The Most Important Thing You Can Do as a Creator with Marie Poulin

How I Built It
How I Built It
The Most Important Thing You Can Do as a Creator with Marie Poulin
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If you’ve been listening for a while, you’ve heard this lesson 100 times: ship with what you have. Ship what you have. In other words, don’t waste time looking for the perfect tool or process. Instead, ship quickly and iterate. And no one embodies this credo better than Marie Poulin. As one of the best Notion instructors out there, Marie has illustrated time and time again that shipping early and iterating leads to success. We chat about how she uses Notion from delivering her course, gets feedback earlier, and leverages YouTube to grow her audience and make sales…around 90% of her sales come from there! Plus, in Build Something More, We chat about my potential switch from Airtable to Notion.

Top Takeaways:

  • Delivering her Notion course in Notion allows her to launch her course quickly without fussing with so many tools and allows her students a quick win by forcing them to log into Notion.
  • Feedback is SO important. Too many people are afraid of it, but it will ultimately save you time and make your product better in the long run.
  • Ship and iterate. Launching something imperfect is better than not shipping.

Show Notes:

Transcript

Joe Casabona: If you’ve been listening for a while, you’ve heard this lesson 100 times: ship with what you have. Ship what you have. In other words, don’t waste time looking for the perfect tool or process. Instead, ship quickly and iterate. And no one embodies this credo better than Marie Poulin.

As one of the best Notion instructors out there, Marie has illustrated time and time again that shipping early and iterating leads to success. We chat about how she uses Notion to delivering her course, gets feedback early on, and leverages YouTube to grow her audience and make sales. Around 90% of her sales come from YouTube. Plus, in Build Something More, We chat about my potential switch from Airtable to Notion.

Keep an eye out for how she delivers her course and why she delivers it in Notion, the importance of feedback and why people should not be afraid to get it, and of course, how she iterates This is such a great episode.

You can find everything that we talked about and all of the show notes over at howibuilt.it/289. You can also learn more about our sponsors, Ahrefs, Nexcess, and LearnDash over there. But for now, let’s get into the intro and then the interview.

[00:01:32] <music>

Intro: Hey, everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast where you get free coaching calls from successful creators. Each week you get actionable advice on how you can build a better content business to increase revenue and establish yourself as an authority. I’m your host Joe Casabona. Now let’s get to it.

[00:01:55] <music>

Joe Casabona: All right, I am here with Marie Poulin, the founder, and CEO of Oki Doki, the creator of the Notion Mastery course. I’m really excited to talk to her today. Marie, how are you?

Marie Poulin: I’m great. I’m excited.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Thanks so much for being here. A little behind-the-scenes stuff: if you notice my mic sounds different, which most people won’t and so I’m just kind of like breaking the fourth wall or whatever, I am recording from a remote location. But I’m really excited to do this because I heard you on the Badass Courses Podcast. And you mentioned something that I thought was really interesting was that you deliver your Notion Mastery course in Notion.

That struck me because I feel like a lot of creators spend a lot of time trying to find the perfect tool, which I think Khe Hy is a fella that I met/learned about at Craft & Commerce when I went. And he talks about like the $10 versus $100 versus $1,000 versus $10,000 an hour tasks. And finding the right tool is like $100 an hour task. It feels productive but it’s not really making you money.

So maybe we can talk a little bit about where Notion Mastery is today kind of as we record this and then while you chose to go with Notion to deliver your Notion course.

Marie Poulin: Yeah. Right now we’re hosting about 2,200 people on an enterprise account of Notion. So it’s a pretty substantial number of students that we manage. And not everybody’s active at the same time. And of course, caveat being Notion is not an online course platform, of course.

But we thought, “We’re teaching how to master this specific tool, we have the ability to bring people in as members. What if we did this as a read only workspace where just the administrators could have access to actually writing content and whatnot, but the viewers themselves, the students would just have that view only access?”

And in the early years, we actually used to open up comment access too. So someone found a typo, someone had a question about something, a student could actually comment in real-time and we could see those things and correct them as we go. So it’s kind of a neat way of doing it.

And we just thought, We’re sort of teaching people to push the boundaries of the tool itself. So in a way, the course itself, hopefully, is already illustrating what is possible with the tool right when people come in. So I think there is that element of, “Whoa, I had no idea Notion could do this,” when new people come in. So we just wanted to kind of push the boundaries, even if it’s not necessarily having all of the bells and whistles that a lot of course platforms and tools do.

Joe Casabona: That’s really interesting, though, because it essentially gives people a quick win immediately, right? Because maybe someone buys the course aspirationally, they never use Notion. Now they have that first win of actually logging into Notion to use the course, right?

Marie Poulin: Absolutely. And there’s instructions in the first email to say, you know, if you already have a Notion account, they’re gonna need to learn first how do you switch from your own personal account to access other accounts that you have access to.

So it’s taken some time to build up those welcome emails to make sure that we’re covering just enough, knowing that people also scan quickly and they don’t read. So we don’t want to overwhelm people when they first get that welcome email. But we do need to make sure people do know how to access the course the first time that they log in.

So it’s definitely been a lot of trial and error over the… it’s been almost three years that the course has been around. Maybe two and a half, three years, I think.

Joe Casabona: Wow.

Marie Poulin: So it has gone through several iterations. Like when we first delivered it, it was us manually inviting guests into my personal workspace into a single page that had all of the lessons beside it.

Joe Casabona: Oh, wow.

Marie Poulin: Again, this was the first iteration. I’m a huge fan of doing beta launches of courses. So it was such a great way to bring people in on the production part of it. So I was directly creating lessons around the questions that people had in real-time. And they were part of that co-create creation process, which I really… I just think it’s such a neat way to do it in the very, very beginning. You get those kind of super fans that kind of help support it. So there’s people that have been in the course for three years and may have seen it through those iterations.

So I think once we hit about 100 students and the sales started to increase, I was like, “Okay, this is going to be untenable to manually invite people. There’s got to be a better way to do this.” And we don’t want to mix all of these different themes inside of our personal account. So it was going to be a bit tricky.

But as ambassador, some of us we have access to enterprise-level accounts. So I have a free enterprise account. It’s not gonna cost me a team fee. So not everyone can necessarily do that. That’s sort of part of the advantage of being in Notion Pro and Notion ambassador. It doesn’t cost us anything to run that but it would be quite expensive if you were doing that… you know, just anybody trying to do an enterprise account where you’re adding members.

