Monica Lent is a software engineer and entrepreneur. She decided to quit her job and bootstrap Affilimate full-time. She also created Blogging for Devs, a paid community to help developers grow their technical blogs with SEO.

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Show Notes

Transcript

Stefanni Brasil: [00:00:10] Our guest today is Monica Lent. She is a software engineer and maker. She started coding before the age of 10 and haven’t stopped since then.

After working for more than 10 years in the tech industry as an engineer, tech lead and manager, she decided to quit her job and bootstrap a SaaS company full time. Today she’s building her own product, Affilimate, an unified affiliate dashboard analytics.

And last year she launched blogging for devs, a newsletter and community that helps developers create and grow their developer blogs without an existing audience. She teaches them about blogging and SEO.

Thank you so much for coming on the show, Monica!

Monica Lent: [00:00:55] Thanks for having me.

Thiago Araujo: [00:00:57] Yeah. Thank you so much for coming.

Stefanni Brasil: [00:00:58] So my first question is: let’s say that someone is just starting today. They don’t have any audience. They even don’t have the blog yet, but they want to start and learn how to grow an audience, how to get more credibility online… Let’s say that that was you. Where would you start?

Monica Lent: [00:01:18] What I would say is that when somebody is kind of getting started and they want to establish themselves as kind of like an expert in whatever industry they’re in or in whatever kind of corner of tech that they know, want to focus on and want to become recognized in.

Probably the most important thing is to kind of figure out what is the medium that works for you. So for example, some people are really comfortable with public speaking and presenting, and maybe that’s a more natural place for them to establish themselves.

So applying to speak at conferences is a really great way to get in front of people. And this helped me a lot. When I got started, I applied for some conferences because I was trying to build a team. And I wanted to do a little bit of employer branding on behalf of our company, because people didn’t really know who we were and that made recruiting hard. So I just kinda took it upon myself to start talking about the company, start talking about the stuff we were up to.

And the funny thing is, is that speaking at conferences, you don’t need to be the world biggest expert to do it. So I think a lot of times people think that if you’re speaking at a conference, you necessarily have to be a world renowned expert in some area of tech, but you really don’t. A lot of conferences are really just about either being entertaining. Maybe you’re a good speaker and you can hold people’s attention or you’d know how to write a good pitch.

So you pitch your talk. A lot of these are even done on a merit basis. But again, once you get into it, a lot of people are just invited. So after you’ve done a couple, you don’t really have to apply very much anymore. If you do well, people will come to you.

So I think conference speaking is a really low barrier way, kind of, to get started. You can also do meetups so you can start to establish yourself kind of in the local scene. Obviously, right now it’s not the meetup high season, let’s say, but in normal times, getting started at meetups is also a great place to get discovered for conferences because many conferences host local meetups, too. So that’s kind of like an angle I would consider if maybe you’re more of a natural talker than a writer.

And a lot of times you can then repurpose that content into a blog post, right? So you can kind of go a little bit further, reach people in other ways. And of course, writing online and blogging is a great way to kind of get started and establish an audience as well. Yyou can start of course, by distributing your content on Twitter, but… If you don’t have much of an audience there, it’s a little bit difficult, especially when it comes to sharing external links. And then there are a lot of other places that you can post your stuff where you kind of go to the people, whether that’s somewhere like hacker news, or somewhere like dev community.

These are also also options, but I generally recommend people to find a way to get started on their own, on their own website and bring people there.

And finally, another way to do that, which I talk about in Blogging for Devs is of course by SEO, so you don’t need to have an existing audience. You can create the content and if you’re writing the kind of stuff that people are searching for, and you know how to create things that people will want to come back to your website and you provide some kind of unique value, whether that’s through the depth or the quality or how interesting it is, you can also capture people into your audience that way.

Stefanni Brasil: [00:04:48] It’s good that you mentioned SEO because I’m super curious to know, how did you get so interested in SEO? I mean, I don’t know lots of devs that know that much about it.

Monica Lent: [00:05:00] Yeah, it’s a surprisingly, let’s say, rare skill for the fact that there are so many web developers, so many of us have built websites. But what I learned from creating this email course about SEO and blogging is that so many people don’t even know the absolute basics.

