Corbett Barr is the founder of Think Traffic and Expert Enough. His flagship course “How to start a blog that matters” is incredible, and I am speaking from first hand experience. Basically, Corbett Barr helps people build cool stuff online.
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- Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive, and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman
- Not long ago, Corbett was deep into the start-up craze that was shaking Silicon Valley to its core. Listen as he retells how he launched, bombed, and escaped to Mexico for six months. What he found out there was quite interesting… to say the least. Found out how his Mexican revelation equated to MASSIVE success upon his triumphant return to the USA.
Entrepreneurial AHA Moment
- Don’t wait… release! Then find out what’s wrong so you can fix it before its too late.
- Wow, we get a little, (well maybe more than a little), insight into the super secret launch Corbett has in store in the upcoming months. Exciting!
- Find out why Corbett said “Part of my job is to fail.”
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John Dumas: Hire Fire Nation and thank you for joining me for another episode of EntrepreneurOnFire.com, your daily dose of inspiration. If you enjoy this free podcast, please show your support by leaving a rating and review here at iTunes. I will make sure to give you a shout out on an upcoming showing to thank you!
John Dumas: Okay. Let’s get started. I am simply thrilled to introduce my guest today, Corbett Barr. Corbett, are you prepared to ignite?
Corbett Barr: Yes, I am.
John Dumas: Great! Corbett is the founder of the blogs, ThinkTraffic and Expert Enough. His flagship course “How to Start a Blog that Matters” is incredible. I’m speaking from first-hand experience because I am taking it right now. Basically, Corbett helps people build cool stuff online. Would you say that’s a fair estimation, Corbett?
Corbett Barr: That’s what I love to do.
John Dumas: Awesome! Well, you do a great job of it. I’ve just given a little overview of yourself, so why don’t you give us a little more in-depth about who you are and what you do?
Corbett Barr: Yes. So as you mentioned, I am founder of ThinkTraffic, which is a blog and a business that tries to answer the question – why are some websites very, very popular, while most simply go unnoticed? So I’ve been blogging at ThinkTraffic for about two-and-a-half years, sharing what I’ve learned about online businesses. I’ve been self-employed since about 2006, and I have tried a number of different projects and have learned some tricks and tips along the way, and I’ve also met a lot of cool people who are doing interesting things online and I try to bring those stories and voices into the fold at ThinkTraffic as well.
John Dumas: Great summation! Thank you for that. Here at EntrepreneurOnFire, we like to start every show off with our guest’s favorite success quote. It kind of helps get the motivational ball rolling and everybody pumped up and excited. So Corbett, why don’t you get us going with your favorite success quote?
Corbett Barr: Sure. Here’s one. I don’t know if it’s my favorite, but I tend to have quotes that I cling to for a period of time and then move on to another one. But here’s one that I really like right now.
John Dumas: What are you clinging to right now?
Corbett Barr: Alright. This is by Howard Thurman who was a civil rights expert in the United States in the middle of the century. He says, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
John Dumas: Wow! Well that is definitely an inspirational and moving quote, and brings back a little JFK, which I always love. Now, how would you say that you apply this quote to your day-to-day life?
Corbett Barr: It simply helps me to remember what all of this that we do every day is all about. It’s easy to get kind of wrapped up in the mechanics of what you do and into just the competitiveness of trying to build a business or whatever it is that you’re trying to do. Really, to me it comes down to living a better life and living the fullest life possible and really coming alive as a person and being your best self. So as I said, it’s kind of easy to forget that and a quote like this makes me remember why we do what we do.
John Dumas: Great! Now, let’s move on to our first real topic. This topic really strikes at the core of most entrepreneurs because we’re scared of it, but if we’re successful, we’ve learned from it and we’ve all experienced it. That’s failure. Tell me about a time that you’ve failed, and let’s start with the events that led up to that failure and really dig deep into this moment.
