Does Sponsoring Daring Fireball Actually Work?

John Gruber’s blog, Daring Fireball, is one of the more popular blogs out there that cover things specifically around Apple products, both hardware and software. I’ve been a reader for a long time and he’s been blogging since 2002.

The only thing that I have on John is that I’ve been blogging just a bit longer than him but he’s been infinitely more successful with his blog proper, especially as far as monetizing his content in a way that creates more than a full-time income for him (started in 2006).

If you’d like a really great overview and history of his blog then there’s really no better way to do that than to listen and view this video:

(And you get it directly from the Horse’s Mouth!)

A few notes and key takeaways from his talk:

  • He thought he was “late” to the blogging game. He obviously wasn’t. “It’s never too late!” By the way… you should start blogging, seriously. It’s not that hard. Here’s a gift for you.
  • In 2004 he started to seriously consider taking it full-time and began experimenting with monetization strategies that could make it a reality. I think the greatest takeaway here is that he was intentional with his time and decision-making. He once of the first to use Google Adsense.
  • He wanted to “crowd source” and get his first 1,000 true fans via Kevin Kelly. Tried tshirts, membership packages, etc.
  • Goal between 2004-2006 was to build enough income to at least be the same as his full-time job as a designer so that his side project could become full-time. It didn’t happen though. His theory was that to make his side project become his full-time job he had to invest his full-time into it.
  • This was one of the scariest thing he’s ever done because he did it publicly. The response was overwhelming though by his growing community. By the end of 2006 his monthly revenue and monthly expenses were about equal. He stayed there for a while. But it was a struggle to pay bills.
  • 2007, the year that made DF a success, was the year that changed everything and it was all thanks to Google, which is, of course, ironic because John’s fairly “skeptical” about all-things Google. Specifically, it was the now defunct Google Reader that helped him make the jump.
  • He underpriced the first direct sponsorship and continued to iterate and experiment, continuing to increase the price. As a result, he’s been fully booked for the last 7 years. Amazing.
  • It works!” especially because he has repeat customers.
  • The “bad guy” is CPM. “It’s profoundly disrespectful to the creative people who do the writing.” That’s why he does direct sponsorships.
  • I’m going to write Daring Fireball until I fucking die.” He gets to write what he wants to write, when he wants to write it, every single day. What a “wonderful and lucky opportunity.” He’s still surprised that more people do not jump on blogging in a serious way.
  • He mentions a few takeaways himself, such as “know when to be stubborn” and “know when to be flexible” as well as “prioritize quality over money”.
  • Sounds like an “iPhone” doesn’t it…

john-gruber-takeaways

Definitely a few things to chew on.

Does Advertising on DaringFireball.net Really Work?

Okay, so, the point of this blog post…

A lot of people have asked me whether sponsorship and advertising on John Gruber’s Daring Fireball actually works. What they are asking, more specifically, is whether it’s really worth the investment, because advertising is not cheap on DF.

It does (and I’ll explain more in depth in a moment) but let’s first take a look at the first spot that went live here on November 17th, 2014:

DESK: A DESKTOP BLOGGING APP YOU’LL LOVE (AND USE)

Hi, I’m John Saddington, an indie developer and blogger! And, I’d love to share with you a few “facts”…

Fact: I’ve been blogging longer than John Gruber (since 2001).

Fact: I’ve tried every desktop blogging app out there and none have stuck.

Fact: I decided to build one for myself, one that truly focused on what really matters: Writing.

Fact: I built it exclusively for OS X and I call the app Desk — I think you’ll really like it.

Fact: It has the most simple UI possible and respects text ornamentation via Markdown (hell yeah!) and a beautiful WYSIWYG editor, among many other features.

Fact: You can directly publish to your favorite publishing platform including WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, Typepad, Movable Type, Facebook Notes, Squarespace, and more on the way.

Fact: I’m not as famous nor as successful as John Gruber. ;)

It’s time you really loved your writing and publishing app. You can purchase a copy via the Mac App Store or check out the main website athttp://desk.pm/.

Also, feel free to follow my journey through the Desk App Blog. Thanks for supporting the small time developers! It means a lot!

Later that week, on the 22nd of November, 2014, Gruber posted another blog thanking for the sponsorship. This is per his usual as he first does the [Sponsored Post] and then thanks the sponsor later that week:

DESK

My thanks to John Saddington for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote Desk, his blogging app for the Mac. Saddington has been blogging for more than a decade, but never found a blogging app that stuck. So, he built one for himself, focused on what matters most:writing. It’s called Desk, and it’s exclusively for OS X. (And it has one of the best app icons I’ve ever seen — perfect metaphor, beautifully rendered.)