It’s interesting because SEO kind of tends to get lumped into marketing. It’s a job that marketers focus a lot on, but in reality, so much of having SEO success also comes down to getting the technical aspects right. Because ultimately you want Google to find you, and other search engines, of course. There are different kinds of search engines and you want that they can actually effectively understand what your website is about. They’ve yet to adopt mind reading. So, in fact, it does matter what kind of content you’re putting on your page so that people can find it.

And the way I got into it was: I started a travel blog five years ago, which is kind of wild!

What happened was I kind of just started by blogging about my experience. I moved to Europe from the United States. I started out writing all of the things that were weird to me about living in Europe. You know, like all the things I was discovering: new foods, strange traditions, all kinds of stuff that I kind of wanted to document.

But over time I started to write stuff that was a little more practical, like travel guides and so on. At one point, I kind of looked at my analytics after I had taken a year quote unquote off of blogging where I published only 17 articles. So it wasn’t really a year off, but it was a slower year. Actually, the blog was still getting over 30,000 visits a month. And I was like, what?!

It kind of surprised me that so many people were finding my blog and I asked myself: “is 30,000 a lot?” I have no idea. What changed the game for me was: I joined a bunch of blogging Facebook groups. And this was my entryway into meeting people, seeing that, okay, people are doing this, they’re making money from this.

I was listening to some stuff by Pat Flynn, who you may know, from Smart Passive Income. So yeah, around this time I started to become more interested in my blog and seeing what was possible. I realized that if I learned SEO, I could just systematically continue to grow it. Especially when I started to make money from the blog, I was like, okay…. So if I just do what I’ve been doing, but five more times, than this is an incredible amount of money that I could just have on the side.

It was kind of surprising to me and to everyone around me. I told some of my coworkers in tech and they were like: “why? I’m working in my software development job and you have a blog that’s making a few grand a month. What am I doing with my life?”

It kind of depends. What are your goals? But it’s really surprising.

I think a lot of people in tech don’t realize that, and people in general don’t realize that yeah, you can build profitable websites about specific content and you don’t necessarily have to be famous on Twitter in order to do that successfully. So there are many, many, many roads to blogging for money, if that’s what you want to do. And SEO is a super systematic way to grow that.

Thiago Araujo: [00:08:39] You mentioned Pat Flynn and on your latest blog post, you also mentioned Pieter Levels, indiehackers and said something interesting: “I don’t have to spend time working my ass off to make someone else rich.”

What else made you decide that you wanted to become an entrepreneur before turning 30 years old? Was that just because you started making money off of the blog or… What else was your inspiration?

Monica Lent: [00:09:09] I think the main thing is that, I don’t know if it’s because I’m like an older child, I’m just really stubborn, but I kind of just got to this point where I thought, “okay, I don’t really want to have a boss. I want to work for myself.”

I’ve always been someone who puts in more hours than is on the job description. I’m like, okay, if I like to go all in on something and really dedicate myself to it because I really care deeply about what I’m making… Well, it might as well be my own thing. Because, otherwise, I’m just going to basically get paid the same amount of money no matter what… No matter what company I’m working at.

The second part of this statement was that I can, you know, work my ass off for myself. Question my life choices because it’s so much harder than I thought it would be doing different kinds of businesses besides just content. But yeah, I think at the end of the day, for me, it was like, okay, if I’m going to go all in, I might as well go all in on something that I am personally committed to and really matters to me. My 30 year old deadline got dangerously close. And so I had to quit. So here I am.

Thiago Araujo: [00:10:26] You mentioned on your blog that when you quit your job, Affilimate reached $2,000 in MRR and you also had your travel blog that was making about 5K a month. So about 7K. Did you also have some money saved? Did you prepare before quitting your job and, if you did, how many months or years of savings did you have?

Monica Lent: [00:10:49] Just to clarify, I didn’t reach 2K in MRR for Affilimate, it was 2K revenue. So we had a bunch of people sign up on that month before the pandemic destroyed our business.

But yeah, I’m fortunate that I did get to save up before taking this leap. A big part of that is because I had to apply for a permanent residency visa in Germany, and this took me a really long time. So it kind of doubled my savings in the meantime.