Corbett Barr: That’s a great question. So I mean, I think part of my job is to fail. If you’re not failing, then you’re probably not trying hard enough. Let’s see. A particular failure? The business that I did before the I business that I’m doing now, which is something that I ran from 2006 to 2008 was essentially what I call a traditional Silicon Valley startup, which means that we built a prototype software, shopped it around, gained investors, advisors, ended up with an office of about 10 employees and built software, and went at that for about three years.
That ended up in 2008, essentially. If you recall, the financial world collapsed. At that point, we were caught in a situation where we hadn’t built enough revenue to keep the entire team intact and were desperately in need of raising more financing. It was very, very difficult at that point to raise financing in 2008.
So we had to do a lot of soul searching, and in my particular situation I had created a scenario for myself where I was an entrepreneur and I had achieved these fairly difficult things to do in terms of raising venture capital and building a company, but in some ways I felt that I was actually less free to do what I wanted to do than I had than even in a corporate job before. Instead of these blissful idea of entrepreneurship that I think a lot of people have, I ended up with an office, employees, advisors, investors, a co-founder, and a really difficult situation.
So when that 2008 financial world collapse happened, I decided that it was time to actually move on and leave that behind, and I left the business basically to my co-founder. We were able to raise a little bit of money, but not enough to keep the entire team together. I took a step back and took a sabbatical to Mexico to sort of reevaluate what had happened and what I wanted to do next in my life. That meant that three years that I had worked very, very hard during, ended up being not financially viable for me or not financially lucrative for me, but there were a lot of great learnings that came of it and I think it paved the way for what I’m doing now, but it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t painful at the time.
John Dumas: That was such a great quote that you started this whole thing off with, and I would Iike to dive back into it before we move on to the next topic. That was “part of my job is to fail”. That’s such a powerful quote. I love it because that’s what we do every day as entrepreneurs and those that are successful embrace that failure, and those aren’t successful let it stop or impede their growth and you’ve obviously learned how to embrace that failure. So let’s go into how you get into failing everyday how and how that’s part of your job and how you embrace it.
Corbett Barr: Well, I think at some point I’ve just sort of realized that failure doesn’t reflect poorly on you necessarily or on your overall capability. I think a lot of people look at failure and they think that if they fail, that it means they’re a bad person or that they’re not capable, or that people are going to think poorly of them.
In reality, failure is simply part of the journey. I think that all of us who want to do something incredible have to fail along the way. It’s just part of the territory. So the sooner that you can think of failure as simply part of the process and not a reflection on your ultimate capability or who you are as a person, then it’s easier to make the progress that you need to make.
John Dumas: Now this is kind of putting you on a spot, but I’m really curious. In the last couple of months, do you have a failure? It could be a small one, it could be a large one that you’ve faced at ThinkTraffic that you were able to actually make it improve how you operated on a daily basis.
Corbett Barr: A big failure that we’ve been wrestling with – and this is maybe a little bit different from people who are just starting out – but in some ways it’s very similar at the same time and that is something that we’ve been wrestling with, is our inability to get a new project off the ground that we’ve been talking about for six or eight months. It’s not that we haven’t gotten it off the ground because we’re not capable. It’s simply that we’d spent a lot of time talking internally about what it should be and planning, and not a whole lot of doing.
So this planning process that we’ve been in has taken far longer than it should have. I know that a lot of people maybe listening to this, if they’re just starting out or just starting to build a business now, they may be struggling with that as well where there’s just a long period of inactivity where you’re thinking about things, talking yourself out of things, and really not really getting started.
As you move along in your business and become more successful, you still wrestle with that. I still wrestle with that, and I think partly it’s because you can get into a comfort zone where things are going fairly well. We’ve accomplished a lot and it’s kind of easy just to sort of sit back and plan the next big thing, but never really want to endure the pain of getting it started and potentially failing with it.
So that’s something that we’ve been struggling with over the past six to eight months, and especially recently. We are getting traction now and we do have things happening and a potential launch date coming up, but it took us a while to get here.
