Harry Dry (@harrydry) is the founder of Marketing Examples, a fast-growing showcase of successful startup marketing stories. Since launching the site a few months ago, he's grown his email list to 5000 subscribers, won product of the week on Product Hunt, and is approaching $1,000 in monthly recurring revenue. Harry joined the show to talk about reducing the risks of being a founder, how to grow your Twitter following, and the importance of building the product that only you can build.
Harry Dry, welcome to the Indie Hackers podcast.
Great to be here, been looking forward to it the whole day. Ready to go.
Yeah me, too. You are the creator of MarketingExamples.com which is a pretty remarkable site. Why don’t you explain to us what it is, exactly?
Marketing Examples it’s a website where I write about real-world marketing stories. I think a lot of the marketing content out there at the moment, if you work for a big company you’ve got your big boss who will say, “Write me something which will rank on Google.” You’ve got to shove in these four or five keywords and do it in one day.
With Marketing Examples I don’t really have any of that pressure or any of those constraints and I think that’s why the articles are perhaps slightly more interesting or engaging than a lot of other big companies are producing. I’m not really trying to rank for Google at this stage or anything like that, it’s just about what’s the most interesting example out there.
That said, it’s still pretty meta. It’s fun to think about you’re producing these case studies that offer all this great marketing advice and at the same time you’re building your website. You’re trying to grow your audience, you’re trying to get more traffic. You can learn a lot just by reading the case studies that you’re putting out.
A million percent. I think a lot of the – it’s actually funny. A lot of the time I could write four or five articles about Marketing Examples but then it would go down too much of this weird black hole. I don’t know.
My dad doesn’t want me to do that. Put it that way. He was gutted over that one about my own launch and product. He was like, “Son, none of this. Write about other companies, real companies.”
Well, it’s very cool. I’m looking at the site right now. If you haven’t been, it’s MarketingExamples.com and the kind of case studies you’re writing about are things like how Nomad List dominates longer tail keywords on Google Search. Why Notion’s sign up forms convert so well. How Jason Cohen does direct sales.
How to get 30,000 Hacker News visitors to your website. How you got 2,000 new subscribers from Product Hunt. These really solid case studies, that, if you’re an Indie Hacker, you’re probably going to want to know about. So I think you’ve done a great job with these. You’ve also been doing a great job sharing your accomplishments behind the scenes.
So just this last month you posted on your Indie Hackers product page that you got your first thousand email subscribers. Then you hit 1500 Twitter followers. Then you launched on Product Hunt and were the number one product of the week. You got to 2,000 and 3,000 Twitter followers I think just today.
You’re closing in on $1,000 a month in revenue. So it’s quite a lot and I’m wondering how you’re doing on a personal level, Harry. Are you excited? Are you calm? Are you overworked? Are you keeping it together? What’s going on?
That’s a good question. Life’s good. I think my goal for the year was to leave my job and become fully sustainable myself. And I’m getting there. I side-stepped a little bit. I dropped down to two days at my job and I’m down to zero days. So that’s kind of mission accomplished. I’m still trying to work it out.
I think my structure’s pretty rubbish. I haven’t worked out how to be an employee by myself at the moment. Life’s all right, I think. I like the library. That’s where I spend a lot of my time.
What kind of job did you have where you could just drop down to two days a week?
I worked at a web development company called Crowdform in London and I did about a year there. Over that time I built up enough trust with them, I suppose. I said, “Can we do two days?” They very, very kindly said, “Yes.” I started working on Marketing Examples at that point.
When I got my first sponsor, Email Octopus, I decided, “Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s go full time and see how it goes.” They say that start up founders are risk takers, but I quote from somebody else, I can’t remember who said it, that they’re more risk killers. So with the two-day thing, what takes out most startups?
The fact that their founders run out of money, so if I drop down to two days, I can have that little safety net, kill that risk and then once I get a sponsor, right, I can move on to the next thing. Another example of killing risk would be, what if I have co-founder. There’s friction there. There’s none of that stuff.
