How Russ Perry grew a multiple 6 figure business in 106 days

Kyle’s note: Russ Perry has built a great businesses with recurring revenue and a big added value to his customers. Russ uses the same strategies that helped WP Curve grow in its early stages. This is a great case study for anyone looking to build a business with a recurring revenue model. Over to Russ:

Entrepreneurs love to talk about their successes but very rarely do you hear about the failures that preceded them. Last year, on September 1st, 2014 I was unemployed. No income. No business. Nothing. My decade long career owning a very successful international branding agency ended in less than ten days over Skype and a handful of emails with my now former partner. I had failed as an entrepreneur with a wife and two daughters waiting at home to hear the news.

As I write this article, my new startup, Design Pickle, just signed our 100th active client and is at $20k per month in recurring revenue. To get here was an interesting journey of personal exploration and head down execution.

 Design Pickle Icon Infusionsoft

This post will reveal my process of going from fear to focus in hopes that my experience can help you navigate the murky and often uncertain waters of entrepreneurship. 

Get clear and stable

To say goodbye to your first business after 10 years of blood, sweat and tears is gut-wrenching. I was heartbroken, unemployed and worst of all had slipped deep into a scarcity mindset. As the Economist explains, a scarcity mindset “shortens a person’s horizons and narrows his perspective, creating a dangerous tunnel vision”. I had dozens of business ideas flowing through my head but was only thinking about short-term cash flow.

The Simple Dollar talks about 8 ways to switch from a scarcity to abundance. For me to make any clear decisions I had to make the mental shift.

Journaling was my first step. Using my trusty Evernote Moleskine, I bunkered down at my local coffee shop and dumped every idea and possibility onto the blank sheets. It turns out that the act of writing has scientific benefits. When you’re writing you’re using your left brain – the part responsible for rational thinking. This frees up your right brain to create and feel, removing potential mental blocks. 

Out of this exercise was overwhelming relief. While I didn’t come to any major conclusions, the ideas were out of my head and I realized that I didn’t have to make any decisions right now. The abundance mindset showed me there was plenty of time to make long-term plans.

Thankfully I had a few consulting opportunities available that created a stable financial base for me to operate on. Consulting is the best employment option for people in states of transitions. You’re able to set your own schedule and rates, maximizing your freedom while you create your long-term plans.

Consulting is the best employment option for people in states of transitions. (CLICK TO TWEET)

Hire a business coach 

My next step was to bring on a professional coach. Outside perspective is a magical thing if you’re open to the process. Be warned though, there are no easy answers. The main goal of a professional coach is to continue to challenge and evolve your mindset. The Guardian defines a great coach as “someone who has a good understanding of your business, ideally with experience in your sector, and who you feel you can trust.” I reached out to the prolific Taylor Pearson after following his writing on a private entrepreneur forum I belong to. We kicked off a coaching engagement and out of the gates I was tasked with two pieces of homework:

  1. Read part 1 & 2 of Ray Dalio’s Principles (Free PDF).
  2. Create a three year vision and list of decision filters 

Ray Dalio is founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of the most successful investment firms in the world. He believes we must operate from individual principles, or values, that govern all decisions. Reading his work was profound and allowed me to realize that before any decision was made I needed a stronger operational foundation. 

The second part of the homework was simple, but equally valuable. Pearson asked me to answer the question: Three years from now where will I have to be personally and professionally in order to be satisfied with my progress?

Answers included:

  • One more (and final) son or daughter
  • Be professionally focused around my strengths
  • Dream home purchased
  • 2+ months a year abroad
  • Summer in Japan
  • Summer in Italy
  • Mission trip with my family
  • Regular paid speaker

 Having a vision of our future allows us to be aware of the steps we need to take to get there. The most successful leaders of our generation consistently maintained a clear vision. Part of my fear was rooted in not knowing what lied ahead and this simple exercise painted a clear vision.

Now it was time for me to create my decision filter. In the book Stand Back and Deliver the authors share how decision filters create alignment with vision. A decision filter is a straightforward and objective way to check if the decisions you are making, in life or business, are in alignment with your long-term goals. They must be simple and concrete.

Here’s my exact list:

  • Recurring income component (selling a software/platform)
  • High value consulting components (builds my brand)
  • Able to be executed remotely
  • Virtualized teams for support on implementation
  • A niche where I can be an expert

After creating these filters, I had a clear idea of where I was going and the core principles of my next business. Whenever an idea popped into my mind, I ran it through these filters and weighed it against my three year vision. Rather than feel anxious that I would be missing out on a great opportunity, this process allowed the thought to simply melt away.

With no viable entrepreneurial ideas in sight I decided it was time to step back and just exist. Consulting was going well with my outsourced creative team and my decision filters were quickly cracking down on random business ideas that surfaced to my consciousness. 

That’s when I met Dan Norris. 

Pulling it all together

The week before Christmas I stumbled across Dan’s book the 7 Day Startup. Page by page I realized my consulting shared the core DNA as WPCurve’s business model. The similarities extended to the fact that we both used outsourced teams, were technology-driven and held a narrow focus on a broad service. Ideas were firing on all cylinders and the time came to measure it against my decision filters: 

  • Would I be selling a software or platform? Yes!
  • Could this idea build my brand? Yes!
  • Is it able to be executed remotely? Yes!
  • Do I have virtualized teams for support on implementation? Absolutely!
  • There is a niche I can be an expert in? You bet! 

