044: Robert Plank On Building Software to Build a Business
Robert Plank started marketing useful digital tools for people all over the world when he was in high school. Since then, he has built 25 to 30 renowned courses over the past eight years. Today, Robert continues to succeed at creating new marketing tools at different price points for all types of people including Backup Creator and Membership Cube. In addition to creating valuable software, Robert also hosts his own podcast, Marketer of the Day, where he speaks with a number of the internet’s top marketers and entrepreneurs.
Robert Plank On Building Software to Build a Business
I want you to be introduced to a gentleman who started his business in a dorm room and no, it’s not Michael Dell, but close. This gentleman, in fact, started when he was in high school, marketing on the internet and making useful tools for people all over the world to use, digital tools, that is. This gentleman, in fact, has been doing this full-time for the last eight years, has built 25 to 30 renowned courses; courses that I have purchased, used, and enjoyed. His name is Robert Plank. Robert, welcome to the show.
Thanks. Super glad to be here.
You’re the quintessential entrepreneur in that you immediately come right out of school and go boom, you’re in business. That’s amazing.
Thank you. I do my best.
Something motivated you to do that. What was it?
I really like computer stuff early on. I figured around the teenage years, I knew that I wanted to do this computer programming thing. Maybe you’ve experienced the same thing where either in school or summer classes or just messing around with hobbies, sometimes you do one kind of hobby and it’s on fire. Suddenly, all these messing around with history or writing is okay, but then playing around with computer stuff was somehow magic. I knew pretty early on that I wanted to do that. Then as I started to get more into getting into high school and thinking about college and thinking about the rest of my life, I started doing this research on the whole career thing of a computer programmer. I was bummed out to figure out that to do what it was I wanted to do, which was codes, some cool plugins and some cool software, that maxed out at about $30,000 to $40,000 a year. To keep going on that career path and to actually make a decent amount of money, you have to transition into more of a boss where you’re managing a team and doing all this corporate stuff. I didn’t really like doing that so then that led to, in the high school years, of messing around with websites and stuff like that. I’m sure, Mitch, you put forth those first couple of embarrassing websites when you first got online stuff like that. That led to messing around a little bit and playing around when the Amazon Affiliate Program first came out, and that lead to selling a few things on eBay. It was just dabbling.
One day when I was maybe sixteen, seventeen years old, I was messing around and I stumbled across my first sales letter; a web page with nothing else on it but just scroll and scroll and reading all the stuff. It was just some package on how to make money online that had all this NLP trickery, and I really got sucked in. I didn’t end up buying it because it was a little too hype-y. I just remember going back to the same exact sales center over and over and just talking about this whole idea of passive income and setting up a website and letting it sit for months and just leaving an item and looking at stuff for months and months and having the money pile in. It sounded like a great dream. That led to messing around with PHP and WordPress and plugins and stuff like that.
Early on at college, I did a little bit of a freelancing stuff and I partnered with some marketers and made a little bit of money. When I was around eighteen, nineteen years old, then that led to creating information products. That led to selling e-books and packages that gave people these different plugins they can use on their websites. Then that led into more and more stuff and more higher ticket stuff. Every kind of iteration or mini product launch or product that I came out with got me more and more dialed into this whole internet marketing, this whole selling thing.
It’s funny, they used to call people like you, when I was your age, they used to call people like me a nerd. In high school I did some of the same things you did but the internet wasn’t even close to being around yet. I was messing with wires and light bulbs and switches and transistors and stuff. I was totally and completely overwhelmed with passion when it came to that stuff. I started as an electronics kid and then later that evolved into me going into the electrical engineering program at North Eastern University. I know what it’s like to have that passion early on, and then just push and push and just head up that path like you did. I think the great thing about what you did is you were able to have a lot of what I would call creative failures. It seems like you tried a lot of things. You found something that someone else was doing and you copied it until you got it to work for yourself. What do you think is the biggest reason why you didn’t give up at that point?
The biggest reason why I didn’t give up at these creative failures was because I saw a lot of other people who always seem to be doing better than me. At first, before I had a good handle on things, I got arrogant or jealous. I was like, “That idiot is making way more money than I am and I’m working super hard.” Basically, I think one thing that springs to mind is there was a piece of software that came out early 2000s. Basically, it was the thing where if you gave somebody a special link, it would put their name on the web page. You remember seeing stuff like that?
Yeah, that’s quite a while ago.