I’m not sure exactly how many months I had, but I managed to save about 45,000 euros before going full time building my own stuff. But of course, fortunately I didn’t have to dip into that for a while because I had these other income sources. However, once the pandemic hit, then of course I had to start using it, which was a little bit stressful.

I also got a little bit lucky in that I decided to invest a good chunk of it in March of last year when the stock market was really bad. So, I don’t know. I guess I kind of had the faith that somehow I’m going to make this work. At the end of it, this all kind of worked out, but I wouldn’t say that I was someone who had multiple years worth of savings.

I’m not sure exactly how long it was. It was certainly over a year. But I wasn’t actually anticipating having to use it.

Thiago Araujo: [00:12:21] Did you have some intuition? Because you were saving money, you were making some money, so you were kind of in a good spot, but why did you decide to do that at that specific month? Did you decide to quit because you were ready or decided to quit because you had this intuition that it would work out in the end or something else. So what made you do that?

Monica Lent: [00:12:46] So, as I said, part of it was the fact that my 30th birthday was kind of looming in the horizon. But I managed to quit a little bit before I turned 29. A big part of what made me really take the leap was… It’s kind of strange to say, but I went on a Safari in South Africa for three days and I didn’t have any connection to the real world. There was no internet. Kind of, you know, you just spend all of your time in nature, being educated around wildlife and you just feel so disconnected from the news, from social media, from all of that stuff.

It just really reinforced to me during those couple of days: I want to have control over my time. I don’t want to have to be somewhere because someone else wants me to be somewhere. I just want to be able to make my own decisions. And if I don’t want to be on a computer, I don’t have to be on a computer.

Of course, the ironic part of that is that, you know, when you’re running a business and you have customers, people need stuff…. So eventually, hopefully I can hire some support people or something…

But, at the same time, that was kind of a moment that made me think, okay, we did this in December. Next year, it’s going to be the year. And I came back to Germany, and started my permanent residency application. And that took me like six months or so to get through that from start to finish. But once I had it, it was ASAP. I was ready.

It was also because I worked in a FinTech company growing from 80 people to over 1500 people for almost five years and it was time for a change. I was like, okay, I’m ready to make that change. But I also don’t want to work for another tech company. I’d kind of seen everything I felt like I needed to see going from that size to what was next over the course of those five years, going through acquisitions, reorgs, changing the teams, hiring a ton of people. And honestly, I was just exhausted.

I’m sure you guys know, working on your own stuff next to a full-time job, especially one that is very demanding of you, if you’re in a leadership position or you’re just really dedicated, it’s really emotionally taxing to do for a long time. So it was kind of a culmination of all of that stuff.

Thiago Araujo: [00:15:28] And is also very… It kind of drains your creativity, right? If you work full-time, but you also want to work on other stuff, it just drains you of your creativity. You’re always in this state where, “Oh, I’m working here, but I really want to do this other thing.” You have all of these side business and side projects, but you just can’t create, right?

Monica Lent: [00:15:50] Yeah, totally. I think a lot of people asked me, especially when the pandemic happened and this affected pretty much all of my income sources, people asked me: “well, why didn’t you just stay at the company until you were sure that you had enough income?” And I’m like: “if you haven’t done this, you don’t realize how exhausting it is.”

Let’s say you’re working full time on the weekends and you’re working full-time during the week. And then, how many weeks can you go without taking a weekend? And taking any kind of a break? It’s so truly exhausting, both physically and emotionally.

So yeah, people who have the patience to do it for three years until they reach the same salary as their tech salary… Respect to that! But for me, I’d rather push myself out of the nest and figure out how to fly on the way down. And hopefully I will not crash in the meantime. So that’s kind of been my approach. And so far things are going kind of okay.

Stefanni Brasil: [00:17:01] The way you’re talking right now, it seems to me that you are always pretty confident.

Monica Lent: [00:17:06] I don’t know if this is really helpful, but I just have the confidence or the feeling that I will be able to make things work. And worst case scenario for all of us is if it doesn’t work out, we can get tech jobs. It’s the most luxurious fallback situation for pretty much anybody.

So that kind of gives me the assurance that, okay, I have savings. I have a support system of friends. And if all else fails, then, Oh no, I’ll have to go get a very fancy tech job where they shower me with the kind of money that I haven’t seen in my bank account in over a year. So I just think, worst case scenario, even if I fail, I can go back to making a bunch of money and that’s wonderful.

