Evan Britton (@Evan_Britton) runs a massive website focused on digital celebrities called Famous Birthdays. It gets multiple billions of pageviews a year, has dozens of employees, and he bootstrapped it to profitability without raising a dime from investors. They key to Evan's approach is his laser focus. He says no to almost everything, including the most obvious of opportunities. Instead he prefers to "stay in his lane." He'd rather make one thing great than do a mediocre job at 4 or 5 different things. The story of how Evan made Famous Birthdays great is one of fame, focus, ambition, patience, and just a little bit of luck.
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In today's episode. I sat down to talk to Evan Britton. Evan runs an absolutely massive site focused on digital celebrities. It's called Famous Birthdays. He gets something like multiple billions of page views every year. And I think his story is inspiring just because of how focused he is. He says no to pretty much everything. He stays in his lane, as he puts it. And he's, single-mindedly focused on making a site into a significant institution on the web. That's it, that's all he cares about. He's a really fun guy to talk to you. I really enjoyed the interview and I hope you do as well.
Evan, you are working on a website called Famous Birthdays. I'm looking at it right now and it kind of looks like Myspace. How old are you by the way?
So you're 42. So, when Myspace was out, I was in, it was big in like 2006. I was in college. I had friends with Myspace accounts. You were well out of college. Were you on Myspace? Were you using it back then?
I was not.
But it’s somehow distinctly captured. It's like a more upscale, modern Myspace vibe with balloons and stars and all these pictures of kids, except they're not my high school friends. They are celebrities, YouTubers, TikTokers, TV stars. I see Jake Paul on here and Zendaya. Tell us about Famous Birthdays. What is it exactly?
So, Famous Birthdays is a simple way to quickly learn about, you know, celebrities, social stars, movies, TV shows, bands, web series in a concise, yet informative format.
It takes advantage of a few trends that happened on the web the last five years, all into one. One is mobile. I saw eight years ago that Wikipedia and IMDB were built for desktop cause that's when they were launched during the desktop era. And on mobile, they had too much information. And then also those platforms didn't focus on the digital stars, which our users showed us were really important to them.
Yeah. I’m browsing around right now. Brooklyn McKnight, YouTube star, I just clicked on her profile and I can see her age and her birthday, her sign. You've got photos on here and then it's almost like Wikipedia but just way shorter. You've got six paragraphs of biographical information, about her, what she did before she was famous and trivia family life. Uh, and that's it.
If you’re writing a book report, Wikipedia is awesome. You're going to get tons of info, but we distilled the most important, concise info. It's basically Wikipedia for what matters right now. So, you know, you started off the asking me if I remember Myspace, you know, Myspace came and went, vine came and went, you know, right now TikTok’s huge.
Our users tell us what they're interested in learning more about. Right now, they want to learn about Netflix and they're searching for Disney+ shows or TikTok stars or YouTubers. I think right now, Dixie D'Amelio, she ranks in our top five because she's really popular and that could continue, or there could be a new platform with new stars that become more popular. I think that it really leverages what's happening now and what people care about. You know, so we're platform agnostic and entertainment agnostic.
You’ve got a lot of users. I use this Chrome extension it's called Detailed SEO Extension and you install it and you right click on any website and then you can click, uh, view the site and similar web.
So, when I go to your site and I do that, it takes me to similar web and it says your traffic every month is, you know, this is a similar web estimated 30 million page views a month, which is a ridiculous amount of traffic.
We actually have over a hundred million pages views, but we get about 30 million unique users among, similar web definitely shows that we're scaled. I think it shows we're top thousand US property. You know, the majority of the traffic comes on mobile. We also have an iPhone and Android app, which is where some of our power users go. But most of our traffic's on the mobile web and we've built a big audience because I've been very focused on this one vision. It's been almost nine years of hard work, focus, and listening to what the users want.
I know you don't share revenue numbers, which is unusual for a bootstrapped company nowadays, everybody seems to be in the market to share exactly how much money they make out the revenue is. What's the best way to sort of estimate, besides just your traffic, where you are with your business?
We just passed for the year, we're over 2 billion page views on our platform. It's all organic. We don't do any advertising, any marketing. Monetization per user changes based on so many factors, time of year, mobile, desktop, different networks we're working with, but we're profitable.
We have about 25 people working on the platform. We're focused on the user and how can we grow audience serve the user. We don't focus on revenue to the extent that we don't have anybody on the team selling advertisers or getting too detailed about how we monetize. We're not overly aggressive with what we do on our platform. I think we could monetize a lot more if we were more aggressive in our ad formats, but we really care about UX and about our brand.
Let's talk about that because even if you just put a few employees on it and had them focus on that, full-time probably the returns would cover the cost of those employees and help you do some of the other things that you you're sort of focused on. So, what's your philosophy here and also just give us an overview of how you monetize the site in general.
We do programmatic monetization. So right now, we're serving around 10 billion ad impressions per year, from the 2+ billion page views we have on our platform. So, we leverage the programmatic networks to monetize our platform.
Programmatic’s been awesome in that since we have enough scale, we can connect to the top programmatic networks and they can send in a bid for the ad units on our platform without us having to collect money or pitch advertisers.
So it's all automatic is what you're saying, there's really no manual intervention.
Yeah, automatic. It lets us focus on our vision and programmatic has shown itself to be very resilient. We know what to expect from it. The auctions, since we have 10 different bidders, the auction lets us monetize, not amazingly, but very efficiently. In terms of not caring about monetization, it's just not part of the focus or of what makes the platform, what we're passionate about and how we got to where we are.
I do think that's another advantage to programmatic is that it's just not in the day-to-day operation of what we're doing. We're more thinking about the users. But programmatic does allow us to, you know, fund it has allowed us to be profitable and grow the company.
So, we do care about monetization. It's just, this is more of a long-term, it's been nine years and the way I've been able to be passionate about it for nine years is I love helping the users and growing the audience. That's what's fun for me. That's what I'm passionate about. And that's why I think we can create the most long-term value.
So, if I knew what was only working on the platform for one more year, I would probably care a lot more about monetization and I would bake it more in and be more aggressive with it. But I think by not caring about monetization, you're building more long-term value because those users and those experiences that those positive experiences users are having. They're going to come back again and again and again. So, there'll be monetization opportunities there.
Obviously you're still making money regardless, enough to support a team of dozens of people and still be profitable while you're a fully bootstrapped.
Yeah. We've gotten to scale now. We've 30 million users, so we have considerable scale, but that gets back to the point where I said you have to really be passionate about what you're doing, because if we did care about monetization for the first few years, I would have quit because it wasn't making enough.
I want to grow our audience and help our users and go to different languages and make our platform a pillar of the web. None of that involves monetization. It just involves focus on the user and making this an awesome platform.
I sent out a Twitter poll, maybe a month or two ago, and I asked if it could only be one of these four things, which would you be? So, if you pick one, that means you just magically can't have the others. The options where you could be famous, rich, powerful, or influential, and the last one was free, nobody's going to tell you what to do. I assume you probably wouldn't pick rich. So, if the other three, which one would you rather have to the exclusion of the others?
