John Chan: 0:00
You ask your employees or new hires, and you ask them hey, you know what did you play? What sport did you play, grow it up? Do you play music? Do you play video games? Do you play chess? And they're going to be like, yeah, I played, wow, I was a guild leader.

John Chan: 0:14
And you're like, well, how does that relate to the way the program, how does it rate? And they're going to be able to tell you all kinds of interesting things. And what's interesting about that is a lot of people, especially in the career, doesn't even know that part of the brain exists. And so when you use that and you uncover that on their behalf, for them, next thing, you know you're developing all these unique things out of that employee that you otherwise would not have. Right, that also applies to products. You look at products that have great stories to tell what was their Genesis story and why did they start that specific company in their version. And next thing, you know you have unique marketing angles that you could tell because, guess why we started this company is because they solved this problem, because they had these obscure things that they came across. And now you're like that makes a lot of sense. That's why you have a better product and now you've got a messaging angle that you can lead with. That's just crushing on the marketing campaigns.

Tim Bourguignon: 0:58
Hello and welcome to Devilpuss Journey, the podcast bringing you the making of stories of successful software developers to help you on your upcoming journey. I'm your host, tim Bollinger. On this episode I receive John Chan. John is an entrepreneur renowned for his web and UX design and digital marketing expertise. John dropped out of university, obviously, to start his web design consultancy called 2X or 2X agency, an agency specializing in helping e-commerce and DTC brands grow and scale with paid ads and add a creative development. Oh, and he's just a black belt and take window, and he has represented the country Team Canada, I think three times internationally. So not just a brain, damn it, john. A warm welcome to Devilpuss Journey, tim. Thank you for having me Excited to be here. Oh, I'm thrilled and we've been laughing for half an hour already.

Tim Bourguignon: 1:52
This is going to be a great show. I know it's going to be a riot, but before we come to your story, I want to thank the terrific listeners who support the show. Every month you are keeping the Devilpuss Journey lights up. If you would like to join this fine crew and help me spend more time on finding phenomenal guests than editing audio tracks, please go to our website, devilpussjourneyinfo and click on the support me on Patreon button. Even the smallest contributions are giant steps toward a sustainable Devilpuss Journey journey. Thank you, and now back to today's guest. So, john, as you know, the show exists to help listeners understand what your story looked like and imagine how to shape their own future. So, as a customer on the show, let's go back to your beginnings. Where would you place the start of your Devilpuss Journey?

John Chan: 2:44
High school. So high school, and so what's interesting is that there are certain things that you know when you play out in your career and you look back you know you didn't plan it a certain way. I wanted to be an animated growing up but I got into like web and development and tech, sort of by accident, but also not by accident at the same time, because we mentioned earlier about you know, growing up as the youngest of three children and my two older brothers they're both engineers, but I was closer to my second brother who at the time was doing all sorts of things, all sorts of tinkering. So the two older brothers influenced me in very important ways where they got an early computer, they got access to the internet and so me, being the younger kid, if I was just born in isolation, probably I would have missed about in the sense because it was a very interesting time in the early 2000s. You're just getting online, there's all these softwares and new tools, everything's fresh. But I was able to piggyback off my older brothers in playing games online, playing with flash animation, getting to early scripting and just being comfortable with the computer.

John Chan: 3:55
But high school is what I pointed at. It was because none of that would have meant anything until I had a very chance, a high school teacher that taught CSS, and so I didn't notice at the time. So high school for me was 2001, 2005. 2000, 2005. And so when I was a grade nine, grade 10, our education system here I would have been maybe 13 or 14. And around 2001 and 2002 was when the teacher that I had at the time was teaching CSS. And what's interesting about teaching CSS at that time is that it was still early in the early 2000s.

John Chan: 4:36
That time is that it was still early, right, css Zen garden, if you're familiar with that, was just currently come out from Dave Shea, and I didn't realize at the time, but I was actually learning quote unquote cutting edge technology on how to develop and develop for the web.

John Chan: 4:51
And so at that time I didn't know it was an advantage, but because I was good at drawing, I was good at art, wanting to be an animator, right, it led to a scenario where by the time I wanted to drop out at 19. So fast forward to 2006 and 2007,. I got bored of school, or, you know, I felt like I could do better on my own. The first thing I took inventory of what skill sets do I have? That if I wanted to start a business or try to make money on my own, what would I look like? And I went to web development, again not thinking that was going to mean anything, but because that was the most tangible hard skill that I could try to sell. So I'll pause there, but that was basically how it started for me Chance encounter and good timing.

Tim Bourguignon: 5:34
That is part of the as well. I mean, you have to be ready to grab luck when it comes by, but sometimes it pushes you as well and you have to embrace it.

John Chan: 5:44

Tim Bourguignon: 5:45
So you said oh, I said you dropped out of university. Is there a story behind it? I mean, why did you decide to not pursue a curriculum that you had started?

John Chan: 5:56
For sure. So at the time, this is 2006. So I don't think it was that conventional to drop out of school yet. I wasn't trying to be an entrepreneur or what have you. It sounds cool in the podcast, like 20 years in or 15 years in, right, but at the time I was just looking for the next immediate step and I was just disenchanted with school. And so one thing that's going to come up over and over again is this notion about superpowers, and I'll come back to this in just a second. But at the time I didn't realize my superpower.

