Welcome to episode 65 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! In this episode, Bjork talks with Michelle Tam from Nom Nom Paleo about building a brand across many channels.
Last week Bjork interviewed Dan Miller from 48Days about finding the work you love. To go back and listen that episode, click here.
Building a Brand, Launching an App, and Publishing a Cookbook
If you’ve been blogging for a while, or even a short time, you might have found that it’s really difficult to establish your blog on a variety of different channels and mediums. There’s only so much you can do!
Some bloggers excel at it, though, despite the constraints of work, family, and life. Michelle Tam from Nom Nom Paleo is one such blogger. She’s managed to secure a brand presence not only on all the big social networks, but also in the form of her own iPhone app and her own cookbook. She’s a branding queen, and today she’s here to tell us all about it.
In this episode, Michelle shares:
- How she got started with Nom Nom Paleo
- Why they started with Tumblr instead of WordPress
- What her partner’s role in the business is
- Why she decided to publish a cookbook in print
- How she kept creative control while still working with a publisher
- How she deals with people who accuse her of not being paleo
- Nom Nom Paleo
- Gary Vaynerchuck
- The Tim Ferris Show
- The Sporkful
- Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income
- This American Life
- 99% Invisible
- Startup Podcast
- Gimlet Media
- Humans of New York
- Dave Ramsey
- Charles Ives
- Nom Nom Paleo on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and Snapchat (michitam)
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Be sure to review us on iTunes!
If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to Episode No. 65 of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast.
Hey there. This is Bjork Ostrom, and you are listening to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Today we are interviewing Michelle Tam, from Nom Nom Paleo.
This is going to be a really fun interview because Michelle and the brand, Nom Nom Paleo, has a presence in a lot of different places from social media to her blog. They have cookbook. They have an iOS app. One of the things that’s really common across the board for all of Nom Nom Paleo’s presence on different places is that it’s always high quality.
We’re going to talk about the approach that they take in having a high quality presence in multiple places. One of the reasons why you would start something and their thought process behind starting something up. Also, the though process behind saying, “Hey, we’re going to wind this down right now, and focus on other things in order those really high quality.” We’re going to talk about everything from applications to cookbooks to social media. It’s going to be a great conversation with Michelle from Nom Nom Paleo. Without further ado, Michelle, welcome to the podcast.
Michelle Tam: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, really fun to talk to you. One of the things that I do when I do these podcasts, is I kind of sit down and, it’s nice because it’s kind of like I get to just browse the Internet, which I don’t often do. In preparation for the podcast, [inaudible 00:01:33] preparing for the podcast, I get to browse the Internet, specifically the person I’m going to be interviewing you. In this case, I was browsing all Nom Nom Paleo related stuff. Before we jump into it, it’s incredible to see all of the different places where you’ve established the Nom Nom Paleo brand. It’s not a question, but I just want to say congrats. It’s really cool to see that.
Michelle Tam: Thank you. That was all kind of … I guess it was kind of my luck. We kind of hooked on to the name Nom Nom Paleo. We just made sure we kept with it, except on Snapchat. On Snapchat, I am not Nom Nom Paleo because some guy has stolen it. It’s really funny because-
Bjork Ostrom: Ram-squatting.
Michelle Tam: Yes. He even has a little picture of himself. You know how you can shoot a little video as your little avatar?
Bjork Ostrom: Yep.
Michelle Tam: He’s like mocking me. “I have your name.”
Bjork Ostrom: People. It’s like, who are these people and what is their purpose, right?
Michelle Tam: I know. Snapchat is, I think, the one place where they don’t care. They’re like, “Oh, well. Someone else had it. First come, first serve.” Whereas everywhere else, it’s like, “Oh, you have a trademark that backs us up. We will get that squatter off your thing.”
Bjork Ostrom: Have you had to deal with that before?
Michelle Tam: I guess only on Amazon when people steal our content, and they put up an eBook.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. For sure.
Michelle Tam: Then we have … I think in the app store, there’s an app called Paleo Nom Nom. I think if we really wanted to, or if we had the time, we could squash them, but we just don’t have time.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. That’s one of the things we often talk about is there’s so much scraping that exists and people copying stuff. I think there are times when you follow up and makes it sense to take those down, and other times it’s like, if it’s just to serve justice, right? Like if it’s just to make yourself feel better, sometimes it might not be worth it. It might not be having an impact on what you’re doing.
Michelle Tam: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s hard not to do it.
Michelle Tam: I know.
Bjork Ostrom: I’m looking through here … Pulled your site up, and you have your social media accounts. One of the things that I thought was interesting … Just talking about being in different places is I notice you have a really big following on Google+. I’m curious to know your stance on social media. Snapchat would be a great example. At one point do you jump into something, and when do you really turn the dial up on engaging in that audience, and in that platform? Then, when do you decide to ramp down on it?
Michelle Tam: Well, first, I’m going to be perfectly honest about that whole Google+ crazy number. I think Google+ first started, some person at Google just emailed me and reached out to me, and say, “Hey. We want to feature you as someone to follow,” like when people started hopping on. Like, great. That sounds fantastic. That is the only reason I have so many people on there. Then-
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting. I’ve heard that from people from Pinterest too. I think that’s a common thing. People will get this huge ramp up when they are a featured profile or just in general if they’re early to a platform. Were you using it when it first came out or was it just this person liked you, and they said, “Hey, you should sign up, and we’re going to feature you”?
Michelle Tam: No. What I think what happened was, they said they’re going to feature me. Then there were all these rumors about how you had to post up Google+ and that would help you with Google search. We don’t do any SEO or anything like that. I’m like, “Oh, well that’s a quick way that I can hopefully improve things.”
Bjork Ostrom: For sure.