Definitely not fame. I mean, I think fame, like people on our platform are famous, but my Instagram is private and people have millions of followers on our platform, but that's not, I want our platform to be famous, not myself.
I get searched all the time on Famous Birthdays, but I'm not on there. It’s not about me. It's about the platform. Power, I don't think is important. So, I definitely think freedom. I love working on the platform. I love that we have such a big audience. It's humbling to me.
One of the reasons why I focus so much is that we have such a big audience to serve. It's a big challenge. So, I think the freedom to not only work on what I enjoy but work on the specific aspects of what I enjoy within the platform. I think that's also another level to it. If I'm more passionate about a certain area of the platform, that might be a good thing for me to focus on because I'm going to give it my all.
Yeah, that was also the answer that I would have voted for if I could have voted for my own poll. But also, I think 50 something percent of people voted for free. And only 1% of people voted for fame, which is pretty fascinating for me. It's not that surprising, you know, it's definitely the least useful of all of those, but then you look at a website like yours, where it's just full of celebrities. It's just literally, how many celebrities do you have in your platform?
We have about 200,000 celebrities. And then as I mentioned, we have a ton of movies, TV shows, bands, web series, other type of content, but probably about 200,000 celebrities.
200,000 celebrities. You’ve got 30 million people a month coming to check out these celebrities, just basic stats about them and their birthday. So, there's something there, some sort of pull that fame has. People are attracted to it in some way, and yet they don't seem to want it, or they don't seem to want to admit they want it, even in an anonymous poll.
I think your social activity can tell if you in some sense, if you want it. Again, our platform has grown a lot from the digital stars. So, I do think that people care about growing their audience and growing their fame. I think the beauty of the web is that you can grow it in different ways, whether it be a singer or an actor, but now you can be good at, you know, TikTok dances, or you can be good on Twitter at short comedic lines or on Instagram might be for modeling. I think the internet gives a lot of opportunity for someone to try to grow a following via a lot of different formats.
Yeah. I have this theory after I tweeted that, where the reason why almost no one chose fame is in part because of my followers, they're indie hackers so they want to have freedom the same way that I do and the same way that almost all the guests on the show do.
But also, because I don't think anyone really just wants, like, what does fame mean? Fame just means a lot of people know who you are. You can be famous for something terrible, right? I think people more so want fame, times some other positive things they want fame times admiration. They want a lot of people to admire them or to respect them or to like them or to desire them or something. Maybe people would have voted for that, but I'm curious what your thoughts are. You run this platform that's literally got fame in the name. What do you think you see about fame that probably the average person doesn't see?
I think freedom. I think that one of the reasons why YouTubers are such a cool goal is that YouTube has done a great job to have a monetization program built into their platform.
A lot of the other platforms don't have that built in. So, if you can find fame on the platform, it can also lead to freedom because there could be monetization there. There's a lot of, in the last few months even, there's been a lot of companies and technologies that are building tools and raising money around the creator economy. I think that fame can translate into income, which can translate into freedom.
It's a thing you don't even want for its own sake. You only want it sort of to get you something else. If you're in your position, you're not like a creator, right? You're not on YouTube, on TikTok, your Instagram is anonymous, but you're building a platform that supports these creators, which I think is kind of the best place to be.
Again, I think getting back to my vision, my vision was Wikipedia for mobile. The whole creator space was shown to me by the users. I wasn’t on Myspace, as you asked. I didn't know about Musical.ly or Vine or Twitter or YouTube five years ago, but the users searching it showed us that there was a big interest.
One interesting thing I noticed back in 2014, there were these Vine stars with millions of followers and their email address was listed in their bio. But they weren't on Wikipedia. Whereas somebody with the speaking line in the movie was on Wikipedia and you couldn't even contact them; they had like two managers in front of them. So, the user showed us that there was this big gap between kind of what the public thought was famous versus where users had the passion.
Let’s get into that. I want to hear this, this backstory of you deciding to replace Wikipedia. I just listened to an interview with Jimmy Wales, actually, on Tyler Cowen's podcast.
He was talking, I think it came up very briefly, about how he didn't like the fact that Wikipedia was so poorly designed for mobile and that it could be better. This is something he was saying like a week or two ago, not five, six years ago, when you started Famous Birthdays, what did you see that caused you to start Famous Birthdays? What were the sort of first steps you took?
It was all about mobile. I saw that the mobile phone was going to be where people conserve content and media. So, I think that as an entrepreneur, even as a bootstrapped entrepreneur, if you ride a wave, you're going to not have people in front of you and be able to grow.
That's why people are growing on TikTok so much, they’re riding a wave. So, I thought that since mobile was going to be the next thing, nobody could be ahead of us in mobile cause it was just getting going. Wikipedia, I felt when you pulled up a phone was just too much. And I think that when you're on the go, you want it to be informative, but to be concise.
If you look at our content, it's split up in five sections about, before fame, trivia, family, and associated with; kind of five general topics that we could drill into with a quick two sentences on each in just a nice, organized format. To me, I thought it was exciting that our experience could be better than these huge staples of the web.
When I say staple of the web, that's been a real motivation factor for me, is to create something that's a pillar of the internet. That's one of the reasons I focus so much because you know, when Cloudflare, AWS goes down, there's always a Tech Crunch article that says Reddit and ESPN.com and Wikipedia are down. And I always want it to be Famous Birthdays to kind of organically mentioned as it goes down, like it's a pillar of the web. And I think that with each passing year, Famous Birthdays becomes that when it goes down, it's going to matter.
So this is so story's fascinating to me because I think there are a lot of these pillars. I mean, there's Google, there is Wikipedia. Most entrepreneurs aren't trying to take them on. Most entrepreneurs are like, you know what? Wikipedia is huge. It's been here for a couple of decades. I don't care if they don't have mobile, they're going to get engineers on mobile any second now, there's no way I'm going to catch up and become a better mobile Wikipedia before Wikipedia becomes a better mobile Wikipedia. What was going through your head when you decided to start this?
I wasn't going to take it on and I love Wikipedia and it's amazing what they've done. I think that it's almost like it's a different lane that we're going in. So, my initial vision was just Cliff Notes for that.
We were just a resource. When we had Tom Hanks and Kobe Bryant on the platform and LeBron James and Taylor Swift and Beyonce, that was just a resource cause those celebrities were on IMDB and Wikipedia. The internal searches have always been our North Star and early on we built technology to analyze those searches.
That's when I saw Nash Rear and Cameron Dallas who were two early big Vine stars. I saw them being searched on our platform. At first, I thought we were being spammed or something cause I didn't know who these people were. I think when I initially launched it, I didn't realize the lane that was going to be there.
Then I went to VidCon in 2014 and I saw a mob of screaming teens around Ricky Dillon, who was a Vine star. I went home and I saw he wasn't on Wikipedia. I saw just in Anaheim, California, there was probably 500 screaming fans for him so passionate to get a picture, but he wasn't on Wikipedia.
