057: Viral List Building with Josh Ledgard from KickoffLabs

Welcome to episode 57 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! In this episode, Bjork interviews Kickoff Labs founder Josh Ledgard about finding the right idea and growing your audience.

Last week, Bjork talked with Meghan Telpner about starting a business, staying small, and working in your area of brilliance. To go back and listen that episode, click here.

Viral List Building

Josh Ledgard started his entrepreneurial journey while still working at Microsoft – he would start projects, bring them in, and then gain support for the project from his superiors. He then slowly and methodically planned to start his own business, saving up money for a year and dreaming up big ideas.

The business he and his cofounder eventually started was not one of their original ideas. Instead, they “happened upon” a product that people really wanted to use, and they ran with it. Learn more about Josh, his awesome story, and their amazing marketing product, Kickoff Labs, in this enlightening interview.

In this episode, Josh shares:

  • How he was an “internal entrepreneur” at Microsoft before he started his own business
  • How he transitioned from a corporate employee to self-employed
  • When he hires work out instead of doing it himself
  • How Kickoff Labs started
  • What Kickoff Labs does to help you launch a product
  • How Kickoff Labs has helped launch PlateView
  • How you can build a following for your blog
  • A critique of the PlateView landing page

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Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode number 57 of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Hey there everybody, this is Bjork Ostrom. You’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Today, we are talking to Josh Ledgard of kickofflabs.com. The reason that I brought him on to the show is, because one of the things that I love to do with this podcast is introduce people to two things. New concepts, as well as new tools. My hope is that for this episode, you will find both of those, that you’ll find a new concept, as well as a new tool.

A quick back story here. For those of you that have follow along closely with the Food Blogger Pro Podcast, you know that there’s two additional tools that we’re working on beyond just Pinch of Yum and Food Blogger Pro. Those tools are Nutrifox, which I mentioned in yesterday’s podcast. The other one is more of a platform, it’s called Plateview and it’s an iOS app. I’m not doing the development for those. I’m not a developer or a programmer, but Lindsay and I are both leading the vision with those and working with some really outstanding programmers to move those along. One of the things that we do as our role with those is to continue to build up momentum and interest in those. How do we do that? Well, what one of the ways that we did it with Plateview was by using Kickoff Labs.

One of the concepts that I thought was so interesting that Kickoff Labs applies is this idea of viral list building. Building a list for something that you are going to launch or just building a list for the sake of having a list, an email list and using vitality to build that list. We’re going to talk about exactly how Kickoff Labs does that. How I came across Kicklabs? I was doing a lot of research and came across this post by Tim Ferris that talked about how Harry’s, the razor company used a similar strategy to launch their product and their company. I think it’s just a really cool thing that hopefully you’ll be able to apply in your business in some way.

I’m really excited talk to Josh about his story as an entrepreneur, as well as some ways that you can use Kickoff Labs to build a campaign or to build awareness about a certain product or launch that you’re doing. Without further ado, Josh, welcome to the podcast.

Josh Ledgard: Hey. Happy to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Excited to have you on. Kind of a funny story, this is one of those things where we’re always thinking about who are the people that we can have on the podcast, what are the interviews that we can do. A lot of times it will be somebody maybe I have a connection to or it’s somebody that I’m connected to is connected to them, and then I’ll reach out to them. This was really me was just like cold emailing and saying, “Josh, could you come on the podcast and talk a little about this product that you have?”

I appreciate you coming on and being willing to jump on, knowing that we don’t really have any connection before this. I really appreciate it.

Josh Ledgard: It’s no problem. I’m happy to help. It sounds like you got a fun audience that the information can be valuable to.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that there’s really two different sides to it. Maybe this is just me being personally interested in it, but I would love to take it as a two different segments. The first, I would love to hear a little bit about your story. Even though it’s not necessarily in the food space, I think it’s always interesting for people that are trying to do their own thing to hear from people that are doing their own thing. I think there’s so much value that we can take away from talking to other creators and hearing their story whether it’s struggles or successes.

Then I would love to transition and talk about the actual product that you’ve created at Kickoff Labs. We can chat a little bit about how we’ve used that as well. We’ll split that into two segments and we’ll see how natural the transition I can make that.

Let’s jump in first though and talk a little bit about your story. I know that Kickoff Labs is something that you’ve been working on for a few years, but what was it like for you before that? Have you always been an entrepreneur? Have you always been creating your own thing? I would love to just hear a little bit about your story.

Josh Ledgard: I would say I have always been an entrepreneur. I led a very practical past to being an entrepreneur. I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, so I started my career out of college, working as a developer at Microsoft and I found-

Bjork Ostrom: You’re based in Seattle which makes sense.

Josh Ledgard: Yeah. I’m based in Seattle. Yup. I found myself being one of those people that enjoy being sort of a … Do you imagine like an entrepreneur internally at a company?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For sure.

Josh Ledgard: I was always the person like trying out new things or suggesting, “Hey, what if we did this?” Then prototyping it internally, and then getting other people onboard, and seeing if that works.

Bjork Ostrom: Can we pause on that real quick?

Josh Ledgard: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s a really important takeaway. I worked at a non-profit before we transitioned into doing what we’re doing. I think that’s a really … It was a quick piece, but I think that’s an important piece. You get to exercise that entrepreneurial muscle, but the thing that I would love to hear you talk a little about, is like how do you navigate that? Especially at a company like Microsoft which is a behemoth of a company. Traditionally, people would maybe think of that as like, “Well, there’s not a lot of flexibility to do entrepreneurial things.” For those that are in maybe a “normal job” whether it’s 9 to 5 or whatever, how do you take steps into doing that?

Josh Ledgard: There are couple of things. First of all, I know a lot of people that still work at Microsoft and the culture there has changed a lot where it seems like it’s much more actually rewarded or appreciated now and actually encourages part of the culture. At the time, it really wasn’t. I learned very quickly a couple of things.

One, I had to, at a baseline, be decent at my job. Just like my goals that I was given like, “You have to write this code and you have to do this by this date.” Like, “Great. Okay.” You have to be able to figure out how to do that as a baseline or else nobody’s going to care about any extra projects you have.

