What you will learn
- How to become an authority even when you’re not an expert
- How Steve managed to differentiate himself in an ultra competitive industry
- How Steve figured out the perfect branding with the help of his audience
- How to build a forum the right way
- How to transform an active community into 6 figures / year
In this episode, I sat down with Steve Kamb, the founder of Nerd Fitness, a site teaching fitness like it is a video game for geeks.
Steve’s site is home to an incredibly lively community of fitness enthusiasts that are seeking for no bs / fun ways to get in shape.
Building a presence in the fitness industry
It’s no secret, the fitness industry is an incredibly competitive space and making yourself a name in there with no advertising budget and no 6 pack is nothing short of a small miracle.
Yet, Steve did it. When I asked him how he did it here is what he replied:
“I was just myself and told people upfront that I was not a trainer but I wanted to share the few tips that really made a difference for me. People really got on board with it and started following me.”
Steve was not a ripped athlete and was completely honest about it, working out with a gallon of milk in his living room and that seduced his audience. As time passed he became a real authority without even being a trainer!
Another thing that struck me with Nerd Fitness is how incredibly well branded the website was.
I loved the colours and fonts of the site. He told me they were inspired by the rebellion from the original Star Wars movie.
But Steve’s site did not always look that way. Actually he started with the default WordPress theme and a white background for a while.
Only when the site started taking off did he ask his audience:
“Do you want to build an empire or start a rebellion?”
Their answer shaped his branding: they wanted to start a rebellion and the Nerd Fitness branding was born.
Building an active community
Another noticeable achievement from Steve is his forum. He has thousand of active members and people are very active there, sharing their results, tips and just hanging out together.
This is very powerful and makes his followers visit his site regularly without the need for him to create any content.
The way Steve managed this little prowess is by first opening the forum to a few members only and really engaging with them. Then he opened it to more and more people until it became self sustaining. Smart
Launching info products the right way
Following all these successes, Steve’s follower wanted more from him. That was the ideal time for him to start making some money and launch his first paid course.
This is exactly what he did.
Steve started small and released a small ebook that made him a few thousand dollars. That gave him the courage to quit his job, work on it full time and eventually build his 6 figures/year empire.
We talk about a lot more things on the interview so I encourage you to listen to it and I hope this summary made you want to!
Resources Mentioned In This Episode
Welcome to the Authority Hacker podcast, the place to learn field tested, no BS tactics to grow hack your online business, and finally- live life on your own terns. Now, your hosts Gael and Mark.
Gael: All right guys, so today we have Steve Kamb from nerdfitness.com. Nerd Fitness is probably like the ultimate case study for someone that just bootstraps a site and builds a brand that people love. It feels different, it doesn’t feel like another health site, and the fitness sites. So Steve, thank you very much for being with us, how is it going?
Steve: Thank you very much for saying such nice things about my website. You are too kind, thank you.
Gael: A lot of people say that actually, you know.
Steve: Thank you very much, thank you for having me.
Gael: Yeah, it’s great. And you are saying you are a nerd on your website, right, and you say you play a lot of video games. So what game are you playing right now actually?
Steve: I spend far too much of my week playing few Assassin’s Creed Syndicate which I am loving way more than Assassin’s Creed Unity. I think I had my site set much lower after Unity was kind of down note for the series as a whole but they’ve returned to form with Syndicate and I am really enjoying it.
Gael: Fair enough. I actually only played the Assassin’s Creed too but Mark and I are both online gamers, one thing that we have in common is we take our business like a video game, and we used to run big groups of people online, I used to run like a guild on a game called 1:32 1:32 back then, and he used to be world champion on Eve Online actually. So that’s why I like you actually. We spent way too much time playing video games, but yeah, I just wanted to open the interview with that because that’s something I think we share in common. But, that’s not the topic of the interview.
Steve: We could probably talk about that forever, could we?
Gael: Yeah, I think people are already cutting the podcast right now- [laugh]
Steve: Please keep listening I promise it’s worth it. [laugh]
Gael: It’s going to be interesting guys I promise. But, you run the site called Nerd Fitness, as I said, yet you are not the typical fitness model that we see on Instagram and that kind of stuff. You are a certified trainer, that’s what your site says; how did you get into that niche, what happened? Why fitness?
Steve: It’s funny, I’m actually, I like to think that I was too ignorant and too naive to know that I was entering into like the most crowded online space out there, like there is already a million fitness websites out there, and-
Gael: This was like in 2002 or something?
Steve: No, I bought the domain in 2007. But I really went all in on it is starting in the end of 2008, beginning of 2009.
Gael: Ok, and so it was just luck, you were like, “I like fitness, I’m just going to do that”
Steve: Yeah, so I had spent 5, 6 years of my life up until that point exercising and training in the gym and reading muscle and fitness magazines, and reading fitness websites, and having very little success in transforming myself physically. And it wasn’t until after graduating college, I signed up for a gym membership and they gave me some free personal trainer session that the guy who trained me completely overhauled my workout, he simplified it, he changed how I ate and what my diet was and I had more success in 30 days than I had had in my previous six years of training. And that’s when the light bulb went off of my head and I thought, “Man, if I’ve been doing this for six years and I thought I knew it all, and I wasn’t having any success, there have to be other people out there like me that don’t have six years to make the mistakes that I did, and they just want real information.” So I went online and everything I found was a website that was sponsored by a fitness supplement, weight gain or fat loss booster or pre-workout whatever nonsense; it was either that or it had some like very predatory sales tactics for like “This super secret workout is the only thing that’s going to get you in shape or you are going to die alone and a looser” [laugh]
Gael: And no girl is going to ever look at you.