That’s back in the days when you would have a web page that said, “It expires tomorrow at midnight.” Then no matter what day you came, it would always change, that’s the days where it hit counters and stuff like that. Basically, this thing that I saw, this person selling who was selling it for $97, this thing that put a name on a web page. It probably took about maybe four lines of code. It probably took the person maybe 60 seconds to create it. He sold thousands and thousands of copies. It started to click for me that it’s not necessarily about how hard I work or about how many hours I put into something. It’s more about the demands and the marketing and stuff like that. It was little things like that. It was little things like seeing this person, this literally took him a minute or two to make. If he went and outsourced it, maybe it cost him $10 or $20, and this person was selling $97 a copy. I don’t know how many thousands and thousands he sold. I think he might have made close to $1 million on just these little four, five lines of codes. I don’t know what you’d call it but it started as jealousy. Then once I let that burn out over the next couple of days after that I thought, “There’s something here. There is a path I can follow. Some people are making it work so I have to jump on board there.”
It wasn’t the technology at all. It was really understanding what was making money and what this person had tapped into that would make somebody pay $97 for this tiny little piece of code that did something that other people perceive as super useful, right?
Yeah. Someone buys that $97 piece of code, they put it on a web page. If that makes some them extra couple hundred dollars, that’s money well-spent. It doesn’t really matter what kind of work went into it, it matters what you do with it.
What did you come up with when you saw that and you got inspired and you said, “I know there’s something out there for me that I could do.” What was that for you?
The first thing for that was I made a piece of software that allowed you to protect the download page. You could have a website and you can say, “Buy this thing from me for $100. Click the button.” Then after they pay they get sent over to a download page. You might be thinking, isn’t that built in or isn’t that a commonplace thing now? It’s a common thing now but back in the day if you just made a web page and you had a button for someone to buy something, nine times out of ten the way the button was, someone could easily just right click and look at the web page code and just completely bypass your button. Whether you charged $10, $100, $1000, someone can just bypass that. The first thing for me for that was a download protector where if someone sold an e-book or video, coaching, whatever, a buyer could not make it to that download page before they paid money.
Again, that was one of those things where as a nerdy computer programmer, I thought that’s a super simple thing to do. Then I looked at all these different web pages and took an inventory, I noticed that a lot of people didn’t know how to do this thing that I thought was simple. When I looked at it from their point of view, it’s simple for me as a nerd but then from an everyday marketer trying to make a web page, this is a real thing people are willing to pay money for.
How did you discover that there was demand? How did you find those people who wanted this thing you had created?
What I started to do for a while early on was I found a couple of message boards. At the time I think there were only maybe three message boards talking about marketing. I started to participate in the discussions every day and it was pretty easy to weed out people who are either there just to talk or there just to scam people into going to their websites, and there were that middle ground where there are people looking to make money. I just started talking to some of these people and I started asking them what things do they need created, where were the hang-ups in their business? That led to a couple of people I would partner with them. I didn’t know anything about marketing at the time or copyrighting at the time or whatever. I would say, “I’m the computer programmer, why don’t you explain this thing you need created and maybe even give me what the design is going to look like? Then I’ll go ahead and create it.”
I partnered up with Gary Ambrose and he had a partner, Brian Garvin. They wanted to make this thing called the link tracker. They wanted to make a way for people who run advertising campaigns or a way to see how many people clicked through on a site, if people ended up buying and stuff like that. I ended up doing that a few times. I partnered with someone else who wanted to make a split testing plugin and different things like that where I have the programming side of things. Then I would just work with these marketers who would make the sales setter, they had the list, and they knew what they wanted the software should do. It ended up being a pretty good partnership there.
It sounds like you were a contractor. You were looking for work and you found a couple of guys who had a need but didn’t know how to fulfill it. That’s what it sounds like you were doing at that point.
I’m glad you brought that up because I experimented with a couple of different ways to make money. The first thing I did was I said, “Based on what your needs are for this project,” I would make a specification for it. Based on all this, it’s going to take me this number of hours working on these skills, and it will be, say, $600. I charge someone $600 and it might take me a few days or a week to make this piece of software. I really got frustrated with that pricing model because I would make this project and they’d come back and they’d say, ” I want these other things. The way I described, I want these other things changed.” That initial $600 that I quoted them, they wouldn’t want to pay me any more money for this extra work. It felt like I was working for less and less, and I didn’t like that with a couple of the people I partnered with. What that led to was then I went through this phase of partnering with people and they didn’t pay me any money upfront. It was just a 50-50 split. That was okay for some people, but then there were some marketers where maybe they’d come to me with an idea and I do all the legwork, and then by the time we’re ready to launch a week or two later, then they’d be bored or maybe at the launch, wouldn’t go so well. Then they’d be off to the next thing and say, “Sorry, you did all this work. You’re on your own there.” That was a good way to make some money but felt like I was working really hard for not a lot of money there.
