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Why this pioneering digital creator is rebooting his entire online identity


Corbett Barr is the creator of Fizzle, a membership combining courses, podcasts, and community for creators.

Corbett started Fizzle in 2012, and has been self-employed on the Internet since 2005. He recently decided to start over to refocus on writing and re-evaluate his digital self.

In this episode we talk about what brought Corbett into the nascent world of digital creators in 2005, the evolution of Fizzle, cultivating community, and why a digital reboot is a step we may all want to consider.

Read transcript and show notes

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Transcript

Corbett Barr 0:00
You know, we have our digital selves now that are separate from our physical selves, and they're kind of out there doing work for us, representing us. But if I can't care and feed that digital self in all of those places to the level that I want, I start to feel, I don't know, some sense of remorse, guilt, all that kind of stuff. And I just feel like that digital baggage ends up becoming emotional baggage for me.

Jay Clouse 0:25
Welcome to Creative Elements, a show where we talk to your favorite creators and learn what it takes to make a living from your art and creativity. I'm your host, Jay Clouse. Let's start the show.

Hello, my friend, welcome back to another episode of Creative Elements. You know, I'm constantly reminded just how small the world really is. The whole quote unquote, creator economy movement sometimes feels like it's already huge. And there are so many creators out there already, how could I possibly break through. So many other spaces and industries. Once you start peeling the onion back and looking a little bit deeper, it begins to feel much smaller. And once you start meeting people within that space, they reference each other, and you start hearing the same names come up over and over again. Well, as I've gotten deeper into the creator rabbit hole, there are a few names that come up time and time again. And one of those names is Corbett Barr. Corbett Barr is the creator of Fizzle, and Fizzle brings together articles, podcast, courses, and a community forum into one membership, which sounds familiar, right? All these things are pretty hot right now and 2021. We hear about them here on the show. But Corbett was way ahead of the curve. And he started Fizzle back in 2012.

Corbett Barr 1:57
Now that we are not coming up on nine years into Fizzle, the people that have been involved have changed several times, because this journey that I talked about, that people are on in terms of building a business finding, you know, life as an independent creator, usually goes one of two ways either people fizzle out, which is the reason we call it Fizzle to begin with most business ideas end up kind of going nowhere. On the other hand, you have people who become quite successful, and they no longer really need those early stage communities and education and so on. So there's, there's turnover, you know, every every few years or so, it seems like we have a different crop of people in there. The things that we're teaching, obviously change the technologies, the platforms, and so on change over time. And then our own platform is changing. Actually, we're completely relaunching the user experience inside of Fizzle. So it definitely has had to change but the basic formula is the same. You pay one low monthly price, you get access to hundreds of video, training hours, live coaching community and some other perks.

Jay Clouse 3:06
And by being around for the last nine years, Fizzle has impacted so many creators and entrepreneurs that I admire those people Corbett mentioned who became so successful, they will frequently credit Corbett Barr and Fizzle with helping them get started. Whether it was pure inspiration or just the tactical push that they really needed. Corbett has been self employed on the internet since 2005, earning a living from blogging, podcasting, online courses. memberships, SaaS and more. He's bootstrapped, freelanced, consulted and raised venture capital. Basically he spent time trying every model out there and Fizzle itself is built using a SaaS community platform called palapa that Corbett built himself. I'm not trying to be hyperbolic when I say this, but from where I'm sitting, Corbett has quietly been one of the most influential and inspirational creators in the creator economy. But having been immersed in the online world for so long, Corbett has started to feel an emotional toll from all the projects he's built in all the places where his digital footprint exists. So we started down a path of just deleting that footprint and doing what he calls a digital reboot.

Corbett Barr 4:13
A digital reboot for me really means reconsidering all the commitments that I have, and whether or not I want to continue those.

Jay Clouse 4:22
Corbett wrote on his blog recently, quote, if you've seen my social media profiles lately, you may have noticed I deleted everything. I'm also going to be deleting many of my blog posts, side projects, videos, podcasts, and more soon, it's time for a clean sweep, called a spring cleaning or maybe a midlife crisis. I'm starting over in a way, I'm going to consolidate my online life and define a new vision for my next decade on the internet. After 500 plus blog posts. 400 plus podcast episodes. 30,000 plus Fizzle members in millions of visitors across a half dozen websites. This is overdue and quote. So in this episode, We talk about what brought Corbett into the nascent world of digital creators in 2005, the evolution of Fizzle, cultivating community, and why a digital reboot is a step we may all want to consider. I'd love to hear what you think about this episode, you can find me on Twitter or Instagram @JayClouse, I haven't deleted my accounts yet. And let me know that you're listening, take a screenshot, tag me, I'd love to share it. But now, let's talk with Corbett.

