Alex DeBrie - Info Products and Personal Finance as a Creator
# 06 - Alex DeBrie
**Chris:** I'm here with Alex DeBrie who is well-known for dynamo DB stuff in the AWS community. But, Um,
Alex, can you really quickly say how you think about yourself, of what you're up to.
**Alex:** Yeah, I'd say it's kind of a weird, a mismatch and I have trouble describing myself to people I would say. , yeah, I, you know, I, I do a lot of work with dynamo DB and just like the AWS, especially like serverless ecosystem, more generally, I'm probably most known for, I wrote a book, the dynamo DB book, which is just a, a comprehensive guide to data modeling with dynamo DB.
So I've got that as like sort of side income there. And then I supplement that. Training or like special consulting projects related to dynamo DB. I also do like some I'll do that contract technical writing or tutorials and things like that for like dev tool ish, like companies or infrastructure companies.
So a little bit of that stuff. So just like kind of a weird, uh, mismatch of, of different things that I do here.
**Chris:** Cool. How do you think those companies find you? Like, do they reach out.
**Alex:** Yeah, that's a good question. So originally it was, , yeah, yeah. I would say they reached out to me originally. It was AWS was the first one. So like before I even wrote the dyno DB book, I wrote this thing called the dynamo DB guide, which is just like a free sort of micro-site around dynamo DB. This was.
I believe this was the beginning of 2018 when I released this. And it's like, I don't know, 20 or 25 pages about dynamo, DB, things like that. , and then some product marketing person that was working on dynamo DB from AWS, reached out and said, Hey, do you want to do some tutorials? And things like that for us on dynamo?
And I said, sure. So I did that. Those were the first one. I did a few projects with them over a couple of years. And then more recently, you know, since I've written the book other than. Usually I database E type companies reach out. And usually I say no to database companies, just because I really liked dynamo.
Like I'm not going to do writing for your company if I don't sort of like really believe in the product. And I just really liked dynamo. So it's hard for me to, to say yes to something else, but then there've been a few other ones that aren't like straight database companies. Um, and, and whether I've just sort of met people from the community and then they're out a out of place and they want some help with, with writing or something like that.
But yeah, it usually just weird sort of networking type things.
**Chris:** Okay. So this also ties in, I think, with being like an AWS hero or what is, what's the actual title?
**Alex:** Yeah. So I'm an AWS data hero, , due to my work with dynamo DB, that man, when did that come out? That was. I think that was 2019, that that happened again. I'd done like a few tutorials on dynamo with, , you know, the product marketing person at AWS. And they just, I think didn't have a lot of people writing about dynamo in the community, or even people internally.
There wasn't a whole lot of people writing or talking about dynamo. I think they just had trouble finding people, writing about it for whatever reason. So I did some talks at like some AWS conferences and the summer of 2019, and then they made me an AWS hero and the hero is like, Hey, someone in the company.
That doesn't work for AWS, but does a lot of either writing or speaking or, or just community type stuff for AWS. So got that in 2019, I knew that announcement was coming. They're like, Hey, we're gonna announce this in like two months or so. And that's when I was like, okay, I think I want to write a book.
I'm like getting all this stuff prepped. So then like when the announcement came, I was also like, Hey, I'm writing a book and, and hopefully got some signups
**Alex:** and promotion
**Chris:** is a nice lead time. The corporate bureaucracy works for you in that case.
**Alex:** Yeah. Yeah. Worked well. So.
**Chris:** neat. Um, So.
are you like on the hook for anything, if you become a data hero or is it all right to, they ask you to do host events or.
**Alex:** Not particularly. I mean, they want you to sort of, uh, continue to engage in the community and stuff like that, but I don't have any like specific requirements on that. I also don't. I get paid by them or, or anything like . That. Um, from that, you know, like they'll give us like swag every once in a while, like at re they try and get us to come to re-invent just, cause it's not a fun time to hang out.
They don't require you to do that. Reinvent is like the big AWS conference it's in Las Vegas every year. It's like, oh, 25 to 50,000 people, depending on whether we're in COVID or not. But, um, so they, they like, like to get people to go to that and, and things like that. And they'll help me, like, I'd say it's a mutually beneficial relationship.
I like that. Speaking and talking at different events and stuff like that, because then more people know me, they buy the book or maybe they want to hire me for something like that. And they like it because I'm, you know, I'm helping promote AWS and dynamo and things like that.
