Russell Nohelty is a USA Today bestselling author, publisher, and consultant. He runs the small press Wannabe Press and The Complete Creative, which helps creatives build better businesses.
He’s run successful Kickstarter campaigns for Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, The Godsverse Chronicles, Katrina Hates the Dead, My Father Didn’t Kill Himself, Spaceship Broken: Needs Repairs, and I Can’t Stop Tooting: A Love Story, Monsters and other Scary Shit, Cthulhu is Hard to Spell volume 1 and 2, and Pixie Dust raising over $170,000 on the platform to date, including four campaigns that raised over $25,000 each, and two that raised over $30,000.
He’s also written several graphic novels, novels, and children’s books.
For the last several years, Russell has cataloged and documented his own journey to build a creative business. He interviewed hundreds of other successful creators and dissected their stories to find out how they built and sustained their careers. He compiled all the lessons, successes, and failures he learned into his creative academy, The Complete Creative, which includes, courses, a podcast, a blog, and two books How to Build a Creative Business, a practical guide to building a sustainable business as a creative, and How to Become a Successful Author, a focused compendium of everything Russell has learned becoming a six-figure author.
He is dedicated to showing other creatives how to build their own businesses through his company, The Complete Creative. He truly believes anybody can be a success as long as they treat themselves like an entrepreneur and run their career like a business.
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/russellnohelty
Chris Ippolito 2:13
Russell Nohelty 2:14
Hi. How are you doing?
Chris Ippolito 2:15
Good. How are you?
Russell Nohelty 2:17
I’m good, I’m good. I’m happy to be here, thanks for having me on the show.
Chris Ippolito 2:20
Hey, welcome to the “Get Coached Podcast,” glad to have you here. As you can see in your background, for those watching on video, I love the Cthulhu. What’s the other one there you’ve got?
Russell Nohelty 2:35
Our most popular book is Cthulhu is Hard to Spell. Then my most beloved book by my fans is Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, it’s a book about a psychopath that escapes a mental asylum and becomes a monster hunter, but doesn’t know if he’s killing monsters, humans, or it’s all in his head the whole time. Then back there behind them is our bee, our mascot, Melissa the Wannabe, for Wannabe Press. She represents everything a good wannabe is, rebellious, creative, spontaneous, snarky, no-nonsense, goes, or used to go, to punk rock shows, disrespects authority, and just wants things to happen their own way.
Chris Ippolito 3:19
I love it. When I saw that stuff when we did our original call, I knew there was going to be a good connection. Because I’m a bit of a geek at heart, I’ve done a YouTube channel where all we do is play board games for nine years. I knew there was going to be a connection.
Russell Nohelty 3:36
Chris Ippolito 3:36
Russell, I’d love to start the episode off with if you could share your story. Where have you been and how did you get to be where you are right now?
Russell Nohelty 3:47
Sure. Going back, I was raised on the East Coast. Born in Jersey, grew up in Virginia, went to school in Maryland. After school, I went to work on Capitol Hill, like almost all people from D.C. tend to do. I was doing live shots, I worked for Fox News, MSNBC, covered Easter Egg Rolls, I did some work for Comedy Central, all stuff that sounds way cooler than it actually was.
Then I left that job after about six months because news is hell and I started my first company. I get the timeline confused because I had so many companies in my 20s, but I believe my first company was a company called RPN Photography, which was a photography studio. I went about $30,000 in the hole on that one to get equipment. I started shooting fashion photography and a whole bunch of other stuff. I did fashion photography, portraits, movies, and TV. I went on a shoot in Denmark, I directed television, I shot movies, I directed movies. Eventually I became the executive producer of an Internet television network and helped them build their beta for their Internet television network. Meanwhile I was directing movies, as I mentioned.
I had two other companies during that time. The first one was called Insert Name Here Productions, which was a production company that went nowhere. Then my second company, BNS Media Group, ended up producing one movie called “Connections,” which is quite mediocre and you can find it online, on YouTube. It’s broken up into, I think, 10 episodes. I take full blame for the mediocrity of it. The actors were wonderful, the shooting was wonderful, it’s just there wasn’t a lot going on in the directing or writing department. Except there were a couple moments that I’m very proud of in the show, a couple of writing moments that I really, really love.
After that, I got in a car accident in 2008, lost my job, was in a neck brace for six months, and started writing, that was the only thing I could do. I couldn’t shoot, I couldn’t do anything else. I decided to learn how to write really well. I had written the movie, that very mediocre movie, but I wanted to be slightly better than a mediocre writer. I had heard something about the first 10 scripts you make are going to be terrible, I just wrote like 10 scripts in six months, just got what I thought was all the bad writing out of it. God, how naive I was.
During that time we moved to L.A. Between 2008 and 2010 I lived the life of a struggling screenwriter who launched in and out of jobs, in and out of jobs, in and out of jobs. Mostly on unemployment, mostly not getting work. But I had the manager, I had the whole L.A. thing, except the meetings and the money. Actually, that is the L.A. thing, to have it all but the meetings and the money.
