How Online Communities Thrive: An Interview with Fizzle

What does it take to be a thriving online school with an engaged, active community? We’re not the only ones building online schools here at One Month, and we frequently reach out to our friends and neighbors to ask them what they’ve learned along the way, and how we can be doing better.

We sat down with our friends at Fizzle, because we love what they’re doing with online community building. (Confession: I’m a member of the Fizzle Community, as well as about a dozen other online schools. I’m sure you are, too).

Fizzle is an online education platform and community for independent entrepreneurs building businesses they believe in.

Tell us about the Fizzle journey: how did it get to where it is today?

Fizzle is the brainchild of Corbett Barr, Chase Reeves, and Caleb Wojcik.

Corbett and Caleb were previously running a site called ThinkTraffic.net, where they used Corbett’s startup and programming background to help online entrepreneurs understand how to build a successful business by growing their traffic and email lists.

Their original vision was “to teach people how to build fun, profitable and sustainable independent businesses, creating a community of smart ambitious micro-entrepreneurs.”

Corbett and Chase met at a conference over a shot of Fernet (yes really, over Fernet). Corbett hired Chase to redesign Think Traffic, and they worked so well together on the project that they talked starting a new company together.

Their original vision was “to teach people how to build fun, profitable and sustainable independent businesses, creating a community of smart ambitious micro-entrepreneurs.”

We’ve stayed true to that vision to this day.

What do you teach?

Everything we teach is centered on helping independent entrepreneurs make progress in their business week after week. Our ultimate goal is to build an end-to-end curriculum to help independent entrepreneurs at any stage and across many different business archetypes.

Specifically, our courses include things like Choosing a Topic (business idea), Defining Your Audience (target market), Email Marketing (build a list), Podcasting (beginning and advanced), and the Just Ship it Challenge (for building and launching products).

How are your classes shared? How do people learn with you?

People take classes through monthly membership at Fizzle.co. Our courses live in a library and students are guided through them by the small business roadmap. We created the roadmap to help link different resources together to help our customers reach a specific milestone, like launching a website, or earning their minimum viable income.

How our students share what they’re learning with each other is every bit as important as the courses.

We’re also big on community at Fizzle, so how our students share what they’re learning with each other is every bit as important as the courses.

How many members have you had in your community to date? How many active members do you work with each month?

We’ve had over 8,000 members to date and we work with more than 2,000 members every month.

Who is responsible for community management? How much time does it take, and what does it involve?

We think of community management in terms of “member success.” In 2014, we hired Barrett Brooks to be our first director of member success. He took on that role for a year and just recently passed it off to Steph Crowder, who joined the team from Groupon, where she was leading their sales training team.

We think of community management in terms of “member success.”

Steph wears a lot of hats around Fizzle, so the rest of the team helps balance the community management workload to give her a bit of a break.

It’s been said that people “come for the content, stay for the community” — what are your thoughts on this quote?

We’ve definitely seen this to be true. We’re big believers in “just in time learning,” which means our customers should only take courses when they need them to make the next breakthrough in their business or to learn a new skill that will help them make meaningful progress.

We’re big believers in “just in time learning,” which means our customers should only take courses when they need them to make the next breakthrough in their business or to learn a new skill that will help them make meaningful progress.

When you encourage your customers to avoid just in case learning, it means you have to have something else to keep them around in between courses. That’s where our community has been so crucial for our business model and so valuable for our customers.

The relationships our customers have formed with one another thanks to our community has been remarkable. Whether it’s using the forums to find a mastermind group, encouraging each other in their progress logs, or showing up to local meetups, our community has been invaluable.

Chase shared a story in one of his podcasts about reading through all of the comments and getting to know every person in the community when he was getting started. Can you share a bit about this story? What did you learn? Why is this so important?

To Chase, the purpose of design is to make something useful for a specific group (or groups) of people. Chase read every comment to get inside the heads of the audience for Think Traffic. He wanted to know what they were struggling with, what their dreams were, what they were saying in comments vs what they had actually accomplished in their own businesses and why they were coming to the site to begin with.

That process helped him decide what was most important on the site and led him to emphasize the resources that were most valuable to the reader while still keeping Corbett’s goals in mind.

He also made it look very pretty, which was a bonus.

Tell us a little bit about how people’s lives are transformed when they use Fizzle. What are people like when they first join your group, and what changes when they ‘grow up’ or ‘graduate’ from the community?