And what the enterprise account allows you to do is just have a “join” link. So that way we can include that link. When someone joins, they click the button, they join the workspace. And that really made that a bit more seamless.

So yeah, it’s gone through several iterations. And I still kind of think of it as a work in progress because Notion’s always updating, they’re adding new features, they’re changing the way they do things. We used to go back and rerecord videos or say, “Oh, that’s not relevant anymore.” So it’s always kind of growing and evolving. And hopefully students see that as a resource that they can always come back to.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s awesome. And I’m glad you brought the enterprise thing up because I didn’t prep you on that question. But I was curious about it. I could see that making maybe sense for someone who’s doing like a really high ticket-value private coaching. But I mean, it’s not like your course is not kind of lower. It’s a reasonable price. But I was really curious about that because you have like LearnDash or whatever. Full disclosure, LearnDash is a sponsor of this episode and almost every episode of How I Built It lately.

Marie Poulin: Awesome.

Joe Casabona: But you have other LMSs that tend to be less cost prohibitive if you are… It doesn’t necessarily charge per seat. So that was an interesting thing.

Marie Poulin: I think Notion is actually such a great tool for beta testing course content even before you decide to invest in a platform, because that’s such a great way to invite a handful of people in even up to 100 people. I think you could get away with inviting people as a guest into a single page of content for free. You don’t pay for guests even on a personal plan. I don’t even know how much it is, five bucks a month or whatever, for the personal plan.

Joe Casabona: Wow.

Marie Poulin: As a coach or someone you know, running programs and wanting to share resource libraries with their clients, it’s such a low-cost way of inviting people in, having them interact with your content. And you can decide, “Do they get view access? Can they actually edit the content?” So you could create little client portals for your different people and definitely do a high end offer that also gives them access to resources that you build and you share with multiple clients.

So honestly, I think Notion is a great way to kind of beta test and get a course out for very low friction, low price point. Then if you find you’re getting enough traction with your stuff, great. Now you can go invest in a learning platform.

But in my experience, and I mentioned this to you before, my husband and I used to run a course platform. So we’ve seen it all. We have seen how people sign up for a tool six months before they’re ready. Or they have an idea for a course but they’ve not done this first step and even testing if there’s any interest in their course and they’re already, you know, futzing about with the funnels and setting up their tech and whatever and they end up never launching or they kind of spend two years procrastinating and avoiding and being afraid of launching. So I just think, again, Notion is just a really great cheap way to get your ideas out there fast.

Joe Casabona: That’s such a great point. Jono Petrohilos was on the podcast last year and something he mentioned was most people spend like 6 to 12 months on their course without having any idea if people are interested in it. I am totally guilty of that.

Marie Poulin: Exactly.

Joe Casabona: I know. It’s awful, right? I’m a recovering WordPress developer, so setting the tech stack up was super easy for me, right?

Marie Poulin: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: The marketing stuff is hard. So I just kind of gravitated towards that because I’m like, “Well, this is like a quick win.”

Marie Poulin: It’s easy, right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah, exactly. But it was a waste of time whereas absolutely with Notion or like… I’ve been using the Mac iOS app Craft for like taking notes. And instead of writing a bunch of stuff, and then trying to put it in like a Google Doc or whatever, you can just share a link to a thing, right? Similar to Notion. Using this tool that you’re already using to get feedback as fast as possible, like you said, is a much better way to create and avoid burnout, right?

Marie Poulin: I think people are so afraid of feedback. I think we’re not really taught to give and receive feedback well. I think it’s a really challenging thing for most people. So one of the first things I recommend is hopping on 20 calls with people.

Like you shouldn’t even be thinking about hiring developers and building a prototype for a thing until you can hop on a call with 20 different people and actually get buy in on your idea or someone willing to give you cash upfront to invest in that idea. So I think, like you said, people invest in the tech and they go way too far before even seeing, “Is this something someone wants?” or “Is this something I think is kind of cool?”

And with Notion Mastery, I was sharing a couple of tips and tricks, and I was you know, yelling it from the rooftops to anyone that would listen. I was like, “Oh, my God, this tool is amazing. I was showing my friends on the weekend how to use it. And I was just so excited about it.

And at some point, someone said, “If you make a course on this, I will give you money.” And then when the second person said that, I was like, “Okay, there’s something here, there’s a momentum, there’s a calling something happening here. There’s like a stickiness or a magnetism in the market that I hadn’t seen before.” And I was like, “Okay, there’s something here, if I’m barely trying and people are begging for this.”

And I think people forget to kind of go through that uncomfortable place where you’re actually in conversation with people, you’re hearing people’s reflections and saying, “Yes, I need that thing. Not only that, I would pay you for that thing.” The pain has to be strong enough that people are willing to pay for it.

So I think people are really uncomfortable about that but I’m a huge proponent of building and marketing at the same time. So you’re teasing out those ideas on Twitter, you’re testing where there’s resonance, what are the tweets that you send out that everyone’s replying to and being like, “Yes, preach. Thank you.” Just noticing that resonance. I just think a lot of people aren’t quite paying attention that way.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly. I think people… I’ve gotten… What’s the best way for me to say this? I appreciate candor more than I think most people. So someone will apologize for being direct in their feedback but I would much rather someone tell me I’m wrong and then so I can correct it than go on living life thinking I’m right and I’m not.

Marie Poulin: More of directness.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely.

Marie Poulin: I so appreciate it. There’s no point in people saying like, “Oh, yeah, your products great. Want to support you because you’re my friend.” That is different than real people searching for or trying to find the thing that you’re going to build.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And we have, will say, a mutual acquaintance, Brian Richards. He’s been on the show a few times. I can always count on Brian to give me absolute direct feedback. He’s usually the first person I’ll run ideas by and he’ll be like-

Marie Poulin: I love that.

Joe Casabona: …”How does this help your goal or whatever?”

Marie Poulin: You need those friends.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, exactly. As opposed to… I was in a million mastermind groups a bunch of years ago. They’re like, Yeah, no, that sounds like a great idea. You should do that.” And I’m like, “Cool.” And I run with it and no one cares, right? That’s not the kind of mastermind you want to be in.

