1. Hello! Who are you and what is your business?
I’m a software developer, UX designer, and open sourcerer. Currently, I live in Vermont; but I’ve always been a bit of a digital nomad. While wandering through Bali with Hacker Paradise, I decided to build a silly project called The User Is Drunk, where people would pay me to drunkenly review their websites. My friend Scotty Allen, loving this idea, suggested we try “The User Is My Mom”, and he introduced me to his mother, Pam. So, since then, I’ve been working with Pam reviewing websites. She’s a bit ornery and doesn’t understand computers, which is perfect – there are a lot of older or technophobic users out there, and websites need to be easy for them to navigate. I help out by offering a designer’s review, along with her review, so it’s more than just a simple user testing service.
Both of these businesses were side projects – albeit, very successful. I’ve always wanted to just make stuff, and that both of these went viral and we got a lot of press was pretty validating for that idea. We just hacked together the website in a couple of hours and launched it on Reddit and HackerNews. Since launching, The User Is My Mom has brought in somewhere around five to ten thousand, I believe. I haven’t kept track, and I don’t market it – why bother? We just want to occasionally have more pocket money, and I’m content with how it is. Since Scotty parted ways to go make his wildly successful YouTube channel Strange Parts, I’ve just split the money, whenever it comes in, with Pam.
Currently, This User is My Mom makes under $2k a year, but we’ve never made more than $10k.
2. How do you attract and retain your customers?
I don’t. I wait for them to come to me. I’m not interested in running this business full time, and never have been; and neither is Pam. So, why bother marketing? I like the idea of not needing to grow the site; it keeps it fresh, and fun, and interesting. Occasionally, we’ve had repeat customers come back for more reviews following a redesign, which is always great.
3. What were your challenges and obstacles of growing your business?
We haven’t had a lot of challenges. The main criticism I’ve received is that the service is sexist or ageist; I’ve talked to Pam about this, and we disagree. Sites do need to cater to older users, and Pam is doing this voluntary. It’s wrong to deny her agency, in that. So, those criticisms haven’t really stuck (which is more than I could say for The User Is Drunk, which does have legitimate concerns attached to it).
We tend to not get a lot of press or new users, which has never been a problem, although it would be nice to see it be a bit more active. When I’m ready and when I want to, I know I can always grow it. But I’ve been very happy with how it is, and that’s that.
4. What has been helpful to help you to grow your business?
We started out with a great network of friends to up our message – around a hundred individuals through Hacker Paradise and our immediate networks. This meant that easily broadcasting it and getting a small bump on Reddit and HN wasn’t a problem. On top of that, I used to use a tool called Plasso to bring in funds, which was great, until they sold to GoDaddy (which isn’t). And I had free videos served from Screenmailer, before they closed down, which means I almost lost some videos. I did lose a lot of early videos through an accidental Google deletion, which really sucks. Always back up your videos, friends. That has made it harder to rebrand or launch more marketing, when, in the past, I’ve occasionally wanted to, but right now I’m alright with it.
Once, Pam did a review and I lost it due to technical glitches. I couldn’t have her review the site again – it depends upon novelty. So, I hired another friend’s mom, who really wanted to do it. There haven’t been a shortage of people who ask “Can I help out?” Bringing them on in an as-needed basis has been easy to do, and also really helps remove some of the stress of the business.
5. What is your advice for those that are starting productized services?
Just go for it. Don’t worry about design so much as implementation. Don’t sit on an idea. Never sit on an idea. Do it now.
Besides that, ask yourself: do I actually want to do this? I find I am very unmotivated by money (which is really unfortunate for a lot of reasons), which makes it hard for me to do good work if I don’t care. Keeping the stress low for The User Is My Mom has been instrumental in allowing it to keep going as it has.
Another thing I would highly suggest is to write a contract with your cofounder, writing down clear exit strategies, before starting. After a couple of months, Scotty wanted to do other things. It was absolutely no stress at all for him to phase out, because we already had an agreement in writing. I’m so glad we did this.
6. What are your plans for the future?
I’ve got a few things up my sleeve at the moment, mostly involving birding websites (I’ve become a big birder since leaving Bali, which makes me sad, because they have some great birds there). Right now, though, I’m taking work day by day. It’s hard to focus during a pandemic, the rise of fascism, and a global depression. I can’t focus. Can you?
7. Where can we learn more about you?
I’m on Twitter @richlitt. You can see a lot more of my projects at burntfen.com. And I’m always available for questions, comments, or consulting. Hope to see you around, O reader!