Hitting the Creative Reset Button (in between businesses) with Corbett Barr

Hitting the Creative Reset Button (in between businesses) with Corbett Barr

Brian Casel: [00:00:00] Hey, it's Open Threads. I'm Brian Casel. It's my podcast, welcome to it. Today on the show I'm talking to Corbett Barr. He is one of those entrepreneurs, creative builders who I have just been a fan of following along and learning from and getting inspired from for well over a decade. He is the founder of Fizzle which was an incredible content and community based business, which he exited in 2020.

And something interesting happened around that time. He publicly hit the reset button on his entire internet presence, and by that I mean he deleted all of his social media accounts and content. Almost all of his past blog content and just started with a clean slate. Something that really intrigued me at the time and he's written a little bit about it, but [00:01:00] I had more questions about sort of what came next and the things that he learned during his previous chapter of building that, content-based business over at Fizzle and building a team and all that into the aftermath and and his hiatus and exploring and taking some time off and refreshing and figuring out what's next.

So this was a, a pretty great conversation talking to Corbett Barr. As always, this conversation was brought to you by my product ZipMessage. That's the asynchronous communications tool used primarily by coaches and consultants to communicate with their clients asynchronously.

I'll tell you a thing or two about that later in the show. For now, let's talk to Corbett about hitting the creative reset button on the internet.

Corbett Barr, welcome to the show.

Corbett Barr: Thanks for having me on Brian.

Brian Casel: Yeah. I'm excited to uh, connect with you as we were just talking about. I mean, I've been a longtime fan and follower [00:02:00] of, of your work for many years. I mean, a, I was a real big fan of the Fizzle Show, but I think I've been following your, your writing and, blogging and stuff from before that. So yeah, really great to connect.

Corbett Barr: Awesome. Well, happy to catch up.

Brian Casel: Yeah, and it seems like it's, it's sort of like a running theme on this show. I've been talking to a lot of founders who've been through multiple businesses and have worked through, sort of navigated these transitions, these entrepreneurial transitions, and, and I mean, I've gone through a couple of them myself in the last couple of years.

So it's been.. It 's just an area of interest for me. I, I'd love to hear how people are thinking about moving from one chapter to the next. You know, from, from following your work, the talk about moving from one chapter to the next. You really, you know, I think you described it as like a clean slate. You know I think it was in 2020 when you deleted all of your blog content and social media content. Why don't we start there? I mean what's, what, what's like the, the, the quick story behind what happened around that time for you?

Corbett Barr: Luckily I just [00:03:00] realized that social media. Giving me anything. It was, it was mostly taking what it wanted from me and not really giving me any benefits. I mean, undeniably, in the early days, I'm sure that Twitter and some other places helped me to connect with people that I ended up, you know, forming relationships with or doing business with or, or whatever.

But the standard daily scrolling on social media just really wasn't giving me anything back. And my business wasn't dependent on, finding customers through social media. So just started to evaluate like where I was spending my time and what activities I was participating in that made me feel good and gave me energy and which sort of left me deflated and and lost. And social media was definitely in the latter camp.

Brian Casel: It, it's interesting cuz from what I was reading from you around that time, I couldn't really tell if it was a decision for you to remove yourself from social media, [00:04:00] like stop checking the feeds and consuming all this content, or was it deleting your posts from like, past years and, and decades of content and sort of starting fresh? Maybe it was a bit of both.

Corbett Barr: Both. So I actually cleaned house in terms of my own blog content. As well as I deleted all of my social media content, all of my posts, and 90% of my accounts.

Brian Casel: Hmm.

Corbett Barr: The only account that I left was Twitter, which is really interesting today, which we can talk about a little bit. But um, you know, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, everything that I participated in, I deleted all of it. And then in terms of blog content, I had been blogging since 2009. And I started to feel like there was a lot of baggage out there just in terms of things that you wrote about a long time ago that maybe have no bearing today. And also I think that a lot of us just sort of jump into creating things online and not really [00:05:00] necessarily thinking about what it means to maintain your digital self for years or decades. And there was just a bit of divergence there between. Maybe how I felt represented online and what I was actually interested in. And then again as well, there just wasn't a lot of value to a lot of those things. You know, I think most of us who create content will find that a handful of things that we produce will have the vast majority of the value and the rest of them are kind of throwaway and in terms of blog posts, it was really easy for me to edit that down and just save the 20 or or 30 or so blog posts that I felt really had some value to the world.

