce. Unfortunately, a lot of this stuff we learn in college now isn’t practical. We can’t get out and immediately use a lot of that in a job and that’s where these online cases are kind of filling that gap for people and the nice thing is that some of them are free and most of them are very affordable and you can learn a skill that you can immediately go and apply in a job or apply to an interview to get a job.
Brad: Exactly, and actually I should point out that the courses in our engine, I think we have about may be around 100,000, the number fluctuates for 400 providers, about 30 to 40 percent of that number are free courses. So, it’s a good point that you make, I guess college has become kind of this “write a passage” and I wouldn’t trade the four years that I spent in college and I also happen to have a business degree also. So it’s six years of college, those are very formative experiences in my life, but when you think about all time you spent in college you were there for four years, but in any given week you only spend 15 hours in the classroom and if you are a good student, may be you are spending another 15 to 30 hours. Actually I guess I say you should spend two hours outside the classroom for every hour in the classroom, but they are actually statistics now that show that most students are spending an hour or less outside the classroom, so what they are doing is they are socializing, they are messaging around on Facebook, probably in the classroom now. All classrooms are wired with the internet. So, if you are not into a class, which happens often because there all these requirements, probably about 30 percent of the courses you take are just satisfied graduation requirement, you get that kind of broad college experience. So, a lot of people that take those classes may be they sign up for classes that looked like they are going to be easy, but they end up kind of turning out like you had a crappy grade anyway, but it’s interesting even say for something like online marketing, I did MBA a few years ago. I actually focused on international business of China and I spent actually a couple of years in China also. That’s a different story, but I look back to that and this is 2008 – 2010, online marketing was booming then and I would mention yes you go around to a lot of college campuses around the country, they might not even still be talking about that and that’s what all businesses are doing now, everything is online, that’s how you reach your customers. I guess it’s on-demand marketing. Customers want information when they want it and that’s where everything is moving. A lot of these case studies that you look at the classroom and the traditional – weather you are an undergrad or a business student, especially an MBA student, one of the things you do is you sit around and you read Harvard Business School case studies from 20 years ago. So, it’s pretty interesting, you spend all the time studying marketing and I am using my Pinterest for quotes here. It’s really archaic. A lot of the stuffs that you are studying happened a long time ago.
JP: In the early 90s when I was in the college, I really intended to get a computer science degree and my first programming class was Pascal and Pascal was a dead language at that time and that’s the time C++ and Basic were the languages that were being used or C. C and Basic were being used in the business setting in the software world and I was learning Pascal which was almost useless language. Unfortunately, the formal education tends to lag behind, especially now in this new age of technology because they have a hard time getting the curriculum created and approved in a reasonable amount of time and then plus when you have tenured professors who have been teaching the same thing for 30 years, they really don’t have an incentive to change what they have been teaching for 30 years and so, unfortunately formal education isn’t as valuable as far as practical skills as it used to be and I have a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree from the University of Kansas – Rock Chalk, Jayhawk – and I looked at those as more of a toolbox, a way of learning, they taught me how to learn and when I got out, I didn’t stop learning. In fact, I eventually taught myself how to program, Visual Basic was my first language that I learned how to program and I taught myself and I would say that the formal education kind of gave me that structure and ability to learn, but when I graduated, I had very little in the way of practical skill set that I could go and apply in a job other than being able to write pretty well and I think I got – although I think I went into college a descent writer and I came out a better writer, but it’s unfortunate and that’s the case especially because it’s so expensive and I paid off student loans for 10 years and mine weren’t even that big. Now, we could take courses like the ones on your website on SkilledUp for free or for 50 bucks or may be a couple 100 bucks and learn something that we could go apply today or tomorrow in our job or at interview, it’s just completely different, the world is completely different.