Anaheim is a very small population compared to the whole country or globe. So, I didn't try to take it on. I just saw that that was a huge gap. In the internal searches, the more times that we add it to our platform what was being searched by the internal search in, the more we grew and the users kept showing us that loop; here's more people to add, and more and more and more.
So, again, it wasn't division. I didn't think it would get as big as it did, but the internal searches allowed us to be the source versus a resource because we directly reach out to those Vine stars and said, send us your bio, send us your headshot cause they weren't on Wikipedia so we needed them to help us get the profile going.
So I wanna know about these real early days, the very nitty gritty, on the ground details of getting this started. Cause it took you a while. I think you started the site in 2012. It took you a while to, to latch onto like, Oh wow, look at all these creators who aren't on Wikipedia. We don't need to be the mobile Wikipedia. We can be kind of the, mobile, what's happening now, platform. How did you start? What's the first thing you did? Who was we, who you're working with in the early days?
I initially was working with our programmer and one or two content writers. I think that initially it was a domain that the Famous Birthdays, I purchased it from someone else who had a 10-page hobby site or just listed the birthdays for each month. One thing I did is I actually contacted, maybe two years into it once I saw how much Famous Birthdays was growing, I contacted the old domain owner cause we were getting profiled and by some article and I said, “Hey, I'm calling myself the founder of Famous Birthdays.
Do you feel that's okay?”
And he said, “I own Famous Birthdays.com. It was a 12-page site. I never could have built what you built. So, you are the founder of Famous Birthdays.” So that was a cool exchange. It was a teacher in Ohio that I had a fun relationship with based on it.
It was basically a 12-page shell website that just listed birthdays by the month, but what we started to do, me and the programmer and the two content writers, is started to build out profiles for all the celebrities’ birthdays for each month of the year.
You can go back on the way back machine, which is a great tool and you can see how Famous Birthdays looked in 2012, 2014, 2015… I thought in 2015, it was the greatest site ever and now if I look at it, I'm like, “Whoa.”
So, I think one thing I did is I, I never planned, I just kept making it better each month. Like, “Oh, let's add this. Let's make the search better. Let's have a sticky header there. So, when you scroll the search box and the logo is always there. Let's make it faster. You know, let's profile bands and TV shows, you know, let's add a boost button. So, when you get to celebrities profile, but you can click boost to help their ranking.”
It was every month; it got a little better. I never held anything back for a big launch. You know, it's funny with iOS, you have to release an update. The web doesn't work like that. So, it was really like a project that we improvise as we went and we just slowly made it better and better without a plan about what it's going to look like six months from now.
Then, the traffic growth was very, very, you know, you always see these social platforms that grow overnight from a million users to a hundred million and that's amazing. But for us, it was like 3% a month for nine years. So, to me, it's a very healthy growth because we just never had the hockey stick growth. We just slowly grew as our platform grew.
What was your vision? If you weren't making plans, you weren't like we're going to be this huge social network going to take over the world, but you're still investing money in this. I spent, I think $2,000 to buy the domain name for Indie Hackers because I had a big enough vision where I was like, this has gotta be worth me spending this money. And unlike you, I'm not still in touch with the guy who sold me that domain name. I have no idea where he lives, but every dollar I invested, I was like, here's how I'm gonna get that dollar back out.
You spent seemingly way more money than I did. You bought the domain, unlike Indie Hackers, the person was already doing something with it, so like they were actually selling you something. They weren't just a squatter. You had a content creator, you had a software engineer, were you full-time on this yourself?
I was, and one thing I wanted to do was have one project. I'm all about focus and it's been nine years on this. Before I had like eight or nine websites I was working on and everything was kind of flat. So, I wanted to have one site that was my entire focus, but we only had one programmer and we had an intern from UCLA, so very efficient.
We had some ad revenue from the traffic that started to grow. I thought we got to like two, 3 million users, I was happy about that and we were making a solid amount of revenue to pay for the team that a small team, but as it kept growing, one thing I did was reinvest. Every time it grew a little bit, we got a few more people on it and that entire focus was on the user and on the audience.
When entrepreneurs asked me, should I focus on monetization or audience? It's not even a question. Audience, audience, audience. There's a lot of tools on the web for a lot of stuff, especially now. You can use Shopify for e-commerce. You can use all these cloud hosting providers, there's RSS there's so many ways to do things efficiently. There's libraries you can use for APIs. What you can't library into is audience.
always just did everything I could to make the platform awesome for the user. That was a discipline that I still have today. My model for doing that was the internal search. So, even though the revenue wasn't that high in 2014, when I saw people searching for stuff that they wanted to learn more about that you couldn't find more about on the web, I knew that my users could be served and that got me going every day.
This is another trend that's happening right now that a lot of people aren't quite aware of, but it's kind of crazy how it works, where pretty much anyone can be famous nowadays or at least a lot more people than could be famous I don't know, 80 years ago. Eighty years ago, you had to be a famous Hollywood actor or an actress. There's like, a hundred really famous people on Earth, and that was it. Everybody else had to just watch them on TV at the movie theaters and that's basically it.
Whereas today, you can have like 20,000 followers on Instagram or create a cool meme account on Twitter. You can have a bunch of people who love you and who are obsessed with you and who worship the ground you walk on and you walk around outside and no one even knows who you are. There's millions of people who presumably are like this and I don't think that trend is going to end any time soon.
It seems like Famous Birthdays came around like right at the cusp of this. You’ve sort of ridden this wave of all these people who are famous online but who aren't prestigious enough or accomplished enough to warrant a page on a site like Wikipedia.
Definitely, and I think if you look at someone like Taylor Swift or Beyonce, they might have a hundred million followers, but they'll get 1% engagement. They go very wide, but the social star goes very deep. They might only have a hundred thousand followers, or 50,000, but their followers are really passionate about them because social media is a platform where it's more of a one-to-one communication and there's no barrier to entry to get on a social platform, and there are so many social platforms.
I think one misconception was, I remember when someone asked me about Snapchat two years ago, “Are they going to beat Twitter or is Instagram going to eat them?” No, it doesn't have to be one winner.
People have Instagram and TikTok and Snapchat and YouTube and Twitch, and that's what they do. It's not like they pick one social network over the other. They could have four or five that hey engage on. So, there's just so much opportunity for creators.
If you look at TikTok, another interesting phenomenon is that it's only 15 second videos. If you think about YouTube, it might be a four-minute video. So, you can watch 16 TikToks in the time you can watch one YouTube. You can become fans of many, many, many different craters on TikTok.
There's a lot of appetite because the app makes content so digestible. So yeah, to your point, fame is definitely becoming very, very accessible and it's not easy. For every one person with a hundred thousand followers, there's many who never got to 5,000, but there are a lot of people growing on these different platforms and really connecting deeply with their fans.