Brian Casel: I really resonate with that idea of like a clean slate and sort of just accumulating all of this past content. And I've been through that myself. I, I went through a, so a similar thing where I didn't clean, clean out everything, but a couple of years ago I did go through all this content cuz I, I probably started blogging around 2008 or so, And over [00:06:00] the last 10 years, I what resonated with me, I don't know if this made sense for you, but like I personally have shifted through multiple interests. Some of it business related, a lot of it over the years. I, I'm a longtime musician and I sort of started to grow an audience in that arena. And then for like six or seven years I sort of gained popularity with productized services, and then I sold that whole property to someone else. And it's like, now I don't want this stuff like associated with my name when people Google me and, and stuff, you know?

So yeah, it's, it's really an interesting, problem that probably didn't exist so much for, for like the generations before us. Right.

Corbett Barr: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it just, it turns out it's really unnatural for everything we think and utter to be available for the entire world to see for perpetuity.

Brian Casel: Yeah.

Corbett Barr: I don't think, you know, in my case, there was certainly no harm in deleting all of that. And would say it wa it was all benefit. I've, I haven't heard a single complaint about it uh, because I did save the, the handful [00:07:00] of things that really mattered. And then it just felt like I was ridding myself of so much baggage and really starting with a clean slate, like you said. You know, there was that feeling that you used to get after. Like a, a class or a year of school was done, you know, it was summertime and you were done with all those subjects, that teacher, that class, you could move on.

And then likewise for a while in my early career you know, before the internet was a big thing, it was the same thing when you moved from job to job. You kind of got to close the books entirely and then move on to something new. And that, that period of freedom is just incredible. And now I think most of us don't feel that because we're sort of you know.. Even though we might work different jobs, we're sort of in the same career now forever. You know, you build up a profile and, and you become known for something. So you have to really think about how you're gonna create that space for yourself.

Brian Casel: Yeah. And you know, just looking at your work, obviously you, you've built up large businesses and audiences over the years. [00:08:00] You know, you do have an audience of, of folks who, who follow the work that you do. I'm wondering how did that transition uh, from deleting all the content to everything that you've been doing since, and maybe like taking, like did you actually take a, an extended break from connecting like publicly and publishing new content? Like how did that sort of impact like the, the audience impact on, on your business and things like that?

Corbett Barr: Yeah. So yeah, I, I did. You mentioned before the Fizzle Show. This was a podcast that, that I ran for 300 and I think 80 something episodes over the course of eight years. And it was a weekly show for a long time, but towards the end, over the past couple of years, I kind of had a, an unceremonious end to podcasting. I think I just burned out to be honest. And unwittlingly published my last episode and I, you know, I don't know what happened, but you see this happen to creators all the time where they just sort of stop and I didn't expect it to happen to me, but it did. [00:09:00] And so from then until, recording the last Fizzle episode, which was about a year, maybe a year and a half after I stopped, we finally put a capstone on the whole series and recorded one final episode.

But during that time, I really took time out from creating content. I'd written a couple of emails to my list about what I was up to about this fresh start that you mentioned. And then also I wrote about problems that I've seen with social media. And then I just kind of took a year off. And during that year, a couple of things were going on. One was I was negotiating the sale of Fizzle, the business that I had built and run for 10 years. And the second thing was that sort of quietly behind the scenes I've been doing consulting basically for a big business and helping them get a community and digital platform off the

Brian Casel: Hmm.

Corbett Barr: And so that was a nice way for me to kind of clear my head and like shake off the burnout and think about what I wanted to do next.

[00:10:00] And I knew that I didn't wanna start something while I was still running Fizzle, while I was doing this consulting. But finally when I sold Fizzle, and didn't have any more responsibilities there I was able to think about what I really enjoyed, and I really do enjoy writing for an audience. And you know, even though I had deleted blog posts and social media feeds and so on, I had made, sure to keep my email list. And there's so much value there because there are just so many people like yourself who I've connected with over the years. And when it was time to start writing again, I brought that list over to Substack and have been writing there every week or every two weeks for the past three or four months, and really just uh, letting it grow organically.

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Okay, back to the show.