Then my manager introduced me to comics. I fell in love with comics and started making comics. We made a book called Ichabod Jones: Monster Hunter, Katrina Hates the Dead. I started writing novels, I wrote a novel called Gumshoes, I wrote a novel called My Father Didn’t Kill Himself, and kid books. Got some publishing deals, then those publishing deals were horrible and I pulled them back. I own the rights because I figured I could be a bad publisher or a mediocre publisher, “I’ve already made a mediocre movie, I could definitely be a mediocre publisher.”
I started my company Wannabe Press. Wannabe Press makes weird books for weird people, people like our bee Melissa back there, and started having some success. Wannabe Press, 1 book led to 2 books, led to 5 books, led to 10 books. I started making a name for myself as a publisher, figuring that I’d just be publishing other people’s work. But then something magical happened in 2017. I had a book called Monsters and Other Scary Shit, which has actually been used as a D&D manual by some people, and that book made my career. Our next book Pixie Dust solidified it. Our book after that Cthulhu is Hard to Spell, which you can see back there, made me a staple of the indie community. I was off the races.
Around that time I had been asked questions by every independent creator that I knew because I had broken through, I had done this thing. Mostly because I had studied meticulously everything about business and manipulated it for my needs since about 2012. I became a sales manager at Sprint, I did all this stuff so that I could really learn marketing and sales.
As we were being successful with our book Pixie Dust, I wrote a book called How to Build Your Creative Career. From that we spun off the educational wing of my company to a site called The Complete Creative. The Complete Creative helps artists build the best work of their life and share it with the world. It’s a repository for everything that I’ve talked about since 2007 when I started doing this. I’ve had multiple sites and often the things will be transferred from one site to the next, then that site to this one. Some of the writing really does go back quite a long way, but it’s an unbroken chain, hopefully, or a semi-unbroken chain, of basically how to live a creative life broken up into three sections. Breathing, mindset, how to get in the right mindset for having a creative career. Creating things, how to make better stuff. Then selling it, how to share it with the world. That is what I do now, I spit my time pretty much between my own books at Wannabe Press and anthologies, then The Complete Creative helps creators, coaches creators, helps them build mailing lists, build their career, and really take themselves to the next level.
Chris Ippolito 10:15
Right. That’s awesome. It’s quite the journey you’ve gone on, and I love the fact that you ended up being able to ultimately land on something that you’re quite passionate about. It seems like it was always something that you were striving towards, but maybe didn’t know how. Do you know what I mean?
Russell Nohelty 10:36
Yeah, well, the beauty of doing each company is I think I got slightly higher each time. The first company maybe I learned 20% of it, then 40%, then 80%. Then I became a salesman, then sales manager. I started learning marketing, sales, and doing all of this other stuff. Eventually that all led to, I don’t think I launched at 100%, but it led to that company that was able to break through and all of that stuff. Some people much smarter than me can read, then implement things. I find that I have had to suffer for it all and do it, then I could teach it.
But when people come to my site, I think and I hope that what they see is somebody who has really done it, has gone through the hell that they will have to go through, and can show them how to get through it without wasting the $100,000 in 10 years that I did.
Chris Ippolito 11:37
Yeah, absolutely. Learning by doing, I think, is a very common theme I’ve noticed as far as the people that have been successful, whether it’s the people I’ve interviewed, the books I’ve read, the podcast I’ve listened to. There’s very rarely a story where it’s like, “You know what? I read a few books, applied those lessons, and I had success straight out of the gate.” Doesn’t really happen very often. I have heard stories of it though.
Russell Nohelty 12:07
Yeah, well, the problem is that even if you do things the exact way that I tell you to, there is a lot of testing involved. Because your audience will be different than my audience, what they respond to, what you respond to, how you build, how your brain fires neurons. All of it is different. Even if you get plopped down the perfect system, it’s still going to take some testing. There are some people that just pay to have the system implemented, optimized, and they don’t care about any of that stuff. I am not that human. But for the most part I think the problem is no matter what guru you follow, their path can only get you so far. Because they had breaks. It’s not that they don’t talk about them, they just had a set of things at the beginning of their career.
Neil Gaiman is one that I bring up all the time. He’s one of the most famous writers of all time, but he also started as a journalist. Before he got his first breaks, he met and interviewed every influential writer and editor in the UK pretty much. When he went to do his book proposal, he already had a leg up. You have different legs up. Because of that, just the way that you construct your company, even if someone tells you exactly what to do, will be different.
I can prove that. Because if you’ve ever run Facebook ads, you probably have mistakenly copied an ad and run it with the exact same image, literally it’s the exact same ad. Because how you duplicate the ads, you just forget one. Accidentally you just happened in one ad set to get these same two ads. Despite the fact that those same two ads were started at the exact same time, they do not have the same cost per click, they do not have the same conversion rate, even though they are literally the same ad.