Steve: Yeah, it’s aggressive, ok. So I was very turned off by the entire online fitness community, just there were ads everywhere, supplements ran the whole thing, I was like, “This is terrible, I don’t want to be a part of this, all of this makes me feel slimy and sleazy, and I don’t know if I am getting the real information from everybody”. So, I wanted to create a home for people that were beginners like I used to be, that were interested in getting regular no nonsense, no BS fitness information from somebody that didn’t have an ulterior motive or know it’s all unbiased, I wasn’t saying certain things because it was because I have been paid to do so by a supplement or something like that. So, I wanted to create a website and I had just finished reading of Tim Ferris’s 4-Hour Workweek, and in it he talks about creating your own niche by taking a social group you are a part of and something you are good at. The thing I was good at was helping beginners who are getting started with helping beginners get fit, and the social group I was a part of was the nerd community. I had built my own computer, I had spent 40, 50 hours a week after my day job playing games like EverQuest and EverQuest II –
Gael: It was way less cool than it is today actually, back then.
Steve: Yeah, right. Exactly, this was beck in 2006, 2007, not nearly as cool and I spent a significant amount of my time dumped into video games, reading books, comics, movies etc. So I was like why don’t I create a site specifically for nerds that are interested in getting fit, there have to be maybe few other people like me that are in the same boat, so I googled nerd and fitness and nothing popped up, so I bought nerdfitness.com and that was the very first step, the beginning of Nerd Fitness.
Gael: Ok, and there was absolutely no research if somebody going to be interested before you made the website or you just thought you would do it and that’s it?
Steve: Yeah, I bought the domain, and then I was so scared that nobody would take me seriously on the internet, because I didn’t have a particular piece of paper that told me then I was a certified personal trainer. So I actually did nothing with the website for about a year and a half. I read some more, and I studied some more, and eventually I worked at the courage and went to a weekend certification to get a basic personal trainer certification, only to realize that nobody cared, they wanted to listen to me because I was like them, they didn’t want to listen to me because I was like a certified trainer with the degree in exercise physiology, which I don’t have. Instead, I came to them and I said, “Hey look, I’m not an expert, I am just like you, I just happen to be a few steps further ahead than you are, and I found a system that works for me. I’m still learning, I’m still a student, but I found something that works and I would love to share it with you and we can go to this journey together.” And I think that distinction kind of freed me up in the beginning to work up the courage to get started and let people know like, “Hey, I’m on a journey too, and I want us to be on this journey together, so join me, come to Nerd Fitness.”
Gael: Ok, and you were like totally upfront about it at the beginning, you were like, “Well I don’t know exactly what I am doing, but I am just going to tell you I know what I am doing on the very beginner level, but maybe not on the advanced level or something”, you said that?
Steve: Absolutely, yes. I think even today, if you still go to Nerd Fitness go to the about page, it says like, “I am not an expert” underlined, bold, as many different things as I can throw on it to make it stand out, even though I’ve been doing this full time now for six years, something like that, and I’ve dedicated my life to this. This is what I do, this I study and read, health and fitness I workout, I’ve helped thousands of people, but even to this day, I still let people know that I don’t think I’m an expert. First and foremost I am a student, I’ve just been able to get a little bit better and help a few more people that are still below me or behind me in trying to figure out what they are trying to do and how they are going to get there.
Gael: Yeah, I think that’s quite interesting for a lot of people that want to start online businesses, because there is kind of like that imposter syndrome where you are like, “Well I’m not the best at this topic and there are people that know better” etc, and a lot of people just don’t get started because of that. Whereas, it seems like in your case, that was actually a strength because, really if you look at your site on the other side of the fitness spectrum we have beach body and p90x and insanity workout, and it’s like literally a Hollywood movie, Rocky quotes in the middle. And then, on your side, I go on your site and I check this YouTube video with you working out in your living room with a gallon of milk you know. [laugh] And a chair, if I remember. And so you really think that’s what got people into it because it’s like well, this is totally unrealistic to imagine you would be into a p90x setup, ever in your life.
Steve: Absolutely. And I’ve come a long way since those videos, those videos were done back in 2008 or 2009, but I wasn’t afraid to tell people like, “Look, I am a one man band, I am the only person doing this, I don’t have a lot of money but what I do have is the ability and the interest and the desire to help people.” The thing especially in this online space is that everybody calls themselves a guru or a social media expert or a fitness whatever and blah blah blah and like, these people have some nonsense certification that they then think is making them an experts and in reality, it’s like how many people have you helped? And, are you coming at it from the right perspective, and I think that’s way more important. And in the internet land of people faking who they are and what they are trying to be- I just wanted to be brutally honest with people, like I tell people sometimes like, I let the people that read the site that are actual Olympic athletes and they are looking for training advice, they are like “Dude, I love Nerd Fitness, I am a nerd myself and I am training to be the 9:45 what are your thought on this versus this and that”, and I am just like, “Dude, I love you, I’m so happy that you are reading Nerd Fitness but that is way above my level of expertise and you would be best off finding a specific coach that would train you in that specific instance.” And I find other instances people email me questions and I tell them that I’m not a doctor, I don’t have a degree in exercise physiology, I study behavioral psychology, I study habit building and sociology and predictably irrational behavior but these other things like they are not my expertise, I couldn’t name every muscle in the body or every bone in the body and couldn’t tell you every tiny fiber and muscle that moves with every exercise, like that’s not my strength. So when people ask those questions I have no problem telling them, “Hey, I’m sorry but this is beyond my level, I can point you in somebody’s other directions where they might be able to help you more, I just don’t want to give you the wrong impression, and I don’t want you to think that I am trying to be somebody that I am not.”