But I do of course have doubts, sometimes I wonder… Is it going to be a problem from a long-term savings that if I was working at a tech company, of course I would be making the most money that I’ve ever made in my career right now. That’s something that I do think about and wonder. But at the same time, I think money is one thing, but on the other hand, you can never get back your time. So I’m more interested in finding a way that I can kind of prioritize the way I want to spend my time.

Right now I think it’s just the most fun to build my own stuff, even though it’s exhausting. Sometimes I don’t want to do it, sometimes I want to give up, but at the end of the day, I also can’t imagine working for anyone else ever again. So I would consider myself somewhat unemployable in that respect.

I don’t know if this necessarily answers your question, but there are definitely doubts. Sometimes when it gets hard, sometimes I just take a break and I retreat to playing video games for a day or two and ignoring my inbox and all that kind of stuff. But ultimately it’s also a huge privilege that I have the safety net that I do. I have the support system that I do and I have what it takes to at least try. A lot of people are maybe not in that position because maybe they have to support their parents or maybe they have kids to support that need more stability.

So yeah, I feel fortunate that I can give it an attempt, even if I’m not a hundred percent sure it’s going to work out. If I have to fall back on getting a job in tech again, I will survive somehow.

Stefanni Brasil: [00:19:54] Yeah, I think you answered it pretty well, I think that part of what makes you keep more safe in doing the business decisions is that I have this impression that you keep your expenses low. I might be wrong, but do you think that helps a lot with planning for, you know what? I’m gonna take a few years and I don’t have to worry about this.

Monica Lent: [00:20:18] Yeah. I live with my partner in Berlin and we’re definitely able to keep the expenses relatively low in the sense that we don’t eat out very much. We cook a lot. Last year we haven’t been able to leave the house that much, which also helps keep expenses low. I’m also in a pretty good position where if I were to need a bunch of money for some reason, I could ask my partner for it. I could ask my parents if something dramatic were to happen.

So I think it’s not just that, yeah, I don’t spend a ton of money on stuff. I actually have quite a lot of business expenses. I wrote up an income report from January about this where you see that I had almost $2,000 worth of business expenses in January, which I think is pretty surprising to a lot of people. You don’t realize how expensive running a business can be. At the same time, if something were to happen, I do have that kind of safety net. So I think it’s a combination of trying not to spend too much money, but also I don’t know what position I would be in if I didn’t have the people around me that I that I could turn to if something were to ever happen.

Thiago Araujo: [00:21:42] I had a business before. When you say, “Oh, I’m a founder now and I’m pretty much unemployable…” I really understand that, because after you have that freedom, that creative freedom for a while, it’s really hard to go back to a job, you know? You can work for people. You can have fun, you can build some interesting stuff, but that thing is always in your head.

So yeah, I could just be building something and having freedom. And I’m pretty sure that now that we have the creator economy and you have so many opportunities to do different stuff and make money online, I think that in the future, very creative people, they will just be creators or entrepreneurs, or they will have the freedom to work on their things because it’s really hard to convince creative people to work for you nine to five everyday, you know?

Everybody’s working remotely anyway right now. I know that designers, it’s really hard to hire them because they can just make money… They don’t have to work for you anymore. Right?

Monica Lent: [00:22:54] Yeah. At the same time, I think…. I totally agree with you. And I think there have been people making money from their passions for awhile, at least when I started started listening to Pat Flynn’s podcast, reading his blog, there were people doing this for years before it became popular among VCs, let’s say.

But at the same time, I’ve also met people where it seems like they’re pretty happy working their jobs and they like the stability. I can also understand that because it’s nice to know every month I’m going to make X amount of dollars. For some people that is super comforting.

I also interviewed a lot of people at the last startup that I worked at, which had many series of funding. It was very established. I had a lot of people that I interviewed who had worked at early stage startups and said: “I’m just tired of the volatility. Tired of not being sure if my paycheck is going to come on time, tired of companies I work at getting shut down.”

Of course it’s maybe more frustrating if it’s not your own thing. And you thought, “Oh, I’m going to get on the ground floor and these stock options are gonna be totally totally worth money one day” when they probably won’t.

