Forming a Dream Team Partnership with J.R. Farr
Brian Casel : [00:00:00] Hey, it's Open Threads. I'm Brian Casel it's my podcast. Welcome to it. Today I'm talking to J.R. Farr. He is one of the co-founders of MakeLemonade.wtf. Man, what an incredible creative crew this is. J.R. and Orman Clark and Jason Schuller, Gilbert Pellegrom, they were able to form what appears to be like a dream team of a business partnership. Came out of 2020 and they sort of merged their creative portfolios into this amazing entity. And, out of that came their new flagship product, Lemon Squeezy.
So, you know, we talked about one of my favorite things on the, on this show, the, the entrepreneurial transitions. So J.R., you know, built and exited MOJO Marketplace, which was an incredibly successful business in the [00:01:00] WordPress space for a while there. That's actually how he and I first met early on. And we talked about his transition and then, you know, sort of behind the scenes of building Make Lemonade in this partnership and and, and yeah, everything that sort of went into all that. So, really good stuff here..
Today's episode is brought to you by ZipMessage. That's my product. That's the one I work on every day. It's for asynchronous messaging with your teammates, your freelancers, your customers, your clients. I'll tell you a thing or two about that later in the show. For now, let's talk to JR about forming a dream team partnership.
J.R. Farr welcome to the show. Great to uh, finally connect. How's it going, man?
JR Farr: Absolutely. Good to see you, man.
Brian Casel : Yeah. So as we were just talking offline. We've connected multiple times online. I think this is one of the first times we actually uh, spoke in person. But-
JR Farr: Mm-hmm.
Brian Casel : The first time I met you was probably over 10 years ago, you sent me an iPad.
JR Farr: I did, I [00:02:00] did.
Brian Casel : So it was for your, your previous business MOJO Themes. And from what I remember, I think I won some kind of contest
JR Farr: Mm-hmm.
Brian Casel : For like uploading a, a WordPress theme to your, to your marketplace. This must have been like 2009, 2010.
JR Farr: 2009.
Brian Casel : uh, and you ran a contest and I won it. That was like a first generation iPad. I was so psyched.
JR Farr: Yeah. And I, and that's what I was, we were, we were just kinda talking about this, but it sounds, right now it sounds ridiculous, right? It's like, oh, cool, you got an iPad. But like, when that came out, It was the biggest deal.
Brian Casel : Oh, totally.
JR Farr: And we sat, so I actually have to tell you the story cause I never really gotta talk to you about this, but-
Brian Casel : Yeah.
JR Farr: Me and Brady, my co-founder, when we decided to do this, we didn't know how much they were gonna cost. So we're bootstrapped, right? Trying to launch this marketplace, which if you, if anybody's ever launched a marketplace business, it's super difficult cause you have chicken or the egg, right? And so you have to have the content or you have to have the buyers. And so it's really hard to get going. So our idea was, well, let's launch this March Padness thing and [00:03:00] give away iPads-
Brian Casel : March Padness, right?
JR Farr: Yeah it was around March Madness, remember?
Brian Casel : Yeah.
JR Farr: We launched that and we decided to give a bunch of iPads and whoever uploaded the most items got the, you know, the different iPads. And I think you were like one of the top ones. So anyway, long story short, Steve Jobs had announced the iPad, but we didn't know how much it was gonna cost.
So when these things came out, they were like 1500 bucks. But again, this is like bootstrapped 2009. We weren't planning on spending, you know, $10,000 on iPads, we sat in line-
Brian Casel : I mean, there's a lot of people listening now who probably don't remember what it was like back then with Apple products.
JR Farr: Oh yeah.
Brian Casel : Like that was, that was the era of Apple products coming out and changing the world. I mean, it was like iPhone coming out in like 07', and then the, the iPad came out around what, 2010, 2011?
JR Farr: Yep
Brian Casel : And, and like, it was just, it, it was literally like ev everything that our industry was talking about at the time.
JR Farr: And it sounds ridiculous, but like we sat in line, like we had to [00:04:00] wait for the store. There was lines everywhere. It took all day to get these iPads. And then the other thing is.. So we had to spend this money and then, you know, you lived obviously in the US so that was easy. But we had people winning that were in Germany,-
Brian Casel : Oh wow.