At that point, I picked up a lot of this marketing stuff. I was building my own list, I knew copyrighting now, I know how to make sales letters, all that cool stuff. When it came time to do a lot of things on my own, what I would do many times is I would go to some of these top marketers. Maybe not the top top marketers but people who I felt were higher up than me on the food chain, on the totem pole, and I would ask some of these people who are killing it with affiliate marketing, who were killing it with launches. I’d say, “What is out there that doesn’t exist that you want to exist? What kind of plugins and things like that do exist but are missing that feature or missing that cool twist?” What I would do with a lot of these guys is I would go to them and I would say, “What’s your idea? I want to know what the idea is. You don’t have to pay me any money. I’ll make it for you personally to use, but I’m going to keep all the rights to it and I’m going to be able to sell it. I just want you to give me the idea as a marketer, as someone who actually uses this stuff and is down on the trenches.” I was really happy with the way that worked out because then I was completely in control. I could get the idea from someone and it was a real idea, a real problem they needed solving and then I could go off. Now that I acquired these marketing skills, then I could put it out there on my own. I wouldn’t depend on anyone else to do the marketing and stuff like that, if that makes sense.
I understand what you’re saying. It just sounds a little ridiculous. Truthfully, someone’s going to say to you, “Here’s this big problem that needs solving. You go off and solve it and keep all the money.” It doesn’t make any sense to me. You really did this?
Yeah, I did it. I realized that some of these marketers, there was always this one little feature missing. For example, I mentioned a split-testing plugin. Some marketers said he wanted the ability so if he sends traffic to his website, then half the traffic goes to one variation on the site with like a red headline. The other half of the traffic goes to some other variations with a blue headline. That was a really important thing for marketers because that way you can see what makes more money and refine a web page. At the time, what was missing in all this split-testing software was, say somebody came to your web page and then it sent them to the page with the red headline instead of blue. If that person kept coming back, usually at the time with this split-testing stuff, it would just keep switching. You might come to the web page and you see the red headline. You come back on Tuesday and see the blue headline. Come back on Wednesday and see the red headline again.
A lot of these marketers, for whatever reason, they said, “I want someone who comes to my web page to be locked in. When they come to my web page and if they happen to fall on they see the blue headline and they keep coming back, I want them to keep being sent to that version of the web page with the blue headline. That way I know that what made the sale was the blue headline, and not sometimes red, sometimes blue. It was just little things like that where a lot of these marketers had tools and they had software and stuff out there already, and they wanted to use the tool. They didn’t necessarily want to sell the tool to make money. They just wanted to use the tool to do a better job in their business.
In my background, when I had first came up with the idea for time slips, I had never been in the software business at all. I basically called up the Vice President of Marketing of Lotus Development Corporation, which is now long gone. They were the greatest biggest spreadsheet manufacturer/publisher in the world back then. I asked to speak to Mitch Kapor who was the president of the company and, of course, I couldn’t get to speak to him but I said, “Can’t one Mitch talk to another Mitch?” The secretary laughed and she says, “What do you want?” I said, “I just need to ask some questions about being in the software business.” She said, “Let me connect you to somebody who can help.” The woman on the phone connected me to the Vice President of Marketing. I said, “Can I somehow buy you lunch and just talk to you for a little while?” The guy said, “Sure.” I drove over to Cambridge, Massachusetts. I lived in the suburbs. I took him to lunch and we talked for an hour. Finally, I said to him, “What do you think of this idea I have for this software?” He said to me, “It doesn’t sound like a very good idea at all.” I was so disappointed, but it made me more determined at that time to go forward with it anyway because I knew it was a great idea. I knew that there was a need in the marketplace but I didn’t understand the software business. What you did is you went and understood the marketing side of this whole internet thing, and then were looking for the solutions to fix them. I think we both went about it differently but we ended up in the same place, which is very cool.