John Chan: 6:23
The strength that I uniquely had was I was very good at learning. I learned things very, very quickly, and so, if you will get into the stories of the three major arcs of my career but it's not conventional for someone to be a professional designer, to being a professional software developer, to transition to be a professional marketer it's not an easy transition. But the common thread behind all of these things that started at university was recognizing that I found it kind of slow for me, or that I was bored and the formal diagnosis for ADHD came in at 30 something. So that was like, well, after the fact, before I realized, oh, that makes a lot more sense. But at the time I was just listening to my gut and because I felt like I wasn't getting the most of what I wanted out of school, it felt like a distraction. And so you touched on the fact that I was, I was an athlete. I was, you know, at the time in training for the Olympics. I was working under Olympic coach. Didn't make it, but you know, it helped that I was serious about developing myself and being better in certain ways so that the conversations for my parents wasn't that hard. And it also helped that I was the third kid, right. So it's like my two older brothers had the bachelor's degree already. They were engineers, and so I think there was that creative flexibility that the kid had, the third kid had, and so the fact that I wasn't looking like I was going to waste my time and the fact that I already had, you know, somewhat constructive endeavors made that conversation transition easier, so that it was easier. So there wasn't a lot of friction and I had a lot of support from my family to basically go do that, even if they'll even though at 19, you're still a kid there were that level of uncertainty, but in a sense it kind of worked out right, because when I, when I dropped out, this was 2006.

John Chan: 8:05
What led to it first was I was at a. I was, I read Rich Dad Port Ed. You know this book by Robert Kiyosaki and I read this on a flight at the recommendation from a teammate in my competition. So I was, I was competing at Tech Window and I had a teammate at the time basically introduces to me because he was reading this book and I looked over and was like, oh, what is that? And he explained to me it's like, oh, it's this guy teaching him what business or what have you Wasn't really my family or my whatever to like. Go down entrepreneurship per se, but that kind of piqued my interest. And so when I read that book on my flight back from Korea right, I was, it was a Korea open. I came back and it was September 2006. I had one.

John Chan: 8:48
I registered my courses at one term in and I was like, no, I can't be here. That was kind of the thought. And so it was funny because there was a certain level of conviction that came along with that thought process where I was so certain that I didn't want this, I didn't need this, that I didn't even go to my math finals I did. Well, I was like doing nineties in my midterms and what have you Like I could have like stuck it through, but I didn't even shop to my final because I was like maybe a little bit brash at the time, but it was a certain level of conviction and yeah, so I started.

John Chan: 9:20
I dropped out in the term after I started freelancing, doing web development and asking friends that were in business and following them around and asking questions and all kinds of things about what does it mean to start a business. And I remember him taking to my first networking event. I didn't even know what that was at the time. I didn't have business cards. People asked what I did. I was like I make websites. And I remember the first person I handed my contact information to was written on a posted note because I was so underwhelmed and also underprepared and, to the credit to the person that guided me, he didn't tell me anything, he just show up and just follow what I do.

John Chan: 9:55
And I did and people were like, oh, websites, I need a website.

John Chan: 9:59
And that's how I landed my first few clients and the first lesson that came along with that was it turns out that the ability, the technical ability to build something versus the business mechanics of building and running a business were two separate skills, and so I was good at making the websites, but the self-management, the project management, decline, communication.

John Chan: 10:19
Those aspects of it meant that I was still young and I had a lot to learn and that I was not a very good business person, and so I eventually applied for a real job, ironically back at the university that I left, and that was really the start of my career, where I joined, as at the time, basically a split role between a web admin where I was making like content changes and site updates, as well as a SysAdmin of sorts a systems help desk, where I was basically answering web support calls. So I was troubleshooting browser caching issues, doing password resets. So I had a help desk support role as long as web. And that's a pause there, because that leads into sort of the next transition of like being a UX designer.

John Chan: 11:04
If you can sort of guess where that goes.

Tim Bourguignon: 11:07
If I may, you just said this was the start of my career. Why do you exclude this freelancing part?

John Chan: 11:17
It's because it was. The thing about being on your own is that you don't know what you don't know, and so were the real structured environments of showing up and being expected to have a significant output. I shouldn't say like the start of my career. My career started before that, but it was the real place where I really developed my career. I should say it that way Because being on my own it's largely being an auto-diadact of teaching myself all these other things. The first initial period of having a structured environment and eventually what the university would afforded me was going to conferences and being exposed, to quote unquote, real professionals within the industry just opened up the world of what is possible and how to develop that. Because we talked about martial arts.

John Chan: 12:01
Martial arts is very clear progressions. You start as a white belt, you then go to yellow and you progress all the way to black belt, where the real journey actually begins. People think black belt is where it ends. It's like, no, you did all the foundations to get to black belt because that's where mastery development begins. In that same way, I think there's a bit of that progression of like starting to work I didn't count all the odd jobs and the tutoring or the teaching career. Those things I did and as my teens, but being expected on a salary to show up and do certain things and being able to explore and train, and like that was real and for me it felt like, you know, I got my black belt. In that sense, you know, metaphorically, and where the real practice and real journey begins.