So tell me about this phase, where you go from, I'm looking at the internal searches. People are searching for all of these online celebrities who don't have Wikipedia pages to the point where you are at now, where Famous Birthdays is almost like an institution among a lot of these people.
We are definitely part of culture now. I noticed that a lot of creators’ link in bio is their Famous Birthdays profile, which just happens organically. A lot of creators when they get on Famous Birthdays, it's a badge of honor, they emote about it.
It didn't happen overnight. I don't remember, there wasn't one aha super bowl moment where it was like, it's there. It just slowly happened. Enough creators emoted about it. Enough users came to our platform. You know, we get tons of emails every day of people trying to get on Famous Birthdays. We've been very, even though we have 200,000 celebrities, it's still hard to make it on the platform.
We're not Wikipedia and that anybody can add themselves. For every one person we add, there's 10 other people we could that we don't based on factors. I think the focus, my focus on the user, our platform is super-fast. It's easy to use. Ours internal search engine is now searched 900,000 times a day, which gives us a ton of insights.
It's all anonymized; users don't log in to use our site. But we can see what searched and what searches are missed. So, I think, to your point to social platforms have really grown, that is another way that we rode on via the internal searches.
I don't have a day where like maybe a year and a half ago, we had 20 million users at that time, I was like, this is awesome. Maybe a year before that it was 10 million. It was a very healthy 3% per month growth for the last nine years. So, I don't have like a one moment where it was like, wow, we got a Justin Bieber shout out, and now we made it. It was just a slow and steady build until we became part of culture.
I will say that VidCon has always been an interesting experience because VidCon was an hour away from where I live and work. We're based in Santa Monica. Every year we would go to VidCon, which is basically the conference for video and social media. We would wear our Famous Birthdays t-shirts and I think in 2014, 1% of the attendees knew about us in 2015, 3%, by the last VidCon, 95% of the attendees knew us. Literally, 95%.
That's something that you can't pay for and you can't kind of orchestrate it. It just happened via hard work and via focus because the reason users knew us is because we kept being good at the same thing over and over again. So, I guess that's my best answer to it is we spent so much time being consistent where users eventually knew, okay, this is what this site does and it’s awesome.
I want to dive into how that works exactly. Because one of the things that I've noticed interviewing so many founders is that websites are a little bit like icebergs, where from the outside looking in, you're like, there's not a whole lot going on here, but from the inside, there's a ridiculous amount going on.
So, when I'm browsing around on Famous Birthdays, it's like, okay, you've got as you said, kind of an abridged Wikipedia-like page for everybody. You've got the search engine, which is searched an outrageous, almost a million times a day, and use that data - who are people searching for - and you go and build pages for people on the site.
How else has the site changed? Is that basically the entire formula behind how this works? Or what do you spend your time doing? What do your engineers spend their time doing?
We also those searches also help with our ranking. We have a proprietary ranking system based on different factors, one being searches. We also have the boost button on the site, so our users rank everybody. We're not involved; we’re agnostic.
If you on Famous Birthdays search TikTok, you'll see the most popular TikTok stars ranked by our users. If you search Gemini, you'll see the most popular Geminis ranked by our users. If you search, May 12th, you'll see the most popular May 12th birthday's ranked by our users. So that's one thing going on is a ranking.
We have an image gallery. We've secured rights and cut over a half a million images for our platform. Again, a lot of it is repetitive hard work to build the platform. But if you go to a celebrity, you'll see 10 photos, we've secured the rights and then manually cut those into our format.
We also have things like the randomizer, so you can randomly find a celebrity. We added trivia last year, so we take all of our data and we have different formats for trivia, which is fun.
As I mentioned we see the searches. People started searching three years ago for bands. And I was very against that. No, no, no. We have to be about the core, but that was an area where I evolved. You'll even have pets on the site because people search pets, which I was against also. But if they're searching for it, they're on there.
People now search colleges. If you search a college - University of Michigan - you'll learn about the college and see past and present attendees that are on our platform. So, we just make sure that we analyze what users want and then build a good experience around it.
We've built technology about related. So, if you're on a celebrity, we'll show you four related celebrities based on our technology. I guess we kind of slowly add different elements to create an awesome experience and speed. I think speed is something, that's my number one priority.
I'm okay saying this, that my CTO gets very frustrated with me because I keep wanting to do more and I think the thing about speed with a website is every little thing on its own. Does it make a difference? When you add up 400 little things, it does. So, we've spent a lot of time and effort making sure that our platform is as fast as it can be. And that's something that, to your point on the outside, doesn't seem like a lot, but we really prioritize that.
Yeah. That's one of those behind-the-scenes things you don't really appreciate, but it takes a lot of time to make a website fast. The benefits are pretty numerous, especially if you are getting a lot of your traffic from Google, it's one of the essential primary ranking factors that Google cares about is how fast does your site load?
Because they don't want to send people, especially on mobile, to a really slow website.
I'd have to imagine, for what you're doing, your users don't have accounts. They're not leaving comments on here. It's kind of you come here, you get what you want. You search, you find, you read, and then you leave experience, which is very different than most other sort of modern social platforms and B2C companies are trying to do.
You’re not trying to remember everybody's information and lock them in. You're trying to just be a useful resource, which probably means that the vast majority of them are coming back not because they're addicted to some sort of feed or some sort of frequent updates they're coming back because they do a search on Google or there's something where they just want to find out the information that they need.
Our direct traffic has grown month over month for the last five years. Our app has grown the map. I think more than half of our page views come from users who visit more than nine times a month. I think that just like Wikipedia, it's just, you just know to go there when you want to learn something about something.
So, I think that's what we've solved for, and to your point, we're not trying to be a social network and that's not our vision and not a lot of other amazing companies are going to do that. We're going to be kind of the layer beneath that, where people want to learn. For instance, there's a new social network called Dubsmash that was just acquired by Reddit two weeks ago. But if you search Dubsmash on our platform, you'll learn more about Dubsmash stars.
We're not trying to use our scale and brand to change our course. We're just trying to do it better. That focus is how in user's minds, they know what they're going to get when they come here. And that's why they come back.
During all of this, you're basically saying no to a lot of stuff, because you're going to obviously be allowing your users to create accounts and putting social features on there and trying to increase engagement and trying to sell ads to personalized based on people's accounts, et cetera, et cetera. What kind of things are, what's your goal, basically? What do you want this to be in five or 10 years?
The goal in five or 10 years is for, in the internet, I've always said internet years are like dog years, so five or 10 years is very far out. But I want to focus on the vision and you know, those 900,000 daily miss searches, I mean the daily searches, about 10% are missed. So, every day there's 90,000 searches on our platform that aren't a match.
Now, some of that isn't relevant. It might just be, I love you. Or they might search themselves or so forth, but a lot of those searches are opportunities for us to help the user. So, I just want to keep focusing on that and stay on that path and see where it takes us.
One big thing we're doing to grow and to help users more is launching in different languages. We launched in Spanish two years ago, and that was the first time we ever internationalized from another language.