**Chris:** Cool. How are you finding topics to talk about? I feel like the data modeling is definitely interesting. Like there's got to be so many other things to talk about also, but also at the same time, I know from my personal experience that finding ideas is like super.
**Alex:** Yeah. Um, I mean the one thing I would say . Is, , I roll back the same talk a ton of times. I'd say I have like two or three talks that, you know, if someone asked me, Hey, we have an opening in a user group in an hour. Can you give a talk? I could just roll that out there and do that super easily. , a lot of the people that go to these talks are just like different groups of people, you know?
Cause it's like, um, you know, maybe some people that have seen it before, but a ton of people haven't heard of dynamo before. Haven't heard of me before haven't seen this particular talk, so it's super easy to roll some of that stuff out. So I have two or three, it gets kind of boring to me to like keep repeating all these talks.
And I'm like, I'm like, I always picture people in the audience be like, oh, I already saw this. Why does he do this? But like the reality is most people haven't. , and then, but then there's like the longer-term thing of like, I want to develop new talks. Occasionally. I want to do blog posts occasionally, uh, or just different writing or like new things.
And for that, I think you sorta have to just like monitor. Social media or Reddit or forums, or like whatever it is. And like, or, or just like working consulting with people and figuring out what their problems are and be like, oh, that isn't well explained. I need to like explain that sort of thing to someone.
So, um, I actually got started with this, like when I was at, I used to work for serverless, Inc, which they make the serverless framework, which helps deploy Lambda functions and things like that to AWS. And I was on the growth team there. And I just spent a ton of time in like our community slack channel in our forums on Twitter.
Yeah. Like what are people having problems with? And then I would write a blog post on it. So I wouldn't have to answer in the forums every time I could be like, Hey, you should just go read this blog post. And, um, so just like mining for ideas like that. I think, you know, um, the stacking, the bricks, people, Amy Hoyt, and I can't remember the other guy, but, um, they, they sorta like say that like, Hey, find the watering holes where people hang out and where they're having problems and then just, you know, answer those questions.
**Chris:** Right. All right. Tangental. What . Do you think of serverless cloud that they just released? That's their own stuff. It's not AWS, right? Or maybe it is, but Yeah.
**Alex:** I think it's yeah, I think it's probably using AWS under the scenes and maybe would use some other clouds in the future. Things like that. I think it's super interesting. I love Jeremy daily and a lot of the other folks that are working on it. I know them quite well. , so I haven't gotten a ton of time to, to play with it and things like that.
, it's interesting. There's, there's sort of like a split between the infrastructure as code world and like the. Infrastructure from code world. Right? So like infrastructure as code is like what serverless framework does where you write all this code, but then you also have like a giant Yammel file that describes the infrastructure you want to create your Lambda functions, dynamo, DB, all that
**Chris:** And it runs in Europe.
**Alex:** Yeah. Yup. Good point too. So I like that. I liked the explicitness of like having my infrastructure in a separate file and I can inspect that and then having my. Code code separate from that my function code or whatever. , what they're doing is sort of like, Hey, you write like a file. It looks sort of like express if you're familiar with that from node JS and, and, , you know, you can use, you can add HTP end points or queue processors and things like that.
And they're like parse that file and create the infrastructure from that. So create your Lambda functions, create your API gateway routes, create your queue, all that stuff. , I like I liked Jeremy a lot. I think it's super interesting. I, I find those, it's sort of my same problem with the CDK, which is a, another tool.
, every project, I think, looks like a snowflake because people just organize their code completely different. And then it's like, if I'm onboarding onto a project, it's way harder to me, for me to know. Well, the ACPM points are where all the cues are, things like that. Whereas if like, if I'm going to a serverless framework project, I go to that Yammel file.
And I know I can like find at least the infrastructure part of that and orient myself. So I like that aspect of, of the original service framework, but I, you know, I hope I hope serverless cloud.
**Chris:** And Serverless Cloud.
is runs on their stuff. Just to be
**Alex:** Yup. Correct. Yeah. So I think another problem just like with service, generally, you have people that are new to AWS and signing up for AWS and putting in a credit card and learning all these different things is so freaking hard. And like, they're doing a great job of just saying, Hey, you started sign up for our service.