JR Farr: -so it cost more money to ship the iPad than it did to pay for the iPad, like the Ger-.
Brian Casel : Oh man.
JR Farr: So anyway, but yeah, that's, that's how we met. So it's funny to connect the dots now.
Brian Casel : Yeah, totally. I mean there's so much I want to get into cuz I feel like we're gonna jump around to a lot of things. But actually that iPad story. I think, correct me if I'm wrong, it, a, it's a tactic. a, it's a, like the contest strategy, right? To, to build awareness for a brand new thing.
I think you, you ran something similar to like a contest for Lemon Squeezy. Your, current product recently, didn't you? Like, I think I saw something like that.
JR Farr: Yeah. We're doing, yeah, kind of the same thing. I mean, we've done a lot of stuff like that. When we first opened it up we gave away a MacBook to like reserve, like your kind of store and your account and stuff. That helped. And then [00:05:00] we're constantly trying to think of new offers and promotions and I think sometimes like founders, you know, we get so focused on, I build the best product. Marketing's kind of an afterthought, right? And it's actually a different muscle that people kind of aren't used to. And so coming up with an offer is.. I don't know, sometimes it can feel like, well, I don't want to, I don't wanna brag about my product. I don't wanna bug people about-
Brian Casel : Yeah,
JR Farr: -it. But you kind, you have to get it in front of them, and you have to dangle some sort of carrot to get them to bite on it. So..
Brian Casel : Totally. I, I mean, we're gonna get into all that kind of stuff. I really want to, you know, probably in the next segment here, talk to you about Lemon Squeezy and the product, its evolution and all these like, marketing ideas for, for building awareness for a brand new product in, in the space. Again, I, I feel like not enough people are talking about that kind of work, cuz that's the important stuff right?
But I wanna get more of your story on, on this one. You know, a running theme on this show has been like entrepreneurial transitions, right? A lot of us moving from one business to the next. I don't want to get like the whole life story here, but like, [00:06:00] can you give folks like a, bit of a recap? Like, so, so you spent a lot of time working on MOJO Themes and you had an exit there. Like what was, what did that look like these last few years?
JR Farr: Yeah. So, yeah, I'll do a quick one. So 2009 to like 2018 was MOJO. So over a decade of my life. And that was bootstrapped, to decent sized team, getting acquired and then the big conglomerate company that bought us, we went through an IPO. So that was like everything, in 10 years.
Brian Casel : Yeah. Incredible.
JR Farr: And.. You wanna talk about transition, right?
Like that's like? Founder hat on everything. Then you start to kind of grow to like your 10 to 20, and then your 50 and a 100 and 150 pe, you know, 200 people. And the transition there, like letting go of the steering wheel, giving, giving responsibility over here, like, that's really, really hard, I think for, for someone to transition from a founder to a CEO. I learned that-
Brian Casel : Yeah.
JR Farr: really tough. That was a tough lesson for me.
Brian Casel : What's your, what's your background by the way? I think [00:07:00] of you as like the business marketing guy. And do you have like a technical background or anything like that, or how'd you get into this whole space?
JR Farr: So that's actually a great question. So when I started out, I was in, in the ad agency world and I a big like affiliate marketing guy. So I, I learned word. That's how I learned WordPress. It was like 2005, 2004, 2005. And I was like spinning up landing pages and things like that. And so I'm, I would say I'm like technical enough where like I can talk it, I could back in the day before you had to spin up like a million gulp and everything else, you know, just to get like a, a thing going, And then I could do design, but now I've just kind of like leaned into like, Hey, this is what I'm good at. So I'm just gonna be good at marketing, good at like partnerships and glueing the right team together and let them do what they do best. So yeah, so that's, that's how I describe myself as like marketing for sure.
Brian Casel : And I mean, you know, MOJO Themes, your, your previous business from what I remember about that, you know, there was Envato and like the [00:08:00] ThemeForest marketplace, right? They were sort of like the big player..
JR Farr: Yeah. 800 pound gorilla.
Brian Casel : Yeah. That like, I guess the, the player that was not automatic or, or Wordpress.org. Right.