But ultimately, I think at risk of sounding a bit pretentious, entrepreneurship is probably not for everybody. Some people maybe don’t have that drive or motivation to do it, or they just have different goals in life and maybe stability better supports those goals.

So, yeah, I think it’s really cool that more people are going to be independent. And there are way better tools for running your own software business these days. I think more developers are definitely going to be doing it, because if you’re creative - and I think most developers are more creative than they give themselves credit for. Like what you were saying, developers are super creative, and if you are that way and you have that kind of creative streak where you want to solve problems and you identify them and you want to build something that people are going to use and love, then why not get closer to the user and build your own products?

It’s way harder than working at a job. But at the same time, I totally agree that it’s going to be more popular, especially as more developers show the way that, you know, you don’t have to work at a tech job and you can still use your skills to help people.

Thiago Araujo: [00:25:44] After you started having a rough time during the pandemic, you mentioned on your blog post that one article from Amy Hoy about side-project marketing changed your life. It’s about creating these mini-products that are valuable and that also generate leads for your main business. That led you to start a different project from scratch, which is Blogging for Devs.

You also already had kind of the distribution part figured out, you were going to target developers, you know developers, you’re famous in the community and you had followers already. And the interesting thing about Amy Hoy - we are super fans of her here, Stefanni’s doing the 30x500 course right now - she always recommends you to target an audience you understand and belong to.

Do you think that helped you with Blogging for Devs? Do you think that by knowing and by targeting this specific audience that you understand is easier, is the best way to to get started?

Monica Lent: [00:26:52] Yes. And I think sometimes you may also think you’re part of an audience, but you’re really not. This is the tricky part, I think.

For me, at least, yeah, targeting developers made a lot of sense not just because I am a developer, but because I’ve interacted with developers for so many years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of developers. I just have had so much exposure to it and also doing tech conference speaking…

Being kind of among that group, I start to see the patterns, right? What are the things people are always saying? It’s kind of like what you see on Twitter when people make these really basic jokes relatable dev jokes. And then they get 2000 likes and you’re like: “Hmm, that’s not a really intelligent statement, but I guess I relate to it.” And so that’s what a lot of these kind of platitudes become really popular and they’re relatable and you’re like: “okay, I get it.”

For me, it wasn’t necessarily that I was part of this… I am, but at the same time, I also had been in leadership as a hiring manager doing hiring and so on for long enough that I didn’t know the latest versions of the different packages that were being used, I wasn’t really reading tutorials very much… So at the same time, I don’t think I was a hundred percent part of my own target audience, but maybe at some point I was, or I’ve at least interacted with those people enough that I understand really well what their struggles are.

But on the flip side, when I was building a Affilimate, I thought that I’m part of this community, right? Travel bloggers, I’m in the Facebook groups, I listen to what they’re saying all the time, but I don’t think like them because I’m a developer. So even though I’m in all of those communities and I’m doing the same thing, I’m not using WordPress, I’m not afraid of plugins… I had to do so much more research than I expected in order to try to learn how to see things from their perspective. And that kind of surprised me. And it was harder than I expected in some ways.

So I don’t know. I think it can be hard to know how well do I really know this audience? And you might think you know them, but you really don’t. At least that’s what happened for me. But I do think it’s really helpful.

I’m also a big fan of Amy Hoy and her article about side-project marketing definitely changed my perspective and gave me, I don’t know, maybe if it was the justification, or the excuse, or the support or whatever it was that I needed to try something new after feeling really in a rut with my main product. So yeah, grateful for that, for sure. And also goes to show that if you publish something online, you might just change someone’s life. Don’t be afraid to put your stuff out there cause you never know what kind of impact it’s going to have.

Stefanni Brasil: [00:30:00] Yeah. It’s interesting that you shared that, because that was the first part of the 30x500 course where I got stuck…

Just to share a bit, I joined and I was like: “Oh yeah, I already have this newsletter about the Plant-based Diet. I would definitely go with it.”

At the same time, I also was thinking of building a Shopify App for merchants because, “Oh yeah, it’s a growing market! There’s lots of possibilities!” And I got stuck because on 30x500, they say specifically to not go with audiences that you don’t have that much of an insider advantage.

And it’s funny because I couldn’t see that at the time. I’ve never sold anything to any Shopify merchant, I don’t know any Shopify merchants and the fact that the market is growing doesn’t mean I will be successful because I still have all of that inside knowledge to conquer.