Chris Ippolito 14:11
Yeah, Facebook, I would agree. I’ve not done a lot with Facebook, but I’ve heard that, as far as the experience with it. Which is always funny when there’s a lead magnet out there that is like, “Copy this exact Facebook ad and you’re going to get tons of sales and tons of business.” It’s like, well, that may or may not be the case.
I was going to ask a question about, with all the businesses that you ended up doing and just it didn’t really turn into the results that you were looking for, what were some of the more valuable lessons you feel you learned coming out of that?
Russell Nohelty 14:50
It’s not about you, it’s about them. That’s the number one. That you are the conduit for which your audience wants, but you’re nothing without them buying your work, enjoying it, and embracing it. This doesn’t really matter at all if you don’t have a community of people, both fans and other creators or other network people, to go through it with you. Money is replaceable, time is irreplaceable, and people are irreplaceable. Once you can make money, you can just make money.
It’s weird, the more money you have, the easier that you can do the thing to make the money, the less valuable you view the money because you know that you can just go and make more money. But what you find is that the experiences, the people, and the fans are the thing that are irreplaceable. They’re the ones who are with you, they’re the ones that you turn to when you’re down, they’re the ones you celebrate with when you’re up. If you’re not going to do it for them, I mean you can do it for you, but I have learned that it’s much better, the work gets better, and just the world gets better when you’re going through it with a bunch of other people.
The most important lesson I learned, not to get in a down note, but last year was not very good for me for the first half of the year. We did a lot of launches that did not go well. I suffer from depression, anxiety, and a bunch of other things. About this time last year in 2019 I was suicidal because things were going so bad for me, so bad. Every launch was going worse than the one before. I had tied my self-worth to my success.
The one thing that I always talk about, try and talk about, on shows with entrepreneurs is that your self-worth is not determined by whether you’re a success or a failure. It is intrinsic for you existing, it is the same self-worth that Bill Gates has, Mother Teresa, the guy next door, and the homeless person that’s living in a gutter. It is removed from the part of you that is successful or a failure. You have to remove that because it’s really fun to tie yourself to your success, your self-worth to your success, when you’re on the way up, but I swear to god you ain’t always going to be on the way up, man. Even if you just drop down from super successful to pretty successful, that drop still comes with it. You end up leveling off and now you’re self-worth is at this level of success.
It’s been a challenge and a journey, but I always try to tell myself that I’m not successful, I’m not a success and I’m not a failure. I’m a person who succeeds or a person who has failed at one thing, but I am also a bunch of other things. I’m a reader, I’m a writer, I’m an arithmeticker, I’m a businessman, I’m a son, I’m a husband, I’m a puppy parent. I’m all of these things and I wouldn’t let any of those other things define me. I can’t let the success or failure of a singular thing define me, or even a string of successes or failures. It’s helped me stay grounded and it’s helped me really survive through this very turbulent time, even though it’s very hard to keep a good mental state these days. But I think that if I was not able to separate those things, I’d be in a very, very bad place right now.
Chris Ippolito 18:47
Yeah. I really appreciate you sharing that. I think what you went through is what a lot of people go through, but then don’t open up or they’re not willing to share or seek support. That’s something that surprisingly a lot of people go through, I’ve gone through my own personal journeys. If it wasn’t for having a support system, it doesn’t have to even be a big one. It’s just having one person who’s willing to support you, guide you through it, and/or just be that person that you can rely on and they’re your stability, in a sense. That makes such a world of difference so that you can do what is required to get yourself back together. That was my personal journey anyways, I don’t know if it ended up being something similar for you. But yeah, lots of value there.
Russell Nohelty 19:46
Yeah, well, one of the things that really is helpful is for me I’m a pretty rational person, it helps to look at things rationally. For instance, I get down sometimes and think I’m a bad writer, despite the fact that I’m a USA Today bestselling author and literally make my living on writing. I, like most people, think that I’m bad sometimes, or a lot of the time.
I have to look and say, “Okay, if you are bad writer, then that means that all the people who have ever bought your books are either idiots or lying to you. Are you willing to go to them and say, ‘You’re an idiot for liking my book’?” I’m like, “Of course not, they’re great, they’re the best, they are the ones that support me. You must objectively have some talent. Maybe it’s not the talent to be Stephen King, but you must be a good writer on some level because these people trust you and they love your work.”
“Okay, that’s good. Are you a failure? Well, you just launched a $30,000-dollar Kickstarter, you just had X, Y, and Z other thing happen. You just spoke on this stage or that stage, or had this person on your podcast,” or whatever the little win is. It’s like, “Well, no, objectively I’m not a failure, I got a degree from school,” or whatever thing, “I graduated high school,” or some point you were not a failure. One day you were not a failure in your life, thus you can’t be a failure if you are not constantly failing. A failure would literally never win, and that’s not true either.
Some of that objective stuff has really helped me, that’s just how my rational brain works. I’m married to a research manager who literally is all data, that also helps. But the other thing that helps is just building resilience. I’m a writer. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that before, but I’m a writer. One in two people want to be writers, think they have a book in them, which is roughly like 60 million people. Yet every year only about a million books get published. That’s a lot of books, I’m not saying a million is not a lot of books. What I am saying is it ain’t 60 million.