Corbett Barr 5:31
I had always felt like there was going to be entrepreneurship in my future, but I never knew when. And I felt like if I went through my entire career and never saw if I had what it took to actually be independent, to be self supportive to build a business from scratch, that I wouldn't really be satisfied. So in 2005, kind of caught me off guard, my wife and I had just moved to San Francisco, she was going to grad school there. And I was just reconnecting with a bunch of old colleagues. And you know, kind of, Hey, I'm new to town, like, let's get coffee or whatever. And I connected with someone that I hadn't talked to him quite a while. And it turns out that he was starting a new company. And he asked if I was interested, if I if I wanted to be a co founder. And it kind of just the opportunity presented itself. And we started having conversations. And then next thing I know, you know, a couple of months later, we were jumping in with both feet. I mentioned, you know, that I didn't just quit my job. I was lucky enough, at the time to be working for a company, I was a consultant to Fortune 500 companies. And I was working for a consulting firm that was a little bit more focused on lifestyle. And they actually encourage people to try different things to explore different things in their career. And when I approached them with this idea of, Hey, you know, I might want to go halftime for a little while, so that I can scratch this startup itch and see where it goes, they were totally fine with that. And, and for me, that was a really great way to get my feet wet. Because you know, something else that we can we can jump into is just the the emotional roller coaster that you go on when you are an entrepreneur and watching your savings dwindle, and what that does to your psyche. And for me, it had a really strong effect. So it was good that I had some time where I was still earning to be able to save more money and kind of see where that went.

Jay Clouse 7:33
Yeah, something that I think would be interesting to explore here, given that that was about 2005. I think we underestimate how different things are 16 years later now than they were because Twitter maybe might have like been in production at that point. And probably not like the world's very different for what it looks like to go independent then, because people weren't sharing as much of it. And the paths weren't as obvious. So what were the what were the other paths of entrepreneurship that you might have been aware of besides kind of the Silicon Valley startup route,

Corbett Barr 8:07
I wasn't super aware of other paths of entrepreneurship, aside from the only direct experience I had with someone who ran a business or was an entrepreneur was the guy that I worked for in high school, who owned like three gas stations in town. That was like my, my big example. And when I thought about entrepreneurship, I guess my fascination with it mostly came from the first .com bubble around 1999, 2000, 2001. And I actually started working for a company consulting firm, because I had an office in San Francisco and I was really drawn to that idea of Silicon Valley. It took me five years to actually try something there. But basically, in 2005, everything San Francisco was coming out of the ashes of the previous .com boom. So most of the examples of startups were venture capital backed, and there was that whole infrastructure. There was no real social media at the time. Blogging was nascent, podcasting, I think was a concept. But you know, it wasn't like something that anybody really knew about. I think YouTube just came out in that year. So things were a lot different. And I didn't know that you could just, you know, or maybe it wasn't even all that possible to be an independent creator, like we talked about now. So at the time, really, the only option that I saw was jumping in and trying to raise venture capital and, and build a quote unquote, traditional startup. So 2005 we, in 2006, we ended up raising venture capital, and we built an office hired 10 employees built software had a good number of users, and then in the financial collapse of 2008. It was really hard to raise money again, and this is something that I'm starting to see in the rearview mirror is this boom and bust cycle of business, which is really interesting. And I think a lot of younger folks don't necessarily expect that to happen, even though it very well could. But it's impossible to predict. And so we were caught in a bad position couldn't raise money, I took a sabbatical in early 2009, to Mexico with my wife. And really, it was just a chance to hit the reset button and take a pause instead of jumping into the next thing. And we had always kind of romanticized the idea of getting to know Mexico a little bit better. So we drove down here, which is actually where I am right now we've come back every year since then, I think I thought that I would come up with another startup idea, but this time, maybe pay more attention to how I built it, because in the first iteration, not only did it fail, but also it was just a tremendous pressure cooker of stress, having employees, board of directors, venture capitalists, advisors, a co founder, and an office to go to every day, I felt like I had less control over my life than I did when I was working in the corporate world. So I thought I would just focus on how I would build the business with less stress and more control. But when we were down in Mexico, on the sabbatical, I just started meeting a lot of people who had figured out ways to make their careers work around their lives instead of the other way around. And there were a few people who were technologically inclined, like I met a couple of software developer types who were able to kind of work remotely from anywhere. And that was revolutionary. But really, I just met a lot of people who more like had traditional careers, like nurses and house builders, and people like that, who just kind of said, I'm not going to delay my life to retirement, I would rather spend several months in Mexico and figure out a way to make my career support that. And they did you know, they, they found some flexibility there. So I started a blog, to tell those stories to tell our story about the sabbatical and to ask questions out loud of myself, and anyone who is willing to listen about the nature of career and life and why the two were so at odds, seemingly, so much of the time and you know, what, what would it take to live a life that you want to now and build your ideal lifestyle?