Tim Bourguignon: 13:52
It makes a lot of sense. I'm just obviously projecting on myself and now that I'm a bit older just turned 40, I'm looking back at some stuff I did during my teens and realizing how foundational they were and, for instance, leading church groups with 50 kids and 10 youth of my age and I was leading them. I realized in hindsight how much of a school for life it was and how much of a role it played. But initially I wouldn't have pieced that in my career Obviously not, but actually it was. And in a more ridiculous sense, maybe, leading raids in online games during nights with 40 people every night during the weekend, weekends, weekends.

John Chan: 14:39
That was foundational as well and it's definitely not part of the career but it was still learning skills for life, so yeah, no, I identify with that because I'm also a gamer and if you think about the types of games like when you lead a great logistical nightmare that comes along with project planning and you're thinking about, like, how to coordinate a bunch of people that don't communicate well and get emotional and, you know, put a lot of blame on other people, it's like there's a lot of little things at play that when you look back, it's very pivotal, and so that's interesting that you mentioned that, because there's stuff that I don't count as well. That also meant a lot which was going back to like the first odd job, right, you know, for you maybe it would be formalized as a job, but, like you know, leading a church group, right, for me, a very pivotal sort of like part of that was also teaching Taekwondo, because when I was teaching, when I was like 13, my brother was actually running a school. At the time he was looking back, it's kind of crazy. He was in his 20s and so you know we had, like, at the school that I was learning Taekwondo in, there was a core branch and then my brother took a community center. He did like a little like offshoot of a branch, but between the two of us and a few other staff from stages two of us between like maybe four or five of us we had.

John Chan: 15:53
I was 13, we had maybe 30 students, and we grew to 180 over the course of like a year and a half. It was something ridiculous, and the progression for teaching someone over and over again it was so. It was crazy at the time because, you know, every week we had a new student come in because everybody was bringing the friend, and so we had to restart the white belt curriculum over and over again, even though somebody else was like two weeks in but that. But it was interesting about that, though, was that my brother was very adamant about not paying me and my mom was upset about that. It was like yo, he's a part-time job, he's a kid, like, why are you like you know free labor, what have you?

John Chan: 16:28
But that, like, I did it for years, but that moment really made me appreciate the craft of doing it for the conviction and not for the monetary value associated with it, and that played a role in the way that I. You know there's no career path in being a professional Taekwondo athlete, and so for the years I was broke and I was training and I was trying to do this thing and this pipe dream, but for what? And that kind of resilience and character building. It's like you can't replace it with anything else, right?

Tim Bourguignon: 16:56
And you said you were not an entrepreneur. I see the same pattern there?

John Chan: 17:01
No, but it's again. Like you know, steve Jobs did this and you know like it's. You know it's always kind of like cliche to quote him, but he said it so well you can't connect the dots looking forward. You can connect it looking back. Right, it makes all the sense. So you just got to trust your guy, just go down this path and everything plays out well in the end. Amen to that.

Tim Bourguignon: 17:18
Was that the first arc of the three arcs you mentioned?

John Chan: 17:22
No. So the three arcs. It's good to get into that. So the three arcs in my career is I spent a good chunk of my career five or six years being a professional developer, right as a designer, so 2006 to 2011 or so 2012. After that, so I'll give the backstory.

John Chan: 17:37
So I started off doing web admin and web support and help this admin, but I was a bit disjointed because I could build the web pages and I was realizing that, well, there's people on the other side, right, and so there's one sort of funny story where one of that pivotal moments of realizing that the interfaces I was designing had people that was impacting was that at the time, the university had 11 different branches that it was supporting. You know, to the university, there's a lot of libraries I was working for a library, so there was a lot of different branches, but there was this one small team doing tech support for all of them, and so we get calls all the time from, like old faculty members wanting to pass or resets new students that uses their library card, like once in a blue moon. So we're just inundated with the calls and so my two managers because I had two different roles my web manager comes up and be like John, I need you doing stuff. Like why are you like whatever? And I'm looking back at her like do you not see me just like answering calls all day long? Kind of like frustrated. And then so what I did was I started realizing that the reason why people were calling us was because they were having. That was the error message that they ran into when they tried to enter a password and you couldn't log in. And so when I realized that was the starting point for all these calls came in, I changed the error message so that the phone number, instead of routing to the system's help desk whether it was only like three people answering all these calls I routed it to circulation, which was basically the public facing sort of like actual customer support at front desk, where they had more staff and they can process it better. I forwarded to that number and calls it up 80%. And you know, maybe they didn't appreciate it, so they never knew that. I don't know if they actually know, and so maybe they'll listen to this podcast and get us up with me years later.

John Chan: 19:20
But it was kind of this moment where it's just like no, the things that I'm doing on this side that has an impact on the other side. And then going to conferences, going to talks about usability, going talks about user research, that really certified and that kind of gave me the path of you know what. There's this gap in this university that needs skill. I should go learn that. And it became a. They're basically their leading user researcher and user experience designer until that sort of capped out. So that first major arc, you know, was important because it If you hear the inklings, it wasn't like a well-planned career path. It was, hey, I need this skill next, let me go figure that out. And so it went from Web Admin to usability and design and user experience to when I realized that at the university it was like four or five years in I was doing all these bigger projects. Now I was redesigning the whole interfaces. I think they're still using it today.