Marie Poulin: Exactly.

Joe Casabona: On that note, there is a book called Thanks for the Feedback that helps you give and receive feedback well. It’s by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. I will put that in the show notes. So you can find that over at howibuilt.it/289 because that’s a good book, my friend.

Again, another friend of mine, Shawn Hesketh, he always gave pretty direct feedback. And I was like green in the field of making instructional videos and I was getting frustrated. I’m like, “Why do you even hire me then to do this?” And he recommended this book and we had like a good talk, but he’s like… I got better. You get better when you get feedback or you don’t waste six months on a course.

Marie Poulin: Yes.

Joe Casabona: Something that you mentioned about Notion that I think maybe I just underestimated. Like I know that there’s like the Notion nation. Is that what it’s called? I’m a little bit outside of it because I’m like a wannabe user. It’s incredibly affordable.

You mentioned it’s like four or five bucks a month for the personal account. I have the free account. The one thing I use it for is sharing these show notes or my chicken scratch notes with my VA and then she makes heads and tails of it. And I don’t pay for that at all. We’re just kind of in a shared database?

Marie Poulin: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: So compare that to Airtable, which is like 480 bucks for me and her to have table stakes in a base over there. And Notion is so incredibly powerful and incredibly affordable as well.

Marie Poulin: Yeah, big time. It still shocks me and surprises me. And I think that was part of their strategy too. I think they didn’t used to have the free plan or in the same way. So there’s just so much you can do even on a free or just very cheap account if you wanted to invite people in as guests. Because I too used to use Airtable as well.

I found it so confusing to figure out how to collaborate with people and it didn’t feel like you could collaborate unless they were a full member. I mean, I know every software kind of has its pros and cons and the user experience challenges, but I definitely hired people to help me figure out Airtable And I was like trying to learn it and hired a consultant and stuff. So it’s funny to me now that I’m doing that for people with Notion. So I can understand each tool kind of has their pros and cons and things like that.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, for sure. And we’re gonna… I’m not gonna say debate, because I think Marie will screw me, but we’re gonna compare Airtable and Notion further in Build Something More. So if you want to hear the ad-free, extended version of this episode and every episode, you can sign up. Again, that’ll be over on the show notes at howibuilt.it/289. It’s 50 bucks a year. That’s less than five bucks a month, which you’ve heard me say a lot at this point, that’s less than an iced coffee that I pay for routinely.

Marie Poulin: Or less than a Notion account, right?

Joe Casabona: Less than a Notion account. Look at that. See? So definitely check it out. Again, howibuilt.it/289. So if we are testing…or something that you had early on was comments enabled in the base. That feels like a really interesting way to maybe build a community around your course. So this is a two-part question. Did it help build a community around your course? And for that beta course, was it brand new Notion users, or was it early adopters? Because your course was pretty early to market as well. Right?

Marie Poulin: Yeah.

Joe Casabona: So was it people who use it who were like, “Oh, yes, I need this to level up”? Or were they like, “Oh, I just heard of this Notion thing. And now this course exists.”

Marie Poulin: Definitely more on the beginner side, for sure. Because I think even myself I was maybe more in the early adopter side. There was one Notion course that was already floating around. I think it was Notion Made Simple. And that was the only thing I could find at the time. Even YouTube didn’t have a ton of videos.

And it was just such a big learning curve. So people seemed to be impressed with the way that I was using it. So it did seem like people that had heard about it, maybe knew it was cool for note taking but doing task management seemed like a whole other beast or all these nuances.

And so it was definitely more people that hadn’t really done much with Notion. We were not dealing with too many advanced users. But then yeah, that kind of opens up the can of worms of so we’re using the tool that people are learning about, and that’s where they’re interacting. And we knew we need some kind of interactive element.

At least I think whenever you’re doing courses, at least the first time you’re doing a course, you need that feedback cycle. And so the only way to do that is to open up comments or have some kind of community or forum. So we tried to set up a really, really simple database. And even then that was a learning curve around permissions. Like, do we give people full editing access?

And Notion also didn’t have such granular features around “Can they edit the database?” or “Can they edit the content inside the database?” There were all these funny things. So we’d have people adding stuff, but forgetting to add their name, people accidentally adding 20 different blank entries. Like there were just funny things happening. So it felt like it was requiring a lot of cleanup. And I’m like, Oh, you don’t know until you open up the floodgates that you’re like, Okay, that wasn’t so clear, or we didn’t have instructions for that.

So again, the more that you can let people in and see that feedback and see where people are struggling, you’re tweaking, you’re changing, you’re adapting. Again, because Notion is so flexible, we can be making those changes in real-time.

I’m sure for some users that probably felt really overwhelming, and they’re like, “Oh, every time I log in, this looks different. What the heck?” But I think in the beginning it’s kind of inevitable because you don’t know what you don’t know until you put your work out there. And then you’re like, “Oh, that stuff that seemed really obvious to me. It’s not really obvious to beginners. So I really need to explain that better.” We may need to rerecord that video.

And I’ll share with you like I got some pretty negative feedback from someone that I found out through a friend. And it was an older woman and she was very unimpressed about how fast I was moving and clicking around. She was angry. She was just very frustrated that she felt I was going too fast.

I thought, “Okay, it hurts.” But I was like, “That’s really important feedback because I certainly don’t want students to feel frustrated.” So I take feedback very, very seriously. When I see people stumbling, I ask myself, “Where is it a lack of curiosity?” or “maybe they’re just being frustrated in the tool or themselves? And where is it that we’re not presenting the material in the best way that’s going to be helpful for people.” So I really do like to take that feedback seriously. Because I want it to be of a certain quality, right? And you can’t do that without that student feedback.

I feel like it might have been a long roundabout way of talking about the community piece of it. But over time, you know, we just realized we need more interaction with the students to be able to improve it. And that’s where we needed to kind of shift gears from.

Notion was a great place to start but I felt like we needed something separate that was built and designed for community that we could integrate with Notion and not try and do it all inside of Notion.

[00:20:39] <music>

Sponsor: This episode is brought to you by LearnDash. Look, I’ve been making courses for a long time, I’ve taught at the college level and I’ve created curriculums for several different organizations, including Udemy, Sessions College, and LinkedIn learning. When I create my own courses, there’s no better option than LearnDash.