I put out a couple of products along the way that were duds. I think that at a certain point, later in college when we’re getting some advanced theory stuff, I ended up when I was cranking out these different products, I would crank out about one a week. At one point, I was putting out two products with like a bundle of seven pieces of software, instructions on all of them, the videos in all of them, and a download page, a sales letter, and the whole launch campaign. I’d put out one or two of these a week. Somewhere along the way, I ended up on the wrong path and I ended up putting out geeky stuff that was fun for me. Those products didn’t sell so well and that’s when I had to go back and look at it doesn’t necessarily matter what I think is cool or if I ask some other random marketer if they think it’s cool. It matters more what the real need is and how people are going to use it, as opposed to what they think is a good idea or not, if that makes sense.
It’s the difference between pursuing what you want and pursuing what the market needs. Now, let’s move forward a little in time because it sounds like you did a real lot of very healthy experimentation and really searching for your niche. What was really the first success for you? About how long did it take to get to that point?
The first success for me, I was 21 years old. I would call it my first big software project. It was a thing that happened during when Google Ads came out, the whole AdSense craze and suddenly AdWords is paying people $0.05, $0.10, $0.20 a click just for making a blog, just for making a simple web page. They were just throwing out money. There was this whole gold rush to get a bunch of websites set up and things like that. I partnered with a person who made a goal to publish a million pages a month of just different kinds of content. We would do different things like he would have me code something like scrape recipes off recipe sites and stuff like that. We were having a lot of fun building these different sites. He would put these Google Ads on them and make all kinds of stuff.
This friend I had, he ended up making about $2,000 a day doing Google Ads. He kept showing me all these screenshots and I had that weird kind of jealousy stuff crept in again where I looked at that and said, “I’m excited for my friend but how can I get in on that?” $2,000 a day seems like such an outrageous, unattainable goal. Eventually, that imploded where one day his $2,000 a day turned into $50 a day just because Google does their slaps on the internet, not a lot of stuff last forever. Then he had a need to switch his Google Ads to something that was more profitable, like affiliate stuff or something like that. I played around with some different things and I created this thing where you could put a piece of code on a web page and it would create basically a Google Ad but it would be for different ClickBank affiliate products and some of those paid big commissions, some of those paid out recurring commissions.
That was my first success, my first big software product on my own where basically you could just drop in this code on any web page, just one little line of code just like Google AdSense and it would spy your page a little bit and it would put this ClickBank ads on the sidebar of your blog or on your site. The longer that this ad was on there, it would track the clicks. That was me using all these different marketing skills I’d developed where you’d put ads on a site and then if people click on the ads, then it would show the ads more that got more clicks, that got more people to pay attention and stuff like that. That was combining all these different ideas like Google AdSense, ClickBank and click tracking and all that kind of cool stuff.
How much did it make for you?
I don’t know. That was years and years ago but it was enough. I think I sold it for $200 and I think I’d make a handful of sales every day before going to my classes in college.
That’s pretty darn good actually particularly for being still in school. Let’s again up the timeline here. You get out of school at this point. You have a lot of experience. You’ve even been in the trenches now for several years doing all these different projects. When did you decide that it was time to build your own company? What was the product that took you out, that really got you there?
I finished college and I was not really sure what it was I really wanted to do. I don’t know if this internet thing that I’m doing is going to take off because it was only just mediocre at the time. I don’t know if there’s some way to do the career thing. I was thinking maybe I’ll go move out to Silicon Valley or something like that. My last semester of college, there was an independent study or something like that where one of your classes would be to actually work somewhere. There was an opening to work on staff at the college there. I had all these skills that a lot of the other students didn’t have because they were skills that I’d actually learned to use in the real world. PHP and WordPress and stuff like that were high-demand skills but not a lot of other graduates have those skills yet. They know C or C++ or Java or something like that, they didn’t know some of these specific things. My one period near the end of school had me work on different kinds of projects and learn and read stuff like that. It was super helpful because I would get paid to learn stuff and along with it I would pick up different skills about software architecture that I could then use into my business. Then just led to they said, “Do you want to have a full-time job here?” They created a position for me and I went through the interview process and then someone else got it. They made another position for me and then I got that one.
