David Kadavy is author of the #18 Amazon best-selling book, Design for Hackers, and host of the Love Your Work podcast. Prior to writing Design for Hackers, David led design at two Silicon Valley startups, freelanced for clients such as oDesk, PBworks, and UserVoice, and launched numerous startups of his own – none of which failed hard enough to be worthy of mention in this bio.
David’s work has won international awards that only design snobs have heard of, and his free email courses have taught over 100,000 people the fundamentals of good design.
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Here’s A Full Video & Transcription Of Our Interview With David Kadavy
Jonathan: Welcome back folks to the WP-Tonic Show. It’s episode 307. I’ve got my co-host Kim Shivler and we’ve got a fantastic guest, David Kadavy. David, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers?
David: Hello everybody. I’m just sharing this out on Twitter right now. Yeah. I’m David Kadavy. I’m a Creative Entrepreneur, which to me means that I try to creatively express myself while at the same time building businesses. So, a few things that I have going on, I’ve got a book called Design for Hackers where I reverse engineer visual design aimed mostly at Software Developers or people who don’t consider themselves designers so much. I have a podcast called Love Your Work. I’ve interviewed Seth Godin and James Altucher, Jason Fried, anybody you can imagine really, screenplay writers, chefs, rock stars on that show. And then, I’ve also been the self-publishing frenzy lately. I’ve self-published three books in the last 6 months with A Heart To Start, How to Write a Book and another book about a blockchain technology called Steemit.
Jonathan: That’s great. To say David is a man of many talents would be an understatement. And Kim, would you like to quickly introduce yourself to the listeners and viewers?
Kim: Absolutely. I’m Kim Shivler. I’m a trainer in the Communications area and Instructional Design Consultant. You can find me at kimshivler.com.
Jonathan: That’s great. And I’m the founder of WP-Tonic. We specialize in the maintenance of WordPress website, support, and maintenance with an emphasis on Learning Management Systems and Membership websites. We love to help you. Before we go into the main part of this interview folks, I just want to talk about one of our great sponsors, that would be LifterLMS. LifterLMS is one of the leading WordPress plugin solutions if you’re looking to build a Learning Management System with your WordPress website. Great team, really believe in support. They are pushing the boundaries of Learning Management Systems almost every month, really building out fantastic functionality. You can get the core of the program for just $1. They offer additional functionality through add-on packs and they’re giving a special discount to the WP-Tonic listeners and viewers. If you go to their website and use WPTONIC, all one word, you get 15 percent on any of the add-ons that they have in their store. That’s not a bad offer, is it? I suggest if you’re interested in that for yourself or for one of your clients, you go other and try it out. So let’s go straight into it David. One of the books that you’ve recently built is giving advice about, you know, you’ve got like a course, let’s say you’ve got this great idea for this course based on your experience but you just can’t get it going, you just can’t get it started. What’s your insights about that basically David?
David: Yeah. This is something that I have thought about a lot which is why I wrote the book. In some ways, it’s for my 25-year-old self, in some ways, it’s for my present and future self. It’s called A Heart To Start. It’s interesting that there is a type of procrastination. We normally think of procrastination as like something that you don’t want to do. But you can also be procrastinating about something that you really want to do, something that’s so important to your existence that you feel it welling up inside of you but you just can’t actually make it happen. So that could be like a course or you’re trying to build a Membership website or you want to write a book or something like that. And this is something I struggled with a lot, especially early on as an entrepreneur. I was often getting this advice. People would say, “Oh, just get started. Just get started.” Usually, you hear this from experienced people who already have a lot of stuff under their belt. And what I usually find out when I would dig deeper was that I think there’s two different types of people in a way.
There’s some people who do have not much of a problem just starting something, deciding, oh, they have an idea, they’re just going to go with it. I’m not like that. I grew up in a place where I didn’t know people who were writing books or starting companies or building video games or things like that. I didn’t even understand it, like flesh and blood people made those things. And so, this is what I’ve been learning over the years is that, yes, the advice to just get started is good advice but it’s not that straightforward to do. It’s like how do you get started? Where do you find the internal fuel to get started? How do you get past things like perfectionism and anxiety about fear of failure and things like that?
And so, that’s what I really wanted to explore in this book, not only through my own experiences but also through the experience of lots of guests that have been on my podcast and great creators throughout time. So that is what I have been thinking about and that’s what I’m talking about in this book.
Jonathan: Oh, sounds great. Got question, Kim?
