Welcome to episode 287 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Russ and Natalie Monson about building online businesses.
Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Emily Perron about hiring freelance help. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
As entrepreneurs, business owners, and bloggers, we know that it’s sometimes tough to find balance between life and work.
That’s what we’re focusing on in this interview with Russ and Natalie Monson from Super Healthy Kids and Prepear. Throughout their time as entrepreneurs, they’ve grown a food blog, built an app, received funding for their business, and more.
In this episode, you’ll learn how they do it all while maintaining a healthy balance with their other responsibilities.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How Russ and Natalie started working together
- How they started working on Super Healthy Kids full-time
- How they came up with the idea for Prepear
- How they found balance and a healthy relationship with their work
- How taking outside funding affects a business
- What it was like to get sued by Apple
- How Prepear works
- Super Healthy Kids
- Big Magic
- “I Was a Starter Wife”: Inside America’s Messiest Divorce
- Reflecting on My Failure to Build a Billion-Dollar Company
- Marco Polo
- Apple goes after meal-prep company Prepear over its ‘similar’ logo
- Learn more about Prepear for food bloggers
- Email Russ
- Learn more about WP Tasty’s sale!
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Learn more about joining the Food Blogger Pro community at foodbloggerpro.com/membership
Transcript (click to expand):
Alexa Peduzzi: Hello, hello, and welcome to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. My name is Alexa and I’m part of the Food Blogger Pro team. We are so excited that you decided to join and tune into the podcast today. Today’s episode actually features a conversation about life and business, and we know that sometimes it’s really hard to find balance in life and business, especially when you’re growing your business and getting more and more responsibilities, and that’s exactly what Russ and Natalie from the food blog Super Healthy Kids and the app Prepear are here today to talk about. You’ll learn more about how they started working together, how they started focusing on their blog full-time, and then how they came up with the idea for Prepear, and then how they had to find a balance and a healthy relationship with their work.
Alexa Peduzzi: It’s a really interesting episode, and I think there are a lot of takeaways from this episode that you’re going to feel very familiar with, if that makes sense. So, without any further ado, Bjork, take it away.
Bjork Ostrom: Russ, Natalie, welcome to the podcast. I just made the guarantee that I’m going to direct questions or comments at each of you individually, and so you don’t do a dual welcome/talk over each other, I’ll individually welcome you to the podcast. Russ, welcome to the podcast.
Russ Monson: Thanks, Bjork. Great to be here. We’ve been listeners of the podcast for a long time and it’s fun to be on.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s always great when people are familiar with it and know it. Natalie, welcome to the podcast.
Natalie Monson: Thanks, Bjork. I mean, I’ve known you for a long time, and like Russ said, we’ve listened for a long time, so it’s fun and exciting and also we feel a little bit honored to be here, because it’s just… your podcast is amazing.
Bjork Ostrom: Well, thank you. Yeah, I really appreciate it. Usually what happens when I have a guest on is that we’ll connect and we’ll have a conversation; it will be one of the first conversations we have, and then moving forward, it’s like, “Great, we have a connection and we stay connected sometimes.” We continue those conversations, it kind of kicks things off. This is really different, where we’ve had hours of conversation, hours and hours before this, and now we’re officially pressing record, so it feels a little bit different. Even for me, there’s 150%… I kind of talk a little bit different. My energy is a little bit different, and you guys can sniff that out.
Russ Monson: Well, hopefully, everybody listening can just feel like they’re hanging out with a couple friends.
Bjork Ostrom: Yes, that’s what it’s all about and that’s what our hope is, is kind of listening in on a conversation with friends who do things kind of in the similar world that we do, and you guys would be examples of that; very much so similar mindsets, similar work ethic to a lot of people that are listening to this podcast, I would say to the way that we view the world and work within the world, because you have multiple different businesses and both of you are entrepreneurs. I think that’s kind of a rare thing between a couple to share that.
Bjork Ostrom: Has that always been the case for you? When you first started dating, Natalie, were you like, “Hey, this is going to work out really well because we’re both entrepreneurs and we’re going to build businesses together?”
Natalie Monson: 100%. We both went into marriage knowing that about each other in different ways. I remember when we first got married, Russ is like, “Okay, I have this goal. I want to own a bunch of real estate, all these apartment complexes and all these things,” and I was like, “What the heck? Okay, if that’s your dream, let’s do it!” Mine was very different, and you just don’t know where you’re going to end up, but it’s cool to start with at least a shared goal in mind of, “Let’s build something.”
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. What was your dream? Did you have one that you can look back on and say, “Hey, I kind of had an entrepreneurial spirit. I knew this is what I wanted to do?”
Natalie Monson: My dreams were definitely less specific than Russ’s, but I knew two things. I knew, number one, I’ve always been interested in nutrition and food; it’s a strong passion of mine. Number two, I’ve always liked to sell things.
Natalie Monson: I didn’t really have any expectations of what that would look like in my life at that point, but I just knew I liked those two things, so I’m going to go for it and see what happens.
Bjork Ostrom: Figure out something in that world, and eventually that was Super Healthy Kids, which we can talk about in a little bit.
Bjork Ostrom: Russ, leading with Super Healthy Kids, online blog and food and recipe space around nutrition for kids, is very different than apartment complexes. Was that something that you were, kind of at the same time, saying, “Hey, I’m entrepreneurial.” You have a background as a CPA, so you understand numbers. Were you kind of saying, “Hey, I’m going to dabble in my own area, my own passion, kind of my own dream; also kind of dabble in this area with online businesses,” or was there a clear-cut line? Were you kind of doing a little bit of both? What does your entrepreneurial journey look like as it relates to the different businesses you guys have had?
Russ Monson: Yeah, I actually had no interest in online businesses and food blogging at all, not even a little bit. In fact, when Natalie was like, “What are your goals?,” my whole goal is I was working a corporate job and I was buying up real estate to try and build up an income stream so that I could quit my job and do real estate full-time. It was going well.
Bjork Ostrom: When you say real estate full-time, that’s like owning real estate…
Russ Monson: Yeah, not as a realtor or anything like that, but just-
Bjork Ostrom: Cash flowing, apartments, reading bigger pockets.
Russ Monson: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: All of… okay. Yeah.
Russ Monson: Developing land into multi-family buildings, doing those sorts of things… that’s totally what I wanted to do.
Bjork Ostrom: You had done some of that. You were in the middle of doing it, right?
Russ Monson: Quite a bit, yeah. I knew that right out of the gate. That was what I wanted to do, straight out of… before I was in college. I’ve been getting ready to do that forever, and so we had gotten to where we’ve had quite a bit of real estate, and Natalie had met one of our neighbors and started this Super Healthy Kids thing together with her, and I was just excited for her to have a project to work on, and I didn’t even want anything to do with it.
Russ Monson: It was, “This is great. I don’t know food, I don’t any of this stuff, but I’m glad you’re having fun.”
Natalie Monson: Except for the accounting side of things, because Russ is a CPA.
Russ Monson: Yeah, as soon as there started to be accounting side of things, then I started to get involved.
Bjork Ostrom: Then you’re like, “Maybe I am interested in this!”
