"It's going to take you the same amount of time and effort to market a $29 product as it will a $2,900 product". My guest today is Matt D Smith aka "MDS" who is the founder/CEO of Shift Nudge. In this episode, we discuss the growth mindset, how to overcome self doubt and imposter syndrome, being selective about projects, MDS's journey from designing to launching the Shift Nudge course. For show notes, guest bio, and more, please visit: www.designmba.show To learn how to launch your design side hustle, please visit my blog: www.blog.designmba.show Connect with me: https://twitter.com/jayneildalal www.linkedin.com/in/jayneil
Matt D. Smith is the owner and Design Director at Studio MDS, a small independent design studio in Athens, GA. He created the Float Label Pattern for digital input fields, the Contrast app for checking WCAG 2.0 color contrast ratios, and Flowkit for creating user flows inside your favorite design tool. He's currently working on an intensive interface design course called Shift Nudge.He's a proud father of four.
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Namaste and welcome. This is Jayneil Dalal and you are listening to The design MBA. This podcast is a real-life MBA program for designers where we interview design hustlers and learn the skills, mindset necessary for a designer to launch a business venture. You can learn more. Find past episodes and stay updated at designMBA.show.
Jayneil Dalal: It's going to take you the same amount of time and effort to market a 29-dollar product as it will a 2900-dollar product. My guest today is Matt D. Smith aka MDS. Matt is the owner and design director at Studio MDS, a small independent design studio in Athens, Georgia. He created the Float label pattern for digital input fields, the Contrast app for checking color contrast ratios, and Flowkit for creating user flows inside your favorite design tool. He's a proud father of four. If you are a designer that is looking to up your visual design game, UI game in general, you seriously need to go and check out Matt's new course Shift Nudge. I promise you from what I’ve seen from it, I highly recommend it go to ShiftNudge.com and check it out. And, yeah, tell him that Jayneil sent you.
In this episode, we discuss the growth mindset, how do you overcome self-doubt and imposter syndrome as a designer, why you should be selective about picking your design projects, hint pick projects that pay money, and Matt's journey from designing to launching the Shift Nudge course.
MDS, welcome on the show, man. Super excited to have you.
MDS: Hey, thanks for having me, man. I’m glad to be here.
Jayneil: Dude, you are such an inspiration for me. I remember the first time I heard about you, I went to your website and it's like a lot of people are designers but you take it to the extreme like even in your website you've got like Matt.is/writing, /working. And it was just so intuitive. I even went to your book list and found a bunch of your books really helpful.
MDS: Nice. Yeah, I’ve always, ever since I was a kid, just been really analytical about the details of everything I was working on. I don't know where that came from.
Jayneil: Wow! And the recent thing that I noticed is that you you're ripped like from who you were before. So, did you always want to be ripped in high school or college or was it like a recent thing?
MDS: Well, what's funny is I was always really small in high school. I was probably like 5'3” when I graduated high school. I was a late bloomer and then I’m like 6 feet tall now but no way, in high school, I was actually very, very skinny … I was not skinny. I was muscularly built but I was really small and I was on the football team and we had like weight training regimen. So, in high school and college, I was always doing athletics and I was always in shape and I was always feeling okay about myself with my shirt off. My wife and I got married when I was 22, almost 23 and then we had our first kid, within the next two years we had our first kid. And at that point, I was just working tirelessly and working out or staying in shape wasn't even on my radar. We were just trying to survive both financially and as new parents. And so, I think, once my first kid was like 2 years old or so, this is back in 2009-2010, I was just kind of like “Oh my gosh! I’ve really let myself go in the last 10 years.” I graduated high school in 2000. So, it just wasn't on my radar. I wasn't paying attention to it. And I just committed, I think, in 2010 or so. I was just like “I’m not going to drink any more soda. I’m going to try all the p90x DVDs and it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do. And I just kind of was on this quest to get back into shape and to be strong. I want to be able to do things with my kids. I want to be able to jump on the trampoline. I want to be able to do all the things with them.
Jayneil: So, it's basically been … what is it now? 2010 you got the bug. So, it's been 10 years in the making.
MDS: Yeah, absolutely.
Jayneil: None of those six-month fad diets.
MDS: I mean, a lot of different trial and error just trying to figure out. I think the biggest thing is figuring out nutrition and figuring out how to eat and whatnot and finding things that you actually enjoy doing at least somewhat. I mean, there's plenty of days where I don't feel like doing anything but it's just kind of how it goes.
Jayneil: There is one photo that you had put on Instagram and I found that to be really inspirational. You had a photo on the left side of when you were not in shape, as you mentioned, and then on the right where you're ripped. And one of the comments you mentioned, “The guy on the left who's not fit, the previous man, worked his ass off so that the man on the right could really enjoy it.” That was so deep, man.
MDS: It's weird seeing yourself in pictures like that because I can remember like it was yesterday, I can remember the things that I was concerned about. I can remember how I felt the things that stressed me out at the time. And at that time, I was working these long but not great contracts with other companies, not really barely getting by, my wife and I were both working, but I just had so many aspirations to do more. And so, I’m doing this freelance work at midnight until 3 a.m. and then I’m getting up and the kids are crying. I was doing all I could to just get our future going into the direction that we wanted and taking care of myself physically wasn’t even on the back burner, it just wasn't there. So, it's really interesting to know now, I guess, through the years you inevitably get better at managing your time and prioritizing things but yeah, it is definitely kind of a wild thing to look back at whether it's a picture before and after or even reading blog posts, recaps of the years and like “Oh man, I remember that so vividly.”
Jayneil: You do the recaps.
MDS: Yeah. You remember being so stressed out about certain things in certain years. And then if you read that a few years later, you already know how that all unfolds and you're like “Ah, I should have known that, that it would have been okay” or whatever.
Jayneil: I really like when you mentioned that you always had this aspiration. Was that because you had a family, you're married and you have kids or that was your upbringing or how did that come about, that drive?