Brad: Yes, I agree with a lot of things said there, like I mentioned before, like my college experience is kind of important time in my life, but when I think about it, it was an expensive time for my parents to find out about myself. I was lucky, my parents paid for my undergrad and I have student loans for my MBA that’s actually going to be paid off soon which is pretty cool, but yes it has really become this social life and I guess a lot of people had – especially in the…some people have it all figured out. They grow up, they are like “I want to be a doctor” or “I want to be a lawyer” – “I want to be this or that” and they don’t have to spend too much time in the first few years of college being like what’s my major, but there are a ton of students who spend the first two, three, some people get into that perpetual change in natures many times because there is this “I need to figure out what I am going to do with my life, so I can actually spend my college years learning that.” What’s interesting is I have a cousin and she is a pretty bright girl and she had it in her head that she want to become a physician’s assistant, which is actually a very good career, and she went to University of Maryland and then she did pretty well there and it’s actually she graduated and she started – she has taken some extra credits to meet the requirements, pretty competitive, but on the side, she started working for my uncle’s business and they are developing a website and she got really into marketing, but because she decided to do – I guess pretty mad in college, she never really took a business course, but all of a sudden she opened this new world of learning and she found that she liked it better and now she is kind of changing directions. So, it’s really – the online course, even if you are paying for an expensive one, on the high end they can kind of expensive 300 dollars a month, but those cases you are probably interacting with the real person who is helping you break through mental barriers, whereas if you do something at 25 dollars a month probably self serve, well may be if you are lucky a forum or some sort of common threads to talk about stuff which is fine, but it’s really interesting – if I went back I probably want to take a year off and just explore – I mean there is so much free content online that you can get a taste of for free.
Brad: Then when you are ready to step it up a notch then you kind of invest a little bit more in the education and pick courses that will take you from kind of zero to hero.
JP: Yes, I like what you said to about the doctors and the lawyers and architects and the people that really have that passion early in their life and they find their calling early – I was not that person, but those people – and they go to college, they learn a very specific skill set that they are going to apply after college, but for the rest of us who didn’t know what we wanted to do when we were 15 years old and 18 or even 22. When I graduated college, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do and for those people the college degree is, it doesn’t give you a great applicable skill set unfortunately other than the ability to learn and the degree that will open doors because a lot of times without that degree, you just get removed, your resume gets removed from the stack, but I will tell you that I managed large software developments team during my career and some of my best programmers did not have a college degree, they were self-taught programmers, and sometimes that especially in technology – sometimes your most creative people didn’t go through that structured educational environment and so they are really able – may be I am not sure it’s cause or effect, but are really able to think outside the box and be extra-creative and break the rules because they don’t really understand that there are rules because they didn’t learn them from a professor, so you can go either way, I am torn on college mainly because of the cost versus the reward now whether it’s really worth it unless you have a specific dream like becoming a doctor or a veterinarian or something that requires that, you have to go through that to learn, but if you don’t have a specific dream like that, I think you could probably learn everything you need to know to make an amazing living from courses like the ones you have on your website and the ones that are all over the internet, on YouTube and everywhere else.
Brad: Yes, I will agree with you there too and I think there are certain professions I think that are special like teaching, law, and medicine. Those are kind of high status careers where licensing and going through I guess the system is just the kind of the way it is and that ensures quality especially in medicine. So, on the flipside we have the new digital workplace where we are programming, graphic design, online marketing and these are vastly becoming meritocracy especially – I agree it is nice if you want to work for a Fortune 500 company which some people prefer for that and the degree is like a branding thing. For instance, I went Cornell so probably I can tap at that network pretty well and get a good corporate job, but on the flipside, there is so much going on in entrepreneurship and startups in this country and those people don’t care about where you went to school, they care about what you can do.
JP: Yes, and it is visible and it’s completely visible. What you have done is visible on the web, they can go look at it. They either like it or they don’t.
Brad: Exactly and I would even venture. I would even go out on a limb and say there is like the high…careers and prestige, like investment banking and consulting; the truth of the matter is those people have nothing special except may be they understand finance and balance sheet and what they really do is they are really good at Excel and PowerPoint and actual the funny thing is I actually really wanted to be in or I had in my head in college that I wanted to be in finance and I did. After college, I ended up in the kind of cross between the finance and technology and I grew to kind of hate the industry because they don’t really create any value, they kind of push numbers around in spreadsheet and it really just helps the rich people get richer while – like the people who are like unsophisticated investors kind of lose their shirt. I mean that’s something that the funny thing is like people care about in brief the investment banking role, but I don’t think they really mean much. If you can do a cool spreadsheet and know how to do a financial model, you should be able to walk into Goldman Sachs.
