This is something I’ve been wanting to write for awhile now but the time never really felt right. I decided the other day that it’s now or never so with this post I’m hoping to get some feedback from you guys on some ideas I’ve been tossing around lately. Here’s a link to a Google Form that I’d appreciate if you could fill out (it should take no more than 5 minutes) and a longer explanation below on what I’m looking to do (and how you can help).
I started the blog in October 2012, not for any reason other than I felt like I needed a more contained spot to post all the questions I’d been getting on social media about coxing. I’d always felt like there was a need for something like this but when I started Ready all, row… becoming that thing wasn’t my initial intention. I had all these really big ideas of what it could become but I stopped myself from putting them out there because the blog had only been around for a short period of time and I didn’t think anyone would take them seriously because of that (and amongst other things, like being “just another millennial with a blog”).
As the blog continued to grow, I started to get a lot of questions asking how I planned to make money off of it. (The “why haven’t you monetized yet?” question was actually one I got during my interview for my job at Columbia.) People offered donations, I got asked about advertising, etc. but I turned it down because I wasn’t doing this for the money … it was just something I did for fun and as a way to give back to a sport that I really love. (Love to hate … but still love.) At the end of the day, it just didn’t seem appropriate to capitalize off of something that I felt was so badly needed in our community. I didn’t want there to be any barriers to access (which was why there was never any content behind a paywall) and I didn’t want it to look like I was “selling out”, whatever that means nowadays, if I started posting ads that may have only been loosely related to coxing or rowing.
Last fall I was working for a startup that was part of an accelerator program in Boston. While I was there I started seeing a lot of parallels between the blog and the startups I was working alongside, the first and most obvious being “identify and solve a problem”. At one point one of the other founders asked me why I didn’t have a pitch deck for the blog considering all I’ve done with it and the ideas I had because even though it was “just a blog”, it really wasn’t that different from anything they were doing. I laughed if off because what I would use a pitch deck for – it’s just a blog. Then last week I came across this article on Medium titled “Nothing will change until you start building” and finally decided to put the wheels in motion.
Define your goal. Done. Be a resource for coxswains to learn everything they’re not taught but are expected to know and answer the questions they have, the ones they didn’t know they had, and the ones they’re afraid to ask.
Stay on track. Done. The last two years I’ve made a serious attempt to have a regular and consistent posting schedule and to try to line up the content to match the season we were currently in. Year-long editorial calendars were made and the limits of Google Drive have been tested by the number of post ideas, drafts, and articles that I’ve collected and written over the years.
Solve a problem. Done. I mean, I don’t know if Ready all, row… is “solving” the problem of limited coaching and educational resources for coxswains but I do think it’s making a serious dent. That’s confirmed whenever I get an email from a coxswain who says “you have no idea how much your blog has helped me” or from a rower who says “I never knew what it was like to be a coxswain but now I get it and I’ve tried to be a better teammate as a result”.
Ditch the “good idea / bad idea” mindset. To quote the article I linked, “The only way to know for sure if your idea will work is to formulate a product hypothesis and run an experiment to test it. Talk to people and ask if they are interested in your solution.” So here we are.
Ask for help. Ironically one of the things I’m worst at is the point of this entire post.
So, what’s the idea/plan?
“Side-hustle” income. That term is way overused these days but it is what it is. This has been my side-hustle for the past 4 years and 7 months (some of you were novices in high school when you started reading and now you’re in college … that blows my mind) and I’ve finally come around to the idea of embracing getting “paid” for what I love doing. It’s not a motivating factor by any means (if it was I wouldn’t have done it for free in the first place) but there’s no point in denying or sugarcoating that a little bit of extra money every month would be a huge help. I don’t however want to just take your money without having something tangible to give back in return, which leads me to the actual idea that I’ve been mulling over for the past several months.
