If it isn't fun, Allie LeFevere (@AllieLeFevere) doesn't want anything to do with it. It just so happens that, in a world full of undifferentiated products and fear-based marketing, fun and humor are the missing ingredients that founders need to set their brands apart. In this episode, Allie shares the fundamentals behind solid brand marketing that every early-stage founder should know, how to sell more (and have a good time doing it) by using fun to connect with your customers, and the things she's learned as the founder of both a scalable product business and a digital marketing agency.
What's up everybody? This is Courtland from IndieHackers.com and you're listening to the Indie Hackers podcast. On this show I talk to the founders of profitable internet businesses and I try to get a sense of what it's like to be in their shoes. How did they get to where they are today?
How do they make decisions both in their businesses and in their personal lives and what exactly makes their businesses tick? And the goal here is always so that the rest of us can learn from their examples and go on to build our own successful online businesses. In this episode I'll be talking to Allie Lefevere.
Allie is a cofounder of Obedient where she in her co-founder lead a small but talented team that has run brand marketing campaigns for companies like Buzzfeed, AT&T, Dell, and the Dallas Cowboys. Allie, welcome to the show and thank you so much for coming on.
Thank you so much for having me.
It is my pleasure to have you on here, Allie. The top of your homepage makes it very clear what you do. If I go to obedientagency.com at the very top it says in big bold letters, “We do all the shit that other branding agencies do, but funnier.” What do other branding agencies do and why aren't they as funny as you guys?
Well, I appreciate you snooping around the home page. I would say that when we -- what we mean by all this shit that other mark-, other branding agencies do but funnier, is we are doing what I think other agencies claim to do. We are helping build your brand in a way that gets you a brand awareness, brand attention through the use of creative, clever, converting campaigns and then design, etc.
But I think with the spin for us is that all the things that other people are doing, we deemed tend to be pretty safe. They tend to be pretty expected, can be a little bit boring, can be sometimes ineffective, a lot of times fear based or really preying on your audience's insecurities or inadequacies and really using fear as a primary tactic.
And so, we do all the things that you want for your brand. So, you want your brand to get attention and you want people to remember it and you want people to get excited by it and you want to increase sales and grow your business. But we do it in a way that's fun, that's feel good. That's funny. That is positive. That is different. That is surprising. And that is really unlike anything else you see in the market.
You said that a lot of marketing is fear based and, on your website, you say the same thing. You need to be willing to sell with fun, not fear. What does it mean to sell his fear? Because that's not something I've heard too many people advocating, at least not in those terms.
Yeah, and I think it's become so commonplace and it's really just permeated the marketing and branding culture that I don't think we often realize we are being baited with fear. But it is essentially any tactic that leads you to believe that you are somehow insufficient, inadequate, and that there is this external, outside product that is going to fill some void inside of you.
That is going to make you better, is going to finally make you happy, that is going to finally give you the life or experience that you need. And that is an endless pit and it is just the way that brands have primarily a targeted their audiences for so long. It's like we have a skin cream that's going to make you look younger.
We have a pill that's gonna make you look thinner or we have something that's gonna make you a better business person. We're going to make your life easier so you can be a better parent. Like everything is saying that you could be better than you are. So, it's somehow tapping into there's something missing or inadequate about who you are right now.
When you put it this way, I feel like I'm doing this. Indie Hackers is all about running the company so that you can live a better life. You can make more money; you can have more control. Is this fear-based marketing to tell people that they can be better than who they are?
No, I don't think it is all the time because I think you really do have to touch on someone's needs, right? You do have to understand what drives people and what their needs are. What is something that they want to aspire to? You want to do all that. But I think you don't have to make someone feel shitty in order to make a sale.
And so, when we say use fun over fear, we think there is a way to tap into those needs and to understand your audience and to help them aspire to a better, more whole, more healthy, happier, joyful version of who they are. But allow that to be a process that feels good along the way. That it isn't manipulative.
It isn't, coercive, it isn't making them feel bad in order to then flip the switch and make them feel good. So definitely, people want to aspire to be, to grow as people. Right? But you don't have to do it in a way that makes them feel cruddy first. And I think that's why we say fun is a way better tactic that still yields the right results.
Okay. So, what does fun-based marketing look like? Can you give us an example?
Yeah. So fun-based marketing as we see it is, it is building a -- so I guess I'll back up. So, when we think of fun, we think of fun as a really wide spectrum. That
fun is a term that we believe holds a lot of weight and that it often doesn't get the credit it deserves. So fun as just an idea is something that can do a ton of heavy lifting for a brand. It is something that could provide excitement.
It could build trust, it could create brand loyalty, can create goodwill, endearment, kinship, familiarity. In terms of what it can elicit in an audience, it can be -- it can elicit confidence in your brand. It can make your brand more relatable.
It can make your brand more memorable. It can make it more impactful, compelling, unique, all these different things. So, when we think of fun-based marketing, we are thinking of this broader concept that has a million different shades and styles and it's essentially a tactic, but a very smart tactic because people want to be in the presence of things that make them feel good. And that is brands included, right?
So fun-based marketing is anything that is memorable, it makes you smile, it's delightful, it's surprising, it's unexpected, it's all of these emotions that essentially draw out the best parts of your consumer.
So, an example, there is a really funny campaign out that just came out, within the past few days. KFC has created this really fun, satirical influencer account on Instagram. And so, they're using fun and they are essentially lampooning the Instagram influencers by creating this cool, sexy, hip, young version of the KFC colonel.
And creating this entire Instagram campaign that he is this like sexy, cool fried chicken influencer that he's also roughing [ph] other brands. So, it's very silly. It's very unexpected, it's very different and it's gotten a ton of buzz, a ton of followers, because it's enjoyable. People are engaging with it because it makes them feel good because it's something fresh on their Instagram feed.
And so, it's an example of a brand doing something very, very silly, very unique, very different in order to capture attention. And then ultimately if people are talking about it and people have now more goodwill and endearment to that brand because it's allowed your audience to really engage in a way that makes them feel really good and enjoy the experience.
And so maybe just one very silly, a real time example. But the cool thing about fun and humor is there's so many shades to it, so it's not just silly, it's not just playful. It can be really clever and witty. It can be very direct. It can be very dry to the point. It can be very savage. I mean, there's a million different shades that all evoke something different.
Let's say that I am not KFC. Let's say I'm more of an early stage fledgling founder. I might not have a product yet. If I do, it certainly hasn't caught fire. Should I be thinking about brand marketing? Is that something that even applies to me at this level or is it something that's really more for bigger, more established companies to worry about?
I think it's never too early to think about your brand. I think often people -- they wait till it's -- I don't think it's ever too late, but I think that they wait too
long to start to think about their brand. That I think really how you show up to the market and how you show up to your audience, that is a foundational element to any good business and any good brand experience, is you want people to know who you are.
You want them to understand you. You want them to like you, you want them to trust you. You want the end -- in order to do that they have to have a cohesive, consistent experience with you. They also want to feel like you are more than just a brand. There's a human element to you. Right? So that's another great benefit of fun.
It's very humanizing quality that you can showcase when you are putting your business out into the world. Because of that, I think it allows a brand to evolve more organically because there's a really strong foundation there. People already get who you are.
They already start to understand components of your personality and that it is really easy to flex and pivot and to really grow from that cohesive, consistent standpoint. I think that if you're putting out all this chaos into the market, I'm dry and boring on my website. I try to be very zeitgeisty and punny on my Instagram handle.