Desk has a simple, writing-focused UI. It supports both Markdown (of course) and WYSIWYG for editing, and has direct posting support for a slew of popular platforms, including WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, Typepad, Movable Type, Facebook Notes, and Squarespace. Visually, though, Desk is utterly minimal — while you’re writing, everything fades away but your prose.

You can purchase a copy via the Mac App Store or check out Desk’s beautiful website. Or, follow Desk’s development through the Desk App Blog (written using Desk, of course).

Now, the cost today ranges between $8,000 – $10,000 dollars per placement and you get to write your own post, essentially. The process is simple as one just emails back and forth with John to figure out the best position, time, and placement. Payment is through Paypal and that’s about that. Nothing fancy and nothing complex.

Now, as an indie developer who was pretty serious about financial budgeting, this was a pretty large gamble on my part. I can remember standing at my desk and asking my wife what she thought about this type of investment and she thought it was pretty nuts.

Yeah, it was. I was putting all of my proverbial “eggs” in one basket and was hoping that it would work. But, it wasn’t without research and it wasn’t a decision I took lightly (obviously). You see after reading DF for years I’ve been witness to many companies that have had great success with sponsorship. The kicker was that I have purchased many products just because I first saw it on DF.

So I began the paper-napkin math and figured that if I spent $9,000 on DF it would ultimately have to convert approximately 300 copies of my app to at least break-even. So I asked myself this simple question:

Do I really believe that Daring Fireball can create explicit value in converting 300 new customers?

What helped me answer this question is that I had to remember that the conversion of 300 new customers wouldn’t come instantaneously but over time and through the halo-effect that DF would create in awareness in channels that did not yet know about the product.

In other words, if I believed that I’d sell 300 copies the first day of sponsorship then I was kidding myself and shouldn’t send that check for $9,000. But, if I believed that direct sales via DF plus the awareness into other markets that would now talk and blog and review the product then I had a strategy and shot of getting a return on my investment.

So, I made the commitment, sent John Gruber the money, and then hoped for the lightning strike anyways (but was settled on the long-term play). The sponsorship went live on November 17th and I held my breath…

There we go...!
There we go…!

The short answer is this: Yes, DaringFireball worked for me.

Over the course of that first week’s campaign and sponsorship I had net (profit) proceeds of nearly $16,000, which means that my investment of the $9,000 was made back within the first week of sponsorship!

For those interested, the previous 7 days of sales were just north of $2,100, so assuming that I was on pace to do that again I was clearly in the black based on Gruber’s sponsorship.

But there were three more significant things that happened as a result of the sponsorship, the first is that I began to rank at the very top of the Mac App Store in not only the Productivity category but globally. Specifically, I reached, at the very peak, #4 spot in Productivity, #3 in Productivity Sales, #16 in Over-All Mac App Store and #11 in Over-All Sales, the last statistic which blows my mind.

This means, at least in the dominant US-market, Desk App was the #11th most-grossing app in the entire Mac App Store marketplace. Almost… almost a Top-10 best-selling app for a given time period in the entire ecosystem. What… the… eff…

What also contributed to this strong placement and the second significant result is the colossal reach that DF has within the Apple and OS space – I got bombarded by requests for “Review Copies” from tons of other decently-sized blogs.

In fact, I was so unprepared for this deluge that it stunted what was already going to be a banner month as I simply did not have enough review copies and tokens to go around. I ended up having to wait-list over 30 prominent blogs which hurt my momentum severely. This was probably the worst mistake that I’ve made in terms of traction-building.

It wasn’t all that bad, though, as the ones that I was able to get in also created a direct marketing collateral piece on my marketing homepage. In other words, DF pretty much populated my entire “testimonial” section:

testimonials-desk-app

I had so many great reviews that I redesigned my landing page to take advantage of all this great press (I have a retrospective of that process here).

Lastly, the most significantly, all of this attention, sales, and great press resulted in being named one of the Best Apps of 2014. Naturally, I can’t really “track” the impact and no one knows how one actually gets on the list to be considered but this award rocketed my small indie app into the stratosphere.

Humbled. I mean, I really felt like I had won the Grammies, Academy Awards, and the Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest all in one:

best-of-2014-title
Bam.