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[00:21:46] <music>

Joe Casabona: I guess longtime listeners of the show know that I have taught both online and in the classroom. I taught at the University of Scranton for a number of years after graduating. Gosh, almost 10, I guess. And getting that real-time feedback from students is so much easier. Because they might not say anything, but you could see it on their face.

Marie Poulin: You could read their faces and their body language.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. When you totally lose them, they’re just kind of like… Like “what?” is just written across their forehead. Or I had one extremely candid student who she was great. She changed my life. Because I explained this concept in WordPress pages versus posts. And I explained it like I had for years. And I was like, “Oh, yeah, this is this and that and that.” And she’s like, “I have no idea what you just said.”

And I was like, “Wow, this eight year old concept that I thought was just like kind of really intuitive is not actually intuitive.” And that really reframed how I taught WordPress for a long time. So I’m forever grateful to her.

Marie Poulin: We love students that give feedback.

Joe Casabona: Yes. Yeah. Okay, you moved to a different community platform. What platform was that?

Marie Poulin: We use Circle. I had been using it with a couple other courses where I was a participant. I liked the simplicity. I sort of felt like even the way they use emojis, their docks were all done in Notion as well, their support docks and stuff. So I just thought, “Okay, it feels visually like it kind of fits with it. There were some elements and features that still felt a bit in beta, but I sort of felt like it was the best fit at the time. And it’s been working out pretty well since. So I’m still really enjoying that platform.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. Awesome. I used Circle for a while for my membership. And then I was like the only one participating.

Marie Poulin: Active, yeah.

Joe Casabona: So I was like, “I don’t really need to pay like 99 bucks a month for this.” But I am reworking it. I think… Again, this goes back to what tool works for you and your audience. But I suspect begrudgingly Slack is probably where most of my audience hangs out the most. And so I’ll probably spin up the old Slack again even though I wanted to avoid that.

Marie Poulin: The necessary evil, right?

Joe Casabona: Yes. So let me ask you then. For Circle, did you get like body… My membership is relatively small. I’m pivoting as we record this. So maybe if I started Circle today with more focus on podcasting like I do, maybe it would go better versus like changing from Facebook to Slack back to Facebook to Circle.

But did you get buy in? I mean, I guess there’s gonna be those students who just don’t participate at all and they just want to-

Marie Poulin: Sure.

Joe Casabona: …run through the material or use it when they get stuck. But how was moving to Circle?

Marie Poulin: I think in the very, very beginning, it feels a bit awkward because you’re trying to preset the different channels and figure out okay, what are the topics and how are people going to use this. You’re kind of taking a guess at it. So we have restructured it a couple of times.

But we tried to precede a bit of content or have a little bit of content planned in advance and some pinned welcome messages and stuff to kind of help make it clear. And then I think we had some conversations with some of our early really active users and just said, like, “Hey, would you mind posting something in here in this channel.”

We did hire one of our really active students as well, Stacey, we hired her to do some sort of community support, and even just posting something weekly to kind of… you know, these conversation starters. So I do think the very, very beginning when you’re just getting a community off the ground is really challenging.

But because we do have a fair volume of people that are kind of just joining every day, we have new students at least a few a day you know, we’re gonna get people joining fairly regularly. And one of the things we’ve tried to do now is bake into the material. “Oh, guess what? We have conversations that go way deeper into this in Circle.” So trying to incentivize it. And also, “Hey, when you’re ready, when you’ve completed the level zero challenge of creating your now page, make sure to drop that in the Circle and introduce yourself and say hi.”

I think there’s also an element of even people hiring other people within the community. You know, you have people like, “Hey, I’m looking for someone who can do my content or marketing or whatever.” We say, there’s a channel specifically for making asks and things like that, too.

So I think it kind of lends itself well to “you’re going to get out of it what you put in.” But we also recognize for some people communities can feel like a bit of a distraction. But we really want to make it clear there are things that just reading curriculum that just kind of get missed. And so sometimes those deeper, more nuanced conversations, or someone being like, “Hey, you know what? That part wasn’t clear. How would I apply that in this circumstance?” other people likely have the same question.

So we’ve really tried to do a good job over the last couple years as it’s evolved to incentivize a little bit of that and just say, “Hey, it’s always there if you need it. No worries if you just want to lurk and kick back. But these conversations are happening over here and you might miss out. So if you ever feel frustrated, you’re not sure about something, hop over here, ask us. Someone is always going to answer within minutes, hours, certainly within 24 hours, for sure.” So we try to incentivize that. So it takes time for sure to even figure out how people want to use it.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I think that’s absolutely true and a great point. What I thought in the beginning, I guess, was I would just spin up Circle and people would come.

Marie Poulin: Ta-da. It’s party.

Joe Casabona: Like, “Here they are.” Yeah. Haay. And it was not that. I tried using Zapier to schedule like Monday, Wednesday, Friday posts, but people get pretty wise to that. It’s not just like, “Oh, yeah, Friday wins again. Here we go. Let’s do this.” People really want to connect on a more personal level than that. I think that’s something to keep in mind as I think about how I’m going to relaunch my community for both the Creator Crew and this cohort based course that again, as we record this, I’m working on. Hopefully, as this comes out, it’s out.

Marie Poulin: Nice.

Joe Casabona: But I love that. I want to pivot to how you promoted yourself and your course. We’ll get to YouTube in a minute. But I was scrolling Twitter today and I saw that you have a pretty cool thread about how you’re using Notion to build a skincare routine. Something you mentioned in the Badass Course Podcast was you like to do the really advanced stuff. So you hired I think… was it Georgia to do the… or somebody else from your team to do the-

Marie Poulin: Kat.

Joe Casabona: It was Kat. Great. Shout out to Kat, she’s great.

Marie Poulin: She’s amazing.

Joe Casabona: You hired Kat to do kind of the more beginner or more foundational Notion stuff. Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to make that thread first of all?

Marie Poulin: Yeah. That’s a good point. That is how I promoted the course. I share how I’m using it. Like real-world use cases. Sometimes they’re really nerdy, sometimes they’re advanced, sometimes they’re really basic. Sometimes people are like, “Whoa, the design… That’s beautiful.” And they get curious.