MDS: I think it's definitely primarily just part of my personality. Like I said, even as a young kid, I remember I would see someone do a backflip and I’m like “I’ve got to learn how to do a backflip. I must do this” like “If that guy can do it, I need to learn how to do it as well.” And so, that just kind of became … I don't know if it was nature versus nurture but I also remember this very profound moment when, I think, I was like 15 years old and my dad had this old like 20-year-old Mazda RX-7 that he used to drive and he was going to let me drive that when I was 16. And it was kind of beat up and the speakers were dry-rotted. There was no CD player. And my dad used to teach electronics in the army. So, he was pretty savvy with reinstalling CD players and whatnot. And I just could not fathom how someone could possibly take a radio out of a car and rewire new speakers and install everything. And he just felt so nonchalant about it like “Oh yeah, we'll just get the CD player. We'll get the mounting kit. We'll get these speakers.” And I’m just sitting there staring in disbelief that he's about to rip this dashboard out of the car and I’m like “You can't just rip the dashboard out. That's supposed to be there.” And he looked at me and he was just like “What do you mean? Somebody put this in here. We can take it out and then we can put it back in.” And for some reason, that just clicked as this like echoed deeply into my soul and I’m like “Oh my gosh! Someone did that and we can do it too. We can take it out.” It didn't just happen automatically. And so, I don't know, just that moment, it was almost like this unlocking of this quest for confidence. And if you've seen someone do something, it doesn't necessarily mean that that that can only be done by them. I mean, I don't plan on going and starting another SpaceX or anything. There's definitely limits to the things I want to try to do or the things that I believe are possible but I think that's just kind of a pretty paramount kind of moment for me.
Jayneil: It's interesting your dad decided to fix the speaker himself because sometimes my thing is more like “Let me just hire the guy to do it.”
MDS: Yeah. My dad was always that way. He would take apart the carburetor and clean it out on the lawnmower or the ATV or whatever it was. And he's the kind of guy that would read the instruction book from front to back before starting on anything and just always had that kind of tinkerer builder mentality. He built like kid airplanes, kid cars. And I think it’s just growing up around that maybe just gave me the passion to build things as well and to just tinker with things sometimes purely out of curiosity and you end up creating something because you were just curious about it.
Jayneil: I am going to take a leap of faith and I think somehow that mentality has made you a company of one because I’m noticing you're doing everything yourself. You're shooting the courses yourself. And even a step further, in some of your videos, you have made about 2019 a year in review and for 2020 but you kind of tried to redesign your home yourself. You built your studio yourself. So, why not just hire a guy like what made you spend so much time doing it yourself?
MDS: Yeah. So, I think this is both a strength and a weakness of mine because if there's a project or if there's a group of people … and efficiency is kind of like built into my DNA. I want things to be efficient. I want things to be successful by whatever metric that needs to be measured by, whether it's my own or by the group I’m working with. And so, I don't have any problem digging a hole for eight hours if that really needs to happen around my house. So, it's easy to go into like that just laser focus work, work, work, work. And so, I think in a lot of ways, it's like “Okay, I’m going to learn video editing. Okay, I know a little bit about construction and woodworking. So, might as well just build this” because a lot of times, there's plenty of things that we hired out I didn't do any of the construction necessarily on the house when we were remodeling it but we had framers come in but I feel like in order to get an incredibly quality product whether it's software or a home renovation, I feel like the secret sauce is like the glue in between those pieces that come together. And so, if the framer isn't talking to the plumber, they're going to run the pipes in the wrong way and inevitably you've been in a house where you're “Why did they put the switch right here?” That's because no one actually sat down and thought about where it needed to go or the electrician was there and the drywall guy didn't talk to the electrician. So, I wanted to be like the glue that kind of made everything kind of work together with our home remodel. And I think the best pieces of software that I’ve ever worked on or teams that I’ve ever worked with, it's when there was a really strong overlap between disciplines, whether it was Design and Development from the very beginning or if there was a lot of focus. It's never like 100% design complete and then go build it. You can build things that way but it's not going to work out that well.
Jayneil: And how do you figure out when to really outsource, meaning get people to do it and when do you completely go into that?
MDS: I think it depends on what we're talking about. If it's a design project, then I’m more likely going to be wanting to do that versus if I need somebody to do some drywall, I’ve done that before and I realize that I hate it, so I just want to hire somebody to do that for me because it's messy or when I do it, it's messy and professionals can do a much better job.
Jayneil: Take video courses, for example. Take the video courses you're producing. Why not get an editor to edit your videos and stuff?
MDS: Yeah. So, I guess, first of all, budget is definitely a real thing. The way that I produce the video course is a lot of times there's an outline and then sometimes I’ll have a script for the intro but sometimes I’ll need to break out and ad-lib something or if I’m recording. I feel like it's not a tight enough script for someone else to know what to keep or what to get rid of because I get rid of a lot of stuff. And I haven't done enough preparation upfront to say “Okay, here's everything. Go edit it for me.” Do you have anyone editing this podcast for you or do you edit this currently by yourself?
Jayneil: I was about to say the same thing. So, I am literally producing, editing, everything myself and one of my mentors told me that “Hey, you need to get somebody to do it for you.” And the guy is pretty reasonable. He charges 8 bucks an hour. So, maybe one episode will cost me 24 bucks but the thing is when I edit it myself, I hear myself again, I learn what I’m asking wrong or how I can frame the questions better. And at one point, I kind of felt like “If I’m going to have to tell the guy what to do and what to edit, I think it's going to be more faster if I just learn how to do it myself.”
MDS: Yeah, I agree. I think, long term, I would love to be able to say “All right, here you go. Here's all the footage. Go do your thing.” I’ve done a handful of courses but I’m constantly changing the way I do it, changing the structure. And I’m about 90% done with this thing now and there's still things on there – “Oh, and the next one. This is what I’m going to do because I learned so much doing this one.” And I don't feel good enough about the sequence of events that needs to happen and, like you said, I would spend more time explaining what needs to happen or I don't want to watch a 20-minute video of myself that someone else edited and then I need to say “Okay, edit this part out. Edit this part out. Edit this part out.”
Jayneil: Oh my gosh! So true.
MDS: It's already painful enough. I’ve basically been listening to and watching myself record things for the last year and I’m really ready to be done with this for just a little bit.
Jayneil: So, how did you get the course bug to create all these video courses on design education?