John Chan: 20:14
What's interesting was that I started combining ideas from tech because I noticed that great designers often worked in for-profit and private environments because they had the pressure to do it. And academics, you know, they're a little bit more maybe traditional or didn't have that kind of like thinking patterns. But I realized I can source interesting design ideas if I looked at for-profit companies. And so, for example, it was unconventional for a library to have a value proposition, right Like, what is the purpose of a university library? I invented one. I or not invented one. I uncovered one that we were already doing and I was like, oh, that makes so much sense. That's why the entire organization existed.

John Chan: 20:49
And then it dawned upon me. It was like, well, wait a second. It didn't really matter how good of a user experience I developed, because even if I did a great user experience, that organization isn't going to go away, regardless of if I did a good job or bad job, which is why I couldn't be valued for what I was doing. I need to get out of this environment. And so that's when I started tying analytics and said how could I make my designs mean something more meaningful to a for-profit business?

John Chan: 21:15
So I thought I was working in the private sector and realized, and, going to analytics, I got into split testing and A-B testing, because that was like, oh, that's the most direct way of measuring my designs, literally have two versions of it and say how mine did better than the other one or not. And so I started consulting. I went back to consulting for a bit. I started consulting for doing conversion optimization. Again, it was still pretty bad on the business mechanics of it, but it landed me a few clients and it got me more exposure to different types of work and at the time I was looking for different jobs, different roles. I was working with different business owners, not really going anywhere really.

John Chan: 21:53
But there was a chance encounter where somebody told me hey, this company that you really liked, 37 signals, are hiring for this role you should apply. And so and that's what I did so I made a custom site that says hey, 37 signals, my name is John and this is why you should hire me or someone along those lines. And I basically did a teardown of their homepage and the current messaging or the product page or pricing, redesigned it and says here's what you're currently doing and here's why this one would be better. Here's what you're doing here and here's why it would be better. My name is John, I'm from Vancouver, canada. And then the rest of this history, and I remember setting that at like four in the morning, three in the morning, and Jason freed, three hours later, basically said hey, thanks for submission, let's set a time to chat. And paraphrase it a little bit, but it turns out it's in character but it's in character for for a base camp now to act like this, and I learned a lot from Jason.

John Chan: 22:50
So I know, you know he gets a little bit flack nowadays for you know, at least, with whatever spectacle or what happened, but he's, you know, even and correctly. So I really did respect a lot of the way they ran business, because they were unconventional thinkers. Right, you know there might be some questions about, like their approach and all the kind of stuff, but whatever direction they came down, you can't argue with the fact that they're great original thinkers. They called out remote work way earlier when the rest of the world caught up, because they just knew how to call out bullshit. They knew how things were, and so it could get little dogmatic at times about, you know, for example, bootstrapping versus VCs, which we don't really have to get into. But the point was it exposed me to what great thinkers were really like, which was the first time in my career at that point outside of because I had great, you know guidance and models personally from all the coaches and other entrepreneurs, but there was very few of that that I was able to see and talk to firsthand in the industry, and so that was a really interesting experience.

John Chan: 23:47
And so that was 2012, when I joined their team and it was a short stint because, again, didn't realize at the time, but the ADHD also meant that I was not a very good employee, right. So I had these ideas and I was also early at it and I was wasn't super confident. So oftentimes I was very convoluted in the way that I was thinking about things. I wasn't the best communicator and so, again, I was like 24, 25 at the time. So because I started my career early, I didn't attribute to the fact that it was just a matter of maturity, but I kind of took it personally. Of course I would, and so I eventually got fired, maybe like seven or eight or nine months in I can't remember exactly when, I think for right reasons, largely about, you know, partly not fitting with the team, but partly also because I had a lot of things. I certainly need to learn about what it meant to actually grow a business, or grow a company and translate it through designs. And Jason was accommodating for it. He was a great boss. I have nothing bad to say about him. He got to be taught me a lot of different things, but I wasn't necessarily a good team player. I kind of butt heads with the data analyst a little bit, or did not particularly with him or didn't get the respect whatever what I call it and the other designers on the team. I was basically outclassed and so I was like I think it's the right call. But what's interesting was that around that time, jason and this is that's the first end of the first arc, because around that time Jason, 37 signals invested into a private company that was a local company in Chicago At the time. They're called the Starter League. They used to be called Code Academy, but it was actually first coding bootcamp and so, as part of the investment, I became really good friends with the founders of that company. His name is Neil Salisgriffin. He's currently the managing director of Techstars. He's a total bad ass, right. And but what's interesting was that because he invested in that company, all the employees had free tuition and so I got my foray into coding.