Gael: yeah, I agree. I mean we get a lot of that. so Mark and I actually have a health site called “Health Ambition” and actually this site gets quite a bit of traffic, it’s something like 15 000 visits per day or something, and we get a lot of people- because we talk about nutrition on our site, mostly. And we’ve got people coming to you with serious diseases and stuff, and it’s like you really shouldn’t pretend to be what you are not online I think, it’s really good the way you are doing that because a lot of people would do anything to sell an affiliate product.
Steve: Yes, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, I don’t think, if I was doing those things so it just at the end of the day no amount of money is worth losing my integrity I think.
Gael: How do you think these honesty effected the engagement of people with the brand- like, when you started it people get really excited about it or like is it something that built up over time, because right now, you have a pretty cool community.
Steve: It grew one person at a time. I answered every email and I just tried to respond to people as honestly, positively and supportively as I could. So I think especially in the early days, people follow people, and Nerd Fitness now is a much bigger brand with a number of people that are involved with it and the community itself is its own entity. But when I started, I wanted people to think like I’m not just reading a random fitness website like, “Oh there is this guy Steve, he runs a Nerd Fitness, he is super nice and he just wants to help, this is a website I should probably continue reading.” And then after doing that consistently every day repeatedly for months and months, I eventually started asking people like, “How else can I help you,” and I was going to try to make this into a business so I can focus on this full time and quit my day job what are some things that you would be willing to pay for and then everybody came back like, “Just give us workout plans, just tell us what to do, I want t be told what to do.” I was like, “Ok, great, here is the next six months of your exercise program, I’d love for you to check it out, and it comes with the lifetime money back guarantee, if it doesn’t work for you then I don’t want your money.” I truly want to help, but I truly want to turn this into something that will allow me to focus 100% of my time and energy on, and I was fortunate enough that I had build up enough of good will and karma and helped enough people that I could sell enough of those things to kind of allow me to survive with it full time for a few months until I could either create the next thing or continue to grow the audience and so on and so forth. So, the honesty aspect of it and just being real and my favorite thing is when I meet people in real life that know me through Nerd Fitness and at the end of our interaction they say something like, “You are exactly what I expected you would be.” And they are like, “We’ve never met before, I only know you from your article but just in the 20 minutes that we’ve talked you come across exactly like the guy that I see on the internet,” and I am like, “That’s good because that’s what I am going for.” I want people to realize that like what you see is what you get, there is no hiding, there is no true ulterior motive, it’s like I am looking to build a business, I am looking to help as many people as possible and create a great life for myself and the team members of the Nerd Fitness but most importantly, I just want to help other people get fit.
Gael: I want to ask a question actually, and it’s a question I actually didn’t prepare, but it’s something that I personally struggle with on the websites where I put my name on, and you seem to be really involving your personality and yourself with the brand. It’s like, you are the brand pretty much. And, as a result, how emotional do you get about the content post on the site and like, because your name is so tied to it and I see on your blog, you are not posting very much right now, and is that something, because personally, that’s something that holds me back a lot personally.
Steve: Yeah, so we try to post two articles a week and the past two weeks just to the some chaos leading up to a book I had written, some launch that we are working on, I’ve been posting a little less frequently at the moment just kind of gearing up for the beginning of next year. It was tough, I have relinquish quite a bit of control over the community and over the website and I have a content manager that has been helping me through Nerd Fitness for 3,5 years up to this point so I had to put faith in the fact that if I hire the right people not only would the content not suffer, but in fact it would actually become better because it wasn’t all relying on me and I wasn’t the bottleneck holding it back. So I made the decision that if there is anything that post on Nerd Fitness like my reputation is on the line, but the guy that I’ve been working with who has been helping with content for the past 3 years like I would trust him to take something that I have written and I wouldn’t see it again and he would publish it and I would feel comfortable and confident in that. So I am not a good micro manager and I have no desire to be, my team of 8 people live in 8 different states so I can’t check in on everybody every minute of every day anyway, nor would I want to, so I have just put faith in the fact that if I hire the right people and give them the right tools and support what they need, then they are going to make the right decision that is the best decision for the community. And those are the things that we talked about as a company and as a team- whenever you are in doubt and there is a question that you are up to and you have to make the decision on do what’s best for the community in the long term and if you make that decision then anything that comes as a result of that is something we can live with and deal with no problem.
Gael: And how long did it take for you to get to a situation where you can trust a team that much?
Steve: My first full time team member joined me about 4 years ago and then slowly kind of steadily built up from there. I put more faith in people than probably others do and I might be more trusting than others might be, but I also think that at some point you have to, you are going to be better off if you put that trust and faith in people and understand that some people might make mistakes and how do we improve on them and what do we fix and how do we learn from this and how do we move forward on it. But, I spent a lot of time on the hiring process and knowing that hiring the right person pays tremendous dividends down the road, so it might take us a lot longer to hire people but when we do hire them I like to think that they stick around in there, they are the right person for the right job, they are sitting in the right seats and they can make their impact on the company and the community in the way that they know best and that’s why I brought them on so if I can’t trust them then it’s truly on me for not bringing on the right people or not putting the right systems in place.