One-on-one coxswain coaching. I want to earmark a portion of the donations to go towards offering a limited number of free 30 minute one-on-one coaching sessions each month to coxswains. It would be free in the sense that the coxswains that sign up for a session would not have to directly pay for it because it would be “crowdfunded” through the donations from this – our – community. I’ve done one-on-one Skype things in the past and it was pretty successful but I don’t want not being able to afford something like that to be a deterrent or barrier.
OK but … why? And why now?
Solid questions and both ones I’ve asked myself (a lot). The “why” is easy and also two-fold. “Why”, because coxswains need/deserve to be coached and for as much as I try to do on the blog, sometimes talking in person is just better. Face-to-face communication is huge and something that I think is validating, empowering, and necessary when you’re trying to discuss some of the complexities of coxing. I inject a lot of myself personality-wise into my writing so that when you read my emails or posts it feels like we’re just having a normal conversation after practice. I want to take that to the next level though and actually have a conversation with you.
The second part of the “why” is something I assume a lot of you are thinking. “Why would I donate money if part of it is going to help make my competition – people I might not even know – better?” For the same exact reason that I tell you competition amongst the coxswains on your own team is a good and necessary thing – it’s up to us to make each other better. You’re not going to get better if the people on your team aren’t pushing you but you’re also not going to get better if your counterpart in the 2V from Oakland Strokes or Phillips Andover or Long Beach or Belen Jesuit isn’t also getting better and pushing you to do the same. If we collectively can make each other better, our boats are going to be better, our teams are going to be better, and *pipe dream*, maybe the coaching we get will be better. The initiative has to start with us though.
The “why now” is a little more personal but it’s also pretty straightforward and obvious. I just started a new job and moved to New York, which is expensive AF. Initially my plan was to get a summer job so I could recoup some of the moving costs but that would cut into my availability to do camps and the stuff I actually want to be doing, which is this … not to mention my actual job. If I’m already putting regular part-time hours into the blog (between emails (where a lot of the time goes), writing, and a long, long list of other things, it’s usually at least 20 hours a week during the off-season; in-season it goes up to about 30), why not make the most of those hours?
Another “why now” is based off of something else I read last week. Ryan Hoover, founder of Product Hunt, wrote a thread on Twitter about building your audience first before trying to scale your startup. He cited the “1000 true fans” example and while that number isn’t an absolute by any means … we’ve definitely got that. As of 1:27pm, the blog has 927 email subscribers alone. Between people who have bookmarked but not subscribed to the blog and those who follow me on Instagram and YouTube … we’ve definitely got at least 1000 unique followers.
Casey Neistat said something in one of his vlogs awhile ago about how he didn’t define success as the amount of time he spent doing what he loves but by the amount of time that he doesn’t have to spend doing stuff he hates. I really took that to heart and it’s become the main motivation behind trying to pursue what I’ve described above, as well as a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff I’ve been doing over the last year (hint: new website). All of that takes time though and if time was limitless and bills, gas, food, insurance, and rent weren’t a thing, I’d keep on with the way things are now. The blunt reality is though that those are things and I don’t want to spend time on something I don’t enjoy (i.e. a second or third job) while sacrificing the stuff that I do just to be able to afford to live.
So … that’s where I’m at. I really welcome your guys’ feedback on this (here’s the link to that Google Form again if you haven’t filled it out yet) and would love to hear if this is something you’d be willing to support. “This” being “Ready all, row…” as a whole and in turn, providing coxswains an opportunity to take their education, self-improvement, whatever you want to call it to the next level. By no means is this a “sure thing” yet either … I’m just trying to get a sense of interest before actually launching anything. The timeline though if there was enough interest would probably be sometime mid-summer.
There’s a lot of minutiae that I’ve left out of this post for brevity’s sake but if you have questions or are interested in more details (or just wanna know how much I’ve really thought this through), you’re always welcome to email me. Thanks for reading and for all your support up to this point. I value all of it immensely and with that ongoing support, hope to continue doing my part to ensure every coxswain is armed with the skills and knowledge they need to be confident, assertive, proud members of their team.