Russ Monson: Yes, and then it started to infect me with the online business bug a little bit, and I loved the idea of… kind of what I wanted to do with real estate is I like to go into things and find a situation where there’s a building or a circumstance that’s not ideal and make it more ideal. When I looked at Natalie’s business, I thought, “Well, you know what? If you did this, this could happen and that would be amazing.”
Russ Monson: So then, once I started getting that bug, to me it was like, I had thought I wanted to do real estate, but what I really wanted to do was be involved in business where you can go in and take that creative idea and a way to improve it and make that happen.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You think about one of the things that people love most about business… I would say entrepreneurs… is autonomy, the ability to operate freely within the realm of your area of focus and to have an impact, and I think that would be true even for if you have a team, if you work with people… if you have a job where you have autonomy, to some extent… man, what an awesome thing that is! A lot of times, in a corporate setting, you don’t, and so the draw is, for me, I would feel that. I worked at a non-profit and did have some of that autonomy, but still, it’s like you have these kind of set parameters.
Bjork Ostrom: Was the realization for you, Russ, like, “Hey, I want autonomy. I wan the ability to build things, to create things, to play the game?”
Russ Monson: I would say, now, I like the idea of the autonomy, but at the time, I was far more ambitious than I am now. I guess I’ve been beaten down over the years by a lot of hard things. At the time, it wasn’t even that I wanted the autonomy. I almost kind of looked at that entrepreneurship idea of autonomy as a fiction, because everybody I knew who was a successful entrepreneur was working harder than anybody who had a regular job.
Russ Monson: To me, I already had blown through the idea that entrepreneurship is this magic American dream, and that it just makes life harder, and I wanted to make life harder. To me, it was like, “Well, this is a bigger challenge. I’ve kind of got this real estate thing figured out. I could do this 30 more times, but let’s go into this other thing because it’s a learning opportunity.”
Russ Monson: Frankly, as we started to work on it, Natalie was just more successful than I was, and it was probably a combination of both of us, but we were just making a lot of money doing the blogging thing, and so it kind of pulled me over into that from the real estate thing.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting. I don’t follow super closely with Chip and Joanna Gaines, but Lindsay showed me this thing, it was an editorial piece in Magnolia Magazine or something like that, and he told this story about how when HDTV… is that the channel they were originally on? When they came to him, he kind of envisioned himself being the star, and he’s like, “Hey, this thing is going to be great because I have this big personality and I’m going to be awesome,” and then he had this realization of like, “Oh, my gosh! Joanna is just incredible at this thing.”
Bjork Ostrom: I feel like, in some sense, when people talk about Pinch of Yum, when they talk about Lindsay, when they talk about the work that we’ve done, there’s this interesting reality of, well, gosh, I definitely can’t take credit for it. It’s not my thing. I think would Lindsay say is, well, it’s kind of her thing, but also it’s like she can’t take 100% credit for it, so there’s this probably really good reality that it’s a shared thing, but it’s also kind of hard for somebody to share with somebody, the thing that we are all working on.
Russ Monson: Yeah, it’s like another level of intimacy in your marriage when you’re married … It’s like we’re in competition between our businesses here. How do we deal with it when we screw up in this world? How do we handle all of that stuff?
Bjork Ostrom: Totally. Was there a point, Natalie, when you’re looking back on it where you can remember being like, “Wait, Russ, this is my thing?” Or was it kind of like, “Hey, can you come and help me with this?” Maybe it depended on the day.
Natalie Monson: No, I think from the very first start, I was so grateful for all his help, because when you’re first starting something… I mean, I had no business experience. I had minored in business in college, which is basically like giving you book experience; I had no idea what I was doing. So, I saw Russ as someone who knew how to do business, and so for me, I was like, “Yeah, come help as much as you can.”
Bjork Ostrom: There is a sense of relief to have somebody come in to focus on some stuff that you knew probably needed to have some attention on it that you maybe didn’t want to do.
Natalie Monson: Absolutely, yeah. So, that’s kind of how this all started for us, and that’s just kind of ebbed and flowed. I’m sure you and Lindsay have experienced the same thing where, okay, what’s your role? What are you working on? What are you taking over? What should I do? That changes a lot over the years as your business changes.
Bjork Ostrom: Did you have any official conversations around that? Did you sit down and say, “Here’s what I’m responsible for?” I don’t think Lindsay and I have ever had that conversation, and it’s not because we don’t have things… it’s almost just like naturally, we’ve… we’ve also never had a conversation of, I’m always doing the dishes after dinner. That’s just how it works out and how it’s been, and we’ve never had the conversation about Lindsay making dinner, primarily because she’s 1,000 times more capable than I am at doing that.
Bjork Ostrom: Did you have official conversations, like, “Here’s what you’re going to do. Here’s what I’m going to do,” or was it kind of like you knew where you fit in and you just filled those roles?
Natalie Monson: We never had… correct me if I’m wrong, Russ, but we never had those conversations until we decided to start taking VC money with Prepear, and we can go more into that later, but then we had to because we had to have official titles.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You’re presenting to investors.
Natalie Monson: Yeah, logistically.
Bjork Ostrom: You’re having conversations, and people are like, “Who are you? What do you do within the company?” Yep.
Natalie Monson: Right. So then, at that point, we did. We did have those conversations very specifically, and we’ve had real roles that we were trained to fill.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Russ Monson: Prior to that, I think we just, kind of like you described, we just naturally divided on the lines of what we both thought we were good at, and so we would just take on… it was obvious I was never going to do content. I would stare at the screen and the food would look terrible; all of those things that were just obvious, and it was obvious that Natalie wasn’t going to be running the books or figuring out how to design our next sales program. That just wasn’t what she was going to do, and so it just kind of naturally happened.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that makes sense.
Bjork Ostrom: At what point, Russ, did you leave your corporate job? When was that?
Russ Monson: I left there in 2015, so it’s been six years.
Bjork Ostrom: Was that related to the success of Super Healthy Kids, and how did you have that conversation? Natalie, you had always been kind of working on it part-time-ish, full-time-ish… that was your main focus. Is that right, or was there a point where you said, “Hey, I have this job and I’m going to leave this job and focus on Super Healthy Kids,” or was that just you, Russ?
Natalie Monson: Before I started doing Super Healthy Kids, I was working as a dietician with people who have kidney failure, and then I was doing a couple of other online things as a dietician. Once I actually started doing Super Healthy Kids, that was my full-time thing from then on. I quit everything else. Everything else was done. That was my only sole focus.
Natalie Monson: I specifically remember in 2015 having the discussion with Russ. Okay, Russ wanted to start making his exit plan from his corporate job, so was it going to be his stuff or my stuff? He had a few options with all his stuff, and I just remember having these conversations over months, because it’s kind of a big jump, and then finally ending up on, “Okay, let’s put all of our eggs in my business’s basket because it’s going well, it’s up and to the right. Let’s do this.” So we conscientiously made that decision.
Bjork Ostrom: That means what, that you focus your time on that more? Russ, did you drop all real estate pursuits at that time?