About two years after, once we passed 5 million users on Spanish, we decided to do Portuguese, which launched two months ago. The Portuguese platform already has low six figure monthly users. In 2021, we're going to do German in Q1 and see where that goes. I like the languages because it's very native to what Famous Birthdays is, same experience, same vision, just in that local language.
The cool thing is we can see the searches in those languages, so the rankings and who gets profiled is based on what the users want in those specific languages. I can look at missed search data in Spanish or in Portuguese to see where those platforms need to go.
I do think that as the creator economy grows, as everything goes digital, as mobile grows, there's gonna be more and more opportunity for us to help users get what they want.
There's a good quote about being wise that says, I don't want what I don't have. I want more of what I do have. That seems like the approach that you're taking, right? You don't want a whole bunch of different things. You want more people doing the same thing on your website, but in different languages and with better search results. And just carry on and do that for basically forever.
I didn't think this was going to get to 30 million users. I didn’t think it was going to get to 5 million. So, I remind myself that it's bigger than I thought it would get so I want to double down on it and make sure that I don't take my eye off the ball.
There are many other great ideas that the team or people in entrepreneurs or other people I respect have suggested and internationalization was one that we went with, but there's many that we don't, because I think it would take us too far off path and all that. Let somebody else do that and do it well.
All right. You're pretty set on what you're going to do. You're constantly encountering these ideas that you're saying no to you, which is really the heart of focus, right? Focus is not some vague word. You have to literally say no to things that sound like good ideas. What are some ideas that you've come across while you're working on Famous Birthdays? You think other like indie hackers might be able to run with or, or work on someday?
There’s ideas that are good for our business, or just other cool ideas like ways of thinking about things.
I think there's a lot of opportunity for entrepreneurs to build an audience and community on the web. I think that part of the key is to find a niche that hasn't been explored versus trying to do something better that's already done.
If you look at what Yelp is doing for restaurant listings and professional listings, they're doing a great job, but I've noticed all these food trucks that are all growing very much. There could be a Yelp for food trucks. Or a lot of blogs write about what's happening on social media, but maybe attack a publication that really talked about what's happening in the comments on social media and what's breaking there.
Another good example could be with Cameo. That's a platform that's growing a lot and they're doing a great job focusing on the vision. I think entrepreneurs could create a new site about Cameo, just about the community, talking about different stats of what's going on in the platform or news, what's happening, maybe funny stories or funny Cameos that happen. There's a lot happening on the platform that people are talking about. So being that central platform where people talk about it and you could grow community from there.
It’s funny, last week I saw a new website launch called Pod Page, which basically is a WordPress for podcasters. So, you can build a podcast website in five minutes. So instead of that entrepreneur trying to redo WordPress, he just focused on a WordPress for podcasters and by doing that, he can offer specific tools that will help a podcaster build out a web presence for what business that they're in. He can go really deep by helping podcasters show guests, have links to episodes, build an email list, show stats and rankings potentially.
I think that if you find something that's growing and really good deep within that niche, you can slowly build an audience and a community and the platform. I'm not doing it, so I encourage, I would love to see a food truck platform or more information about social media comments or just really getting Cameo stats and figures and fun stories.
I think if you just focus on the platform as the web grows and as a digital generation grows, not only will your traffic grow, but your traffic will grow in a passionate way, which is I think always key. That's probably why Indie Hackers has done so well, is that people care about it and know it. If Indie Hackers went down, there would be real pain for people. I think that only happens when you go really, really deep into a niche.
In a way you are doing this with Famous Birthdays because I mean, the pattern here is you figure out kind of one big thing that people really care about and that's actually very popular and it's kind of de-risked because there's proof that people care about it.
A lot of people are already searching for food on Yelp. They're searching for information and research on Wikipedia. They're searching for how to make websites on these big website builders. Then you figure out some real small subset of that, that you can niche down into.
So, in your case, people need to do research on Wikipedia, but what do they need to do research on kind of like the celebrities and the more up-to-date digital famous people, rather than kind of the old stodgy celebrities online. The food truck idea is you want to search for food, but what's one small niche within searching for food. Or the websites for podcasters, you want to make a website, what's one small niche within making websites? All of this works because the broader circle, that really big thing, you're finding a niche within is big enough that you can carve out a niche and still build something really big.
You can also take advantage of growth, which is also key.
I think, for an entrepreneur, can you ride a wave?
I think that Cameo is really growing, food trucks have really grown, podcasts are really growing. I think it is important that you, social media is growing, so my comment thought, so I also think that entrepreneurs, the great thing about riding a wave is no one will be ahead of you.
TikTok just launched a year and a half ago, whenever it was, so no one can be ahead of somebody that far if they got into that niche. Cameo just really took off; has really grown in the past year, has really grown. I think if you can get into a niche that grows, maybe you do a website about Zoom, like funny Zoom stories, or maybe a platform that talks about technology on Zoom, because I know Zoom is launching an app store, so maybe you just analyze what apps are being built for virtual video and you just really build a platform that helps people learn about that.
If you can get in where into the wave early, as the wave grows, your niche will grow. Then you'll be in the expert of something that's more relevant, which is kind of what happened with us. The mobile wave and then the social wave really grew. Like I mentioned, our mobile website was a huge focus back in 2013, 2014. So, we had an also mobile website, right, as the mobile web took off.
Then when we started focusing on now, the beauty is our search data let us know about what wave is happening so that I didn't have to know about social media. The search data can also clue you into that in terms of where's the wave headed. So, you just have to take that by the storm and ride it.
Yeah. You can have this perfect combo where the fact that mobile was growing and the kinds of people who care more about using their phones also happened to be the kinds of people who are really big on Instagram and TikTok and all these new digital celebrities you weren't showing up on Wikipedia. So, it was like you're smack dab in the middle of like both of those trends.
Definitely. And I also think since we were mobile first, I always felt it's important to be informative and be concise. I think on desktop, you don't think about concise. I always tell my team, a designer or an ender, when they send me something, they send me a desktop version because that's what they work on.
That's always important to remember, everyone accesses our platform on mobile. I don't want to see how something looks on desktop because that's not where the majority is and not where it's growing the most. I think that by focusing on mobile and being concise and informative, not only did we focus on the information they wanted, but it was in a format on a platform that they wanted it in.
I think that's where my UX focus really paid off because just being on the right wave isn't all that matters. You also need to focus on the user as well. You need to marry it with that. If you build a food truck platform, you can be the first one, but if it's a poor mobile experience with a ton of ads and a ton of bugs, then you're not going to scale. You have to combine it with that.
You mentioned Cameo. I want to put you on the spot here and ask what you think about it because they're another big player in the celebrity space. The way it works is they've got, I don't know how many thousands of celebrities on their site and anybody can just go find your favorite celebrity if they're on there and then just pay them 50 bucks or a hundred bucks or whatever they charge to record a video message wishing your mom happy birthday or wishing your friends happy anniversary or something. What do you think about Cameo? What are your thoughts?