What happens? A lot of people start something and very few get to the next stage, let’s say half. Way less than half, but a 60th. We already said a 60th of people, 1 in every 60 people, will release a book. Assuming that you think that every single book that came out was from a different human. Then some people will say, “Nah, I don’t like that. I don’t like writing a book.” Or those other 59 that fell off along the way. Some people will continue, some people will continue, and some people will continue. Then you look back and you can say, “Wow, I really made it through a lot, I can’t possibly be a failure because I made it through a lot.”
I’ve done 200 episodes of my podcast. While we don’t get the viewer numbers that I would like, I’ve done 200 episodes. How many people do you know that have done 200 episodes of a podcast? Very few. Even if they’re terrible episodes, you can’t be terrible all of the time.
It’s all of these things that you end up doing, building together, and the communities you go. You can fall back on that, but you can also fall back on just the logical fact that someone doesn’t record 200 podcasts, raise $170,000 on Kickstarter, sell thousands of copies of books, or be able to stay in business for five years if they’re a complete failure. But you do tie yourself to it, it’s really hard. Especially when you’re a creative, because it means so much to you. You’re creating this show, your show, or you’re creating music. It’s a piece of you.
You are not being with the people you love to be here with me. I mean even if you love me a lot, there’s no way you love me as much as the people that you are around right now who light you up, like your wife, your best friends, or whatever. But you’re choosing to put that into this show.
There’s a lot of love there and it’s hard not to tie yourself to it. But you just have to, for your own sanity, understand that this is a piece of your soul, but there’s all the other pieces that make it up are equally valuable. If any one of them left, you would hurt, but it would not destroy your whole existence. You would still be a human who existed in the world with value even if a big part of you was gone.
Chris Ippolito 24:51
Yeah. There is so much value in what you just said there, I love it. That’s a part of this particular episode I may have to re-listen to a few times. There is the fact that you’re just talking about the value of consistency and just sticking with it. The fact that as a creative, you are literally putting a piece of yourself into all these things that you end up creating. Whether you are reaching a million people or 100 people, there’s still value there and you shouldn’t measure your self-worth to the outcome that comes. Just really, really appreciate what you’re sharing with us today.
Russell Nohelty 25:33
Absolutely. Well, there’s another piece of that where there’s a lot of people who are lurkers. For every person who really responds and is hyper responsive, there’s 10 or 20 who don’t ever reach out. I know that because I have an e-mail list of 20,000 people, I have Facebook groups. I will send e-mails out and get X amount of responses, but then I will launch a product and 20 times more than the responses will come in. I’ll post something and a couple of people will respond. But then I’ll post something else or I’ll get an e-mail out of the blue from someone I haven’t thought about in years, they’re just so thankful of the thing that I do, and they’ve never reached out.
I just had somebody who pledged $25 for one of our Kickstarter campaigns. In the fulfillment section, once you’re done, you can upsell and do all of the other stuff. She dropped $130 additional dollars from a $25-dollar pledge.
Just your mind is blown by all of this stuff. We tend to look at, “Oh, I only got 100 downloads on this episode,” 200 downloads or whatever. But then it goes back to that community and that fandom. Where if you have it and you feel supported by it, even if it’s a couple of people, the people that resonate out past that moment that you’re sharing and don’t comment but get changed by it is huge.
I mean my wife’s favorite author is Kurt Vonnegut. He died before she ever followed him on social media, she never met Kurt Vonnegut. He would have never known that she was a fan of his. Same thing with a lot of my favorite authors. Same thing with this podcast episode. Maybe I’ll get one e-mail from whoever the people are, but who knows who listens to it in three years and their life is changed? You never know, but we judge ourselves by this moment in time where we’re like, “Oh, I got 100 downloads this week,” “I only sold 10 copies of my book,” or whatever. But we’re not looking at all of the ripple effects that go out of that. All of the people who are telling people, the word is spreading, and all of this stuff is happening.
We are so tied up as creators. Whatever you’re creating, whatever business you’re doing, or just as a human, we’re so tied up into what’s next that we never look at what is behind us, we never look at all of the things that we have access to, all the assets that we’ve built, all 200 episodes of that show, all of those books, or all of those things that can still be, I don’t like to use the word “monetize,” but I’m going to say it, monetized or relaunched. The impact can be doubled, tripled, or quadrupled.
I’m looking at doing a launch for some of our products and I’m like, “Well, I have 10 courses or something like that, I could bundle the two most popular ones together, then the other 8 can be add-ons.” They don’t sell very well, having an add-on value thing, it’s not like I’m losing a lot of stuff in there. Or I have books that I put into book bundles that are not my most popular books, but they increase the value of the bundle as a whole.
There’s all of these ways that we can look at the past, the things that we’ve done, and bring them into the present. One of the things that I’m very honored with how we’ve done The Complete Creative is we have this unbroken string almost of at least five years of my writing, podcasting, and life that I can look back at any of those moments and not know how many people have been impacted by it, but know that people were. I can go back and remember just what the feeling was when I posted that on social media that day.