Yeah, I mean, I definitely want kind of shift into the, the writing that you're doing now, building on Substack and sort of exploring your, your next, what, whatever you're building up next. I want to get into that here in a minute. Let's talk about Fizzle just for a, a little while here. I'm, I'm curious to know, you know, now, now that you've, you've exited and it's been I guess, a couple of years sin since you've exited that business. What did you learn during the years of, of building that up? And, and was that like, it sounds like, like building up a, a content and a community driven business was a great fit for, for you on that? Yeah. Like what are, what are sort of like the big learnings about that chapter in your, in your entrepreneurial life that maybe you're starting to reflect on? Looking at this next chapter like, that worked. Maybe that didn't work. How do we move on? Yeah.

Corbett Barr: Yeah, it's a good question. So Fizzle [00:13:00] was a, a membership for entrepreneurs where they could come and get community, coaching and video training that we created over the course of 10 years, starting in 20 12, I believe. Late 2012 was when we first opened the doors. And we served over 30,000 customers over the years at a rate of between 30 and $50 a month depending on which plan they signed up for. I had a couple of co-founders in the beginning and then we also hired several employees, probably 10 or 12 different people were part of the team over the years at a max of about five people on the, on the team at one time. So, you know, it was a real business. It was a small business, but it was a real business with millions of dollars in revenue and, and we reached a lot of people, either as customers or through the content that we created. So I learned a ton just about connecting with people and, and building a business in that way. I think the thing that I really resonated [00:14:00] most was with connecting with customers as a way to stay grounded. Whenever I felt lost in the business, whenever I felt like things maybe weren't going well, whenever I was kind of uncertain about what to do next, I always found that reaching out and talking with people directly made a huge difference because your customers have all the answers. And we can often feel like we need to be the ones that are you know, leading the show, which means we have to have all the answers.

And if we don't, we have to go away somewhere and think and work hard until we come up with the right ideas. But it turns out that, that your customers usually have all of the encouragement that you need to keep going and all of the answers that you need. Or at least leads that you can follow up on to find the answers. So that was something that I'll always take with me, I think is, is just that, you know, wanting to connect with customers and, and knowing that it's a, a bedrock of anything I'm going to do going forward.

Brian Casel: Yeah. You know, I, I think what was really eye-opening for me in, [00:15:00] in watching what, what you guys were building with, Fizzle over those years because I, I, it seems like that period of time, 20 12, 13, 14, 15, like that almost seems like, I don't know, sort of like a.. Like a golden era of like online courses.

Like there were all these like big headline, you know, signature courses from all these different people where they have this, this big like package of like video content and downloadables and things, and they sell it for a high ticket price and, and all that. But what you guys were built and you had some, some training material in, in Fizzle, but what was eye-opening to me was that it was like community first At least it seemed to me, I don't know if this was the intention or not, but it seemed like customers were coming for the community and the content and the training was sort of just like a, a nice benefit, but really they're there to you know, yes, get, get value from connecting with, with you and your team members, but also from the fellow members.

The other sort of eye-opening thing for me was [00:16:00] like, you don't have to, you as the owner or or the creator or the, the community builder don't need to be the expert. You're, you're there learning, facilitating, coaching and just connecting people and, and there's huge value in, in that, right?

Corbett Barr: Yeah, absolutely. And it, it was intentional I think, in a couple of ways. One, you know, you mentioned the high ticket items where people were selling courses or whatever for a thousand or $2,000. And I had done a bit of that with a prior business and just found that I, I didn't enjoy the pressure of having to sell something, especially if it was sort of an open and closed model where you would open the doors and roll a bunch of people. Deliver the course, you know, with closed doors, which meant you had to enroll a bunch of people over the course of several days. That pressure in that marketing process was just a lot. And I didn't really enjoy that emotional rollercoaster.

So we decided to create something that was on a monthly payment plan so that we could smooth out the revenue and smooth out the, [00:17:00] the marketing efforts. And then in terms of community, absolutely. I mean, We ended up, you know, with, we had weekly calls. We had in-person meetups in, in several cities. We had a, a vibrant uh, forum of people that were in there talking every day. And out of that, grew business partnerships, friendships, romantic relationships, all kinds of interesting conversations. People really, really connected with each other. And it was just a magical thing.

For me, you know, I think there is something that has to come together at the right time within like the zeitgeist of what's going on with your topic, your positioning, with the momentum that you have. You know, with your email list or whatever it is that you're using to attract people. And all of that came together in the early days of Fizzle. I think it's a little bit like bottling lightning in some ways. You know, trying to put all those things together and, and make it just happen. It takes a tremendous amount of work in the beginning to really make sure that [00:18:00] the community is well fed and that there's enough there for them to come back to. Also over those 10 years, we just saw so much change in terms of what online business is.