Gael: Fair enough. It’s something I am definitely still working on on my site. I like it because personally, I am like super emotional about whatever has my face at the bottom and it’s like a big struggle. We have people writing for us, I don’t write all the content. But, I actually find it quite difficult to put your name on stuff you didn’t create a 100%, letting that go I think a lot of people when they build a personal brand, are struggling with it. I’ve had quite a few emails about that.
Steve: I think it’s a fair point and I think you have to make that balance between doing everything yourself and- it depends on what you are trying to build, if you are trying to build the Tim Ferris model of you are the ghost and the machine and you don’t have employees and everything is outsourced, I think that’s different than what I was trying to build and when I am hiring people now for bringing on more writers I want to develop their personalities so that people know like, “Oh this article is coming from Noel, she is the rebel chef correspondent and I like reading her stuff, and Steve is going to be posting this and Dan is going to be posting this content,” so I am very similar to you in that, I don’t necessarily want to attach my name to something I haven’t read or haven’t written. But we do have things that go to the community at Nerd Fitness that come from team Nerd Fitness that I haven’t seen, and again, that just comes down to trust, I have people that are on team that I’ve known for a decade, and I was in the wedding of one of them, like if I can’t trust this person to create something with the community’s best interest at heart than shame on me. There is just so many moving parts, and so many different aspects of the business and so many different types of people to contact in different ways that it’s literally impossible for me to do it myself. So I have to find the right people that care as much about Nerd Fitness or more so than I do. And I’ve been lucky enough up to this point to have hired people and have unsurprisingly spent more time I actually have to like literally yell at them to take vacations and like stop working and take weekends off. They love it so much, and I am like, “Guys, I don’t want you getting burned out, like go do something, go somewhere turn off your computer like we’re ok,” I try to be a good boss, I try to hire the right people and we have like kind of company motto, or a company manifesto I guess that we all stand by as a company and if there is ever any questions on what somebody should do they can refer back to them saying like, “Ok, this is check all six boxes and if so then I’m going to make the decision, if it doesn’t then I’m not going to make the decision. And we’ll deal with the consequences as they happen, but so far so good,” and it’s cool to be able to develop other people and share other people and shine the spotlight on different members of my team so that the light is not just Steve and Nerd Fitness but it’s rather Nerd Fitness and Steve is just a small part of it.
Gael: Yeah, it went from a personal brand like a company, essentially. That’s pretty cool, that’s a good transition and I liked what you said about the stuff that you don’t read is not sent as you, it’s sent as team at Nerd Fitness. I think that’s a good way of separating it actually. And talking about the company, one thing that I really like about your site is the branding. And a lot of people when they start the site, they have pretty shitty branding, they just say it like that. And, you’ve done it really well, I mean it looks like a Marvel comic book, and on top of that you have the really cool Lego images. Did you start like that? I know the answer but- And like, how did you get to that point, how to build this brand image, now it’s like people see the NF I’m pretty sure a lot of people that are interested in a topic will probably recognize your bran actually now.
Steve: Sure. I’m fortunate that the logo itself has never changed. So I drew the logo right when I started the website and I told a friend of mine who is a graphic designer like, “Can you digitize this for me and put it into Photoshop so I can put it on my free WordPress template, on my cheap logs” I didn’t have any money. I think if you go back into like Googles way back machine you can see-
Gael: That’s something I did before this interview.
Steve: It is bad. It’s funny, I’m not sure how far back you can go but it’s contrast and iterations.
Gael: All I saw is basically a white WordPress theme with a logo on it.
Steve: Oh yeah, it’s so basic. A white WordPress theme, the times have changed, so the market is so saturated now that you can’t get away with that, but I just put faith in the fact that content was 90% of it and the other 10% would have been the theme and the design and the look in all that stuff so great content wins out. And I might lose some people who are like, “Oh this site doesn’t look pretty enough for me to give it my attention” and like that’s ok, spending any time and energy and effort on that when I first started before I knew if it was ever going to be a thing didn’t make sense to me, so I just put all my energy into creating better content and improving that. And as I wrote better content and found more people and started to kind of craft and build the community, I started to think about what kind of brand I wanted to build and I knew if Nerd Fitness was going to become what I thought it could become, I needed to get out of the way and I needed it to not be just about Steve giving information, but rather about a community of people working together to live healthier lives. So for us to do that, we needed to come up with what our community would be, I didn’t like the idea of calling ourselves just a community or people being fans of Steve, like that’s really weird to me, instead, I wanted us all to be part of something that we are working on together. And I remember asking the community, “Do you guys want to build an empire or do you want to start a rebellion.” And when I asked them this, I think Star Wars was at the front of my mind. The responses all came in that everybody wanted to be part of rebellion, I thought that was way cooler. So I googled Star Wars rebel alliance, and I saw some fantastic artwork, somebody had drawn the red circular rebel alliance logo on a concrete wall, I just loved like the gritty, rustic underground kind of underdog look that this vibe had and I reached out to a friend of mine it was like, “Hey can you turn the Nerd Fitness logo maroon red and put it like on a gray concrete background?” And he was like, “Yes, no problem.” So I leveraged some existing relationships I had and if I didn’t have those relationships these days you could talk to somebody on Fiverr or Elance, ODesk.
Gael: I think it’s Upwork now, it’s the new name actually.