I know the founder and I'm impressed. I heard a podcast with him earlier on and he was very focused about this is our lane. I love that they're so focused on helping celebrities monetize their time via having fans engage. I love the model and I think that it suits well for the digital generation where everyone is kind of spread out and digital, working from home, that's been a perfect gift to give out or a way to engage.
I saw Facebook two weeks ago, said they're going to launch Super, which is kind of their version of it. But I think that the Cameo team is so focused on their niche that they're going to do great. I think it's also great for creators and celebrities because there's the number one guy was the guy from “The Office.” It wasn't the main actor, Brian, whoever wants to, he made over a million dollars. He wasn't the lead character, but a lot of celebrities do have communities and passion behind them.
Like I mentioned earlier, going wide is one thing, but going deep is what social stars can do. I think when you go deep, people are going to be willing to pay 50, a hundred, 200 dollars for a video to send to their friend from you.
So, I think it's a great model. I think their focus is great. They've built a brand. I think that's why brand matters so much. Famous Birthdays, if you're not one of our users or are in the industry, you might not know. But if you are a user, when celebrities say boost me on Famous Birthdays or I'm on Famous Birthdays, I used to be like, “Oh, I wish they posted a link on that tweet.”
Now I don't care. I think it's actually better that they don't sometimes because everyone comments, everyone just knows it's more organic. People know the brand. That's what Cameo has done for what they do, is they've built a brand that when you hear it, you know what it is. They've also focused and they have a good UX and they are trying to extend. They raised a lot of money, so they're extending in different areas, but it's all endemic to their main model. So, I think it’s a great company.
Yeah. And I just think it's a really, really fun business. It’s in your space, and I want to talk about some of these other ideas that you could be doing that you're not doing. You could arguably be doing Cameo; you have all these celebs on your platform. I think it's fascinating to me because a lot of the ideas you could be doing would be very hard for me to say no to, they just seem like too much fun or too promising.
You mentioned news, merchandise, influencer marketing, selling ads. You could have done any of that kind of stuff. Let's talk about news, news is a huge one. People, in my opinion, really sleep on news that has kind of like a bad rap. The tech industry, because everyone's always talked about how blogosphere has really killed news. It hasn't. The biggest media companies in the world are all reporting news. They have way more traffic than pretty much any blog or any individual creator; they're crushing it. They’ve sort of proven that you can scale news by basically hiring a team of journalists. You're going to put out a ridiculous amount of content that's always fresh and that's probably more viral than any other kind of content.
Your whole platform is all about basically these little celebrities, some cases, really huge celebrities who have tons of stuff going on. You even have like these rankings, you've got a trending section where you're saying here are the people who were recently blown up, which is in a way kind of like news.
Why not just go for news? Why not augment that with actual content, hire some journalists, allow users to update, events, et cetera, because there's just something super fascinating about news that keeps people coming back.
We've thought about it. Never say never, but it's definitely not something we're considering.
I think it's good to look at it from a lens of that decision versus something. There's always an opportunity cost. So, if we were doing news, we might not be doing Famous Birthdays in German, which I'm excited about, but in terms of news, there's multiple reasons.
One being news isn't evergreen. The beauty of Famous Birthdays is that on Christmas, if no one's working, the platform's going to be just as relevant as it was a week before. Whereas with news, you need to have that every day. Also, I think for gen Z, which is where we're growing a lot, they get their news on social platforms. That's already solved, but I also think maybe one of the main points, just our brand. We’re agnostic, we’re Wikipedia, we're fact-based. We're not opinion-based and celebrities emote and share their Famous Birthdays profile and love getting on there.
Sometimes in news you have to kind of write stories that aren't as favorable to somebody. So, that could have, that's another example. If you don't focus, then you could end up hurting the main business. I think with news, we may end up writing articles that an influencer who used to brag about their Famous Birthday profile might not.
So just a variety of, and I think also if we did news, like I mentioned, we wouldn't be focused on the ball. Like I mentioned, our internal search engine dismisses 90,000 times a day, and they're not searching for news. They're searching for new TikTokers, a new Netflix show, a Twitch streamer, and they want to learn more about them. And that streamer might have 500,000 followers or that Disney+ show might be really popular. So that's serving the 30 million users we already have to make what we're doing better. If we start to do something else, I don't think we'd be able to do that as well.
What’s happens when you get to the end of all of your goals?
Let's say your search engine is legit, it's to the point where fewer than 1% of searches are missed. You've got an amazing system in place where when you are missing searches, you get a bio page created almost instantaneously. You're in every language known to man. You're at the point where your site is growing and it's growing organically. There isn't some magic bullet you can shoot to make you grow much faster.
What do you do? Do you rest on your laurels? Do you innovate and try to do some, move into some sort of different pond?
I think 15% of all Google searches have never been searched before. So, I just don't see that happening, frankly. The ball's always going to be moving and we're, our job is to make sure that we're on top of it to give users what they want.
Wikipedia needs to continue to produce more content and help their users for what they want. And so will Famous Birthdays. I'm still passionate about it. Like I said, I did not think the site would get this big and it did. So, I feel very motivated to make sure I'm doubling down to make it as best as it can be.
I can't talk about in five years. Who knows, but in March will be our ninth-year birthday and I'm not slowing down. I think that we're about to launch our fourth language in February. There's a lot of more languages.
The last thing I'll say is the beauty of the internal searches, there's always new stuff right now. People are doing these TikTok collab houses. People are searching that so people want to learn more about that. We can serve that user. Disney+ wasn't around, but now people want to know about Disney+ exclusive movies. There's always going to be more searches than we can answer. To me, that's exciting.
Yeah, I love that. It's so cool the comparison to Wikipedia because you're a hundred percent right. They are kind of an institution and nobody's asking how’s Wikipedia gonna change? When is Wikipedia gonna add stories? Twitter got stories, where's Wikipedia stories?
Tt's not even a question. No, this is what Wikipedia does. It's this very useful tool and resource. It does one particular thing really well. They don't ever have to change what they do. They could just keep doing that. It's funny.
I actually spoke, I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and I spoke on Zoom to 30 entrepreneurs students a month ago, which was great.
I told the story, I answered questions. I really enjoyed it. One question I had was: what mistakes have you made?
I'm sure you've made many mistakes, but obviously the platform’s had a lot of success. What my answer was was interesting. These other ideas that we've talked about, news, merchant, influencer marketing, selling ads, I've probably spent 10% of my time just learning about it or considering it or starting to do it and we never did.
So, even though I'd been so focused, the mistake I gave was that 10% of time. Because that was me looking into other stuff where I could have been focused on the main platform. Focus has helped us so much that, and I'm very focused, but I wish I would have even been more cause that's that that's helped us get to where we are.