So I like to share elements of my personal life and sort of “this is how it looks like in real life, not just for business. You can use it for personal.” So I’m very, very transparent. I like to share a lot behind the scenes. I love that kind of content when someone’s like, “Here’s how we do X.” I want to see the real nitty gritty details behind the scenes.

So it’s kind of how I let people in and they feel connected to me. It’s gonna be very niche sometimes. Some of the things I share are only going to be relevant to a very small handful of people. But I share them anyway. And people are kind of intrigued by… What I’m hoping is they’ll see an advanced use case and translate it to their own databases and think, “Oh, man, I could use that for a product inventory for my tech equipment over here.” And just kind of give them inspiration and ideas.

So it kind of builds my expertise and people kind of get to know me a little bit. So that’s been a big part of kind of how I’ve built that to… I think of it as the curiosity engine. People get curious about like, “Oh, wow, that’s interesting. I never really thought about using it that way.”

So those tweet threads always lead to really interesting requests or people checking out my YouTube channel and going down a rabbit hole. And then that always, you know, leads to the course sales. I think Twitter and YouTube work really well together as the sort of complementary forces. So it’s like I test the waters on Twitter to see what’s sticky and then I record the more sort of permanent evergreen videos on YouTube.

Joe Casabona: I love that. There’s the old adage that those who can’t do teach, but that’s really not the case anymore, right? People, especially if you’re buying like a high-dollar online course, they want to make sure that you can do as well as teach. And so kind of showing that sort of thing.

I’ve been on cold pitch calls where someone just like fills in the spreadsheet, and they’re like, “I can help you make this much money. All you just gotta do is sell these things and you’ve made $10 million.” And I’m like, “Yeah, all I have to do is sell-

Marie Poulin: Easy peasy.

Joe Casabona: …$10 million dollars’ worth of stuff. What? Well, thank God, you’re here.” So the fact that you’re like showing and telling I think is… I mean, you said it, it’s a great way to lead to interesting requests. So now you’re getting questions that you can answer and more content ideas. I don’t know if your course has case studies, but more stuff to put in the course.

Marie Poulin: Yeah, examples, use cases. Absolutely. But to answer your question around the decision even to hire someone else to do the more beginner stuff, when I got that feedback from that woman, it did make me realize I get so animated and excited by what Notion can do and the possibilities, and like, “We could do this. We could do that.”

And I have ADHD, I get very excitable, I speak very fast. It takes me a lot of effort to slow the F down and take things one step at a time, remember what it’s like to be a beginner. And so Kat has that learning and teaching background. That’s her jam. And she designs trainings.

And so I was like, “You know what? If I had someone else with this outside lens where we could work together on something and slow it down a little bit, and really make sure we’ve covered the basics, we only really need to do that once.” So she actually helped design a beginner training that’s now a recording.

So hey, you want to go through the curriculum in a written form with gifts and whatever? Great. Or you can kind of fast-track it and do this two hour weekend workshop. It’s recorded. There’s a workbook that goes along with it.

Joe Casabona: Nice.

Marie Poulin: So she really helped set the pace for that and say, “We’re going to cover this in five minutes. By the end of it, the student can do this.” And like really stepped it through. I have no interest in running a beginner workshop on foundations. Kat would be happy to do that. So I was like, “Great, let her do that and let her do the stuff she’s really good at, super patient, answer beginner questions.”

To me, the novelty ran off very quickly. And I’m like, “I want to push the tool to its limits and speak to those advanced users.” So as long as we’ve covered both of those bases… And that’s not to say Kat doesn’t also do the advanced stuff. But I think we just needed a little bit of a different approach and someone who has that teaching background that could really approach it a bit differently.

So I have such respect for teachers. I’ve spent the last, you know, 18 months, two years, learning what it means to be a good teacher and trying to improve my teaching, because it really matters to me that this is a good experience. And knowing how to use Notion really well is very different than learning how to teach Notion. Those are very different skill sets.

So it’s been something I’ve been working on is “how do I make sure to explain these concepts in a way that makes sense? How do you break down something that is kind of difficult to explain and these roll ups and these lookups and these more complex concepts in a way that lands for people and makes sense and they can translate to other use cases in other parts of their life?” So it’s been a journey.

Joe Casabona: That’s a really smart thing to realize about yourself. I’m drawing on my own experiences a lot here, but I’m sure a lot of people can relate too. Maybe they’ve been in a corporate training or a seminar that they had to do for work and the person presenting is super bored presenting this thing that they’ve presented a million times. And like they don’t want to do it and you can tell.

Again, I had to teach WordPress to a large portion of the University of Scranton when we were like rolling it out to do teacher sites and stuff like that. And it was me and another person. And this person was like, “Just click on this, it’s really easy and this and that.” And I’m like, “You just made the whole room feel like a bunch of dummies.”

Marie Poulin: Oh, yeah.

Joe Casabona: “Because you’re saying it’s easy and this and that. They don’t think it’s easy. That’s why they’re here. And it’s easy to you because you like to focus on the advanced stuff, person.”

I think recognizing that and finding a person who’s just really passionate about teaching the beginners and the beginner stuff can really impact how they approach and use that tool. Because I know people who came away from that training with wanting to touch WordPress even less than they did come through to it.

Marie Poulin: Absolutely. Well, and I think we had that experience in the beginning too. We were going too fast too quickly and then people felt stupid. And then they’re like, “Notion is not the tool for me. I’m out of here.” Well, that’s not gonna grow the course, if we’re just making people who are frustrated and beating themselves up. I was like, “Oh, that’s a crummy feeling as a teacher.”

I think a lot of people build products because they want to make money and whatever. That’s fine. But I legitimately care about the impact that I have. And if the impact that I had is worse than when they started and they feel like they got ripped off, that is not okay with me.

You know, part of it’s my own insecurity. I’m like, “I don’t feel comfortable or good about people having a bad taste in their mouth having invested in this sort of thing and being frustrated. So I owe it to myself and to my students to make a really great experience.”

And I want to kind of hold a certain standard even for other people. Like, what does a great course experience feel like where you’re actually so stoked to give that person money? You’re like, “Best money I ever spent.” That’s the feeling that I want to create.

So I have to factor in this is not just the way I want to build the course. I have to factor in there are people that are going to have learning disabilities, there are a ton of people with ADHD in the course. I have ADHD myself, but it looks very different from person to person. Some people preferring the verbal instruction, audio instruction, and seeing supporting gifts and examples and things like that. Some people want to see a premade thing and pick it apart and see how it works. So it’s like, how do we make sure to kind of address these different learning styles and stuff?