MDS: I think the very first bug that I ever got was when Sean McCabe … do you know Sean McCabe? He's got a podcast. He used to be big in the hand-lettering world. And this was probably back in 2013, maybe 2012. He released a hand-lettering course and it was like “How to Hand Letter as Your Job? Earn A Full-Time Living Doing Hand Lettering.” And he had a very large amount of people that downloaded this free guide like “how to get started?” and I think he had a big email list. And then he sold this course for, I think it was like 300 or 400 bucks, I think, at the time when he launched it. It might have even been close to 500. And then he wrote a blog post and he openly kind of shared the sales revenue numbers for a day or two and he was like “In one day, I made 90,000 dollars” and I was like …
Jayneil: No freaking way.
MDS: Are you kidding me? I was like “Are you ...” but then you think about it like “If you take a hundred thousand and you divide it by 500, that's like what 200 people. If 200 people buy something for 1000 dollars, then that's a hundred thousand dollars.” So, I think the mathematics on that, I was just like “I need to start doing courses.” And also, that was one of the first kind of aha moments where “Oh wow! This is actually a thing.” And if you think about the price of higher education, it's usually not even in the ballpark of 500. Usually, it's like 50,000 dollars. I got to go to university and I have to be in debt until I’m 50. And so, I think there's a sweet spot in the education world where you can produce really quality education at an absolute fraction of the price that makes it inaccessible to a lot of other people but it'd also be very profitable for you and it makes it where you're able to do that because the more profitable it is, the better value you can produce and the more you can put into it to make it really, really good. And I’ve also really always enjoyed teaching people how to do things whether as a kid trying to teach my friend how to do a backflip off the diving board or you got to tuck your knees to your chest. And even in design school, I used to love to be able to, the guy or girl I’m sitting beside in design club, and I’m like “Oh, you know, if you do the lasso and Photoshop, this way you can remove whatever.” I just always kind of found it rewarding to be able to share knowledge and to teach. And it's not a chore for me. I enjoy teaching people things and it feels very natural. And so, just combining design and teaching and designing and coding and video editing, all those things kind of coming together just kind of feels like the perfect storm of creativity and value that I can put together as one package.
Jayneil: You're spot on about the metrics of it, meaning it seems like from the outside if somebody says “I make 90,000 dollars from this course” and you're like “How does that happen?” but, like you said, when you look at the math, it's not that hard getting 200 people. I mean, it's hard but …
MDS: Yeah, I’m a big fan of Ramit Sethi and he's got a yeah saying that whether it's in his course or maybe on a podcast or something, he always talks about “It's not magic. It's math.” And you think about the spam calls or the spam emails that you get, you're like who is putting this much work into doing spam but there's nothing magic about what they're doing there. This is probably a bad example because I don't condone spam calling or emailing but they are being successful with it just based on pure mathematics. If they send 5,00,000 emails, if they get that small fraction of people that click or give their credit card number or they give their password and they lose access to their account, it's worth it for them just based on pure mathematics. And so, I think understanding that there is a mathematical threshold for earning income, it's pretty interesting. Not a lot of people have seen some stuff I did. Back in 2007 or so, I was working on this real estate application and I convinced a friend to put it together. I mean, we worked on this thing for a year maybe kind of on the side and we launched it to crickets. We spent all of our time building and developing and maybe had five people sign up because we tried to sponsor this. And I’m like “Okay.” I actually wasn't thinking about how this was going to earn any money. I thought people would just magically show up once you have the software available. That was one of the first big side projects that I ever tried to launch and do. And once we launched that and after about three months, the bitter truth started to show up like “Wow! We did this backwards. I’m never going to do that again.” And you think about like all the time and energy that has been to put into designing and developing an iOS app to fight to sell it for 99 cents in the app store whereas you can spend a weekend building a WordPress plugin and sell it for 100 bucks if it's a premium thing. And it's just kind of interesting the perceived value that someone has over a WordPress plugin to help their business is much, much higher than the perceived value that I’m going to get for spending 99 cents on this random iPhone app even though the app is going to take an order of magnitude more to produce and develop and to maintain. So, that also is very appealing with the online course stuff too because I’ve been in the kind of design consulting world for so long where it's always trading time for money, time for money, time for money over and over and over. And I have done projects where it's more flat rate or project rate or value based and those are still great but it is still, at the end of the day, time for money whether or not you're making 5 dollars an hour or 500 dollars an hour. It's still trading time for money. And so, I wanted to be able to figure out a way to break out of that a little bit more without taking a hit to income because I've got a family of four, my wife has chosen to stay at home with the kids, which I love. She used to work full-time. She made the decision to do that when our oldest kid was about … 10 years ago and now our oldest is 12 and our youngest is 6 and you know. There's a lot of pressure on me as the sole income earner. I can't mess around and not make money. You know what I mean?
MDS: And so, I have to be very, very picky or strategic or smart or wise, whatever you want to call it, about what I’m working on and whether or not that is producing what needs to be produced. For a while, I was doing a bunch of like YouTube vlogs and everything and I was trying to actually get better at video editing and get better at storytelling so I could incorporate that into some courses in the future but I just got too focused on making these YouTube vlogs and “I’m a vlogger now” and “Woohoo, the fun.”
Jayneil: The ads will come in at some point
MDS: And then it's like “Man, I’m spending like four hours every day editing these videos and it is not producing any … which I think there is some intrinsic value in making a video and putting it on the internet but I have to be mindful about what can I get in a short-term reward and what am I choosing to wisely invest in now that will produce a long-term reward later. So, it's just a matter of, for me, just trying to really focus on … I’ve been approached by different startups or different …
Jayneil: Yeah, I bet
MDS: People at startups where maybe they're like “Oh yeah, we've got this equity plan, if you want to” and I’m like “No, I’m not interested.” I’ve never been interested in an equity plan because I need cash to survive like I need you to put your money in my bank account.
Jayneil: Yeah. So, would you miss out on any of the unicorns in that?
MDS: No, not at all.
MDS: And I think I’ve been kind of in an interesting spot because … I mean, I’ve worked for some startups that are based in either New York or San Francisco but I’m in Georgia just outside of Atlanta in this town called Athens and I will get referred to these random companies in Atlanta that no one's ever heard of but they do have good budget, they do have interesting problems they're trying to solve. And so, I’ve worked on a lot of things that no one's ever heard of but they're working in a specific sector like Transportation Logistics Management. I’m like “Okay, that sounds kind of fun.” I think that there was no like Y Combinator or … I think if I would have been in San Francisco, that might have been a different story. If my wife and I hadn't have started having kids so young and we moved to the west coast or whatever but it's like I’m living a very real life right now with kids and a lot of needs.