I occasionally send out emails, but they're really long winded. People don't really understand who you are. They don't really know what you're about and when someone doesn't trust an experience they have with you, they no longer trust you as a person or trust you as a brand.
Because what I think we're all looking for is more than authenticity, we're looking for integrity in a brand. We want to know that there is a consistent core value that runs throughout everything that you do. And I think that that starts with building a really strong, consistent, cohesive personality.
So I want to pick your brain here because you are an expert marketer. You've been doing this for many years. There's probably a lot of things that you've forgotten that a lot of people listening, quite frankly, have no idea about. Most of us are developers.
We're not known for being particularly good at communicating or marketing what we're doing. What are some of the things in this, in this playbook that a founder should think about when they're trying to build a good brand?
Yeah, I mean when we work with any brand, so any brand we have ever worked with since our inception, we take them through a multi-phase process. But I'll talk about two of those components that I think are really, really important when building your brand, right? As an agency, we don't do everything. We are building brand; we aren't building your business infrastructure. We're not doing your finance and accounting. We're not doing any of that stuff. But we're really doing the creative elements of who you are.
So, when we work with any business right out the gate, the first couple things we're doing is we're developing your position and also your personality. So, when I say position, I mean what is the thing that you do that is different, that is unique, that is compelling, that is something that is
unlike anyone else in your industry, that would really set you apart, allow you to rise above the noise, allow to really separate yourself from the pack?
And we call that your hook. So, what is the thing that's going to really hook in your audience? Because it's going to make them stop and go, "Huh, that's something I haven't heard before," or "That feels very fresh and that feels very different." So, we really drill down is, what is this really sticky, catchy hook that we want to cultivate for your brand? And it should be rooted in truth and reality. It should not be something that we're making up just to be buzzy and just to be different.
It should be rooted in the foundation of who you are as a brand. And often, what we always find is that people come to us and they think that they come to us and they know their business, they spend all their time in their business and they really know their brand and often the thing that they think is sexy and cool and exciting about what they do, we often don't end up agreeing.
And so, we're saying, yeah, that's really cool and unique, but that's not the thing that's going to really put you on the map. Or that's not the thing that people are going to really pay attention to or talk about. So, we're really trying to figure out, what does that one liner sound like? That becomes the foundation of all the other things you talk about when you talk about your brand. That becomes the through line. All arrows lead back there.
And then the second thing is what we're developing is that, what is your personality? So, based on this really cool, unique, different position and your goals as a brand or your goals as a business, your audience, your industry, exciting things you have coming up down the pipeline. What is the emotion that you want to evoke in your audience?
Do you want to build trust? Do you want to build relatability, reliability? Do you want to be memorable? Do you want to be, do you want people to really feel lighthearted in your presence? What is the thing you really want to evoke from your audience? And so, what we're doing is we're starting to shape and build a personality around those core emotions that we want to elicit.
And now, often if we're working with a smaller business, it's very often times aligned with the founders. It's, we want it to feel like a reflection of who they are. We want to draw out certain components of their personality and bring that to the forefront. Sometimes it's a bigger brand and we can create more of an amalgamation, but at the end of the day it should be consistent.
So, we're trying to build -- think of each of us as individuals, we have very unique personalities. And for people who have known us for 10 years, they can probably a really understand the components of our personality in a very synthesized way. And so that's what we want to do for brands. It should feel like it's a person. It should feel human. It should feel tangible and understandable and likable and all of those and those components.
And so, we are developing a personality so that you can start showing up in a very consistent way across various components of your business. But the fun part about that is that just like a person, sometimes we're more extroverted and in one place and more introverted and another or were more outgoing in front of certain people and we're a little bit more quirky when we're with our family.
Whatever those little nuances are, you can have that same flexibility with your brand, with your brand's personality. There's still this core, consistent personality at its epicenter. But then you can flex on different platforms and maybe you're a little bit more loosey-goosey on Instagram and you're a little bit more a direct and to the point in email and maybe your website is a little bit more educational. Whatever those components are, you get to have a lot of fun and, and flux in play.
I just interviewed a really impressive founder. Her name's Danielle Baskin and she's running 23 businesses simultaneously and she's got this down to a science. She has a whole playbook of how she's going to make everything she does fun and jokey and novel. She has a company where she's branding fruit and selling them to conferences. She had a company where she was creating sweaters and putting them on drones so you can have a knitted sweater for your drone.
But I can tell you from experience like most indie hackers, most first-time founders are not thinking about any of this and not thinking about any of the things that you suggested. They're not thinking about what emotion do I want my company to evoke in my customers. Partly through ignorance, I think. And partly because it's not immediately obvious how that's going to help you. So, I guess part of my goal in this interview is to walk you through your story and find out how you've learned the things that you've learned.
But I also just want to mine you for information and all these things that founders are really struggling with. With copywriting and talking to customers and positioning themselves and evoking certain emotions and try to understand why these things are important, how we can do a better job.
Yeah. And well, and what I'll say to that is, standing out isn't a matter of taste in this day and age. It's a matter of survival. Most industries are saturated. It is very difficult to come across a company that is doing something radically different than anyone else is doing in their industry.
So often the thing that's most set you apart is the way you talk about what you do, right? This is assuming that you are still, you're presenting a high-quality product or service. So, to me, that goes without saying. I would never ever align myself with a brand that is putting lipstick on a pig.
So, it's assuming that you are, you have integrity in what you do, you have a quality to the product or service you offer. But I think that there's this misconception that you are going to put your thing out into the world and that people are just automatically going to pay attention to it.
It seems so personal and so unique to you because it's an idea that sprung into your own mind. And so, it feels fresh and it feels relevant and it feels new and it feels exciting. But the odds are it's not really any different than what is out there in the world already, until you let people know that it is. And so often the way that you can do that is through the words you use.
When you talk about your brand. It's through all of the way you communicate it and you message it and you market it and drawing out all the unique, cool, different compelling parts of it. And I think that's something that people forget.
I know we're going to go into my story, so I won't really dive deep into it. But before I was running Obedient, I was doing brand strategy and branding for sometimes solopreneurs or people who were at the foundational stages of their business.
And they'd come to the table and go, “Okay, I'm going to put my idea out into the world. And here it is world.” And it's crickets. And then they're shocked and they're flabbergasted, and no one is buying, and no one is paying attention, and no one is talking about it. And their Instagram followers aren't growing at all.
And all these things that they think that just by putting something out into the world, that all this magic is gonna happen. And people don't buy from you until they care about you.
And people can't care about you until they know you. And so, you have to give them a thing to know, like, and understand. And I think the cool part about fun is it's an enjoyable thing to know, like, and understand. So that's my little spiel on that.
When I first started at Indie Hackers, it took about three weeks from idea to launch. And I spent probably a grand total of one day thinking about branding and marketing type stuff.
And the other 20 days I was just writing code, interviewing people, et cetera. And I made a few decisions. The first decision I made that I think was a good one, was to call it Indie Hackers, to sort of name it after the people who would be in the community rather than name it something else.
The second decision, which was a little bit more superficial, was, I want my website to look different. And so, every other website is light. I'm going to make my dark blue. Just so if you read an article on Indie hackers and you come back a second time, you remember that you've been here before.