Russ Monson: Yeah, I mean, it meant we put all our eggs in that basket. Over time, I ended up selling all of my real estate to fund what we were doing with Super Healthy Kids and Prepear, all of it. I mean, we put every egg in that basket, and that’s partially just because I was super ambitious about it. In fact, I told Natalie, “I want to come here, but I don’t want to grow a food blog. I want to build something bigger than a food blog, and I think this is a really cool platform for it, and are you down with that if we try to do something”… not that it needed to be better than a food blog. It’s just we wanted to do something more ambitious.
Bjork Ostrom: Scales differently.
Russ Monson: Yeah.
Natalie Monson: Yeah.
Russ Monson: So much so, this is probably not my best husbanding moment ever, but I said, “I think it’s going to be hard. I think it’s going to be so hard that you’re going to want to quit, so I want you to commit that you’re not going to quit for at least this amount of time,” and she’s like, “Oh, I won’t!” So, I actually made her sign a paper saying I won’t quit until after this date.
Bjork Ostrom: It was a contract, but it was a very simple one… just like, “I will not quit.”
Natalie Monson: Sign it in blood.
Russ Monson: It was probably not my best husbanding move of all time, Bjork, but I knew at least intellectually that what we were going into was not the same thing as what we had done before, that we were going to try to do something that was going to be so hard, I knew we would both want to quit, and that’s the kind of ambition that I had. I just want to try big, hard things, almost like it was like an addiction or an obsession, not particularly in a healthy way… not to make our lives better, but because it’s like… you know somebody who’s into a sport so much that you’re like, “Should you really be exercising nine hours a day instead of hanging out with your kids?” It was too far for me, for sure.
Bjork Ostrom: To understand that, so there’s the phase of real estate investing, corporate, early-stage Super Healthy Kids, and then there’s this stage of, “Hey, Super Healthy Kids is going well. We should probably both focus on this. Let’s put all of our energy there.” That’s kind of the mid-term. Then, there’s kind of what we’re in right now, maybe the tail end of a chapter, which is like, “What about creating a platform that isn’t a food blog, but it’s something that could have a lot of reach in a way that creating content maybe can’t?”
Bjork Ostrom: Is that, in terms of the general chapters, is that dividing that up correctly, and maybe we’re at the start of kind of a new chapter?
Russ Monson: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, I think that’s correct. I don’t think we’ve talked much about what we decided to do with Prepear, but when I quit and went into Super Healthy Kids with this big ambition, I had in the back of my mind that there would be something like a platform there, and that was because as we had been working on Super Healthy Kids and growing it, we grew it to do a lot of… well, for us, it was a lot of revenue. We got it to where, on its own, it was doing about $900,000 a year in top-line revenue, and that was from a bunch of different businesses that we had built.
Russ Monson: We built a physical products business inside of it, we had the food blog; we also had the meal planning business. We looked at all that and said, “Which of these things has the potential to scale?” All of our subscribers to our meal planning subscription were asking us for all these things, and a bunch of other food blogs were starting meal plan subscription services, and their pricing was our pricing, and we could see that people were watching what we were doing and doing it. It was kind of obvious to us that, oh, okay, other people want to do this, and our readers want this to be better than it is, but for it to be better than it is, it’s going to cost us literally millions of dollars to build the kinds of things that they’re asking for. We can get this to make some amount of money, but we didn’t feel like we would be able to get it to make that amount of money to justify anything, and that morphed into this… that’s what our thing is, is to build this platform.
Russ Monson: It solves the Super Healthy Kids problem, makes our plan subscribes happy, gives us a thing to grow, but then extends that ability to build that subscription to every other food blogger.
Natalie Monson: And I remember… oh, sorry, go ahead.
Bjork Ostrom: Well, go, finish that thought. Yep, I can hold it.
Natalie Monson: I was just going to say, one of the things is when you come up with an idea, it’s influenced by a lot of different things, but I remember specifically, one year I spoke at a breakout session, the Everything Food conference, and I was talking about building a meal plan subscription. So, everyone that was attending the session was asking all these different questions, and I was giving my experience, but the question that kept coming up over and over again was, “Okay, I understand all these things, but how do I do it? What technology do I use? How do I actually do this?”
Natalie Monson: I didn’t have a good answer for that, because everything we had done, we had custom built, and it’s really expensive, and it’s hard to do, and even though we had poured a ton of money in it, our technology solution wasn’t even that great. So, then it’s like, okay, that’s another thing that’s like, “Okay, well, we could build this, because then there’s a place for people who want to do this to do that.”
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting. It’s a lot of how we recommend people look for opportunities… one of the things that you keep hearing, and it’s almost like… I think it’s in Big Magic. I only know Big Magic through what Lindsay has told me, so it’s like the telephone game of the book Big Magic, but I think there’s something that she talks about in there of the muse, and once it visits you, it will be there for a little bit; eventually, it goes to somebody else… but this idea of like, “Hey, I kind of feel like there’s something here. There’s an idea. There’s inspiration. There’s potential traction that could come from this.”
Bjork Ostrom: It sounds like that’s what Prepear was, and you knew that there was opportunity there because you heard people saying it. You were creating an income from this category and type of product, and you said, “Hey, if we can create something that allows people to do that and that addresses this problem, maybe we could scale this in a really big way.” Russ, is that an accurate analysis of kind of the early stage ideas of Prepear and how it came about?
Russ Monson: That’s exactly how it came about. It was just seeing that opportunity all over the place, just seeing it repeatedly come up, and over and over and over again, and then saying, “Well, this is something unique and this is something that has potential,” and then for me, in my mind, saying, “Well, if it has some real potential, let’s go try it. Let’s go do it. I can always do 50 real estate deals later if this doesn’t work or does work.”
Russ Monson: I can always come back to that, but it just felt like this opportunity was just there and it was surfacing, and it felt like we had to do it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. So, here’s the question that I think a lot of people will ask. You’re making revenue of $900,000 on a generally high margin type of business. It’s not like it’s a grocery store, right? So, you are able to have what is a very comfortable lifestyle, in what for a lot of people would say, “Hey, we’ve made it. This is something that we could continue doing this and we’d be extremely happy and have an abundance of money, but hey, we’re going to kind of put all the chips on the table and pursue this new thing at a really high level.” Can you talk through… and Natalie, I’d be interested for you to start… can you talk through the psychology of where you are at at that point, and this is… I’m going to try and communicate this… because I think there’s something to be learned about the reality of never really arriving somewhere, and the true gift of what you do is the work itself.
Natalie Monson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bjork Ostrom: I think I’ve seen that in different instances where people have a certain level of success… they exit a business. They get three million dollars. If you’re strategic about that, you could retire on it, and they talk about it being the most depressing year of their life after.
Bjork Ostrom: What have you learned about getting to that point of success, doubling down to try and reach a new level through VC funding, and we can talk about that? Then, in some ways, and this is foreshadowing a little bit, resetting a little bit and scaling back and saying, “Maybe what that was was a good thing.”
Bjork Ostrom: There was a lot in there that I’m going to let you unpack and talk through that.
Natalie Monson: Yeah. No, I think it’s actually a super important thing to think about as an entrepreneur. We have actually had this conversation a little bit, Bjork, about the end part of your question.