We're going to provision you a separate account. We'll manage billing and all that stuff. And you just like sort of write code and get going. I think that's great for getting people started with like the power of the cloud and things
**Chris:** Right. Yeah. There's so much to know. I don't, if we're wanting to talk about this on the podcast, but there's a lot of technical stuff that I've like is this really how we're going to go? Okay. Like, did you . See, um, during that. Twitter thread I did about one gigantic Lambda function versus splitting it up like a Lambda function per HDP.
**Chris:** like . Everyone had really good arguments there, but I'm still on the fence of like, do I really want like 50 Lambda functions? And like each house, the road I am permissions. And like, like stuff like that out of that, like the code, I,
guess like manages that for you in theory. So that's okay if you're infrastructure as codes.
**Alex:** Yup. I think like you, you really need to make sure you have the right tooling in place to, if you're going to do all those different Lambda functions, otherwise it becomes a mess. But I think like whether it's service framework or Sam or, or, um, serverless cloud, I think they do a decent job of, of making that manageable.
But it is definitely like a mindset shift to just like, man, I have all this stuff everywhere. How do I, how do I think about.
Okay. , rolling back a little bit more about you.
**Chris:** , I sort of want to know how you think about yourself as like a business. Like, I dunno, I assume you have like an LLC or something, but I don't see you running like a, your business under like a specific name or brand or
**Alex:** Yep. Yeah. Well, yeah, and I definitely feel like an imposter being on this show for like a couple of reasons. Number one, uh, I don't write PHP and I feel like a lot of people on this show are our PHP pokes, but.
**Chris:** but that's also not where I'm going with the podcast. I knew I wanted to just talk to people doing like businesses.
**Alex:** Nice. Uh, and the second reason is like, I don't have a SAS. Right. So I think a lot of folks, so far I've had like a SAS business.
I don't . Have that. I have, uh, you know, the books. So I'm like more info products type person plus . Consulting. , so yeah, in terms of business structure, you know, I have an LLC. It's like debris, LLC. I think more recently I've started to call myself like debris advisory, at least on invoices and stuff, but I haven't like switched.
I just need to update my site to make it more clear that like, Hey, I offer different services, things like that. , so that's how I think of it, but like I would say, I think of. , one thing I would say is I think of having a product ladder, which is something that like Jonathan Stark, who he's got a lot of stuff about doing consulting and not doing hourly consulting, doing like sort of value based consulting, but he has this idea of a product ladder.
Different people want you at different levels of engagement and you can have those different things and different sort of rates for each of those. And maybe you jump in order of magnitude in each one. So like at the bottom of the ladder, I have like a bunch of free content. Right. I have dynamo DB guide.
I have a bunch of blog posts and things like that where people find me and they're, that's when they start hearing about me, I build up some trust that way, but like, they haven't paid me a dime yet. And then you can go like one step up that ladder and it's like, Hey, they want to buy. The book, right? The dynamo DB book, because they've read a bunch of these dynamo DB posts.
They're like, okay, I want to learn more about this, or like more holistically. So you have that part. That's like the next step on the product ladder. And even within that, I have multiple tiers of the book, which I highly recommend if you're going to do an info product, , just to sort of segment people and buying interests that.
And then higher up on the ladder, that would be like custom projects, whether that's like a training workshop for an entire team, or whether it's like, Hey, I need to design, , a particular data model or something like that. Would you help us help us do that sort of thing? And that's like the, the premium, the top of the ladder type thing.
And it's like a, you know, an order of magnitude difference in price between each of those different levels. I would say.
**Chris:** How so? I remember, I think I first reached out to you cause I was getting some inbound interest about doing some consulting and ultimately I decided I just can't fit it in between work and stuff. It's just like, I don't know if I have the right personality for it, but also just the time crunch of like having two jobs is that, you know, more really. But for you, like, it sounds like the freelancing is kind of working out or is it even freelancing or is it kind of almost like a productized service type thing? Like what does the data modeling is that, like I say, I guess you said you do writing and the data modeling. , those are the two main things you're mainly freelance.
**Alex:** Mostly, I would like, I would split my business up into like thirds, which I would say a third is like the book itself and a third of like income revenue type stuff. But also like I spend a decent time on like, just like marketing that I do talks and things like that. Just to stay in front of people's mind for that.
A third would be probably dynamo, DB specific. Consulting work, which it could be like a workshop. Sometimes I just do like training and I'll do like, Hey, four sessions of two hours each over a four week period with your entire team, just to teach you dynamo DB data modeling. And then the other third would be like some of those marketing, technical . Writing projects and, and, um, things like that.