For the Plant-based Diet, what Alex said to me was unless you already have subscribers to your newsletter, I wouldn’t recommend you go with that because it’s super hard to target people curious about the plant-based diet… Who are they?

Monica Lent: [00:31:39] Yeah. I mean, I think it’s helpful to kind of get more niche in that sense. For example, maybe for Plant-based Diet, there are a lot of communities for people who are vegan bodybuilders or whatever it is, right? You can get more specific.

In our case with Affilimate it is also a case of something that’s too broad because there are all kinds of people that make money through affiliate marketing. There are creators, there are more traditional bloggers. This is really the group that I began with. Then there’s also internet marketers, people who do pay-per-click ads. There’s a huge, huge landscape. I really didn’t know enough about the industry before getting into it. That also made it hard from a networking perspective to really get connected with the right kind of people.

But at the same time, I think there’s also a danger when you’re part of the audience that maybe you feel like you can skip the validation or cut corners on the customer development.

That’s why, for example, with Blogging for Devs, I did try to validate it upfront before building anything serious. The 7-day email course, I had test users for this who gave me feedback on it, but I made it an email so I wouldn’t have to put in too much effort upfront just in case no one cared.

No matter how much we love our own thing and be super into it and think: “Oh, of course, I’m sure other developers, for example, will love this”, it can be really hard to predict exactly how your messaging and your copy and the way that you position, what you’re doing affects, whether it resonates with people or not. That’s an ongoing challenge.

Maybe something like a Shopify App makes more sense as not a first product, but something where you really got your process down. But I think it’s an interesting opportunity to kind of strap yourself to the Shopify rocket and see where it takes you because you do benefit from the ecosystem.

Stefanni Brasil: [00:34:02] So you said that you started with the email course to test, “oh, okay, is this something that people really care about?” before putting lots of time in this? And when did you start realizing that a community would be what people wanted?

Monica Lent: [00:34:22] So relatively early after I launched the email course, there were people asking me: “will there be a Slack or a Discord for everyone who’s doing it?” And I was like: “no way!” No way am I going to open this circus of 1200 people that I’m somehow responsible for moderating this. It sounds like absolute chaos. I was like: “that’s a cool idea, but I’m not doing that.”

But there were signals that people might be interested in something like that. Some direct questions, but there were also people asking me questions over email quite a bit, and the bummer was that all of the answers that I was putting in a lot of work to provide, they only benefit one person because it’s a direct channel. So it’s super cool because the format of email creates a very intimate connection with someone. You’re in their inbox. They can reply to you privately in a very low friction way. And I think this is very underrated.

I mean, some days you can say newsletters are overrated, but I think if you have one that’s working where people care about what you’re writing and you’re talking to subscribers regularly, is an excellent way. You do so much research as you are getting those emails.

Coming back to the spirit of your question, I actually didn’t plan to have a community at the beginning, even after all of that input. I probably, if I would have started anything, I would have made some kind of a course because I thought that’s what people do.

But then I kind of look back on my own experience and I realized I’m a pretty self-directed person. I learned a lot from the communities about blogging that I joined and I was like, okay, maybe other people also want to kind of learn in a self-paced way, learn from their peers. And so that’s kind of how the community was born.

And then now I’m kind of circling back to the beginning where I realized that some people are so early in their journey that they need the structure of a course. That’s why I’m trying to structure things inside the community so that there is a systematic way to go through the resources in a step-by-step fashion. For example, using the Blueprint that Stefanni, I think you were checking out recently.

So yeah, it’s a constant learning journey. I wouldn’t say that I have a perfect idea, but doing what I can to help people individually as much as possible and support them, but also be able to connect them with other people who are way more expert at whatever area they are doing than me. Whether that’s writing things for Hacker News, for example, being able to bring Michael Lynch in to give chorus presentations (you guys talked to him in one of your recent episodes), or being able to connect people who are better at YouTube. I don’t know anything about YouTube, but luckily there’s a bunch of people in the community who are interested and working on YouTube actively.

So that’s really awesome. I think that’s the big benefit over a course where you get mostly one person’s perspective, that with a community, you get a lot of different perspectives and a lot of input, and you can evaluate it on your own terms.