John Dumas: Let’s move forward into the next topic, which is an “aha moment.” Now, you had had your failure, you stepped back, you went down to Mexico, you mentally rebooted yourself. I’m sure there were some great experiences you had down there. Time away really to focus and think. At what point after your failure did you have a light bulb of sorts come on?
Now, I’m sure you had many small light bulbs come on along the way where you were just like, “Yeah, these are great ideas” and they were moving you in that right direction, but did you have a one shining moment where you just looked up and said, Wow! I get it! This is what I want. This is what my audience wants. This is what my clientele is going to like,” and did you take that aha moment and moved forward?
Corbett Barr: Yes, definitely. Absolutely. For me, it was more of a personal light bulb moment than it was a specific product or audience light bulb moment. That is that I think for the beginning of my career, I basically thought that there were two ways to operate in terms of business. I thought that either you climbed the corporate ladder and tried to work in the best firm you possibly could and reach the highest heights and become a partner or a vice president or something within that corporation, and hopefully eventually have a very comfortable living and maybe be able to retire early so that you could try to do what you really wanted to do in life.
Then I thought that the other side of that coin was that you became an entrepreneur, and every time that you built a business, you really had to swing for the fences and try to hit a homerun so that you could build something very quickly, build it really big, and then sell out so that you could have enough money to do what you really want to do.
So these were sort of the two ends of the spectrum, and when I took off on that sabbatical that I mentioned, we traveled throughout Mexico. While we were down there, something really incredible happened. That is that we met a lot of people who weren’t necessarily rich or retired, but somehow had figured out ways to make their careers integrate better with their lives so that they could spend months every year living in a foreign country.
I didn’t really know that that was an option to begin with. I didn’t know anyone who did that. I just assumed that if you were able to travel, either you are in a sabbatical like we were, or that you were rich or retired. I didn’t know that there were people out there who tried to make the life that they wanted to live part of the life that they’re living now, as opposed to waiting for retirement.
So I started revaluating my view of business. Initially, I thought that when we were in Mexico we would basically – I would come up with a new idea for a startup, and then we would return to San Francisco and I would start building software and shopping around for a venture capitalist and doing that whole thing. But instead I decided to start a blog after a few months on that trip, basically to chronicle our journey and to share the stories of these incredible people that we were meeting.
Then also personally, to start questioning really deeply the nature of career and life and how the two work together. That moment, that starting of that blog, really took me on a very different path than I had envisioned for myself. That’s really what led me ultimately to start ThinkTraffic and to be on this journey that I’m on now.
John Dumas: That is powerful. Let me just restate something that you said that I found so powerful, and that was maybe try to retire early so you can then spend time doing what you really enjoyed in life. To me, that’s such a powerful statement because that is the mentality of so many people.
I love the fact that when I talk to entrepreneurs on a daily basis, that is the reality that we are escaping, is that we are not putting off doing what we really enjoy. We’re not, so to speak, putting the time in now so we can maybe enjoy life later. We’re taking control, we’re being passionate, and we’re moving forward in these directions and we’re successful. It’s a great opportunity, the times that we live in, and it’s great to see people who are successful and are taking this attitude.
So you had this aha moment. You were in in Mexico and you saw what you wanted. You started this blog. What transitioned from that point?
Corbett Barr: Well, then it came down to figuring out how to build a business around a blog. I think a lot of people think that, oh, bloggers basically, they just write every day. Then they slap some advertisements up, and if their blog gets big enough, then they have a business on their hands. It was clear to me sort of in the beginning that that model wasn’t actually all that common and that it’s difficult to achieve, and that that wasn’t really the blog, the type of business that I wanted to build.
So I had to spend a solid six months or a year just diving into learning about how people built businesses around blogs. For me, the distinction was that with a lot of sort of traditional startups, they start with a product idea. They build the product out so it’s good enough to show people, and then they go in search of an audience.