When we started, we had to roll our own in terms of our own course platform because there was nothing out there. Thinkific and Teachable and all those services didn't exist. And likewise, there weren't the modern community platforms that you see today. So our choices were really old, traditional forums. So all of that has changed and the way that people reach others online has changed, you know? A lot of services like TikTok didn't exist then either. And so I think you have to be really thoughtful about how you're going to approach a business like that if you're operating in the online space because there is no constant aside from change in todays-

Brian Casel: Yeah.

Corbett Barr: -online world.

Brian Casel: Yeah. You know, the, the other thing that that sticks out is, again, like thinking about all those, like, you know, well known like big [00:19:00] courses, kind of high pressure sales. The classic thing that you, that anyone who's sort of like in that business or, or has dabbled in it, you start to realize is there is such a low success rate of people who buy these courses and actually find tangible success with them, or even take action or even go through the, the course content. Right?

I experienced some of that when I was selling a course over the years with, with product highs. But what I'm learning now, , you know, working on, on ZipMessage where we have a lot of coaches using it, is that what coaches and communities really understand is that it's really about the community and the personal connection and, and the accountability and, and the coaching where you see the, the success rate and the, value that the customer and the student are, are getting just go through the roof. It's that personal connection. And it's also like, the customer, the the student. You, you get out of it what you put in. You, you show up, you attend the events. You, you participate in the community. [00:20:00] That's the value that you're getting out of it. Right? It's a really interesting thing.

Corbett Barr: For me what was interesting about the monthly recurring model versus a one-time sale was that we had some customers who were with us from day one in 2012 until just earlier this year when I sold the business. 10 years. And those customers showed up all the time and they got a ton of value. And if they weren't around for a while, it's because they had already gotten value that they were executing on. And so we had a difference in lifetime value of a customer between $0, where someone signed up for a free trial and decided it wasn't right for them. And then on the high end, you know, 10 years times 30 something dollars a month, and everything in between.

And I just found that to be really interesting because it was almost as a, the customer could choose their own value. If they felt like they were getting value, great, they could continue paying. [00:21:00] If they didn't, they could leave at any time. And regardless of our success rate it was sort of a choose your own adventure and the model kind of matched up for what, you know, what revenue people had in their business, what they could afford to spend, and the value that they were getting versus this high pressure sales where you get somebody in at $2,000, they never take action on it, and that's their only choice, is because, you know, they, because they paid that and, and they have to move on.

For me that was a better way to operate a business because I felt like I had to earn my customers every month and make sure that we were doing right for them. And I, so I think it just kept our head in the right spot. Versus when you sell a high ticket item, you end up putting more effort into the marketing than you do into the product a lot of times. Because, you know, you've heard these, these horrible.. I don't know, just cringeworthy kind of business anecdotes where people say if your refund rate isn't 30% or 40%, then you're doing something wrong. Like they intentionally have high refund rates because they just wanna [00:22:00] pack people in with the most tantalizing marketing they can. And if people leave, that's their problem.

Brian Casel: Mm. I can't do it.

Corbett Barr: Yeah.

Brian Casel: That's amazing. I mean, Well, I guess one, one other question that that comes to mind when I think about that type of business that a very community and content driven business. I mean, you talked a little bit earlier about how you reach, you know, near the end there where you, where you did burn out on, on the content treadmill, if you will.

But, you know, I'm always kind of amazed at folks like you and especially building a team around executing, content and keeping such a vibrant, active, engaged community. Cuz I look at that, like, that just seems so tiring to show up every day or every week and, and literally have things on, on your personal calendar that you have to like attend because the business requires from you personally. And, and, you know.. Compared to building whatever, like software or a SaaS or or even like a course or a book where you can [00:23:00] sort of put in the work once and then sell it many times. . How did you think about that over, over the years and how have you like, optimized your workflow, your team, delegating to make it like actually sustainable for, for you, you know,

Corbett Barr: Yeah. Well, you know, to make it sustainable, I think most people have to delegate 99% of, of the process of creating something and then really just put in the part that that you're good at or the part that you're being paid to do. Which is probably to show up and be on camera or on the microphone or writing the content. And then the rest of it, the editing, all that kind of stuff you can, you can burn out doubly fast if you try to do all of that stuff. I think in beginning, you know, it's fine, you have enough energy and momentum and everything's new, but after a while, certainly you need to get that stuff off your plate. There are some exceptions to that however. Uh, my former business partner, Chase Reeves, who has a pretty uh, popular YouTube channel, which is mostly about [00:24:00] bags and luggage and backpacks and that sort of thing, but, but also about life and, and other things that he's into. He actually as far as I know, even, even now, still edits and publishes all of his own videos because he's, he likes it. He can kind of zone out. It's, it's, he's a bit of a-

Brian Casel: Like part of his creative process.