Jayneil: Dude, I can't even imagine the pressure you have. You got to put food not just for you but for six people including yourself and. Does that faze you out sometimes?
MDS: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. I’ve definitely had like freak-out moments where it's like “Oh my gosh!” like hyperventilating “I spent too much time on this personal project. I didn't have enough client income.” And so, there's a whole other topic that you could dive into with like personal finance and budgeting which I’d be happy to get into but I do think that that specifically has helped me a lot and my wife and I kind of made a commitment back in 2007 or so, we were just going to get on this like debt payment plan and just get completely debt free minus our house, and we actually made that happen in 2009, I think, or so. And then we just got really, really strategic about saving three to six months expenses and that alone gives you an incredible amount of relief and also bargaining power or negotiation power. If I’m going to take on a new project and I’m completely broke, I don't have the luxury of saying “Oh no, no, no, my rate is this. You'll pay me this or I’m going to walk away.” I mean, I’ve never been … I’m not rude about stuff like that but …
Jayneil: Did you ever walk away?
MDS: I mean, definitely, I’ve lost tons of projects because I quoted too high like tons. I think there was a time period when I was probably losing nine projects for every 10 that I quoted. I went on this path in like 2008-2010 when I really started freelancing and getting clients where I’m just kind of experimenting with this value ladder where it's like “I wonder what they'll say if I say 75 dollars an hour. I wonder what they'll say if I say 100 dollars an hour on this next project.” And then, eventually, I’m like “What if it's just a flat rate and I don't want to commit to a certain amount of hours.” I’m always experimenting with different ways to provide value. And as you get better also, the hourly rate starts to kind of break down and both people kind of get penalized in a way like if I’m fast and efficient, I’m penalized. If I’m slow, then the client is penalized. So, yeah, as I’m experimenting, I’m more likely to experiment at a greater scale when I know that I can still pay my bills if the client says no.
Jayneil: So, why not work at an agency or a company and just get a steady paycheck? What's driving you to still do freelance?
MDS: So, this was the existential question of mine for probably two or three years, probably in the height of, I don't know, 2010 to 2012, maybe even like 2010 to 2015 even. I was constantly “Should I do this? Should I do that?” I would contract at an agency and then their creative director was like “Hey, what do you think about coming on full time with us?” And I’m always like “I don't know” because I just always had these little side projects and these other things that I wanted to do. And funny enough, I’ve actually never had a full-time job. And even when I was first starting out, I had what seemed like a full-time job but I was actually a contractor. I didn't have any benefits or anything. I was getting paid hourly and I had to pay all my own taxes, didn't have any insurance or whatnot. And so, I don't know, over the years I became a little bit more self-sufficient and I enjoyed doing a project with a company and then moving on to something else and doing another one. And there were definitely times when I thought about working full-time but I knew in my heart that I imagined like standing on this hill and like [inaudible] the flag for the company. I want to be like 100% sold out for whatever I’m doing. I just couldn't imagine myself doing that for any company. I might enjoy working with that team or that person but I couldn't imagine myself being the head cheerleader for that company and I want to be like sold out and committed and be that head cheerleader person for whatever I’m working on. And anytime I ever really push myself to make that decision, I’m like “I have too many things that I want to do personally” but again, and I understand that it is definitely a privilege to be able to make that decision, but it's also on the tail end of years and years and years of freelancing at night and working a day contract that was absolutely the worst. I used to design these catalogs for this chemistry lab supply company like HPLC Column, things that you would find in a chemistry lab. I designed 32-page catalogs for that stuff. I had no idea what it was and the guys were like “Why do you have the [inaudible] columns beside the TPP [inaudible].” And I’m like “I don’t know what any of this is. I’m just …” I did so many things like that that no one ever has known about and just grinding, grinding, grinding. And so, when I finally had some little snippet of success and then I could choose to keep doing freelance work or work for a company, I just felt like I owed it to myself to keep pushing beyond where I had already come so far. I actually kind of hate the phrase “It's just in my DNA” but I truly believe that it just feels like it's part of who I am.
Jayneil: And to your point what you mentioned, this guy Naval Ravikant that I follow, he's an angel investor and he was like “You are never going to get rich if you trade your time for money.” So, the idea that you can make a course which you already are doing and it can earn you passive income, that just blows my mind. Would you ever consider yourself just going full time on just producing these courses if it ever gets to that point?
MDS: Yeah, I would 100%. Absolutely.
Jayneil: What would you with freelancing?
MDS: I’m kind of tired of freelancing right now, to be honest. And I haven't done a client project … Well, I’ll take that back. I did a small one for a former client a couple months ago but I did a big freelance project about a year ago, about a year and a month ago, maybe 13 months, and that was big enough to kind of put some runway in front of me so I could really focus on my course. And I did a beta launch of Shift Nudge in December and, to my surprise, was able to sell out all of the seats that I opened up. And I was planning to do a public launch either this month or last month but 2020 is what it is and I didn't feel comfortable promoting a brand-new public course – “I know that the country just went into national pandemic emergency but here's my course. Check it out.” And so, I decided to hold off on all that and that was back in March or so. And so, I decided to privately launch another round of beta invites to people who had slowly but surely kind of built up on the waiting page list. And I just wanted to test the waters to see are people still going to be interested in this during the middle of a pandemic. And to my surprise, I had another batch of people that I opened up a limited number of spots and they all sold out and I’m like “Okay. Well, maybe there's something here.”
Jayneil: So, they're trying it out for free or …”
MDS: It was a paid beta, yeah.
Jayneil: Oh, I see.
MDS: Yeah, the paid beta was 997 dollars one-time payment or six payments of 199.
Jayneil: And what is Shift Nudge in your own words?
MDS: Shift Nudge, it's currently an interface design course to learn the visual side of interface design, whether you're starting out or you're kind of mid-level and you want to get to that next senior type level or maybe you are a bit of a senior but you haven't been designing as much and you've gotten a little rusty and you want to kind of polish off your skills, specifically with like typography, layout, color, style, imagery things like that, definitely through the lens of user experience and making a good product but really, really focusing on line height and kerning and font selection and things like that, those little tiny details that really make design come alive.
Jayneil: Things that took you 15 plus years to get at.