Natalie Monson: So we’re at this point, and for me, personally, I grew up in a family where the culture is, work is play, play is work. Right? So if you have that mindset, then it’s like the money doesn’t matter as much what you’re doing, and it was so fulfilling for both Russ and I to work more and harder and longer, and it was like, “This is what we love.” We love doing all this work.
Natalie Monson: So, at the time, that’s the mindset we were in. We were like, “Okay, we’re here, but we want more. We want more work. We want it to be harder. We want it to be more challenging.” That’s what is exhilarating to us. I imagine people who have the goal of hiking Everest feeling maybe some of that. It’s like, “Well, I’ve hiked K–2 and I’ve hiked Cotopaxi and all these things, but I want more; harder and bigger and more dangerous, and all these things.” So, that’s the energy we had at that time, so that’s why we did what we did.
Natalie Monson: We’re like, “We don’t care about a comfortable lifestyle. We don’t care about having all this money. We don’t care about any of that.” I think that’s fine. I do think it’s okay for some people to be like that, but what we’ve realized over the years is that it’s actually not okay for us to be like that.
Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that?
Natalie Monson: I mean that… growing a business wasn’t our only goals in life. We had four kids, and we’ve just had our fourth kid, and we had a marriage and a relationship, and we had all these other things that are actually really, truly important to us, and once we started entering this world of… I’m just going to call it the startup world… it’s like that becomes an obsession and other things don’t matter, so we got to a point where, actually, these other things do matter, so we’ve got to figure this out.
Natalie Monson: We’ve got to figure out this obsession, and what I’ve learned is I think for some people, it’s a really good thing and they just could do that and go with it their whole lives, and it’s fulfilling and it’s amazing, but as a mother and a woman who wants a family and a marriage and a relationship, I actually don’t think it’s a good thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.
Natalie Monson: Maybe you could do both. I can’t. I can’t do both of those very intense things.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I was just having a conversation-
Natalie Monson: I don’t know…
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think so. I think… a couple different pieces, and then, Russ, I’d be interested to hear your additional thoughts on that.
Bjork Ostrom: I was having a conversation with our nanny this morning, and she was talking about real estate, and she was like, “If you were us right now, would you buy a condo? A townhouse? A duplex? What would you do?” We were talking about it, and she was talking about her husband, who’s a real estate agent, and we have a friend who is a real estate agent, and she’s like, “Yeah, I actually heard he has kind of scaled back since two years ago because he realized the only thing he was thinking about was selling houses.”
Bjork Ostrom: He was doing really well because of it, but had this realization of like, “Wow, that’s who I am, is selling houses.” Like you said, it’s not bad if that’s who you want to be, but if there’s other versions of yourself or other parts of yourself that are getting neglected because of that, probably worth stepping back and looking at. One of the other pieces that I can relate to and maybe ties into this is, our newborn daughter Elena… and I was up at 2:35 AM trying to settle her and eventually did, and then I was holding her and rocking her, and kind of able to do stuff, but not really, so it’s like, “What’s the type of things that I can read right now that require 20% of my brain capacity?”
Bjork Ostrom: One of them was a story about Elon Musk, and it was his wife who wrote this story about what it was like to be married to him and their eventual divorce, and there’s these realizations of like, “Man, there’s”… especially for the ultimate example of somebody like Elon Musk, there’s sacrifice that’s made that impacts your wife, your kids, and we all know that, but then to read her piece on what that looked like is like, “Wow, that’s heart-wrenching in a lot of ways,” and we can link to that in the show notes. I don’t remember; it was Vanity Fair or something like that; I don’t remember where it was published.
Bjork Ostrom: Do you feel like, Russ, that part of the addiction/obsession was that the things you were doing were working, and so there’s this positive feedback loop of, we love this thing because every time I tap three times, an M&M comes out, and it’s like, “This is actually really fun”; then it’s like, “Wait a minute. I’m tapping 10 times, and the only thing I’m getting is”-
Russ Monson: Totally. Totally.
Bjork Ostrom: So it’s like, “Maybe it’s not as fun when the grind isn’t connected to the reward as much.”
Russ Monson: Yeah, that is totally accurate, and how I’m going to respond to this, just to be clear, is colored by the context of hindsight. This isn’t how I was feeling at the time we were going after all of the… the more ambitious people were ambitious… but with marriage counseling and therapy and thinking through how I got to where I was where I was obsessed with the thing, it wasn’t necessarily good for me… for me, it wasn’t so much like I was enjoying the high of that; I actually had some significant self-esteem issues. I was doing things to be successful because I could succeed in an area, and it would make me feel good about myself, but then whenever I got to there, it’s like, “Well, that wasn’t the problem.” I have these other internal problems that I had to resolve with Natalie and with myself to be able to feel good about myself all the time.
Russ Monson: When I’m winning on that stuff, it covers it up until I get to the next win. Right? It’s kind of like a drug cycle. Anybody who has had any kind of depression or experience with something like that, you can start to understand… “Well, I feel good when I do this, but not regularly, and I’ve got to prove to myself that I feel good.” I was in a cycle of… I was really competent, and so, when I would do things, I would win, and I would get that win, and that win, and that win, but I would never have to address my real internal problems because I was winning so much.
Russ Monson: When we started Prepear, it was so freaking hard, and we didn’t win all the time, and so I wasn’t having those feelings. It was the best thing we ever did because it uncovered that, “Oh, I’m not doing this because I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I’m doing this to prove to myself that I’m something of value in the world.”
Bjork Ostrom: Uh-huh. When did you realize that? I feel like that’s a monumental thing to uncover. Was it in a moment, or was it like peeling back the layers and you’re like, “Wait a minute. This thing is starting to take shape, come into focus, and I think I know what it is?” Or was there a moment of like, “Oh, my goodness. Now I can see it clearly.”
Russ Monson: Well, I think it was both. I think when you do something that’s really hard and you don’t succeed, it starts to wear down your ego and your outer self, and I think that had to be worn down, but totally, I had a moment of realization where it’s like, “I’m not doing this just for the love of this. I can still do this, but I’m doing this to cover up this other problem.” I don’t even remember what the trigger was for that, but I think it was something along the lines with our relationship and our engagement with our kids, and thinking, “I’m working all the time and sacrificing health and all these other things to make myself feel better about myself,” then I’m literally making myself feel worse about myself in an attempt to make me feel-
Bjork Ostrom: For sure, for sure.
Russ Monson: I’m tearing apart all the things that I actually need to build here in pursuit of a thing that won’t ever resolve that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Russ Monson: Once I had that realization, that made it super easy to kind of dismantle our lives and say, “Okay, I’ve got to rebuild a set of beliefs here”… which I can still continue to do this thing, because I actually do love doing the thing; I love building the software, I love helping the food blogging community, I love working on all those things, but I’ve got to reassemble my life in such a way that I’m not doing it to cover anything up, and I’m building things in my life that actually fulfill those problems that I have, and that reconstruction process is what we said everything for us, and we would not have had it had we had the next rocket ship had taken off. It didn’t take off and it made us have that, and that’s… it makes us more…
Bjork Ostrom: You’re sitting on the launch pad, looking at it, and you’re like, “Why didn’t this thing take off?” You start to take it apart and you dismantle it, and you start to look inside and you’re like, “Oh, maybe this is apple juice in here and not rocket fuel.” Weird analogy, but-
Russ Monson: Yeah, and it was interesting because the harder it got, the harder it got. Prepear was going along fine and we were building things well, and we had bloggers that were being successful on it, and we had all of these things, but as I was having that realization, it was like one hard thing was happening after another. Right as I’m having that realization, COVID hits, and ad revenue collapses, and Super Healthy Kids is supporting Prepear, and it’s like, “Oh crap, now we’ve got to lay off team members because we can’t survive.”