Was this all due to DF? Who’s to entirely say but I can’t imagine that it didn’t help in some way directly and/or indirectly.

Regardless, back to the money-equation… I still came out very-much on top as the effect of DF was long-lasting, way beyond the initial 7 day sponsorship and continued to boost sales throughout the rest of the calendar year. I went on to grab a net-revenue (profit) of just north of $32,000 for the month of December, 2014. That’s not bad for an indie app if I do say so myself and it has made the app more than viable in it’s very short lifespan.

Enough, I might add, to throw John another large check and I sponsored his blog recently in the first week of this year, January 6, 2015:

THE BEST BLOGGING APP OF 2014

… at least according to Apple via the Mac App Store last year!

(Desk App was awarded “Best App of 2014” and it is the only “blogging” app on the list – go figure…)! Still, I’m super-humbled and honored!

But here’s the point: 2015 needs to THE YEAR that you reboot / restart / re-whatever your blogging and writing efforts! I’m sure it’s near the top of your New Year’s Resolutions and/or goals for 2015, right?

Let me help! I’ve got a free 10-day online workshop to help you get back on the blogging train! Totally free. Easy-peasy. We’re just getting started and it’s not too late to join!

Oh.. of course… if you need a new tool to help get the job done, Desk Appcan assist with that too.

:)

Have a great one folks!

And his “Thank You” blog post a few days later:

DESK

My thanks once again to Desk for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Desk is a beautiful, functional blogging app for the Mac, named by Apple as one of the “Best Apps of 2014” in the App Store. Desk’s focus is simple: it’s about writing.

If you’ve been thinking about starting a new blog or rejuvenating your existing one, John Saddington, Desk’s developer, is offering a free 10-day online workshop. It’s totally free, no strings attached.

This campaign wasn’t nearly as successful but still gave it a kick that I needed to start this fiscal year off on the right foot and the similar results occurred like the previous marketing event, just smaller in magnitude.

Some Final Thoughts…

Here are some top-line thoughts for those that might consider a DF-sized sponsorship:

  1. Audience Matters – Clearly you need to know John’s audience and do some research on what his audience likes and responds well to. I already said it but I’ll say it again… research matters.
  2. A Great Product – This sounds obvious but I think you need not just a well put together product but you need a great product that John’s audience will purchase. John’s a blogger and there are a lot of bloggers that read his blog… so a “blogging product” really made a lot of sense.
  3. The Halo Effect – You need to be ready to handle the outcause of a marketing event like this and I wasn’t ready in the slightest. I had to react and did a poor job of preparing myself for the work post-sponsorship. Creating a new landing page, managing tons of inbound requests, a larger pool of customers and their needs… it was rough (but good).
  4. It’s Always a Risk – There’s no doubt about it and you may not get the results you want. This blog post is to neither persuade or dissuade you of pursuing a DF sponsorship but to tell you my story and experience. As always, caveat emptor on something like this.
  5. Timing Matters – I think timing has a lot to do with success and although this isn’t a fine science I think you should try to coordinate your campaign with something seasonal when it makes the most sense (and I’m no expert). For instance, my second campaign tried to take advantage of a lot of people’s New Year Resolutions, especially people considering re-starting or refreshing their blog. I marketed Desk as an application that could help with that and also gave a free 10 Day Online Workshop too, for kicks.
  6. Have the Right Attitude – I think this is more a reminder for myself but I wanted to make sure that if it didn’t work out that I wasn’t going to die (emotionally) as a result. I’m not big into digital marketing and try pretty hard to avoid most of it at all costs so I was already grating against my own behavior and conscience. But, I knew that I’d be okay if it didn’t work and I wouldn’t fire it off again. I’d live. An attitude of thankfulness is always appropriate, all the time.
  7. Experiment – Great entrepreneurs experiment wildly with their marketing and traction opportunities. Indie developers need to do the same. It doesn’t have to cost this much to do it either.

I’m quite thankful for John Gruber and his blog because it has made  my experience of being an Indie Developer really worthwhile and, more importantly, has made this viable and very happy about my work. I won’t be buying a private jet or retiring (nor will I be quitting my day job) but a modest income and a very meaningful living through this app is a real possibility.

That’s a win in my book.

UPDATE: This post made it on the front page of Hacker News! That’s cool but what is more cool were the great questions and conversations that were created there. I answer a lot of them and I was able to provide even greater context.


Also published on Medium.