John Chan: 25:48
Not because of 37 signals, inventing Ruby and Rails and being exit programmers, turns out, if you're an expert, you can't explain what you're actually doing, right? Who would have thought? But that exposure to the coding school was kind of the gateway for me to actually code and build Rails apps at night and you know, neil said this to me where he was like, you know, you kind of don't fit in with like Dresden group. You kind of got this manic energy to you, like everybody else is kind of like cool, common, collected and doing things, but you're kind of like, you know, kind of like a scrappy founder kind of thing. Right, he didn't say that exactly, but he was paraphrasing that and I was like, yeah, that kind of that kind of checks out, but we're building like this product on the side and where as part of the curriculum. But I learned how to code and got decently good but not dangerous, because up until that point I was fairly effective at being a self learner for being a better designer. From, basically, public work, you can see, you can learn from blog posts. You can learn a lot of concepts really quickly. But programming is a very different beast, because programming, when you look something up and you come across some Stack Overflow answer and you copy and paste it into your like you know your stack, it may work, but you have no idea why and so, even if you actually understood it, it may not be giving you the best path to solve a particular problem, and context really matters and so at this point, you know, going back to you know. So I had an exposure to coding. I got fired in the beginning of 2013.

John Chan: 27:19
I always said this juncture in my career where I was like, what do I do now? Do I go back to consulting or do I try to take whatever skills I just picked up and try to build like a software out of it? Right, you know both my own app or what have you and I thought about which direction I wanted to end up. I was like, well, I wanted to build my own app, so I did. And so I spent maybe a year, year and a half, spinning my wheels trying to build different apps. Some of them would get going anywhere and I did, and I eventually did lend something that actually had traction. I was building a productivity tool, which is kind of new to think about. That's what everyone's starting app is.

John Chan: 27:52
But the angle was and it's funny, you know, thinking back now with the DABG and all that but I was building an attention management app, where I was building a task management product. But most task management product was based on medium to long term memory of writing things down. So you don't forget, I was building something for short term memory, say for people like myself that was getting distracted, pulled in different directions, because I was building it within the browsers. I was building an it's a Chrome extension where I was, you get your task management show before you get distracted, or that, if you did get distracted, there's different features that will pull you back in of like, hey, this is what you're working on and this is what you said you're going to work on. Go back to that.

John Chan: 28:29
And so it was useful and it was helpful and we had traction because of that. But then did that for about four or five years and there was a bit of a side giggle on the way, which I'll get into in just a second, but it really couldn't commercialize that software product and get it to commercialize, which eventually made me realize I need to understand user acquisition, which is how I get to the third career path. Right, but I'll pause there for a second because I think there's an interesting side story. But I'll pause there. Do you have any thoughts or questions you want to?

Tim Bourguignon: 28:58
I'm just mesmerized, I'm just drinking your words. Nope, I'm kind of wondering why you chose to stick to the code. If you had all those skills and valuable skills you explored optimization, maybe testing, and you were able to consult for that, why did you not choose to go back, to go back with that quotes, to that career and it's. I need to jump both feet first in a different one.

John Chan: 29:28
Largely because client services is not a fun environment to work in At least it's time for me because it was stressful. Like I was saying earlier, I had these early inklings that I had the technical skills that was valuable, but the business mechanics of it I wasn't good at sales, I wasn't good at marketing, and so consulting just meant that I had to go through the grind of proving myself to other people and explaining the process and meant that career now, which is very different, but at the time it was like I could go do that, which is not the thing that I wanted to do, versus don't talk to anyone, sit behind a computer screen and just sell stuff, which is kind of the dream for our programmers. And so I think, personality wise, that was more appealing for me and this is why I gravitated towards it. And there's also a sense of the respect that we had for software companies. It's like there's a reason why Jason and David built a huge follow we get 37 signals because they were really one of the early pioneers of building software businesses and talking about bootstrapping and basically controlling your own destiny and all that, and that was a learning and that was appealing and that's why I respected them. And so, having this newfound skill of being able to code and trusting that I could learn anything on my own which is true, but it was different with programming I just realized that if I'm gonna commit to it anyways, I wanna end where I wanna start. So, I wanna start where I wanna end up, which was basically the software path. If I consulted, I would have wanted to use the profits of that to build software business anyways. So, which is why, like, let's just screw it, let's just go straight there. But this would be a good segue, because that's what I thought at the time.

John Chan: 31:00
And then I started coding and I was like, wait a second, this is actually really hard, and the resources at the time was not very abundant. And so what's interesting was that, before I realized that I needed to become a better programmer, the mechanics of how I became a programmer was I tried to look things up online, with lack of results. I used to go to meetups. I would bring my programming questions to Ruby meetup groups and I would be like, hey, I'm writing to this issue like what I do, and I would describe the thing I'm trying to do. And it's like we had some really great Ruby developers in Vancouver and it was one group that I was talking to Godfrey Chen, I think he was a real contributor at some point. I remember was talking to him and he was like oh, you're trying to pull, you're trying to build a polling system, this is what you need to do. And I'm like, oh, what's that? And it was interesting because I didn't know the language or didn't have the definition of the terminology for what I was looking for. I can't even Google for it. And so little experiences like that made me realize that this is a different beast, because error messages aren't very good at teaching you what the next problem is. You're like error on line 460. And you look at it. It's like what's wrong with 460? Turns out it was actually lying something way earlier and you had to go fix that before you fix it. So there was all these kinds of issues that made that process of teaching myself much harder.