And the third decision was that I wanted it to be very transparent. I wanted people who come on the interviews on the website to share the revenue numbers cause nobody else was doing that. And it seemed to me that people really cared. Are these decisions branding decisions? Are there any other things that I could have done or been thinking about during that one day I spent on branding or should I spend more days on it?
Yeah, I mean I think those are all good things that you thought about. I think that those obviously have all been really effective. So that's great. I give you Kudos for that because most people don't even get that far. But I don't think branding is a one and done thing. I think it's an evolving process and a brand grows alongside.
It is one in the same as your business, but it does take on a life of its own and it does grow alongside the inner workings and different components of your business, right? Because it's the front-facing aspect of what you do. For us as a business, we really, our outside matches our inside, so everything we preach and everything we talk about, we do internally.
So that's really important for us is that the brand is more than just the way you show up on stage, that it really starts to permeate all parts of your organization. But if I were -- and I don't want to -- I'm not saying anything to criticize any element of your brand because I haven't spent time with it.
Go for it.
But no, I don't even have anything critical to say. I would just say as more of a broad statement, the things I would have spent on is to understand, to really get a deep understanding to your audience’s psyche. What do they need? What do they want to feel, what do they need to experience? Really tapping into that emotional component of your audience.
Because I think a lot of times people get caught up in demographic data and that's important too. I really recognize that it is. But ultimately, as practical and realistic as we think we all are and pragmatic as business owners and businesspeople is, we are very emotionally driven.
So, I think really taking time to understand your audience and understanding, "What is the message I need to communicate to them?" And what is a way I can communicate that message that will really resonate.
And so, I think spending more time with the core elemental message and really understanding what is the way I need to say it, to shape that message and share that message that will really resonate and impact my audience. And also saying and really understanding that your audience doesn't have to be everyone. You know, who is my die-hard audience?
Who are the people I really want to target? Who are the people I'm most excited to work with so that you can tailor your message and tailor your brand's experience to those people knowing that you don't have to reach everyone, that you really have to just get in deep with the people who are your ride or dies.
And so, I would just have encouraged, and I would say that not just to you, but just to everyone is really spending time with that foundational stuff because that is the thing that you, you're laying the bricks that everything else gets built upon. And I think it's an important step that people are all, are often trying to do on the backend.
That they've built this foundation, they've built this structure and they're trying to give it a new coat of paint as opposed to making sure that it had really strong support beams to start.
Allie, I'm gonna get you to say something critical about the Indie hackers brand before this episode is over promise.
Yeah. No, I love it. I wouldn't be on your podcast if I didn't think you were doing something so amazing. You're a wonderful human being just from our conversations so far. And I love what you're up to. So, I'm here because I think you've done an exceptional job with developing a brand. So, yeah, I'm here, I'm in it.
Okay. Well, I think everything you talked about in your previous speaking turn is great, but also tragically easy to ignore if somebody is a developer especially, but really anybody is susceptible to this. It's so easy to get bogged down in the details of what your product does and how it works to get really excited about that kind of stuff, too.
To think so much about the different features you're going to build and all the wireframes you're going to draw on everything it's gonna have and all the bells and whistles, but totally ignore the emotional state of your customers and totally ignore what their lives are like and what their hopes and dreams are and what kind of personalities they have and just neglect to build any of that into your product. Like you were saying, Allie, you can't think about this step as an afterthought.
It really needs to be part of the foundation of everything building. So, if you're in that situation right now and you're listening to this podcast, I encourage you to take a step back and stop building for a little bit and think about who you're serving and what differentiates them from other people and other markets. Allie, I want to get into your story. So far, I've just been mining for advice, but let's go back to you when you graduated college. That's a foundational point in a lot of our lives. Did you know that you want it to be an entrepreneur and did you know that you want it to be a marketer?
No, not at all. I was a psychology major. So, when I started college, I went into college thinking I was going to be in veterinarian. After my first year of college, I quickly realized that that was not the world I wanted to play in. Even though I've loved animals my whole life, I grew up with a house packed full of them. I had cats and rabbits and hamsters and spiders and turtles and frogs and all sorts of wacky stuff.
Wait, wait, wait. Spiders?
I had a pet spider. Yes, I love…
I love all animals except alligators is the only thing I don't like, but yes.
Spiders over alligators?
Oh, any day I would sleeping a bed nestled with them to never have to face the alligator.
Gross. That's it, podcast over, we're done here.
(Laughs.) And we're going to cut here. I went into college thinking I wanted to be a veterinarian and then I realized that I really loved people. I just get energy from other people. I'm an extrovert. I really love listening to people. I really love understanding the nuances of people. So, I thought, “Oh, maybe I'll be a therapist.”
And so, I switched my major to psychology, so I went all the way through my college career at the University of Michigan thinking I was going to be a therapist. And I got to my very last semester and realized, "Holy Shit, I do not want to do this.” I spent an internship in an adolescent drug abuse center and it I just realized, "Wow, this isn't the demographic I want to work with."
I empathize with it. It was such a beautiful experience to be a part of, but it just, I didn't feel like it tapped into the part of me that wanted to create or wanted to build. I think I had this desire to better a thing or better a situation. And I realized that that's not a good way to approach people, to have this desire to fix them.
And so, I realized, “Oh wow.” And then that's probably not the right thing to do. So anyway, I stayed one more semester to get a second degree and I ended up getting a communications degree with a focus in PR. I took either seven or eight classes in one semester. It was brutal, but it was somehow the most organized I'd ever been my entire life.
I had classes from 8:00 AM until 10:00 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then a Monday night class. And I banged out a second degree and I graduated. And when I graduated, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to be in a more energizing environment.
So, my very first job out of college I worked with the International Auto Show in Detroit. So, I'm from Detroit and that was such a popular event and experience that I was like, "Oh, maybe it'd be really fun to help plan the auto show."
So, I got a job at an agency called Gail & Rice. I was essentially helping to plan the International Auto Show and really doing account management. I did that for a few months, and I was like, "Oh, this is so boring. It's just logistics and it's just confirming vendors. And this is not fun or creative or energizing at all."
I felt like I wasn't using my brain or getting to add value or ideate or any of these things. I started to really realize I really enjoyed. So, without getting into too many twists and turns, I moved to Hawaii for a little while and I was trying to figure myself out and find myself for a year in Hawaii. And then after a year there, I ended up coming back and taking a big kid job and I worked at my first consulting firm.
And I felt like it was the first time I really got to switch my brain back on in a really cool way. I got to problem solve. I got to look at issues and come up with new, fresh solutions. I got to be a strategically creative. I got to do all these things that I didn't recognize initially that was such an
important part of my personality or the things I really would gravitate toward or things I really liked.
And so, I spent about six years working at various consulting firms, and then a principal and an engagement manager at one of the firms I was at., they left. I was at McKinsey and they left, and they started a startup in Chicago. And it was when all the subscription box companies were really getting hot on the market.
That was the first influx of box companies where you were seeing Birch Box and Bulu Box and all these companies who are shipping monthly subscriptions to you. And it was maybe you've got a subscription of makeup or you got a subscription of pet products or snacks. And we were the first to market in the health and wellness space.
And so, they brought me on as the VP of engagement and I was tasked to develop the branding and marketing for the company. It's developing the brand's personality, the customer engagement experience, the visual experience.
And I think why they brought me on in that role is because I, even though I had worked with them at the consulting firm, I had a blog, a lifestyle blog that I started. It was just a fun, silly pet project. And so, I used to write a lot.