Bjork Ostrom: If you’re not doing your job.

Josh Ledgard: If you’re not doing your job-

Bjork Ostrom: For sure.

Josh Ledgard: Then nobody wants to hear about it. They don’t want to know how your job is going. Once you’re doing your job, I learned quickly a couple of things. One is for the most part, not to ask for permission or like, “Hey, can I have resources to do this thing,” before you have any proof that it’s going to be valuable. Nobody wanted to give me permission to do anything. Nobody wanted to give me permission to do anything, nobody wanted to give me resources, or time, or say, “Hey, yeah. Go ahead and spend the next two weeks doing this on your own.”

Bjork Ostrom: Before when it was an idea, essentially?

Josh Ledgard: When it was an idea. It’s one of those things that you learn as an entrepreneur, too. Ideas are meaningless, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Right.

Josh Ledgard: There’s a lot of them. I learned to start like, figure out how I can do my basic job quicker and then use extra time, put in the extra effort at home or at work at different hours. Just implement what I wanted to do.

Bjork Ostrom: Do you feel like that gave you a little bit of a momentum start on your entrepreneurial path in order to start taking those steps internally within the organization?

Josh Ledgard: Absolutely. A, I generally ended up being very well rewarded for it. I had a good career at Microsoft and I really enjoyed what I was doing. Some of the side projects I did actually turned into full-time jobs and transitioned my job at Microsoft while I was there. I was able to take a couple side projects that did and all of a sudden yeah, eventually they gave me a team and resources to build it myself. Really build that stuff out. That was an amazing experience to realize hey, this is something I started on the side and all of a sudden I’ve got a team of 5 people and I’ve got a totally different job and I’ve built myself a whole different job. That kind of was proof to me that you can start something and it can become a job. Now this is within a very safe environment, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Josh Ledgard: My risk of failure was, I’m sure they’d still keep me at my old job. It wasn’t that bad. It was a great step to go through. It made me also realize that very few people want to take those chances and risks, even within a company. I think that if you’re thinking about being an entrepreneur and you’re at a medium to larger size company or day job, practice those entrepreneurial muscles at your day job. A, you’ll find out it makes your day job more fun. You’ll enjoy doing it more even if it’s extra time and extra work and B, if you’re at a good company you’ll probably be rewarded for it, which comes with benefits. C, you’ll be like yeah, I could totally do this on my own. You’ll get that, like you said, that momentum. That positive, forward looking attitude.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. I think one of the things you said that’s so important is seeing something develop from an idea into a reality. Just to feel that process, it’s like oh, this is something that can happen. You can have an idea, you can move forward with it, you can create a team around it. Eventually it’s something that people are actually using or interacting with. I think just to have that experience and probably even better when it’s in a safe environment because you’re not doing that burn all bridges and then start something, which some people might argue is a good thing. I think I would be of the opinion that it’s better to make that transition slow and steady and safe, especially if you have a family and kids and things like that.

Josh Ledgard: That was my scenario. I’ve always taken, there’s definitely two different types of entrepreneurs. There’s the burn the bridge, like this is going to succeed or I’m going to be living on the street type of person, and then there’s the make an eventual plan. I do think I could have moved faster in some respects down my path but I’m happy with how I got here.

I worked at Microsoft for about 7–1/2 years. Then I felt like I thought about starting something then but then I realized I felt like I was very isolated at Microsoft. I really only had exposure within because it is such a large company it’s hard to get exposure to things like sales and marketing and funding. All those types of things. You don’t ever see that when you’re within your little isolated world. The development space.

I decided to join a smaller company so I left to join a smaller company that gave me an opportunity to run, to manage their product team. The appeal that had to me was one, they were looking to grow so I was part of their funding process. Two, running the product team meant that my peers were people who ran the marketing team, who ran the sales team, who ran … I got exposure to all of the sales, support, the marketing. I got a lot of exposure to all of those other disciplines and how they run their business. That was something that I thought was really important to starting my own business. I had no concept what it meant to work and to see what sales people do or what marketing team do. It would be much harder for me to have an appreciation for that, to try and hire those people. To know what good employees in those spaces look like. I worked there for 4 years.

As part of working there, I made sure on my practical path I was like well I figure I need at least a year’s runway. I saved money to basically … Worked with my family. Said okay, if I made no money for a year, how much money do we need to make to have no income for a year? When we cut everything down, what does that look like? Figured out what that number was, saved above that number.

I was going to just do it on my own, like something on my own and I went to go tell the person who ended up being my co-founder, Scott Watermasysk, he worked with me. He was the VP of Architecture at the company. He worked really closely with me, in charge of more technical issues. I said, “I’m just going to let you know I’m leaving in a month.” I gave him my notice and he’s like, “You beat me by two months.” I was like, “Really?”

Bjork Ostrom: Interesting.

Josh Ledgard: He’s like, “Yeah, I’m thinking about starting my own thing. I’ve been saving money for a year.” We’d saved within $500 of each other.

Bjork Ostrom: Funny, just like parallel lives without knowing it.

Josh Ledgard: We’re like, maybe two people is better than one. We seem to have similar concepts on this path of what we want to do and being very practical about it. We started that relationship and from there started coming up with ideas. Literally wrote out 45 to 50 ideas down, one paragraph each. Things ranging from a blog about beer to-

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. That would be our niche.

Josh Ledgard: All the way from a blog about beer to these deeply technical things. Something other developers would use to write applications and code with. Write them all down. Paragraph. Then you start looking at them like do we have the skill set and the ability to do that? It’s like well neither of us are writers, neither of us can take pictures of beer, we just enjoy drinking beer.

Bjork Ostrom: My qualification is enjoying the subject. Which is good, but you maybe need a little bit more than that.

Josh Ledgard: It wasn’t like we look at it and you’re like what is required to get the audience that something like you guys have built, that skill to get the audience, the skill to do the writing, the skill … All of that stuff. We’d have to hire out all of that. That seems like a really bad plan.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, right. It’s not a business that scales quickly, either. It’s the long, slow, steady build in the content world.