Brad: It is not there yet though.
JP: Yes, it definitely is there for digital careers like what you said programming, web design, graphic design, really if you can build your own career without even having a client, you can just create your own portfolio of samples and use that. The degree helps, but if you network and you brand yourself, the degree doesn’t, you can get a job, you can make a good living without the degree now-a-days, thanks to the internet.
Brad: Yes exactly and there are guys like – I would say I would put these guys all like in a similar category like Tim Ferriss, Chris Guillebeau, Pat Flynn, people who have just created the brand around themselves and all they really do is they write about – they mostly write and they sell informational products like e-books and courses and basically what they have been successful in is using – actually I guess the skill would be writing, copywriting and online marketing and just branding which is something that you don’t really need to go to school. You go to school and take a course in branding and you probably still walk out of it feeling like what it a brand.
Brad: It’s such an esoteric thing.
JP: You mentioned Pat Flynn. He has a degree in architecture. He is kind of how he got his start in online, in the content marketing business is he created a guide for people in the architecture field to study for the LEED exam or the Green Energy exam. That’s how he got his start and now he doesn’t do anything related to architecture other than he still sells that study guide and he makes most of him money off of writing about entrepreneurship and online marketing and passive income and he didn’t need an architecture degree to really do that – to do what he does now.
Brad: Once you succeed in creating that brand, you can almost do whatever you want. I would say the prime example here is probably Tim Ferriss. Once he created The 4-hour Workweek, people are chucking off about that book that basically – to be honest, I don’t think he only works 4 hours a week; he probably works his butt off. He sold the good idea to people and the book got famous and he made a lot of money and then with that following he was able to finalize the next book and I guess he has three books now and he also invests in all these cool startups and basically once he gets behind something, he can give it a bunch of traffic and kind of help them kind of get off the ground.
JP: Yes, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. By just his act of being involved in it is going to make it successful because of his audience.
Brad: Exactly. He has something – I don’t know, probably half a million or upwards of million followers between Facebook and Twitter. People love him and he is a smart guy and I think he has probably created a lot of change since his book came out in 2007, a lot of people were like “Wow! I can make a living without sitting behind the desk…”
JP: …watching the clock all day.
Brad: Forty hours a week, yes and it’s funny too because I was – I guess I was once in that boat. I didn’t really read his book actually until I was already kind of – basically I went to the business school with the idea of going to China. There was an international business program through University of Hawaii and I read his book while I was over there and I was like “Wow! this is cool,” but I am already traveling and it’s funny too because the same thing with the Chris Guillebeau’s book and I was like I already kind of – I was like I got it I guess when I was over there. That was just the kind of experience in life and I wasn’t really – well I was working and not studying, but I had a nice lifestyle. So, I guess it takes that initial leap of faith for you to realize that you can learn something new and I think probably the big break for me was mentally. I went back to business school, but really what I leaned was that business program was Chinese and I started learning Chinese at 28 and I was in China for about three years. By the end, I was like semi-fluent and I was like “Wow! I just realized I can learn new things.” There are a lot of people kind of get stuck in these ruts where they are comfortable and I guess – I think the key to me at most of my jobs prior to that, I was servicing hedge funds at the finance world. I would get bored after a year. I was like “Okay, now this is fun for a year, I learned everything I needed to know, what do I do now?”
JP: Yes, I am the same way, I think a lot of entrepreneurs have suffered from ADD and that we get bored really easily and we want new challenges all the time and yes, it’s completely common among people who want to run their own business and I felt the same way. In fact, I had a corporate job when I was fresh out of college and I got promoted on an average every nine months into a new job and the policy of the company was your could only get promoted every twelve months, but unless you had an executive approval. So, every nine months, I had to go through some sort of executive approval process to get a promotion because I was bored and generally what I did at that company is I just created new jobs for myself and then they created positions to promote me into it because I got tired of doing what I was doing, so I would just invent something new to do and they were like “Oh this is great, you want to do that?” I am like “Sure, I will do that for a while” and I think that’s a common trait among entrepreneurs is you need constant growth and change and new challenges and I don’t know – it’s part of the thing I like most about it.