Jay Clouse 12:18
Corbett is hitting on an idea here that I think about a lot. This idea that sometimes career and life feel at odds. Sometimes I wonder if my priorities are all mixed up, and if I'm actually taking the long way around. Here's a quick story of a fisherman that makes my point. An investment banker was at a pier of a small coastal village on a small boat with just one fishermen docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The banker complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish, and asked how long it took to catch them. Only a little while, said the fishermen, the banker, then asked why he didn't stay out longer and catch more fish. The fishermen said he had enough to support his family. And the banker asked, but what do you do with the rest of your time? The fisherman said I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, takes siestas with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my friends. I have a full and busy life. The banker scoffed. I'm a Harvard MBA and I could help you, you could spend more time fishing and what the proceeds buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats. Eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery, you would control the product, processing and distribution, you would need to leave the small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually in New York City, where you'll run your expanding enterprise. The fishermen asked, but how long will this all take? The banker replied 15 to 20 years. But what then asked the fishermen. The banker laughed and said that's the best part. When the time is right. You would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions. Millions then what said the fishermen, the banker said then you would retire moved to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your friends. I think about this story all of the time. Are we taking the 15 to 20 year path to a destination that we could arrive at today? So I asked Corbett once he had his experience on sabbatical. If you continue to take regular sabbaticals.

Corbett Barr 14:31
I would say No Actually, that sabbatical in 2009 was really a one time event where I took six actually ended up being more like eight or nine months to really consider things and think about what I wanted to do next. Since then, it's really been one continuous stream of projects. And you know, of course I I take a week of vacation here and there and I have enormous flexibility and we live in different countries. And travel quite a bit. We love my wife and I have spent time in Spain and Europe and and returned to Mexico almost every winter. So all of that's great. But my work pretty much follows me everywhere. And I haven't taken more than a couple of weeks of time off since that sabbatical.

Jay Clouse 15:17
How do you feel about that?

Corbett Barr 15:19
So one of the things that caused me to decide to do this digital reboot that I'm going through now, is the realization that when you work in a company, or you work in a sort of traditional career, a lot of times when you move from one job to the next, there's actually a really clean break between your responsibilities at the old job and what you're about to take on the new job. And that's usually a good time to take vacation, although, of course, you know, companies try to squeeze you to come in as soon as possible. But I think they're smart to actually let you take some time off. And so whether you take a week off or or several weeks off in between jobs, you get a clean break there. And then also there's this ramp up period, where you still kind of feel like a kid in the summer between grades. In the world that we live in. Now, for us who are, you know, independent creators, a lot of us kind of have this constant connection to our work. And the work really bleeds from one project to the next. Sure, we might be creating something new, new software, a new course or something like that. And that's a new project. But there's this ongoing thread constantly of everything that we've produced. And we might have a podcast or a blog, or an email list, or social media, or whatever, that we kind of keep maintaining in the background at all times, and we don't really get a clean break from it. So that was one of the things that that led me to start to clean up my digital house, the baggage that I started to feel like I had out there, just so that I could wipe the slate clean and give me some mental space to reimagine what might be possible.

Jay Clouse 16:57
This is such a struggle, it I totally underestimated the maintenance cost of projects and new commitments, because you start to get invested in the thing, a very concrete example. I started a LinkedIn newsletter back in March of last year, it's about a year old. And it was to myself an experiment at the time. And I didn't have clear markers of success, but it seemed to be performing better than I expected as far as subscribers to the newsletter. But I haven't necessarily seen a second order result from that. And every week, it's a strain on Wednesdays right now I have a draft open that I feel like I need to complete. And I don't really want to. And it's a strain of well, do I not fulfill my promise this week, do I quit the whole thing altogether. So I totally feel you on this. After a quick break, Corbett, and I dig into his recent digital reboot, right after this. Welcome back to my conversation with Corbett Barr, before the break, Corbett mentioned that as an employee, you often have clean breaks between jobs, you leave a job, and you can totally leave behind what you're previously focused on, and move on to a new job and a new task at hand. But as creators, he says we don't have that same clean break. And when you're making your own projects, they can persist and take up a lot of our mental bandwidth.

Corbett Barr 18:14
When you start working for yourself, you feel like oh my god, there's so many opportunities out there. And I just need to take advantage of all of them. But as you start layering on responsibilities, commitments, revenue streams, things that you need to maintain, you start to realize that really the magic is in being selective about what you take on because there are really only very few things that each of us can do on a regular basis. And, you know, I tend to commit to trying to just do a couple of important things every day. And I think in the beginning, you feel like, Oh, I'm going to accomplish 10 things today. And it just doesn't happen that way. So you're absolutely right. In terms of commitments, I think it's natural for us to say yes to more things. And we say no to and over time, we just end up feeling like we're pulled in a whole lot of different directions. And last year, when I had been talking to some friends, I actually was just catching up with a friend of mine and Vanessa Van Edwards, she's amazing. She and I were catching up and she asked about how I was doing and I said you know it, everything's fine. But I still I feel pulled in a lot of different directions. I don't really feel like I have time to take on anything new. And she said, you know, you've been saying that same thing for at least a couple of years now. And I realized that it just kind of hit me like a ton of bricks like I was a broken record. And I wasn't, I was kind of like waiting for the universe to make something happen for me. But instead, I finally realized like, I'm the only one that's going to make something happen for me. And that's going to mean I have to clean some things off of my plate so that I can make room for doing something else or so that I can do it. A couple of things really well, instead of constantly feeling this struggle of being pulled in a lot of different directions. I love the creator economy. I love, you know, the movement that's happening right now. And people are seeing so much opportunity on social media on Twitch, on Substack, and all these different things, but most of those become a hamster wheel. And you know, if you've known any YouTubers, you know that it's not a question of if but when they're going to burn out. And I imagine the same thing is true for people who are streaming or writing a newsletter. And I love the heroic effort that it takes to get a new project off the ground. And you know, that obsession that you get for several months building something new, but maintaining something for the long haul can be quite a slog, and you have to be really careful about that. You know, I think if you were able to divide your week into 50% of the time is for that one off effort, that project based heroic effort. And then the other 50% of the time is for maintaining the things that you've already built, that probably be a good balance, I tend to kind of be all or nothing and when I get obsessed with a project, I jump into it and I almost dropped the ball on some of the other stuff right and, and consistency is so important and blogging and podcasting and everything else. So you know, when when at Fizzle when we've advised people on starting podcasts or projects like that, we usually encourage people just to think of their first effort as a season, like let's just produce 20 episodes and see what that's like and then take a pause and decide if it's worth recommitting to. But so many times when we start something we don't think about when that pause is going to come when we're going to allow ourselves to have some time off how we're going to schedule things so that it's not a week, weekend, week out kind of commitment. And that's really, for most creators, the secret is in being able to show up every week and have that longevity.