Corbett Barr: It's part of his creative flow and, and I think he's he's a bit of a perfectionist in that way. But if you're creating content as one of many things that you do throughout the week, then I think you need to be careful about that. So, so that was part of it. But you know, the big thing I think is just. Really being able to enjoy the process of creation week after week or day after day, or whatever it is that you're doing, so that you actually look forward to shooting the video or recording the podcast or writing the blog post, whatever it is, you actually enjoy that part.

If you don't enjoy that part and it's a trudge and you're only doing it because you're trying to accomplish something else, then I think it's really likely you're going to [00:25:00] burn out. You have to be able to just kind of put the blinders on, do the work and disconnect the work from the results because the results may not come for a very long time. You know, content is a, a super long game if you're trying to get traction. And I think you just really can't count on anything. If you, if you think that you're gonna start a podcast and be famous six months from now, you're gonna be sorely mistaken.

Brian Casel: Yeah. Yeah. It does seem like you, you've been able bring on team members who on camera or on microphone. And, and have been able to do that successfully. And, and especially like these days, we see a lot of businesses starting to invest pretty heavily in like a media brand. Like, you know, software companies becoming media brands and things like that, where, where the founders themselves might not be so experienced or interested really in being a podcast host, but they want to have a podcast exist for their business.

Any thoughts or, or experiences that you can speak to in terms of like maybe delegating the actual like, know, talent side [00:26:00] of you know, creating content?

Corbett Barr: Yeah. Well I think it's a big risk to just hire anyone, you know, any random person, and expect them to be able to create content, it, it takes a special kind of person. So my approach was always just to select someone who had created some great content, but who hadn't found traction yet themselves. And then it became a, a win-win scenario. I, you know, our team got someone who was very capable and they got to work in an environment where they learned a lot and maybe gained a little bit more visibility than they would if they just continued working on their own. Plus they got paid for the effort. So I think that's a great way to go.

However, keep in mind that those people had ambitions before they started with you, so it's likely that at some point they're going to want to move on and, and pursue their own thing. And you know, I think you just have to be okay with that. If, if you look at big, successful companies like Apple or Facebook or whatever, the average tenure of an employee is only a [00:27:00] couple of years, maybe two to three years. And so I always felt like if we were keeping people for three plus years, then we were doing pretty well. And in most cases we did. And it was also just a really tremendous way to grow my network because a lot of those people went on to do really amazing things outside of the work that we did together, and a lot of them are, are really close friends today. So growing a team and, and empowering them is one of my favorite things about working online.

Brian Casel: Yeah. And I can imagine that having the, I mean, I've experienced this myself a little bit. But especially I'd imagine it in Fizzle having, being such a community first business and organization, I'm sure a lot of the people who ended up working with you probably came from the community or, or folks who-

Corbett Barr: That as well. Yeah probably like 70% of people came from the community. And so I knew that their, their heart was in it. They were good at participating. Good at, you know, helping others. And then also I got to see what they were building themselves, whether it be content or something else.

Brian Casel: Yeah. Very cool. [00:28:00] So I wanna sort of skip ahead to to present day and see, you know, now we're a few years out from, from all that all, all your experience with, with Fizzle and kind of resetting your, your online presence. We're gonna kind of get into all that in the next session with you here.

Corbett Barr: Fantastic.

Brian Casel: Well, thanks for, thanks for doing this.

Corbett Barr: Thank you so much, Brian. Appreciate it.

Brian Casel: All right. Take care.

Well, that wraps up today's Open Thread. Hey, tell me what you think. I'm on Twitter @casjam, and right after that, head over to iTunes and give this show a five star review. Really helps it reach more folks like us. I appreciate it. Talk to you next week.

Creators and Guests

Brian Casel
Brian Casel
Teaching product skills at https://t.co/slTlMF8dXh | founder @Clarityflow | co-host of https://t.co/pXrCHLdDwe
Corbett Barr
Corbett Barr
Author of Starting Things: news and opinion for builders, founders, creators and entrepreneurs.
Hitting the Creative Reset Button (in between businesses) with Corbett Barr
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