With blogging, it was sort of the opposite, and this was the first time for me doing it this way. But basically, I built an audience around a set of topics, and then started getting to know them well enough that I could create a product that I was fairly certain had a market when I launched it. So that risk that you have with the traditional startup where you’re hoping that people are going to like what you have built isn’t as great when you start with an audience first because you already know that audience fairly intimately and have talked to them about the problems that they have, and you’re able to create a product that might solve those problems.
John Dumas: That’s great. Now, we’re going to continue going forward into your current business right now. You have a lot of different facets. You focus on ThinkTraffic, you have Expert Enough, you’ve created some products that I’ve taken part of which have been phenomenal, you do speaking engagements. I personally saw you speak at BlogWorld. It was a very enjoyable experience. You really project yourself well. What is one thing that’s really exciting you about your business today?
Corbett Barr: Well, I’m not going to be able to tell you a whole lot about it, but I can tell you about the thinking behind it. We’re working on a big new project and I’m very, very excited about it. The reason is that our business that’s ThinkTraffic is a little over two years and we have built a number of products, a number of information products.
You mentioned that you had taken part in the Start a Blog that Matters course. We’ve built a number of courses like that. We’ve built another course called Traffic School, and some other ones. Basically, each of those courses has been sort of a one-off package that is designed to teach someone a particular thing from start to finish. You sort of go through that course. It’s set up to be a number of weeks or a number of months that you’re in that course, and then you’re finished with it and then you move on. Then maybe we have another course that can suit you later or maybe not. But each of those has been a one-off package that we put together, and that hasn’t really evolved much over time.
We decided to sort of take a look at that, and in this new project that we’re working on, we’re building more of what I consider to be a platform. Something that hopefully can be longer lasting and something that has a greater vision. More of a multi-year vision that will take us time to build out, but hopefully that will be able to deliver value with over time, and especially in the beginning. Then people hopefully will buy into this vision that we have for this thing that we’re creating over time.
So for me, it’s about just sort of upping the game and thinking about something that can last longer than a single course that might have viability for a few years. Hopefully, this thing can last for a decade or more and become something that is more than simply me sharing my particular knowledge with a small audience. This can be something that more people can contribute and can become bigger than one individual person.
John Dumas: Well, that sounds very exciting, and Fire Nation will anxiously await the launch. Do you have an approximate launch date, or is it still too far out?
Corbett Barr: It’s not going to be that far out because what we’re doing is really trying to build enough of our vision to show people and to start getting feedback early on. So what we plan to do is actually share this vision and share the earliest incarnation of it with our core audience – with people that we know that we’re going to get feedback from. Quality feedback from people that are readers at ThinkTraffic. We plan to approach them with it in the next few months actually.
John Dumas: Great! Now I know that you can’t be too specific about the specifics, for lack of a better word, of what you’re doing in the course of everyday, but let’s talk quickly about two tasks that occupy a majority of your day, day in and day out.
Corbett Barr: Yes. So my two tasks – I mean, aside from thinking strategically about what needs to be done with the business and where we want the business to go, I mean that takes some amount of time, but then we don’t do that constantly. Basically, we think strategically, and then sort of set the strategy and then get to work.
So when we’re in work mode, there are a couple of things. The first is that we constantly are interacting with our audience through the ThinkTraffic blog and other places – social media, email. There are a lot of different places where we interact with our audience. Through interviews like this as well. So that’s one thing that really takes a lot of time, which is simply connecting with people with short bits of content essentially.
The second thing is creating content that goes into products that we produce. We’re very much an education-based company, so the products that we create are information that we’re sharing with people. So we’re constantly creating new content for those courses and platforms that we’re building, whether it be the Start a Blog that Matters course or Traffic School, or this new project that we’re working on. A lot of times we’re producing audio, video, written content, workbooks and other things to really deliver the value and the promise of ThinkTraffic to people.