Steve: Right. So all of a sudden, our community became the rebellion, we had a color scheme, and then I wrote, I was like, “These are the rules that we are going to stand by as a community, these are as a rebellion these are the 10, 11 rules that we are going to stand by who we are, what we stand for,” and it shifted from a boy and his blog aka Steve writing articles and people reading them and responding to him and instead, it became this community of people that also happen to have a blog that people are a part of. So, it shifted its focus and allowed me to kind of step back and gave Nerd Fitness its own heart beat, it gave the rebellion its own heart beat and became its own entity. And, after that, it was just kind of cultivating it and nurturing it and supporting it and making sure it grew so giving the community members what they wanted and asking them questions and what they wanted to do and how they wanted the message boards organized and things like that. So, it’s gone through some serious transformations, the logo itself hasn’t changed, the branding has developed and been optimized and changed and improved upon over the past seven and a half years but go back to the beginning, it is a white Wordress template with Nerd Fitness in like Times New Roman fonts and just very basic looking website with hopefully quality content that caught people’s eye.
Gael: Yeah, how did you get initial traction actually, when you got started?
Steve: I didn’t actually get initial traction. I wrote for 9 months and published 5 articles a week and gone very little traction, just few people were reading. Those that were reading seemed to like it but it wasn’t getting very much traction and it was because I was writing articles like I thought I was suppose to write. I was publishing 5 articles a week, that were topical, that were short, because I was told that people don’t have attention spans and so on. So essentially I did everything wrong and did things the way I thought I was supposed to, rather than what I wanted to do. And then stumbled across and article called “How To Not Suck At Blogging” written by a guy named Adam Baker who ran a website called “Man Versus Debt” and Adam Baker is actually now a full time team member at Nerd Fitness, which is pretty neat for me. His article was essentially like you suck at blogging, if you do these ten things and like I went through those ten things and I was like, “Man, I suck at this! I need to make some changes.” So the article started changing instead of 5 short articles a week I switched to 2 long articles a week and they were not topical, they were articles that would be relevant the day they were written all the way up until 5, 10 years after they were written.
Gael: Evergreen, yeah.
Steve: Evergreen content, exactly. They became evergreen content. I started injecting more personality into my writing, and started finally, I don’t know what drew me to it the first time, but I spent a lot of my childhood in addition to playing video games playing with Legos. I just loved them, I built this amazing Lego sets as a little kid and just loved it, so me, sharing Lego photos on my articles was a fun way to kind of pay homage to my childhood and also to remove a lot of the pressure and the kind of overwhelming negative attitude I think a lot of people have in this online space so they are overwhelmed and scared about something, and then they see Lego photos of a Lego Darth Wader and they are like, “Maybe I shouldn’t take myself so seriously, I don’t have to get really scared about doing this.” So, I started sharing some Lego photos within the articles themselves and just got a tremendous response and people were like, “Man I love this” and I was like, “I love finding the photos that were relevant to that particular topic.”
Gael: How do you find the photos?
Steve: I go to photopin.com or the creative comments aspect of Flicker, yeah, and people have just taken phenomenal Lego photos of certain topics and it’s funny now, like I’ll get emails from people who be like, “Hey man, this guy stole your idea,” and I’m like, “What are you talking about?” and he is like, “This is Lego photos.” And I’m like, “I didn’t start it. I wasn’t the guy taking those photos,” but it’s kind of cool that I’ve done it in such a way that it’s become kind of synonymous with what we’ve done at Nerd Fitness and people recognize it immediately, like, “Oh this is a Nerd Fitness article.” It has a particular style and substance and fun photos that make light of an overwhelming topic. So yeah, once I made that change in my content, more and more people started to share it, I reached out to a few bigger bloggers that I was fans of and they checked out my website and they were like, “Man I love this, I’d love you to write a guest post for me,” or, “Hey I’d love to share this with my audience, is that cool?” And I’m like, “Damn, that’d be great!” So I wrote a few guest posts here and there but mostly I was just trying to create really great content, help everybody, individually that came and emailed me, and built up the audience one person at a time. So although it wasn’t very big the people that were in it were very passionate and very excited about what it could become and being part of something so small and cool, so that when it eventually grew up as it has today they can still say, “Man I was there back in the beginning.” It’s gone through some serious evolution and the growth aspect of it was a journey for me as well until I figured out how to write better and start connect with more people.
Gael: Cool. And the bigger post you are talking about, are they more like your classic posts, like the paleo beginners guide, that kind of stuff?
Steve: Yes. The paleo article was written in 2010 and it is to this day it still sends the most traffic, it sends millions of people to Nerd Fitness, so it’s evergreen content that has been around for years. I tried to corner the market on a particular topic in a fun, unique, interesting kind of way and then pump it full of personality, nerdy metaphors and Lego photos.
Gael: And just to be clear, you didn’t do any kind of link building, or SEO, or whatever, right?
Steve: No, I don’t know how any of that stuff works to be honest with you. I don’t even bother. We have like a very basic SEO, like SEO by MOZ or something on WordPress, like we make sure we have like meta tags set up properly, but other than that, I don’t even concern myself with it and neither do people on our team, like that’s not what we are building our business around, let’s help people first, let’s write great content second, and hope Google tends to like us, and more often than not they do because we are not trying to game the system in any way we are just trying to help people.
Gael: Yeah, totally. The reason I am asking that is because a lot of people in our audience are actually coming from the SEO background and so on, it’s their day job or it’s what they do.