One of the things that I thought was interesting is kind of with you describing your path it’s like your funnel where you started out at a big company, kind of maybe felt siloed a little bit into the developer path. The next step you took was working at a smaller company and being able to experience those different areas a little bit. Sales, marketing, maybe some of the accounting or bookkeeping, let’s say. Things like that where you get a feel for it a little bit more intimately. Then you really dwindle it down to just two people.

I think there’s two things, two take-aways that are really good with that. One is intentionally filling in the gaps in a safe way. Transitioning and saying, “I don’t feel like I quite understand all these different areas transitioned into a smaller company.” Get a feel of how this works, how these other department works. Then transition down and say now that I have this general knowledge, I can take some of that and apply it.

The other thing that I think is important with that is what you’d said about building up that savings amount. Also living, this is a conversation I was having with a friend recently who’s thinking of transitioning into working on his own thing after he’s in a corporate job now, but for him it was living on his salary just from the business that he was doing on the side, and then saving all of his income from his corporate job. I think that again, it’s not to burn the bridges and walk out, I’m going to do this all on my own, it’s that safe, steady transition whether it’s saving that money and saying, “I can use this for a year,” or living on it and saying, “This is something that I know I can sustain myself on.” I think that’s really smart.

Josh Ledgard: I literally took that money that I had for the year and was paying my family rent checks. My wife said, “Here’s how much you owe the family every month. I don’t care how you pay it but it’s going to come out of your account.”

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. Kind of the landlord relationship.

Josh Ledgard: Was watching it dwindle in our business account so I even did some consulting and some projects in the meantime. I really hated watching that number go down.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure, for sure.

Josh Ledgard: So I worked in the meantime to make sure it didn’t.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s a healthy constraint to have because it motivates you in a way that you wouldn’t be motivated if you didn’t see that or feel that or if you had unlimited funding or a huge slush fund that you could draw from. You end up being a little bit less creative, potentially. I think that’s an interesting observation.

One of the things that I wanted to ask was as you transition down this funnel with your career, what do you feel like were the things that once you got to the point where it was you and your partner working on it, what were the things that you said, “Okay, I’m going to hold onto this and I’m going to do this myself?” Maybe it was marketing or developing the product. What were the things that you said, “As quickly as possible I’m going to bring somebody on to do this because I know that having experienced it in these other places and knowing myself that I’m not interested in doing it?”

Josh Ledgard: We both came from a product size so we both held on to the product development. We wanted to own that and build a good foundation for the product. That was probably the biggest thing. Naturally, I’m a little bit less, more broad and less technically inclined than Scott so I took on the ownership of how we figured out the other parts of the business. An example on the other side was something like customer support. While I love customers and I love talking to customers, I know myself well enough to know that my tone in email doesn’t always come across as nice as it should. I can sound, whether I intend to or not I don’t have that voice that customers want to hear when they talk to somebody.

Bjork Ostrom: There’s good self awareness on your part to be like, this isn’t the best part for me if people want to feel warm fuzzies when they’re emailing somebody.

Josh Ledgard: We hired out that position. As soon as we had more than a couple support tickets coming in a day we hired somebody part time and it was like night and day. All of a sudden the responses that the person we hired was putting out that was good at it was saying, “Hey,” like instead of saying things like, “Here’s how you solve your problem,” they would say things like, ’Hey, looks like you’ve got a really cool project going on. By the way, here’s how you solve the problem.“ All of a sudden the customer feels really good. They’re like, ”Wow, I like talking to you.“ That’s just niceties that I would just be like, ”Here’s how you solve your problem. You should have seen this button right over here."

Bjork Ostrom: Passive aggressive way of saying, “The button is there, here it is,” for sure.

Josh Ledgard: Hiring that out, it was a really good choice. We’ve scaled up, we’ve hired more people and have more folks covering it now but that was a good choice for us, even with the limited budget we had at the time. It was something that we could do as a contractor and it didn’t cost that much money compared to the opportunity cost that Scott and I would lose sitting around answering support tickets.

Bjork Ostrom: It takes up, we talk about this idea of mental real estate. Something comes in and you maybe get distracted and as a technical person you know the value of being focused in on the problem and solving that without getting distracted. I think that makes a lot of sense.

Josh Ledgard: Constantly realizing, especially as you start making money in a business, what your time is worth. Putting that dollar amount on your hour and saying realistically, if I had an average job I could get, using that as a calculation, like the job I had before I did the business or whatever, what is an hour of my time worth? You have to think am I spending that hour in the most productive way or could I hire somebody for a third of that amount to do that if you have the money to do it.

I’m not saying you should always choose hiring people, because there’s plenty of times I do stuff that I do stuff in the business that either I just like to do and it’s maybe not the best use of my time and I enjoy doing it, or it just has to be done and somebody has to do it and it rolls up. I’ll end up doing it. To think about that in terms of your time.

I see people make that mistake all the time of costing themselves 10 hours to save $200. I don’t know if that’s the best use of your time.

Bjork Ostrom: I think opportunity costs is a great way to look at that because it’s not just the cost plain and simple. Obviously you’d save $200 but if you spent that time doing X, Y, Z, whatever that is, how much further you could move your thing along, whatever it is.

Josh Ledgard: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. I think that’s a great point.

One of the last things that I wanted to pull out and ask you about from that previous story that you told of your path, is to talk a little bit about the … You said that you were the project manager or product lead? What was your role at the smaller company?

Josh Ledgard: I was the VP of Product Development. The product development team meaning the developers, the testers, the designers, all rolled up to me.

Bjork Ostrom: This is just me personally asking and I think this would apply to some other people as well, but I feel like that’s a really interesting role to have and valuable experience for you stepping into what you’re doing right now. I don’t think necessarily a lot of the people that are listening to this would be at the point where they’re managing a team but they might get there eventually if they want to transition their business to the point where they have team members and they’re not just the solo ’entrepreneur thing.