Kim: Several. One of the things that excited me about this book is, you’re actually trying or giving people, I want to say trying, but you’re actually giving people kind of a step by step way to get started because I think you’re right. People say, “Just get started,” but if you don’t know how, it’s like saying, “Just ride the bike,” if you’re sitting in front of a bike for the first time. You don’t know what to do. So the clients I work with a lot of the times are a little bit on the other side and I’d like to hear your feedback, maybe I haven’t got far enough in the book. They’ve gotten started, maybe they’ve even created it but their pushback, their resistance is actually, publish and starting to market it because there’s a big vulnerability there. What would you teach them?
David: Yeah. That’s a great question because you’re always starting. You’re starting the company or you’re starting the book but you’re also starting in between different sessions and you’re starting between shipping this piece and shipping that piece. I think that you can get into this perfection paralysis. Is that kind of like what you think is going on with your clients is that they’re trying to tweak all these little things and they want to get it just perfect before they get it out there? Is that kind of what’s going on?
Kim: I think sometimes that’s going on. I tend to think that the root cause is fear of rejection.
Kim: We can always want to perfect but why do we want to perfect? Why do we want to do it? Even if we’ve built the whole thing and I was really bad about this when I was younger. I’ve probably got 20 books sitting on a shelf that have never been published. And sadly, because at the time, I was a technology writer. They’re no longer relevant. But it’s when you actually push it out to the world that now you are vulnerable for the feedback and helping them get over that fear. Because as a creator, we are not just building, you know, it might be somebody’s bookkeeping system or IT system, when I was in IT but we’re actually putting our heart on the line a lot of times.
David: Yeah, because your creative work is so personal. It comes from a very personal place.
David: It comes from, for whatever reason, you feel compelled to say, write this particular book because of your past experiences and you’re putting it out there and you’re going to get criticism. You’re definitely going to find that there’s always going to be things where you’re like, “That could have been better,” as well.
David: I think that it’s helpful to just recognize that a lot of this procrastination, it’s really just us wanting to feel good about ourselves. It’s that conflict, the classic conflict between ego and self. I’m borrowing a bit from Steven Pressfield, The War of Art, here. He says, “You’ve got two lives. You’ve got the life that you’re living and then you’ve got the unlived life inside of you and in between those two things is resistance.” And so, I think of any sort of creative endeavor as like self-actualization. You’re going to take your experiences, you’re going to take your passions, you’re going to take you and you’re going to inject it into this thing and you’re going to put it out into the world. Now, your ego doesn’t really like that because your ego wants you to feel good. It wants to protect the self. So, when you do put something out there that isn’t up to your standards or that you do get criticized or you feel like your friends are laughing at you behind your back or something like that or it can cause you to criticize other people. You can say like, “I’m not going to stoop to that level. I’m not going to do crappy work like that person does because I’m better than that.” And so, it does all these things that help us feel better about ourselves that, “Oh, well, we have high standards so we still need to learn more. We’re not going to stoop to that low level of quality.” All these things that are going on that are really just trying to protect the ego.
So how is the ego trying to protect the self really? So how do you get past that? That’s also a little bit easier said than done. It helps to recognize it but there’s little things you can do. One. I like, for example, to give myself permission to lower my standards sometimes.
David: Give yourself permission to suck. It sounds like a really terrible thing, well, are you going to do bad work? But oftentimes you find that if you give yourself permission to do work that you think sucks, to start with anyway, at least like that’s the permission you’re giving yourself, that work ends up being better than the non-existent work that you wouldn’t have done had you not given yourself that permission and you can’t get good at something without being bad at it first. That’s just one particular way. So with your clients, getting their work out there too. Another thing that can happen is that we are always going to dream big. We have high aspirations and we imagine, like take for like a Membership site before, say like a Membership site. You might imagine all these amazing features on this Membership site and you’ve got to think through how all these different things going to go together and you can think about that forever.
But you’re never going to actually get the motivation to work out all those details if it’s not out there living. So finding a way to scale back, to be a little bit lean with it, not only saves you time and energy because you end up making decisions and building things that nobody needs but it also is a motivational tool because you get the stuff out there and you scale back, you make half a product, not a half-ass product, as Jason Fried would say and that somehow creates some energy. Once you get through that wall of shipping, everything changes. I mean, it’s uncomfortable. Every time I’m putting up a blog post out there, every time I’m putting a podcast out there, I’m like, “Ugh. Such and such thing is just not right.” I’ve learned to find it freeing. I’ve learned to go towards that fear. So, I don’t know if you have any experience, when you’re trying to get these clients to get that work out there, what do you usually say to them? Are you ever able to convince them?