Thiago Araujo: [00:38:03] I think the coolest thing about Blogging for Devs was when I first saw that it was so obvious to me that I had that pain that you were describing, because I always had a technical blog and I could never figure out a way to make it famous or build the audience. It was always a struggle. And even with the podcast, we were always kind of struggling to know what to focus on, how to grow the audience and all of that.

And then you came with this pitch where you were like: “okay, I’m going to give you the step by step-by-step recipe on how to create blog posts that attract people”, and then talk about SEO and all of that.

It was very obvious that I had that pain, but I’m curious to know, because you said: " Oh, I was always interviewing developers. I knew about their struggles and their pains and all of that."

Did you know that developers had that specific pain beforehand? How did you come up with that?

Monica Lent: [00:39:10] Do you mean struggling to get readers for your blog?

Thiago Araujo: [00:39:15] Writing blog posts, but never getting an audience and also just struggling to come up with topics to write about because you’re never sure what you should write about.

Monica Lent: [00:39:30] Yeah. Actually, this is definitely something that I had a hypothesis about. I wasn’t confident that most developers would be interested in building an audience.

And a lot of the people who replied to my welcome email did say “I’m interested in getting better at writing, getting better at communicating.” But then a lot of people did say “I would like to grow an audience. I would like to eventually be able to sell a product”, but that number of people was smaller, much smaller than people who just said that they wanted to write for fun, more or less.

But my take is that you’ll keep writing and have more fun if people read your stuff and you get to discuss it with people, that’s where motivation comes from is seeing more and more people reading your things and being able to help people, and having people write thank you notes, follow up questions… It’s so encouraging to know that it’s not just kind of going into the void.

But I was surprised to see how many developers are interested in growing an audience, because I think there are just a few, relatively small number of people who are super famous and in the niche of tech they’re in, but the reality is it’s still pretty small. In my opinion, that means there’s also a lot of room for people who put in the work and do it in a systematic way to get there.

So, yeah, it was interesting to see how many people are interested in doing that. I would say that’s probably more than I expected because you think of developers more like: “I want to hide behind my keyboard and do my code and like, whatever.” But in reality, a lot of people want to get recognized. They want people to know that their ideas are unique and original. They want that external validation. I think that’s kind of like a little bit of human nature, and developers are humans after all.

But yeah, I wouldn’t say that I knew for sure the wording and the positioning was going to resonate with people, but I did kind of frame it as “you don’t have to be famous on Twitter to grow your blog.” I think that was really the big misconception is that being good at writing, being interesting, having a blog that people visit correlated to Twitter followers, and my goal in a lot of ways is to show that that’s not true. You can have Twitter followers if you want them. But they don’t correlate to readers on your blog, success in your career or whatever it is, but they can be useful. And there are ways to grow that audience as well.

Stefanni Brasil: [00:42:26] So Monica, now that you’re working full-time on your own projects, what is the best part of your day? What is the most exciting part of your “I’m my own boss” lifestyle?

Monica Lent: [00:42:43] Wow. This is an incredible question. I’ll tell you a little bit of a story. It was kind of funny.

When Christmas break happened not too long ago, and a lot of my friends - they have have remote dev jobs… They had to go back to their remote dev jobs on pretty much the same day in January. And they told me: “we’re just thinking about you, Monica. You don’t have to go back to your job.” And I was like: “jokes on you, cause I haven’t stopped working!”

The funny thing thing is that you have a whole lot of freedom. You have a lot of flexibility, but at the same time, you also don’t get to take the same breaks as everyone else.

But on the flip side, what I really love is that I can wake up in the morning and I can decide exactly what I want to work on. So even if I’m not motivated to work on something, I just won’t. I’m not one of those people in most cases that just drives myself to do whatever menial task I have to do. I’ll procrastinate like a normal human and work on what I like. And that’s something that I really enjoy.

And if I wake up and I just say “you know what, I just don’t want to work today”, I don’t have to tell anybody. I can just pull in my day as I want. If I want to play video games, I can do that. That is a good reminder sometimes that even when I’m working way too many hours on a regular basis, and I don’t have that many breaks at this phase in my journey, I can always, and I have the freedom to, take the time that I need for myself without getting anybody’s permission. Even if I worked somewhere that was pretty flexible about this, just not having someone else having control over that is something that I love.