John Chan: 32:16
So my hack or the trick at the time was I applied to be a TA because I also needed the money. I applied to a TA at a local coding boot camp out in Vancouver. So I went to Chicago to work for Basecamp. They invested in coding boot camp. I had some basic skills. But in 2014, because I partly defunded the business that was trying to start, partly because I needed to become a better programmer, I applied to a local boot camp out here and basically said, hey, listen, his name is Karam, the blue principal. I said, hey, karam, listen, I'm not going to be the best programmer on your team, but I remember what it's like to be a beginner because I'm just not that far off so I can relate to your students really well. And all the teaching skills that I had for my teams that be teaching type 1.0 and tutoring and all those type of things all those things were like listen, I'll be a good teacher, I'll be fine. And he took. Between that and the fact that I worked at 37 Signals and had some rep for that, he took the pitch.

John Chan: 33:10
I was born as a TA. But the real reason why I wanted to do it was I wanted access to curriculum because I don't want to pay for it I'm not paying $8,000 for whatever and so I would troubleshoot problems over and over again with the students and they'd be like, hey, I'm having this issue here, what's wrong? And I'm like I don't know, let's figure it out, let's debug it together. But it exposed me to the reps of going through the same problems over and over again and the students would rate who's a good TA, who's not, and I don't get to see the scores. But I would be told hey, john, you're highly rated and you're one of the better teachers. I wouldn't say the best, I wouldn't dare say that but you're students like you and I'm like, oh great.

John Chan: 33:54
And so at some point one thing led to another. I had the chance for them to say hey, listen, we're growing up this school in Toronto. I'm in Vancouver. Do you want to go teach there? And so it'll be only a short stint. I know you want to go work on your company, but we need a stop gap and you're a great teacher, do you want to go do this thing?

John Chan: 34:13
And so, for whatever reason and at the time it made sense, I said yes. So I became the head instructor into Toronto Branch for a while and that was again. Taing is one thing. Teaching the curriculum over and over again for different cohorts, that really sort of like my skills at Programmer. So that really changed things.

John Chan: 34:33
But it also exposed me to building a network of software developers real software developers, I would say, or people that were junior developers that eventually became working at different companies and in group referrals, and so it just kind of got me through that path of seeing and understanding progression and how to repeat it. But I'll pause there because at that point that was kind of like the second arc of being a programmer and after that sort of like played out and then we're back to my startup. I was like, hey, we have traction, we have a product people actually like we had product solution fit, but we didn't have product market fit. We didn't have enough customers to build us into a sustainable product. Now what? And my self diagnosis at the time was we must have second marketing. So time to wear hat.

Tim Bourguignon: 35:23
Number three so let's get in there, so that that's again a real pivot, from design to coding and this curriculum building and teaching to now understanding business acquisition and the business side of it, yeah, so how do you approach that?

John Chan: 35:42
So the punchline is so, right now, we're a growth marketing agency, we do performance marketing for e-commerce and SaaS companies, and so our bread and butter now is we run a lot of ads and we do a lot of the right response marketing, but, again, it didn't start there. So, 2016, 2017, I actually started off doing the initial part that was good at, which was design, knowing that I need to get into marketing, and so the task at the time that I was trying to think about how to go about marketing was interviewing other experts. So no different than what you're doing with going through interviews, except that I didn't know I could do a podcast at the time, which would have been much easier in simple format and logistically much easier to do. I was running meetups, and so we started the Vancouver's growth hackers meetup, where I had an excuse to invite other experts come talk about their growth and acquisition problems, and in the side, I was like tagging along and saying, oh, but we also do conversion optimization agency, we do a B testing and you see that as a segue to stay in touch with that.

John Chan: 36:45
But going back to what I was saying earlier about consulting for design valuable skill, but it's also not a great business to build out, and part of the reason why is because when you're teaching or when you're consulting for conversion rate optimization, you're designing a better user experience or a more better converting experience against the previous design. So the first design is the easiest. After that it becomes progressively harder because you have to beat whatever designs you did previously or go down funnel where there's fewer data points and so, in other words, that service inherently had a declining or decaying lifetime value of a customer where the more successful it is, the more you design out of your own job faster. And so you just go through this churn and burn of system where you do really well, and then you have to go find a mixed client, and again, that wasn't very good at sales at the time and I would just keep running into the mechanics of running a business and that was very challenging. And so what happened was is one of these consulting clients at some point was only Google Ads, and because you're adjacent to that category of doing designs for the landing pages or the destinations that your traffic went towards, it came up that hey, we can probably try Google Ads, we can probably do.

John Chan: 38:01
I don't remember the exact pitch, but the first Google Ads client that we took on was very low rate, but it was based on the fact that their existing marketing team wasn't very good and the fact that we had existing technical skills in design or in landing pages and understanding marketing well enough to be dangerous to be like you know what, if we took it over, we can do well. So what they really cared about was the bizarre result of reducing cost per lead. We're like you know what, we can probably beat the cost per lead, and so that was our end, and we didn't know what we're doing, but we remember very quickly, and so what we did was we took over the Google Ad account and we did deliver because we were able to do the combination of being a better design for landing pages and being better at the existing marketing was what we came down to. We took over the Google Ad account and we're able to drop cost per leads.

John Chan: 38:46
It was going to be crazy. It was like $1,000, which was wildly inefficient on their end, to something like $125, which is not great by today's standards. I would still say like for not the day's standards, but for the industry. I would say, but as a beginner. It's like feather in a cap it takes, then it's like that's good enough and we just use that to land the next thing. And the next thing, you know, it's like we slowly transitioned away from doing conversion rate optimization, repositioned our agency from being a single consultant to do UX design improvements to a full-fledged team running ad accounts for other folks.