Michelle Tam: I would post things to their, like our latest post, but since then, I haven’t done anything. I think just because it wasn’t a fun place for me to engage with people. In terms of stuff that I really like and use a lot, I think it’s a combination of whether I really like the platform, and I really like being on it. Right now, it is just me doing everything. We have a guy that helps us kind of schedule posts on Facebook, but I still do all of the answering of things.
Snapchat, I was really resistant to it for a long time, but I kept on hearing everyone like, “Oh, it’s so much fun,” but I just couldn’t figure it out because I’m like an old lady. I think someone finally showed me. I was at a conference, and someone finally showed me how to use it … A young’un showed me how to do it. I was like, “Oh, this is kind of fun and it can disappear.”
By the time I hopped on, someone had already cyber-squatted on my name. I was like, “Oh, this is kind of hard to build up, but it seems like everybody who follows me, really wants to follow me.” They found my username, which isn’t even Michelle Tam; I picked Michy Tam. They would look at everything. The way I was using Snapchat, I was like, “I love Snapchat.” I love seeing the small number of people I like to follow, and I want to see everything that they’re showing.
Then Instagram stories came out, and like, “Oh, this is just like Snapchat, but you don’t have to figure out-”
Bjork Ostrom: Said everybody. Yeah.
Michelle Tam: You don’t have to figure out how to use it. Then I’ve kind of … I still now, I kind of do both, and I share different things on both. At first, when it first started I was like, “Do I put the same stuff on both?” I guess I think of everything as a user. I was like, “Well, what would I want to see?” I don’t want to see the same stuff, because I’m probably following the same person on both-
Bjork Ostrom: Both platforms.
Michelle Tam: Both platforms. I don’t want to see the same stuff. I don’t want to see the Snapchat filters on Instagram Stories, because then I know that they’re being lazy. I’m not always an early adopter of things because I’m one of those … I think I’m kind of an early adopter, but I’m not the early adopter. I need those people to test it out, and then I’m willing to kind of put my toe in it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Michelle Tam: Like Instagram, I wasn’t the first person on Instagram, but then when I started doing it, I was like, “Oh, this is fun.” That’s kind of how I do things.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I think there’s something smart about, not necessarily being the very first. I mean, maybe you jump on. You grab the username, right? Lesson learned.
Michelle Tam: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: Easier said than done, to always be watching those. Then, to not necessarily fully go all in on the platform. One of the things that I hear people talk about … I will occasionally listen to Gary Vaynerchuck, who’s a social media guru, wine. It’s kind of fun because he connects back to the food world, but he was talking about an application or a platform called musical.ly, which is primarily-
Michelle Tam: It’s huge with the kids.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Your kids are how old?
Michelle Tam: They are 8 and 11.
Bjork Ostrom: Which is like primo age for musical.ly, is that right?
Michelle Tam: Yeah. It is. My kids don’t do it, but all of their friends are on it, lip-syncing and dancing and stuff.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Right. It’s interesting because he was talking about whether he uses platforms or not, and he talks about getting on a platform, and then observing. Essentially, what I think of it as, is like going into a room and just kind of watching people and seeing how people interact and what the norms are. Then, at some point, saying like, “Okay. I’m going to actually fully engage on this platform.” It seems like that’s kind of his take on musical.ly. It seems similar to what you’re saying is like, “I’m not going to be the earliest person to something. I might sign up. I might look at it. I might be there. I’ll be relatively early once I feel like it makes sense to actually engage in that.”
Michelle Tam: Yeah. I think that’s smart. I mean, I don’t have that much time to just be on social media all the time. There are certain ones which are fun, and I enjoy going on. It’s not a chore.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, and it’s also building your brand, and building your business, even though it’s also fun. Which is like, that’s the best, right? When it can be both of those things.
Michelle Tam: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that I wanted to talk to you about, as we look at all of these different things that you’ve done, sometimes with podcasts I like to drill in on a certain subject. One of the things that I would like to talk to you about is, I feel like you have a lot of experiences in different areas, and I’d love to chat about that. Some of the things that you’ve learned as you’ve gotten into things like building and publishing an application. What was that like, or talk a little bit about doing a podcast. What was that experience like? Something, at some point, you said, “I don’t know if this is something that I want to continue doing,” your reasoning for that. One of the consistent things that you’ve had as you’ve done all of these different experimentations with different platforms and things is, had a consistent brand across the board. I would love to hear where that has come from, because I know your background isn’t in design or branding. Right? You were a pharmacist?
Michelle Tam: I was a drug dealer.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, you were a drug dealer. I love that phrase. In the truest sense, you were a drug dealer.
Michelle Tam: Yeah, I was. I was a licensed drug dealer. In the middle of the night, no less.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, yeah. Can you tell … Maybe let’s start with that. Tell a little about your story before you had switched to working on Nom Nom Paleo full time and then we can dive into some of the branding stuff.
Michelle Tam: I think before I started Nom Nom Paleo, I was just a normal, I guess yuppie. I don’t even know if yuppie is, people understand the word yuppie anymore. It’s like a young, urban professional. Like I worked … I had a pharmacy doctorate and I worked as a night shift pharmacist at a local hospital. My husband Henry is an attorney, and we both love to eat. That was kind of like, I almost … I liked my job okay, but our jobs were to kind of pay for food …
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For sure.
Michelle Tam: … and things outside of work. Then I’ve always loved food. Food is an obsession of mine, but I never thought I could … I think … I always read food blogs, but I never thought that I would create one, just because I didn’t think I had anything to offer that was new or interesting. Then I discovered paleo, and I felt so great, and I became this crazy evangelist, as most people do when they kind of embark on something that works. I was like, “Oh, I want to start a paleo food blog, because there aren’t a bunch out there, and there isn’t one that’s really catered to what I want.” Henry’s like, “What would you call it?” I’m like, “Oh, I’d call it Nom Nom Paleo.” Then he’s been kind of a blogger for a while. He had a daddy blog, and then he had a fitness blog. He was always wanting me to do something like that, and so he took the URL, he went to Tumblr and got a Tumblr site. The reason why he chose Tumblr, I think, was because it was so easy.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Michelle Tam: He knew that if it was easy, I would probably do it.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. That’s …
Michelle Tam: [Otherwise 00:12:54] …
Bjork Ostrom: … a huge part of it, right?