And I often wrote about just everyday life. And I always used humor and it was always fun and silly and playful. And I think they saw that and thought, “Oh, we can smash these two components of her personality together and develop this weird role that I never thought I'd ever end up in.”
And so, it was like, “Oh, I get to think strategically. And I also get to be really fun and creative.” And so, it was the first time I ever had a job prospect or a career prospect that I was like, "Oh wow, this could be a thing I'm really good at and I really like."
And so, I spent a year with them, and I loved my role, but it was a pretty toxic environment. We had eight people quit in a week. It was just Bad News Bears. And so, I went and took a three-week trip to India. This is the most cliché, white girl thing to ever say in the whole world.
But I took a trip to India and I just think I got out of that toxic environment and just around these lovely, wonderful, amazing kind people. And it just made me realize that I can't go back into that world, but I still want to be in that world, just not under someone else's rule. So, I came back, and I decided to start my first company. Now. That was a really scary decision because I didn't know what the hell I was doing.
I had never, ever entertained being an entrepreneur before. I didn't know where to start. I didn't know a thing about starting a business. I come from a family of really small-time entrepreneurs. Everyone in my family are hairdressers or a florist or they have these little small, adorable mom and pop type shops.
But no one had ever built a digital business or a business in the 2010s. My family had been doing the same thing for 30 to 40 years. So, no one was coming hot on the scene with all this new age advice to give me. And at the same time, I was getting married. And so, we don't come from families that are financially well off. We come from very humble beginnings, myself and my husband.
So, we had to pay for our whole wedding on our own. It was just us. It was just a very unstable, scary time because we had a wedding to plan and we weren't planning something outrageous or audacious, but we both have big families and so we wanted to have a beautiful experience for our whole family.
And then I wanted to start this company. And so, basically when I started my company, we had like $0 dollars to our name at that point. And so, I just was like, “I have to make this work and I have to figure this out.”
And the only thing I knew, is I knew I'm a hard ass worker, that I will -- I am scrappy, that I will figure out how to DIY my way through any situation, that I ask a lot of questions, and that I will learn all the things I need to learn in order to make my chances as high as possible to start an effective business.
And so, at the time, and Courtland, forgive me if this story is getting really long winded.
No, keep it going.
Okay. So, at the time I feel like it was getting really popular to have a digital businesses. I think you were seeing a lot of that remote entrepreneurial spirit come to life and people doing digital courses and programs and developing content. And so, I knew that I had a skillset for branding and marketing, and I knew that I had a skill set for creative writing.
And I thought, "Okay, how do I bring those things together?" And I decided to create a digital programs and courses. And so, there was a myriad of topics that I moved through. They ranged from self-development and personal growth and self-esteem all the way through branding and marketing and how do you really develop a business that people pay attention to?
What were you reading at that time? What was inspiring you? Where were you seeing these examples of these nomadic types of businesses?
Yeah, I think initially I was personally interested in personal growth quite a bit. So, my first foray into digital businesses, and it sounds so cheesy, but was probably like a Tony Robbins of seeing, oh wow, he has some really cool shit to share and he's sharing it in a digital format. That's really cool. He's making money and an automated way.
He's developing this really cool content that people feel really excited by. So, I started to follow him and then I started to quickly follow a lot of digital entrepreneurs like Seth Godin or Marie Forleo or Kris Carr or Danielle Laporte. And they were across a lot of different industries, but
they were really developing coursework and programming. And there was this formula that was existing of online videos that led into sales pages that led into programs and courses.
And I thought, yeah, this is all really cool and sexy. I wonder if I could do the same thing but do something in a way that was really fresh or that had a different voice or that talked about something in a different way because I didn't think I was saying anything that was any different than what was out there.
What I thought I could bring to the table was saying it in a way that people hadn't heard before. So, when we're talking about business and branding and personal development, those topics can feel really serious and they can feel really heavy and they can be really important topics they want to talk about.
And my thought was, “What if I humanize the process? What I'm, what if I made people smile and laugh? What if my sales page was unlike anything that they'd seen before?” Would that convert and compel people and get people excited and interested in a different way?
Because I believed in the programming I was developing, I believed in the courses I was creating. It was more so, how do I break through the noise of what's already out there and get people to really get excited about what I'm doing and build trust and build rapport and all these things? Because I'm, I'm a nobody. This is something I'm starting from scratch and I'm brand new and so I use fun and humor.
And I didn't know at the time, at the time, I didn't have the foresight or the thought of, “Oh, fun and humor, fun sells, humor works.” It really wasn't that, it was just, that was the thing I knew and the thing I was good at and the thing that I thought really was relatable and really broke down barriers with an audience and really became disarming and really humanize the process.
And I also saw it as, it was very generous way to approach marketing. Even if someone didn't spend a dollar with me, and even if they never bought a course, at least I made them smile. At least I made them laugh. At least I made them feel good. And to me, it was such a value give that I thought that at least I feel good about what I'm putting out into the world. And so, I ended up creating various programs and they were all geared toward women. I had over 9,000 people come through my courses from start to finish.
And it was awesome. At the time I was like, "Oh my God, I'm doing it. I'm building this digital nomadic lifestyle and I'm generating income while I sleep and all these things that I thought were really sexy and cool and I have integrity in what I'm doing. I believe in what I'm doing, I'm excited by it. People seem to feel good. They're excited by their experience.” And so that was my first foray into business, and it wasn't always an uphill climb. I mean there was ups and downs, ups and downs. But once I learned the ropes and I figured things out, I got to a place I was really proud of.
So give me an example of some of these ropes that you learned. What did it look like to actually launch a course and to go from getting your very first subscribers all the way to 9,000 people going through your courses?
As I reflect back, I think that the lessons I started to learn, I'll share one big one that I think was huge for me and I don't know if I could have really verbalized it back then. But the thing I think I realized that is the most important thing in business, is to have integrity in what you do.
And I saw a lot of people using vulnerability and, in my opinion, contrived authenticity in order to sell their products. And there was this formula that was just being just spewed all over the internet where it was things like, “I've never told this story before.” Or, “The only other person I've ever shared this with was my husband,” or “the one sales trick that I learned that changed everything.”
It was these as if they were letting you in on a secret, but it was this weird, manipulated, contrived, authentic experience. And I didn't like that. And I felt like I could see right through it and it felt very fake and forced. I found myself very turned off by that.
And so, I felt like the thing that mattered the most to me was to have a lot of integrity and in saying like, "What do I value? What do I care about? What’s the moral fiber running through everything I do? What is the consistent experience I want people to have with me?"
I tried to use fun and energizing communication and playing with people instead of trying to manipulate them or twist them around my finger or tap into their pain points. I didn't want to go down that rabbit hole. I wanted them, I know that stuff works, and I know that it would have been effective, but I thought, "Yeah, but that's what they're already getting with everyone else."
And so, I want to take a different approach. I want them to feel really good throughout this sales cycle. I want them to laugh throughout this sales cycle. And so, I think that that's one of the things that I started initially doing it the way everyone else was and then I quickly pivoted because it didn't feel good for me. It felt shitty. It felt forced. It just felt manipulative and I didn't like that experience.
And so, I think what I realize is like, "Oh, there could be a better way to do it." And so, when I started to pivot, it was uncomfortable because I was like, "Oh shit, this is not something people are telling me that works."