Kim: Oh, sometimes. It’s interesting because I love what you just said about the membership. I’m actually about to work with another client on this and she’ll be fine but I have had clients and I love what you say because they want to focus so much on features, features, features and it’s actually not but they’re trying to build the best Membership site, which they are. But I believe the real core resistance and I’m the same, I’m a Pressfield fan, I think the real core resistance is that fear of marketing and putting it out there and possibly getting rejection. As I push with people a lot that minimum viable product. Get 10 posts out there and see if anybody’s interested in this private area. What they’re interested in, use them as your springboard for the future of what they want to see. But you could spend 10 years building and building and building and building and building just because it’s scarier to put it out there. It’s like people who write books that are never published.
Kim: And it used to able to be an excuse, “Well, I couldn’t find a publisher.” But we know now and I loved your interview with Seth Godin talking about publishing. There’s no excuse not to publish anymore.
Kim: With Kindle and Amazon, there is no reason not to publish anymore. You don’t have to wait for someone else to validate you.
David: These are kind of two of the same thing with the publishing or the Membership site is that it’s very easy to get focused on, yeah, it’s great to have features on your Membership site. It’s great to have it being fully functional and stuff but what is a Membership site really? A Membership site really is about the people and you get a good community going, they’ll put up with it not being perfect but it needs to help them in some way.
David: And so, it’s concentrating on that, that’s what people need to focus on and which is going to be worse, working on something for a year, 2 years trying to tweak every little thing and launching it and finding out nobody cares at all or having something that’s a little lean to start with and you’re like, “Okay. Well, we’re starting where we are and we’re working on top of that and we’re Yes, Anding. We’re improvising here.”
David: That is not only more motivating, it is less painful as well but you do have to be willing to get that kind of feedback. It really is what it is. It’s like putting it out there knowing that it’s not what you ultimately expect it to become and responding to what happens after that.
Kim: Yeah. I love that. And if anybody has not taken an improv class, David talked about Yes, And, and that’s kind of the core of improv. If you’re going to be any type creator, I recommend you take a class. You don’t have to become a professional improv person but you will learn so much from that Yes, And idea and you can tie it back into yourself. You know what I push my people for is get out there and create value. Create value and put it out there and let it go and learn as you go.
David: Yeah. I totally agree.
Kim: Whether it’s a Membership site or a course or a book even.
David: I agree about this improv thing. I took some improv classes as well.
Kim: Me too.
David: And that has been a very valuable learning experience. You know, I think primarily, one of the things that happens is you get up in front of the class and you’re supposed to do a scene with somebody and you can’t think of anything to do. And maybe you do a scene that’s really terrible and you’re a little embarrassed but you go sit down and eventually, you realize, “Oh, I didn’t burst into flames. I didn’t disintegrate into dust but I learned something.” And so, there’s something about that process, which is exactly what it feels like to put blog posts out there and have them become duds, which I’ve written plenty of blog posts that are complete duds that I thought were going to be great, that nobody cared about or where I was wrong about something entirely and somebody pointed it out. But it’s all a part of the process of being able to exercise that sort of vision muscle. I was talking to a rock star turned filmmaker and he was talking about his first film and he was saying that as a musician, he can envision an album from the top down. He knows exactly every little step it needs to go into making an album happen. And so, that vision muscle, that ability to envision an outcome and then be able to follow the steps to make that outcome happen, is something that he was able to carry over into making his first film. There’s always going to be unexpected things but there’s skills transfer in that way and that’s why I always say that if you’re somebody who wants to create things and you’re having trouble creating things, I think that it’s useful to exercise that vision muscle in whatever way you can. Whether that is, “Okay. I’m going to look up a recipe online and I’m going to make a shopping list and I’m going to plan things out and I’m going to make this recipe happen. I’m going to invite a friend over. I’m going to create this experience. I’m going to create a thing that is coming from my own volition and I’m going to envision the outcome and I’m going to follow steps to make it happen.” And some it’s not going to work out right. You’re going to burn the pasta or something like that.
Kim: Yes, you will.