Jay Clouse
You said something that called out to me there about we often say yes to things more than we say no. I think it's even more like quiet and dangerous than that. Because I think I say no, a lot. But every yes is so much more impactful than every no, because yes comes with a huge commitment most of the time. So even if you say no, three out of four times, that's true one yes, could be such a huge commitment. And we don't think about that. Because this example holding didn't newsletter, because I didn't set hard bounds of if this is not this by then I'm not going to do it to reconnect with myself and see is this something I'm going to continue doing. It's just this constant strain on me that's even taking mental bandwidth away from things.

Corbett Barr
Just this realization of that commitment has made me appreciate so much people who come from the traditional journalism world where they're expected to turn out an article every day or multiple articles every day,

Jay Clouse 22:55
Several a day.

Corbett Barr 22:56
I mean, people are really superhuman, the folks that can do that. I am friends with Leo Babauta, who runs Zen Habits, and we both lived in San Francisco for quite a while and spent some time co working and stuff like that. And once we sat down at a coffee shop and you know asked each other What are you working on today, and I was about, I don't know, check email or something. And and Leo said he was going to write an article. And I knew that Leo came from a journalism background, he actually had worked for the newspaper in Guam. And he comes from his family actually had worked at the newspaper for a long time. He sat down and basically went silent for 15 or 20 minutes. And then was done with with an entire article like 1000 word article. And I was like what, you know, you're done already. He said, Yeah, he he, he basically writes a draft from start to finish, hits, publish, and then goes back and edits it so that he doesn't have a choice to let it sit on the shelf or second guess himself or whatever. And that just that skill of being able to publish something so quickly. I think when you see people running Substack newsletters really successfully, the ones who can do it for a long time and show up, some people show up every day and write a newsletter, which is insane. But even weekly, I think a lot of those people have this edge of having worked in a newsroom. And they've gotten really, really good at just showing up and forcing themselves realizing that the most important thing you can do is to actually publish and all the other stuff has to come second. But for those of us that don't come from that background of creating content regularly, a lot of times, you know, we push the the production to the end of the day, and that's when you get yourself in trouble.

Jay Clouse 24:44
In college and through internships. I studied journalism for a while. And what it taught me was a huge respect for deadlines, because it's rooted in this world of newspapers, and if you didn't get the content to the editor, there was literally no chance for it to run that day. And then there was a space in the paper. That was empty, and it was a bad time. So there's just so much pressure on deadlines. And what you learn is exactly what you're saying the actual power isn't hitting publish, and then using your fear of failure to force you to go and edit and make it really great. But like, first and foremost, something has to get published. So it's on you whether it's gonna be good or not, but it needs to get published, and it's going to happen.

Corbett Barr 25:19
Well, I wonder if there's a way to set up your email marketing service to send an email, no matter what, at a certain time, almost like the papers being published, and therefore you have to have something out there. And And if you don't, then a blank newsletter goes out. And you look like

Jay Clouse 25:37
That's the new way.

Corbett Barr 25:37
Really unprepared.

Jay Clouse 25:38
That's the next substack right there.

Corbett Barr 25:39
Yeah, exactly.

Jay Clouse 25:40
We started to get a little bit ahead of ourselves here. And I wanted to go back to get a better understanding of how Corbett went from a startup founder to online creator before this digital reboot.