What if I’m spending loads of money on ads or I have lots of that stuff going on? Again, nothing. We don’t spend very much money. So I’m trying to put Marketing Examples in a position where it’s pretty impossible to destroy. I feel like you can’t really take us out. Nothing is going to blow us up. It’s just going to roll on and get bigger and better.
Tyson Fury says the only way to beat Tyson Fury is to pin him down and nail him to the canvas. I think the only way you can take out Marketing Examples is if you pin me down and put nails through my hands.
I tell a lot of founders that the reason why most businesses fail is because the founders quit. The reason why founders quit is a lot of the stuff that you’ve identified. It’s because you haven’t really mitigated some of these huge risks. It’s because you’re working with a co-founder who you don’t get along with and you have disputes.
It’s because you work on something that takes way too long to get off the ground, so you run out of money. It’s stuff like that, these preventable mistakes. So it’s super smart for you to have structured things in such a way that you’re mitigating these risks, so let’s talk about that. There’s a continuum.
On one side you’ve got founders who are super thoughtful, put a lot of time in to thinking about exactly what idea they want to work on. On the other side, you have people who are a little bit more intuitive, they tend to work on the first thing they’re excited about, the first thing that comes to mind.
Where would you say you fell on that spectrum when you were coming up with the idea for Marketing Examples?
I think I was pretty methodical. I thought about it deeply. I had a startups before that hadn’t gone well. I think the worse it goes the harsher you are on yourself and you improve. For this one I think there’s no such thing as a good idea, there’s only such a thing as a good idea for a specific person in a specific time.
So when I was trying to come up with Marketing Examples, I had my goal in mind, which was I want to be financially independent. It doesn’t have to be an extraordinary amount of money. That’s where I thought that just marketing writing was a good idea. It was a humble project. I think people try to shoot for the moon from the word go.
That can often result in trying to build this huge rocket, perhaps. And they spend like a year trying to build it and it probably doesn’t even end up getting launched, or if it does, the explosion doesn’t go off quite right. I felt like I could grow the site slowly but surely to the point where I had a sponsor. Someone might say that’s not very much money.
It’s a thousand or $880 or whatever it is. But they’re missing the point because when I was coming up with the idea for Marketing Examples, money wasn’t my currency. I could’ve tried to get big investment. I wanted to just free up my time. That’s what I was after. I looked at project which had worked before and I saw a bit of a pattern.
There are sites like No Medalist (ph). They produce information about cities. It grows into a community. Indie Hackers is the same. They interview founders who disclose their revenue and now it’s a big community. Game quitters is another example. It started when Cam Adair wrote a blog about how he quit video game addiction and now it’s this huge community.
I felt like the simplest thing I could do while I’m still working for this company is just to start small. A simple website, start writing about marketing and who knows where it might lead to.
Start small is some of my favorite startup advice and probably among the most oft ignored piece of startup advice. But I think it’s one of those things that once you’ve actually lived it, once you’ve done the opposite, been in the trenches and you’ve been bitten by that particular mistake, you really internalize it and you don’t make that mistake again.
You’ve worked on some startups in the past that didn’t go particularly well. What are some lessons you’ve learned? What are some mistakes that you’ve made that you’re determined not to repeat?
My first thing was thing was a site called 140 Canvas and it was, you take custom Tweets and you try and sell them online. And I did it because I wanted to learn to code. The lesson there was I didn’t validate the idea. I just put it up and thought that Product Hunt would do all the work.
That’s an error you make once and then hopefully you switch on and it doesn’t happen again. And then I probably made an even worse mistake after that. I made this dating site, and again, there was no real plan there. It went well. The site took off in a major way. It was a dating site for Kanye West fans. But I didn’t have a marketing plan.
I think with Marketing Examples I’ve gotten sharper. I know now, I write the articles. I share them in x, y, zed places. I share them in different ways in each place. They get read. The emails go up. The Twitter following goes up and I can build upon that. Previously I hadn’t really got the right analogy for it, but I think you have to go through that phase as well.
