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From Idea to Web Start-up in 21 Days: An Interview with Jason Glaspey

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Peachpit interviews Jason Glaspey about selling bacon on the Internet, how to run a web startup, and the biggest mistake most online startups make.
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Peachpit: How did you get the idea for bacn.com?

Jason Glaspey: This really came from Scott Kveton. He was writing about bacon online quite a bit, and people were just so always excited to talk to him about the stuff. And this was when bacon was really showing up everywhere online, so the idea to try and sell good bacon to people who may not have access to the local farms we take for granted in Portland, Oregon just seemed natural.

Peachpit: Had you thought of other ideas and rejected them before settling on bacn.com? If so, what were they and why did you reject them?

Jason: I’ve tried about a dozen or so online projects. Most of them either failed or were abandoned after a few months. However, I did start a happy hour finder called Unthirsty.com with my friend Matt King. We ran it for a few years and had a lot of fun with it. We sold that company around the same time as we sold bacn.com.

Peachpit: How did you fund bacn.com?

Jason: It was all self-funded. Scott put up some personal cash he had, and the three of us just worked our butts off to keep costs low. Between the three of us, there wasn’t much we had to hire out, except of course, the bacon itself.

Peachpit: Did you have previous experience with running a web startup? 

Jason: As I said, I worked on a few projects in the past, but this was the first one where I was actually shipping a material object. And if you ever have the chance to get into the bacon retail market, don’t. Shipping cured meat is a huge pain.

Peachpit: What's your background/skill set?  For stuff you didn't know how to do, how did you find out?

Jason: I studied advertising in college, but have worked in interactive for the past 8 years. I’ve mainly been a producer or project manager, but have also done a lot of user-experience and information architecture. So, my role in the company was really about the details and the experience of our brand. Scott handled the business and Michael built the site. For the things we didn’t know how to do, we either Googled it or hired it out. There’s a lot of information on how to do anything online if you take the time to learn it. However, for things like design we just trusted to the pros from the beginning.

Peachpit: Can one person run a web startup, or does it take a village? 

Jason: It depends. I’ve created a recent startup by myself called paleoplan.com. My wife helped me in the early stages, and I’ve hired out some of the more tedious tasks to local students, but for the most part, I’ve run the company myself. It’s difficult. I’ve always wished I had a co-founder who I could sit next to every day and the two of us could feed off each other’s energy. It’s difficult for me to stay personally motivated when a day’s task will only make a nominal improvement in the company. But it’s those small improvements, day after day, that end up giving you a really polished product; so you have to stay with it. I’ve done okay on my own, but I’ve lamented the lack of partner many times. With Bac’n, it was totally necessary for there to be three of us co-founders, just with how much was necessary to be done and all of our skill sets being so broad.

Peachpit: What do you recommend doing yourself and what do you recommend outsourcing?

Jason: If you have the money, I recommend outsourcing everything that you’re not a professional at, especially when there is a direct return on that investment. For instance, I will never manage my own Adwords campaigns again. It’s so much more cost-effective to have an expert handling your Pay-Per-Click campaigns. The same with design; I can direct a designer all day, but I just don’t have the visual imagination that you need to create elegant solutions like a good designer can. However, if you can get away with something simple and cheap in the beginning, do that until the business model is proven and the investment in outside help can be justified with profits.

Peachpit: How has your work with global brands such as Nike, Burton Snowboards, Starbucks, and Nokia informed how you developed a web startup like bacn.com?

Jason: Well, one influence has just been the frustration that comes with companies of that size -- how slowly they move, and how most decisions seem to be made simply to keep whoever is making the decision out of trouble from their boss. When you build something yourself, there’s an excitement about making a decision and just going for it.

Also, working with those brands taught me that it isn’t rocket science. Make good decisions, ask people for feedback, and make a product you want to buy.

Finally, I’ve always thought that if these brands trusted me with their online presence, and I supposedly held all this information they were willing to pay for, why wasn’t I taking advantage of that myself. So, it was a chance to put my money where my mouth was and prove to myself that I knew what I was talking about.

Peachpit: What's the biggest mistake most online startups make?

Jason: Not getting started yesterday. I talk to people all the time that have interesting ideas, and they think they have to do so much work to get started. We started a company selling bacon online, built a full website, procured product and shipping methods and all that in three weeks. It’s not as hard as you think... just get started. However, the second problem is that they think they have to be perfect before they launch. I have no interest in starting businesses where everything is figured out, because I don’t think that’s possible. Start small and easy, prove your model, or pivot and take off in a new direction. When money starts coming in, you’ve found something. THEN you should start doing some real planning and taking things seriously.

Peachpit: What's the biggest mistake large companies with an online presence make?

Jason: Large companies are way too proud of themselves, and they believe that their brand is way more important than it is. People just want websites that solve a problem, provide a benefit, or do something they need. So many companies make worthless websites because they think their customers care way more than they do, while small independent companies make websites that are wildly successful on a fraction of the budget because they are solving a problem, not just talking about themselves. I’ve seen a lot of large brands build websites that are really just for the personal pleasure and ego of the brand manager.

Peachpit: If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about a web startup, what would it be?

Jason: Well, of course, it would be read the book! Then, get started... tonight. Prove your business model as quickly and cheaply as you can. Use every off-the-shelf tool imaginable until it’s worth building yourself. If you can, stay simple. People are willing to pay for a product if there’s a clear value, so be able to say in one sentence why someone should use your service, buy your product, etc. Finally, decide why you’re making a startup. If it’s for yourself to be happy, to be your own boss, to make extra money, to find creative outlet...then, make sure your startup accomplishes that. Don’t make something so it can be your creative outlet and be upset if you don’t make money; just let it be your outlet. If you want to make money, don’t confuse it with personal expression; find a product someone wants to buy and keep art day for the art.

Peachpit: How is bacn.com doing?

Jason: This is actually a sad story. When we sold the company in January, 2010, it was something we were really proud of. We’d worked with Refresh Media to come up with a design we thought was gorgeous. After it was sold, the new owners made some drastic changes to the brand and website, and it’s nothing like what we once owned. So it’s kind of tough to see it like that. I imagine it’s a mild form of a parent watching a kid do bad things after graduation. It’s hard to let go of something you feel ownership over. And I really don’t know if it’s financially successful in the new owners’ hands or not.

Peachpit: Are you contemplating any other startups at the moment?

Jason: I’m trying to keep the startup itch on hold. I’m currently still running Paleo Plan, while also working as the Product Manager at Urban Airship. Michael Richardson and Scott Kveton (both of Bac’n) started this company last year, and I just joined them this summer. So, nothing new right now, but I’m sure I’ll have something starting up within a year or so.

Peachpit: Do you eat bacon? If so, what's your favorite brand and/or preparation?

Jason: I eat more bacon than I should. Farmer’s bacon is my favorite. Just amazing flavors with a really excellent meat... Love it.

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