Corbett Barr 25:52
Yeah, so in 2009, there were some concepts out there that people were starting to write about a lot. A lot of it was, I think, inspired by Tim Ferriss, and the four hour workweek, which I always felt was a little disingenuous to some degree, some of the concepts that he talked about, but it did start this groundswell of interest in, you know, how do I live a great lifestyle while running a business, people started talking about location independence, digital nomadic, was really nascent at the time, and I just started exploring those things and connecting with other people who are writing about those topics. And I'm so thankful for that energy. And then I was able to kind of attach myself to it, because whenever you can find language, common language that people are looking for, it just makes it so easy for people to discover you versus you trying to figure out what people are talking about. And it's kind of a basic level marketing strategy, just to understand the language that people are using. And I did that on my blog, started talking about lifestyle, design, and so on. And that led me to realize, first of all, that building an audience was this really powerful thing. And it was early, because again, social media was fairly new, blogging was fairly new, and so on. But I started sensing the power of it. Because up until then, I had always thought that an entrepreneur was someone who built a product, and then went and looked for an audience who would want it. And here, I was starting to realize that maybe it could be the other way around. And now I think, of course, you know that that's fairly common. In fact, people just talk about monetizing their audience like as a regular turn of phrase now. So I started building an audience. And that's when ebooks were really popular. You know, we're talking about paid newsletters now. We were talking about what like, you know, online courses before? Well, before all that ebooks were the thing. And basically, it was a book on a specific topic trying to help someone accomplish something that you could sell to fewer people at a slightly higher price point than a regular print book. So I started thinking about writing ebooks actually wrote a couple of ebooks that I published for free following in the footsteps of Chris Guillebeau, Chris had written a couple that really impacted me. And I decided to do the same thing, writing about what I called the new economy at the time. But really, I think I was hitting on the creator economy, this idea that we could all be independent publishers. And I also wrote one about the success that I had in affiliate marketing and in building my first online course, and that really just kind of led me down the path of trying to figure out different ways to grow an audience and different ways to turn that audience into revenue. And since then, I've had to explore pretty much all the different mechanisms, you know, from online courses to freelancing to coaching, to affiliate marketing and everything in between supported by, of course, podcasting, blogging, email, newsletters, all of that. And at some point, I started to feel like I had a lot of little independent projects out there online courses and books and coaching programs and things like that. And I decided to bring them all under one roof, where people could access all of the things that I had put out there for one monthly price, realizing that the journey that I'm trying to help people go through this journey of entrepreneurship is really a fairly long journey. And it requires constant checking in supporting people, helping them get unstuck, and so on. And so that that monthly model of people paying to access materials, courses, education that I put out, combined with coaching and being supported by other people who are doing the same thing just made sense. So that's how Fizzle came about in 2012.

Jay Clouse 29:50
Even in 2021, that model is still pretty nascent, like it's starting to take off now that like, community tools are a little bit more available and full featured. But in 2012, when you're starting this, you're making courses you're putting it under one roof, you're having a subscription that people pay for online for support and community. That had to seem pretty weird to most things around you like, what were you using as inspiration? or How did you even land on this line of thought?

Corbett Barr 30:18
Well, there were some I would say, or around the same time, the explosion in services, helping people learn how to code. I think that was around 20 1213. So there were some of those. Treehouse by Ryan Carson is built in Portland, we got to know Ryan. So that was definitely an inspiration Lynda.com was an inspiration. And if you've heard of Lynda's story, there's a literal person named Lynda, they started out creating, I think it was like CD ROMs. Like even before you could access courses online, and then they transitioned to online, and they were selling a tremendous library of education for one low monthly price. And then they sold to LinkedIn for billions of dollars in the past couple of years. And now that's LinkedIn learning, which a lot of people are familiar with. So I think there were some out there. And you know, the thing that I always try to remember is that there were people doing this, this is always true. There were always people who were early doing something, and then they kind of forget forgotten about as like, people think that, you know, the creator economy was just invented yet invented yesterday. And we talked about what we were doing in 2012, or whatever. Well, when I got started, I was thinking about what Brian Clark was doing at Copyblogger in 2006, and seven, right? And if you ask Brian, what his inspiration was, he would tell you well, there were internet marketers before that even and then before that, there were people doing paid physical newsletters, and selling things, you know, through direct mail and direct advertising.

Jay Clouse 31:52
Cutting in here to say back on episode 33 of the show, I did talk to Brian Clark about his inspiration back in 2005. And lo and behold, Corbett is right.

Brian Clark 32:03
So long story short, I was successful, but not happy. And I did another walk away kind of thing like I did when I quit the law firm job. And said, I want to, you know, I want to operate solely online. I don't want to do these, you know, digital real world hybrids anymore. I don't care if I make a ton of money, I just want to make a living and be happy. I basically looked around it's 2005. And blogging is beginning to grow out of its more idealistic phase and start becoming commercial stuff, Darren Rowse's ProBlogger was trying to teach people how to make a living from blogging, there were some other sites that did the same thing. And I was like, Hey, you know, I can contribute to this conversation. Because I've been using content and email marketing, you know, and, in essence, building audiences of prospects in order to build these businesses. So copyblogger, believe it or not, was the first true blog I ever started. I dabbled in it several times, you know, just, you know, stuff that I thought was interesting, because blogging was really supposed to be journaling to a certain degree, you know, it wasn't really like what it turned into. But with Copyblogger, even though it was my first official blog, I wanted a magazine more than I wanted a blog. And that's what I did differently.