What did you learn about managing a team like that and moving a product forward and continuing to develop it? What were your take-aways that you feel you apply to what you’re doing now?

Josh Ledgard: A couple things. One is being able to have a constant idea. Everybody has to be on the same page and have a constant idea of what they should be working on, especially true like at the company I worked at most of my team was remote. It was important to over-communicate. Those people on the team-

Bjork Ostrom: How do you do that? What was the communication through?

Josh Ledgard: We’d have a weekly all-team meeting and then I’d meet with either the individuals or the leads on the team once a week so I spent a lot of my time communicating it to the whole team, then communicating individually, reinforcing what I say to the whole team, and then reviewing the work at the end of the week with individuals and saying, “This is what we were after.”

Bjork Ostrom: The communication thing I think is so important. Our team that we work with, primarily remote, we have some people that live in Minnesota that work closely with Lindsay and do video and content and things like that. Most of our team is remote and it’s like that’s one of the things I’m learning and trying to get better at is just really clear communication, which is so much easier said than done. Over-communicating. It’s like usually I’ll communicate to the point where I feel like okay, this is good, but I’ve really started to try and use video a lot like screen casts and now we use Slack and when needed it’s like just jump on a call real quick and talk through this as opposed to hash it out over text or whatever.

Josh Ledgard: I think that’s a failing and it’s a tough balance as a manager you don’t want to be a micro manager in terms of what you’re doing, but I think it’s important to over-communicate the goals, not necessarily to over-communicate and say, “Here’s how you achieve those goals.”

Bjork Ostrom: The why.

Josh Ledgard: It’s important to over-communicate the why this type of thing is important to your team to your team. In your head it makes total sense.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure.

Josh Ledgard: I say this about landing pages, too. When I look at landing page copy. I’m like, “I don’t really understand what the page is about,” and some people say, “I said it right there in this one sentence.” I’m like, “That should be said about 4 times on the page.”

Bjork Ostrom: Right, for sure.

Josh Ledgard: In your head you’re like I don’t want to beat people over the head with it, but the reality is you kind of have to because they don’t have your context. Even people that work for you or at your company don’t have the context that you have where you’re thinking about it constantly.

Bjork Ostrom: I totally get that. We’re in the middle of doing an announcement for kind of a nitch sass product that we’re doing called Nutrifox, which is it’s like a nutrition label generator for people in the food space. I was talking about communicating like how it works and what it’s about. Lindsay and I were talking about it and I was like, “I just don’t want to like over-communicate,” or I don’t think that was the word that I used. I was just like, “I don’t want to repeatedly bring it up,” or something like that. Then I stopped and I was like I’ve only emailed once about it, and that’s it, and I already feel like I’m over-communicating what it’s about and how it works and stuff.

It just takes so much to clearly communicate, whether it’s team members or whether it’s a product and how it works and what it’s about. I think it’s an interesting take-away and it’s maybe what’s important with that is like flipping the script a little bit and thinking about people that are looking at it from their perspective as opposed to you being so close to it for 3, 4, 5 months and understanding it so intimately. For sure.

That’s maybe a good transition here to shift and talk a little bit about the actual product that you have. One of the things that I anted to talk about kind of as a transition is so you had talked about creating this list and you had idea after idea and kind of like we said at the beginning, it’s like we all know that ideas are only the very first baby step. Then it’s implementing and moving forward on those.

One of the things that I thought was so interesting was you said, “We had all these different things, we had this beer blog, we thought we would like that, we didn’t end up doing that.” When you come up with a list like that, how do you decide what to do and how much does passion and interest play into that? I think that people that are listening to this probably have a lot of different ideas and the things that they would like to pursue, but there’s this interesting balance between an idea that needs to be implemented, like a problem that needs to be solved that there’s a market for, as well as something that you’re interesting and passionate enough about that you can actually dedicate the insane amount of time and energy that goes into actually getting something off the ground.

I think people like the idea of building their own thing and turning it into something, but it’s so much harder than it actually seems from the outside. How did you use that list or how did you approach that list and then dwindle it down and say, “This is what we’re going to do?”

Josh Ledgard: I think I started to say, first we looked at it and crossed off ones that we felt like we just did not have the skill set or even to that context, any interest at all. It was either like skill set or we just throw out the idea. Neither of us really had an interest in doing it.

We ended up taking that list of 45 or so down to about 5 or 6 things, building out mini-business plans for each of those 5 or 6 things, and doing more research like talking to a couple people about each of them. Then we realized that they all sounded great. Then you realize oh, maybe we should do another level of business planning, say no, because I could make any numbers up at this point. If we get 1% of $2 billion and the people spend and…

Bjork Ostrom: It’s so easy to play the numbers game.

Josh Ledgard: It started to sound like any of them were good ideas at that point. Then we’re like well the only thing that really matters is could we collect customer information and people signing up and saying they were interested? That became Idea Number 6 was something to collect customer information and sign up and get people to sign up and see if they’re interested. We actually we were like, “Okay, we’re engineering folk. Let’s build a quick prototype of that product,”-

Bjork Ostrom: Funny.

Josh Ledgard: Use that to test the other 6 ideas that we have or the other 5 ideas. Then I can talk more about how we advertised and broadcast those ideas but it came down to there were 2 that were getting a lot of traction. There was what turned out to be Kickoff Labs and there was another idea that was called Sipsocial that was more like social media curation and support and assignment for laundry companies in the same way like Hootsuite might be, something like that, but this was a few years ago. We had both of those ideas.

We started building out both of those ideas and then once we were far enough along with each one, had a pay button on Kickoff Labs and then we’re working with some larger companies. I used my contacts at Microsoft to see if I could get people to sign up for the other idea. Just while we were talking and working with larger companies to sign up and do the Fitsocial concept, it turned out that we started seeing revenue growth from Kickoff Labs. Even if we weren’t working on it we’d see like okay, there’s a few hundred dollars. Another few hundred dollars in the month. It just started growing.