MDS: Yeah, exactly.
Jayneil: Now, you [inaudible] on course.
MDS: In the future, I would love to, this was kind of my plan even before I released Shift Nudge, was to create, because I’ve always been Studio MDS. That's like my company name. It's my initials. I both kind of love it and hate it because it's just me, I always kind of struggled between “Should this be like a big brand or should it be like a personal brand?” And that was a big struggle for me early on. And then I realized just way more comfortable for me to just be me and MDS, somehow, I got lucky and got those handles on social media.
Jayneil: Oh my God!
MDS: And so, I was just like “Well, it's the name of my company but it's also me and when people hire “Studio MDS”, they're actually hiring me. And so, I just kind of went with it but for the course stuff, of course, people still associate the course with the person that is teaching and the person that's producing it but I wanted to create some kind of family of a new brand that the courses could live under. And so, for me, I think Shift Nudge is going to be that new brand. Right now, it's an interface design course but I think eventually I will put my other products underneath that umbrella and say “Here's the Shift Nudge Interface Design Course,” maybe “Here's the Shift Nudge Product Design Course,” “Here's the Shift Nudge Contrast Color Checker,” “Here's the Shift Nudge Flowkit,” kind of thing like that. So, it'll take a while for me to get there but I think that's kind of how I’m viewing that now like any design resource would fall under that umbrella.
Jayneil: I think I was doing some math in my head. I hope my math is good. My mom is going to be so mad, “Our Indian son is not good at math.” So, assuming that you had probably about 100 people sign up for the private beta 997. So, right there, we were talking about the math, it's close to 90,000, if I’m not mistaken, or 100,000.
MDS: Yeah, absolutely.
Jayneil: Depending on the work you're putting in, do you have a realistic target in mind like what would the course would want to hit revenue wise? Do you set targets or is it like “Let's just see where this goes?”
MDS: I mean, I definitely will have just like “Oh, it would be nice if I could …” Early on, I remember when I got ready to do the beta, I’m like “Okay, I’m going to cap it at 100 spots.” Number one, the beta students, actually they're in a Slack channel, they post homework and I give a video review of every single design homework that gets posted. So, I record a video …
Jayneil: For all the 100 people? Oh my God!
MDS: For every single person in beta. So, it's a lot of time also. It's not just like “Hey, here's the course. Go have fun. Right now, during the beta, every single student that starts designing and producing their homework, because every lesson has a homework assignment and it's like “Okay. Now, I want you to design this and really focus on font size. Here are the things I want you to think about.” During the two beta phases, I’ve recorded probably over 500 student review videos.
Jayneil: And how many lessons you got? I mean, for each lesson you got a homework. So, how many lessons you got?
MDS: There are eight modules in total and every module has roughly 10 or so lessons.
Jayneil: So, 80 lessons.
MDS: So, 80 plus lessons. Not every single one has a homework assignment but there's at least 60 to 70.
Jayneil: Oh my God! So, for one student, if you count 50 lessons that they submit, you got to make 50 video reviews for one student. Oh my God! So, how does that scale?
MDS: Scaling, just working on it every day. That's how I was scaling.
Jayneil: Oh my God!
MDS: Tough. And that's a big reason why I haven't fully finished the entire course is because I spent the first two or three weeks every single day just doing nothing but recording student critique videos. And so, now, I’ve gotten seven of the eight modules are completely recorded, close to 30 hours of editing and I’ve got these last 10 videos. I was actually really hoping to have these done by our … I kind of set a deadline “Okay, before the podcast, I’m going to have these last 10 videos done.” I’ve got everything pretty much prepped and it'll take me another week or so. I think I’m going to be able to go with a public launch in August or so. It feels weird to launch in July and I hope that there's not … If something is crazy happening in August, I might have to reevaluate what goes on. I know that I can't keep up the way that I’m treating the beta students. I can't do that for the public version. So, I’m going to create a couple different packages. And the thing that the beta students are getting right now is going to be three times more expensive when I launch it. And I’ll reduce the amount of people that I allow to do that. And if nobody wants to do it, then fine, because it's a lot.
Jayneil: Did you ever do like a cost analysis of how much time you put into this in building the course and how much money of your own, meaning equipment and all this stuff?
MDS: Not really. I mean, I have a general idea. I could go back and look at all my Amazon or B&H photo receipts, camera equipment. I’ve been working on this specific course for probably the last year and a half. I was actually planning on launching it last year at this time but we were moving and we started renovating this house and we were bulging at the seams with all of our kids in our previous home. And my wife and I were going to spend a lot of money and we were getting a big construction loan and doing all this renovation and I had this really big opportunity come up with GoDaddy to work on one of their projects and they basically wanted me to kind of take this project and run with it and it was just something I couldn't pass up at the time and it just took up so much of my time. And so, I’ve had big projects like that that will pop up over the last year and a half or so. It's hard to say like “Okay. Well, I spent 20 hours working on this outline of the curriculum for the course and then I did this.” I feel like I would waste time and effort trying to figure out the numbers on every little detail. And so, now, at this point, I’m just like … Thankfully, my wife does. She's like … I call her my stay-at-home CFO. She does our bookkeeping. She does our cash flow forecasting. We've got this big spreadsheet for personal budget, for our business and she's got everything. She set up my salary. So, I get to pay the salary for my company and she is like the mastermind. I would absolutely not be able to do any of this.
Jayneil: “Honey, I need more pay. I need a pay raise.”
MDS: Yeah, my pay … The numbers, actually, if you think about “Oh, 100 people bought a 1000-dollar course,” taxes are a real big. Go ahead and count 30% of that going to the IRS. It's not like you necessarily hit the lottery and you can just do whatever you want.
Jayneil: Keep all of that. Oh, I see.
MDS: Yeah, exactly. So, I mean, there's tons of costs and things that go into it. So, it's easy to think about the numbers and think “Oh man, amazing. I wish I had …” Actually, I’d probably make more money right now if I was working for a startup somewhere with a full-time salary, they're paying benefits. Our health insurance for our family, until we switched recently, we were paying close to 2000 dollars a month for just health insurance for our family.
Jayneil: There's 24,000 dollars right there.