It was decided. On December 26th, 2014 I begun work on the WPCurve for graphic design – a flat rate subscription delivering unlimited graphic design help. To niche down we decided to focus only on small and clear creative requests. Complicated projects like branding or website design would be left up to traditional service providers.

This put us in direct competition with the marketplaces like 99Designs or Fiverr. I knew we wouldn’t be able to compete directly on price so instead we wanted to deliver a simple process and consistently great customer service experience. Plotted against all options for creative content this is where we wanted to land:

Design Pickle Compare

As for pricing, I did zero research. Instead I asked myself, “what seems fair?” and $195 per month came to mind. That price actually seemed ridiculously low but seemed to pencil out in my financial models. The average freelance designer bills $71 an hour so if using Design Pickle saved a client at least three hours a month we’d be very competitive.

Build a memorable brand, fast

Lacking a large and persuasive marketing budget, I wanted to develop a friendly and memorable brand. The Harvard Business Review discussed why we have greater trust for emotional brands. Turns out by creating a personality you gain an emotional dimension the human brain can easily identify with and trust. Seeing our model might seem a bit outrageous, building a friendly and trustworthy brand for the company would be key.

I love pickles and DesignPickle.com was available. Case closed. We had our company name. Next up was a logo. I took out my green felt-tip pen made two attempts at a pickle, the second was validated by my three year-old daughter when she exclaimed with a smile, “it’s a pickle!”

Design Pickle Logo

All in all, my website cost me $88.82: 

  • $41.83 for a year of WordPress hosting from Name.com
  • $10.99 for the domain name from Name.com
  • $36 for the WordPress theme from Themeforest.net

Pulling from the content of 7 Day Startup – I kept our message simple and looked at other sites for inspiration. Within 72 hours we had a name, logo and website. 

3 keys to early Design Pickle success

I won’t go into the details of my launch strategy, if you are interested check out my post titled Try a Bunch of Stuff™: A Hacked Together Product Launch Guide. In short, I focused on guest blogging and email marketing for launch. You could tell my blog posts were a bit all over the place, but the first key to success was simple: Have a plan.

Eventually, we gained momentum and climbed from $0 to over $6K in MRR in one week. Not a bad start! This leads us to our second key to success: hustle your pickles off.

Paul Graham wrote the seminal article Do Things That Don’t Scale and talks about everything we should be doing as founders that may not work long-term but are critical to early success. Doing things manually is one of these tenants. Most of my time during launch was spent emailing new prospects, writing a dozen guest blogs, compiling contact lists of everyone I’ve touched over the last decade and beating the drum every single day.

“Every day I’m hustlin” – Rick Ross (CLICK TO TWEET)

Most startups lack hustle when it comes to anything but the product itself. The hustle got us from 1 to 100.

Rick Ross Hustle

Finally, the third key is build to scale. I built Design Pickle asking myself with every decision, “How would this be different if I was 100 times bigger?” The result was amazing. The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber has a similar approach that encourages you to build your business as if you were going to franchise.

Out of this process we built a company manual in Evernote so no process or system was locked away in my head. This allows anyone to learn how the pickles are made really fast.

Design Pickle Manual

We implemented marketing automation with Facebook Custom Audiences and Infusionsoft so our sales system could be automated. I wanted to sell pickles in my sleep! A big thank you to Growth Ninja for killing it with our Facebook lead generation.

Related: Facebook Ads Case Study: Design Pickle Increases MRR by $5.8K/mo.

infusionsoft

Our teams from Arizona, the Czech Republic, Philippines and Mexico meet every day in Slack. This allows us to communicate in real time as well as builds a really cool sense of comradery with our virtual water cooler.

Design Pickle slack

By entertaining the thought that we would have 1000 clients or 100 employees, I created systems and processes in advance that allow us to grow faster and with less friction.

Begin and end with values

Finally, I thought back to the beginning of my journey. It all started with a strong foundation. Through this process, I revisited my personal work with Pearson and made sure I applied it to the company. A vision and values (or decision making filter) is just as important for the brand as it is for the CEO.

Kyle Porter, Founder of SaleLoft runs an amazing value driven organization and so we used a similar structure: 

Values: Friendly, Resourceful, Smart-working

Mission: To become the next 100mm ARR Arizona based company.

Why:

  • To change the lives of our staff and employees worldwide by providing them a foundation to accomplish their life’s goals
  • To support the Arizona economy, a state that has incredible potential
  • To allow more businesses to access creativity in innovative ways

How: 

  • Honor our core values in every decision we make (Friendly, Resourceful, Smart-working)
  • Always be delivering the pickle (Watch this video to understand what we mean!)
  • Be stewards and support the next generation of global designers
  • Solve challenges with integrity and technology
  • Educate clients on the power of creativity

This is Design Pickle’s decision making filter and we use it every single day. 

From idea to 100 clients in four months is tough, but possible. As a married guy with three kids, my wife saved the day allowing many late nights and working weekends (thanks Mika!) but all in all I believe anyone can achieve this as long as they have the right foundation in place. 

Best of luck building your startup and if there’s anything I can help with, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can contact me here anytime!

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About

Russ Perry is the founder of Design Pickle – unlimited graphic design help starting at $195 per month. He is a father of three beautiful girls and lives in AZ. Reach him at @russperry.

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