Finally I was talking to a mentor of mine and he says, “Why are you working on this other product when this one has already gotten to $10,000 a month? Why are you even focusing at all on this other product where you haven’t signed one paying customer yet and you’re in this long sales cycles with these enterprises that may or may not purchase?” I was like, “You’re right. I don’t enjoy the long sales cycle. I’m not a sales person.” It became like another skill set type thing where I just wasn’t interested in doing it or hiring the people that were required and just wasn’t getting people to put the business cards down like we wanted.

Meanwhile, Kickoff Labs was growing and we decided to shut down the other products and move into Kickoff Labs.

Bjork Ostrom: With Kickoff Labs, so was that Idea Number 6? Is that what you were saying?

Josh Ledgard: Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Was it a version, and we can explain what the product is for context for people in a little bit. Did you use essentially a minimum version of Kickoff Labs to run experiments for the other pages? To collect the interest?

Josh Ledgard: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Which is kind of meta. Can you explain from a high level, what Kickoff Labs is? I’ll say this before you get into it. This is kind of transitioning into potentially the part of the interview that could be applicable for people that are listening because I think it’s a really important part of the idea or product or business stage that people don’t normally think about. I wanted to bring it up not only to share the concept, but also to share a tool for us that’s worked really well.

From a high level, what is Kickoff Labs and how would somebody use it?

Josh Ledgard: At a super high level our goal is to help people grow their audience. We say on the website, grow your email list with the viral campaign. We add that concept of the viral campaign because there’s any number of tools that will give you a popup form or a signup form on your website or even just your mailing list. Like MailChimp or Aweber or they have those kind of forms.

Our goal is to add a little bit of more engagement to your audience because I believe that’s more where advertising and customer interaction is going because nobody wants to be screamed at, but they want to engage with things around your brand. To make it more fun. To add that contest element.

We add the concept of the viral contest to the email collection. Whether you set up a landing page or a form on your website, you can bring people to a page that says, “Hey, thanks for signing up, here’s what we promise to give you for signing up. Now go and tell your friends about us and if 3 of those people sign up, we will also give you X.” We provide the ability to track those referrals and reward people for generating those referrals on your behalf. Basically getting, helping to find the people that are influencers in your audience and using them to grow it.

We have 2 basic types of customers. One are the in the startup space. People launching new businesses that want to grow an audience from nothing and they’ll offer free product or discounts or early access to people that sign up on the Kickoff Labs page for referring friends. On the other side we have existing businesses that have 10, 50, 100,000 emails already and they want to run evergreen contest once every other month to keep growing their audience and say, “Hey, this month’s contest is about this, refer the most friends,” and they seed it with the existing people on their mailing list. Then they get all of those people sharing and participating in the contest or for more of their friends to their audience because as most people, especially like in the e-commerce space, you know the larger your audience that you own, the more money you can make because the more revenue you’ll generate from every newsletter you send out or every sale you run.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s such a common refrain in the internet marketing space or just in general with the business. How important it is to build your list. I’ll share an example from us because it is I think people will get it and it’s interesting and also it’s a great example of how powerful it can be.

Our story is we’re in the very early stages of building this application. The 2 things, we’re kind of simultaneously building these 2 additional products alongside Pinch of Yum, which is the food blog, and then Food Blogger Pro which is this podcast, and then the membership site that we have.

What we’re doing is as we’re building out our team and scaling those, we’re also focusing on these 2 other areas. One is Nutrifox, which I talked about before. Then we have this app and it’s starting as an iOS app and it’s called Plateview. I knew that one of the most important things, even if we weren’t going to launch for a couple months, is to start collecting emails. I was doing some research around it and you’re probably familiar with this but Tim Ferris has a blog for our work week. There’s this post called, “How to Gather 100,000 emails in one week.” It talks about Harry’s, which is the razor company and it talks about the marketing that they went through and how they did this viral marketing campaign that got 100,000 email subscribers. I was like, “God this makes so much sense.”

I started to look into hiring somebody to build a custom solution for that. I was like oh, like so discouraged at how expensive it was going to be. Then I came across Kickoff Labs and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this does exactly what we were hoping to do and we don’t have to pay $5,000 for somebody to custom develop it.” I signed up and I put together, I probably spent a couple hours putting together what is if you were to look at it, probably like a 3 out of 10 quality landing page, but I knew it was what I wanted to get started. It was for people that wanted to sign up and hear about Plateview, this iOS application that we’re working on.

We weren’t giving anything away, we don’t have product that we can give but we said, “If you’re interested in getting early access, reserving your username, getting in and building out your account, uploading some videos, maybe seeing what other people have when we’re in the beta stage, you can sign up and you can move up the list.” We did this viral campaign that Kickoff Labs has. You can move up the list as you refer other people.

The people that will get access the quickest will be the people that also refer other people to Plateview. To sign up for the waiting list.

What happened was, I mentioned it once just really quickly at a conference and that was just in passing and not a lot happened from that. Then we did this live Q&A call which we do once a month on Foodblogger Pro and at the very end I mentioned, “Hey, just so you guys know,” there’s maybe 100 people on the call and I said, “We’re working on this and if you’re interested in following along with it, you can go to Plateview.com. That will redirect to the launch page, you can sign up there.” I didn’t even mention the virality thing of it.

What happened was it was like overnight, it was so interesting to watch it where a couple people signed up from that and then they I think shared it to their community or maybe a group of people in their niche. They signed up and then they shared it with their community, and it’s like just form mentioning it at the end of this call, we were able to kind of push this proverbial snowball down the hill and start this process of building this list without doing a lot of intentional marketing. The only other time that we’ll have mentioned it at this point is on a couple other Q&A calls that we did. Or it was just a general update video. Then this podcast here.

At this point we already have not hundreds of thousands, but we have I think 800 people that have signed up in our little niche. It was so fun to watch and it worked really well. Not only is that a story to tell people how it works, but also a little thank you to you because it worked and it worked really well.

I’m interested to hear from your side just other examples of people that have done this and then how they have applied that in their business. Other applications maybe, or products, maybe a real-life example of a business if you have a case study.