Brad: Yes, I agree with you there too and I guess if you are working at a company and you can continue to do that and you are enjoying it then you are okay, but I think a lot of young people probably fall into this situation where may be they have an idea what they want, may be they don’t, but they take these jobs getting out of college just to get a job, I think there’s a lot of pressure for recent grads to get into the workforce and I myself, I remember the first job I took, it wasn’t like really what I wanted to do, but it was exciting at the time of the startup and it’s fun for a year, I ended up staying for three, by the end I was miserable and so much to the point I ended up just quitting and I went on a road trip cross-country with my girlfriend at that time and then I did little international travel. I was in Israel, Egypt, and Jordan. Then that was like – I guess we call it sabbatical, I guess between the two trips that I was gone for six months and then I tried again, but I kind of went back into the same industry, but from like a different side, it was fun for a while, but then I ran into that same wall. So, I think – if I had to go back and do things differently, I probably would have experimented more and tried to create more and now I am really happy because all I get to do is learn all the time and the website is like a Jungle Jim where we just experiment with different forms of content and at the end of the day we are all helping people. So, everything we write and we talk about and yes, we want to do more talking and presenting via audio and video. I guess that was a big resolution coming out of the NMX, but basically it feels good. I am satisfying my needs to learn and I am helping people at the same time by making sure they can learn what they want and they can learn about some of the courses that we have and figure out if it’s for them or not.
JP: Yes, I like your story. We have definitely gone on a philosophical tangent with this podcast interview. We have been talking a lot about our philosophy about education which is great, but let’s circle back around and talk a little bit more about your experience with your company. Are you a co-founder or one of the original members?
Brad: Yes, I am a co-founder and I guess basically right now there are only two of us that are like official, part of the company and we work with a lot of consultants, things are going to be changing in the next few months. We are going to be scaling up a team which is really exciting, but for the past year, it’s been me and Nick Gidwani, the CEO, and he actually started SkilledUp in the summer of 2012. I got involved shortly thereafter, but from a marketing perspective and the exposure to the company, we weren’t really getting much traffic until I got involved and then started to run the blog and things really took off from there.
JP: Okay, so how much experience specifically related to what you do now – you are the content marketing guy and how much experience did you have specifically related to that before you started doing this?
Brad: That’s really a wonderful question. I studied marketing undergrad. I had a business degree. So I took some more marketing courses, but as I mentioned earlier those are almost completely irrelevant. Around 2002 or 2003, I don’t know whenever Friendster came out, I got to the blogging. So, I would have these personal blogs and I would say that was my experience, I started writing and I started finding my voice online and when I wrote this blog it was more about life and work and when I was living abroad, I had a separate blog as well. I had a few different blogs over the course of I would say 2003 up till now – almost 10 years. I kind of stopped my travel blog when I came back to the US in the summer of 2012, but yes, I learned that I love to write. I think a lot of writing is – a lot of blogging concept marketing is good writing, being able to speak to people who are perhaps half way around the world, but they are sitting at the computer and they are reading what we have to say and getting insight from it. So, I have gotten a lot of comments on my blog from friends, it wasn’t like a super popular blog, it was nothing but kind of like me writing about my life, but people found it entertaining and people would always tell me “Oh, you should become professional blogger” and I actually did it.