David: And you’re going to take what you learned and you’re going to do it the next time. Those skills transfer to any creative endeavor. And so, I think that just getting comfortable with the process because this isn’t something that we’re taught in school. We’re taught like, “Here’s the answer. Follow these steps. You’re going to get to the answer. You’re going to get this grade. Follow these steps. You’re going to get the Degree. You’re going to get the job.” The world doesn’t work that way anymore.
David: Maybe for some people. But if you want to survive in this world, you need to know how to make something that didn’t exist before and you need to know how to make it in an extremely uncertain environment where things are changing all the time and where what you’re doing is something nobody had ever done before. And so, I think that that is a mindset to continue to cultivate in whatever you can is thinking about how to create something that didn’t exist before and how to envision it and see how well your outcomes lines up with the vision that you had before you started and starting small with that.
Kim: Great stuff.
Jonathan: That’s sounds great. We’re going to go for our break folks and we’ll be back in a few moments.
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Jonathan: We’re coming back, folks. We’ve had a great discussion with David. David, this is going to be a little bit of a long-winded question, surprise, surprise. But I’ve been thinking about this for a little while. Around design, in some ways design seems to have become, especially when it comes to website design, seems to have become a real commodity. Also, design in general, the lower to medium end of the market, it seems to have become very commoditized. But on the other hand, I’ve just got a feeling, especially when it comes to UX design and also in design in general that design in some ways, I feel that it’s going to become increasingly important so I’m kind of pushed two ways about, is the market very fragmented and it’s going in different directions? Basically, can you give some advice and insight, David? I thought you were the right guy to ask this question.
David: Here’s what I think about it is I’m kind of a recovering designer. I got my Degree in Graphic Design. I was obsessed with design and I worked as a designer for a very long time and still do the design in my own company. But what do designers love to do? We love to complain about, “This font’s bad or that font’s bad or this client is like this or nobody appreciates what we do.” And people are appreciating more and more and more. People are catching on, which is great. But we need to think about what do we contribute as business people to our clients. That’s just one thing. What do we contribute? There are systems that are going out there like themes and stock photography, stock illustration, all these things that make it easy to make a design that looks good and yeah, maybe it’s not the perfect design but it serves the purpose from a business standpoint. And so, since design is becoming so important, people are starting to appreciate it more. It’s starting to become, like a requirement of doing business is to have a decent design. I think designers are an advantage that they sometimes miss which is that they understand how all this, they can create value from thin air and there’s also this way of thinking that goes into design that is also very valuable. And I think that you shouldn’t just be a designer for clients. I think that we should all be thinking about ways that we can create our own things, to be Creative Entrepreneurs, to write books or create an app or create the Membership site. So thinking like business people using our design thinking skills of like how do we create something that somebody wants and that solves some kind of a problem for them.
And so, that’s why I think that a lot of designers can easily miss as they’re worrying about design, worrying about rates crumbling or going down, things like that. I was like, “Well, look at this amazing power that you have. Look at this as an opportunity to take control of your own destiny and create something of your own and you have this amazing power to make something look beautiful and to make an impression on people.” And then, also to think like a designer in a way that you can make a product that meets the needs of somebody.
Jonathan: Yeah. Great answer. I wasn’t totally sure where you were going with your answer. I just want to clarify this.
David: Sure, sure.
Jonathan: I thought originally you were saying that mix it up a bit. You know, work with clients but also have your own projects and by working on your own projects you will then learn a lot more, be able to offer a lot more insight to those clients that you still work with and in some ways you might build up more empathy for the client that you’re working with because you’ve gone through a similar process through your own work.
David: I mean, I think that that works but I mean, I personally prefer to try to find my way out of working with clients.
Jonathan: Yes. And then you took it to the next stage where you were saying that you actually feel that you should move it mostly to your own work and not work with clients.
David: I think that’s one way of doing it. I’m just speaking for myself and a lot of designers that I’ve talked to who don’t feel, they don’t enjoy working with clients a whole lot. That’s not necessarily their calling. Some people love that. Some people love to serve their clients and that’s where I think that’s it’s useful to think of yourself more as a trusted consultant than a designer. If the design is the commodity, how can you take what you’re doing and solve your client’s problem in a more wholistic manner and that’s where I think that someone like Brennan Dunn, I don’t know if you’ve had him on the show but he really thinks about this really well about how to sell yourself, not so much as a, “Yeah. I’m just a widget maker but I’m going to help you with your entire business here. Then, you can start commanding a higher rate.” That’s not something that I personally, that’s not my core but I know that if I were somebody who really did get satisfaction out of working with clients, I would start looking in that direction.