Michelle Tam: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Even if it’s … No matter the positives and negatives. If there’s a ton of positives, but one of the negatives is really hard to use, then …
Michelle Tam: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: … none of the positives matter.
Michelle Tam: No, and he totally knows that’s how I work. Then I just started posting stuff I thought was useful, and nobody was reading it. I was like, “Oh, I’ll just write down recipes. I’ll write down what I ate for breakfast and lunch and dinner, because it’s hard to figure out what you should be eating if you’re on some sort of special diet.” Then slowly, I think, we just started getting more and more readership just because I think it … We started in 2010, and that’s kind of when people started really getting interested in paleo. Then I think Henry was like, “We’re getting more readers. You really need to fix your photos and all this other stuff.” I was like, “I don’t know how to do that.” I was like, “If you want it to look better, you’re going to have to help me out.” Henry is like an attorney, but he’s also really artistic and creative, and he’s been like that ever since he was a kid, but then I think he kind of stifled his artistic side and did the right Chinese kid thing to do and went to law school.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah. Sure.
Michelle Tam: Me, I also did the same thing. I went to pharmacy school. We had very good, stable jobs. Then we just started working on this together, and he would help with the photos, and the cartoons, but neither of us are technical at all, and he would just google how to kind of put things up via code, like, “Hey, we want to put a banner here. We want to do this.” I think if you peel back layers of our site, which is still Tumblr, and we’re working on porting it off, it is really ugly and crazy in terms of the coding and all sort of stuff, and it loads super slow, and … It’s just crazy, and so we …
Bjork Ostrom: I call it, any coding like that, I call it copy-paste and cross my fingers.
Michelle Tam: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Like it’s like you …
Michelle Tam: It is.
Bjork Ostrom: … know just …
Michelle Tam: It is.
Bjork Ostrom: … enough to be dangerous.
Michelle Tam: I think since then, we’ve just, we worked really hard to just make the content really great, and we changed it from, “Here’s what I eat every day,” to, “Okay, let’s just do kind of evergreen, really good recipes.” Because now, no one cares what you’re eating every day. I mean, they can find that out on like Instagram or some other social media that kind of disappears. Which is good, because it’s kind of boring to kind of see, “Hey, this is what I ate.” Then I think it started getting so busy that I finally quit my job in July 2014, so now I do this, and I take care of my kids.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about what that decision was like? I know that a lot of people are processing that, that listen to this podcast and think about making the transition to working on their blog or their business full time, and/or making that transition to maybe working on it part-time, and then being with their family, and there are so many factors that go into that decision. Can you talk about what that decision making process was like and how you came to the point of, “Yes, this is what we want to do”?
Michelle Tam: It is hard to have that decision, right? Because even now, I was like, “I don’t know how long Nom Nom Paleo will last.” Whereas I knew, if I was like a pharmacist, I could work for like thirty years at the same hospital, and there are a lot of people at the hospital I used to work at who have been there for like thirty, thirty-five years, like as soon as they got out of pharmacy school. I think I could do it for a long time where I did both jobs, because I was working night shift, and so I would work seven nights in a row …
Bjork Ostrom: Wow.
Michelle Tam: … and then I’d have seven nights off. Then we would have people help us with childcare and stuff on the week that I was working, so I could kind of do both. I mean, I was definitely like a zombie, because …
Bjork Ostrom: It sounds so exhausting.
Michelle Tam: It was at the time, but I think when I turned paleo, I felt better, and so that artificially kept me doing it for longer than [ever 00:17:09].
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It probably made you feel better, which then, like this positive spiral of you feel better, so you’re motivated to write about it and share about it, and the more you write about it and share about it, then the more other people know about it, so all these positive things associated with it.
Michelle Tam: Yeah, and then I think, finally … I’m totally a risk-averse person. I was like, “Oh, this is working. We have like health insurance to [go me 00:17:36],” but I think the breaking point was … I think I was always kind of hoping I could quit my job, and Henry has a very stable job, so I was like, “I think we can make this work.” Then I think the breaking point was, we got nominated for a Webby Award for our app. I wanted to go, but the award ceremony was in New York City, and it was during my workweek. As a night shift pharmacist, you have a very steady … It’s always seven on, seven off. You know exactly what days you’re working forever, and I was like, “I can’t go, because I can’t get a substitute,” because my other pharmacist was working and all this stuff. Then I said, “Eff it. I’m going to go.”
Bjork Ostrom: Direct quote. Yeah.
Michelle Tam: Yeah. That was kind of the thing. I was like, “I don’t want this job keeping me from doing fun things.”
Bjork Ostrom: Was-
Michelle Tam: By that time-
Bjork Ostrom: That was the tipping point that moved you into the decision making process of …
Michelle Tam: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: … like this … Okay, and that, I think-
Michelle Tam: By that time, we had been making … Our book was selling well, our app was selling well, and so I was pretty confident that it would be okay, at least for the short term. I think, that was also right before I turned forty, and I think when you turn forty, you’ve got this crazy midlife crisis. You’re like, “I’m going to die, so let’s go do whatever I want to do.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For sure. For sure. I think that’s one of the things that people think about, is like, “Will this work,” and then they think the logistics of the numbers, right? Health insurance, income, will we be able to sustain ourselves on this. I think those are boxes that you check, but I think so often the thing that is the biggest benefit, truly, is the ability to pick and choose your time. Right? When you own your schedule, in a way, that more so now you do than you did before. Obviously there’s commitments and things that you have that …
Michelle Tam: Those dang kids.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right, but you’re able to make decisions about what you do and when you do it in a way that’s different than when you hold a traditional job. I think that’s one of the biggest factors, for so many people, is they want to own that. It’s always interesting to hear from people that have gone through that process to talk about what that was like to make that decision.