Brad: At the point where I connected with Nick, this is a true story. I came back from China in the summer of 2012 and I was kind of at crossroads. I was like all right well I just spent three years learning how to do business in China and speaking Chinese and helping some US companies with operation and research in China, it was fun, but now I am back to the US, I want to be around my family and it’s not so easy to get these kind of China-related jobs when you want to be living in the US. So, basically I was like all right, I studied marketing in undergrad, I finally want to do marketing, I want to do online marketing. Part of it was kind of the inspiration from reading guys like Tim Ferriss and Chris Guillebeau. I was like “I can write from anywhere in the world and I could still do well and help people and make money.” So, what happened was I started taking some free courses online. I didn’t know about SkilledUp at that point actually. I found HubSpot. Somebody was like “Hey, if you want to get to marketing, you should go check out HubSpot; they have got all these free video courses.” So, that was my first exposure to online marketing and then I realized, I am like “Well, you can’t really learn online marketing unless you have a website to play with.” So, I started messing around my own website, but I realized it would probably be helpful to get some experience and really I was like – I guess at that time I was 32, I was like “I am going to go find an internship where I can work on like a site that’s live.” So, I found Nick in SkilledUp on Craigslist. I had no clue what it was at that time. That was only like a few months old and basically I reached out and I sent over resume and we had a call, I told him about what I was up to, all the stuffs that I had done in China consulting and what not and basically I started working for free. He devised a series of challenges where I just kind of take a course and then I do some assignments related on the site. I spent about six weeks, he started paying me and I was an employee by January 2013, and I was actually just part-time and at the same time I started working, doing marketing for another website too. So, three months in both guys were complaining that “Oh, you are doing too much work for the other guy, I need more of you” and I ended up feeling more passionate about SkilledUp and went all in there and then I started basically working on it, not 40 hours a week, 80 hours a week.
Brad: All the time and then it has been a couple of months from there, we had some discussions there, I became a partner in the business because I guess the impact had been so large.
JP: That’s awesome.
Brad: Yes, that’s kind of how things turned out and I would say, really if anything the experience had made me kind of like a poster boy of like what you can do with the online courses.
JP: Yes, and also just showing the initiative and taking the risk mean you started working for this guy for free just to get some experience and look what it led to. You are a partner in a successful company, a successful startup now. That’s a valuable lesson for especially the younger generation that is listening to this podcast is that sometimes you have to make your luck, you have to make your future, you just can’t sit back and expect the job to come knocking at your door the perfect dream job. Sometimes you have to make your own dream job.
Brad: Yes exactly. I think I was also – may be it was just kismet, I happen to be in the right place the right time, but we just gelled very well together from the get-go we worked and the funny thing is we were both in New York and I work from my home right now in Long Island like Nick works from his apartment in the city, but we made it work and it’s been really exciting and the thing is we are growing into the point that there is I guess some interesting stuffs going on in the background that I can’t really get into, but we are going to have more – I guess the bottom line of what I could say we are going to have more money to do more things with our exposure and about SkilledUp.
JP: Great, I can’t wait to hear about that, that would be cool.
Brad: Yes, hopefully I would be able to tell you a little bit more about it, I would say in may be two to four weeks.
JP: Cool, make sure you keep me posted. Okay, so let’s talk about your content marketing experience because you are obviously very good at it, you have helped build this company. So, what’s three pieces of advice that you can give our listeners here about how to write blogpost that people want to comment or want to share and want to read and follow? So, what are three of your most important tips?
Brad: I would say probably the first thing you want to focus on is writing and I guess like finding a voice.
JP: Define that what do you mean by finding a voice?
Brad: Basically speaking in a way that people can relate to and understand. So, for instance, we write about lot of different subjects and sometimes or not always an expert in that. So, what it really tells is kind of getting all in on a subject and doing a bunch of research and then being able to kind of break that down for laymans and it works for us because we actually write a lot about a lot of peculiar stuffs which is helpful because most of our content is kind of entry level. We do have advance stuff too, but once we started getting to advance content, we like to find experts in that subject to write about it. So, I think if I had to say what are the voices at SkilledUp, I would say we are passionate, we are in form and we want to be helpful. We want to make people feel like they can come to us whether they email us or comment in the comments below and we will come back to them with more advice and help guide them.
JP: It’s interesting that you talk about a voice and how we just talk so much about higher education, and blogs are not textbooks and I learned that when I first started writing my blog, it was a lot like a textbook. It was very boring and dry, packed with information, but if you could actually get through it and over the course of writing my blog, I have changed and now it’s much more of a personal voice, I use a lot of I’s and We’s and You’s and the blogposts are very personal, a lot of stories about my personal life, things I have experienced and so you are right, I think I have found my voice and I am not sure how to – it’s hard to explain that to people, but really you just have to be yourself and I say it’s a lot like talking. So, if you can write like you would talk to somebody in a conversation at Starbucks, then that is going to – people are going to like that because it’s a lot easier to read and it’s not nearly as boring.