Our customers always say it better than we can, so here’s a quote from one of them:

“The content provided on Fizzle exactly fits where I’m at, and more importantly it fits who I am. I have developed more expertise in the past three weeks than I had in the previous 6 months. The confidence that comes from doing technical things myself, like setting up auto responders and adding a payment button, is empowering. Fizzle leaves out all the fluff. The tutorials cut to the chase (no pun intended… well… maybe a little bit). Your team boils down huge concepts into essential, practical, achievable steps without alienating the most important component: my driving passion to serve the way that only I can.

I have been introduced to inspired, passionate people through Fizzle: Chase, Corbett, and Caleb to start with, but also Leo Babauta, Chris Johnson, Scott Dinsmore, Seth Godin (indirectly), and more. As a result of those connections, my voice, and the accompanying message, is clearer and more confident than ever.

“While I find great value in what I learn on Fizzle, what makes it most valuable to me is how it creates an environment where I can learn from myself.”

While I find great value in what I learn on Fizzle, what makes it most valuable to me is how it creates an environment where I can learn from myself. Your team creates that learning space exceptionally well in regard to online business. I do that exceptionally well in regard to personal growth. My own story of personal transformation has inspired me to create that space for others to learn from themselves, and with the resources provided on Fizzle, I will succeed.”

This story is similar to so many we see in the way our customers develop through their learning and connection at Fizzle. Many entrepreneurs come to Fizzle a bit jaded by what they see across the web about “making money online” and overnight successes as compared to their firsthand experience. It’s our job to help them set more realistic expectations and then give them the support and education necessary to reach their goals.

The most common story we see is that of an entrepreneur who has just gotten started. She has launched her business, perhaps even built a product, but has not seen the kind of results she hoped for. She joins Fizzle to find out where she went wrong and to get support from like-minded entrepreneurs.

She joins a mastermind group, finds her place on the small business roadmap, and then starts to see small improvements. She interviews customers to understand their fears and dreams. She redesigns her website and rebuilds her product based on what she learns. She writes copy from a place of authenticity and trust.

Each week, we see another success story where another entrepreneur has just had her first month earning enough money to support her family. In that moment, it’s incredible to see the realization that this whole business thing really is possible. It just takes hard work and the right support system.

Each of these little changes adds up. And each week, we see another success story where another entrepreneur has just had her first month earning enough money to support her family. In that moment, it’s incredible to see the realization that this whole business thing really is possible. It just takes hard work and the right support system.

Technical marketers (us at One Month included) can get really geeky about churn. We’re always trying to figure out the best ratio for how many subscribers we lose in a month versus how many we have joining. There’s an idea about churn that says, “If churn isn’t in the single digits, that’s the only thing you should be focused on.” Do you agree? What do you think is a “healthy” level of turnover? How do you know when people are ready to leave your community?

We’re still exploring what healthy churn means for a business like Fizzle. More than shooting for someone else’s standard, we focus on getting better. We believe the better we make our product, the lower our churn will go. Whether we ever reach the holy grail of single digit churn is anyone’s guess.

We think we can provide value to entrepreneurs across their entrepreneurial life cycle — from business idea to sale or retirement. Over time that may mean different products or communities for different stages of entrepreneur, or it might mean building micro-communities inside of one larger Fizzle.

We’re not scared to say when we don’t have all the answers and the realm of healthy churn metrics is definitely an area where we don’t have all the answers. We think we can provide value to entrepreneurs across their entrepreneurial life cycle — from business idea to sale or retirement. Over time that may mean different products or communities for different stages of entrepreneur, or it might mean building micro-communities inside of one larger Fizzle. We’ll see.

Do you have any special celebrations or delightful surprises that you love giving to your community?

The more we can delight our customers, the better.

At World Domination Summit 2014, we made up a short-run shirt that we gave away to our customers and friends of Fizzle. Chase hand-lettered a beautiful “Heart and Hustle” slogan for the front and we added a little tagline of “Fizzle — Make Your Thing” on the back.

We’ve had people ask us on a weekly basis where they can get one of those shirts, but the point wasn’t to make a shirt that we could sell over and over. It was to make something our community would love and give it away so they didn’t have to worry about paying for it or having it shipped to them.

Any big no-no’s in community building? What would you never do, or what do you see people doing that ticks you off? (Like not being able to cancel or unsubscribe, etc).

We’re constantly taking the long-view on our business.

It sounds cliche, but we really do try to operate from a standpoint of, “What experience would I want to have?” If you can honestly use that as your north star in building a community, I think you’ll be ok.

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