Michelle Tam: Also, but like Henry and I are, we’re both in our early forties, so it’s not like we were in our early 40s, so it’s not like we were in our early 20s. I think this was an easier decision for me just, because I have him as a back-up, because he still hasn’t quit his job. He’s working crazy, so now we probably have to figure something out for him. It also is like I have my degree, but I feel like I got my money’s worth of my degree, because I worked for 14 years as a pharmacist. There were all kinds of things, and I always know I can go back to that if things don’t work out.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. It doesn’t go away. It’ll always be there. That’s when … I had a conversation with a friend the other day and they said, “One of the things I think about is like, ”What happens when, or if this all crashes and burns?“”, and I said, “There’s a little bit of me that every once in a while feels like, ”God. That’s kind of scary to think about.“” Like you said, “How long will Nom Nom Paleo last?”, but what he said is, “In the process of building this you have all of these skills that you’ve developed that then can be applied in different areas.” Job security in the sense that what you’re doing right now will look always the same. Probably not true, at least not as true as it would be for a pharmacist, right?
Michelle Tam: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: Probably looks similar 10, 20 years out. Things change obviously a little bit, but pretty similar. The reality that being in it you learn things like you’ve gone through the process of building, and launching an app for instance, and what a valuable thing that is. It’s … I appreciate you talking about that, and it’s always interesting to hear from people. One of the things that I want to go back on to get some clarity on, because I think it’s an important piece is if you think Nom Nom Paleo has a really strong brand … It was interesting. What I heard you say is some of that is Henry. Is that true? He has an interest, maybe not necessarily a background, but an interest, and a skill in illustrations, or drawing, or kind of the brand associated things. Is that right?
Michelle Tam: Yeah. Henry is the person to make sure everything looks really good. Whereas I make sure everything tastes good, and I provide like the snark, and the commentary.
Bjork Ostrom: (laughs) For sure.
Michelle Tam: He is always like … He has a very definite idea of how he wants things to look, and we’ve only been consistent with our branding almost … Not by luck, but just because Henry’s a stickler for wanting … There’s no calculated thing like, “Oh. We need to make sure we’re always consistent.” In terms of the colors I just love red, black, and white, and he’s known that, because we’ve been together for so long, that, that just happens to be our colors. He’s been drawing a little avatar of me since college, because he actually drew a comic strip for the Daily Cal, which is the paper for UC Berkeley, and I used to be one of the little characters. Like this mean little girl. (laughs) That same little mini-Michelle has been perfected by now.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s so great. He’s doing those comics on your blog?
Michelle Tam: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Like every [crosstalk 00:23:10]
Michelle Tam: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh. Those are so fun. Yeah.
Michelle Tam: Yeah, he does all of it. I think he loves it, because he’s able to use his left brain on Nom Nom Paleo.
Bjork Ostrom: Left brain, right brain, and so the creative side. Creative side, right brain? Is that right?
Michelle Tam: I think so. I don’t know. That word … That’s what me as a lay person thinks.
Bjork Ostrom: Then more of the attorney kind of …
Michelle Tam: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: … Left side. Analytical for his normal day-to-day job.
Michelle Tam: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. What a skill to be able to do both of those things. I think that’s incredible.
Michelle Tam: I know. It’s unfair.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Michelle Tam: I told him, “If you die we’re screwed.”
Bjork Ostrom: (laughs)
Michelle Tam: (laughs) In so many ways. (laughs)
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s one of those things at the same time, I think sometimes, because somebody is working with … In the partnership, or has somebody on the team that is really good at doing something, because it’s a good thing there’s this perception that if it’s removed then it’s not good. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Obviously it takes multiple, different things to move something forward, and you’ve been a big part of that needless to say.
One of the things obviously is the food itself. You recently, or within the past few years have done a cookbook, and I’m curious to know how that plays into the business. Because as we were chatting a little bit before this we had said that you’re on Tumbler, making the transition off of that. One of the things with Tumbler is it’s a little bit harder to let’s say work with ad networks, so it’s not you can really easily build out the side-bar for ads. Maybe it is. I just don’t know a lot about Tumbler, but a little bit more difficult I would assume.
You do have a strong emphasis on these other things that you’re working on. For instance … Or these other branches of the brand. For instance the cookbook. I’m interested to hear a little bit about what that process was like, and how do you integrate that throughout the blog knowing that that’s potentially an income source for you for the business? I know it’s in the side-bar, mention it in posts occasionally, and things like that, but I’m just curious to hear about the cookbook process, and how you continue to integrate that?
Michelle Tam: We … I think when we first started getting more readership we were approached by a bunch of publishers. We were like, “Oh. Right now we don’t want to do a cookbook. Apps are the thing.” Because I think we had just read an article in the New York Times about how apps were the new cookbook, and I was like, “Wow. This is really fun. I totally want to do this. Let’s make an app. No one else has an app right now. Let’s just do it.” Of course we didn’t know anything about the app making process, and we just dove in, and we started trying to Google, and figure out how to do it. Later on we discovered it’s like a creepy, expensive process, and there’s so much upkeep. There’s only so much you can charge for it, even though it’s super fun, and interactive, and you get so much stuff. People are used to free apps, or apps that [cost 00:26:25] …
Bjork Ostrom: 99 cents?
Michelle Tam: Yeah, 99 cents.
Bjork Ostrom: This is a rip-off. (laughs)
Michelle Tam: That’s because big companies use it as just a branding tool, and they just have tons of money anyway, and it’s not a big deal. We did it, and we happened to hook up with a local app developer that was trying to get into the food space, so they gave us a big discount. Still it was a lot of money. It was thousands of dollars. We’re like, “Ahhhhh!!!” They helped us create a really great and cool app, and it did end up winning a Webby, and because no one else had an app like we … We made our money back, and it’s a nice passive income thing.