Brad: I agree with you 100 percent and I would say number two, I would say, you want to make sure your content is helpful and especially thorough. So, if you are trying to educate somebody on how to do something, you want to cover all the bases and we have done a few experiments in content and trying to build there a series of articles or just like a mega guide on a certain subject, we will go all in, we will look for every resource for a given subject and evaluate it on a kind of one by one basis and actually we just finished something more like the mega guide style, we call it the – I have it up here, it’s the title of Learn Web Design: 50 of the Best Online Educational Resources to Learn to Build Web Sites and what it is, it’s kind of like this interactive guide to starting out how to code website. Let me send it over to you. If you want, you can…
JP: Yes, send me the link and all, I will post that on the show notes page for this podcast.
Brad: So, what we did when we built this and I didn’t do the design part. So, the design part is kind of cool because you can click around in the sidebar and it moves around and you look at the providers and it’s kind of cool, it’s a fun page to use because it moves and it’s pretty and also it’s informative. So, the research that went on behind this was – I would say a week or two of just going through different websites and seeing what there is and the interesting thing in any given subject on online, there is so much content, it’s unbelievable and especially web design, there are probably 100s of sites that we looked at that were work-sharing, there are so many people that just post information just to kind of get people and search and make money off of ads.
Brad: It’s like there is a whole…of the underbelly of the internet where there is a lot of garbage out there and it just kind of spam just to get people to click on the ads.
JP: So, your second point was have great content and thorough. Make sure it’s something that people want to read and it’s useful. So, what’s your third point?
Brad: I think the third point was probably to be in different places. So, in the last year, we have done a lot on the blog, we have done pretty well, we have – I would say I started, we were getting – I don’t know – 10 to 20 hits a day and these days it’s probably around 6000 a day, but it’s actually, the guide that I just showed you that I am talking about, we just launched in actually – the average that I mentioned about 6000 from Monday to Friday, within 24 hours this got 20,000 hits.
Brad: So, this is more of a second direction of varying the content format. The blog article is one thing. Even if they are really good, you got a lot of people click and go, may be they don’t register for email, so you really need to be in a bunch of different places, you need to have different products like guides that people download, that’s how you get people on the email. You need to be on email because some people need the reminder, they are not going to come to your blog every week and read about it and then also we are on Twitter and Facebook. I want to say we are doing it in a great way and then finally we started to experiment with the video and the audio and I think that’s really the future because you can write with a style and some people notice it, some people won’t, people will notice the crap and notice the mistakes, but I would say if it’s good writing people just think “Okay, this is an interesting article,” but I think when it comes to video and audio and we have a few posts where we experimented with that. We made our own video and I think that is where you have a real chance to create branding and…
JP: Yes, and give your website and your business a personality.
Brad: Yes, this is my advice. I don’t want to say we are doing it 100 percent yet, but I would say this experiment that I showed to you like the Learn Web Design guide, it is kind of stepped in that direction. We are moving off the traditional blog into bigger projects that are I guess more interactive. So, this requires people to click around the page and it’s cool because things get highlighted and it’s more interesting than say your average blog article because people want to go and spend – yes, it depends on how long it is. I would say, we write the longer reviews, may be people will spend 10 minutes on that or more, but your average article, that’s like 500 to 1000 words, people are only with you for 5 minutes if you are lucky. Most of websites, even the good ones have high bounce rates like 60 percent. So, the idea is that I am really excited about this now because I have been doing all the research and we have been testing it. I have recorded some audio clips with some interview candidates as well as our course providers and we are really – one thing I am pretty excited about now is the podcast because I think podcasting is a great way to get people when they are not at the computer and you can do something pretty cool with decent sound like okay sound. Even if it’s not studio grade, people can still kind of enjoy it and they can get to know you, but whereas with video you can’t really – if your video is just okay, people will be like “Oh man! This video is ugly.” The video has to be awesome, that has to be like movie and studio quality that really get people excited and that’s expensive.