So, , yeah. And I would say like, , you know, in terms of not having the time or things like that, I think it's really hard to have a full-time job and also sort of devote to consulting or different things like that. It's just, it competes for your attention in a lot of different ways, um, which is, which is tricky.
So I can understand not wanting to do consulting in those sorts of side things for sure.
**Chris:** Yeah. So are people inviting you? Are you doing those, , what's the word you use for them where you're teaching companies or like.
**Alex:** Probably like a training or workshops, something like that.
**Chris:** So, those . Are kind of more geared to like a specific company. A specific company wants you to do that. for their like developers or, or, you know, their infrastructure. Yeah.
**Alex:** Yeah. They might say, Hey, we have 10 or 15 or 20 people. Uh, we want to go all in on dynamo, DB, stuff like that. We're kind of new to it. And do this and I'll do that. And again, I'm pretty flexible on how that works, but like the way I like to do it is say, Hey, I'll give you over a period of four weeks.
Let's do one session a week of two hours. Cause I just think it's hard to jam in more than like two hours of training on a day. People. Start to zone out and then.
**Chris:** even two hours sounds grueling.
**Alex:** Right. It really is. Cause it's like mostly lecture-based too. And I, you know, Q and a and stuff like that, but it's like a lot. It's just a lot of information.
Cause dynamo, DB modeling. Isn't super hands-on it's more just like, Hey, you gotta learn all these different concepts and things like that. So I can do one session. , and then I'll be like hanging out in their slack channel between, and hopefully they'll have some questions. And if we can like reinforce some of that stuff, something specific to what they're doing, like, okay, we learned about this concept.
We have this problem in our service. Like how would we model that? We can reinforce some of that stuff between . Sessions. So, , yeah, I'd say that's usually how I run those types of things.
**Chris:** What is the money like for that? So those profitable, or I don't know what you can say or what you wanted to say.
**Alex:** Yeah, I would say, I think so. Um, you know, I try, I usually charge per head. , I'm trying to figure out how much to give away. Cause it's like sort of a dance on some of that stuff.
**Chris:** I . Believe it. Yeah.
**Alex:** um, you know, yeah. I'd say they, they, they work out pretty well charged per head. It's usually a pretty premium offering and types of things like that.
You wrapped like build up the trust to have the time to feel like, ah, Um, that they'll get good, good stuff out of it. The other thing I'd say is like, I always throw in a copy of like the premium package of my book for every paid seat at the thing. And that's like $250. So it feels like, Hey, I'm getting a free $250 on top of this other amount that I'm paying.
It also helps to anchor it because it's like, okay, if I could pay $250 to get this, this issue with a book and he doesn't have to do any time at all, it has to be some higher amount than that for him to come in and like spend some time specifically. Talk with us and things like that. So I think it, yeah, so I think they, they work out pretty well.
You know, I don't ha I don't do like a ton of them by just get some inbound interest sometimes. And again, it's sort of like the meetup talks, it's pretty easy for me to roll out most of that. , I have a lot of that content pre-made, but I also try to, , make it specific to what they're doing and things like that.
So customize it to them.
**Chris:** Have you ever thought of doing that as like a thing where people just, anyone can sign up and you'll do like a, like a workshop?
**Alex:** Yeah, I definitely have, and I mostly just been either like laziness or other busy-ness of, of not doing it, but, , there's a guy named Jaan Trey. Who's big in the service community. , the burning monk is like his handle, but he does. Both private workshops, he does public workshops like that. Uh, I've always asked him about some of that stuff and he's like, oh yeah, you should do it.
Or, you know, they work out really well. I just, I just haven't gotten the time to like sign it up. There's probably also like a little bit of fear of just like, what if I put this out there and three people sign up and it's like, oh, now do I, it just feels like embarrassing if, if it doesn't work. So, uh, which, uh, yeah, I still just got to get over some of that stuff,
I feel you there I've actually, because I've thought about that idea also, because it seems like it would probably be a lot of work, but that's a lot of prep ahead of time and actually doing like the lectures we'll call them seems not too bad, perhaps.