I wish we were better at understanding the holistic presence that we were making instead of just what the next thing, what the next episode was. I wish that we weren’t forced to do that either because that is how we’re judged. We put outmoded attention into the next thing because that’s, in a way, how we’re going to be judged, how our career is going to be judged, how the media is going to judge us, and how certain people in our cliques are going to judge us. But I try to not think about that when I’m launching products. It’s very hard, but I try to think about the people who do that in that community and wonder at the fact that anybody listens at all.
Elizabeth Gilbert was just on the Tim Ferriss show this week and you could be listening to that. Tim Ferriss, Elizabeth Gilbert, two people. Instead you’re listening to me rant about this thing. That’s beautiful, that’s a beautiful thing that you’ve taken your life. However few or many there are, we are bonded in this moment.
I try to judge my life on the quality connections that I make. We only have one KPI, which is a key performance indicator, at my company and it is not revenue, it is not success of products, it is the number of quality connections that we make in a week. That means this, these connections one on one. The one to many is good, too, like you then posting it out. But this is the connection that matters, me and you talking like this. Doing conventions or reaching out on social media and having a real connection, having one-on-one communication.
Those are the things that I judge our success by. Because I don’t know how much my book matters even if it sells to a million people, but I do know how much this conversation matters, I can judge that, and I know that there is value there that permeates out. Even if all I do is come and deliver an impassioned plea to you that changes things slightly, that is worth it. Because that is, as a human species, what we’re supposed to be doing. This whole rest of this is just window dressing on what humanity is based on, which is connecting with each other and helping us move to the next level.
Sorry, that was a big rant, that is not any part of this conversation that we were supposed to be having about a different topic.
Chris Ippolito 32:42
No, that’s okay. I’m actually almost considering, “Do I even bother with that?” But hey, since you brought it up, and you’ve made reference to it in the past. I think we’ll be able to actually tie it all together in a way. One of the main topics that we were going to chat about, in a broad sense, was validating ideas. In particular leveraging platforms like Kickstarter on how to minimize your risk while testing if there is a demand or a market for whatever it is you’re wanting to put out there. Obviously in your case it’s very much on that creative side, but there are ways to validate, whether it’s a creative idea, a service, a program, a course, there are different ways of validation.
I wanted to dig into that a little bit as far as some of the lessons you learned along the way. Because I think, if I remember correctly, you have a course that teaches this to creators, right?
Russell Nohelty 33:50
I do. If we want to talk about the thing about validation, validating a product on a mass scale is very good for a Kickstarter. A Kickstarter has to be a product. It could be a course, it could be a pint of ice cream, but there has to be some product that you’re getting for Kickstarter. You can use a service as a content upgrade, a bonus, a $50-dollar level you get like an hour of my time, or $500-dollar level. But there has to be at the core a product that you are offering. That is the most important thing about Kickstarter. You can’t use it to start a business, fund a charity, or any of that stuff, there are other platforms for that. But if you want to make a cool kickstand, a pin, a book, a movie, a piece of tech or whatever, then Kickstarter is a great way to validate. But I think that by the time that you get to Kickstarter, you should have a pretty good idea of what validation is.
When we were talking, I’ve been thinking about validation this whole time and how to validate a product. There’s a much simpler way to validate than Kickstarter. If the overall topic is validation, let’s rewind a little bit.
Chris Ippolito 35:06
Sure, let’s do that.
Russell Nohelty 35:08
The easiest way to validate is to build an audience, then launch a product to them, to launch a little product to them. I have a little system. I find 1 customer, then 10 customers, then use Kickstarter once we have about 100 customers to make sure that the product is valid.
Let’s say you have zero audience. We’re going to do some unscalable work, which is I am going to reach out to you or you are going to reach out to me. Let’s do you. You are the owner of a company and you’ve never looked at your audience before, you’ve never sold anything before, you just have this idea. First thing you need to do is figure out who you’re going to serve. The easiest way to figure out who resonates with you is to find people who like you, but not enough to lie to you.
Now what do I mean by that? I’m almost 20 years from high school and I think about the people that I know from high school. They know me, some of them like me, but I’m not friends with any of them and none of them have a stake in my career. They’re not close friends, they’re not family, they’re not my wife. They are people that like me that I’ve done the work for building a relationship with for 20 years. But we’re not going out for drinks, they’re not personally invested in my life, aside from us talking a couple of times a year. It does not mean I don’t love them, and I have many fans that are from my high school, but I’m talking about the beginning. There’s going to be somebody that likes you, but not enough to lie to you.
The other side of that is your wife, mother, father, or the people that love you the most have a desire for you to succeed and to not wound you. They will think they’re doing you a favor by telling you that things are good. But they’re really doing you a disservice, but they don’t know that. They think they’re doing you a service by saying everything is great, everything is good, and buying 10 copies of your book even if it’s not good, but they’re not doing you a favor.