We actually hired a curriculum designer to help us as well I think maybe a year and a half into the course.

Joe Casabona: Nice.

Marie Poulin: Like last summer. And that was the best experience. So we relaunched it with new content, new structure, new style. And we get so much feedback from students that saw the first couple of versions and they’re like, “Holy moly, this new version of the course is on another level,” because we are really factoring in what does the student need to know first before they jump here, before they jump here. And really making sure it’s learning outcome based. I’m learning a lot in this whole process of how to be a better teacher and create a better experience.

Joe Casabona: This makes me think about how important it is to charge the right price for your course. Right? Because I think it’s really easy for people to be like, “No one’s gonna buy this. I’ll just price it at like 50 bucks. I say that about my workshops. I’ll price it 50 bucks. If 10 people buy it, I’m happy. But that’s not reinvest back into the workshop or whatever, the course.

Whereas I don’t want to anchor your course to any price in case it changes. But you mentioned in a previous podcast that maybe early on you were charging I think it was like 250 to 350. And it went up from there, right?

Marie Poulin: It was 250. And I think you could add 100 bucks to go for one hour consultation with me. And oh, my gosh, those booked so fast, I was so burnt out. I had weeks and weeks of calls. And I had to shut that down and say no for a while because it was a little bit too intense. But people were very willing to pay for that extra hour.

But I will say hopping on an hour call with people that are actually going through your content and learning the tool, you learn so much about where those common problems pop up over and over again. So I really feel like that was the consulting side. And I think hopping on calls with people, you just learn so much more than you ever could through written feedback, right?

So whatever opportunity course creators have to whether it’s holding a weekly office hours… And that was something I did when I first launched. It was six weeks, every week we have a call together. And anyone could ask questions. And again, that feedback, people asking questions, and just really hearing people’s struggles, that stuff will shape your content. And it should shape your content, I think.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I’m doing the call thing now. Like, I put out a tweet, like, what if I told you I could help you make $10,000 with your podcast? DM me for details.” Any DMs I send them a Calendly link and I say, “Look, this is not going to be a hard sell or a soft sell or anything. I’m working on a cohort-based course. I want to make it good.”

I’ve done a few of those calls so far. One, the person was like, “I don’t think this is right for me but I want to hire you to be my podcast coach.” And I’m like, “Great.” So those calls are not only helpful to make great content but to lead to other opportunities as well. I think that’s so smart.

Marie Poulin: Absolutely. I think what’s so interesting too is like you might not have thought of yourself as a podcast coach, or maybe you do. But sometimes someone just asking, “Can I hire you to do x? You’re like, “Well, guess I’m a Notion consultanting now.”

That’s kind of how the whole thing started. And I was like, “Well, I guess there’s now a whole new industry that didn’t really exist before and now we can talk about it and share our tips with other people. And then what does it look like to consult with a team versus solo? It just kind of open up so many interesting cans of worms that we got to decide, “Okay, do we expand our services beyond the course, or do those services become a funnel to the course. So it’s been really interesting.

[00:40:07] <music>

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[00:41:05] <music>

Joe Casabona: And we haven’t talked about YouTube yet. I heard about you through YouTube. Specifically, I heard about you through Brian, who I mentioned earlier, and then my friend Erin Flynn mentioning like how great your YouTube videos were. And then I saw you pop up in a few different places. So what made you go on YouTube? And then how have you leveraged YouTube to…? Because you mentioned like YouTube kind of leads to course sales sometimes.

Marie Poulin: Oh, yeah.

Joe Casabona: Okay cool.

Marie Poulin: 90% of our course sales come from YouTube. Absolutely.

Joe Casabona: Oh, great. So how do you leverage that? Because that seems like an insurmountable thing to me

Marie Poulin: To start a YouTube channel?

Joe Casabona: No. To make other money besides AdSense from YouTube.

Marie Poulin: Ah, interesting.

Joe Casabona: I mean, I get sponsor deals or brand deals or whatever, but I don’t know that I contract any direct sales from my YouTube videos.

Marie Poulin: Interesting.

Joe Casabona: And the podcast is a little different but-

Marie Poulin: I’m sure a lot of it is industry specific. Like the fact that at the time, there wasn’t a lot of content around Notion, Notion being so complex, how the heck do you use this, Like, is this me, is this Notion? It was just this big, open canvas.

So when I started on YouTube, there wasn’t a lot there. And it was Joel Hooks that recommended. He’s like, “You need a YouTube channel.” And I was like, “Ah, YouTube. That’s the last thing. I was so self-conscious about being on camera, being in front of people. Speaking was a huge fear of mine. And just everything about it gave me hives. I was like, “Oh, are you kidding me?”

But screen sharing and showing people how to use Notion with your head in the circle and whatever, I was like, “Video makes the most sense in terms of teaching these concepts.” So I very reluctantly spun back up a really old YouTube channels that just had a couple probably cat videos on it or something.

Again, I did not have the right equipment. My mic settings were off. You can look at some of my really old videos. And it’s amazing to me even to hear how quiet my voice is and like just very… I was so scared. I was just so scared of putting myself out there. But I just knew that that was a big blocker.

It was something I wanted to get better at. I knew that mastering video was going to be a skill that could serve me in so many other areas. I was like, “Suck it up, princess. Here we go!” I think I did a small challenge that was 100 days of vlogging. And that was I think what really helped me get over that hurdle.

So it was every day even if it’s two minutes or just something, just making a quick little video. Me in the garden. Here’s how I’m feeling today, whatever. Just getting into the habit of recording those videos and not feeling silly on camera. So that was kind of the beginning of it. So then by the time, you know, Joel was like, “Get your butt on YouTube,” I was like, “Okay.”

Made the first couple of videos, and the traction was so fast with those videos and comments, and people had lots of opinions. It was pretty new. YouTube can be wild, wild west with the comments, right?

Joe Casabona: Yeah,

Marie Poulin: Especially people will make comments about your appearance or your equipment or the way you did something wrong. So it took a while to kind of build-up that thick skin and realize you’re helping more people than not by publishing. Like, you help no one by not publishing, you’re going to help some people when you do publish, and there’s going to be some trolls and people that have strong opinions and whatever. And I’m just going to improve. The more that I do it, it’s gonna get easier.