Steve: Maybe they could help me, I don’t know. [laugh]
Gael: But basically, one thing that I realized- and I come from that background, I used to do consulting SEO for big brands and a lot of people in this area tend to be over concerned by building backlinks and doing all these signals that Google cares about and what they end up doing is they end up creating average content and then just trying to so all these other things. And, definitely it lasted two years for us, we’ve switched gears and we are doing what you say, we are literally just doing the best content possible, for Authority Hacker, literally, I’ve never built a single link, I think. And it’s probably the most SEO traffic we’ve ever had actually.
Steve: Yeah, and Google just changes things all the time, like they people that have built their business around Google and then all of a sudden like something changes and it’s like, “Oo, we’re screwed now,” and when you build everything on just Facebook or just Google SEO like all it takes is for one person to flip a switch or decide that that algorithm should be different for this particular reason and like you go down very quickly. So, I want us to be more diversified and reliant more on the community and the type of people less on the good will of Google.
Gael: Fair enough. Talking about community, you have forums. When did this come in place and what role do they play?
Steve: We started forums back about let’s say 16 months after I had launched the website. So this is the spring of 2010 and as we were coming up with the idea of what to call the community, it was like are we the empire or the rebellion, we picked the rebellion obviously, I knew that right now it was still a lot of the back and forth conversations between me and community members, they would email me, I would respond to them; they would leave a blog comment, I would reply. Very little interaction between them. So, I wanted to give them a home to interact with each other and help each other out, I’m just one guy that lives a life in a certain way and I like to think that I have enough knowledge to help people across a wide variety of lifestyle traces and things like that and I have and I do. But I also know how helpful it can be to learn from and lean on somebody that is in a similar life situation as you. So if you are divorced with 3 children, you might be way more likely to get beneficial information from another divorced mum or dad with 3 kids that has found a way to balance a crazy lifestyle on a job and still get fit. So I wanted to provide, give the community really a microphone and say, “This is your platform and I want you to interact with each other and I think you can help each other, I think we could all help each other collectively as a community” And being a nerd that had spent a significant portion of my childhood whenever I wasn’t playing video games or putting Legos together, I was hanging out in the IGN video game message boards, and I don’t even thing I posted very often, I just-
Gael: A lot of people just read forums.
Steve: I just read, and in hours a day what I spent on IGN reading forums about the latest Nintendo, Secrets from the legend of Zelda and who knows what. So I was like forums make sense to me, let’s just add forums to the Nerd Fitness community and see if that takes off, so with the site as small as it was I was worried that I would launch the forums and one person would show up and not see anything happening so they would leave and then another person would show up ten minutes later and not see anything. So what I did was I invited or encourage people to apply, to become a beta tester for the community and I think I took 15, maybe 20 people, and they said, “Hey, I want you to try to break these message boards, I need you to mess around with them, I want you to start posting your workout, tell me what’s working, what’s not working, I want you to fill up into the different sections and let me know what we are missing.” And I did that for about a month or two and because these people were beta testing and they had been chosen, they were totally fine with being the first poster in each section. This is very cool to be a part of something, so then when it finally happened, I like to think of it like I had sent out invitations to a party that was going to start at 8 o’clock. But I invited ten of my best friends over at 7:30 so that the party was already happening by the time the first guests showed up at 8 and they already saw a great party was happening so they decided to stick around and every additional person that stuck around then made it an even better party for the next person that showed up. So, I launched the message boards with the contest, it was like oh everybody track your workouts on the forums for the next 4 weeks and at the end of 4 weeks we’ll pick a winner who won the best month yet and we’ll give them the prize, it was like a free Nerd Fitness shirt or something, I mean something very basic. And it was enough and people were like, “Man, I love this idea, and I’m excited to be a part of it. Look, there is already people posting in here and it’s an active community, let’s get into it.” And there is 30 000+ people on the message boards…
Gael: Yeah, I’m on it right now and it says 155 users are online in the past 15 minutes.
Steve: Yeah, it’s crazy, I mean, people like hang out there and help each other and it’s segmented now by video game archetypes so like the warriors are the power lifters, and the scouts are runners and swimmers and cyclists, the monks are the martial artists, the assassins are the parkour and gymnastic enthusiasts. So it’s like we have created even smaller niches in the Nerd Fitness rebellion, so not only now are you a nerd that likes to get fit in the rebellion, but you are a member of the ranger guild in the Nerd Fitness rebellion that is interested in getting fit that likes nerdy things. So like, it’s even further classification of who you are and how you’ve chosen to play this game of life that we like to say.
Gael: Cool, I think that everything we talked about gives us a really good idea of like how your community like crystalized around your brand, now I’d like to talk a little bit about monetization, and I wanted just to ask like when you launched your first product, how you were surviving before that, and basically what it evolved into today.
Steve: I was working a full time regular job, working regular 9 to 5, and then would I come home from that and I worked on just writing articles for Nerd Fitness. And I did that for 18 months and I actually ended up quitting my day job before I made any money with Nerd Fitness, because I knew- it was scary for sure, but I had spend 18 months building up the community and I was like, “If I don’t do this now, I’m never going to.”
Gael: Ok, I just want to stop you here, I just want to know one thing- I get a lot of people emailing me that, it’s like, “Oh, I’m going to quit my job and start an online business.” Which I tell people, “you are crazy, it takes a while…” Like, to start something before, would you agree with that?