This is not something people are telling me to do. This is not what I'm learning in these other courses that I'm taking about how to build online businesses. This feels very rogue. And so, there was just, I felt like I was going a bit into the unknown and it was a bit scary.
But I quickly found that the experience felt better for me internally, which allowed me to enjoy creating and developing programming, which allowed me to talk to people in a more human integrated normal way, which allowed people to trust me more, which allowed me to sell more ultimately. And so that was just one hurdle.
The other one I think was a big one is I like to learn how to do everything in my business because I think it makes me a really well-rounded business owner that I can have an educated conversation about everything.
So, I know a little bit about coding, a little bit about accounting, a little bit about design. I know enough about everything to be dangerous, but I think for me is because I felt like, well I could do everything. It led me to believe I should do everything. So, I was really drained a lot. And I was really bogged down because I, it was hard for me to justify outsourcing things when I felt like, well I could do it myself.
Like somehow there was like a gold medal and doing it alone. And that was really draining emotionally and energetically for me. So that was a big hurdle that I had to learn. And that was a really long process for me to learn how to let go and learn how to just bring on awesome, amazing people who are -- that's their thing.
They're great at that. Yeah, sure. I'm good at it. They're great at it and let them be great at it. And when they're great at something, it's going to only enhance my business and making you ultimately stronger. So that was a big hurdle, too, not having to do it all and being okay with that and not feeling like I was letting myself or my business down because I let go of some things.
I've felt the same way before. It's crazy how much just managing and understanding your own psychology comes into being a founder where a lot of times the mistakes you make. It's not logically difficult to see that you're making that mistake. It's emotionally difficult to see that.
Sometimes as a founder you're driven by ego. I have the same thing. I can do everything decently well. I don't really want to believe that other people can do it as well as I can. And I like getting the credit for having done everything myself, but that's really an ego-based decision and way of going forward. It's not really what's best for your business or your customers.
Yeah. Can I ask you a question, Courtland?
Are you familiar with the Enneagram? It's a personality test.
I’ve heard of it. I've never taken it.
Anyway, I just was wondering if you knew your number because there's nine different numbers you can be and I'm a three. So, I was wondering if you were also. The unhealthiest version of a three is they are a work horse.
Sounds like me.
They tend to be a jack of all trades in the worst -- it can be a great thing. And it can also be a really, really horrible, limiting quality because they tend to burn out really quick.
‘Cause they think they can do everything or that they should do everything. So, I was just wondering if that, because that's a very real quality for me, that the healthiest version of me is, I can add value in a lot of different places. The unhealthy version is that I think I need to do everything. So just wondering.
Yeah, that sounds like me. And to be honest, I think it's not that bad for starting a business. If you are a first-time founder and you look at your business and everything that has to be done. And there's some gaping black box, some part of your business, you just have no idea how to do it.
It can be pretty scary, but if you're a jack of all trades or if you least have the confidence that you've been figuring out how to do pretty much anything, then it makes it much easier to take that first step to be able to do it by yourself and not have to hire or find a co-founder and I think it's just easier to get started.
Where it becomes troublesome is exactly what you're talking about, which is when you started to get one thing, when you're really tired of doing everything yourself, when your business is growing, you are at a point with your courses that you were basically supporting your entire lifestyle, it’s very profitable for you. I think you're making six figures, but you were not really enjoying your life and you were doing way too much. How did you get out of that situation?
Oh yeah. That was a, that was a tough decision for me because I was looking at this thing that I built and I wanted to be proud of it because I built it from scratch and wow, that's so cool. Like this thing came out of my brain and my energy and my effort. And so that was a really cool thing, but I wasn't proud of how I felt anymore.
I no longer wanted to be in that world. It was just, I didn't enjoy, it started to feel a bit transactional for me. Buy a course. They go through it on their own and we are communing in these very plotted, have an online meeting or we have a group or these little micro ways of interacting with my audience.
And I, and I just felt like that didn't really energize me. I started to feel like everyone's doing this shit now. Everyone has an online course; everyone has an online program. And I started to feel like I was part of a really tapped out, saturated market. And I don't say that to be negative to anyone who is in that world at all.
It just, it no longer felt like it was a world that I felt like I could really continue to create and develop and build in a way that was internally fulfilling or also that I felt like I was bringing the most value to my consumer. I probably could have kept doing it and sustained the success that I had created and I'm sure it would have dipped at some point. It just didn't fuel me.
I felt like the thing I really liked when I started to realize as a thing I really liked about it was the ideation and the building of it and the coming up with the fun, creative concepts and coming up with the programming and figuring out what was my positioning and building all the fun, entertaining components of it.
And then once I finished that, I was just watching it work on its own and I no longer got to play with it anymore. And I ended up going back to the consulting world for a year, a little less than a year. And while I was trying to figure myself out it’s like, what do I want to do in this next phase?
And so, on the side I was still doing, I was then doing some consulting, doing brand strategy for people, helping people develop their brand personas and start to, how do we creatively market your business? And how do we cultivate a really desirable attention, worthy brand that, that people really pay attention to and get excited by?
And all these things I was doing on the side. But I just didn't want to do it by myself. I don't want to be a solopreneur anymore. I don't want to just go back into that space in a different way. And so, my best friend, her name is Lyndsay, and she had been a copywriter for 10 years and a comedy writer. And she had her own copy shop. So, she was doing a different version of what I was doing.
She was really heavy in the creative where I was doing part creative, part brand development. She was getting down and dirty with really fun campaigns and really cool creative ideas. And we were just both talking about how, this thing that we both love is the thing we like most about it is the fun, enjoyable, playful, entertaining, exciting version of each of the things we're doing.
And so, what if, and we're like, “What if we built an entire agency are around this idea that fun sells? What if like what if that was the ethos? What if we didn't do all the other things that we have been doing historically and what have we focused, really focus in on this the way that we believe is the best way to market and brand-new business?” So, two and a half years ago, we both pulled the plug on what we were doing, and we dove headfirst in this idea that fun sells and we built Obedient.
I can remember we were in my kitchen and I have a big blank wall in my kitchen, and we had giant post it notes and we're like ideating a business name and different concepts. And initially what we were going to do is, is do create online programming and courses teaching this stuff. And then we're both like, no, that's not the world we want to be in anymore. We don't want to teach other people how to do this.
We want to do this stuff. That's the stuff that we love, and we get excited by. So, we scrapped that idea on day two or three and we're like, no, we want to work with other brands and, and do this for them. Like that's the fun, that's the secret sauce. That's the fun part.
It's one of the most interesting things that think about your story, especially in the context of being on the Indie Hackers podcast where the vast majority of
people I talked to have this path where they are employees and then they become consultants as sort of a temporary stepping stone to building some sort of scalable product-based business. Whether that's coding an app or building a course. Just something you can create once and sell to infinitely many people theoretically. You did the opposite.
I know, I know.
You went that scalable product route. You had a successful business and you decided, “Hey, this is not fun for me at all. I'd rather just continually do the actual, sort of dirty work, day in and day out forever.”
Yeah, that's, it's sick isn't it?
It's sick. What's your end game? What's driving you?
Well, the interesting thing is, in a weird way, I feel like my ideas reach more people in more ways because I get to work with these amazing brands who have a ton of reach and they're using our ideas and we're seeing our ideas reach millions of people on Instagram, or website traffic or billboard campaigns.
And so, it's in a weird that we get to put, I feel like, I get to put more of myself out into the world. But through different channels that I did previously. So, I get to really flex my chops in, in different personalities, in different industries, in different verticals, in different mediums.