Josh Ledgard: Yeah, I’ve got a lot. There’s a funded side of companies. There’s a company called Glowforge. They’re selling 3D laser engravers. I guess not really a 3D printer but just a home level laser engraver product they were going to bring to the market. They used our software in the referral scheme and got over 40,000 people signed up from almost nothing when they started with.

Bjork Ostrom: With a company like that, so they get 40,000 people and then what do they do after? I think that’s the important thing. I think almost all of us think about our thing and what it can become, but we don’t think about the pre-stage of building up to it and how we can start before we start, almost.

Josh Ledgard: We were their start before they started. Then they went on to do a crowdfunding campaign and had one of the largest crowdfunding campaigns in history because they had seeded the list with people who were interested and offering them different levels of discounts, depending upon how many friends they referred.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Their referral mechanism was the discount?

Josh Ledgard: Yeah, their referral incentive was the discount. They had an insane amount of referrals because of that, people coming through. They knew that was going to be the plan. They wanted to seed a list for the crowdfunding because in crowdfunding, especially like you want to be on the trending side of those sites. Just want to start from nothing and try to grow it. Everybody wants to start with a bang. You end up in the new and popular section of crowdfunding site that you’re on. That was their goal is to get enough people that they could overwhelm the crowdfunding site with the response. It helped they had a cool product. That’s how they used it.

Then they’ve gone on to do wait list for different versions of their product and re-use the product, Kickoff Labs for different contests to grow their lists as well after the fact.

Another thing I was just going to say that another example is a cell phone company called Accompli and they were a really good email client and I guess they still are a really good email client on the high phone and Android. They launched with Kickoff Labs just an idea page, come sign up for our app. They actually didn’t have much of a referral incentive other than we’ll try and let some of the people in as beta testers for the app because they weren’t going to charge money for it so they didn’t have much they could offer.

They still got about 40% of their leads from referrals, collected over 20,000 people and then when they went for … When they launched the app they ended up in those trending sections of the app stores because they had a huge audience they built up and they were able to market the app progressively to those people. Then they ended up being purchased from Microsoft and Microsoft turned it into what is now just simply called Outlook for iPhones. The Outlook app for iPhone started as a page with a screenshot on Kickoff Labs.

Bjork Ostrom: Do you feel like it’s this weird, full-circle thing like somehow, something you’ve touched has ended back up in Microsoft? Like a little bit of your DNA is still there?

Josh Ledgard: It is interesting that that happened. There’s a couple of smaller products that that’s happened too, as well. Interesting to see the acquisitions and how that works.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that I would love to talk about, and I didn’t even think about this before the call, but you had talked about people that will use it on a continual basis. Maybe they’ll have a give-away or some type of promotion and then that has kind of a viral component to it. Let’s say that you are somebody that has, and I would say the majority of people that listen to this podcast would be people that are on the content side of things. They’re producing posts, they maybe have videos, and some of them may have some type of product, maybe a cookbook or something like that. The biggest thing is how do we build our audience and following?

This is a little bit off the cuff, but would you be up for talking through potentially some ideas that people could implement that would help them build their following and engagement, and maybe build their email list?

Josh Ledgard: If somebody has products on an e-commerce site, the easy thing is setting up a contest and you give people for entering the contest some coupon or 10% off or just a standard coupon code you might give out on your site, anyway.

Bjork Ostrom: When you say contest, what does that entail?

Josh Ledgard: You give people, for entering the contest, they get something. Then the contest part of it being that some sort of referral contest whether it be the most referrals, or whether if you get 5 referrals you get this. Some sort of goal around the referrals. Some companies have even done like hey, if you get as a company, if we get 5,000 referrals, we’ll unlock new rewards people can get. It becomes this group thing of doing it.

What they’ll do to give away is if you’re an eCommerce site they’ll give away pieces of product that they sell on the e-commerce site like we have one company that does like shorts. They’d give away different pairs of their shorts or special edition pairs of the shorts that they were making custom. If you’re not a product-focused site, if you’re a content site, it’s important that you do a giveaway that … It’s not just either of those referrals. We can also set it up so that with Kickoff Labs that every referral you generate is basically another ticket in the lottery.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it.

Josh Ledgard: Then people, we have a thing, a feature called Pick a Winner, where it weights the people that have gotten more verified referrals stronger. They can do a winner picking for a larger prize. You’re not just giving away something to everybody that gets 5 referrals, you’re saying if you get 50 referrals, you have 50 tickets in the lottery. You may not win but you have 50 tickets to enter something.

Then so for people in the content space that can work really well and make the larger prize something where it applies to your audience. If you have a cooking blog maybe it’s like you’re giving away a Kitchen-Aid mixer or something like that. I don’t know what would be most appealing to your audience. My general advice is to tell people to stay away from things that attract people that aren’t necessarily their audience.

The biggest mistake people make with contests is I’ll give away an iPad and you know what happens? Contest get promoted in all these contest discussion boards for people that want to win iPads, not people that want to be a better cook.

Bjork Ostrom: Idea being you wanted to have as much overlap as possible. The one that I’m thinking of is so Lindsay does food photography workshops. I think it would be a super easy way to gather some leads for people that are interested in workshops by doing some type of giveaway that’s like hey, you can win a ticket to a workshop and every time you refer somebody else to the waiting list it’s like another ticket in the system.

Then what happens is the only people that will sign up for that are people that are interested in a food photography workshop. It’s not like Joe Shmoe in Minneapolis, Minnesota is going to sign up and say, “I hope I win a food photography workshop.” That’s cool. I really like that idea. I think one of the things that I like about it is this idea that it leans into the concept of the viral co-efficient. I don’t know if I’ve talked about it on the podcast before. Are you familiar with that term?

Josh Ledgard: Yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Would you be up for explaining that to people that are listening and why that’s an important concept for people to understand online?

Josh Ledgard: Yeah. The viral co-efficient is basically for every person that comes to your site and signs up for whatever it is, whatever your conversion goal is, how many of their friends or how many other people do they then bring in to your service. If you have a viral co-efficient of 0.5 that means for every 1 person that comes in, another half person comes in. You need 2 new customers to bring in 1 additional customer because one of those 2 people will refer the extra customer.