So it felt so awkward in the beginning. One of the videos that has the most views, I don’t even know… Like just a stupid amount of views, hundreds of thousands was in 2019. Terrible camera, terrible mic. Like I had people being like, “Her videos are great, but her hair is really ratty.” I was like, “Wow.”

Joe Casabona: Oh my gosh.

Marie Poulin: People are just so brutal on YouTube. So it was like, “Note to self, work on hair, and get better audio and whatever.” So it took a while to build that muscle and build that comfort. But the traction that I was getting from that, the views was what started to make me realize, “Okay, it’s the time to upgrade the equipment. Let’s get a better camera. Let’s learn about this. Let’s learn about editing. How can I make this easier, more interesting? How can I slow down? And all of that learning was also helping me on the video side in the core.

So I just knew it was a set of skills that I think was worth learning for, of course, anyone that’s thinking about teaching. If there’s any video in your courses at all, I just think YouTube is just kind of a no-brainer.

And then the first thing I did was just put a, “Hey, are you interested in this? Grab my templates.” I mean, that led to so many signups. That was the beginning of my list building. 10,000 people joining probably in a couple months from never sending out emails before. So it was such a huge jump, I’m like… And then Twitter exploded. The COO of Notion reached out too like, “How can we collaborate?”

So there was suddenly this very rapid attention that happened in three months’ time. I committed to doing one video a week every week for 12 weeks. So from September to December. And then again, it just got so much random buzz. And I feel like people were putting me on a pedestal and they were DMing me reaching out. It was a lot really fast. And I was like, “I don’t have a confidence for this. Oh my gosh. I just wanted to like curl into a ball and hide.”

So I love teaching people Notion but the idea of like putting your face out there, putting your work out there for so many people to see was super, super scary. It gets easier over time. So it’s something that I had to push through. It feels kind of like a no-brainer now. I’m like, “Yeah, okay, let’s record a YouTube video or whatever.” But that was a slog. It took a really long time to start to feel a sense of comfort.

And then once the course was kind of ready and in a place that I can turn on those sales… I think it was maybe two months of YouTube before the course was ready to sell. And then I switched that sign-up for my list to “Hey, did you like this? I’ve got a course on this.” I can look at the stats from all the intake forums and I’d say 90% of the course people mention YouTube as the way that they found me. So it’s not inconsequential.

Joe Casabona: So you had like an in-video call to action?

Marie Poulin: No, not even in video. Just in the description of-

Joe Casabona: Oh, dang.

Marie Poulin: …of random videos. Just like, “Hey, did you like this content?” And I think there’s something about the nature of this Notion content. I can look back and see where people paused something and they’re like, “Wait, at 3:07, how the heck did you do that?” Because I was moving so fast. Like I didn’t remember what it was like to be a beginner.

And so every time I’d make a video, people were like, “That’s nice but how the heck did you do that?” Like, “Oh, I need to make a follow up video.” So I make a follow-up video. And so there was like a stickiness to the Notion content that in a way it felt easy.

The comments were like feeding me a never-ending list of ideas of videos to make. And just because again, Notions docks were… It’s like, “How do you use the product at a basic level?” But I was like, “Yeah, but what if you did this?” So people were just like, “How does your brain think of using it in that way?”

I get comments sometimes where “I didn’t recognize that was Notion. It looks so beautiful. How’d you get those colors? How did you do that?” I was like, “Oh, that’s just like… I’m used to bending the product to my [inaudible 00:48:02]. But other people maybe don’t know how I do that. So there’s an intriguing newness to it that people are like, “Okay, give me more. Give me more content.”

Or I’ll just tease some really advanced concept but I have to be very careful now to say, “This is just a demo. This is not a how to.” Because so many people get angry if they’re like, “But how do I do that?” I’m like, “Figure it out? Take my course.”

Joe Casabona: I love that.

Marie Poulin: It’s taken a while to figure out how to do the call to action, how is the video serving the course, is this a sneak peek? Is it like not giving too much away that I’ll show you how to do that in the course. So it’s been a process.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I think I’m coming to an epiphany right now that I probably made my videos when I was doing WordPress especially a little too in-depth. I’m like, “I gotta cover all the bases.” And then people probably are like, “Well, I don’t need to take your course now. I just learned how to use the block editor with this course.” Of course, I don’t want a dog on WordPress too much, but it is notoriously cheap.

Marie Poulin: Hey, it’s how I got mine started too. WordPress websites, for sure.

Joe Casabona: See that? Yeah, absolutely. Okay, so I have a couple of thoughts here. 100 days of vlogging. Dickie Bush was on the show earlier in the year. He talks kind of about the same thing, like forming that habit. And I talk about getting your reps and people are like, “How do you get so comfortable in front of a podcast mic?” I’m like, “You just got to get in front of the podcast mic.” The beautiful thing about recording stuff for the internet is you don’t have to release it.

Marie Poulin: True.

Joe Casabona: Just do it. I tell my students, “If you’re having trouble starting, record like five demo episodes, and if they’re trash, trash them. And if they’re good release them or release them later for behind-the-scenes stuff or whatever.

Marie Poulin: That’s good practice. I feel like you don’t get to skip the messy middle where you’re just putting in those reps.

Joe Casabona: Right? It’s like Rivers Cuomo from Weezer. They had like, I think it was four years or six years between their first album and their second album because he wanted to skip the sophomore slump that most musicians go through. And it didn’t work. Like it didn’t work. You don’t get to skip that hard part.

And then for trolls, I mean, I’m a dude, so I think fewer people are probably commenting on my appearance. But for any mean comments, I always make sure to heart those mean comments.

Marie Poulin: I love that.

Joe Casabona: Because in my head can and they’re like, “Does he know I was being a jerk or whatever?”

Marie Poulin: I love that.

Joe Casabona: I want to assume they’re very confused as to why I liked that comment.

Marie Poulin: I love that. Such a great little way of getting back at people.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, right. Because responding mean to trolls just kind of gives them power, right?

Marie Poulin: Absolutely.