MDS: Yeah, it's crazy. And that doesn't even include the taxes that come out of the things that you make. It's quite challenging if you're filing as a sole proprietor or an LLC. Taxes, at least for me in Georgia and the US, it's definitely a big ding that you have to account for but I still think that at the end of the day, I can get to a place where we are doing better and we have more control, my salary so to speak will be distributed amongst hundreds of students, not necessarily one company, that has to lay off 1000 people because there's a pandemic and nobody's using their service anymore.
Jayneil: True. Before you decided to start filming the courses for Shift Nudge and go ahead with it, did you actually put up some kind of landing page or beta test that “Hey, if I go ahead with this idea, how many people are going to buy it?”
MDS: I’ve had an email list building and growing slowly for the last five or six years, whether it's people downloading free files or signing up for a free course. So, I actually sent out a questionnaire like a type form thing and I just said “Here's like three or four courses that I’m thinking about producing. Would you mind responding to this? Let me know what you're most excited about?” And the Interface Design course was the majority vote. It was probably 35% to 40% of people's vote followed by, a close second was Product Design course, in the beginning to end full product but people were interested in the tiny details of interface. So, I was like “Okay. Well, I’ll do that one first.”
Jayneil: And how many people voted?
MDS: I’d have to check. I can't remember if it was …
Jayneil: Like more than 100 or …
MDS: Yeah, 250 to 500, something along that range. I think I sent the email to about 10,000 to 12,000 people.
MDS: And then I also had a question there like “Would you buy this course?” and I can't remember if I put a price on the questionnaire but I definitely did a little bit of research before I just dove in because I have dove in plenty of time at first and swam deeply without taking a big breath. And so, you will learn very, very quickly. And research can be such a daunting task or word or thought process. It's really just asking someone a question. It's like “Hey, would you rather eat a hamburger or would you eat chicken?” It's like “Oh okay, I’m not going to spend all my time making chicken if you want a hamburger.
Jayneil: What if I’m not a Twitter celebrity like you and don't have 20,000 followers or even that big of a mailing list?
MDS: Honestly, it's a good question, but you know what, when I signed up for Twitter, I had zero followers. When I started my email list, I had zero subscribers. And so, the only way I ever … and it still feels weird because I don't feel any different right now than I did when I had 100 followers but every time I have launched a product or I’ve done something “cool” online, that is typically what boosts your follower account. And so, if I can focus, as I have focused more on providing value, you kind of intrinsically see that return from the general people. In 2013, for example, I designed a little like float label input field thing just because I had given myself this constraint and I really wanted to make this cool animation and then all of a sudden, in a span of a couple of weeks, Brad Frost and Chris Coyer from CSS Tricks, all these people are blogging about the float label thing and it kind of like blew up. And that was the first time I had like a big wave of attention, I guess. And so, then I created these like wireframing kits and I gave them away for free in exchange for an email. And people found them valuable. So, they got on my email list and just slowly but surely. You were talking earlier about “10 years ago to now, oh, you're ripped.” That first push-up. Stop! I couldn't do any pull-ups. In 2010, I could not do a pull-up. And so, now, I’m hanging 60 pounds from my waist and doing pull-ups. It takes a while to get. My dad used to always say like “You got to pay your dues. You got to pay your dues” because I would have like crappy jobs and working in the sun and doing manual labor. I kept just like got tired of hearing that but the more I think back on it, it's really just a matter of getting to work, putting in the reps and making sure you're going in the right direction.
Jayneil: Man, I’m just a huge fan of your growth mindset. In one of your articles, I was reading that you're taking one of your sons to drop him off to school and he wanted to try this new hairstyle and then he was nervous about the hairstyle like how people are going to judge him. What did you tell him in the car? Did he keep the hairstyle? What did you tell him about growth mindset in that conversation?
MDS: I remember writing that article by actually drawing a blank for what actually happened. I believe that, if I recall correctly, he messed it up and put it back up before he went in.
Jayneil: And he was were worried about people judging him.
MDS: Yeah. And I didn't want to make him feel bad for that but I also wanted him to … I’m always telling my kids, a good example is right now my six-year-old cannot unbuckle his helmet, his fingers are not strong enough to unbuckle the bike helmet. And I’m like “Buddy, you can do this all. You got to do is keep squeezing like keep trying. It's not you can't do it. It's you can't do it right now. You can't do it yet but just keep practicing.” Same thing with like the seat belt, “I can't. My fingers are too small to push seat belt buckle. I can't get it off.” And so, I don't know I’m constantly trying to give my kids and teach them this perspective you can do whatever you want to do the same way that I learned that I could rip the dash out of my Mazda and put it back in with a brand new CD player like they can rip the dashboard out of life and put it back together however they want. And if anything else, I want them to know that they can carve their own path and they don't have to do things the way the world tells them to do it. So, I think that whatever I told my son about his hairstyle, it was probably something along those lines, but mostly … A lot of times I didn't want to hear what my dad said. So, I’m hoping when they come to those crossroads in life later, they can remember like “Oh yeah, I remember my dad used to say that.”
Jayneil: Wow! I want to shift gears a little bit. Walk me through your process when you're actually designing a module for Shift Nudge all the way from … do you start with conceptualizing the storyboard or what you're going to say from recording? How does that one module go?
MDS: So, I have taken lots of different approaches to this and I first started just having a general idea about what I wanted to cover in the video. And then I would just hit record and then I would make this long boring 45-minute to an hour-long video. And then I would spend eight hours editing it down into a watchable 25 minutes, 30 minutes. And then I’m like “Okay, that is a bad approach.” So, now, I do a little bit of … some videos, I will highly script but it's difficult to script an actual design video where you're moving shapes around. And so, I kind of take this hybrid approach now where once I’ve got the full course outline, first I get the outline for everything and then individual lessons, I developed this little bit of a framework that kind of helps me. So, for every lesson, I make sure that I cover why and then what and then how and then I assign homework. And so, if I’m following this like why-what-how-homework, my intro is usually like “Why it's important” and then “What it is.”
Jayneil: Show us some examples.