John Dumas: So Corbett, you are in the trenches every day. You’re on the cutting edge. This next question is two-part. What is your vision for the future? What do you see as the future in the online world? Then the second part is how is ThinkTraffic fitting into that future?
Corbett Barr: Well, it’s hard to sort of prognosticate, and I don’t care much about thinking too far into the future because too much can change between now and then. I mean 20 years ago, no one really knew about the Internet, and that’s changed things quite a bit. But I will say that the Internet itself I think is making it much easier for people to become entrepreneurs. I think also the financial situation, the economic situation that we’ve been in for a number of years is making more and more people think about entrepreneurship.
So my fundamental driving goal is to help more people become entrepreneurs because I think individual lives, societies, and even the economy are better off when more people are entrepreneurs, and I think the Internet is a tool that’s making that easier and easier. So we’re trying to unlock the potential of operating online to create more and more entrepreneurs in the world, and that’s really the driving goal behind ThinkTraffic.
John Dumas: Well, that’s very exciting because we share the same goal. EntrepreneurOnFire.com is all about spreading the word of entrepreneurship by interviewing, inspiring, and exciting entrepreneurs like yourself, and just with how the world is shaping today and people by the thousands and hundreds of thousands gaining access to the web via mobile devices or Wi-Fi, or whatever device they can link up to.
It’s really exciting, the growth that seems to be happening. The more we can get out there and educate, in my mind, the world about different opportunities, the better it’s going to be.
Corbett Barr: Absolutely.
John Dumas: Corbett, we’ve now reached my favorite part of the show. That part of the show is called the “Lightning Round.”
Corbett Barr: Alright.
John Dumas: This is where I provide you a series of questions and you provide me with a series of amazing and mind-blowing answers. Does that sound like a plan?
Corbett Barr: Yes. No pressure, right?
John Dumas: [Laughs] So basically, at this point I usually have to try to limit my guest to about 30 seconds because a lot of entrepreneurs are talkers. You are very poignant and concise, so I thank you for that, number one. But number two, I want you to be rest assured you have a little bit of time to expound on each of these five questions, if you so choose.
Corbett Barr: Alright. Sounds good.
John Dumas: What was the number one thing that was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Corbett Barr: It was that I didn’t really know any entrepreneurs. I worked in the corporate environment for the first decade or so of my career. My parents were blue collar. Everyone I knew basically worked in a sort of “safe job,” in quotes I guess. For me, basically it was just that I didn’t know anyone who was an entrepreneur. There was just a ton of questions in my mind and I didn’t really know what it meant to build a business. So it took me a long time to sort of gather enough courage to really dive in and decide to jump into it.
Since then, I’ve met dozens and dozens of people who are entrepreneurs. In fact, many of my closest friends now are entrepreneurs, and it just makes it a lot easier when you’re surrounded by those people to think in entrepreneurial terms.
John Dumas: You actually live in Portland, Oregon. Is that correct?
Corbett Barr: No. I live in San Francisco. I’m originally from the Portland, Oregon area.
John Dumas: Both are obviously very entrepreneurial areas.
Corbett Barr: Yes, and San Francisco especially. I don’t think you can actually live here without knowing entrepreneurs, and ever since I moved here seven years ago, I have met a lot of entrepreneurs.
John Dumas: Very exciting. What is the best business advice you ever received?
Corbett Barr: The best business advice is probably the concept of just shipping something. So I think a lot of people decide to build a business and they think they’re building a business, but they spent a lot of time planning and studying their audience and building business plans and all that sort of stuff, and they never really get down to the point where they’re shipping something that is for sale that people can pay you money for.
I’ve spent a lot of time building businesses that have this sort of grandiose long term vision, and really, at its core, a business is simply value that you, the business owner, create an offer to an audience in a way that they can pay you for. When you boil it down to that level of simplicity, it’s really much easier to build a sustainable business.