There’s a sweet spot there. Does that make sense, do you know what I’m talking about here?
Chris Ippolito 37:38
Yeah, I’m going to have to challenge my wife a little bit and just ask her, “Do you actually think the podcast is good?”
Russell Nohelty 37:44
Well, there’s another piece of this. Because your wife might not be in the audience of people that like this thing. They might look at it and be like, “That sounds good. It’s nice and I like your voice.” But if they don’t listen to business podcasts or mindset podcasts, then, again, they’re doing you a disservice by telling you your thing is good because they are looking objectively, “Does it seem professional?, not, “Does it resonate with me?” If it’s resonating with them, it’s because they love you, not probably because of the show itself. My wife does not resonate with the show, but she’s like, “It’s good, it’s good. It’s a good show, it’s a good show.”
There’s a couple of things there. There are people though that might be perfect in your audience, they are loved ones, and they can be objective, but this is not common. Supportive is different, you want your partner to be supportive, but you don’t necessarily want their opinion on whether you should move forward with a product. Does that make sense?
Chris Ippolito 38:50
Russell Nohelty 38:51
All right, you’ve got your one person. You now reach out to them and you’re trying to learn all of the cool things about them. Not demographics. The demographics come easier if you wait until you’ve had a couple of these before, because you’re going to do it more than once. But you’re trying to get a feeling of them, like we talked about Melissa. What makes them tick? What makes them resonate with you? What is the thing they love about you that makes them comment on all of your posts?
When you’re looking for a person like this, you’re not just looking for any random person you knew in high school, you’re looking for a person that you knew in high school but comments on your stuff a lot. Seemingly like, “I don’t know why you’re doing this, we weren’t that close in high school. I’m happy and I like interacting with you, but there’s no logical reason for us to be there.” Does that make sense?
Chris Ippolito 39:37
Russell Nohelty 39:38
Okay. That kind of person you’re going to reach out to and you’re going to have this discussion. You can be like, “Oh, cool. Oh, you love rock and roll music?,” “Oh, yeah, that was a great movie,” “What’s your favorite movies and genres?,” and whatever the thing is. “What are your other favorite podcasts?,” and, “Where do you hang out?” All of that stuff you’re going to get. Some demographic information, but mostly just, “This is what I think I’m saying and how I’m saying it that resonates with somebody else.”
Then you’re going to make your assumption, you’re going to have one lump of clay for your person, the audience, then you’re going to do that 10 more times or 9 more times. You’ve got 10 people now, you’ve done it and you have a model of the things that they like, the places they hang out, the things that resonate with you.
Now this is when you validate the idea first before you go to Kickstarter, because there’s a lot of work there on Kickstarter. Now this is your first focus group, you’re like, “I’ve had an idea for this bicycle,” “this podcast,” or “this thing,” whatever it is. You’re making something. It can be low cost, it can be high cost. Something less than $50 is probably good, $20 is really good. Because if you can’t get people to buy a $20-dollar thing, then you really need to redesign it. But if they don’t buy a $300-dollar thing, that could be price point, it could be timing, it could be all sorts of stuff. But you’re going to make a little product for them. Either it’s going to be a book, like the book that I talk about, they’re generally about $20. Or if you’re making a bike, it might be a kickstand. But it’s going to be something that you now are testing messaging and whether your product is good. You want to make sure that these 10 people who already know and like you, should trust you, and vibe the same way as you, that you can start figuring out what they want, the messaging for it, and all of that stuff.
You’re going to start your kickstand, your really cool new kickstand, on this level. You’re just going to put up a PayPal page and be like, “Here’s the PayPal page of this thing. If you really like this kickstand,” “this book,” or “this blueprint,” “go buy it.” If you can’t get 5 people to buy it, you need to redesign it, keep redesigning it, redesigning it, and redesigning it until you can get 5 or 10 people to buy it. How do you redesign? You go back and you say, “Dude, this is exactly what you said you wanted. Why didn’t you buy it?” You’re not being mean about it, you’re just saying, “I need to know because I want to make this en masse and I need to know what I’m doing wrong.” They’re going to tell you some direct things, but the real answer is probably in the indirect things they’re not saying. Like they’re just saying, “Oh, this is nice,” instead of being like, “I have to buy this now, why isn’t this available now?” Which is buyer intent.
Then you have those 10 people. You have 10 people, you have a profitable product, you have an audience that wants to buy it, a product, and a profit margin that you can use for marketing, a little bit of marketing. That is when it is a good time to go to Kickstarter, because now you have pre-validated it. Because you didn’t really validate it, you validated it with 10 people that you know. That’s a nothing, you’ve now got a nothing. You’ve now got 10 people.
A focus group is the worst information, but it’s helpful in at least drilling down the messaging and shaking off all of the bad stuff. Where Kickstarter is really effective then is saying, “I have this cool kickstand that I need to make $5,000 to produce. I have $100, I need to go to Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or another place to raise the funds necessary to actually mass produce this thing.” But the pre-validation part of this is where you’re at least getting some seed money to maybe get a prototype, maybe at least get some nice marketing imagery, but definitely to test your messaging. Because the people that are going to resonate with the product are supposedly the same people of these 10 people that are all the same kind of person.