MDS: And then I can dive into the how. And usually, the more prep work I can do, probably similar for your podcast interviews, the more prep work you can do, the better results are going to be. If you just kind of go into it blindly, you're like “Oh my gosh, it's a little bit more of a …” I was like “I do not want to wing it, absolutely not.” Some people do it. I’m like “No.” And I think there is something to be said for freeform conversation or freeform videos and I try to leave room for that in my lesson videos because sometimes you do have an epiphany in the middle of explaining something and I take a break from the screen and I look directly at the camera and I’m like “Oh and here's something you definitely don't want to forget.” And then I have this three-minute diatribe of something really profound and I’m like “Yes!” And so, I like to leave a little bit of room when the spirit strikes to let that come out. So, typically, I’ll have a somewhat scripted intro and I’ll have all of my abs pulled up. Sometimes I design things ahead of time and then I’ll redesign them on the video. Sometimes I’ll just design them live and then I’ll try to just make it. I’m still experimenting, honestly, with the best technique.
Jayneil: I like the blooper reels personally when your wife interrupted you or your kids are coming in. You just made it personable.
MDS: We're all at home, recording stuff from home and I had to basically set up my kids in two separate rooms with a movie on. I’m like “I’m about to be on a podcast. I need to just stay in there. Do not come out. Just watch this show.” I mean, it's like literally at any moment they could bust through the door but I think I’ve got it under control right now. I’m like “I can't come out and tell you to be quiet because I’m recording right now.”
Jayneil: Oh my God, man. I got to be honest, man. Hearing you, just talking with you is like therapy. I want to someday launch my own course. I haven't thought too much but one thing I was asking myself was like “Jayneil, what is it that you're good at?” I don't think I’m nowhere near the level of a designer that you are, to be honest, but one thing I think I feel confident about is networking or getting access to people that are hard to read. So, just how to network with people and how they can translate to jobs.
MDS:You can do a master class on how to cold email someone. Your email to me was amazing. I mean, it hit all the points. It was short and sweet and it was great. Not a lot of people know how to do that.
Jayneil: Well, thanks, man. I thought actually in the same lines of doing that but then I was like “Well, Matt, has got all …” I’m just being honest with you. I thought about it and I saw your gear and I’m like “Man, I don't even have shit like that. I don't have a 4K camera. I don't have all that.” So, then, part of my brain was just going into that like “Should I get that kind of gear?” or “Who am I to be doing this kind of course if I don't have a gear like him?” So, it was just kind of that whole “Maybe I don’t have the same kind of device.”
MDS:I have been in that hole many times and I’m still in a lot of ways like. I think the number one thing that will stop you from doing something like that is going to be your own thoughts and your own negative and like “Oh, this is stupid. Nobody's going to watch this. Everybody knows how to letter space typography” like “Everybody knows line height. I mean, come on. What am I even teaching here?” And so, the longer you ruminate on whether or not you should do it or not, the more likely you're going to talk yourself out of it. And another reason why I was … I have done a paid course before where I did the beta version for free and got feedback and then I launched the public version and it was okay. I mean, it did okay. This was back in 2015 but I wanted to know quickly are people going to pay for this or not. A lot of people will tell you like “Oh yeah, put up a landing page and try to sell it right away.” And you could definitely do that. I’m a little bit scared to do that because I don't want to pre-selling things that don't exist. It almost feels like ingenuine to me personally. I don't think it’s a bad practice necessarily fundamentally but, for me, I like to have something tangible to offer even if it's like the first three videos, whatever. And so, I do know the quicker the rubber can hit the road, the better. Once you start talking to someone who's trying to learn about the thing you're trying to teach them, all of a sudden camera gear doesn't matter, lights don't matter. It's just “How can I teach you how to get from point A to point B as quickly and safely as possible?” And if you're well lit, great. If you're not, I don't care. Just teach me how to … I mean, even now, I still struggle with that. I’m like “Man, this Sony ZV1 looks amazing. I need that.” I have a great 4K camera already but I’m just like “I need to get that ZV1” like “Oh, I got a Rode pro-caster. I should probably get the [inaudible] SMB whatever. I need the new aperture, 300D. It's way brighter.” It's like that will never stop and I have to remind myself I’m the type of person that can easily fiddle with camera settings and lights and cables for like a day before I record a video and then I’m just like “What the heck did I even do?” I just fiddled with technology all day long, hardware, tweaking settings. And then once you finally just kind of commit like “Okay, you know what, screw it. We're hitting record. We're getting it done.” So, it's easy for me to try to get everything perfect. I think you know what you're saying too, I mean, that's exactly the same thought process that I had for every single course that I’ve ever produced but quite honestly, the first course I made back in 2014 or 2015, it was called AI/UX and I was teaching systematic UX design for the responsive web with Adobe Illustrator like the most random like very niche of course. And I used my Max webcam, no extra lighting. It was basically the camera was pointing straight up my nostrils and I had a 150-dollar microphone set up which is actually a pretty good mic, looking back. No mixer, no preamp. It will just plug straight into my computer. I bought a microphone and a stand for like 100-200 bucks and just recorded the course with Screenflow. That's the only software I used. And when I launched it, that course made 30,000 dollars a month.
Jayneil: Holy shit!
MDS:I did not sustain that. That was almost like a one-hit wonder. I tried to launch it again. It was like a little bit less and then, of course, Sketch became incredibly popular right when I launched that and I’m like “Okay, I need to figure out a way not to make my courses tied directly to software that gets changed every five seconds.” That's another big thing that I tried to focus on with Shift Nudge too. It's like software agnostic. I do advocate for people using Figma if they haven't used InVision but I’m also using like Framer files, Sketch files and I’m teaching things in a way that's more design focused, not design tool focused.
Jayneil: Damn, man! You just like helped me get rid of some of the self-doubt just listening to you do that. You also made a free course with InVision on the Switch 2 Studio. I always wondered because you worked with Stephen Olmstead, he was my first guest and I released that episode. Why did you do that for free? I mean, you could have made it a paid course. And how did that come about?
MDS:I can answer this so quickly for you. Because they paid me to do it.
