Brian Gardner, a successful WordPress entrepreneur and the founder of StudioPress, shares his fascinating story, explains why he decided to sell StudioPress to WP Engine, and talks about practicing minimalism in his life and career.
Brian is also the creator of No Sidebar, an online collection of articles on minimalism, productivity, and simple living, as well as Authentik, a newsletter designed to help creatives build an honest brand.
Listen to the full interview, and read about the major takeaways.
No Sidebar is a website and a movement that launched over 3 years ago. This is Brian’s way of encouraging the web to simplify things. Initially, it was about literally removing sidebars from websites. But then it spun off into a more figurative direction, and was applied to life overall, aimed at removing the things that get in the way. Over time No Sidebar has become a Minimalism blog.
Minimalism wasn’t a lifestyle that Brian lived and then started writing about, quite the opposite. It was driven from his personal frustration with websites, and then just from life in general. Being a founder and owner of a company, Brian felt he was overworked and didn’t have time to do the things he wanted to do. He wanted to simplify his life.
That’s when No Sidebar became more of an ideology on life – living with less. It became a byproduct of the No Sidebar movement, and Brian began incorporating some of the principles covered on the site, into his life. For instance, he sold his house and moved to a smaller one, where he now feels much happier.
A Philosophy of Intentionality Without Trickery
Brian has always been a fan of being honest, upfront and transparent. “That’s the way I want to do my business,” he says. “We’ve gotten to a point where people have recognized that the traditional ways of marketing and launching products…made people feel duped. They were tricked into buying things, and whatnot, and broken promises, and unfulfilled obligations and so on … There’s a better way to do the Internet, and a lot of that has to do with going back to the basics and fundamentals of life and content and all of that.
A practical example is the opt-in form in a sidebar above the fold, right? Everything had to be above the fold, back in the day. And of course, with mobile devices, the fold is different. We interact differently with content, now. So, the No Sidebar movement was really just a matter of, ‘Hey, all the stuff in the sidebar, all the things that your marketing gurus tell you that you need to have and all that, it’s really, actually, getting in the way of your business, and conversion, and optimizations, and all of that stuff.’ So, that’s how No Sidebar started. It’s the way I do my world. It’s my life. I don’t do it any other way.”
Brian asserts he’s always been a customer-focused person. Prior to his day-job at an architectural firm, he worked at a convenience store, where he worked 50 hours a week serving people. It helped him realize how important customer service is, and taking care of people, making them feel comfortable. Even with StudioPress, whether it is the support, or the forums, there’s a lot of people who aren’t at the same place he was at.
So, just putting customer needs ahead and identifying what’s the best way to help them has always been at the top of Brian’s personal list.
People Start Sniffing the Fake Stuff
What people need to do is what works for them. Brian thinks so many people try to go down the route of what they’ve been told to do, which doesn’t necessarily always work.
There’s an opportunity for folks to be different. Everyone tries to be better than the next person. 10 years ago it was different, but at least now it’s the people who put themselves out there. The people who do behind-the-scenes videos of the stuff that they’re doing. Because that’s what people are interested in. The production and the ability to portray images is great, but people are starting to sniff the fake stuff.
So, part of what Authentik is to share the real story of your entrepreneurial journey, both good and bad. People need to hear where you went wrong, what the lessons you learned were, because they want to learn from that.
It’s not just, “Oh, do this and you make $1,000,” because it’s not that easy anymore. There’s way too much competition. Everybody’s trying to do something online now.
"A Good Hockey Player Plays Where the Puck Is. A Great Hockey Player Plays Where the Puck Is Going to Be."
Wayne Gretzky’s famous quote has always inspired Brian: “What’s the next version of what we’re doing now?” Because, right now it’s already too late, right? Because everyone’s doing it. It’s already in production, and there’s already a bunch of people doing something. It’s like, “What’s the next version of a podcast?” Or, “What’s the next version of other types of content or media?”
Is it a long-form copy? Or is it back to short-form copy? I mean, are we ebbing and flowing, and it makes more sense … People’s attention span is shorter, so maybe it makes more sense to do the micro-blog thing, just because people can’t digest 2,500-word articles anymore. So, it’s really just a matter of identifying what you’re passionate about and recognizing today’s needs.