I like to say that success is the finished wall and failure are the bricks in the wall. I haven’t got any kind of big success yet or anything like that, but you have to go through the failures to understand stuff.
Yeah, the brick laying process of failing over and over again. Reminds a lot of how I started Indie Hackers. I also had some salient mistakes that I’d made from previous ventures that I was determined never to make again.
One of them I’ve talked about a lot which is that I knew that I have a tendency to code for a very long time without ever getting to the point where I want to release the thing that I’ve coded. So I started Indie Hackers as a blog just to prevent me from being able to do that. A blog is so simple there’s no way to do that. The other was just what you touched on.
I had a marketing plan. I knew exactly who my readers were, where they hung out online, what they liked to read, how to get my blog post in their hands. So it made this whole trough of sorrow, tough growth period much easier for me because I knew how to grow. It sounds like you had a plan as well. How much of that plan did you figure out before you started working on Marketing Examples and how much of it did you figure out on the job?
Oh, I thought about it a lot. I saw what it looks like would start the story was on the Indie Hackers podcast and I saw they were just growing slowly but surely from posting on Reddit, so I knew that was an angle. For my job I’d been writing quite a lot of posts, blogs, I guess, about various things and I had quite a bit of practice sharing them.
I was doing these blogs for Crowdform, the company I was working for, and we had some success just posting on Reddit, I’d share them on Indie Hackers. You just have to pick out these watering holes where your audience hangs out. I don’t really look at Indie Hackers like that so much. I think the trick is to just up the value wherever you are.
If you’re on Reddit, don’t just post the link. You won’t get anywhere. If you’re on Indie Hackers, don’t just link a site, it won’t get you anywhere. If you’re on Twitter, don’t just link a blog. It won’t get you anywhere. If you’re on Slack, don’t just link a blog. It won’t get you anywhere.
You have to convince people to read it by boiling the article into something great, and then hoping that they click through, I suppose.
Yeah, a lot of people look at Indie Hackers as just another marketing channel, which would be fine if they thought about it the same way you’re thinking about it, the same way Adam Wathan recommends, which is to provide value in the place where you are. No matter what channel you’re using, you should understand it.
You should understand what people find valuable there and how they like to talk. You should put that as your number one priority, and then it’s okay if incidentally you also link back to some helpful content. But that shouldn’t be your primary goal. And if you treat it that way, number one, you’re probably going to be breaking some rules.
You’re probably going to get reported or flagged. But even in the best-case scenario people just won’t find what you’re posting interesting. They’re not going to click because there’s so much other, more helpful content on that channel that they would prefer to read, prefer to click. I think people don’t get this because it’s just a lot of work.
It’s so much easier to copy and paste a link to your blog. It’s so much easier to just make the same post on every channel. But if you’re doing it that way it’s probably because you’re targeting way too many channels. It’s better to narrow your focus.
Just target one or two channels that you really understand, and you can really provide value there, and ignore all the other channels. You don’t have time to do a good job. You’ve done a good job with this on Indie Hackers.
You take time every time you post a milestone to really explain how you hit that milestone and you present it in a way that’s helpful and people appreciate it. You get hundreds of likes and comments on your milestones.
Yeah, I think it’s so simple, really. Just make it interesting. Today I wrote one about Twitter. I must’ve spent probably about an hour writing out the five tips I gave. And I think the milestone itself is good, 3,000 followers, but without giving insight it’s not particularly interesting for other people.
Yep, it’s just empathy. It’s not about what you’re trying to express as a writer. It’s not about what you’re trying to accomplish or how many clicks you’re trying to get as someone running your company and marketing for yourself. It’s about what readers want. They’re not going to read unless you give them what they want.
Why are they taking their time out of their day to read this thing? And it’s not because they care that you hit 3,000 Twitter followers. It’s because they’re thinking about how they can hit 3,000 Twitter followers.