Corbett Barr 33:33
So there's always some inspiration there, whether it's as polished or current or hip as things are today. That definitely was something and, and for me, there was a lot of internet marketers, which was kind of a dirty term. And I definitely didn't want to be associated with that. In fact, our tagline at Fizzle to begin with was honest online business training, because there was so much dishonesty out there. And I think this creator economy movement has had to prove itself for quite a while to gain sort of mainstream acceptance. And now people understand Oh, yeah, there's, you know, individuals producing videos and content and so on. So, you know, I'm sure there was plenty of inspiration. It may seem like it was early then. And and that's the interesting thing, right? To see how long these things can take. It's almost like, slowly, slowly, slowly, and then all at once, and now everyone's talking about it.

Jay Clouse 34:26
When we come back, Corbett, and I talk about what Fizzle has taught him about cultivating community, and how you and I can start our own digital reboot. So stick around, and we'll be right back. Welcome back. As has been a recent trend on this show, I couldn't help but spend some time talking to Corbett about online community. The physical community has been around since 2012, as Corbett mentioned, and it just comes up so often in conversations with creators that I look up to. So for that kind of staying power, especially with entrepreneurs who are so naturally busy and inclined to focus on Are business, not the community, I knew that there must be something that Corbett could teach me about fostering community online?

Corbett Barr 35:07
Well, for any community, regardless of the kinds of people involved, I think the first thing that you have to realize is that it's not going to happen magically. you as the community owner, the person that wants to cultivate that this thing, you need to think about it, like throwing a party for a bunch of people who don't really know each other very well. And how awkward that is, and how hard you have to work to introduce people. You know, I've seen people who are really good at this in person to say, hey, Jay, you know, you should be my friend, Jackie, she does such and such. And I know you've done that before, too, like you two should talk. And then you literally just put people together at a party and have them start a conversation, you hope that they'll get to know each other. And then the next time you have a party, there are more of those connections. A lot of times, what I see is people feel like they've heard that community is important. They understand that it can be a real benefit to their business. And they want it to be a part of an online course or something that they launch. But they they treat it like an afterthought, they think people are coming for the education, they're here to see me. So they're going to want to hang out in the community and interact with me or whatever. But that's not enough. First of all, you probably can't have one on one conversations with everyone, you have to connect all those people together. But two there's this startup process of creating those connections for people and helping them get to know each other so that it does become a community as opposed to a hub and spoke model where you're the center of it, you really want it to be connected directly between all the people. But you have to engineer that you have to be the the consummate party host and yeah, and and do that. And then eventually, it can take on some of its own. But also community is not just an online forum. A lot of times people think that, you know, when you say community, you almost think of Slack or Facebook or wherever you're going to host this thing. But in reality, a community is just the conversations that are happening, and connections that are happening between people, regardless of where they happen. And in order to really make connections, you need more opportunities than just in a forum, you need to get people together on video calls, audio chats, all that kind of stuff where they can get to know each other more deeply than they can just over text conversations.

Jay Clouse 37:26
Love that it's been it's been a recent trend on the show to talk about this one, because it's where I spend most of my time lately, but to because it is a pretty hot topic in the world of creators. But I find that most people do treat it like an afterthought. And they're not willing to invest the time and energy upfront to help make those connections. I love likening digital community to physical community and physical spaces, because it makes you get it even more. And you start to realize, Oh, it's actually harder to do it online. Because in a physical space, people are looking at each other and sitting near each other, and someone's probably gonna go first and say something. And online, they can just click the red X and be gone forever, and no one even notices. So it just takes a lot more effort, I think.

Corbett Barr 38:04
Yeah, absolutely.

Jay Clouse 38:06
Now that we've got a little bit of a history, I want to kind of return to now where you are today, in two ways. You mentioned these boom and bust cycles of business and the economy. But you also seem to have kind of a boom and bust cycle playing out through your own projects and things that you're investing time and energy into. So talk to me about this digital reboot that you're doing right now. And what that conversation and Vanessa spurred in you and how you're going about it.

Corbett Barr 38:31
This was an incredibly freeing feeling for me to think that just because I've been doing something for years doesn't mean that I need to continue doing it. And just because I signed up for X, Y and Z social media accounts or whatever doesn't mean that I necessarily have to continue being there. There's this you know, we can talk about social media and the the engineering that goes on behind it, the manipulation and so on, right that they are very good, those platforms that making us feel like we're going to miss out if we leave them or if we're not there for some reason. But after having cleaned up my own house and deleting my all of my social media posts, every single one of them closing a lot of accounts, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, every Facebook product, including WhatsApp and so on. I've just really narrowed the focus down, I decided that I didn't want to leave social media entirely. And I'm still on Twitter. That's the only platform that I'm really on right now. And there's no particular reason for that. I don't think that Twitter is necessarily better than other places. It just resonated more with me and happens to have connections to more of the people that I care about. Not necessarily the people that might become customers but the people who I have business relationships with and and friendships with. So I pared down all of that. I deleted a lot of old videos, blog posts, podcasts, really just thin everything down to get to the signal and get rid of a lot The noise. And one thing that has become apparent is that this doesn't happen like overnight, it's not like you decide, hey, I'm gonna hit the reset button and you push a button. And it's all done. Because a lot of these places don't make it easy for you to leave or to clean up, right? There's a lot of effort that you have to go through. And also, once you start there, there is obvious low hanging fruit that you can do away with, because it's not bringing you much value. But then once you start to peel back the layers, you get to the parts of your life that are more valuable. And you start to look at, you know, revenue streams and business projects and partnerships and things like that. And those things take longer to decide about and also longer to unwind if, if that's the direction that you want to go. So here I am, six months after I decided to do a digital reboot, still underway. But a lot of it, you know, I'd say it's sort of like there's a Pareto principle here in terms of the amount of content I was able to remove 80% of it in 20% of the time. And now I'm down to the last 20%, but it's going to take me 80% of the time.