Like it's, it feels like the world is my oyster now as opposed to being pigeonholed into one thing. And I think the other thing, too, is that because we are a brand, an agency built on fun, fun is part of everything we do all day, every day.
We work with Rad clients. We work with our team is, are the funniest, smartest, most fascinating people I've ever worked with. I get to be a part of creative ideas and I get to have these wild brainstorm sessions that I'm literally laughing so hard, I'm crying on almost a daily basis. I work with my best friend. I still work remotely, our whole team is remote, so I have a ton of flexibility. I get to laugh for a living.
I truly look at my life now and I know it's not as automated as it was, but it's way more fulfilling and it's just every single element is enjoyable. So, it's weird. It's weird. It's not scalable in this in the way my previous business was, but it's incredibly fulfilling. However, what I know to be true is that we are working on a lot of different components of Obedient and so I know, maybe in the near future we'll create a scalable product or maybe in the near future we've talked about writing a book.
We are launching a podcast in the next few months. And so, there's all these other opportunities to scale and expand and really tap into these things that really excite us. But ultimately, we get to preach the message of fun and lightheartedness and strategic humor and making brands an enjoyable, feel-good experience and just getting to change the landscape in our own little way.
So yeah, I know I'm like a masochist for going, even though it seems like I'm going backward, I really feel like I've propelled so much further than I was previously.
I just got done recording another episode earlier today and I asked my guest what is sort of closing advice was for entrepreneurs and he quoted someone else who said, “Cliché or not, the journey is the destination,” and whatever it is you're doing right now, that's the whole point.
It's not some end goal that you're going to get to you and acclimate to after a year and a half. It's whatever you're doing right now, you should enjoy it. And it sounds like with your move to becoming an agency, that's really what you're doing. You enjoy every day of your life. You enjoy actually working. And if you're doing that then Kudos. ‘Cause that's a lot better than 99 of people. Even people who’ve struck it rich and billion-dollar companies.
Totally. I fully agree.
So I want to dive into these beginning phases. You talked about you and Lyndsay in someone's apartment sort of drawing up all sorts of plans. What you're going to do, what you're not going to do. By this point you've already worked at a startup. You’ve worked at a big consulting firm. You've done consulting on your own, you started your own business, you know quite a lot.
Given all that knowledge, like how do you approach planning a business and what's going to go into it, what kinds of decisions you need to make. How did you choose your own brand? And I asked this with, I guess an eye towards a lot of people in the audience who are completely new to this step to figure out what kinds of questions they should be asking and some of the concrete tactical decisions that you might make to build a successful company from the get-go.
Yeah. Well, before we even dove into the nitty gritty of business, Lyndsay and I, we really had an amazing series of honest, heart to heart, no bullshit conversations. And it really boiled down to what were the things we needed to experience as a business owner in order to feel fulfilled. What is the type of lifestyle that we wanted to cultivate? What do we value? What's important to us, what drives us?
What are things that piss us off and trigger us? What are things that energize us? And we got really clear on all that stuff because I think we're a little unique in that we were starting a business together and we, we had an impeccable relationship and we wanted that to, to sustain. And we wanted that to be able to have longevity and we wanted to continue our friendship.
We didn't want anything to tarnish it, right. So, I think what we had to do is get really honest about the things that the parts of our personality that needed to be a cultivated the parts of our personality that needed to be nurtured.
The parts of our personality that we could add value. The qualities we can bring to the table on the things that like we didn't want to do. We didn't like doing that. That would draw out the worst parts of us.
So, we can have that dialogue to start. I know it maybe seems a little bit harder to do by yourself. But I definitely think that's a really important step. So, her and I in particular, because we were starting just the two of us, before we built out a team, because we didn't have a team to start is -- I'm very extroverted.
So, I like people, I like to talk to people. I feel very isolated if I'm sitting in my house working at a laptop all day. So, it was really important for me that I lead all of the business relationships and the client calls and the sales calls and all of those things. And Lyndsay was like, go for it. I hate that shit. Don't want anything to do with it. Lyndsay, on the other hand, is an introvert and she presents as an extrovert.
She's so lovely and warm and funny and she's just amazing. But she could sit on her laptop in isolation on a remote island. Never talked to his soul and be the happiest camper on the planet. So, a lot of the internal stuff, that was her sweet spot. So anyways, so it was really understanding those parts of ourselves so we could work really well together.
Because I don't know if you've ever had a business partner, but it is like getting married. Your livelihood, your emotions, your creativity, your finances, everything gets wrapped up into another person very quickly. And so, for us, we wanted to make sure that that was the foundation. From there -- and you feel free to -- I can explain anything in more detail, but from there that was the set point.
So, I felt like we really knew each other going into it, but more so than just knowing each other as friends. It's like really knowing each other as, what are our biggest fears and our biggest desires and what drives us and what triggers us and else. So how do we really make this a stable foundation?
There was just a post on the Indie Hackers forum earlier this week where somebody was asking, “What are the crucial questions you should ask your cofounder before you start?” And no one listed any of those things that you just said.
I think that's all great stuff.
Oh, good. Well that makes me happy. And yeah, so that was super important. From there, we started to play around with, okay, now that we know those things about us, what type of business do we want to layer on top of it? What do we value? I think for us the through line was always fun. The through line was always humor. We wanted to build a brand that felt good internally, that our clients felt super excited about when they're working with us.
And then ultimately the end product was something that felt good and fresh and fun and different. And so, Obedient, the name, why we landed on that is, it's a bit of tongue in cheek,
right? Our whole idea is we wanted to not do what everyone else is doing. We wanted to buck the system.
And also, being two women, right? We're supposed to be good, polite little girls and that's just neither of our personalities. And so, we thought, okay, what really embodies that? What is the most tongue and cheek way to explain that? And so, for us, the term obedient, when we wrote that down -- we ideated probably 200 names.
And when we wrote that down we’re like there's nothing else that is even a contender. And it just felt right, it felt like reflective of who we are, what we absolutely never wanted to be. We do not want to be an obedient brand, which is why it was so fun to be named that. It reminds me of -- I don't know if you know the podcast, Pod Save America, but they're called Crooked Media and it's the same idea of, call yourself the thing that you absolutely don't want to be. And it’s just a really fun way to spend a business name.
But anyway, that's how we started. When we were initially in our initial brainstorm sessions, we really realized we wanted to work directly with brands. We wanted to work with entrepreneurs, we wanted to work with business owners, because we thought people could be doing it in a lot more interesting, exciting, attention-worthy, integral way.
And we thought we could add a lot of value to that community. And it just sprung from there. We've changed services and offerings a million times as we've evolved and grown, knowing what we're great at and the value we can provide and really honing our process over the last two and a half years.
So you decide you're going to target brand, you're going work with them to build better, funnier, more effective brands. I think one of the most common fears entrepreneurs have is sales. People really don't like sales, especially developers building technical businesses. And the worst, scariest type of sales is enterprise sales.
You actually have to talk to someone at a big company and convince them to buy what you're selling when you're just a small group of people or maybe just one person. You guys at Obedient have worked with all sorts of huge companies.
You’ve worked with Dell, you've worked with AT&T. Is enterprise sales scarier to you? Is it burdensome to you? And if not, what do you know that all these other indie hackers don't?