Then that just led to this weird middle ground where in the morning I’d wake up and I’d work on my business, I go to work, and I’d work on one of their projects and I’d also pick up some different kinds of skills. I go home for lunch, work on the business again, come home and then put a little bit of time in there. That was useful because I got the time management aspect of things figured out and doing a lot of stuff in less time. During that era, I put out a lot of info products at that time but I started playing around a little more with the marketing. I would do things like I put countdown timers on web pages. One thing that I did was I played around with the price of the product that was selling and would increase by a few fractions of a penny every couple of seconds. If someone would come to their web page and they’d see I’m selling this thing for $15.01, but then now after a minute it’s $15.02, and the price keep going up and up and up. Then I played around with a thing where the price will be, say, $5 for something. Then if somebody bought, then the price for every one coming after that would be $5.05. Then the price after that would be $5.10 where the more people bought, the higher the price went. As far as I know, I’m the first person ever to do that. Nowadays they call that a dime sale. I kept putting out different stuff and products like that and I ended up getting a good rhythm there. They were just basically, at that time, different products where I would package together about seven different plugins for web pages, like a quiz plugin, a pop-up plugin and stuff like that all in one package and I would put that out there.
At the time, the way that that worked was I would have a few days where I would be putting the pieces together, and then I would launch it usually after work in the middle of the week. I’d put it all on there and then send an email, and I’d leave and get ready for the gym and I’d come back to the computer, and I’d see that it had already accumulated about $1,000 worth in sales. I’d go to the gym around 7:00 at night or so, I come back 8:00 or 9:00 at night and see it have about another $1,000 or so. I thought, ” If I can get pretty much a guaranteed $2,000 every time I did this, I’m going to keep cranking the sales.” I ended up doing that once or twice a week over and over again, but then it started to get boring. It got to the point where people would end up buying stuff from me without even looking at what was being sold. They just buy it based on the price is so low. I got tired of that low-ticket products there.
When I had maybe a year or two into this job thing, I put out a course on WordPress. WordPress at the time, we’re talking about 2008 or so, was not super popular. I was putting it out there and I was planning on saying, “Here’s some cool stuff you can do with WordPress.” There were videos on how to set up WordPress, how to post to it. Then I made some plugins to do different things like one plugin limited the number of comments you could have on a post and stuff like that. I put up this course. I was expecting to just make a thing on WordPress and then move on to some other subject like Photoshop, make a course on that. This WordPress thing, it might have been just the right time, but it was right when a lot of these internet marketers, and internet marketers were the ones buying all my software, they were just starting to use WordPress. That product was maybe $37 or $47 or something like that. That product made me about $8,000 the week that I launched it. I was thinking, “Now we’re getting up to the next step in the ladder.”
That particular month was a really good month for me because I saw that this product on WordPress was really popular. I rushed to make another product for the following week that was about how to make your own WordPress plugins. That also included a bunch of plugins that already worked. I started realizing at that point that some people were buying my stuff to use the software. Some people want to just beef up their technical skills. Some people wanted the software to tweak it and make up their own software. I put out that product about how to make your own WordPress plugins and that was called WordPress Crusher. That one made about $8,000 or $9,000.
The following week after that, I did this thing called selling resell rights. I said, “For about $300, you can pay me and get a license to sell this on your own. You get the products to sell. You get the sales letters to sell. You get the ads I use. You get the email copy that I used.” All that cool stuff. That was again another $8,000 or $9,000. That was a really nice month for me and that was probably one of my first big months there when I look at it. I said, “The amount of money that I just made in a couple of weeks from just a couple of hours of work is now more than I’m making from the day job in a year.” That was the mental turning point that got me thinking that maybe there is more to life than just this job thing.
The path here that I am listening to you speak about is a path where you really didn’t know what you wanted to do. You did know that it needed to be involved in the technical aspect of computers and the internet. With your experimentation, you were able to fish around very effectively to find different things that potentially you could add value to do. When you found that thing, you got the confidence at that point to say, “Now I know that I have the beginnings of a company because I just proved it after what sounds like probably about three years of trying stuff out.” Is that right?
Yeah. I would say that probably the college years, I don’t really count that much. You know how it is; switching gears and then taking this split. A lot of that was dabbling and making plans that didn’t really come to much. That phase of probably age 21 to 23 or so during the day job plus internet marketing years, that was definitely where things are starting to ramp up and I finally took things seriously. I made it a point to finish those things that I started. I put things out and some of them would flop and some of them would just do okay. Either way, it would always lead me to the next project. Sometimes if a launch did really well, then I’d say, “This is making a lot of money.” Like this WordPress thing, I’d say, “Now that’s steering me more in that direction of that territory where I know what I want to do. I’m having fun doing it. It’s a skill I’m good at. People are willing to use it and pay money,” the sweet spot, checking all the boxes there.