Well, the good thing about being so insanely focused on one thing is that it's really hard for somebody to catch up to you. Let's say you do 12 different things. You add stories, you add user accounts, you add merch, et cetera. Pretty soon, I'm sure you probably already have copycat platforms out there, but pretty soon, one of your copycat platforms is going to catch up to you on the main thing that provides your value. But, if you focus sort of maniacally on that one thing, yeah, maybe you're not doing 15 other things, but your traffic is so huge and you just run so far in your one lane that I have to imagine it's super discouraging for anyone who's trying to catch up to you. You're not getting distracted and doing stuff that lets them catch up.
Exactly. We've built software around very, very unique things related to exactly what we do. Missed search is one of them. We've built so much technology around how to analyze that. Or, in terms of different things we notice about celebrities on our platform. We have a pencil on every page. We get thousands of submissions a day of users submitting updates, or potential errors or corrections. We manually review all of those.
To your point, by being so focused and doing it for so long also, it's not just that focus that we've done it for so long. You know, we've had this focus for nine years now, so it does make me feel more comfortable to, I'm not, not sharing our story cause I'm concerned someone else is going to go do it.
Yeah. There's I think a lot about platforms and the people who are creating the platforms and also the people who are sort of competing to be the best.
If you are a creator on YouTube, if you're trying to grow your Twitter account, if you’re trying to grow your Twitch account, you're trying to grow your Etsy account, it's really tough because these platforms sort of force you into competition with everybody else. It's very difficult to differentiate yourself because ultimately, your Patreon page is going to look very similar to everybody else's Patreon page. If you're going to be the best gamer on a game and Twitch, you're kind of locked into this zero-sum competition where only a few people can be on the top page of this game and Twitch.
But, if you're doing what you're doing, you're kind of owning the platform. I hesitate to call Famous Birthdays a platform because it's not really without user accounts, but you're sort of creating something where you can differentiate and be completely different than everybody else.
I think that's the power that every indie hacker has who's able to create their own website and not sort of compete for status or attention or eyeballs on any of these platforms. You're not locked into eternal competition. Then you've gone almost a step further where, because you refuse to play the same games with all these other big platforms ass websites are playing, you're not even in competition with them.
None of them are trying to do what you're trying to do. You're not trying to do what they're trying to do. You're just your own sort of unique thing. I think there's a certain peace and calm in being so focused and obviously it's led to pretty outsized results. I think you're a pretty good case study of what you can achieve when you consistently say no to almost everything maniacally focused on one single thing.
I think another good example, I see websites or brands or even individuals have seven social networks. Follow me on LinkedIn on Pinterest and Instagram, Twitter, or Twitch.
We only had Twitter for several years and once we got to a few hundred thousand followers, then we switched somewhere else. So, I think even having focus on one social platform is a good idea. It doesn't make sense to have six social channels in your footer that just get random updates every now and then versus just having one which you really put great content on. that way those users would get a good experience there.
You didn't even just only focus on one social network or the one sort of niche, but you focus on one particular fact of all the facts, which is birthdays. It's called, it's literally in your name, Famous Birthdays. Your homepage is today's birthdays and you do have a page for almost everybody, but you're primarily focusing on the birthday. What's the deal with that? Why zoom in only on birthdays? Is it literally because that's the name of the domain you bought?
Birthdays, it's a fun theme. We're famous. Now look, if you look at Wikipedia on the homepage, since we're not in the news business, it's hard to have fresh content on the homepage, but birthdays is a light, fun way to have new content on the homepage.
Birthdays is good for social. So, it's been a good theme for us to help try to get some real-time engagement, but it's definitely just one fact. It happens to be one of the most relevant facts people care about, but it's one of a hundred facts that we might have on a profile. It's just our theme and it's fun, but we're not a birthday site.
I think that outside of our niche, people might think that we're just a birthday site, which is okay, but the users that love us, they think of us like they might think of a Wikipedia. Ehen a celebrity says boost me on Famous Birthdays, they don't need to respond with a link. Everybody knows what they mean. It's just part of our brand and our culture, and it's a fun theme, but it's not our focus.
Yeah. I'm thinking about some of the different ways that you are part of the culture. That boost button is super fascinating because in a way one could argue that the most accurate thing you could do is go scrape Twitch or TikTok or something and try to programmatically find out who the best people are and have that be the core of your rankings.
But if you do that, and there's no real reason for anyone to come like boost someone on your site. It kind of removes you from a relevancy, right? So, instead you create your own ranking system, which is based on people coming to your website, clicking this little pink button, which you can do without an account. Anybody can do this. Now social media stars have a massive incentive, if they want to be at the top of Famous Birthdays where they’re gonna get a lot of traffic, to tell their fans basically to go check you out.
Yeah, and there’s other factors. We have searches and in terms of looking at relevance, that's important too. Cause we don't look, as a bootstrapped founder, you have to fight, we've had to fight for a lot of stuff, whether it be getting press or getting verified on a social platform or getting into an ad network.
Another way is we don't have any third-party APIs. So, we don't have access to Instagram or Twitter or TikTok’s third party API, which actually helps us because our rankings are based on agnostic user behavior on our platform. So, somebody might be good on TikTok at getting engagement, but they might not have the fandom. Or there might be somebody who's not even on social media but is in some new Netflix show that people really care about. So, our rankings are amazing in that it's totally dependent on the 30 million users and we've seen people rank high on our site that maybe you're on a new social network that no one's heard of that's growing now, or maybe is in some band that happens to now be opening up for some other bigger band.
We're very agnostic and we don't have that concern of, Oh, I hope TikTok doesn't shut us off because our rankings are based on our own activity, which is very liberating and allows us to move fast. So, if there's a new social network that pops up, our users are going to tell us about it. We don't have to go do biz dev with that network.
I think about the speed of your growth. Even talking about growing 3% a month for nine years. You're at the point now where you're probably making a substantial amount of money, you've got 20, 30 employees, you're profitable. You're not worrying about your next meal is going to come from. Do you think about growing faster? Have you ever thought about raising money, doing something to sort of accelerate how fast you grow or do you want to stay bootstrapper forever?
I want to grow healthy. I want to make sure that we're profitable and that we don't lose track of what users know us for. We've been able to launch in different languages within our model. I think that we could go more of a Wikipedia route where anybody can profile themselves, which might make it grow faster because then we'll have pages for me and you even, but yeah, I don't have the motivation to try to put any more lighter fluid or to inflate it because we do have significant scale.
We’re probably top 900 site in the US; that's all organic. I wish of these similar webs or comScore's would rank sites by organic. Cause if they were, I think we might be top a hundred, probably definitely top 250. So, we do have tremendous scale and we're continuing to grow, so there's not a burning desire for me to do something that having more money would solve.
On the other side, having more money might end up making me not have the business be profitable, or maybe focusing more on the enterprise value of having like a pro version or doing something that's not within our core.
This is almost like a very philosophical sort of question I'm trying to get at the heart over here, which is what do you want out of life, right? You don't want fame; you already have freedom. It seems like you're an incredibly free guy. I assume that like your average day, no, one's really telling you what to do. Maybe every now and then you gotta put out fires, but probably not cause you've got a big enough team where people are probably experts at everything.