You took the time to write a whole post that helped them and then only incidentally, only secondarily, do they learn about your website, Marketing Examples, do they learn about why they should trust you and visit what you’re doing. That’s really the right way to prioritize things if you want to be effective.
Going back to talking about how you came up with the idea for Marketing Examples, I’m curious if there were other, competing ideas that you were considering that didn’t make the cut?
No, it’s actually the only idea I had. To be honest with you, I had this idea for maybe two months before I started working on it properly. Things always get delayed. I had this big story I was writing which got pushed back and pushed back. That helped me build an email list. It was a big story about the Kanye dating site that I mentioned.
From that I had a little bit of a head start. And they seemed to be interested in marketing. That’s what sealed it for me. The other stones just fell in place. I think good advice is to build the product that only you can build. I can do a bit of development, a bit of design, and I really like writing, specifically marketing stuff I find really interesting.
I don’t think many people necessarily have all three of those skills. I’m not the best developer in the world and I’m not the best designer in the world but I think that most marketers, they lack the ability to make really nicely designed websites and they also over-kill on optimization and SEO and all of that stuff.
I’m not knocking that, but that just left like a little opportunity for someone who puts their heart into it, who really cares, who actually is going to – not necessarily work to a strict deadline. When the article is done, it’s done. That’s how the idea came.
The very first post you made for your Indie Hackers product page for Marketing Examples is called, “How do I make money?” And you listed three different options that you had floating around in your head. Number one was to build traffic, and then reach out for sponsorships and advertisers. Number two was to build paid features.
You could, for example, charge people to access extra articles or charge people to access your premium site group. Then number three was to build an audience and then sell something different to them. For example, a book or a course. So you ended up settling on number one.
I’m curious, why that is? Why did you decide to go with sponsors? Why not paid features or building an audience and selling a different product?
Simply it was the least work in the short term. I had this green light this year that I laid out ahead of me. It was, “How do I make enough money to work for myself?” Writing a big course would have taken a long time and you have to have a big audience to do that, I think bigger than what I have.
Building a community up and premium membership and stuff would take a lot of coding. I’d have to write guides, I’d have to create user logins. So it was just the first and the easiest.
One of your next milestones was getting to 100 email subscribers. In some respects, this is a very easy thing to do. Just find 100 people that you know, friends, relatives, acquaintances, co-workers, and put them on an email list. But in some respects, it’s also one of the hardest things to do.
Very few people get to that point. Most people drop off well before that. How did you get your first 100 email subscribers?
Wow, it’s a trip down memory lane. I think I saw I had 10 articles when I launched Marketing Examples. That’s at the time I launched. So I just started sharing them each day. For each article there’s a Twitter thread which accompanies it. So I’d start sharing these frozen Twitter.
My own Twitter account has maybe 1500, so, I don’t know, maybe 40 of them signed up. When you write articles about other companies, if they’re quite well written or well worded, I don’t know which one it is, they often end up sharing them themselves. So quite serendipitously I found that a lot of these companies that I wrote about would just promote the articles.
A lot of posting. I joined about 10 Slack groups, 10 Facebook groups. I’d always share there, which hasn’t gone particularly well. There’s no silver bullet. I’d say out of those 100 subscribers, five would’ve come from here, four would come from there, two of them are my parents. There’s no one trick.
I think it’s smart that the main call to action on your website is this box right at the top and it’s like, “Enter your email address to get two new case studies every week.” Also at the bottom of every article, every case study that you do, there’s a little form for people to enter their email address.
I think you’ve got a pop up at some point I’ve seen where you’re asking people to join your mailing list. How did you decide that getting people on your mailing list was your number one call to action and that would be the main thing that you want people to do?
To be honest with you, I had a chat with you. You did office hours one time, maybe six months ago and I was talking about this exact idea and I quote, “I’m really bullish on email lists.” So I just followed that advice.