JR Farr: Yeah
Brian Casel : And then, and then you came along with, with MOJO . And I just remember thinking, and, and I guess that whole period of time, it was like that was the only real like actual competitor to Envato, right? Like, it, it almost seems like Envato was so well established that nobody even thought to offer an alternative. And then you guys came in with a really high quality and, and, you know, you built a great business around. I just think that there's like a lesson there that like, just because there's a big competitor does not like that should be a a good reason to go into a space, not a-
JR Farr: A hundred percent. You actually just made me think of a couple things. There's, there's always a Pepsi and a Coke, right? And then like, even like McDonald's, Wendy's, like when they're all at a same corner, they all rise together and it's actually when they're by themselves, they don't do as well. Just like vending machines in an office,
Brian Casel : Mm-hmm.
JR Farr: You've gotta have multiple vending machines for them to work.[00:09:00] But the other thing that I like really learned from that experience was WordPress like, basically taking a ride or taking a trend and riding that wave. And we picked up WordPress, remember when it was like-
Brian Casel : Mm-hmm.
JR Farr: -7% of the internet and now, and then we rode it all the way till it was where it is now. Right? And so that was a crazy, crazy ride. Just, just kind of attaching ourselves to that. So I look at things now like Webflow or you know, there was the Shopify thing, or there was, you know, there's all these different things that if you aren't good at marketing and you need distribution, that's a good place to kind of think when you're building something, you know,
Brian Casel : Yeah. Yeah. I mean, we see this, this, this like I guess mental model or or concept kind of floating around different people.. Like Justin Jackson talking a lot about like ride, an existing wave of demand. And I mean, WordPress is just just, what an example of that, you know, especially around that time from like 2009 up through the, the past decade of just natural growth.
Not that like [00:10:00] necessarily like you launched something, it will do well. You still have to work and execute really well. But yeah, when you have those like tailwinds at your back, it seems like it's, it's a good place.
JR Farr: And we, you know, and it's, yeah.. It's weird to think now cause it's been five, five or six years since I was there, we got to like 6 million users and..
Brian Casel : Wow. Oh,
JR Farr: Was, I was just ready to kind of go back and build something new again. So, so to, I guess to kind of fast forward to today,
Brian Casel : mm.
JR Farr: I did some stuff. I, I was the GM and I was like over like a seven, $800 million PnL. It was, that was just a churn was a big issue. So I got really into churn and retention. So I actually built a product called Weave that was like built on Stripe that helped with that. And that was like a good ride and it kind of fizzled out to be honest. Then I bumped into the Make Lemonade or well Orman and Gilbert and Jason Schuller and we kind of started talking and and we can kinda go into Make Lemonade now and Lemon Squeezy.
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Okay, back to the show.
that, that's exactly what I want to get You know, when I saw you guys kind of launch this partnership or this like entity, if you will, this, this brand, I mean, you gotta. , everyone listening to this has to just go to this website and just read the copy. I mean, it's, it's just awesome. Like, everything about it is like, it's got so much personality. So you go to MakeLemonade.wtf, right?
JR Farr: Yeah. Yeah
Brian Casel : So yeah, like tell me about this partnership. Like when did it come about? How, how did it come about? What is it?
JR Farr: Yeah, so I actually pinged Jason Schuller and Chris Molitor. They were building this company called RIVYT. And I was talking to them about helping them market that product. [00:13:00] And that led to like, well, we've been talking to Orman and, and so we all kind of started chatting and trying to figure out, well could we all do something better together than like apart? And at the time, you know, unfortunately, like Covid was going around and so Make Lemonade was the brand because it was like, well, we've all been given these lemons. Let's make some lemonade. So, and then the WTF part, the WTF part has been, we just didn't wanna be looked at too seriously. Like we, everyone takes life so serious and gets so romantic about everything that they do. So let's just, gonna come out here and we're just gonna launch these brands that we're gonna just blow people's socks off and just not take it too seriously as we do it. So,
Brian Casel : I mean, dude, that that's exactly what it, what it does actually like, like when people talk about brand and, I feel like you guys have executed it so well. It's like notable just reading the personality that comes through in, in the site, you know? Um, I think that's so important and, and it really is overlooked. And frankly, I think it, it sort of just comes down to like [00:14:00] talent and probably your own actual personalities, right? Like, you can't just like press the personality button and expect it to..