Since then we’ve had to upkeep it ever time IOS is updated, and it’s a crazy thing. It’s not like … If you make an e-book you will make a lot more money I think. In terms of bang for your buck, and all that other good stuff. It is a fun … I think it was a good learning experience. I don’t even know if fun is the right word, but I think it was a great learning experience. We’re really proud of it. Because of that we’re like, “Oh.” Then once we started figuring out that an is ephemeral, because IOS will break, eventually the iPad and iPhone will be replaced by something else. Now …
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Different screen size, different resolutions.
Michelle Tam: Yeah, and no matter how cool it is it’ll go away. Like, “Oh. It would be really cool to have a physical book,” because I’m like … I have 100s of cookbooks, but we were like, “We want to do it our way.”
Bjork Ostrom: It doesn’t change either.
Michelle Tam: Right, exactly. People will pay you more than 99 cents for it. (laughs) We were on the track to self-publish. Because we have a really good friend, Melissa Joulwan, who self-published her own cookbooks. She was telling us, “I know there isn’t the same cache with going with a big time publisher, but you will totally make more money, have total creative control, and it’ll just be a better … It’s a better decision for you.” I was not really on-board, because [inaudible 00:28:45] I still liked the cache of … There is a little … I think people initially will respect it more if it’s from a publisher. At least that was my perception, and so I was like, “No. Financially this is the best thing for us.” (laughs) He was like, “Especially if we have our own platform, and we have to promote it ourselves anyway,” and so we were just working on our own … We were going to self-publish it, and we even contacted a company that would help us with distribution and publishing.
Then I think right at the end we were approached by our publisher, our now publisher Andrews McMeel, and we were, “No, no. We’re going to do it our way. There’s nothing you can offer us that would be any better.” Then the publisher flew out … She was I think on a family trip in the Bay Area. She said, “No. Let’s just chat. Let’s go out to coffee,” and so we’re like, “Fine.” Henry’s like, “Do not cave.”
Bjork Ostrom: (laughs)
Michelle Tam: I’m like, “Okay.” [crosstalk 00:29:45] Then we went, and we’re totally expecting to just say, “No, no, no. Thank you, but no thank you.” Then she was really open to doing whatever we wanted, and so our first book doesn’t look like anybody else’s cookbook out there, only because they just let us do whatever we want. Henry designed the whole thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool.
Michelle Tam: It’s exactly how we wanted it, which was kind of the thing. It gave us creative control and it was by a publisher that we really loved, and so it all kind of meshed together. In terms of how we promote it, I think we just try to promote it wherever we can, but I try not to do the hard sell, ever, just because I always look at things as a consumer myself, and as a reader myself.
You were saying how you don’t have banner ads, and number one: it’s because it’s really hard with Tumbler to put them in, but as a reader I’m really annoyed when I go to a site, and something pops up, and I have to click the X box and stuff. I’m like, “F it, I don’t want it to have that on there.” Then for the book, we just try to be subtle about it because no one wants to hear you say, “Buy my book, buy my book,” like a million times.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. Right.
Michelle Tam: We do put it pretty prominently so that people can look at it if they want to.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s one of the things that is so interesting about websites, or anything online really, is the balance between letting people know something exists versus shouting from the rooftop that something exists. What is that balance for not being too upfront and in your face, but yet still letting people know that, “Hey, this is available to purchase”? I think you guys do a good job of it, but it’s not an easy thing, right, because you want people to know, “We have a cookbook,” but at the same time, you don’t want people to be like, “I’m so tired of hearing about your cookbook.”
Michelle Tam: You know, but at the same time, it’s weird because there are things that I think people will think, like, “Oh no, no. We can’t do that.”
Bjork Ostrom: People will get mad or never come back.
Michelle Tam: Right. Right. I’ll look like such a hack, but then when I see it myself on other people’s sites, I’m not bothered by it.
Bjork Ostrom: Right.
Michelle Tam: I’m like, “Oh, well.” You know what I think, you can do it and if your intentions are good it’ll show.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, and I think that people can read into that, and see that, and feel that.
Michelle Tam: I think Henry and I are always talking about how we want to be like the whole NPR model where you put out lots of great free content, and we don’t ask for anything, and then, come pledge time, you offer something.
Bjork Ostrom: You ask. Yep.
Michelle Tam: Yes, we will do an ask. Hopefully by then, people will want to support us.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes.
Michelle Tam: Or feel guilty.
Bjork Ostrom: We’re trying to figure that out, too. How do we do that well? I think one of the difficulties with having a brand where you have products is that you feel like, in some way, you always want to present those to people, but at the same time, like we said before, you don’t want to get annoying. I think that mentality of giving, giving, giving, and then every once in a while just really clearly saying, “Here’s this thing. We would love for you to purchase this, to sign up, to XYZ.” I think it’s a really smart strategy.
NPR, as an example, it’s like those pledge days when they come, right? It’s like all-in, all-day, and it’s a pretty obvious ask.
Michelle Tam: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that I notice as I was looking around was, so you have your app, you have cookbook, and then you have the podcast. I notice that you had done a handful of episodes. You had a ton of positive feedback, and people that had left a review or rating I think on Food Blogger Pro we have, on the podcast, under a hundred. You have three hundred something reviews on it, but it’s not something that you’re doing anymore.
Michelle Tam: Well, it’s on hiatus.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Can you talk about what that was like and the experience of that?
Michelle Tam: The podcast is a perfect example of how we work. I’m someone that if I’m really into something, I will want to do it right away, and we will just go balls to the walls.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure. All in.