So I know I'm probably going to sound like a mad woman, but I love sales. I've never thought of it that way. I never really knew I love sales. I just like talking to other humans. But I think you said something interesting and I'm going to flip a thought – flip something that you said in a little bit different way.
When I go into a sales process, and I recommend this for everyone, I don't think you have to go into a sales process or a sales call or a sales conversation. I'm thinking you have to convince anyone that your product or service, that they need to like it, they need to want it, they need to buy it, they need to agree with it. I think you have to convince yourself.
Because if you believe in what you do and you have confidence in what you've created, that you don't feel like you have to sell. You're not trying to prove anything to yourself. And I think that our egos get in the way of being good salespeople. Because I think what happens is when we're often going into a sales process saying, “What can you give me? What can I take from you? I want your money. I want your time. I want your trust. I want your respect.”
And when you, when you enter that process with a take mentality and you're looking for that potential client to fill a need, I think that there's a lot of fear and anxiety and a doubt that comes through. I think the biggest shift for me is when I go into a potential a sales call or a new client intake conversation, I really try to leave my ego at the door.
I don't go into it saying I have to close them. I go into it saying I want to educate them. I want to get to know them. I want them to enjoy a conversation with me. I want them to feel heard. I want them to be made aware of what we're doing. That, to me, is the most transparent, authentic, integral way to approach a conversation. It's a give because it's like I want to give them education. I want to give him an opportunity to work with us.
I want to give them an opportunity to be proud of their ideas and their brand. I want to give them an opportunity to have a nice conversation and I want to give them a choice. And the choices, they either work with us awesome, amazing, great. Or it's that they walk away and that's okay too. I feel like it's made me enjoy the sales process. I think it's made me effective in the sales process and I think it's allowed us to build really, really strong relationships because, and I truly mean this, and I know it may sound a little bit like bullshit, but my agenda is never -- I really try to make my agenda never, what can I get from you?
It's always like, what can I give? And that way I don't, I don't feel let down or deflated if it doesn't work out the way I would hope it does. So that's my tactic. I really feel like it's so cliché, but it's an inside job. If you don't feel proud of who you are or you don't trust in yourself, you don't trust in your product, trust in your brand. Rejection is so painful. I really think rejection is painful because you're rejecting yourself in the first place. And if you learn how to not put all that power in someone else's hands and really just have pride in who you are and what you do, then that whole experience just becomes more enjoyable.
Cliché advice is the best advice, I think.
I know it is though, right?
It’s the stuff that people say over and over again and yet no one listens to because we're all obsessed with the novel advice. The stuff we've never heard before because it just feels so real, so smart and productive. When you hear something you've never heard before, but when you hear something you've heard before, you don't really stop to ask yourself, “Am I actually doing that?” And usually the answer's no.
Truly. Something else I'll say, too, is that you may just not be the type of person that likes to talk to other humans. And that's okay, too. I'm an extrovert. I like talking to people. Like I said, my business partner would never want the role that I have.
And so I think that's an important thing to check in with yourself and understand about who you are because you're always going to be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole if you're forcing yourself to be someone you're not, or to enjoy something that you just inherently don't. I think it's good to stretch yourself and to push your edges. But maybe just you need someone else to be a part of the sales process or figure out how to create a sales process that you aren’t heavily involved in the equation.
So what do you think is more important for these very first few steps to getting your business off the ground, if you had to choose one? Sales or marketing?
Oh Wow. That's a great question. Well, I think if you don't have something worth talking about, I think both are going to fall flat. I think they almost live in tandem, but I honestly believe that to me, and I know some people disagree with me and that's okay.
I would say marketing, and the reason I would say marketing, is because anytime I've ever gotten off a sales call or a sale, anytime I've ever sent out a sales email, anytime I've ever put up a post that that has an action component that I want someone to click or lead them to a specific action.
People are going to engage with elements of my brand as a next step. They're going to look at my web copy, they're going to look at my social platforms. They are going to look at my sales pages, they're going to look at my products. And if those look like shit, you've lost the sale. If those look like they were DIY’d, people have lost trust in the quality of your product.
If they look like they are long winded and they're confusing and people can't really decipher what's the important takeaway or they don't understand why what you're doing is something they need or why what you're doing is something that is better than someone else or different than someone else, then I don't even think you have an opportunity at a sale.
So, I think the marketing component is important. I don't think you have to do all marketing straight away, but I think having some foundational pieces that are really banging, that are really strong. Like I always say to people like, have a great website. Have at a minimum, have a phenomenal website as starting place because nine times out of ten, that's going to be the place people go back to, to make a purchase.
That is their point of conversion. So, at your point of conversion, to me, that should be the strongest reflection of who you are as a brand, what you believe and what you care about, what you stand for. Those are my thoughts on it. But feel free to push back.
You guys have a beautiful website. Obedient is, it's one of the first things I thought when I went to your website. I was like, wow, this is like very professionally designed, very well written and it did all the things that you said, right? It
improves your standing in my mind as a potential agency that I might use. A lot of indie hackers are trying to build websites for themselves for the first time.
Most of them are not professional designers and that professional copywriters. What are some of the bare bones basic principles they should follow to make sure their websites work and look good? Do they need to hire a writer? Do they need to hire a designer? Can they just get better at these things themselves?
I'm always going to recommend outsourcing things that you're not good at or that is not your sweet spot or your skillset. When people are designers by trade or creatives or copyrighters by trade, that is a thing that is their currency. That is a thing that they're known for. That is a thing that they specialize in, and that's the thing that they can knock out of the park for you. So, bring on an expert on your team.
I know it means that you have to shell out some cash up front. I understand it's an investment, but you're going to, in my opinion, you're going to spend a lot of time and dollars and energy trying to DIY it. You're going to potentially lose some potential customers. You are going to potentially not present the best version of your brand right out the gate. So, it could plant some, some seeds in the minds of, of people who could have been your consumers that you may not have a second chance with them.
So I think that the pros outweigh the cons in terms of, I know it is an investment up front and I know that we want to be scrappy and we want to DIY and all those things, but the value of having a clean, professionally designed, professionally written, really sexy experience right out the gate is that, to me, people start to take you more seriously right out the gate.
They trust you right out the gate. They are more compelled and inclined to work with you or buy from you right out the gate. I think people don't think that people are emotionally reacting to brands, but everyone is emotionally reacting. Again, what I said, no matter how practical or pragmatic you are, when you are picking up a product off a shelf or you are going to a brand's website or you are engaging with them on social media, you are making judgment calls.
And what you don't want someone to do is say this person's quality is low. It is confusing. It looks like it was done out of their mom's basement and it looks like they took no time and effort. And so, that's why I highly recommend bringing on a company. Again, doesn't have to be us.
I think we're obviously great at what we do, but bring on an expert who can help create something that is compelling and cohesive and looks professional and to me that will alleviate a lot of headaches down the road and just I think get you further ahead in your business quicker pending all the other behind the scenes things are lined up and you have a quality product and service to offer.
One of the things you mentioned earlier when I was asking you about Indie Hackers, this brand, and then the decisions I made and tried to get you to critique me, give me some constructive criticism, was that brand is not just a onetime flash in the pan thing. It's something that has to evolve with their business. It has to permeate everything that you
do, and you have to keep coming back at it and proving it. What are some of the ways that you guys have done that with Obedient and what are some of the triggers that let you know it’s time to update your brand.