Listeners, what’s happening here is something that you need to understand about yourself and about what Robert’s been through. We all start with something and we hope it’s going to work, but you have to keep going. I think what I’m hearing about you, Robert, is that you just did not stop. If it’s true that failure is only declared at the moment when you quit, then you never failed really. Like Thomas Albert Edison who is searching for the right filament for a light bulb, you were searching for the right formula for what would build your business.
I have to tell the listeners that I have some background on you. I’ve been buying your products for years. Let’s talk about one of those products that I happen to like, and that’s Backup Creator. That’s a $7 program. When did you build that?
I built that six years ago. Backup Creator is the perfect modern day version of one of those things where I didn’t understand it but people really had a need for this, people are really using it. Then that end up being a thing I put out there. It’s has bridged the gap from the end of the day job years to here. What I really noticed was that at a certain point, I was selling to just the geeks. When I was selling software and stuff like that, people would either buying it because they didn’t want to buy something more expensive. They wanted to buy my little $20 thing instead of paying, say, $97 for the guy who I mentioned who have the five lines of code. I just noticed at a certain point that. Also, when I was doing that whole thing where I was asking around for ideas, some of the ideas ended up getting just geekier and geekier. They were asking about geo-targeting and stuff like that. I realized that a lot of my buyers turn out to be either people who didn’t want to buy the full version of the product or a lot of my buyers actually were other programmers. They had maybe been hired by someone to make something similar, and they wanted to take what I had as a starting point, which is totally okay and then use it for their freelance job and that’s totally fine. The problem was they’re being paid, say, $100 to make a piece of software so they only had, say, $50 to give to me. I noticed that I was there only selling to a low-ticket crowd, which is a great place to get started. I still sell the low-ticket crowd stuff like that, but I only had X number of customers and those customers only had Y dollars to spend with me per month.
I realized that I had to be a little more mass market and that led to creating some of those courses that you just mentioned. That led to just being like, ” I’m going to teach you this process. I’m going to teach you how to make the membership sites,” so that’s a class, “or how to make a podcast,” that’s a class. I realized that I don’t want to give you the encyclopedia or the Wikipedia of making a podcast. I don’t want to give you all the facts and figures. I want to say there’s a step by step process. Here are the steps to do it. I’ll make it as simple as possible but also allow you to set up what you need to set up. I was able to work my software stuff into that. Usually we’d put out a class and we sold some $1,000 classes some $500, some $200 classes, and then I work in some of these plugins in there to make it a really easy sell. On the sales letter, I could say instead of, “Here’s how to make a membership site,” people will say, “I don’t know if I could do that.” If I say I’m going to throw in the software and I’ll just show you what buttons to push, now that seems a lot easier. That was what propelled me to quit that job and just selling some of those high-ticket classes, because beforehand, I’d had to make all these $20 sales. Now, if I sold something for $1,000 and if I only sell, say, twenty, still that’s an easy $20,000 and that’s day-job quitting money.
That worked for a while. Then at some point, I felt like again, the problem that presented itself in those next few years was just selling to the same 20, 30, 50 people. I just kept on trying to figure out ways to get those same 50 or so people to buy the next thing. I was still building my list but it’s hard to get new people on your list to work them up to that $1,000 thing especially if you’re not speaking on stage all the time. That led to making me realize that I don’t have to sell just high-ticket or sell just low-ticket. If anything, I can look at the marketplace and I could say if there are already similar things out there, where’s the gap in the marketplace? If everyone’s selling super low-ticket, maybe I can be the high-ticket one. If everyone’s selling high-ticket, maybe I can be the low-ticket. If there are high and low, maybe I can fit in the middle. That’s where this backup plugin came out called Backup Creator. There were already a lot of backup plugins out there. Basically just to catch everyone up, if you have a website, you have a WordPress website, you have a blog or membership site or whatever, something might happen to it. You can upload one plugin and it will create a file that you can download on your computer that’s called a zip file. That way, if something happens to your site, you can always upload it back in and recover the site.
This was the thing where I didn’t get it at first because I was like, “Can’t people just backup their site on their own? Don’t people know how to do that?” It turns out they didn’t. There were also lots of cool add-ons, cool features that a lot of other backup plugins didn’t have like backing it up automatically, backing it up off-site, being able to back the website up somewhere and restore it somewhere else. Now you cloned or copied the site. Then that was just a matter of seeing that this was a hot up and coming thing. A lot of people were asking about it. I didn’t quite really get it, but it doesn’t matter what I want. It matters what they wanted. Then we looked at that pricing gap in the marketplace.