So I would I would say that that’s probably the thing that I enjoy most on a regular basis.

Thiago Araujo: [00:44:47] And you can kind of design your life as well, right? We had a couple of people on one of the previous podcast episodes talking about how they are designing their business to fund their lifestyle, which is amazing to me, it makes so much sense.

Monica Lent: [00:45:04] Yeah. I mean, that’s the concept of lifestyle business, I guess, even though some people don’t like that term, that you can make a business that lets you live the life that you want. And I think that’s amazing. Because your job doesn’t have to define your whole life, and I like that. I don’t identify myself necessarily as “person at a job”, you know? I’m creating things, but it’s so that I can live the kind of life that I want to live. And yeah, that’s the best benefit, even if you’re going to be working way more than full-time on your own stuff, at least it’s your choice.

Thiago Araujo: [00:45:45] Yeah, for sure. You wrote on your blog: “building a self-funded business is hard, lonely and expensive. There’s still nothing else I’d rather be doing right now.”

So what is your advice for anyone thinking of leaving their jobs and starting their own business in 2021?

Monica Lent: [00:46:04] Wow. Big question. The biggest advice and thing that I kind of messed up early on was figuring out my distribution plan, which is also something I talk about in that article.

I thought that SEO was going to be my distribution plan because it worked for me for something else. But what I didn’t realize was that every product might have different distribution plans, different distribution channels, and some may work better than others. So in that case, SEO was way more competitive than the spaces that I was operating in normally. That meant that I was fighting really hard for a small amount of traffic, and that’s exhausting to do, especially when you’re doing it by blogging and writing 2000 words takes maybe several days. It’s not the most efficient thing you can do, especially next to product development, interviews with customers, doing support, doing research… It is a lot to have on your plate.

But I think something that really worked well for me last year was starting with a distribution channel and figuring out the product later. I started with the newsletter and the product quote unquote as the community came down the road after I understood the people who were there.

I think this is becoming more and more popular. There are more and more SaaS companies and product companies who are buying media companies as a way to reach potential target-customers at scale through a way that is just way more reliable than things like ads.

Of course, with SEO, there’s always the risk of an algorithm update. But email is pretty reliable. And so you saw this somewhat recently with HubSpot acquiring The Hustle. There were other examples out there. I would consider, if you have the time so you’re not necessarily just trying to ship right away and you want to build an asset, that’s going to help you no matter what, starting with something like an email list, newsletter or whatever, is a great way to begin if you can write something for that target user.

I don’t necessarily believe that you have to have a big audience either too. There are tons of super successful CEOs that have zero Twitter followers. There is no correlation with personal audience and business success that you have to have one to have the other, but figuring out distribution early on and testing it and finding something that is repeatable and scalable is definitely a mistake that I made and thankfully didn’t make a second time when launching my second business.

Stefanni Brasil: [00:49:01] Yeah, that’s awesome. I think you mentioned earlier in the episode that you don’t know that you might end up inspiring someone to do something and, yeah, I just want to share that I feel super inspired by your journey and all of your products. You can rest assured that you turned me into a little SEO-monster. But yeah, I’m really happy that Blogging for Devs exist. To me, it’s a huge opportunity to be around people that already have launched courses. They are already an authority in a subject and I can go there and ask for some feedback or something.

Just want to just say thanks for doing all that work. I’m getting lots of value from it and I’m really happy to see all of your projects going well. It’s super inspiring to me. Thanks a lot for talking to us today and sharing some personal things today and I hope you keep inspiring other people.

Monica Lent: [00:50:20] Well, thanks for having me, you guys, and it’s great to have you in the community too, so glad you’re there. Thanks for the chat. It was great to talk to you.

Thiago Araujo: [00:50:30] Yeah, thank you so much, Monica, especially for Blogging for Devs, it’s super inspiring for us. It helped us a lot the last couple of months, especially with the podcast, trying to figure out the distribution and trying to figure out what to talk about and how to approach subjects. You’re an inspiration for all of us. Thank you so much.

Monica Lent: [00:50:52] I’m glad it helps even though I’m… I don’t know anything about podcasting, but if I ever start one, I will ask you for support!


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