Probably have enough money. You've got maybe not traditional power, but you've got influence in the space where people actually see you as part of the culture for a lot of these gen Z influencers and video stars. What do you want besides that? Why do you want your platform to be big? Why do you want to do any of this?
I'd say two things. One is it's fun. I love user experience. I love the web. It's been awesome. The growing audience is big. Like I mentioned, I would love to be in that Tech Crunch article that Reddit, Wikipedia, and Famous Birthdays are down, which is a big goal, but that's being a pillar of the web.
I'm still enjoying it. I'm passionate about user. I don't care necessarily about the celebrity aspect as much as I do about the UX. It's still a good fun challenge. Other languages have been a great challenge. I'd never done that before. I'm excited to go into German and see what the rankings are on in that language and so forth.
I think the other thing is I do have a chip on my shoulder. I think when you bootstrap, you get laughed at. I remember when I first to VidCon, people laughed at Famous Birthdays. I never take it personal and I never hold a grudge, but it's motivating. We’ve been denied. I'm very humbled and thankful that you got me on the podcast cause it's hard to get recognition and notoriety and that motivates me.
One story I remember I went to a conference and I met an executive. I LinkedIn him, and then I went to SXSW, and I saw that person was going there. So, I said, we should meet up. We scheduled a two o'clock time to meet. At that time, I didn't have any money. I was staying like an hour outside of Austin at a motel. I drove in through the rain to go meet this individual and they never showed up for the meeting. Then at 2:05, I got a text message that said, “Hey, I had to do something. If you see me on the street, feel free to say hi.”
I actually taped that person's business card to my wall in my office just to motivate me. The funny thing is about a year ago that person lost their job, got intro’ed to me and interviewed to help work at our company. I, of course didn't mention it, and he was totally respectful and very smart. It wasn't a fit cause I don't really hired like executives like that. So, I didn't hire the person because of what happened or not, but my point is that I think that as an entrepreneur, I still want more recognition for our platform and some people still do think it's a joke and I still get denied for certain things that I want to.
So that pushes me to keep going. That’s kind of, when I combine that with the fun, I'm still very motivated to go and to see if we can get to 50 million users or maybe a hundred million users. That's a good challenge. So, we'll see.
Well, listen, I would bet on you getting there and I think most people listening to this would bet on you're getting there, too. Based on your experiences, these nine years in the trenches running Famous Birthdays, what would be your advice to a fledgling indie hacker who's just getting started. Maybe they've got an idea, maybe they don't, what do you think they could take away from your learnings and experiences?
I’d say a few things. One is only do one thing. When entrepreneurs say, “Oh, we're going to, I'm going to do this. I'm going to do that. I'm going to do that. I'm going to do that…” Be very, very, narrow-minded; “I'm going to have a blog that talks about the life of a DoorDash driver. I'm going to stick about that.” Just be very narrow and don't take the temptation to extend into other areas.
That's A. B is, it's very hard because you have to be very committed and passionate because now things are easier for us at Famous Birthdays, but I has to work on it for two, three, four years before, things started happening that are much easier now. So, it takes time to break down walls and to have things open up. I would say you really have to be committed and passionate about it to stick with it.
Even some YourTubers have said, “I did a video every day since 2014 and it took me until 2019 until I got a million views. Now I have a billion views.” I think that's similar with a lot of different entrepreneurs. It really takes time and blood, sweat, and tears to really build that.
I think the third thing is, focus on one niche within what you do. So, as I mentioned earlier in the podcast, there's so many tools that are available for an entrepreneur. Don't reinvent the wheel, take advantage of all of the third-party tools and support that are out there. That way you can continue to get leverage on what your unique thing is. Just focus on your core within your niche and leverage all these amazing tools that are there for entrepreneurs to help them.
One last tip I think is good to mention is about investing in technology. I did mention to use third-party tools and so forth, and that's good, but anytime you can also build your own technology for the long-term will pay dividends. I think a lot of times technology seems too difficult to do, but it can be for little things. It's all about technology helps for the long-term, whether it be internal processes you have or things you're doing repetitively it's short-term pain for long-term gain.
I remember when Amazon's one of the vendors we use and I remember they had to sign a 1099. We probably have 15 vendors and every time they email us a 1099, we have to scan it, print it out, sign it, send it to our partner manager. But Amazon had a little tool where it was very automated. I didn’t have to interact with anybody. We just basically did an e-sig and uploaded our EIN number and submitted it. That's just such a minor thing that maybe saved me two minutes and it probably saved the Amazon partner manager two minutes. That's a type of technology that isn't exciting per se. But if you, if over and over the long term, that's going to pay dividends.
I think that's a good way to think about technology. It's not so much we need to send someone to the moon or do something so exciting. It's how can we leverage technology to make our operation better for the future? Even if it's doing a lot of work for something that only has a minimal benefit over time, those minimal benefits will add up.
I love that point and it's something that's helped me with Indie Hackers, too. And it's something you can only take advantage of if you're in it for the long haul, if you're just running your project for a month or something and then you give up and quit, you're not gonna really reap the rewards of investing.
With Indie Hackers, for example, I spent, I think, nine days to build kind of a custom forum from scratch. And at the time I was like, “Well, is this the right thing to do? Well, if I work on this for a long time, this forum is going to grow and kind of snowball into something big.” It was completely worth doing so.
In your case as well, you've been running Famous Birthdays for what nine, 10 years, the fact that you've invested in all these internal tools that you have, especially your search engine, where you can see exactly what people are searching for and what they're missing. I'm sure you bought a ton of tooling around that. Maybe it was a huge upfront investment, but now it's paying dividends and it's what kind of enabled you to pivot and kind of stay relevant to what people actually want to search for today.
I think, I think to that point too, I think it's also the reason why focus is so important. If you're always changing what you do and if you're trying to go in different directions, those internal tools and processes won't be leveraged. But, if you have the discipline to scale one vision, then in three or four years this is still going to be the vision and then you'll get the dividends from that technology. I do think that to build technology and processes that have ROI, you have to be willing to stick to something for the long run.
Love it. Well, listen, Evan, we are out of time, but thanks a lot for coming on.
Thank you, Courtland. I think it's amazing how passionate you are to help entrepreneurs and just finding out insights that can help them. I almost wish I would have had you went out in 2014, so, I think it's really amazing what you do for entrepreneurs.
You're doing all the work here. I'm just asking the questions. Do you want to let listeners know where they can go to learn more about what you're up to you, what you're tweeting about, what you're saying and what you're sharing online?
I’m @Evan_Britton on Twitter, not very active, but sometimes I'll share podcasts I'm interested in, or some random things I notice. Obviously, you can go on Famous Birthdays. It's an easy-to-use platform. I know while we are popular with gen Z, the platform is starting to grow in other demos. So hopefully if you utilize it, it will be useful for you.
All right. Thanks again.
I enjoyed it.
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