Jay Clouse 41:05
How do you think about removal versus just rejection or like moving away from it, for example, I don't love Instagram, but I got 2100 followers there, it almost causes me pain to think about deactivating that account, because that feels like some sort of effort or thing that could be utilized. But I also see the benefit of just not worrying about Instagram at all. And it feels like I would only have that peace of mind if I completely deactivate it and made it a non thing.

Corbett Barr 41:34
Well, and there's more to the decision than that. For me, a big part of the decision is this tension that I think we're feeling right now between the open web and walled gardens, and Facebook, and others do their best to try to create these walled gardens where the internet experience for a lot of people really becomes Facebook, in a you've probably heard about the way they rolled out this Facebook basics product in Africa. And if you use quote, unquote, the internet, it really is Facebook. So part of it is my concern about the business practices of big tech and Instagram. Unfortunately, it was bought by Facebook, I hope that the founders of Instagram feel some regret. I know that the founders of WhatsApp feel some regret selling to Facebook, but it's impossible to to turn down billions of dollars, obviously, and I don't necessarily fault them for that. But I wish that Instagram was its own platform, because it's, it's it's a great place. For me, though, I just feel like when there are a lot of different places out there that I'm represented, you know, we have our digital selves now that are separate from our physical selves, and they're kind of out there doing work for us, representing us. But if I can't care and feed that digital self, in all those places to the level that I want, I start to feel, I don't know, some sense of remorse, guilt, all that kind of stuff. And I just feel like that digital baggage ends up becoming emotional baggage for me, it also ends up being a little bit of a time suck, even if you say I'm not going to spend time on Instagram, you still check on on at once in a while you still get down that rabbit hole of Instagram, you still you know, maybe update your profile, whatever. And you're kind of going through the motions there, even though I think if you looked at your business results, and at where you derive pleasure in your life, and in your creative life, it may not really contribute much at all. So for me, I had been doing exactly what you're talking about just kind of leaving things out there for a long time and feeling guilty about it and turning them off entirely just opened up this whole new sense of freedom for me.

Jay Clouse 43:46
Is there a level of documentation or rigor to this? Like? Did you do an audit of writing down all the things you're aware of? So you can systematically check them off? Or is it kind of like as they come you take note of it and you decide what you want to do with it.

Corbett Barr 43:58
In terms of like a social media presence or social

Jay Clouse 44:02
Social media platforms that you're on? Or even just like I know, you cleaned up a ton of blog posts on your your website to you go through a list and say like, here are the ones I'm gonna combine versus x or did you have this kind of blank slate say goodbye?

Corbett Barr 44:15
Yeah. So on my personal site, I deleted probably 95% or so of the blog posts that I had out there. And these are things going back all the way to 2009. And I did a couple of things. First, I went into my analytics platform, and I looked at the which posts are most popular. And for the most popular posts, I examined each one like the top 20 or so. And you'll find anyone who's been blogging for a long time probably has 10 or 20 posts that bring in the lion's share of traffic. So I looked at those evaluated them I asked myself if they were relevant if they served a purpose, and if the traffic that was coming in might be useful to me at some point in the future. kept some of those. And then I also just looked through the entire list of archives and kept several posts that I felt were important just because of what they said regardless of if they were popular. And then that allowed me to really clean things up quite a bit.

Jay Clouse 45:14
Did you create redirects for all of those so that you weren't like penalised by search?

Corbett Barr 45:19
Yes, and no, I mean, the redirects for most of those just end up going to my homepage, because there's there's nothing for there's nothing for me to link to instead, which I guess is better than a 404 page, not found page, at least maybe in the eyes of search traffic. Although, as you mentioned, before we started recording, you had Matt Giovanisci on the show a while back, he and I talk a lot about SEO. And Brendan Hufford, as well, I talked with him about SEO quite a bit. My approach to SEO is, is really not so mechanical and strategic in terms of redirects, and all that kind of stuff. I really just kind of pay attention to the quality of the content I'm writing, and the relationships that I build with people and the search traffic comes naturally.

Jay Clouse 46:04
I know you said this is still in progress. So talk to me about what it's done for you so far, this this reboot effort, and how that changes now the way that you approach new commitments or new projects.