If you have a viral co-efficient over 1, it is a rare thing and everybody thinks, “Oh my gosh, we’re going to have a viral co-efficient of a 1 and we should shoot for that.” No. You should just try and optimize for as much sharing and viralities as you can and realize that a viral co-efficient of over 1 means you’ve got that hockey stick style growth of an application, like something like Slack or something would have in their early days, and even they don’t have that hockey stick but in the early days they did have that hockey stick style growth where it just keeps getting steeper and steeper, their growth curve for a while.

Bjork Ostrom: Do you think something like Pokemon GO, is that a viral co-efficient?

Josh Ledgard: Oh yeah. Something like Pokemon GO it seems like it’s absolutely viral co-efficient. I’ve not played but walking around in parks around our neighborhood, oh my gosh, there’s all these people doing it and all of a sudden you see kids asking, “What’s that?”

Bjork Ostrom: Exactly.

Josh Ledgard: Other kids start playing it and then their family’s playing it.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. It’s so funny. Lindsay and I live really close to a park. I was like, “Linds, we’ve got to download this.” We downloaded it and now when we take our dog for a walk at the end of the night, we’ll play and it’s so funny because it’s a literally probably 50% of people we pass are heads down looking at their phone and catching Pokemon. We’re like, “What a weird phenomenon,” but I feel like it’s a great example of viral co-efficient where one person tells 2 people about it and they tell 2 people and it just from there it balloons until we’re all walking around catching Pokemon. For sure.

One of the things on Kickoff Labs is called the Viral Boost. With our campaign we have a Viral Boost of 88%. Does that tie into a viral co-efficient at all?

Josh Ledgard: It’s related. We wanted to come up with a simpler way to explain it to people. As we talk to a lot of our customers, explaining the concept of a viral co-efficient and having a number that’s like 0.5 or 0.7 or 1.1 didn’t mean much to them. The concept that they were getting extra referrals or a boost from the products, made much more sense when we pitched it to them.

The boost that we were, so what that means in our case is basically we’re telling you what percentage of your leads are coming from other people. What percentage are referred. That tells you, and from our perspective it’s easier to market because we can sell it as like without us, you wouldn’t have this. If you weren’t running a referral campaign, you wouldn’t have this or at least you wouldn’t be able to track it to know that that’s the case.

That means in your case, 80% of the people that have signed up have been referred to from somewhere else. That’s a really good number for your campaign. It tells you that either you have good incentives for people to sign up or you have a product that’s so cool people really want to tell their friends. The 2 angles you can get to tell people to push people in a direction is one, the wow, this is so cool I’m going to tell everybody about it, and then two, is like this thing seems okay but wow, if I tell people about it…

Bjork Ostrom: For sure.

Josh Ledgard: It’s not a carrot and a stick but you need sort of those two things to work together to get people to go out there. You can take a boring product and add that carrot and get people to share it on the site.

Bjork Ostrom: The secret sauce it seems like would be having something that people are really excited about that has decent incentives for that sharing and that also is the third thing I was going to say is like sticky, I was going to say, in the sense that it’s something that will continue to keep people interested. It’s not something that’s going to just be a really small subset of people. The reach is big enough that it’s able to apply to a decent amount of people.

I think for us, I think what we have is we don’t have a huge incentive in that it’s like early access, which I think is decent and okay. I think that people like the idea of maybe reserving their username on the platform or something like that. I think people are interested in it, for sure. They want to check it out.

The reach isn’t necessarily huge because it’s a little bit of a niche product, at least right now, especially on the creator side. People that are creating food and recipe videos, consumers aren’t necessarily interested in getting early access but the creators are. Nonetheless, I feel like we’ve been able to get some decent traction with it and it’ll really give us a huge advantage to start out with that.

As a last kind of wrap-up thing, what I wanted to do is maybe just jump over. We’ll include the current version of our page but would you be up for, and I know that you do this in a weekly call, but doing just like a basic critique and saying, “Here are some of the things that you could improve and update with it?”

Josh Ledgard: Yeah. Absolutely. I’m looking at the site launch.Plateview.com. So that’s what you’re after? Okay. I appreciate that you went minimal on the sense that you just went with text and you kept the text really simple on the page. There’s one really big image that calls out. It’s like your hero image that says, it shows what it is in more detail. You do a great job explaining the what.

The world’s best videos. By itself it wouldn’t mean much because you’re like well isn’t that YouTube? Then it says, it clarifies, says for foodies by foodies. You’re like okay, it’s for people who are really interested in videos or recipes or something that a foodie would like.

Then you repeat that below. You say, “Plateview is a video app for foodies by foodies,” which again we talked about earlier, it’s important to beat people over the head with it.

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Josh Ledgard: I think that’s a good thing that you’re doing. Then to say, “We’re opening up a limited number of people.” All of a sudden you’re saying, “There’s scarcity here,” which is a good tactic, “Reserve your spot on the waiting list by signing up below.” You have a really simple form and you’re asking for a first name and email.

Then you do another best practice here, which is your call to action matches the text above. It says, “Reserve your spot on the waiting list below.” The button says, “Reserve your spot.” It doesn’t say, “Sign up,” or, “Get unified,” or anything like that.

Bjork Ostrom: Charge your credit card.

Josh Ledgard: Charge your credit card. It just says, “Reserve your spot.” It matches the call to action that you have. For a fundamental perspective I think you’ve done just about all the good best practices on this page.

If I were to suggest maybe two things about this page to be worth testing, and I don’t think these two things will necessarily make a huge difference. Number one, you’ve done the investment, at least graphically to have these, I don’t know if this is a real version of your app or where you’ve gotten the image. You’ve made some investment in design where you’ve got design there. I’m surprised that you don’t have a logo for Plateview.

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, sure. Yeah.

Josh Ledgard: Having that logo instead of just the text, although the text is simple, having a nice logo at the top would make it feel more real. For a pre-launch page especially, it’s important that people feel like this thing is real that will exist. The same kind of rules that exist for crowdfunding. People need to believe this isn’t fake. It’s not some chintzy operation.