Tim Bourguignon: 39:28
Okay, so you're still aiming at reducing this cost and and beating the previous design and experiencing this, this glass ceiling of once you have it done it once, it's really hard to do the second Version. Oh, I'm sorry.

John Chan: 39:43
Has that changed? No, that's changed. So I should close out, luke, because part of the reason why it did ads was recognizing a few other things too. Because when you're, when you're running an agency, the biggest difference between the software company and a service company is the fact that if you made the wrong decision and software let's say you launched a feature and you're trying to figure out, you know, hey, people aren't upticking that feature sets. What's wrong with it? It's the copies, whatever. And you, you come across hypothesis of what to improve. You have to go through another product developments. I go release a new feature and then find out if it works or not.

John Chan: 40:14
With services companies, if you're wrong about the pricing, if you're wrong about the service, you say, hey, update my slide deck, here's a new service and here's a new pricing. You iterate a lot faster. So the learning cycles for iterating upon your quote-unquote product is a service is a way faster. And so, going back to the observation that CRO was kind of a hard service to sell, because when you know you were able to get, like you know, $5,000, $10,000 sort of consulting gigs. But it turns out over time so you only last a client for three months or six months With ads. Here's the thing when ads are working, what do you want to do? You don't want to stop, want to keep going. You would increase budgets, you want to find ways to increase. So success begets more success, and so that's inherently as Like a business model from. So when you pick that as a as industry, it just meant that when things are working you kept going, and so that was a fundamental difference between doing Design as a service versus marketing as a service, and that was a total game changer.

John Chan: 41:14
I mean, again, it wasn't a straight path, but that that was kind of the early recognition about the inherent difference in that service. But there's also like a separate one too, where part of the reason why I also wanted to switch that career path was also, or that service model was because the technical barriers for teaching someone how to become a good user experience designer was very high. Right building a great a b test and be a great optimization specialist was very high, and so you often see boutique shops of experts because you have to hire experts to train and staff up your Conversionary optimization agency, and so it just had a really high barrier for for teaching and for training, whereas ads is actually a lot lower. You can compartmentalize the work for between ad copy to account setups and what have you, so it was also like it. Not only was it a better business model, but it was also a better service to hire and train for, and so between those two things it just made a lot more sense.

Tim Bourguignon: 42:11
Mm-hmm. Yeah, it does indeed Want to throw a small curveball at you. There's been three arcs in in your life and they all make sense in their own way and and build up to where you've been today. Yes, I think there is a force one coming.

John Chan: 42:32
I have a suspicion, and the fourth one will likely be a synthesis of those skills, because right now, and it's we're kind of leading down the path already, right, and so I mentioned running an agency. What I haven't mentioned at this point is the end goal of the agency is to be a holding company of portfolios of companies that we acquire and grow in house, and so we're kind of doubling with that right now. Right, and it's not so much about acquiring brands and being an investor and you know those type of things. It's kind of fancy to say but realistically, you know, when you learn all these hard skills. So I'm at mid 30s right now, I'm 36. Right now the it's, it's, it's done upon me that all those technical skills that I've developed, it's less about developing more of those skills and those more adding more. It's about using those skills to train and guide my team members.

John Chan: 43:25
Because part of the reason why, so part of the, the philosophical change in this current business of writing the agency that was different than the previous company with running a software company, was that I didn't want to call myself a CEO at the time Because it felt pretentious. Right, I'm a product guy I love. I'm a designer. I love making great products. Right, it's like who the hell am I calling myself a CEO for three freaking people? You know I mean. But what's interesting about that was I told this same thought to somebody else one time and he was like listen, if you don't identify yourself as a CEO, one, you don't know what the job is. Two is, you can't relate and talk to other CEOs. Right, they'll respect you differently because of the CEO, but just that's basically it. You just don't know what it means to be a leader. And he was right, because if you look at the way that it operated within that that environment, I Was, quote-unquote, the smartest person in the room and it's not helpful. When you do that, you could be sometimes abrasive. When you talk to your team members, you'll shoot down ideas. You'll do all kinds of things because you know you'll use seniority or whatever you know thing Incorrectly so to trump argument and decisions, especially for environment, where decisions aren't always clear, right, so it wasn't very helpful. So now, when I realized that's what the job of CEO is to actually steward and lead and really guide it became. It meant that I actually learned a new soft skill or subset of skills around being a great leader, and what that meant, though, was that all the technical skills that I developed was now meant to be passed on or used for guiding other people to become better at what they're doing themselves, up to a certain point where they eventually become better at you in each of those respective fields.

John Chan: 45:02
So the fourth path really comes down is a synthesis of skills, and bring on leaders in our team to Really either build up the client service business into a much larger agency, which is basically one path. Agencies are scalable, and it could be really large agencies that you could basically build out. If that's one path, but the other skill is basically dog-fooding your own sort of skill sets, which is take the skills of growing companies and acquiring brands, because all halfway halfway through the Consulting career of growing a growth agency was realizing that wait a second we thought we suck the user acquisition we suck. We thought we sucked at marketing. Most of these people that had a business to hire us actually weren't that great either, which is what the hardest in the first place, but what they had was great timing, or what they had was they had one acquisition channel that worked really well, and they just kept exploiting it, and so that's what I was missing, and so, when I realized that was a skill, were like wait a second, it's a suit, it's it now amplifies it even more if you couldn't cover that. And then it became this realization where it's like wait a second.