Russ Monson: Then, right after that, we get notice that, oh, the largest company in the world was suing us and we’ve got to figure out how to deal with this, and then right after that we have some things with how we handle content that we had made some mistakes on that we had to fix. All these things were compounding, and it got us to a point where we’ve got to figure something out here to do this differently, and that feeling of when you look at it and say, “Oh, I can do it differently,” and then you can start to rebuild? It’s the best, and I feel so happy having come through that.
Russ Monson: We’ve restructured our whole business, and our life, and our team, and the way we approach all of this to support the things that really matter, instead of just support our addiction to entrepreneurship, or whatever it was that was. Everything has changed. In six months, since we’ve been really going through that work, literally everything has changed. Not only is our life not focused on that, our life is working in terms of our own life and our own psychology, and our own mental health, and our relationship with our kids… and our business, actually, is taking off. Now that we’re doing it for different reasons, everything is working, and it’s just so interesting that that’s what it took to get there.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting. The story of Gumroad… I’m not going to remember the founder’s name and I’m not going to attempt to pull it out, but we can link to that in the show notes… he wrote a blog post on Medium, something along the lines of My Billion-Dollar Failed Startup or something like that… but he talks about how I think he was employee number two at Pinterest, and he left in order to start Gumroad, and he talked about having this ambition of building this billion-dollar company and how it all kind of collapsed around him, and how he’s had this kind of resurrection of this business in a completely different way.
Bjork Ostrom: He just published a blog post recently that talks about how now their culture is no meetings, no due dates, and no employees; it’s all contracted team members that he works with.
Natalie Monson: Interesting.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s like everything burns down, and then there’s this little flower that pokes out, and you’re like, “Oh, wait a minute. There’s this thing that’s kind of growing out of this that wouldn’t have happened if not for the thing kind of burning down.”
Bjork Ostrom: One thing I do want to mention that I think is important to point out, and you mention this… Prepear is a successful business. It’s profitable. It’s growing, but the version of it is different than what it intended to be, so for those who aren’t familiar with that idea of, like we say, VC… and for Inside Baseball, it’s like if you were to say slugging percentage, and somebody who’s really into baseball, they’d be like, “Yeah, actually, I don’t even know what slugging percentage is, but I know the term”… we know VC because we talk about venture capital. We know bootstrap because it’s kind of a term that we use.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about those two terms, Natalie, and then how that’s the kind of roller coaster ride that you’ve been on in regards to how you’re going to go about doing business, and where you’re at right now?
Natalie Monson: Yeah. I had no idea what any of that meant probably, what, three years ago? Four years ago? As we got going into doing Prepear… okay, so for me, I kind of classify things into two terms, and I know it’s not necessarily this way, but this is how I do it… so I think of businesses as a lifestyle business, meaning you are growing your business on your own terms, your own dime, your own pace, and you’re growing your business that way.
Natalie Monson: Then, the other one is a startup, and a startup is like… you have this idea that’s really, really big. You need it to grow fast. It’s very expensive. It’s difficult. So, you don’t have enough resources to grow it on your own, so you need outside funding.
Natalie Monson: So, that’s where all these other terms come in, and so VC is venture capital, so basically what that is is an outside… and there’s all different types of VC, right? It’s investment, so a venture capital company is more of an organized company who does this for businesses. They’re looking for startups to invest in and they have certain expectations that come with that investment; and then you have angel funding, so there’s people who just have a lot of money who want to invest in companies that are starting up like this. There’s all different sorts of outside investment, but it’s a thing.
Natalie Monson: Taking outside investment changes your business in a big way.
Bjork Ostrom: How does it change? How did it change your business?
Natalie Monson: Okay, well, first, let me get to why we… so, I remember specifically, we were trying to make this decision, because Russ and I had a lot of personal resources that we were able to dump into the business to take it a long way, but at the time, when you have this idea and you’re like, “Okay, do we want it to grow really fast, because if we do, we should probably take out said funding to make it grow faster than we support?”
Natalie Monson: And so, I remember meeting with Vlada from Marco Polo. We went to brunch, and we had this conversation. I told her where we were and what we were thinking, and I just wanted to know all of the things about taking investment, and her experience, and what she thought, and all of these things. She is so passionate about her business and about Marco Polo that she’s like… I remember her saying, “I took funding because I don’t care if I own the business, I just want it to exist in the world.” She’s like, “I knew I had to take funding in order for it to exist.” She didn’t care if she gave away 80% of the business to investors. She just wanted it to exist in the world.
Natalie Monson: That was really impactful for me, because I’m like, “Oh, okay, I can get behind that,” because I felt the same way at the time. I’m like, “I don’t care about the money or the fame, or the owning the business. We’re going to be fine. We’ll be able to provide for our family. I just want this to exist in the world.”
Natalie Monson: I remember leaving that meeting with her and I felt so excited, so on fire. I’m like, “Okay, we’ve got to do this. We’ve got to take outside funding.” But as far as your question of how that changes things, you no longer are the only driver of your business. You’re making decisions to not just what you want to do and where you want it to go; you’re making decisions to appease your investors. They need to see returns. We have to make this work or else they’re losing all their money, and I don’t think anybody wants to feel the pain of that. We told these people we were going to do this thing, and if we don’t make it happen, we will be really letting them down.
Russ Monson: One thing I would add there is it changes your business in this way fundamentally: they don’t just need a cover return if you take money from a venture investor. They’re expecting, fully expecting, 90% of the businesses they invest in to totally fail, and in order for the math to work, they need some of those things to not just succeed, they need them to be the next Pinterest. So once you take their money, you have to design your business in such a way that it’s capable of enormous scale. There is no venture capital company that wants to invest in a company that’s like, “We’re going to grow slow and steady.”
Natalie Monson: In 10 years!
Russ Monson: And in 10 years, it’s going to be worth something. They want it to grow like a rocket ship or else, and so you do have to readjust everything you think to, if I’m going to take this money, I’m committing to designing that type of the business.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s… analogy on the fly, warning, but love to do these… it’s like 10 rocket ships, and they’re all lined up, and they say, “We need to go to the moon and we need to get there in five to seven hours.” Venture capital might be five to seven years, five to 10 years. They say, “We’ve got $10 million. We’re going to put a million dollars into each one of these, and we know nine of you are going to blow up on the way, but there’s a pretty good chance one of you is going to get to the moon.”