Steve: 100%. I mean I worked on Nerd Fitness every day for 18 months and even then I had still not asked anybody for money, but I had put plans in place and I had a very good idea that if I were to create a product, and I had heard from many people that if I did they would purchase it. I was in a spot in my life where my expenses were very low i was single, if I have to move on to a friend’s couch and pick up a job waiting tables and pumping gas and doing whatever to make money until this works, I will do it because this is my future, something about this community is too powerful for me to not give it a 100% of my effort. So, although I quit my job and tried to create an online business, I had already been building the business and setting the stage for 18 months and working really powerfully, working as much as I could and helping as many people as I could. So that when I quit, and told people, “Hey, I am going full time with Nerd Fitness. One month from now I am going to put out my first e-book which is a collection of fitness workout plans and diet advice,” it was available for $29 or $39, whatever it was , it was relatively inexpensive, I told people like “I would love for you to check this out.” Lifetime money back guarantee, I just want to help you. And I sold enough of them to buy me 2 months of income which was shocking, I was hopeful for like 2 weeks of income.
Gael: Where did you live back then, were you in US?
Steve: Yes, I was in the United States.
Gael: Ok. Just to give the idea of the cost of living, you know.
Steve: Yeah, I was in the US, I was probably spending about $1200, $1300 a month. Relatively low, but I was paying rent, and I had a car and gas, insurance etc, so other than that I made my own meals, I didn’t go out, I was just like this is if I have to sacrifice to make this work for the next six months or a year, but then I get to live the rest of my life building and doing something that I am happy about, that seems like a very small price to pay, so I was willing to do it. And fortunately enough, I sold enough of them to buy me a few months of income, I think I sold, a 150 of them so I generated $5000 or something, it was like the craziest moment of my life. It was like, “Oh my God, this actually works! People have paid me, I’m onto something here, I can now work this full time.” And from then on, it just slowly built up, I have put out another e-book probably six months after that, and then an additional e-book six months after that, and after that I took all of the e-books and created what we call a Nerd Fitness academy which exists today but it allows you to create a character there are missions and quests to complete, there are online workout plans, and there is a community aspect to it so it’s a leveled up version of what I was offering in those original e-books.
Gael: So you created a small product first and upgraded it, upgraded it, upgraded it into something bigger. I like it actually.
Steve: Yeah, so we kind of tested the waters, and then from there we turned it after to was profitable, or it was a valuable idea and that people were willing to pay for it, it was like we are just going to continually improve this. So we get the Nerd Fitness academy which is the flagshipped product of Nerd Fitness. Few months ago we launched Nerd Fitness Yoga, which is the most produced and polished program we have ever put together and I am so proud of how it turned out, it’s- I don’t want to say p90x level, but I am really proud of how that turned out. In addition to that we have Camp Nerd Fitness, which is our in person event that takes place once a year in just north of Atlanta Georgia, in the United States, and the first time we did that we had a 140 people, the second year we had 300 people and this upcoming year we are targeting 400 people. So, it’s becoming more and more- it’s a long weekend, people have got to fly in, we had people fly in from ten countries and 4 different continents, to attend camp. It was pretty cool to see this online community that I had been building for so many years come to life in person and watch this people interact with each other and just have an absolute blast doing so. So that’s been kind of fun and just most recently I just wrote my first traditionally published book that I am excited to put out so we starting to diversify and create additional things that people that have different interests Nerd Fitness can be a part of, because I think there is so many different ways to be a member of the Nerd Fitness rebellion as I pointed out earlier with how people like to classify or how they train, and which guild they want to be a part of.
Gael: I think that’s really cool actually, I checked the Yoga trailer a little bit before the call and it make me think of p90x. One thing I wanted to ask is, a lot of people when they blog they give free information, they are kind of afraid to promote their paid products, it’s kind of like well, I’m giving all this stuff for free, why would people pay me etc, obviously you don’t have these experience anymore. But, how do you go about telling people hey, there is this paid thing, go buy it.
Steve: I think there is the right way or the wrong lane. I think it starts by building a great product. If you have something that you are non-willing to put your heart and reputation on the line for, then you have no business promoting it and getting people to buy it. However, if you’ve built something that you are proud of and that you know helps people, then it’s almost your responsibility to promote it and tell people, “Hey, I have something for sale- I still give away tons of free stuff, but we do have things that are paid.” I know that people go through our paid courses and more often than not come out of those paid courses a changed person and live a better life. So, it’s on me to present those products in the best possible light and encourage people and show them like, “Look, these are people that have done this. If you this will help you, please check it out, if it doesn’t work for you I will give you your money back.” And that’s another reason why you have to create a product that you are willing to stand behind, that’s why our return policies are so liner, it was like if this doesn’t work for you then I don’t want your money, but I think it’s going to work for you, which is why I am willing to put up a lifetime money back guarantee on a digital product.
Gael: Absolutely. I think it builds trust, people are like, “Well, I can really go for that.”
Steve: Yeah, and there is so many scammy people on the internet. “I’m a real person, Hi, I am Steve. I would like you to check out this thing that I have built if it works for you- awesome, then you will gladly pay me. If you purchase it and it doesn’t work for you- email me, I’ll give you your money back and I will try to help you find something that will work for you. But I know it has helped a lot of people and it is my responsibility to tell you then if you are looking and stuck, then this might be the solution you are looking for. I can’t promise it, but if it does work for you- fantastic, if it doesn’t, then it’ll cost you nothing, I just want you to give it a shot.”
