📻 — Arvid Kahl & Rob Fitzpatrick: Chatting The Business of Writing and Monetizing an Audience

This is your Community, Daily.

Reading Time: ~ 7 min.

Happy Monday yenizens!

I’ve got a small-ish #deepdive via my friend, Rob Fitz, and a few notes on newsletters and how they can be the best place to start for a new project, business, and/or community!

Here are a few good links to check out before we jump in:

  1. Sea shanty builds a career. Stranger things have happened… Backyard?

  2. A personal boardroom. Or Sounding Board? Still alive. Yay!

  3. Larry King. Legend. Ricotta OKRs. Study with other students.

  4. Hush. Seriously. Hush. Government borrowing is stupid.

  5. China is getting a lot of money. Not a small thingBrand-led community.

  6. Career path for creators? 3 steps perhaps. Bottom-us SaaS pricing.

  7. Advice on public speaking. Yes. Another VC resource guide. Learn Figma!

  8. A few (tons) resources on building product. Notion investment template.

  9. Creator Economy course — $1,250. Clubhouse raisesMKBHD.

  10. Creator-centric media company: MeadowLarkYac 2.0.

To infinity & community,

— john

A bunch of folks have passed around the above video between Arvid Kahl and Rob Fitzpatrick and I’m a fan of both of them!

And, more intentionally, I’ve been an early member of Rob’s new community, a group of passionate non-fiction writers, all centered around a new project and book: Write Useful Books!

What’s fun is to see how far Rob (and his team) have taken what was once just a simple “Slack experiment” and leveraged it fully for a growing project and community!

One of the more important skills that Rob leverages better than most is that he doesn’t mess around when it comes to the development of his community’s (developing) culture. In fact, he’s crystal clear and has taken me aside a few times to instruct me on how I can better contribute:

Here he’s has taken time out of his day to engage with me directly about something that I shared that I had believed to be useful but was actually counterproductive for the members that Rob was serving! That’s my bad and I was grateful for the correction!

But don’t miss the point: This type of hands-on approach to culture curation is rare but I’m certain it’s a big reason why Rob has seen success with his projects. He’s intentional about what he’s building and he takes the time to keep the bar super-high, even at the risk of hurting my feelings.

We can all learn a ton from this singular lesson that Rob’s given me! Rob knows his stuff:

Okay, with that long-winded primer, here are my notes on Arvid and Rob’s chat together — enjoy!

Rob and Arvid jump right in! Arvid’s a long-time publisher and has done a great job of building a business that provide. He started writing the “titles” of all the things that he wanted to talk about and then a few of these articles had already been written (or in bits / pieces).

And, over time, he gradually “filled in” the chapters and the overall structure as things came together. What I love about this process is that it seems as if it was a low-pressure type of process; he didn’t force himself to complete the project under any manufactured timeline.

Or, at least, that’s what I’m reading in-between the lines!

I do like his point and realization that building a software / technology product is very similar to writing a book; and it’s true! As a product engineer and designer as well as writer myself, the process of building anything on the internet is generally the same.

From Arvid’s perspective, you need a few things to make all of this work:

  1. An audience that is interested in what you’re doing.

  2. A problem that you’re interesting in solving.

  3. And then you need a product that implements the solution.

Rob agrees and also adds that folks who are newer authors will have to spend a bit more time providing a bit more evidence to a potential reader about the promise that you’re making to them (and then you have to deliver!).

On picking the right audience (and seeing bad reviews), here are a few thoughts that the two shared:

  1. Dealing with 1-star reviews is hard, but, you should always focus on the people that you’re building it for, not for the folks who may have an opinion about what you’re building! “Michael Crichton didn’t write Jurassic Park for folks who don’t like dinosaurs!”

  2. Seth Godin says: “A one-star review means that someone bought it who wasn’t supposed to buy it.” — I love that. Focus on just the people who need the book (or product) and not anyone else in the beginning.

  3. You’ll need to validate the audience size though! Make sure that the number of folks who need your book is a big enough audience that can help you fulfill your business goals. Do the customer research.

  4. “Audience” is ill-defined for Arvid. It’s just the number of folks who are interested in what you’re trying to offer. Make sure that they exist!