MDS:They have a Design Forward Fund. And this was like right as Studio was launching and it was like tons of hype and I was super excited about the idea of InVision studio and I was like “Man, I want to do this.” So, I actually signed up on the website and kind of pitched doing a course for them through their form on their website. And then it was only after they started considering it when Stephen actually pulled some strings for me internally to kind of get it approved but I basically just came up with a proposal and I said “It would cost this much money for me to do this type of course, this many lessons” and there was a lot of back and forth. They were thinking about scaling it way down and then they were like “You know what, you know, we're going to go for it. We'll do this.” So, that was the whole idea was that they were going to set aside a small budget for me personally and they'll just pay me to produce this. And the value for both of us on the back end would be whoever wants to download these files that I’m working through, we'll collect emails and the emails will go to InVision and for me. So, that's kind of the gist of that particular course. I think when I’m thinking about courses now … I’ve got another free course Intro to Icons and I really made it specifically as a lead generator like “I want to provide an immense amount of value in it for you getting on my email list so that later if I have something premium that I think is valuable, I can let you know about it.” And so, that's kind of the idea with some of the smaller stuff. I do think that both the Studio course and the Intro to Icons course could very easily be a paid course and probably do pretty decently but they are also like smaller topics. And another quote from … Actually, I don't know if this was him or not, this was definitely somebody different, I can't remember who said it but it was something along the lines of “It's going to take you the same amount of time and effort to market a 29-dollar product as it will a 2900-dollar product.” The same time and energy are going to go into pushing it to market, talking about it, promoting it. And so, when I first launched Flowkit, it was 29 dollars. I almost didn't even make a website for it. I was just going to put it up on Gumroad or something and link to that directly. And I spent a ton of time working on the website. And within a week or two, Shift Nudge just blew Flowkit out of the water in terms of just revenue. And it's true and it kind of goes back to that “Do you want to spend six months building a 99-cent iOS app or a couple of weekends building a 49-dollar WordPress plug-in?” Again, as someone who's like hyper aware of needing income, I’m going to have to find those places that provide that more immediate return.
Jayneil: I'm just thinking about all the dope advice you've given me so far. To your point, you said, yeah, I could put up a beta landing page like “Sign up for this course” and pre-sell it. I think, for me, apart from the feeling of ingenuity like “Oh, I don't have anything ready,” I also feel like there's a pressure then. Let's say I’ve got maybe 100 people that sign up. So, now I’ve got to now actually go and produce. So, that means that I don't get the creative freedom to work on it like the way you've done like you spend eight hours editing one episode. So, maybe one thought I had was “You know what, screw it. I’m just going to push this course out whether people like it or not. I just want to make it for myself” and then, to your point, provide some value like why you should even give me your email.
MDS: That's a definitely a big reason. I don't want to pre-sell something and then feel like I’m under the gun. I mean, I kind of did half and half because there are people who have reached out to me, at least half a dozen people and they're like “Hey, when are those last modules coming? Where are those last modules coming?” and I’m like “I’m working on it, man. I’m sorry.” And so, there is some pressure and I feel that but I feel like there's got to be some kind of good balance because the first course I did, I think if I would have really just started asking some questions … But, again, I don't know, a lot of people will say like “Oh, don't …” I remember I was kind of a part of this mastermind group last year and I was talking about Shift Nudge and how I released and they were like “Well, how did you send out the question to your audience asking about?” and I was like “Oh, well, I gave them four options about these four different courses.” And there was one guy that said “Oh, you shouldn't do that. You should let the audience tell you what they want.” I think that can be good advice but everything is so contextual, it's like “Here are the four things, first of all, that I want to provide you as knowledge and things that I can feel confident.” If I’m teaching you the skills, the tactical skills that I’ve been using on a daily basis for the last 15 years, I don't need you to tell me “Oh, I don't want to learn UI design. I want to learn only prototyping.” I can guarantee you prototyping is not going to help you if you don't know all this other stuff. And so, I think there's a fine line between like college students don't tell the professor what they want to learn. You know what I mean? I’m also not trying to be like snarky or anything. I think there is value in saying like “Hey, if I could teach anything, what would it be?” And if somebody said “Oh, video editing,” maybe I should do a course on video editing but at the end of the day, I think, if you feel strongly about it and it's kind of … I would recommend don't spend a year on it before you try to make money on it but put something together in six weeks, even a landing page. I did put up a landing page with an email collection. I don't think there's anything wrong with saying “Hey, I’m going to be working on this. If you want to get notified when I launch.” It’s another good way to see if people are interested but I will say there is so much pressure. I remember like trembling when I’m going to hit the publisher or the morning of the launch for the beta. You almost don't want to come to face with that reality. You don't want to know if it's going to fail. You kind of want this “Oh yeah, this would be [inaudible].” It's more fun to imagine what you would do if you won the lottery versus putting something out there and putting your name on line and then asking people to pay a thousand dollars for it. it's like “Gosh, am I going to get dragged on the internet like are people going to like …” I mean, it's a very emotional experience and the more you delay it, the worse it gets. And I’ve definitely learned that the hard way. And so, now, I will launch this public version of Shift Nudge with extreme confidence because I have had paying customers that are giving real feedback. It's not like a free user that's just like “Oh, maybe you could do this.” It's like “No, these people are invested in this project and I’m invested in them and I am 100% committed to providing absolute quality material, quality feedback because I want them to produce quality designs.” And so, now, I’ve tested the majority of all of this content and I’ve seen their designs improve and they've told me like “This is the best course I’ve ever taken, oh my gosh!” There's still those doubt. I mean, even now, I can still feel the anxiety rising up a little bit but if I remind myself “You know what, in December, you sold out, in March you sold out.” There's been one person, one person that was specifically like “The content's not as good as I thought it was going to be and this is a little bit different.” So, I don't mind giving a refund if it's not going to help you out. I want to provide value and if you're not getting value then, no problem, here's your money back but anytime those anxieties kind of start coming up, I’m just reminding myself like “People bought this and people are telling you that it's valuable and they enjoy it” and several of them, there's been people that said like “I learned more in two weeks than I have in the last like two months trying to do this on my own or the last year doing this on my own.” And so, I’m like “Okay, this is a big confidence booster and this will totally help me push this to the finish line.”
Jayneil: Matt, oh my God, dude. You are really godsend. Just talking with you has given me so much inspiration. And thank you so much, man, for coming on the show. It means a lot to me that I was able to get a guest like you to come on the show.
MDS: Man, it's been awesome. I just kind of had this feeling seriously like when you reached out and you made a video like “Here's a three minute video on why you should be on the show,” it was great and I don't know, you just kind of have a gut feeling sometimes and you got to go for it.
Jayneil: How can people find you or find more about your course?
MDS: They can go to ShiftNudge.com or they can go to MDS.is.
Jayneil: Thank you so much, Matt.
MDS: My pleasure
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