You should, from those 10 people, already have the messaging. If you don’t already have the messaging, this is when you can go out to Facebook groups. Because those 10 people are going to say where they hang out, Facebook groups, Meetup communities, and all these places. They’re going to give you all the information you need to go into those places, find more people, and keep pulling them out. You have a good conversation in a Facebook group, then you friend that person, then you make friends with them and your network groups. But you really need to start this building before you get to Kickstarter. Because you need the messaging right, you need the seed backers who are going to go and buy your kickstand. Because Kickstarter, they have things like Projects We Love, or Indiegogo works on algorithms alone. But if you can’t get that mass of people at the beginning, they are going to just abandon your project and assume it’s not popular, considering only about a third of the projects on Kickstarter succeed.
When we’re talking about validation, it is a great way if you see a problem in the marketplace that the marketplace is not solving. Like, “Wow, kickstands would be great if you kicked them and they actually didn’t drop your bike over,” which happens to me all of the time. Why is my kickstand even there if I have just have to lean it against a table? You see a problem in the market, you pre-validate it with these 10 people. You then start going into Facebook groups and joining the community knowing what the messaging is. You’ve already gotten the messaging, you know the problem, you’re building these people up. Then you launch the Kickstarter to say, “Okay, I have tested this with my audience and now we’re going to bring it to a bunch of nobodies, people who don’t know me at all.”
Chris Ippolito 45:49
Yeah, cold traffic.
Russell Nohelty 45:50
Yes, cold traffic who don’t know who I am. We’re hoping that the warm traffic that we’ve already been cultivating pushes it up so that cold traffic sees it. Now if we did our job right, we got the messaging right, we got the product price points right, we got the imagery right, all of this we’re validating with the people who are in our thing, if we’ve already done this, then we should succeed, theoretically, as long as there’s a market for this thing. The great thing about Kickstarter is these are all people who are early adopters. They’re at the beginning of the cycle, they are all looking for cool, new products, all of them. If you can’t convince them, either your messaging is wrong, there’s not a need in the marketplace, or you built the wrong audience.
Kickstarter is about validation, but you really need to be doing that work beforehand. That’s a minor process in 10 minutes about how you actually do the pre-validation, get the messaging right, before you go to Kickstarter and actually try and get the seed money for your product.
Chris Ippolito 47:04
Right. Well, Russell, I think that was probably the best crash course on validation anybody is ever going to find out there. Yeah, that was awesome. Because my wheels are already turning like, “Oh, that makes so much more sense.” It was like, “I think I can find 10 people to pre-validate the ideas I have.” I think that’s fantastic because it’s very actionable and realistic as far as a goal. Whereas a lot of people, you come up with your idea, then you’re like, “I’m going to launch a Kickstarter.” Even in Kickstarter your number, it’s still low, but it’s daunting if it’s your very first time really doing it and you’re like, “Oh, jeez, I have to raise $5,000 from people who don’t know me. Hopefully they like my idea.” But if you validate it, like you said, if you pre-validate it with a group of 10 people who know and like you, not only are you going to get maybe that seed money to try and help do the Kickstarter, you’re going to have a lot more confidence because you’re going to go, “Well, jeez, yeah, 5 out or 10 of them said they would buy it and have actually already given me money for it.” I really like that, I think that’s a cool idea.
Russell Nohelty 48:23
I’ve been doing that since my whole career. I didn’t know I was doing it intentionally with Ichabod, but Ichabod spent years doing that. Like, “Here’s five pages. Is it cool? Is it cool? Here’s 10. Here’s 20. Here’s 30. Here’s the first issue.” I was giving it to people so that they could make sure I wasn’t going in the wrong direction. What you’ll find is you might be like, “Oh, god, I don’t think there’s 100 people here to give me $50, this is not going to work.” Then you go, “Cool, I don’t have to go and waste a month on Kickstarter for it.” You figure it out, you figure out how rabid that fan base is, and how much they are looking for new products. Because there are some fan bases that they want new stuff. Like the Lovecraft fan base, they just seem to always want new stuff. Even if they have a billion things, they just want a million and one things. Then you have other fan bases that are not quite so rabid. By doing the pre-validation and doing all of these pieces, maybe it’s not 10, 10 just seems to be a good number that you can hit for.
This is all stuff you can do without paying a human being to do. I shoot myself in the foot when I talk about consulting because this is all stuff that you as a human being might take a year to do, but you can do it. This is what all marketing agencies are doing when they’re trying to validate products. They’re bringing little focus groups in and little other ones. If they’re doing a national campaign, they’re doing it around the country. Then they’re scaling it up to bigger, bigger, and bigger products.
It’s all stuff that’s very actionable that you can do, as you mention. It might take you a while, especially if you don’t know what the product is, or you just have a feeling these are the people that you want to serve. But the longer you spend in that community, the more confidence you’ll get that you’re on the right track or the wrong track.