JP: Yes and I think that’s true if you want to get new people. If you already have a following, I don’t think an existing following cares how high quality the video is. They just want more of you, but you are right, in order to get new people that don’t know who you are, they are going to look at that and think ”Oh man, that’s really low quality and I wonder if everything they do is low quality.”
Brad: Yes, exactly. I am really excited. I think February we are looking to launch a podcast and hopefully in March and April start doing some of my professional grade video and actually this guy that I have shown you, we wanted to do more of that because we – like I mentioned before, we have a lot of different subjects that we need to help a lot of different people. So, for me, I think this year number one has been – I feel like I am shredding water because on the development side, there have been more money put into the technology than the marketing by far. I haven’t really had much to work with but myself and I was able to get a lot of attraction to the page without even using some outside writers and we started experimenting with that and we have some guest experts who have done some posts, some more successful than others, but I am just really excited to bring some other people on the team and to kind of I guess have some more people so we can write about more – we can write about more, we can talk about more, and then we can show people more.
JP: How often do you post to your blog now?
Brad: We are posting five days a week.
JP: Wow! Okay and how long are those articles?
Brad: They vary, but I actually like them to be a minimum of 1000 words. I just feel like you can’t really convey a lot of value in really short and my theory is like audio to accompany the post or video, 500 words doesn’t say a lot and I think – to be honest, I don’t think Google really values 500 word posts either.
JP: Yes, I have read a lot about that on SEO and that they really value 1000 or more and the longer post, the better.
Brad: Exactly. Think about it this way – when you are learning something, how much can you really learn in 500 words. On the other hand, let’s say you are looking to get entertained, so you want to go read like a movie, Hollywood news or the music world gossip, that you can read in 500 word article and you could be like “Oh ha-ha-ha Miley Cyrus is so stupid,” that was entertaining. Same thing with BuzzFeeds because they do a lot of like pictures, their text is really short, but they are doing something different. We are educating people in order to provide value just by default you need to write more.
JP: So, you must spend a lot of your time writing?
Brad: Yes, we are looking for qualified experts in various subjects. I am more of a marketing guy and the business side of things, I can write about that pretty confidently, but when it comes to programming – actually web development I can write about now because I – during a lot of this research I get to learn some of the stuffs too. So, I am actually – I want to learn more in the web development arena, but I can write about lot of the basic one-on-one stuff with no problem and take courses when I have free time and the technical stuffs.
JP: Okay. All right, we have time for a couple more questions. First one is, can you recommend a book? What book have you read that has really influenced you?
Brad: Okay, so I am going to go a little bit outside of marketing. One of my favorite books is – oh I am trying to think – this book kind of changed my life. Maybe help me here…Thomas Friedman. I now have to Google it actually. Everything that I can owe the changes of my life since 2008 on is I am going to Google it.
Brad: This is real right now.
JP: Yes, unfiltered. I was asked that question in an interview one time and I immediately went completely blank and could not think of a single book ever written by mankind.
Brad: Okay, I remember now. I don’t know why I couldn’t remember it. I read both books, the first one was The World Is Flat and I was just – that’s what landed me in China, it’s what got me interested in technology, just that everything I do in just helping – it’s helping people all over the world. So, I think it was a transformative book for me and it’s more about – it’s about politics and business, but I think there is a lot to be learned from it and I think he has actually come out with a few other versions updates of it and I think the other one, he had a second one The Flatter, More Crowded and Hotter or something like that – that one was pretty interesting too, but I think it just really explains the history of the world in the last – I don’t know 15 to 20 years in really interesting way. I like Thomas Friedman a lot, a great writer.
JP: I will check those out and I will put links to those books on the show notes page as well. All right last question, what is the most important piece of advice you can give to someone who wants to start a business?
Brad: I would say to go talk to the people who are your ideal customers. So, a lot of people have ideas that they think are good, but until they go and like talk to people who they might sell to, it’s almost worthless, and I would say we are making an effort to talk more with our readers. I think we did a lot for a while. I guess when SkilledUp was starting out there was certain validation with young people and we asked people what they thought about it and for a while we kind of worked in blogging and writing about stuffs and some stuffs excelled and got a lot of exposure via search whereas others fell flat. So, what I do now a lot – now-a-days I get a lot of emails everyday from people – so people ask me a question and then I ask them back “What do you think of SkilledUp, how can we improve the site, what are you struggling with and how can we help you?” So, I would say, if you have a product or service, you want to get out, you want to ask those questions to the people you are going to sell to. See if your idea really has legs, would people actually pay for that and one person is not enough. You really need to go talk to as many people as possible.