Michelle Tam: Throw everything in. Do the best quality whatever. We don’t necessarily figure out everything about it until we’re already in it, and then, we’re like, “Oh, no. This is really expensive,” or, “This is taking up a lot of time.” With podcasts, I love listening to podcasts. I listen to them all the time. I’m one of those crazy podcasts listeners.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Just out of curiosity, I am too, I love podcasts, but what are the ones that you like to listen to?
Michelle Tam: Let’s see. I’m not even sucking up. I really love your guys’ podcast because I learn a lot.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s fun when people are on that have at least some familiarity with it, so thank you for following along.
Michelle Tam: I love Tim Ferriss’s.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep.
Michelle Tam: I love Pat Flynn’s. I love The Sporkful for food related podcasts. I like Gastropod. I don’t know. There’s a whole bunch I listen to. I listen to a lot of business ones, and then I just listen to a lot of food related ones. My kid is really into them, and so I also listen when he has them on. He likes This American Life and 99% Invisible.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, cool. Good.
Michelle Tam: Serial, which is probably not age appropriate.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. For sure, but really interesting.
Michelle Tam: Then all of the Gimlet ones I like.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Michelle Tam: Yeah. I listen to too many.
Bjork Ostrom: I feel like whenever I get a chance, I want to encourage the growth of the podcast world. A lot of those are ones that I listen to. Gimlet, if people that are listening haven’t listened to StartUp podcasts, it’s a really great podcast on somebody from NPR previously, starting a company, and it’s just really fun to listen to their process with it. So much of it is relatable in terms of starting a business.
Anyways, we can back up. You were talking about you being into podcasts.
Michelle Tam: I love them.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep. You listen to them.
Michelle Tam: Henry likes them kind of, because he’s been listening to This American Life forever, back before it was a podcast.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yep.
Michelle Tam: Then, he’s like, “Okay, well if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it right. We’re going to buy all the right equipment and make sure the sound quality’s real good, and make sure it’s not just a bunch of people rambling. It’s just fun, and quick, and just a good listen, one that you don’t want to just stop.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yep.
Michelle Tam: Okay. Then we dove in and started putting out podcasts, but it just took so much time. Henry does all the editing, and on top of his job, and on top of all the other stuff he does for Nom Nom Paleo. It just was so much work.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s a lot of work. I don’t think people realize how much goes into it.
Michelle Tam: Right. He was just editing on GarageBand, and he had to figure out how to use GarageBand by just Googling stuff, and using Windows.com. It took a lot of time. We’re working on our second book, and it just got to be too much work. He’s like, “I can’t. The podcast will kill me.” Even though we have a very solid listener-ship, it’s a very small one. We aren’t really getting anything from it. I was like, “But, you do.” Even though we aren’t financially getting anything from it, I think we’re engaging our super fans. Do you know what I mean?
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. Yep. Yep.
Michelle Tam: Who really want to hang out with us, and hear what we’re doing, and it delights them. It’s like it’s a good thing. He’s like, “No, no. I understand.” I think to make sure he didn’t die, we just put it on hiatus, just because there was just too much going on, and because he does the book design, and the photos, and all the other stuff for the book and the blog. We’re like, “We have to table this for now,” and I think what also went into it was we were listening to StartUp, the podcast that you were referring to, and they were saying how they were working on one episode for several months.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. They would have a team, two people, working on it.
Michelle Tam: Yes. They’d have a team, and they’d have producers, and it’s all scripted. They would just work on all this minutia for months on one episode, and so I was like, “Oh, this is crazy that we’re trying to do this in a week or two.” You know?
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s one thing that, it’s really common, and I’m speaking to myself here, that people don’t realize is, they’ll hear something and they’ll say, “I really, really like that. I want to do something similar.” One of the things that I’ve noticed lately is people that do replica accounts for Humans of New York, are you familiar with Humans of New York? Okay. These incredible photos of people with incredible stories, and it seems like, “God, this is really cool. You just go out and take photos of people and then ask them questions.” You realize how good that content is when you see these copycat sites because there’s just something about it that’s like, “God, that’s just not that good.” I think what it is is the time and energy that goes into it.
Podcasts, I think, are a great example. Ours is maybe a little bit different because we’re not as highly produced as a Gimlet or NPR would be, by far, very conversational and things like that. Nonetheless, there’s preparation, and doing research beforehand, the interview itself. We have a team member, Raquel, who take and does the editing process, and uploads, and it’s like, well, it’s a decent chunk of time, by the time it’s all said and done.
Michelle Tam: For sure!
Bjork Ostrom: So often, I feel like one of the common stories when I interview people, like yourself, is that just how much time all this stuff takes, right? I think it’s a good reminder for people, that like, “Oh, it takes a lot of time and energy to do things well.”
Michelle Tam: Yeah, and so that’s why, I think we finally… I also, I was at a conference with Dan Pashman, the guy behind Sporkful, and after talking to him, I was like, you know what? I would rather just stop it, than put out sub-par stuff; just to get it out and just to say, “hey, I have something every week, or every two weeks, or whatever.” I was like, you know what, when we have time we will do it again, but when we do it again, it will be something we are proud of.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, and I think that’s potentially one of the most important things that entrepreneurs can do, is say that it’s worth it to jump in, to try something, to do it. It’s also worth it to take a step back and say, “Is this something that, for the time and energy that we’re putting into it, is it worth it for us at this point,” and then to be okay saying, “We’re going to press pause on this and focus on something else, make sure that’s really high quality, and then potentially come back to that, if we feel like it’s worth it.” It sounds like you’re doing right now, and specifically with the cookbook, is that right?
Michelle Tam: Mhm.
Bjork Ostrom: So, you’re doing cookbook, round two. Can you tell me a little bit about what that’s been like, and how you’re doing this differently, or some of the things that you’re doing the same, after having gone through the process once before?