By the time you launch that Kickstarter, or whatever that product is, whether it’s a course, Kickstarter, or whatever, the more you have that template, you can be like, “Dude, I know that you’re going to love this because I talk to 1,000 of you and you all talked about how you’re bike was tipping over too much,” or, “You all were concerned about X, Y, and Z thing. I know for a fact that I might not be the right person to deliver it, I don’t know. I’m trying to convince you that I’m the right person to deliver it, but I freaking know for a fact that this is an issue that thousands of other people have.” When you can come at it with that kind of confidence, that is the kind of stuff that sways people into action. Because what they’re looking for is a leader that understands their problem, that will solve it, and won’t disappear on them in a week, a month, or a year once this product is done.
Chris Ippolito 51:31
Yeah. I really like that part you said at the end, they’re looking for a leader that they can trust is going to still be there to guide them through that journey of whatever it is that they’re looking for to solve their problem.
We’ve definitely covered a lot. I would say the first half of our conversation was not what we were really planning, but that was amazing. Then you gave us a crash course on validation. I have to ask, with everything that we have talked about, what is the one thing, that one piece of advice, you would want to share with the audience to help them level up wherever they need it most?
Russell Nohelty 52:14
Well, the usual thing I say is the self-worth thing, but I was able to put that in at the beginning. I’m not going to go back to that. The thing that wraps all of this up though is that the hardest step to take is the first one and it’s the one that almost nobody takes. It feels really daunting because when you’re at the starting line, there’s just a mass of people, they’re everywhere. Just like, “Oh my god, all of these people, how am I going to get ahead?” But as you go, put one foot in front of the other, put one step in front of the other, people will fall off, even if you’re going slow. Even if you’re going at a snail’s pace, people will just fall off. They will get sick, they will get tired, they will get bored.
Some of them will finish the race. And frankly, once they finish the race, a lot of them will just then go run in a different race. Stephen King is now running the same race as I’m running as a writer, we’re the same technically, but he’s running a race in the billions and I’m running a race in the thousands. It’s just a different race. Some of them will just graduate to a different race. Some people, especially if you’re doing coaching or the kind of stuff that I do for The Complete Creative, people are going to need somebody that is at the point you’re at at the beginning.
I was just talking to my wife about this. I don’t think I can accurately talk about what it was like to break in anymore. I can remember what it was like to break in, I can strategically tell you to break in, but I have lost the feeling of what it means to break in. I just forget what it’s like because I now have been doing this for 10 years. Luckily I have a Russell from three years ago who is very concerned about that. But there’s somebody out there right now that is using the strategies to break in now that are working now. They might be running the race real slow. But there are people that are at that place and that need that exact thing at the time that they’re being said.
Putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward is more than almost anybody will ever do. If you can just put one foot in front of the other, no matter how slow you go, you will gain traction. Because people will just fall off. Or they will slip, they will need you, you’ll be behind them, and you can pick them up and get them back on their feet. All of these things that you can do by just moving forward slowly and methodically. Now if you want to move fast, that’s also great. I can help you move fast, I can help you move slow. But as long as you’re moving, it is the most important part because it is almost impossible to push something forward from inertia. The fact that you got it from inertia to moving forward, you are so far ahead of the game. No matter how far behind you think you are, I swear to Aisha you are way further ahead than 99% of the other people that are running the race because they haven’t even started yet.
Chris Ippolito 55:41
That is fantastic advice and I appreciate you sharing that, Russell. I have a feeling that anybody who listens to this episode is going to want to reach out, connect, follow your journey and what you’re doing. What’s that one place that they can go to follow you and get more information about you?
Russell Nohelty 56:03
Since we had two shows, basically two shows, I’m going to give two links. Is that okay?
Chris Ippolito 56:10
That’s fair, I think that’s fair.
Russell Nohelty 56:12
Okay. As a creator, I think The Complete Creative is the best resource I’ve found for what it means to lead a creative life. We’ve had over 200 episodes of our podcast, I’ve had hundreds of articles, epic blog posts, free courses, paid courses. You can find them all at thecompletecreative.com.
But some of you may think, “Oh, wow, I want to follow him on social media,” “I want to follow his books,” or, “I want to follow something novel-wise.” If you like mythology, monsters, and magic, then that is the thing that I do for my books. You can find all of my books, my social media, and sign up for my mailing list where you get a couple of samples of my books at russellnohelty.com.
Chris Ippolito 57:03
Awesome. I very much appreciate the conversation, that was a lot of fun. Like you said, it was two episodes in one. But a ton of value, I very much appreciate everything you shared. Thanks, again, for being a guest.
Russell Nohelty 57:18
Thank you so much for having me.
Chris Ippolito 57:20
Yeah, no, it was my pleasure, thanks for being a guest.
Russell Nohelty 57:23
Thanks for having me.
Chris Ippolito 57:24
You’re welcome. Take care.