Gael: Cool. And do you do launches or do you just tell people when they subscribe like say I discovered Nerd Fitness today, when do you about selling me stuff? Do you wait until the honeymoon period is over or how does it go?
Steve: If you sign up for the Nerd Fitness email list, which is free, there is a 6 or 7 day email series. Like, on day 1, your mission is to go for a 10 minute walk. On day 2, our mission is to swap out a soda for water and here is why- on day 3 I want you pick a habit you want to build, on day 4 you are going to pick which class you want to be a part of and etc. And on the 6th day I just let people know like, “Hey if you’ve enjoyed going through these 6 days, here is some success stories that we had, I’d love you to check out what’s called the Nerd Fitness academy. If you like going through these quests and missions, we have a program and a community of people that have other quests and missions for you to complete. I know it’s helped a lot of people and I would love for you to check it out.” And I pretty much leave it at that. Once people are on the list, every few months we really, I guess a this point only have two other projects other than our products, we have yoga and the Nerd Fitness academy both of which are just ready and available, and then your camp is timed there is only a certain number of people that could attend it, so that’s done in more of a launch model. The first time we launched yoga it was kind of in a launch model. So it really depends on the product and it depends on how much we can help people with that. I do know then the time scarcity, especially when it comes to health and fitness a lot of people would just sit on the fence and be like, “Maybe tomorrow” but if you give them a nudge and say like, “Hey look, this is available until tomorrow and then we’ll put it back up in six months from now,” because I want to make sure that everybody that is going through- it kind of forces them a bit to take action.
And again, there is still the money back guarantee, I think for yoga it’s 60 days to tell people that this is available but it’s not going to be available forever, or we are making some changes, the price might change or whatever. It’s really down on a case by case basis depending on what we are launching, who we are launching it to and when we are launching it.
Gael: Yeah. Scarcity sells a lot. It’s quite crazy, I tell people like, “If you are terrible copywriter and you have a product for sale, just put a timer on it.” That usually does a better job than whatever copy you put on there. It’s quite crazy actually. So we have a membership as well on Authority Hacker and I launched it for a month, when I opened it, I literally said, “Hey guys, it’s open.” Then I’ve put a timer on it and I emailed people and I was like, “Hey the price is increasing, in 48 hours.” And we made hundreds of sales within 48 hours. It’s quite insane actually. One last question about the monetization and then we are wrapped up- do you actually use upsells, do you have like a whole funnel behind or do you just sell this product and that’s it?
Steve: No, we just sell these products and that’s it. I don’t do any sort of joint ventures or upsells to other people’s products-
Gael: I was more thinking about like bonuses for these products, or whatever.
Steve: At the moment no we don’t, like it’s very basic, there are probably things we should be doing that we are not, and I’m like you know what, let’s just build the great product, write great content and then encourage people to check them out and kind of keep it there and eventually, there might be some upsells where if you buy the academy you might get yoga ta a discount rate or something but for now, we are just launching our second products and starting to work on our third- I haven’t concerned myself too much with that, just like I kind of haven’t really concerned myself with the SEO stuff, we’ll focus on these other things first and then once we get that stuff nailed down then we can spend our time in the last 10%, 20% get those other things fixed up too.
Gael: I mean, the truth is, we have an online marketing blog and I didn’t do that either, so… I totally get it. Cool, so one last question I have for you- two really quick ones. Do you think that what you did can be done in other niches? And if so which niches do you think about.
Steve: Absolutely. I don’t see why not, I don’t think I did anything particularly special other than I added a personality and complex information into simplified actionable steps for people to follow. And I did it with ethical integrity, I think that can apply to any industry, the finance industry, the business building industry, personal development industry, I don’t see why not, why this doesn’t carry over. I think the most important thing to remember is not just like a blueprint to follow, and then like oh, step one is add lego photo, step 2 is make article of 2000 words, step 3 is profit. You have to care and email people and interact with them and finally get to the base level of what they are struggling with and help them and, if those are your motivations at the base and at the core then however you attack your problem it might take longer than you are expecting, but you can find a way to turn it into something that you are proud of, that you are excited about and something that you can spend a 100% of your time on.
Gael: Cool, totally makes sense. And my last question is- is running Nerd Fitness everything you expected it to be, are you happy with your choice, or do you regret anything?
Steve: I regret zero things; I wake up excited about what I am going to do, my work makes other people’s lives better, I’ve created jobs and I get to go to bed proud of what I was able to accomplish. And not only that, but I have a lot of fun doing it. I spend a lot of free time doing things that excite me, I’m in the best shape of my life, and I have zero regrets with what I’ve done and the choices I’ve made and how I built this business I couldn’t be more proud and more excited with what has become and I couldn’t be more excited about what I think it can be if we continue down the path that we are on.
Gael: Cool. Steve, thanks for joining us, it was a pretty long interview but I know our listeners love listening to really long interviews actually. [laugh] So thanks for that. If you guys want to check out Steve’s site it’s on nerdfitness.com, I think he has a book coming up-
Steve: The book is called “Level Up Your Life” and it’s my life story mixed with stories of the community and it’s really about helping people create their own lifelong quest of personal achievements that matter to you and help others. So, It’s called “Level Up Your Life” and it’s available at levelupyourlife.com.
Gael: Cool, thanks for joining us Steve, that was really inspirational.
Steve: Thank you for the opportunity, I had a blast.
Gael: Cool, thanks.
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