Bjork Ostrom: And so, then they all take off and nine blow up, and nobody cries as long as one gets to the moon, but for you, as the business owner, you have to strap into that rocket and be like, “My only option is to go to the moon and there’s a really good chance that I’m going to blow up.” To contrast that with lifestyle business, hey, I just need to ride my bike to the library, and if I get there, it’s going to be really successful and I might enjoy it along the way… and it doesn’t have to be that. I think there’s an in-between. I think you can still have the ambition of growing quickly, but the point is it’s a lot less dangerous from a business failure perspective.
Bjork Ostrom: Now, if you know the risk, if you know that’s what you’re getting into, great; it’s just going to feel a lot different in terms of the intensity around it. Russ, I’m interested in, if you were to go back and have a conversation with yourself, what would that conversation look like? I feel like, probably for both of you, but especially for you, Russ, personally it seems like there was a pretty big transformation that’s happened over a relatively short period of time.
Russ Monson: Yeah. What would I say to myself? I would say this, just in terms of this venture capital discussion: we were not a typical startup for them. A typical startup that they invest in is like a couple of guys are quitting their job and starting a business, and the venture capitalist is putting in all the money. We invested as much or more than the total amount of investment we took from other people ourselves, so we’re getting on a rocket ship and I’m going to make dang sure that rocket ship is not going to blow up, because I’m all in on it. For other people who were doing entrepreneurship with venture money, it’s venture money and they’re taking the risk, but…
Bjork Ostrom: But none of their money is in, yeah.
Russ Monson: Exactly, and we had put every egg in that basket, and because of that, we were not aware enough of the risks of designing a business that’s on that rocket ship ride, and I think we should have had some balance… if all of our eggs were in that basket, that rocket ship needs to fly, whether it’s to the moon or whether it’s to the grocery store. It’s got to fly. Every egg is in that basket, and we should have been, I think, a lot more conscious of how to design that business, given that family Monson was all in, and more in, than any investor we have by a long shot.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s interesting. A lot of times, you’ll see people who have exited a business; you know they’re worth $25 million; they’ll start a new startup and it’s like, “Why don’t you just self-fund it? Why didn’t you just use your own money?” To your point, it’s like there’s this risk analysis that they probably do where they’re like, “Hey, we might be one of these nine rocket ships that blows up on the way up.”
Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that you had mentioned that I don’t want to get too far away from… in what was a difficult year for everybody, especially difficult for business owners, especially difficult for anybody building a startup, is this… you had talked about getting sued by the biggest company in the world; not an ideal situation for a small business or a startup. I know a little bit of that backstory, but Natalie, can you talk about what happened, when that happened, and what that was like to navigate a pretty bizarre, difficult situation?
Natalie Monson: Yes, totally.
Natalie Monson: For anyone who doesn’t know, the company we’re talking about is Apple.
Bjork Ostrom: A little company called Apple, some of you might have heard of them.
Natalie Monson: Yeah, they sell some phones and things.
Bjork Ostrom: Some hardware.
Natalie Monson: It’s interesting because it’s not the first time we’ve been sued before, and so we had a little bit of experience with it; definitely not anything at this scale. We’re still going through it, just so everyone knows, and so there’s some things we can’t say, but I just remember… the whole dispute, basically, to sum it up in a quick way is… when you are going to register a logo or your name, you have to go through this process where you submit it to the patent office, and then there’s a certain amount of time where it’s open to other companies to dispute it.
Natalie Monson: We were trying to register the pear, the actual icon of the pear, for Prepear, and we had submitted it. All was well. It was going to close. The next day, literally the next day the period was shutting down, or it was closing, and then it was going to be registered and all was well? So, the day before it closed, Apple opposed the trademark, meaning they said, “Your pear is too close to our apple. You cannot have this logo.”
Bjork Ostrom: To be clear, it’s hard on a podcast… it really doesn’t look like the Apple logo! They’re not close.
Natalie Monson: No, and if you look on Google, Apple versus Prepear, if you did an image search, you’ll see exactly what we’re talking about. It’s funny. I wanted to do this experiment, so I got the pictures of both and I asked my four-year-old. I’m like, “Okay, what is this?” He looked at the apple and he’s like, “It’s an apple!” Then I’m like, “Okay, and what is this one?” He’s like, “It’s an avocado!” He didn’t even think it was a pear or apple.
Bjork Ostrom: Right, not even a fruit!
Natalie Monson: No. It’s actually really pretty funny to us, because it’s so almost… I don’t know the word. It’s so frivolous, you just have to laugh, right?
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Natalie Monson: Anyways, people have been like, “Well, why don’t you just change your logo?” The problem is it’s not that easy. When you’re dealing with a company like Apple, changing your logo, it’s not what they want, and so even if we were like, “Okay, we’ll change it,” they couldn’t even tell us what we could change it to that would be satisfactory to them. So if we went down that path, all we’re setting ourselves up for is hours and hours and hours of work with no resolution, and then they could come back and say, “Oh, well, yeah, you changed your logo, but we actually found it on this spot on this site, and so that’s a violation, and so now we’re going to sue you again.”
Natalie Monson: It’s just so complicated, so we just knew… we’re like, “Okay, number one, we are not going to do that because of all these complications,” and number two, we felt like it was the right thing to do to stand up to them, even though we’re like, “We are an ant standing up to a elephant,” because they’ve done this to dozens and dozens and dozens of other companies in our same situation.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting. Even I think of Basecamp and their product, Hay, which is an email product, and Apple kind of boxing them out in certain ways; I haven’t followed super closely, but it kind of feels like bullying behavior a little bit, and it feels like this is an example of that, like, “Hey, we know we’re a huge company. We know you’re a small company. We’re going to be really nitpicky about the smallest of things in order to protect ourselves,” and you’re like, “No, that’s not right.”
Russ Monson: Yeah, we’re definitely not doing anything that would harm or compete with them, and truly, every claim they made about what we were doing and why our logo would infringe was totally false. This went super viral because we had planned a PR campaign because it’s ant versus elephant; we needed to find some way to even up the playing field if we were not going to be totally taken advantage of, and that PR campaign was enormously successful and highlighted globally, all over the place, how dysfunctional some of these big tech companies are and the source of things that are putting all of this energy into.
Russ Monson: All of that happened at the same time as the anti-trust hearings, and we, Prepear, are a company that is building tech for people so they don’t have to rely on the big tech companies for… so food bloggers don’t have to rely on the big tech companies for all their revenue, and then to have a big tech company coming after us for totally frivolous things when they’re already testifying for Congress for all the awful things they were doing… it was just a perfect storm of, here’s an example of a semi-truck of a tech company running over a puppy dog on the street, and that’s how it looked to everyone in the world.
Bjork Ostrom: Totally.
Russ Monson: They are totally doing that. It was shocking to us how disgusting it was, because we thought for sure, “This is so absurd, when we have a phone call with these guys, this is a quick, ‘What do you guys not like? What’s going on here?’” For real, it’s as dumb as it looks. We almost just couldn’t even wrap our head around that somebody is really willing to commit enormous resources to destroying something like we have for, I’m sure, what is some PowerPoint slide agenda item in some meeting at Apple some time ago about fight for the leaf or something.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. Right. Right.