  5. Audience exploration and validation is the first and most important step in writing a book according to Arvid.

Arvid and Rob jump into a section where they chat about building, teaching, and showcasing their progress “in public” and what that’s like for both of them. The best solution is to simply share your process and the work and to use teaching as a way of testing and prototyping the book (a great idea via Rob).

Unlock for Rob: If you can teach the concepts of what you’re writing about then you’re able to write the draft and there’s a lot of confidence developed since you’ve validated the content with early versions of audience.

In other words, you may struggle less with “Imposter Syndrome” since you already know that there’s been proven, empirical examples of success.

Rob’s basic strategy for working on his current writing project was essentially this (as he outlines it):

  1. Decide what he wanted to write about (a book on book publishing).

  2. Asked friends or people he knew who wanted to write a book.

  3. He then gathered them into a space to answer questions (Slack).

  4. He then did this for a long time and watched for what was “exciting” for his community members.

  5. He drafted the book as he found themes and answered questions; he’s always surprised at how poorly he can “guess” what folks really want or find valuable.

Love it so much.

The daily process of writing is something that both these two know intimately and they share a few helpful tips and perspectives for the novice and experienced writer.

For Arvid, he wants to “front load” as much teaching and knowledge in the beginning, make it “super dense” on purpose. Arvid also includes his lack of “perfectionism” as helpful; getting to “good enough” is more important so that he can continue to move forward and publish.

Typos do not necessarily matter for books who are teaching you how to do something; as long as the results show up. If you’re writing something for “literary” consumption, according to Rob, this would put more emphasis on editing, proofing, and more.

But, perfection isn’t necessary for value creation. We can remember this for building products, communities, and businesses!

I love this because I take the same perspective and share the same opinion: My goal is to teach everything I know! And, at this point, I know that most folks can get over the imperfect prose or the occasional spelling / grammar issue as long as they learn something new and get something out of it!

100% agree.

I enjoyed the section on talking about systems and platform audiences.

For Arvid, the audience is a group of folks who know that you give continual value. You need to think through the process of “earning reputation” and how it works on the internet.

Arvid wrote a blog post every single week, folks would retweet it, and follow him, and slowly growing an audience by providing value without asking much in return.

Rob, in comparison, has felt like he’s not been as engaged in Twitter as Arvid and asks a great question about starting over (or in a new industry). Arvid says that consistency matters more than anything else. For Arvid, he publishes once a week.

He then put it in an email newsletter as well which helped him build an audience and then, because of time, started a podcast so he could still deliver consistent content (but in audio form). He remixes one article through a number of different channels.

I’ve spoken about this before (and have listed out an email newsletter strategy here) that consistency is everything! Start and then don’t stop.

Rob doesn’t pull punches though and he says what most folks know (and feel): Social media feels like “another job” and that’s hard for a lot of people who are trying to spend time building their product. Arvid has automated quite a bit of his engagement.

The value of your business is how people perceive your brand and by making daily investments into your brand (by communicating to them consistently) you increase the value of your brand and eventually this leads and drives business value.

Engaging with your community is what community builders know is the most important part of building anything on the internet! It’s not just “another job”; it’s a part of the business!

One thing that’s important to note is that you have to find the right medium for you, as a creator and builder! So, if you like YouTube, then, use YouTube! If you really enjoy Twitter, then, use Twitter!

People will relate better to you when you are enjoying the tool and platform; not because you’re just there because you think it’s a good idea (from a business perspective). Choose wisely where you spend your time so you can maximize impact (and growth)!

Arvid ends this section by double-clicking on the idea of creating value without asking for much in return. Choose the channels of communication and then be amazing at them.

Finally, Rob and Arvid chat through profitability and models of revenue. The big challenge of a building and selling a book is that it takes a long time to bring it to market. There are some changes in business models like getting paid per page (read).

Another strategy is to do a “freemium” model or “cross-bundled” title to build an author platform via Amazon, offering upsells through the series.

There’s quite a bit in this section that I’m not an expert at, but, you can watch it here of course:

Rob has about $14k royalties a month without doing much now and that’s an amazing lifestyle! I think I’m in the wrong job…