JR Farr: Yeah I think, I think too, like. I mean everyone, to their own right, has their own skillset. And I, one of the things that I guess I pat myself on the back for is like, when you're dealing with people that are super high talented, like I'm talking world-class designer in Orman, right? Like he's, he has been just like you.
He is a solo entrepreneur who's built massive companies by himself. So for him this is a different thing, but, so that's what I'm saying is, I think one of the things that I really tried to work on is being the glue and like really it took a lot of inertia and effort to get this team to come together because
Brian Casel : That's what I want to ask you about. Cuz I mean, Orman Clark, for those who aren't familiar and I, I gotta ask Orman to come on this show, by the way, he's, he is one of one of the most talented designers that, that I've seen online and I've been following his work forever. And he has built like multiple, as you said, like, like, first of all, a huge audience of [00:15:00] his own plus multiple businesses-,
JR Farr: Yeah.
Brian Casel : You know and, and a well-known designer. So 2020 comes around. And, and how does this partnership come about? How does it make sense for him and, and for Jason and, and like everyone involved? You know, cuz like that's.. And I've talked about this on the show a little bit before, where like, I've been solo through all of my businesses, and there have been a few times where I came close to partnering with some people, and it didn't happen for different reasons. But usually that was because of like career and life timing, right? Like it, it, it was never really like, we don't get along or anything like that.
It, it was always like, we would make a perfect fit, but one of us has a different business that's that's going in a different direction or something like that.
JR Farr: Yeah.
Brian Casel : How did, how did, like the timing and all that sort of align?
JR Farr: Yeah, and a lot of those were all, were all questions and long discussions, so we kind of had to navigate those. Again, I, I feel like I kind of came up with some ideas to help us figure [00:16:00] out how do we make sure that if we do bring these things in under the Make Lemonade fold, how do these get incentivized. But then the other thing you run into is you, I think the way to make it work, honestly, just to answer it more directly is, you have to align everybody's incentives to be the same, right?
So I think that's something that we're all like very aligned with, with like what it is that we're doing, what it is that we're trying to do, and, and the incentives are, you know, building a company that we can control, that we can see lasting for a decade. Those are like two big things to us. And so for whatever reason, maybe it's luck or something, but it just all came together in the moment. Yeah. And then it's, it's, yeah. I mean, if you look at Lemon Squeezy, we can kind of talk about that, but that's been almost three years in the making now.
Brian Casel : Yeah, I mean, I definitely want to go deep on Lemon Squeezy minute, but still just like, staying on Make Lemonade, which I guess you consider like the parent brand uh, like the portfolio of, of different products and different brands and this. And so just to be clear, like the, [00:17:00] the partnership or the members involved here are yourself, Orman Clark, Jason Schuller, Gilbert Pellegrom.
JR Farr: Yep.
Brian Casel : That, that's basically it? Yeah.
JR Farr: That's the four co-founders. Yep.
Brian Casel : And like, what? I don't know, you know, only share what you're able to share publicly about the details here, but like, you know, some of these products, like they, they existed under like Orman's brand and, and your brand and everything. Like, like did you sort of all agree that like everything that each of you are doing sort of comes under Make Lemonade or was there like uh, an agreement around like these things are part of it. These things are not part of it. Like how did you sort of work out those detail?
JR Farr: Exactly. Yeah, yeah. Just like you said, and then we had different, different things that we.. With Orman bringing his stuff in, we had a deal set up for how his stuff works. And uh we, we even looked at now we'll probably just acquire everything, so it's just formally under Make Lemonade rather than making sure, you know, so he's covered.
And so it all sits under one. And it's been nice because from like a mind and just like energy, [00:18:00] right? Perspective. Like you can just put all of your eggs under this one thing, and it's kind of nice just to be focused as a group.
Brian Casel : Yeah.
JR Farr: So yeah, it's, it would trust me, it was a sticky, there's a lot, there's a lot of moving parts there. There's a lot of emotions. There's a lot of, you know, just like, well, mine's this and that. You know what I mean? You can imagine what those conversations were like.