Michelle Tam: This time, we are a little more systematic about it. I think the first time, because we had started it as a self publishing thing, and by the time we saw our publisher we were eighty percent done. At that time, we were just kind of loos y goosy, and doing it…
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Michelle Tam: …you know, whenever, on our own schedule. So this time, we also have a lot of creative control but we told our publisher and our editor, “We want to follow the more traditional way of doing things,” where you have an outline, you have a manuscript, and then you shoot pictures, and it’s really well planned.
Bjork Ostrom: What was your reasoning for doing that? Why did you say, “We want this to be a little bit more systematic?”
Michelle Tam: Just because, I think, it was too loosy goosy the first time, but then we realized, once we started working on the second cookbook, that’s just how we roll, and we work better like that.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure, yeah.
Michelle Tam: So we started with the outline, and we had a very strict idea of what we wanted. We had ideas of what our recipes were going to be, but then we ended up doing it the way we did the first one, where it’s kind of like we’re doing it as we’re doing it, we’re signing it and Henry just has to keep on going back and fixing his layout, to fix our changes. We also learned that, let’s see. What are some things?… So, Henry has done a lot of things on his end design wise to streamline everything; he has lots of little versions of me in cartoon form, and of the kids, so he can kind of do this paper doll thing in terms of the cartoon.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Michelle Tam: In terms of the layout, he has a very set comic book layout for each recipe, or at least templates for it. In terms for me, I think because I started with an outline and of the recipes that I wanted to do to fit our whole idea for the book, it was easier for me to have a starting point as opposed to for the blog, where it’s like, “hey, let’s make this.”
Bjork Ostrom: It could be this, it could be that.
Michelle Tam: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Michelle Tam: It doesn’t have to be cohesive. So, I think those are the things, but it’s funny because we have waited a long time, in between books. Our last one came out December two thousand thirteen, and this one won’t come out til fall two thousand seventeen; we were happy to wait. Again, just like all the other stuff we do, we wanted something that we were really proud of, and I think, if we had just put one out immediately after our first one, it would not be our best effort even though, it probably would have sold more, because paleo was super hot two years ago. We just want it to be cool.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I was listening, so another podcast I was listening to, it’s a personal finance one. There’s a guy named Dave Ramsey, who has a really popular podcast, but it wasn’t him, it was guys filling in for him, and they were talking about him, as often happens when somebody fills in for somebody else on the podcast, but one of the things they were saying is Dave always says, “I want you to be on the cover of slow company, not fast company.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot because the industry that we’re in is so much about fast company, right? It’s like how quickly can you build this thing, whether it’s a blog or a social media following or how quickly can you sell a bunch of cookbooks? I’ve switched my thinking, or I’ve been trying to switch my thinking lately, to slow company, which is a little bit of what I hear you saying as, “Let’s not try to get this thing out as quickly as possible and burn ourselves out while doing this. Let’s be intentional and slow and build something that’s truly awesome that we can be proud of, knowing that we don’t have to be on the cover of fast company. We want to build something that’s solid and really good and interesting and applies to our readers and is really solid.” So, I think it’s good advice and a good reminder for people that are listening.
One of the things that you had mentioned in that previous section was, paleo was really hot two years ago. That was one of the things I wanted to hit on in this interview with you, is knowing that you’re in a specific diet, I would love to hear you talk about what that’s like in terms of following along with a diet as it evolves, and/or as it ebbs and flows in popularity. What has that been like, in terms of working with a really specific diet?
Michelle Tam: I think there’s a very strict definition by the guy who created the paleo diet, Loren Cordain. Since then, I think there are a lot of people like me, who’ve been eating paleo for about five or six years, and you gotta pardon the pun, but we’ve evolved…
Bjork Ostrom: Right, right.
Michelle Tam: …as we’ve learned more. I don’t believe in just sticking to one thing just because the original person said it was this way. I think that people should always be open to new interpretations and new science and just figuring out what works well for them. In some way, I wish my name wasn’t Nom Nom Paleo, but at the same time, we gained our popularity because we happened to be one of the first paleo blogs.
Bjork Ostrom: Right.
Michelle Tam: I think I’m very straight forward about this is how I eat, these are things I eat that are not necessarily paleo, but what I advocate is figuring out what works for you and for most people it is eating whole unprocessed foods, cooking your own meals, and for some people it is you have a wider range of food that you can choose from, and for other people who happen to be sick, you probably have to limit it. It’s about eating as broadly as you can to feel as awesome as you can.
Bjork Ostrom: So you had said, “Sometimes I wish my name didn’t have paleo in it” Can you talk a little bit about that? Is the reason because that restricts you, in theory, to this strict set of dietary restrictions?
Michelle Tam: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: And then, if you go outside of that a little bit, do you ever run into people that are like, “This isn’t x, y, z.”? And then, how do you handle that?
Michelle Tam: People say that all the time, like on Instagram, like “What? Why are you saying this is paleo? This is not paleo.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Michelle Tam: I’m like, “I know this is not paleo.” I say so very clearly in the hashtag.
Bjork Ostrom: Is that the general strategy, saying if you have something that wouldn’t adhere strictly to the paleo dietary restrictions, then you’d say, “Just so you know I know that this…”
Michelle Tam: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay.
Michelle Tam: Yes, yes I say that all the time. I actually purposefully put stuff up just to show people you don’t have to be perfectly paleo. I think to be perfectly paleo, according to the original definition, is great if you can do that, but there are actually, parts of it that I don’t think are correct. I think since then a lot of other people have also said, “No, this is not correct. I think it would be better to incorporate this, this, and this.” It’s also unsustainable and I advocate just a wave eating that just makes you feel good for forever. Sometimes it’s eating foods that you enjoy that don’t wreck you that much, you know what I mean? Even if they do, you are making a conscious choice to eat that thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right.
Michelle Tam: You know what the consequences are.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Michelle Tam: Whereas before, I would eat things because they were just labeled healthy. USDA or whoever was saying it was good for me and I would never evaluate, for myself, how it felt when I ate those foods.