JP: Yes and your friends and family don’t count because they are going to love everything you do. You got to talk to people you don’t know and go to networking events, meet-up groups, and talk to people and then I launched a business, a startup years ago and I went out and did that. I did my market research, I went out and talked to people about the idea and everybody thought it was a great idea, but the business tanked because there was a need for what we were doing, but there was absolutely no demand for it. Nobody wanted to pay or even use this tool even though they desperately needed it and I am not going to go into that. I wrote about that in my book, but you have to also kind of filter what feedback you hear and really think about what it is they are saying if they are saying. You need to ask a question, is this something you would pay for? Is it something that is worth money to you? Those are questions I didn’t ask unfortunately. So, yes it’s great advice to go out and do your market research and talk to people.
Brad: I would also say talk to other entrepreneurs. So I think one thing that has changed, an amazing transformation to me is my circle of contacts. I have all my old friends from life and this and that, but I have made many, many new friends in the last year that are doing startups that are doing content that are doing online marketing and it’s really nice to have that circle of friends to bounce ideas off of and I would say this would be more of – a professional circle not necessarily in the idea or the product that you are doing because actually I don’t know if that would even work cause if you have a really good idea that people might be afraid of you or they might want to steal it, but just to find people who are in the same mindset that kind of startup mentality and you have conversations with them every week and go out and meet with them, listen to what they are doing, look for meet-ups where you can meet other people and it has been really cool because as you get older in life don’t make – this is something I have noticed and I am going to be 34 soon and I feel like – when you first go to college, freshman year, the first two months, everybody want to be your best friend and I think in that college experience people are always talking to each other and making new friends. That goes away very quickly after college and it’s really tough to grow your social circle. So, I have been really excited this year about all the new friends that I have made and I guess NMX is a great example. I went there not really knowing what to expect. I met so many great people there, yourself included…
JP: Thank you.
Brad: …that I now consider people I go to, to talk to and bounce ideas off of and say “Hey, what do you think about this” or even people that I say the same too like “You need help with anything, how can I help you?” So, actually if you ever need any help or have any questions, you can always come to me.
JP: Yes, I appreciate that and I definitely will because I am fascinated by your website and what you guys are doing because I am in the process of creating some courses of my own and I may talk to you about reviewing those for me.
Brad: Yes, I would love to and actually I always love to talk to people who are building courses because we have – in the past year, everyday I am eating and sleeping and breathing online courses, but we reviewed at least 20 and there are a lot more courses that didn’t really make it into the blog because they are just not that good and one thing I am excited about too is now that we are going to have some more resources to write more, I want to write about the bad ones. I think as an industry, I want to see the quality of education go up. So, guys like Coursera, they have four million students and they are doing multivariate testing to try to figure out what color letters or buttons work best in learning, but Nick and I have taken so many courses in the last year and I don’t think too many people can say they have taken as many courses as we have. So, we just have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t and I am happy to share that with anybody who wants to build a course.
JP: Awesome. I am going to take you up on that Brad.
Brad: I will be waiting.
JP: Awesome. All right, we are out of time. Thank you so much for joining me on this episode of the Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast.
Brad: Thank you very much JP.
JP: Great, we will chat soon.
Hope you didn’t mind our little philosophical debate about the state of education in our country right now. There are a lot of great online options for getting educated. SkilledUp has a ton of those resources for you, you can go there and read reviews about online courses and buy them there. So, go there and check that out. We also have some very exciting news; SkilledUp was recently acquired. See, yet another success story. Everybody – that starting businesses, are selling them, it’s awesome. So, get out there, get busy, get your business launched. Get some customers, get some traction and then you can probably sell it. Somebody will want to buy it especially if you have lots of users on it. So, go out there, get busy and get at it. Until next time, this is JP Stonestreet with the Smart Energized Entrepreneurs Podcast.