John Dumas: Absolutely. That kind of brings us to our next question. Eric Ries has recently written the book “The Lean Startup.” That book really hammers home the point that you can’t have this long term grandiose theme in today’s society because things are always changing so much, and the best thing you can do is release what you have as soon as you can, and then continue to take the feedback from your audience and from your clients, and from everybody around you and improve that product on an ongoing basis. Is that something that you agree with?
Corbett Barr: Absolutely. I’m reading The Lean Startup now and I wish that that sort of thinking had been available in 2006 when I started my first startup because we basically spent a year building a prototype before we ever got feedback from our audience, and you can imagine that as entrepreneurs, you can come up with a whole lot of assumptions that are incorrect and spending a year before you get that out to your audience and get any of feedback from people is just insane. In our case, it did prove to be insane because ultimately, that product didn’t succeed as we thought it might.
John Dumas: This is going to move us into the next question, which is what would you consider besides The Lean Startup as the best business book you’ve read in the last six months?
Corbett Car: So two of my favorite books, and these aren’t necessarily from the last six months, but I have read one of them within the last six months. That is the books by 37Signals by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. They run a business called 37Signals and they’ve written two books. One is called “Getting Real.” The other one is called “Rework.”
The reason that I love those guys is that they really turn all conventional business thinking on its head and they are focused on building a bootstrap business. Something that they enjoy running and something that their employees love working in. They aren’t focused on building something fast and big so that they can flip it, so it’s sort of refreshing amongst entrepreneurs.
John Dumas: Great! What’s something that’s working for your business right now?
Corbett Barr: Something that’s working for me is building products that require very little maintenance and getting multiple products out of that form so that they sort of build on one another. So you build a product, release it, start earning some recurring revenue from that, and then get to work on your next product. Then as you sort of layer those in multiple products, then you end up building a nice revenue stream over time. No single product is responsible for the majority of the revenue, but over time, you add more and more, and then that sort of gets you where you need to go.
John Dumas: Awesome! Now this is the last question. It is my favorite, and therefore it’s kind of tricky. So take your time. If you woke up tomorrow morning and you still had all the experience and knowledge that you currently have right now, but everything that you’ve done – ThinkTraffic, Expert Enough – has completely disappeared so you have an essentially clean slate.
This is what many entrepreneurs and of our listeners are facing right now. They have a clean slate and they’re starting from scratch. So if you had to start from scratch tomorrow, what would the next seven days look like for you?
Corbett Carr: Well, first of all, I would think about a pressing problem that people have that I’m intimately familiar with that I might be able to solve for them. I wouldn’t necessarily have to have the knowledge myself on how to solve it, but some idea of who I might be able to involve to solve that problem or what knowledge I would need to gain in order to solve that problem.
Then I would envision a product – some sort of offering, a service or a product that might be able to address that problem. Then finally, I would start blogging about this problem and start reaching out to people to find out if my assumptions are really correct about the nature of that problem about what it might take to solve it and what people might be able to or be willing to pay for a solution to that problem, and then start basically from there. I would just continue blogging, and then start working on that product and release it to people.
John Dumas: Corbett, thank you so much for joining us today. I have a full notepad. Awesome actionable advice that you gave us. Thank you from Fire Nation. So as a sign off, do you have any last piece of advice for Fire Nation? Then give yourself a plug.
Corbett Barr: Yes. I would say just remember that you have to show up every day. So whatever you’re doing – whether it’s creating a new podcast, starting a blog, building a product – you have to really show up every day and not expect necessarily to get fast, easy results. A lot of times, building a business takes much, much longer than any of us hope and a lot more effort than we think. If you show up every day and put one foot in front of the other, eventually you’ll make the progress that you’re looking for.
Then as far as if people want to find me, they can go to ThinkTraffic.net. We have hundreds of free articles there about how to build an audience online. We also have a number of courses linked through there, especially the How to Start a Blog that Matters course that we mentioned earlier.
John Dumas: Awesome, Corbett. We’ll be sure to have everything in the show notes as well. We will catch you on the flipside.
Corbett Barr: Alright. Thanks so much, John.