Jonathan: I just sense that almost golden age of design is almost there. The actual technology side is increasingly, in some ways, becoming easier. And then, business outsourcing, there’s only so far you can take that. Business is always looking for the cutting edge and I think that cutting edge of individuality of market fit is increasingly going to resonate with design. What do you think about that David?
David: I think that you’re talking about sort of, are you talking about kind of hitting a niche or hitting, sort of the idea that average is over, right? So, if you want to be the best at something, at one thing, then good luck with that because you’re competing against the entire world now. You’re not just competing with whoever it is that’s in the same town. When Facebook bought Instagram for, what was it, a billion dollars for 13 employees, they weren’t looking for the second best photo sharing app. They were looking for the best photo sharing app. And so, I think that it was called like a competitive striver is what the economist Tyler Cowen calls these people. It’s somebody who, they want to be the best at something.
They always want more and those people are in big trouble in this age because there’s always somebody out there who’s better than you at this one thing. There’s always somebody out there who has more. You’re going to feel bad about yourself. But now, if you’re an enthusiast, enthusiast is what he calls it, is somebody who has a niche interest or a combination of interests, well, then, you can combinations of interest and be the only person who does that thing. Case in point for myself is that growing up I really loved drawing. I also really loved computers. I was on the Internet in the 90s. Those two things had nothing to do with each other. Eventually, I became a Web Designer and then on the side, I started a blog. Those things didn’t really have that much to do with each other. I worked in Silicon Valley and got exposed to entrepreneurship. Those things were kind of unrelated. Then, eventually, one day, I got a book deal to write my first book, Design for Hackers and my life and career totally changed from that thing.
And, you know, not that there’s not a lot of great Web Design books out there but there’s not one out there just like mine and my way of doing it really resonates with some people. Some people not so much but some other people, it really resonates with them. And I think that’s the opportunity that we have and I think that that is our big challenge and crisis is that we aren’t really armed with the skills to figure out what is it that I have, what’s my one thing that only I can do that I can turn into some kind of an entrepreneurial endeavor?
And that’s a tough, soul-searching process that is completely at odds with the way that the world used to work. It used to be you jump through the hoops, you go through this thing, you get the certification and okay, now you’re an Accountant, now you’re a Lawyer, now you’re a Doctor. But if you’re looking to create something, you’re looking to find your own voice, the one thing that only you can do and make that into some kind of a living for yourself, a sustainable living for yourself, not just financially but also just personally as well from a satisfaction standpoint loving your work, that’s not as straightforward of a process. We need to figure that out. That’s what I’m trying to figure out.
Jonathan: I just love it, David. Thank you so much for that insight. We’re going wrap up the podcast part of the show. David’s agreed to stay on for a little while. We’re going to be talking about another of his books about blockchain and about how he feels and I agree with him. It’s going to change the world in some ways. My co-host Kim just got off a flight, a business trip and her phone overheated and she had to leave the show. And also, I think she was doing it from Florida and I think she was melting in front of us as well. But she wanted to join the conversation because she’s a great fan of David. So, hopefully, she’ll be back next week folks. So, David, how can people learn more about what you’re up to and more about you in general David?
David: Oh, thank you so much, Jonathan. I’m really active on Twitter at @kadavy. I have a podcast. It is called Love Your Work. You can find that anywhere that you get your podcasts. Website is kadavy.net. That’s where you can find the podcast, the books and if any people are interested in, I’ve got lots of calls to actions. So I’ve got a free design course at designforhackers.com for anybody who’s looking to learn some basics on design. For anybody out there who’s an aspiring writer looking to increase their creative output, I have a list of tools at kadavy.net/tools.
Jonathan: Oh, that’s great. And folks, if you want to learn more about WP-Tonic, go to our website. We’ve got some great resources about if you want to build that course, great advice. We’ve got some great articles that we wrote this month about different choices of technology. We’ve just got some great resources on the WP-Tonic website. So we’re going to wrap up the show this week folks. If you really want to support the show also, go to iTunes and give us a review, good, bad or indifferent. I just love reviews and it does really help the show and it’s great feedback as well. So we’re going to wrap up the show and hopefully, next week, we’re going to have somebody doing something really fantastic with WordPress, online, Internet or just somebody in general that we feel is really interesting and would offer some great insight to you the listener and viewer. We’ll see you next week folks. Bye.
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