Joe Casabona: But you’re like, “Thanks.” And then they’re like, “Wait, that’s not what I wanted.” And then you blew my mind just having the call… I’m like, “All right, I got a plan the call to action. I got my button on my stream deck time perfectly.” Just put it in the description. That’s like-

Marie Poulin: And you can add end cards later. So I’ve gotten back and maybe even slightly reworded videos, or update a different thumbnail, and just make a couple tweaks to the description after the fact. No big deal. I’m like, “So as I say, not as I do.”

Just shipping, just shipping wherever you’re at because every single decision like that is something that prevents you from shipping. And a video without a perfect call to action is better than not shipping that video at all. So I will always go back and kind of optimize it later and just focus on getting the reps in.

Joe Casabona: I love that. That was actually going to be one of maybe my final question here in the main interview, which is, do you spend a lot of… Because stats show that like 80% of people click on a video because of the headline of the thumbnail. So I feel like I spent like too much time on that. It feels like your content was the thing that was… The most important thing you were doing was like answering questions people had or showing, kind of like unlocking a new level of thinking for people, or showing them what’s possible.

Marie Poulin: And I think maybe, at the time, there just wasn’t enough content around it. So if people were searching for the thing, and they found my video, and there it is, it’s answering their question there sticking around. And then of course, YouTube gets smarter about recommending, oh, if this person watched this, and then this, they start to recommend more of your content. And so obviously that does improve things.

But you know, I just had kind of crummy thumbnail. I just didn’t do any of the things that you were supposed to do. I was just shipping videos imperfectly with like not so great resolution sometimes or my audio wasn’t quite there. Just whatever. Just shipped it.

And then once I learned about those things, I’m like, “Okay, I can do a better job in the thumbnails. Okay, you know, let’s build a standard look and feel for the thumbnails and stuff like that. Now there’s tons of Notion content. There’s lots of other creators and people.

And each one kind of has their own style, right? I think people are going to be drawn to the different creators, whether it’s their voice, the style of their dashboards, you kind of recognize their style, and stuff like that. So I think there’s room for a lot of us. A lot of us are teaching some of the same concepts, we just kind of have a different spin on it.

And so yeah, I don’t think too much about those details. Like I’ve never been one to be like, “Must optimize for the…” Every now and then I go in and I’m surprised to look at some of the interesting stats and be like, “Oh, actually, people are phrasing it like this instead of this. So if I’m using Knowledge Hub, do they know that I mean this?”

So it’s good to just kind of look at those things and just make those tweaks. But, you know, I try not to let those tweaks prevent me from making progress and then iterate later. You can always go back and improve it. So I don’t fuss too much about… I probably could stand to or like hire someone to actually go through and be like, “Hey, here’s what your data is telling us. We think you should do X.” I’m like, Awesome. I will go and do that.” But I’m not the one that cares too much about that stuff.

There are some instances where like, for example, Building a Second Brain building with Tiago Forte.

Joe Casabona: Yeah. I just finishes that book.

Marie Poulin: It’s great. I did his course when I was trying to figure out how to structure my Notion setup. And so I did a video on how to use PARA in Notion. So that’s a very popular video, but it’s also really old and outdated. So it’s actually a really great idea to go back to your most popular content, and then refresh it and say, “Hey, here’s how I’m doing PARA now. Here’s how I’m doing my weekly agenda now because that was my most popular video.

So even that’s a simple strategy that like take something that’s been really sticky and had the most engagement and remix it, do something different with that. So it doesn’t always have to be something new. It can be “here’s where I’m at with that now.” It’s something I learned from Ali Abdaal who is Part Time YouTuber Academy. So if you’re serious about YouTube, that course is outstanding.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. I will have a link to, well, Marie’s channel of course, Building a Second Brain—I just finished the book—and it like bloom.., that was the first time ever heard of PARA. And I reorganized my Craft notebook for that.

Marie Poulin: I love that.

Joe Casabona: And then Ali Abdaal. I’ll link to that. All of that stuff in the show notes. Again, that’s over at howibuilt.it/289. It sounds like as we wrap up here, maybe our big takeaways are: use the tools you’re most comfortable with, ship and iterate. And you can always update later, right? And of course, show people what you’re doing to give them ideas. Like maybe keep the how behind the paywall.

Marie Poulin: And I think the first time you interact with someone shouldn’t be asking for the sale. So there should be that… You’re sharing what you’re working on behind the scenes. People have heard about it several times and it’s not just like, “Hey, I’m working on this thing. Pay me money for it.”

Be willing to, I think, be very generous in the beginning when you’re sharing like what you’re thinking about, how you’re working on it, those insights, those tips. But yeah, keep the good stuff behind the paywall.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, love it. The value stuff, right? The thing that’s worth paying for. Be generous in the beginning. You don’t ask somebody to marry them on the first date usually. You don’t want to ask for money. Again, especially if it’s like a high dollar thing. If it’s like a $10 thing, maybe, but I’m definitely gonna base it on our conversation here.

I think this is another important thing to take away is like copying other creators might not work for you. But this idea generation of…I have a few good tools. One’s a podcast planner that I’m working on converting from Airtable to Notion. I got some advice that maybe more people would be interested in if it was a Notion database instead of Airtable bases. I mean, I’ll keep both of them but have the Notion one.

Add a call to action in the description. That’s like really I’m doing what like all the huge YouTubers that get like 10,000 downloads in like the first hour or more like do. That’s not going to work for me, right? Someone’s going to stumble upon my video because they’re like five ways to make money podcasting. And that’s when I say like, “Hey, you want five more ways, get this thing.” So awesome.

Marie, this has been so fantastic. Thanks so much for spending some time with us today. Again, if you want to hear probably Marie convinced me in real time to switch from Airtable to Notion, you can join the Creator crew. It’s less than five bucks a month so. But before we go if people want to learn more about you, where can they find you?

Marie Poulin: If you want to interact and say hello, you can say hi on Twitter @MariePoulin. You can pretty much find me at Marie Poulin if you Google me. And you can check out our company website is weareokidoki.com. And my more personal website is Mariepoulin.com.

http://www.Mariepoulin.com

Joe Casabona: Awesome. I will link to all of that and everything we talked about in the show notes over at howibuilt.it/289. Marie, thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

Marie Poulin: Thanks for having me. It was awesome.

Joe Casabona: My pleasure. Thanks to everybody listening and thanks to our sponsors. And until next time, get out there and build something.

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