Bjork Ostrom: I think that’s one of the great things about specific diets, is that it helps people to become aware of how food impacts them, which is crazy, but I think so many people, myself included, aren’t super in tune with that. Super simple examples, like maybe for me, I had this realization that maybe I shouldn’t have four cups of coffee a day. That doesn’t positively impact the work that I do in the way that I think. I made this shift to do this slow, steady decline throughout the day where I withdraw from caffeine where I do full caffeine, half caf, and then if I want another coffee I will do decaf.
Michelle Tam: No, I heard on your podcast, how you’re saying that it’s like your little carrot to get you to do work.
Bjork Ostrom: For sure. That’s what it was and what would end up happening is that I would do a lot of work, but then I would have a lot of caffeine, so I had to make a shift to that, but I feel like one of the things that you do is you’re intentional about helping people realize that the food that they eat has an impact on how they feel. Even that, at a very basic level, is important for people to understand, which I think is really cool.
Michelle Tam: I think also, I’m not super dogmatic at all, and I think people see that and I think people should be reminded that you have to enjoy life. If your food is stressing you out, then there is something wrong.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, yep. I want to do this. One of the questions that I love to ask people at the end of the podcast is, especially people in your situation, where you’ve been doing this for a long time, you have a lot of experience, you’ve dove into a lot of different areas, and I’m curious to know, if you were to go back and have a conversation with yourself when you were first getting started, what is some of the advice you would give yourself? As you had that conversation, maybe it was over a cup of decaf coffee.
Michelle Tam: That’s a tough question. That’s a really great question, but I almost feel like I wouldn’t tell myself to do anything differently. I feel like everything happened the way it was supposed to happen, and I’m not even one of those…
Bjork Ostrom: If everything happens for a reason kind of thing?
Michelle Tam: No, I’m not one of those people, but I do think we just threw ourselves a hundred percent into it and we were lucky because we were working and we had stable jobs and we could pick things that we really wanted to do and to really devote ourselves to.
So, I wouldn’t have recommended that I quit earlier, or anything just because it forced us to focus on things that we really felt proud of putting out there.
Bjork Ostrom: I always reference this guy in conversation and I forget his name, but there was a composer who did really unique… He would do stuff like he would smash a piano with an ax and then he would play a piece on it, and his day job was an insurance salesman. He could have transitioned into being a full-time musician, but he didn’t ever because he said it allowed him to do these extremely creative things that really aligned with his passion and interests.
I think that’s one of those things that we don’t call out enough, is the value of being able to experiment and to have fun and to enjoy the process and to not feel like I need to pay the mortgage, so I have to work with maybe a brand that I don’t appreciate or do something that I’m not excited about. I think that’s really good advice and maybe what it is, is you kind of shifted that conversation from advice to yourself to advice to people that are listening to this podcast, and in so, saying, “It’s okay to do what you’re doing in your nine to five job in order to continue to do those creative things that you’re doing on the side and to really lean into those and to not feel rushed into making that something that you don’t want it to be.” I kind of paraphrased a little bit. Would you say that was kind of what you were saying, or how would you refine that?
Michelle Tam: No, I totally understand because there were so many times when I was working and we were working on our paleo and I was like, “Now, if I just quit my job, then I would have so much time to work on this one thing I’m working on,” but I also think, now that I’m doing Nom Nom Paleo full time, I totally mess around all the time and I’m not a hundred percent focused on that one thing. In some ways, that restriction made me focus. That’s why I think I would have…
Bjork Ostrom: It’s kind of like, they say that the students with the highest GPA are also those that are involved with the most extracurricular activities, and you think it would be the opposite where those that are involved with the most extracurricular activities don’t have enough time to work on their homework.
Michelle Tam: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s almost as if those constraints help to motivate you to or provide clarity on the work that you are doing. Yeah.
Michelle Tam: Totally agree.
Bjork Ostrom: The composers name was Charles Ives, in case you were wondering. I looked that up real quick.
Michelle, I really appreciate you coming out to the podcast. We followed along with what you were doing for a really long time and just think that you do such a good time with it, so it was an honor to talk to you today and I know that people will get a lot out of hearing your story. Where can people follow along with you online, if they’re curious, to know what you’re up to?
Michelle Tam: I am Nom nom Paleo on everything except the snapchat. Snapchat, I’m MichiTam.
Bjork Ostrom: Great.
Michelle Tam: I’m basically [mom non paleo 00:56:11] on everything.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool.
Michelle Tam: If you tweet me, or you leave me a comment on anything I will see it. Normally, I’m pretty good about answering but for sure I will see it.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool, that’s awesome. Michelle, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story, really appreciate it.
Michelle Tam: No, thank you. It was my pleasure.
Bjork Ostrom: One more big thank you to Michelle for coming on and to you, wherever you are, listening to this podcast. I think it’s so incredible that we can have these conversations that are then broadcast over the internet, and wherever you are that you can tag along and listen to these conversations. So, really appreciate you doing that and appreciate you being a part of these podcast episodes, because without you listening, we wouldn’t do them. So, thank you so much for tuning in. If you haven’t, if you listen to these on the blog streaming through, I would really encourage you to actually subscribe in a podcast app, so I’m guessing you have a smartphone, android, iPhone. What you can do is, you can pull up a podcast app, if it’s an iPhone, I would suggest using the podcast app, it’s just a default app that’s on your phone, and searching for Food Blogger Pro, if you have android, you can download a podcast app like [stitcher 00:57:21] and search for Food Blogger Pro and follow along there with the podcast and you’ll automatically get notifies when we release a new one.
If you want to check out any of the links we mentioned in the podcast episode today, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/65. Otherwise, I hope that you have a great week and we will be back here same time, same place next week. Until then, make it a great week. Thanks guys.