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Adam Wathan: Making Millions of Dollars Through Digital Books and Templates

Learn how Adam sold millions of dollars of online education content by building a large audience

Welcome to the 28 new subscribers since the last post 🔥. If you haven't already, follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn for the stories and insights that don't make it to the newsletter.

You might have heard about Adam Wathan from Tailwind CSS/UI, one of the most popular and fastest-growing CSS frameworks in the last few years (Netflix uses this), or his books Refactoring UI and Refactoring Collections.

Together, these businesses grossed over ~$5 million dollars between 2016 to 2018. Here's a rough breakdown:

  • Refactoring Collections book -> $230,000

  • TDD for Laravel developers course -> $1.1 million

  • Advanced Vue Component course -> $300,000

  • Refactoring UI book -> $3 million (still generates ~50k/mo)

And this doesn't even include Tailwind UI! His main project where he has a team of 7+ people bringing in 7 figures of revenue annually.

But before his success, Adam was like the rest of us. He had a full-time job and worked on several side projects with the goal that one of them hits off to become a real business.

Let's go over how he escaped a 9 to 5 and built multiple multi-million dollar businesses 👇

💼 How Adam Escaped the 9 to 5

Adam always wanted to write a book around test-driven development, but he thought that writing and selling a book would take too long while working a full-time job.

He built a SaaS product called Nitpick CI which made a few sales but didn't quite have the success he was looking for.

One day, Adam had a cup of coffee with a friend who introduced him to a marketing technique called tripwire products. Basically, you build and sell something small for $10 to gain experience and confidence in launching something bigger.

This excited Adam, and he was ready to commit his time to writing a small 30-page book.

Eventually, his "small project" turned into a 150-page book called Refactoring Collections, a book aimed to help PHP developers, which did over $60k in sales during the weekend of his launch. More importantly, it provided enough runway and recurring income to allow Adam to quit his day job.

📈 Audience Building and Content Marketing

Having a large audience can make up for everything other deficiency in your marketing strategy

Adam Wathan at MicroConf 2018

So how did Adam make millions of dollars from these courses? The key came down to audience building, which gave him creator credibility and his audience excitement around each launch.

While writing his first book in 2016, Refactoring Collections, Adam began to share code snippets and tips on Twitter. Twitter has a great community of engineers, and Adam soon reached ~4,000 Twitter followers and 1,500 email list subscribers at the launch of the book.

By the time he partnered with Steve Schoger for Refactoring UI, Adam knew that a large audience would be critical for the book's success. So much that for 2 years, they did nothing but try and grow their audience!

And this was serious. They strategically tweeted. These tweets would take two weeks of nearly full-time effort to craft and make perfect. They tweeted a lot, but they aimed for posts that would get 5000 retweets and 15,000 likes. That was their North Star metric.

Steve would screencast himself refactoring designs (preview of the value proposition the book offers), Adam would livestream himself coding, and they'd both push out high-quality content on their blog and Medium. Some of their posts, like 7 Practical Tips for Cheating at Design, would reach the top 5 all-time viewed Medium posts, and others would make the front page of Reddit. In the end, their audience was asking them to release a book.

When the book launched in 2018, it had done over $1 million in sales in the first month. Now, the book has generated $3 million dollars and continues to bring in ~$50k a month!

📚 Why Courses, Books, and Info Products?

You might be thinking, why educational content? If you're an engineer, and a good one, why not build your own application or software as a service? Well, there's a few reasons:

  • One-time purchase products are easier to sell than subscriptions

  • They can be "done" and no maintenance, customer support, or monitoring is required

  • You can put them together in 3 months of nights and weekends, where an application would take much longer

No need to worry about potential DDoS attacks, server shutdowns, or random spikes in traffic!

📝 Collection of Tips from Adam

  • The best way to build an audience is to just be helpful on the internet (blog posts, educational content, etc)

  • Always collect emails in your landing page. New visitors can be targeted for discounts, free content previews, and build your funnel

  • Start something small and finish it

  • You can test your big ideas by just doing something simple like tweeting it. Then convert to a blog and eventually maybe even a book.

  • If you create tiered pricing, you can consider having the "real product" be the second tier

Thanks for reading, and I hope this helped you or you found it interesting! If you want to give some feedback, you can either respond to the poll or reply to this email.

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