Brian Casel : I can imagine, of course, I've been through a bit of it with like some potential business partners in the past that that didn't happen. And, and also part of the challenge is, you know, when you're bootstrapped, especially bootstrapping a brand new company and launching new products, like a lot of it is like, you know, alignment on like, how do we, how do each of us pay ourselves, right?
So, you know, a couple years back I almost partnered with someone and it was like, well, I just recently exited a business so I could self-fund for a while, but, but the other person cannot, or, or vice versa, right? So it's almost like you, you have to like, almost like win the lottery of like having the, the [00:19:00] personality fit, the skills match up, like the, the supplementary skills or complimentary skills, and then, self-funding source , right? Unless you're gonna raise investment.
JR Farr: And it.. And and the thing is, is like, me, there's like some cuts and bruises from it for sure. And, and there's, it's not all sunshine and rainbows. There was definitely some hard conversations and some things that we had to get through, but.. That is something too that comes into factor cuz it, when you get into the year one, like Gilbert was full-time. But, you know, between me and Orman, there was a significant amount of money, like actual money going in to pay for Gilbert's full-time salary. So that influenced some of the equity too, right? So then you start having-
Brian Casel : Mm-hmm.
JR Farr: -those conversations and what is that worth and what is my time worth versus money versus, you know,
Brian Casel : When I, when I saw you, you know, the four of you come together on Make Lemonade at the time, I, yeah. That was exactly my thinking. I was like, wow, this is like a dream team of, [00:20:00] of talented people coming together. I can't wait to see what they do together. This is amazing. and, and also in the back of my mind, like, I don't know what it took to make this partnership happen,
JR Farr: Yeah,
Brian Casel : It, it, it seems like you, you guys really like pulled something off here, you know,
JR Farr: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Brian Casel : Really cool.
JR Farr: Yeah.
Brian Casel : So I mean, just starting to get into Lemon Squeezy, like, okay, but not yet, right? Like, decide to come together into like, Make Lemonade what is-
JR Farr: yeah.
Brian Casel : -the reason for partnering up? Did you have like a, a, a mission or, or a long-term plan? What was the plan to, to always have multiple products or was it to eventually move toward one big focus? Like what, what did you guys think there?
JR Farr: Yeah, so actually, and I think we still are trying to do something like this, but Make Lemonade.. We, we actually have a few partnerships, like Iconic for example, we've, we've teamed up with James McDonald, who's like a big time icon designer. So we actually built that product under Make Lemonade with him. So [00:21:00] there is like sort of, so our idea originally was how can we go find other people that maybe even have products but they can't get 'em off the ground?
We have a massive audience, you know, three, four, 500,000 people list, right? So how could we bring those people into the Make Lemonade fold? We do some sort of equity split. That makes sense. And then now that brand sits under there and they're part of Make Lemonade in a sense, as we called it, a collective, right?
So that's like a little bit outside-
Brian Casel : I love it.
JR Farr: -of our other products. And I don't know,-
Brian Casel : It's almost like you're like a record label or something like that. Like a, like a brand, like that kinda
JR Farr: We call it our Wu-Tang-
Brian Casel : Yeah.
JR Farr: -clan. That's literally what we call it
Brian Casel : Yeah. Yeah.
JR Farr: You can go off and like build your own thing or you can come back in with a group and do this stuff together. We can do this one over here. And, and I, but for the most part, we've all kind of hung together. And I think the reason why I said we'll probably eventually get back to the collective work is we've got so much going with our existing projects that we don't have time right now to do that. So we're not really inviting anybody else into the collective at the moment while we're trying to get everything kind of off [00:22:00] the ground and going, and those teams like Lemon Squeezy is up to like 10 people now. And so how do I just make sure that team's kind of set before I get my eye off that ball, right? Because there's just so much momentum there.
Brian Casel : Yeah, yeah, yeah, for sure. Well I think we're gonna uh, kind of wrap up this first segment here and we'll just sort of like roll into the next one. yeah, it was really good uh, getting that backstory.
JR Farr: Sweet.
Brian Casel : 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.