I think it’s fine to start pages and to be simple and to not have a logo, but then realistically you can buy logos for $10 these days and insert logo afterwards. People get so caught up in like, “Oh my gosh, it’s not the logo I want long term,” you’re like, “No, it might not be but nobody’s going to notice if in a year you change your logo.”

Bjork Ostrom: They’ll be relieved if they do notice if it’s a very basic version.

Josh Ledgard: I would change that is the one thing I would do. Then the other thing is I mean you’ve got a really minimal page here. I would compare it against running an AB test against a page that lists that had more of that side by side list of feature one and feature two, feature three.

Bjork Ostrom: Actually explaining what it is, which it’s like, it’s still a little bit obscure right now. I think the people that have signed up, they’re like, “We are familiar with you guys,” so maybe they’ve listened to the podcast, they’ll sign up. For those that aren’t familiar it’s like, “What is this?”

Josh Ledgard: It would be interesting to AB test those two approaches. I’m not saying one is better than the other because one doesn’t always win. Sometimes they work out the same. Sometimes for one product it works out to keep it really simple, but it’s a common AB test that I tell people it might be worth running in situations like this where you’ve got the basics down of communicating the fundamental of a product. Then to have some more detailed explanation on the page or below the signup form, using one of the longer form running pages, is worth testing, is worth testing against.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s great. I think like you said, it’s that you have to test everything but for those that are able to test something I think it’s a great reminder for me and also for people that are listening. One of the great tests you can do is that long form versus short form. It’s something that would be a smart thing for us to do.

Josh Ledgard: I mean as a general rule of thumb, I’m not looking for a 20-page webpage. I’m thinking more just like 3 or 4 different features with a screenshot on the page. People should keep in mind … I’ve seen people do these really long form landing pages for what are free apps. I mean really long form. I saw those, I’m like, “Listen, you’ve got 5 pages of content here, but you’re charging nothing for it. People don’t need that much convincing. They need a good story but they don’t need that much convincing.”

I sort of think your long-formedness seems it has to relate a little bit to the value you’re going to expect to extract from people and give … Right? If you’re selling something that costs $2,000, like the 1,500 I think it was for that laser printer?

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Josh Ledgard: For the laser engraver at home? You need a little bit more of an explanation with a bunch of samples and stuff that have been laser engraved, and here’s why it’s so cool and here’s how you can plug it into your computer at home. It’s a consumer-level thing.

Bjork Ostrom: It can’t just say, “The world’s best laser engraver.”

Josh Ledgard: You can’t just say, “The world’s best laser engraver,” by now, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Right.

Josh Ledgard: People need a little bit more massaging to be convinced into that. Then, I signed up so I was looking at the next page, the one, two, signup, it’s your early access page. You did the right thing, which is thanks for your interest in Plateview. When you have a logo I’d put the logo above there, again just to make it feel real.

You do a good thing. You don’t have a background image on the first page but the color remains consistent from page one to page two, and I see people who set up two different pages. I say, “Do you realize the fonts and color’s completely shifted from one page to the next?” You didn’t do that. You kept it really simple. That’s a good thing on the page.

Then you really just loudly and clearly explained, “Move up the waiting list by sharing your custom link below.” Then again you reiterate above the custom link page, you can move up the list, these links were created just for you. The more signups you have the more referrals you get. Then you label the waiting list that says, “Next up to get access,” and you’ve got the people listed there on the wait list, which is something that we enable at Kickoff Labs to show people where they sit on the wait list.

I think I don’t have much feedback at all for this page. I mean I think you did a great job with keeping the incentive really simple, with tying it to the brand. The only thing I might do is I think you can massage the copy a little bit in that box where it says you can move up the wait list. You don’t really discuss the product again on this page much. You just say the name of Plateview, but I think you’re knowing, it seems like you’re a creative person, you’ve got this content area. You could be a little bit more playful with it, but move up the wait list so you can share your own food videos first, or something. You know? I’m suggesting, I’m terrible at content.

Bjork Ostrom: The idea generally being branding and this feels like a very much so a V1. You can put some meat on it.

Josh Ledgard: It’s just having that reminder too of context of what Plateview is on the page but tied to that incentive or tied to the wait list concept just helps give people that additional, another touch point of the product. The old saying is people need to hear about you 7 times before they accept or buy anything. Any add you ran or post is number one. When it gets to the landing page it’s number two. The thank you page should be number three. The email auto reply that you get for signing up should be number four. Just thinking about those different parts of the assembly line and the customer journey and what the purpose of each of them is.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s a great reminder. That’s awesome. Thanks for running through that.

For those that, obviously people will be listening to this, we’ll include those in their current state, like screenshots of those in the show notes so people can see in case we go in and do update that in between, which we should do. That’s really helpful. I feel like a great way to wrap things up here at the end of the interview.

Before we do, interested Josh is to hear from you and say where can people find you and follow along with what you’re doing? Where can people check out Kickoff Labs and give it a try for something that they’re launching?

Josh Ledgard: Obviously, Kickoff Labs is Kickofflabs.com and so people can go there, sign up, try a free account and see if it can help them grow their list. For me personally, they can email josh [ at ] kickofflabs.com. Happy to answer questions, people that have questions from the podcast. That’s probably the best way to stay in touch with me personally.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. Great. Thanks so much for coming on, Josh, and talking through this stuff. We’ve really enjoyed using Kickoff Labs and I know people will get a lot out of the interview.

Josh Ledgard: It was a lot of fun so thanks for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Thanks.

That’s a wrap for Episode #57. As I sign off here, one of the things that I want to do and I don’t do this enough, is just to say thank you for listening to this podcast. It’s been something that’s been really enjoyable for me to do and it’s so fun to hear from people that also enjoy the podcast. If you tune in, whether it’s every single week or every once in a while, just really appreciate you and wanted to say thanks.

That’s a wrap for this week’s episode. Make it a great week. Thanks, guys.

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