Also, it’s very obvious, maybe in hindsight it’s very obvious, but I’ve seen people using email lists in a great way, like Wes Bos, for example, built up an email list and it opens doors for you. I think Julian Shapiro might’ve said, also, on this very podcast, “If you want people to convert to something an email list is the best choice.”
We know that maybe 10% of your tweets are actually read. I think it’s a great point you made about the email box being there in the first place. I thought a funny thought today. I read an article by Glen Allsopp, the guy who writes for SEO. It was the best article I think I’d read this year.
I just thought today that I never subscribed to his newsletter. And I thought, “Why?” and it’s just because he didn’t ask me to. It’s a trick which people really miss, I think. Be obvious about it. You’re helping out people.
Yeah, it’s pretty straightforward. If you ask people to do something then it’s easier for them to remember to do that thing, and if you don’t ask then it doesn’t matter if you build the world’s best website, it doesn’t really matter if you write the best article anyone’s ever read, they’re probably not going to sign up.
That’s important to do. It’s also important to just have an email list in general because email is a channel that you control. No one can really take it away from you. It’s not subject to the algorithms or Twitter or Facebook or Google Search rankings. You can email these people about whatever you want, whenever you want as long as they’ve agreed to it.
It’s pretty cool to see that you’ve been able to build up your email list to close to 5,000 subscribers now. You’ve also been able to build up your Twitter following. You said that’s a strategy you relied on early on and it’s a strategy you continue to rely on. Tell us about that. How do you Tweet effectively?
I can write a book about that. I think the first lesson I’ve got, create an account that people want to follow. There’s an account called podcast notes, it’s an account which summarizes podcasts. There’s an account called Naval Ravikant bots or another called Nassim Taleb bots.
And with those accounts you just know exactly what they do. Podcast notes, summary of podcasts. Naval Ravikant bot quotes from Naval Ravikant. Nassim Taleb bot quotes from Nassim Taleb. There’s no jargon in there. They don’t say at any point, “Check us out on team visit.” Or, “By the way, can you pay us 30 pounds a month if you like the blog?”
I think just me being called Marketing Examples. It’s not called Marketing Consultancy where I tweet all this stuff and at the end of the day, “Can you please pay me?” That’s where I’d start. Secondly, I’m just looking at what I posted on Indie Hackers today. I wrote all about this. Oh, yeah, Fritz. You want to put all the value in the Tweet itself.
You’re never going to grow an account linking off the blogs, linking off to your website all the time. What I do, every single blog I write, or case study I write, I spend a couple hours writing up into Twitter threads and shortening the words here and there, making sure it will fit in, summarizing part of it.
Threads work really, really well to grow an account for a couple of reasons. Firstly, with 280 characters you can’t really offer any real wisdom. It transcends into pseudo-stuff, like, “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” Rubbish like that. But with threads you lift up the character limit so you can actually say meaningful stuff.
And an interesting point is the percentage of people who follow you after reading your thread is going to be so much higher than just from an isolated tweet, because over a string of seven or eight tweets you can really build up trust. One tweet is just like a flash in the pan. I’ll go on. This is my bread and butter, really.
Another clear mistake people make is they try and over-optimize for retweets and mentions from other people, so they write in their initial tweet, @X, Y and Zed, #this, #that. And it just looks so much like an advert that no one’s ever going to retweet it. So my rule of thumb is the first tweet of thread or the thread itself has to be like crystal meth.
It has to be something that Walter White would cook. That’s the level you’ve got to get to. Naval, again. Sorry to bring this guy up, but his famous one was “How to get rich without getting lucky:” That’s all it was. There was no, “Look at this tweet.” That’s why people like to retweet it, because it was pure crystal meth and invited comments.
I think something Marketing Examples does really well is it creates a path which links directly from the website to Twitter, so at the end of every single article, I think this probably only works for the stuff I write about. It has to be really good. It sounds really arrogant, but it has to be a good article for this technique to work. Otherwise, it’s like, “Mm, not going to retweet that.”