Oh, gosh. I feel like we're updating our brand every week. I think if we ever have a project and one of us, because Lyndsay and I are still both very involved in every single project we do. I'm managing all the client relationships. Lynds is right in there, leading the creative direction and we're both just super hands on at this stage in our business. If we ever feel off, if something feels weird when we're explaining it or it feels confusing or someone goes, “Hey, can you explain that?” Or, “I don't quite get that,” to us, that is an immediate for us.
Immediately we go, someone is confused or misunderstands us or has presented feedback or something feels off internally or we didn't enjoy some component of the product. So, to us, that says it needs to be evaluated. Because even if we think things are going swimmingly, if there is one little element that is slightly off kilter to us, that'll start affecting other components. And so, what we've always found is that when something feels slightly off and we revisit it, we always end up changing it. We always end up improving it.
We always end up tweaking it, even if it hurts our egos at first. Even if we got feedback that said, “Oh, hey, this didn't quite make sense to me.” And in our head when we developed it, it made perfect sense, we're like, “Oh, that was crystal clear. That couldn't have been explained any better.” If we sit with that information for five minutes and go, I could see how they would think that. That that feedback is starting to resonate. We have always done something with that feedback.
We have always improved our process or our output or our final product in some way. So yeah, I think it's like just really doing a lot of emotional check ins to make sure that this feels good for everyone involved. If it doesn't, there is some value an offbeat experience that you can extract and hopefully improve your business from.
So how do you do that? If you're running, let's see, a different company where you're not really talking to customers that often, that you're not getting the sort of feedback where people tell you that something seems off or they tell you they don't understand something. Does that mean your brand is fine?
I think you have to ask for it. I think. I think there's always opportunities to engage with your audience or to get feedback or to get outside perspective. Even with a mentorship group. A mentor or a peer group of other entrepreneurs. There is always an opportunity for feedback and constructive criticism. I think people just don't ask for it because they don't want to hear it.
When it's your own business, it can feel like a blow to the ego. It can be really hurtful. It can be really bothersome because it is often this thing that we've created that has come from the depths of our soul. It is our baby. And, and for someone to criticize our baby, we don't want that. So, I think we often avoid criticism because it can sting.
But I think where you have to toughen up a little bit and go, okay, I don't have to look at it as I am flawed, or my business is flawed. I can look at it as an opportunity for improvement, an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to better serve my customer, an opportunity to better hone my message.
It's hard to hear that. It really is. We get feedback, too. We are doing creative work all the time, so clients don't always love our ideas right out the gate. Sometimes the ideas we love the most and we know are great, a client might not get it, or they might not agree. And so, you just have to be okay with that and push back where you want to push back. But also pivot when it makes sense.
Yeah. We're back to this topic of ego again. And how working too hard to protect your ego will ultimately result in you building a worse business because among other things, that'll make you more resistant to feedback. And you're right, when you get this feedback, it's coming from people who really mean the best.
And if you've listened to them, probably your business will get better because no one's doing this to insult you or make you feel bad. But damn, does it hurt when you worked on something for so long and poured your heart and soul into it and someone tells you that it's crappy or that it's not good?
Yeah and sometimes that the customer is wrong. People don't want to acknowledge that, sometimes they don't understand you or they don't get your business. Within every customer interaction where you disagree with their sentiment or their statement or their feedback, there is a little hint of truth or a little nugget that you can extract from that that can help you improve what you do and really who you are. Even if you don't agree with the way they communicated the message, you don't agree with the feedback specifically, there is something that you could take value from.
So I talked about this a lot actually, that founders should really be talking to customers and trying to understand what they're saying and also trying to see the lessons and learnings behind what the customers say. Because chances are your customers are not marketing experts.
Chances are they're not strategic experts, right? They know what they want, and they know what their problems are, and you can help them solve that and that's valuable, but they're probably not gonna be able to tell you how to run your business. Given that, how can I as a founder of Indie Hackers talk to my customers and ask them questions that would help improve my brand? What questions would I even ask?
I think it depends on what your process is. Do you have feedback forms on your website? Do you do you open community dialogue? Do you have a private forum that you allow people to express themselves freely?
Do you tap a handful of members who are super engaged or super involved in your brand or product or community that really care and really want the best for you? I think the medium can
vary, but I think one question just off the top of my head that is always a value is, “Is what you received different than what you expected in terms of service, product, a customer experience?”
I think it's always interesting to understand what were people anticipating or what were people expecting or what did people think we're going to happen versus what did you deliver? I think that's always a really interesting question. That could yield results in both ways. It could be, oh you overdelivered it was better than I thought.
Or it could be this is not what I anticipated, or this is quite confusing, or it was way more complex, or the platform you used wasn’t easy to navigate or whatever you find out, you have to live with that result. But I think that's a really interesting question that I love. Yeah, that'd be the one that I would throw out there.
Is what you received different than what you expected? Indie Hackers listeners you heard her. Is what you receive listening to this podcast, coming to the website different than what you expected? Email me, [email protected] let me know. Allie, it has been great talking to you about your story. You've given a ton of advice. I hope people listening can find a way to incorporate it.
I also hope if you're listening to this, pair this with the previous episode that came out with Danielle Baskin, who I think is a great example of everything that Allie saying of injecting fun into what you're doing and really think people could benefit from doing this because too many people are making the same products, the same message with no real emotional resonance of why I should care. Allie, thanks again for coming on the show.
Can you tell listeners where they can go to learn more about what you're up to at Obedient, what's going on in your personal life? You share that online as well. And maybe have them get in contact with you if they want to ask you a question or engage your services.
Yeah, of course. Well first of all, thank you so much for having me. You are a gem, so this has been wonderful. You can find me, or you can find our agency Obedientagency.com. The main email is [email protected] and then anywhere on the inner webs at Obedient Agency.
Instagram is where we're the most active in terms of me personally, you can find me anywhere as Allie Lefevere and I know you may be shocked to hear, but I'm not on social media a ton. I'm not a big consumer of social media.
Yeah, I know. I just don't get the energy from it like some people do. I know that's so bad to admit. I follow some brands that I love and I follow – all I really follow are very silly brands, baby animal accounts, and office memes. That's all I look at on social media. And I don't post a ton, but when I do it's often very ridiculous and silly and just elements of my life.
As long as it’s not baby spiders it's okay in my book.
Yeah. Yeah. I'll leave those off.
All right, well thank you so much Allie. I'll talk to you later.
If you enjoyed listening to this conversation and you want a really easy way to support the podcast, why don’t you head over to iTunes and leave us a quick rating or even a review? If you’re looking for an easy way to get there, just go to IndieHackers.com/review and that should open up iTunes on your computer. I read pretty much all the reviews that you guys leave over there, and it really helps other people to discover the show, so your support is very much appreciated.
In addition, if you are running your own internet business or if that’s something you hope to do someday, you should join me and a whole bunch of other founders on the IndieHackers.com website. It’s a great place to get feedback on pretty much any problem or question that you might have while running your business.
If you listen to the show, you know that I am a huge proponent of getting help from other founders rather than trying to build your business all by yourself. So you’ll see me on the forum for sure as well as more than a handful of some of the guests that I’ve had on the podcast.
If you’re looking for inspiration, we’ve also got a huge directory full of hundreds of products built by other Indie Hackers, every one of which includes revenue numbers and some of the behind-the-scenes strategies for how they grew their products from nothing.
As always, thanks so much for listening and I’ll see you next time.
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