Russ Monson: It’s amazing.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s interesting. I remember the day after you posted about it, or maybe it was two days after? I looked… the Change.org petition, and it was like 75,000. I said, “What?” Then, now it’s almost 270,000 when we’re recording this episode, people who have signed this petition saying, “This is outrageous.” It was interesting to see that develop.
Bjork Ostrom: All of that wrapped into… this is going on at the same time as global pandemic, is going on at the same time as, in a lot of ways, shifting the business model and saying, maybe we shouldn’t take venture money. We should scale way back. We have to reduce staff. We want to get to profitability. Is there anything that you learned about… I’m going to rephrase that. What did you learn about yourself, starting with you, Natalie, in regards to how you get through a really challenging and difficult time, and maybe things that you’ve set up in your life to, if possible, to hedge against some of those things? Is that possible to do? Obviously, you can’t not have Apple sue you, but are there ways… a version of protecting yourself against some of the patents, padding that you’re able to put on so things aren’t as impactful? Coming out of this, what is the version of you that you feel like you are right now, and what did you learn?
Natalie Monson: A couple of things come to mind, and I actually feel super grateful for 2020, because even though all these hard things happened, one thing that actually happened that was more impactful than anything else, any of these other major things, is it gave us the ability to slow down, and I think that’s actually a gift because if you’re talking about padding or what you can do to protect yourself from all these hard things happening… is if you are able to slow down enough where you can just be present with your thoughts and just actually be able to be present, then I feel like you really can deal with anything, and if you can’t get there, then you’re just doggy-paddling, trying not to drown.
Natalie Monson: I don’t even know if that makes sense, but we were just able to slow down enough to kind of step back and instead of being in the slog of our life, dealing with all this stuff, it’s like we could step back and look at it as almost like a neutral person and say, “Okay, we have this issue. How are we going to deal with this? We have this. How are we going to deal with this?” We only were able to do that by truly being able to slow down so we could step back and have that perspective.
Bjork Ostrom: Is that a function of time? Is that more time, or is it a mindset, or both?
Natalie Monson: I think it’s a little bit of both, because you were kind of talking about, before the podcast, you’re in sleep-deprived new baby mode.
Bjork Ostrom: Four hours is luxury mode.
Natalie Monson: Honestly, I don’t think… when you’re in these places in your life, I don’t think it’s possible. It’s almost like you have to create mental space in order to do that. There’s certain situations in your life where I don’t know if you can. I know when I was in your situation, up all night with all these babies and they constantly need you, and you have toddlers, and you’re like, “I can’t create that mental space to even do anything except for survive.”
Bjork Ostrom: Literally, just the other day, if you were to look through my messages, as I was sitting upstairs in our bedroom holding our daughter and Lindsay was downstairs, one of the texts was, “I think I’m just going to give up on a few things for a few months.” It’s like exactly what you’re saying. I just need to let it go, I need to give up, because in this season, I’m really tired about getting to the end of the day and feeling like I’ve failed because I have these ambitions of what I want to do that aren’t achieved.
Bjork Ostrom: It feels different mentally; that’s the mindset piece. I don’t have any more time, but I’ve kind of released some of those things. Some of them are really good things, like I should be working out an hour a day, I should be eating less sugar, I should be consistently reading. I just can’t do all of that stuff.
Natalie Monson: Yeah, and it’s all of us. The things we’re filling our time with, we mostly truly believe they’re good things, right? When your kids get older, you’re like, “Oh yeah, they need to be in soccer and they should be in gym. All these things are good for them,” or, “We should be getting together with these friends once a week, because we’re building relationships and we should be doing all these things.” You’re filling your time with the things, but if you’re not able to slow it down enough where you can create that space, it’s like you can’t get there. You can’t see your life from that perspective because you don’t have… whether it’s time or whatever that thing is.
Russ Monson: I think an important distinction to make here, too, is most people listening are fairly ambitious, I’m sure, and we’re super ambitions. One of the things is, no matter what you choose, life is going to throw a bunch of things your way. So, we have this tendency to go out and choose as big of a challenge as we think we can handle, and that’s because we’re ambitious, and so we go choose as big a challenge as we can handle, and by choosing as big a challenge as we can handle, we don’t leave space for what life is going to throw our way. So if I had a way to look back at it, I would say I want to be choosing challenges, but I want to make sure I’m carefully choosing my challenges so there’s enough slack in my life that when the universe throws those next unflappable, unpredictable things into our world, we have something left to give to handle those, too.
Russ Monson: I think there’s a level of ambition that’s healthy and gives you growth, and there’s a level of ambition where you take on as much as you can when you’re not in a tough time, and then when the tough times come, you have nothing left for it.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Point being, to have planned reserves to access, if you’re SCUBA diving… analogy on the fly warning… if you’re SCUBA diving, you don’t want to plan the dive until the end of the tank. Leave 25% percent in there so you can get where you need to go without being like, “Oh, shoot! There’s nothing in there.”
Russ Monson: It’s so easy to always say, “But I can do more,” because you can do more…
Natalie Monson: You can!
Russ Monson: Until things come up that take away that…
Natalie Monson: I also think… so, we have those friends who travel all over the world, and they were in the Netherlands, I think, and they went on this guided kayak tour, and their tour guide was incredible. He gave them the best tour they’ve ever, ever had. He worked for this company, this tour guide company. They were talking to him and they’re like, “Well, you are so good at this. Why don’t you go out on your own and do it? You could make more money. You could do all these things. You could grow your own business.” He was like, “Why would I want to do that?” He’s like, “The company I work for, the owner is my friend.” He’s like, “I live with my wife in this house on a hill and we’re so happy. Why would I trade that to do this ambition that would give me maybe more money, or a bigger business, or whatever?”
Natalie Monson: It was like, “Oh my gosh.” That contentment is very valuable.
Bjork Ostrom: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yeah, and I think that therein lies the daily challenge that we’re presented with as… and I’m speaking to you guys, as well as podcast listeners… the ever-present balance between gratitude, contentment, presence, and ambition, and drive and hustle. It’s not an easy thing to figure out where that balance is. For me, it’s like do I try and fit in some email on my phone when I’m rocking Lena to sleep, or do I just hold her and look at her?
Natalie Monson: Totally.
Bjork Ostrom: Sometimes, it’s doing email, and sometimes it’s not, and I think more than anything, my guess is for those who can relate to what we’re talking about, there’s some sense of understanding and kind of a shared struggle in that reality, because I think we all feel that in some way.
Natalie Monson: The nature of being in the online content business is that it literally never ends. You can do as much as you can, forever, and it will keep growing your business. So, I think you’re right. You’re making those kinds of decisions all the time. Do I play with my child or do I keep answering comments? Do I do this or do that? I don’t think it has to be cut and dry and black and white. I think it’s just important to recognize that it’s okay to do both.