If it’s another sort of article. I’ll embed the first tweet of the thread at the bottom. That just acts as a call to action and I think it works better than just a social share icon. We’ve all gotten immune to them over time and I think a lot more people would follow me just from seeing the first tweet of the thread at the end of the articles.
Finally, if you look at the amount of time I’m putting into each thread, it’s maybe three days on the article and then another hour or two hours transcribing it to Twitter. Other people are just not putting nearly that amount of work into it. Most people just get out their iPhone and tap something up.
It’s weird, but on Twitter, if you spend an awful amount of time on it there’s actually – you can really stand out. I bang on all the time about Steve Shogurn (ph) and Adam Wathan. Steve’s the guy who grew his design Twitter to 1,000 to 50,000 in a year. Every tweet of his was really, really amazing.
It got to a stage where I would be scrolling down Twitter and I’d stop whenever I saw Steve’s icon and I was like, “All right. This is a must, always just must reads.” I guess that’s all I’ve got for you on how to grow Twitter.
That’s a lot of great stuff. And I hope more people follow your product page on Indie Hackers. For every milestone you post, you go into this much detail sharing exactly how you hit this milestone. You’ve talked about how you got product of the week on Product Hunt.
You’ve talked about how you grew your email list from 100 to 1,000 subscribers. You talked about finding your first sponsor and a lot of other good stuff. We don’t quite have time to go into it for this episode because it’s a quick chat but hopefully I will have you on the podcast again, Harry.
We’ll go into all this stuff in very granular detail. For now let’s zoom out a little bit. I know you’ve been an Indie Hackers member for the last two years. What have you learned in that time that you would like to impart to other people?
What’s your advice to somebody who is maybe a fledgling founder who hasn’t gotten started yet, or has just now gotten started? What do you think they need to know?
Derek Sivers says that if more information is the answer, we’d all be billionaires with perfect apps. So I don’t really think anyone listening needs advice. The advice out there is to change the world, make a million pounds. It’s already there.
Read Pugram’s essays*, read the Indie Hacker forums, listen to Kanye West’s music, read “To Kill a Mockingbird”. I would say forget specific tips and tricks and stuff like that and focus on the really basic, fundamental stuff. We’re talking discipline, being a decent person, patience, impatience, determination. How honest are you with yourself?
If your startup fails do you give up after that? Do you keep going? Do you try again? Have you got the patience to sit on a blog post for a few days and rewrite it? I would say focus more on your character as a human being and try and become a better human being and the rest of it will fall into place. If I’m being honest, a lot of this is, in my opinion, about brute determination.
If you keep going, you’re going to make it. So just become more determined. Become a nicer person. Treat all your users well. Simple stuff.
Keep going and don’t quit, work on your character and become a better person and the rest of it will fall into place. I love that advice. Harry, thank you so much for coming on the Indie Hackers podcast to have a quit chat with me. Can you tell the listeners where they can go to learn more about what you’re up to and to learn more about Marketing Examples?
Thank you, Courtland. It’s been a genuine pleasure to talk to you. Where to go to learn more? I would say just MarketingExamples.com and @goodmarketingHQ on Twitter and @HarryDry. You don’t need to look at any of that stuff, though. Just do your own thing and you’ll get there.
Just a quick note here for listeners. If you are interested in coming on to the podcast like Harry to have a quick chat with me, go to IndieHackers.com/milestones and post a milestone about what you’re working on. It can be pretty much anything. People post about launching or finding their first customer.
They post about growing their mailing list or getting 1,000 followers on Twitter. They posted about getting to all sorts of different revenue levels. So the sky’s the limit. Whatever you’re proud of, come celebrate it on IndieHackers.com/milestones and other Indie Hackers will help you celebrate.
We love supporting each other, we love encouraging each other when we hit these milestones. And what I’ll do at the end of every week, I’ll look at the top milestones posted and reach out to people to invite them to come on to the podcast for a quick chat. So once again, that’s IndieHackers.com/milestones. I’m looking forward to seeing what you post.
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