Corbett Barr 46:17
So my wife is an artist, a painter. And while she was in grad school, and since then we've listened to a lot of artists talks. And there were at least two cases where we heard from artists who had a catastrophic studio fire. And in both of the cases, the artist said that it was actually a positive thing for them. In the end, even though at the time, it seemed incredibly painful. But it allowed them to wipe the slate clean, and kind of reimagine the work that they wanted to do going forward. As I as I mentioned, I felt this tremendous sense of freedom, just finally being able to like reconsider what I wanted to do. I also had been in this nasty cycle of analysis paralysis, where, as I said, I was stuck for a couple of years, I was kind of just going through the motions, keeping the lights on. And I finally realized that no one is going to make a decision for you, there's not going to be some like sign from the universe, you have to decide and with imperfect information move forward. And this is something that I knew, especially about entrepreneurship, because being an entrepreneur is all about getting comfortable with the unknown. And just kind of realizing that there are going to be a lot of things that you don't know, you don't know, if you're going to be successful, you don't know if the customers are going to be there. You just have to operate with that imperfect information and move on. And I think when we're starting ventures, it's really easy to grasp that concept. Because here you are in your life, you want things to be different. And in order to do that, in order to become an entrepreneur, to leave your job, and so on, you have to try a bunch of things and see what works. But after being an independent entrepreneur, entrepreneur for 12 years, and being an entrepreneur overall for 16 years now, I don't think I realized what this part of the playbook was supposed to look like, because I had never been here before. I mean, before I became an entrepreneur, the longest I've ever stayed in the job was four and a half years or something. And here I am, like over a decade into this. And I think it's easy to forget that in order to change your situation, you have to decide on a direction and start working towards it. So the digital reboot, for me, in part has just been about making some decisions putting a stake in the ground and moving forward.

Jay Clouse 48:42
I also think about I'm not like a biologist by any means or anything. But I also think about the analogy some people make with plant life, where for the plant to continue to grow the way that it needs to grow to be strong. Sometimes you have to prune some branches. Yeah, and like prune things back in a lot of ways. It sounds like you're doing that with with your work. And I think about that a lot because I got a pretty gnarly plant growing here. And sometimes it feels like I could use some some pruning. Is there anything else that somebody listening to this who's thinking to themselves? Okay, maybe it's time for me to reconsider everything that I have going on? Is there like a first step that you would recommend they take?

Corbett Barr 49:21
Well, I would try to understand the difference between vanity metrics and meaningful metrics. vanity metrics are things that make you feel good, but that don't necessarily actually contribute to progress or goals. So for example, 2800 followers on Instagram is probably a vanity metric. It's not really contributing to your prosperity. And the same can be true of a lot of different things. I mean, we can delude ourselves. You know, we can look at our podcast, download numbers or whatever and delude ourselves into thinking that those are meaningful but you know A lot of cases, we may just be feeling self important about it. Or we may be feeling like oh, I've I've accomplished something. I remember going to parties in the early days of social media, business oriented parties, and having people walk up to you and introduce you and and literally tell you how many Twitter followers they had, in the course of like the first minute or two of conversation,

Jay Clouse 50:23
What?

Corbett Barr 50:24
As if that mattered. And we're talking about 2009, 2010, something like that?

Jay Clouse 50:28
Oh, wow.

Corbett Barr 50:29
As if that is if that mattered. And if we look those people up now, I think just that obsession with numbers that don't matter, can lead you astray. And it's almost like having a bunch of you. Maybe you've heard that term. Yes, men before. It's like, if you surround yourself with a bunch of people who just kind of always say, Yes, like you're doing the right thing, they keep blowing smoke up your rear end, that you'll end up in a in a bad place, because you're going to make a bunch of bad decisions. And I think if you follow those vanity metrics, the same thing can happen. So if you just understand that there's probably a lot of things in your life that you've committed to that that are, it's taking your valuable time, but it's probably not contributing back as much as you think it is. And just trying to see things through that lens to if you're going to prune back, figuring out which of those branches are the important strong central branches and which ones are the superfluous ones.

Jay Clouse 51:31
This was actually the first time that I had ever spoken with Corbett. But it felt like we connected so quickly, probably in large part due to just how long Corbett has been inspiring creators like me. This reboot idea is something that I just can't shake. I know there is some serious upside to pruning my digital commitments. In fact, since this interview took place, I did in fact, stop publishing my LinkedIn newsletter. And I thought about Instagram and Facebook too. But when the rubber hits the road, I just can't quite get myself to pull the trigger yet. But the seed had been planted, and I think it's a positive seedling to take root. I think we'll see more and more people following Corbett's lead and beginning to reboot their digital selves. Thanks to Corbett for being on the show. Thank you to Emily Clouse for making the artwork this episode. Thanks to Nathan Todhunter for mixing the show and Brian Skeel for creating our music. If you liked this episode, you can tweet @JayClouse and let me know and if you really want to say thank you, please leave a review on Apple podcasts. Thanks for listening, and I'll talk to you next week.