Egghead.io: Control The Destiny of Your Business Through Sheer Willpower
Egghead.io is one of the most popular learning platforms for web developers. It hosts thousands of videos by contributors who provide learners with concise, information-packed video courses on how to create codes, use various frameworks, and tools for creating websites and apps.
It all began with one guy, sick and tired of doing 9-5 jobs as a designer, knowing he had to do something to break his deadly routine. This is a story about starting from the bottom and building a profitable business from scratch, without any help. No VC funds. No fancy University degree. No mom and dad cash influx. So, how did they do it?
Taking Control of Your Life
Enter Joel Hooks. During the late nineties, Joel’s career as a 3D modeler/animator kicked-off. To many people, this sounds creative and satisfying, but Joel wasn’t having it. The first couple of years were great, but after thirteen years in the industry, he realized his ambitions were way higher.
One of the books he read changed the course of his thinking - ‘Hackers & Painters’ by Paul Graham. The idea was never to simply become a programmer but to be able to control his destiny.
However, he was stuck with one question: where to start? How do you build skills to start creating something? How do you initiate a startup project?
‘Fake it ‘Till You Make It’
The road to landing his first job as a professional programmer in 2009 was not very straightforward. Joel was bouncing between his family, bringing food on the table, and studying - everything. Economics, business, computer programming - he took it all in like a sponge, with the only purpose in mind being self-improvement.
After a full year of studying by himself, he did it - he landed the first gig as a coder.
By 2010, he was ready for a change - he didn’t want to work for other people any more, instead turning towards working for himself. Over those 365 days, Joel invested all of his free time into working on open source projects, writing unit tests, and documentation. He had a chance to talk at a conference and become a consultant. In such a short period of time, he was crowned with the highest-ranking title in the world of engineering - ‘senior technical architect’.
However, unlike many of his tech-savvies colleagues, becoming a person with a title was not a goal for Joel. The title was just an instrument for gaining knowledge about product development and management, as well as learning how to deal with mistakes. Behind the curtains, he was still studying and experimenting.
The Lightbulb that Clicked between Joel and John
In 2013, something clicked. After everything he did, he still hadn’t found an audience he knew how to talk to - and then he figured out his audience has been in front of his eyes all along - software developers.
Luckily, Joel became friends with John Lindquist, a successful and experienced engineer at the time, soon to become his co-founder.
Lindquist spent the majority of his career as a developer. He was a WebStorm evangelist at JetBrains, a Technical Architect at Isobar, and built apps for AirForce, HBO, and Bloomberg. In his free time he was creating video tutorials for developers that he enjoyed so much, but didn’t know how to make it a full-time gig.
He knew there was an option to create a channel on YouTube, where he could either monetize his videos or get support in the form of donations. However, he was waiting for a specialized service for uploading demos due to the sheer size of the hypothetical first step.
That’s why the meeting between Joel and John was so essential. The tech-head and the business-tech-head.
In 2013, AngularJS was one of the most popular programming languages in the world of web development, and John had around 50 amazing AngularJS screencasts up on YouTube.
For a while, Joel pestered Lindquist for permission to do something with these videos, but John wasn’t sure if that was a good idea. When he finally gave in, they could buckle up their startup belts, as their journey of natural business growth was about to begin!
Living a Full-Time Dream
The two future co-founders had a lot on their plates, and they decided to split the work into two parts: John was the content creator while Joel was - pretty much everything else. Joel packed the initial 50 videos already on YouTube in a zip file and started selling them for $50.
John had a list of donors (his followers on YouTube), while Joel had an email list of the readers of his blog. They reached out via all means available to them, and soon, it started bringing results.
In the first week, they made $6000.
No deception - they told everyone that videos are also available for free, but that they could have them for $50 as well, and do with them as they please.
However, the audience wanted more, and they did make a promise to continue delivering tutorials, but that wasn’t possible with both of them stuck at full-time jobs and bills to pay.
After Joel finished building their website - to some extent - and with no premium products on it, they asked their audience to commit to a year of premium egghead.io that cost $99.
Sort of a crazy thing to ask, right?
Well, sometimes it takes some insane boldness to achieve your goals - and the audience accepted. A number of their followers trusted them enough and paid the $99.
With the first customers acquired, they both had a lot on their plates: Joel had to start working late hours to get the platform up and running, while John had to deliver more content.
In order to deliver an online product, they needed to go through multiple steps: back-end and front-end development, internet marketing, design and user experience, business plan, accounting, analytics, copywriting, communication, and building a support system.
The whole package.
Usually, there’s a person for each of these things. But in the case of egghead.io, it was just the two of them. Their ability to code was essential, as otherwise, their product wouldn’t succeed.
Looking through lists of contacts, Joel contacted the CEO and co-founder of Wistia, who liked their idea and let them host their videos for free. In two weeks they went from nothing to having a subscription-capable video blog!
However, content creation is hyper-demanding and often leads to burn-out. They knew they had to get more people in the team, so they reached out to friends from the industry, 12 of which agreed to join the movement. At the time, John and Joel had no idea how to pay them initially, but they did promise to ‘work it out’.
By 2014, Joel quit his job as a consultant and egghead.io became his full-time occupation. John also left his job as Technology Evangelist and committed only to producing content.
On-site training engagements allowed them to ‘work’ only a few days per month, while they spent the rest of their time building the egghead.io platform.
In Joel’s words:
“Egghead’s been profitable since launch!”
How egghead.io Became what It is Today
In order to retain and attract new users, they relied mostly on flawless SEO practices and email pitches. With 12 people on their team, they were able to generate $275,000 monthly revenue by selling access to high-quality screencasts to current and future web developers.
Their email marketing became very sophisticated too. For example, when somebody watched a free course, after a couple of videos they would ask them to share their email to continue. Then, they would target these people’s interests with a newsletter, which turned out to be a smash hit, as they were able to email some 200-300 people per day, which led them to incredibly robust conversion numbers.
Another thing that helped egghead.io grow was releasing free community resource content in collaboration with open source product maintainers, who would link their course lessons in the documentation to their tool. Whoever watches, receives the egghead’s pitch too.
The guys had their dream come true - they run their own schedules, and they’re happily wealthy. They don’t worry about vacation time or whether they’ll have enough time for their families anymore. Joel’s five children are on a homeschooling program, and he’s leading the process!
Egghead.io has no debts, no loans, no investors - the company is completely bootstrapped. They make money through subscriptions, while providing a steady stream of new content aligned with the latest trends in the web development industry.
From time to time, their churns do outdo their growth, but as they say - if they don’t panic, it usually turns out that the solution is right in front of their noses.
Indie Hacker’s Recipe To Success?
In Joel’s words: Don’t work too hard.
If there’s something Joel is very much against, it’s the modern-times cult of productivity. According to him, you shouldn’t kill yourself in order to succeed.
He doesn’t like school but he does find education irreplaceable.
Read books. Find useful courses. Invest in yourself. Educate yourself!