Basically, what that means is that there were a lot of free backup plugins, which suck because they were made by geeks. They were made by like how I was when I was eighteen years old. Then there were other backup plugins that were $300. They were having the problem that I had in those first full-time years where I was selling to this as high-ticket crowd, but it was harder to get new people in. We thought, “Let’s look at the $100, the $50 range of this backup plugin.” We made our backup plugin low but then we worked it to $50. Then we were thinking about making it higher price, but we’re like, “We already have higher priced stuff. We already have these higher-ticket classes,” so we looked at some of the software as like this is the way for them to get on our list, a way for them to get in. We sold this backup plugin for $47, and the $47 version backs up automatically, backs up to Google Drive, Dropbox, S3, clones and all that stuff. The $7 version, a lighter version, is just a backup part of it. We did that because there weren’t very many cheap backup plugins on the market. If there were, they would be out of business pretty quickly because they didn’t make a lot of money from it.
You see backup plugins selling for $10, $20, but they didn’t have that more high-priced option for some people. They had the bringing-customers-in part figured out but not the money-making part figured out. We were able to say, “Because we have these high-ticket courses, we’re fine selling the software at a lower price than we’d like to. Then we have the even lower-price version, the $7 version to really get people a taste of what they’ll get with their backup plugin, and maybe they’ll upgrade to the more expensive one and stuff like that.”
That’s the good, better, best strategy in essence. You figured out what the three price points were. Just for the sake of the listeners, I’ve been using this little plugin now for years and it works great and I use it all the time.
Robert, what was cool about this whole process is that once again, you’re looking at the market and you’re thinking about price points. You’re trying to figure out where things should be priced based on what other people are already selling. I think what ends up happening, and I think this happened in several of your products, is that once you release something, you start to get to be about the best there is at it. Then you create your own price points. Would you agree with that?
Yeah. I think that whole thing about making your own price points, I think that we got a lot of flak at first from some people because for years and years, people are used to paying $10, $20. Now we’re coming out with something that’s $1,000 and we have some people angry. It took a second for me to realize that they were angry that they couldn’t quite afford it or they were just not used to that big jump. As far as having those different price points or as far as giving stuff for free, one thing that I just noticed about dealing with the customers and the email subscribers over the years is that people get trained based on what you put out. If you put out a lot of high-priced stuff and you’re putting out $1,000, $2,000, $5,000 stuff, and then one day you say this thing’s $10, it’s going to be weird because they’re not really used to that. They’re going to be looking at that saying, “Is this worth 2% of what you normally put out?” They’re going to make that weird shorter sticker shock.
The same thing happens the other way. If you sell things for low-ticket, somebody comes out with something high-ticket, that’s weird. It also happens when if you have a list, you have customers, and you’re always dishing out free stuff. I’m totally fine with dishing out free stuff, but if you put out free stuff and you never ask for money and you do that for six months or a year and then you go a year without asking them to buy anything and suddenly you say, ” I built up all this good will. I’m going to give them something to buy,” every time I’ve done something like that, it’s backfired. I’ve seen that happen like that. It’s backfired because that list is trained to get stuff for free. That made me readjust and say, “I need to keep them guessing.” When I put out a blog post or podcast episodes or emails, I have to just mix it up and talk about things that they’re not normally used to there. Then as far as giving offers to a list and stuff like that, I have to mix that up too. I can’t get the list to use to something low-ticket or something high-ticket. I have to give them different things. That way, it keeps things interesting. It keeps them guessing. Does that make sense as far as the pricing and all those things?
Absolutely. Again, I think this has been a great interview so far because what you’re really sharing is the thinking behind how you figured out a lot of how to do this stuff. That’s what all of us are struggling with. I know that my listeners are at different stages in business and they have products too that they’re trying to figure out how to price. They’re doing just like you’re doing and just like I’ve done before, which is trying to find their place with the product that they have. How do I brand extend it? How do I raise the price? How do I capture more market with a lower-price? These are all the stuff that you’ve been talking about. I think it’s been really useful. I do have one more question here. We’re at a point now where you’ve obviously grown the business, you’re very successful. I think I read somewhere that you have over 1,400 hours of training on the internet right now. Is that true?
Sounds about right. I’m not sure where that number came from.
It’s extensive. You have 1,419 hours of webinar training and a thousand pages of sales copy online. That’s pretty significant. That’s a lot of experimentation, a lot of learning. At this point, now that you’re an established company on the web building courses, serving people, what do you think is the greatest insight that you wish you would have had when you were just starting out?