Natalie Monson: Sometimes you’re going to answer the emails, and sometimes you’re just going to rock your baby and love it, and you have to make space for both, and…
Bjork Ostrom: Yes. That’s awesome, and I feel like it’s super important stuff to talk about. One of the things that I so appreciate about the two of you, this conversation, the conversations that we’ve had before, is your willingness to go there, to talk about this stuff. I think a lot of people come on and it’s a façade of, here’s the 10%, the 25%, the 30%, 50%… whatever it is… of things that are going really well, but it’s really helpful to see the entire reel. I have a friend who does wedding shoots, he’s a videographer, and the trailer he puts together that’s three minutes looks a lot different than the entire collection of footage that he gets from the day, and I think as entrepreneurs, as creators, as consumers of content on the internet, what we’re seeing often is the trailer; we don’t see the entire reel that was shot, and I feel like today, you guys offered that, which I really appreciate, and I’m sure other people do as well.
Bjork Ostrom: One thing we didn’t talk a lot about is Prepear as this platform and as the product and as the solution. It’s something that I’m really excited about… have a very small role as an advisor for the company, which I’m honored to be a part of, and has been really fun to be a part of that journey with you. But if people want to learn more about Prepear, if they’re interested in kind of discovering more about it… it’s an area that I’m interested in because I’ve thought a lot about, how do we be strategic not about just creating more content, but maximizing the content and the assets that we already have?
Bjork Ostrom: The example might be if you have a book, you have it come out on Kindle, you have a physical copy that you can buy; you have the audio version of it. It’s one single asset, but you’re wrapping it up in different ways. I feel Prepear is a version of that for people who are creating content in the recipe space. Obviously, this is a longer conversation than we usually have, so we can’t dive deep on it. Russ, can you give a high-level overview of how Prepear works, correct me if I was wrong in any of those high-level assumptions of kind of what that looks like, and where people can find out more?
Russ Monson: Yeah, for sure. Basically, you described it correctly. Prepear is a way for you to package your existing content in a way that provides a valuable subscription service to your readers. Your readers can subscribe to your content on Prepear and they get content in the form of meal plans, digital cookbooks that you make, all of your recipes ad-free, and Prepear takes care of building all of the technology that drives that, the apps… you don’t have to do any of that. We take care of the customer service, the payment management; we handle the whole subscription business. You’re just giving your readers a way to access your content in a much more user-friendly way than is available when you have to support your business via ads, and you have to support it via other mechanisms to make money that we want to allow you to give your readers the chance to just pay you directly and have the best experience possible.
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative). To your point, doing that on your own is really difficult. So, much like other places, I think of Teachable… it’s this place where, hey, they saw this opportunity. A lot of people are doing courses; how do we make that as easy as possible? Hey, meal plans, wrapping up your content, allowing it to be purchased… really hard to do on your own. How do we create a solution that allows people to do that more easily? I think it’s a great opportunity and something that people should explore. Pre and then pear, as in the fruit… it’s a great domain name. We’ve never talked about this, but was that hard to get, or was it available, or… ?
Russ Monson: Nothing is easy to get, Bjork, going down this path.
Bjork Ostrom: I love domain names, and that was one of the things when I saw that you guys launched it. I was like, “Hey, all right!” Great domain name, great brand name, and it’s the dotcom TLB.
Russ Monson: Yes, we thought it would be easy to get because it was an old site that was not being used for anything forever, but it turned out to be a little bit more challenging to get than we thought it would be, and it took us almost a year to get it. It used to be PrepearApp.com, and we worked on negotiations and helping the person who owned it.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you share guidepost numbers of what it was?
Russ Monson: It was someone who was a therapist. They had come up with this model for therapy that was based on the acronym P-E-A-R, and it was her whole model, and so she had this Prepear… was her therapy thing.
Bjork Ostrom: Interesting.
Russ Monson: She was just passionate about it and she loved it, but she wasn’t doing anything. So it wasn’t a situation where you can come in and just buy this domain name because, not what this is for her.
Bjork Ostrom: It’s somebody giving up an idea in some ways, yeah.
Russ Monson: Yes, and so we had a lot of discussions with her over the course of a year of, are you ever going to use this? What can we do to make it so that if you’re never going to use it, we can use it? Things worked out and we got it done.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, good for you guys. They talk about that with Hey.com, when they did the email, and Sumo.com was an interesting story. They paid like $800,000 for Sumo.com; obviously, a little bit different. But domain names, man, it’s a big deal, as much as you don’t want it to be.
Natalie Monson: Yeah, you would never know until you’re there.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Russ, Natalie, really great to connect. Really great to talk to you guys, and appreciate your willingness to be so transparent and open and I know it will resonate with a lot of people. So, if people want to reach out to you individually, what would be the best way to do that? Online? Email?
Russ Monson: Yeah, if they’re interested in finding out more about Prepear, they can go to Prepear.com. P-R-E-P-E-A-R dot com, slash food hyphen bloggers. I’m sure we can link to that in the show notes, or they can send me an email at [email protected]
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. That’s great. Thanks for coming on. Like I did in the beginning, each of you individually, Natalie, thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciate it.
Natalie Monson: Thanks, Bjork. This was fun, and I just… one last thing I want to say is, you mentioned you’ve been an advisor, and I think it’s important for everyone to know, and probably everyone listening to this already does know that I just think you just have a really great way of thinking things, and you’ve just provided a lot of valuable insight and advice and things over the years, and so I hope your readers know that and keep listening, because you’ve got a valuable brain in there, so hopefully you can start getting more sleep!
Bjork Ostrom: Currently running at 25% capacity!
Natalie Monson: Yes, but we just appreciate-
Bjork Ostrom: Super nice. Yeah, thank you.
Natalie Monson: I mean, we just appreciate you.
Bjork Ostrom: Thank you. That really, really means a lot, yeah. Thanks, Natalie. Russ, your turn to give me a really nice compliment. No, just kidding! Russ, thanks for coming on the podcast, as well. Really great to talk with you, and thanks for sharing your story, as well.
Russ Monson: This was a ton of fun.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, thanks guys, and next time we talk, it will be nice because we won’t have to record it and the pressure will be off, but thanks for coming on and excited to stay connected, and thanks for sharing your story.
Russ Monson: Thanks, Bjork.
Alexa Peduzzi: And that’s a wrap on this episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Thanks again for tuning in today. Again, if you want to check out Prepear and how that works, and how you could potentially work with Prepear, you can go to Prepear… that’s prepear.com/food-bloggers. I also wanted to let you know that WP Tasty, our sister brand for WordPress plug-ins, is running their first ever sale, and it’s happening this week until January 14th, which is this Thursday. It gets you 20% off all new subscriptions to Tasty Recipes, Tasty Pins, and Tasty Links. So if you’re interested in learning more about these awesome products for food bloggers and for website owners, in general, you can go to WPTasty.com/sale.
Alexa Peduzzi: We’re super excited for our WP Tasty teammates for this new sale, so if you, again, want to learn more, you can go to WPTasty.com/sale.
Alexa Peduzzi: All right, that does it for us this week, my friend. We’re so thankful that you decided to join us today and learn and get a little bit better every day. That’s our 1% infinity philosophy here at Food Blogger Pro. We’re always striving to just get a little bit better each day forever, and so this is a really great way, tuning into the podcast, to do that. So, we’ll see you next time, next Tuesday, and until then, make it a great week!