John Chan: 45:59
Maybe our skill sets being able to code, being a great conversion rate optimization specialist, being a great marketer all Translated to not being good at taking a product from zero to something, but taking it, I think of it, like a zero to one versus one to ten. Our skill sets was much better taking things from one to ten. So we shouldn't be looking at startups. We should be looking at things that already had extraction, had a data that we can then and cover all these useful insights that we can then exploit into building a much bigger business. Which is why this notion of like acquiring companies and brands came along, which is like Take what's existing and make it better. If that's because that you have, that's what you come down to. So I think at some point Right now that's not a primary income, but I can see that being our primary income at some point very soon.

Tim Bourguignon: 46:44
No, we are. It's not an if it's when yeah, it makes so much sense. Yeah, oh, that has been a fantastic ride and we're already at the end of our time. Box been a Piece of advice that has been formative in your life that you want to pass on.

John Chan: 47:03

John Chan: 47:03
So I'm gonna go back to Jason feed for a second, because he said something to me that I don't think he wrote about, but it really hit home for me and has made a very pivotal career, like change of a career sense. So back in 2013 or so 2012, jeff Bezos was a minority, minority investor came to visit the office and he was giving a talk to the employees. He was Jason was Jason, dave was very courteous you know, they were meeting with the management team but he was like, hey, come, come say hi to Jeff, jeff's gonna give a talk, whatever. And so whoever's at the office was him, and I'm like kind of freaking out. This guy's like worth 23 billion, right, I was just like I'm like some 25 year old kid, but I remember sitting there and just listening to talk about all kinds of projects, all these things that he was talking about, and I'm just like, man, what do you even ask this guy? Right, like what kind of advice would you even ask him? And so I did a very meta thing when I went to Jason and said, hey, jason, I don't know what to ask this guy, what would you do? And Jason gave me this advice, which was Whenever he thinks about good questions to ask somebody else and you're doing this, by the way. He looks for places that's original about that individual that only they uniquely could have right, and so you think about.

John Chan: 48:10
What's interesting about this podcast Is you're sourcing all these original storytelling of all these people, because that's where all the nuggets are. And, and Jason in the way, basically the same thing for me, which was like saying, hey, listen, your designer, he's a designer, but what's different about you is that you had tech window is the part of your upbringing, and so they asked you how does tech window relate to the way that you go about being a designer? You can, I come up with all kinds of obscure references and all kinds of original ideas that only you could think about, and that applies not only to the career path. That implies to your employees. You ask your employees or new hires, and you ask him hey, you know, what did you play? What sport did you play grown up? Do you play music? Do you play video games? Do you play chess? And they're gonna be like, yeah, I played, wow, I was a guild leader. And you're like well, how does that relate to the way the program, how does it rate and they're gonna be able to tell you all kinds of interesting things.

John Chan: 49:02
And what's interesting about that is a lot of people, especially early in the career, doesn't even know that part of the brain exists, and so when you use that and you uncover that on their behalf for them, next thing you know you're developing all these unique things out of that employee that you otherwise would not have. Right, that also applies to products. You've looked at products that have great stories to tell what was their genesis story and why did they start that specific company in their version. And next thing you know you have unique marketing angles. You could tell because, guess, why we started this company is because they saw this problem, because they had these Obscure things that they came across. And now you're like that makes a lot of sense, that's why you have a better product and now you got a messaging angle that you can lead with. That's just crushing on the marketing campaigns.

Tim Bourguignon: 49:41
Amen to all of this. No, it makes. It makes so much sense and so many bells. Thank you for that. Where would be the best place to continue the discussion with you?

John Chan: 49:52
Oh my gosh. So you can find us at 2xagency. That's our agency website. I'm pretty accessible, not famous, right? So it's easy to find me there. But you can also find me on Twitter, right? So I'm or X, whatever you want to call it now JTC Chan, or you could do the thing where you go on LinkedIn and look for John Chan. There's a million of us. Good luck with that one, but you can also find me on LinkedIn. So, if you reach out, I'd love to have a discussion, learn about what you're doing. It doesn't have to be to work related. If you have career advice or questions that you want to ask, I would love to meet with you. Um, but, tim, this is so much fun. Thank you for having me.

Tim Bourguignon: 50:26
It was indeed, and I'll make it easy for all the listeners. I'll add the the links to show notes.

John Chan: 50:30
So just make the book for John Chan on LinkedIn. It's kind of fun. They should do Okay.

Tim Bourguignon: 50:37
John, it's been a blast. Thank you so much, tim. Thank you so much. It's a pleasure and this has been, and the very piece of the post journey. I will see each other next week. Bye, bye. Thanks a lot for tuning in. I hope you have enjoyed this week's episode. If you like the show, please share, rate and review. It helps more listeners discover those stories. You can find the links to all the platforms the show appears on on our website dev journey dot info. Slash subscribe. Talk to you soon.