The greatest insight that I wish I would have had was I should have done more role modeling. I know that you used to run Tony Robbins companies and that’s a huge thing of looking at all of the similarities. What first sucked me in was a sales letter. I went and found it years later and it was just as cheesy as I remember and all that kind of stuff. I wish that instead of being sucked into that one sales letter that I had then looked at twenty sales letters and looked at all of the things that they did right or all the things that appeared they had in common.
Nowadays, I’m very much looking at if I see a Facebook ad or something, I love that. If someone has a webinar, I love webinars. Even at offline events and conferences and stuff like that. I know the whole pitch best model is going away a little bit. When there’s a stage speaker and someone is speaking, I just noticed that I go into a few events that someone will be on stage, talk for 90 minutes, they do their thing. Then when it came time to the pitch, I noticed that a lot of people would start to leave the room and they’d say, “Time to hit the lunch buffet or go to the bathroom since this person’s in pitch mode.” That was always the part that I’d like the best. If anything, I’d miss the person’s main talk and I’d come in just to see the pitch.
It ties back into those weird pangs of jealousy that I used to have when I was younger. It used to hurt to look at competitors. I used to cringe looking at, say, that person who had come out with that $97 software that put a name on a web page. Instead of being a hater, I should have come out with a $200 version of that that was even better. It’s like at first I would always get so bent out of shape if some competitor came along. Even if someone came along and they were in the internet marketing space plus software, I’d feel like they’re muzzling in on my territory. It took me a few years. I think it just might have been like an age thing. I just had to get over the college years and not be so full of myself. If someone else is doing better that you then don’t avoid it or don’t be a hater, but look at what it is that it looks like they’re doing right. If you keep seeing the same thing done over and over, then that’s a path that you can model, not to copy or anything like that, but just to say if all these successful people are all running an ad that looks this way or follow their landing pages, look that way where they use this phrasing or if they all use webinars or if they all use Facebook Live or they all use podcasts, or whatever, if all of those successful people do that, then I should do my best to absorb that into my business.
I think that the absorbing thing was super helpful as well because I used to look at everything as if I’m going to be doing that path, I have to drop everything and go and make that product. Now I just look at it as a lot of things that are working out there, maybe that’s something I could add to my business. If Instagram streaming is a big thing, that’s something that I can start to ramp up and use in my business. If blogging is a big thing then I can blog in my business. Just those two things; the modeling successful people and then if there seems to be some common thread there, then absorb that into my daily actions or my weekly actions. That way, I can still be myself but then also follow a similar trail that those successful people follow.
My final question for this interview, which is one of my most fun questions to ask, and this will fit well into what we’ve been talking about really, is who in all of space and time would you like to have one hour to enjoy a walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?
My answer in the moment is Grant Cardone because he’s a dude who’s just really crushing it. Then for all of space and time is Tony Robbins. Lately I’ve just been looking at these dudes who are just climbers. These dudes who could have gotten to a certain point and just retire or just lit up on the break. These guys, the more successful they’re getting, the harder they’re pushing. I really like that and that’s just a really important reminder for me to not backslide. In the college years it was really easy to dream and outline all these plans for world domination and just sit back and not get anything done, and fool myself into thinking that I was getting all these things done. Grant Cardone and Tony Robbins would be my answer because those are dudes who you think that they’ve hit their peak and there’s a new peak for them; super awesome.
I know them both and I agree with you. They are constantly upping their own game and with incredible results. Robert, today was a special day for me to get a chance to talk to you and I really enjoyed the conversation. I want other people to be able to better get to know you as well through this interview. Where could they go to find out more about you and about the products that you offer?
My blog is at RobertPlank.com. At the moment, I have a five-day a week podcast right there. I interview all kinds of different guests. That’s one of those things where I know that I need to get myself out there more because I’m one of those shut-in computer programmers, so great for me and then great for you because you hear me bringing all these experts. There’s a link there on the site that brings to the store and there’s different things to buy. My favorite course out of all those things on there is this thing called Membership Cube where we show you how to make a membership site, how to take your idea and break it into modules and add challenges or assignments to the modules, how to put the content in there, put the sales letter, get some members. That blend between here’s how to use a software and here’s how to do the marketing stuff. MembershipCube.com is that and my podcast and blog is at RobertPlank.com.
Robert, thank you again for a terrific show. Thanks again for all your great products, which I continue to enjoy. Let’s talk again soon.
Let’s do it, my pleasure. I had lots of fun.
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