**Alex:** Yep. And the thing is too, like once you plant it once, then you can roll it out. Like, if you feel like there's ongoing interest, you can do one of these every three months, you know, every, like do four of these a year pretty easily. And you've got the content already prepped and, and good to go. So,
**Alex:** yeah. How do you think about your sort of.
Info product stuff. I know you mentioned recently, you've been, you've been focused more on shipper CEI. Like, are you doing a lot more with the, the info or what do you, what are you
**Chris:** it's tough because it's, once again, competition, competition, you know, the job, the kids, uh, the info products and Chipper. The info product stuff. The latest thing I'm doing is cloud casts, which is, you know, you can purchase a course or you can subscribe. Now. I started that before I, I started, uh, pounding on chipper.
So like I had a decent, you know, okay. Launch on last black Friday that gave me some money and I could do that to pay, uh, to help pay for my half of temper CIA. But you know, my business partner is half out, so I own the.
**Chris:** Which is Nice.
but now I have two businesses. I'm like, what do I do with this? So, um, I've been working on chipper.
See, I been doing a lot of work there. I'm . Actually, , I'm getting some part-time help from someone who's helping me do some development on it, which has been a super stress relief because his work has really good. And then also, you know, I don't have to do all the development work, like try to cram that in between eight and 10:00 PM.
**Chris:** So, uh, the problem there is that it still requires a lot of thinking time of like how to redo pricing and all this kind of stuff that I've been trying to think through. , so I've only gotten two cloud pass, like here and there. So I'm in the middle of making a serverless course, and that is like going well, but I, I almost lost focus on how I want to make it. So I'm just kind of like, like I've done the intro stuff where like this. Lambda is, this is like how to use it essentially. Then I've done a module on hooking it up to API gateway and all that stuff. The way I ended up doing that, it's kind of, I don't know if it's interesting, but what I did is I just made a CLI calls.
I didn't try to do Terraform or like try to teach like way all this stuff on top of it. And that was interesting. Cause I was like, oh, I have to make a ton of weird API calls to get
**Chris:** to work.
**Alex:** Yeah. If a gateway is such a weird beast. Yeah. Yeah.
**Chris:** , but I hopefully made that all make sense, but I want to, I want to devote the last half of this course to maybe making like a real app that has like a queue worker and talking to the RDS, maybe through the proxy.
And, , something like that. Probably a database. I think most of my audience is like PHB, my SQL people. So like, instead of that, instead of dynamo
**Alex:** Yup. Yup,
**Chris:** although I've used dynamo almost in production, we ended up going a different direction, but it was, it was.
**Alex:** Yep. Okay.
**Chris:** That whole single table designed
**Alex:** It's it's weird for sure. Yeah. Yeah. Well, I'm just gonna say, like, it was super weird when you like reached out to me to talk about, you know, AWS, like last year, because, you know, I bought your, I bought servers for hackers. Like a long time. I . Looked in the email, , this morning I bought it back on in October of 2014.
I bought servers for hackers. So it was pretty wild to like, I don't know. It's just fun to like meet different people and, and see the different paths that, that
**Chris:** Right. Yeah. And my path is weird. Like I had, I had two good years where I made more than my revenue and then I had kids and then I was like downhill from there because I was not prepared for that transition in my life. But.
**Alex:** It it's, it's really hard. I think to like create stuff, like create info type stuff. When you have a full-time job, like I see, like we were talking earlier. I announced a book when I got that hero stuff and I tried to work on it for two or three months, but I still had a full-time job. I am not gonna be able to make any progress on that.
Then I finally was just like, okay, I'm going to quit my job. I saved up this chunk of money and be like, I got three months going to try and get this book out. If it totally fails, I'll I'll get another job or something like
**Chris:** Yeah. How, how did that. work out with the family? What does that like stressful by TD wife? Hate that idea.
**Alex:** No, she was in on it. And like I had just finished a, a project with. Sort of tutorial projects with AWS. And I had just finished that and like gotten like a sort of chunk of unexpected cash there. Um, so I was like, okay, this will last. For this period. Uh, she was all in she's. She's been very supportive because I've had like a weird career path.
Like she and I both went to law school and, um, I worked as a lawyer for like nine months and then I went and decided I wanted to be a programmer instead. So she was like super supportive of that switch. She was super supportive of me quitting my job to write a book like who does that? So, um,
**Chris:** Cool. I know, , the, we wanted more stability. I think me and my wife, , just so we kept the job, kept the healthcare, all that kind of stuff. Like I, maybe I could have, but I also didn't have, I didn't have like a clear path of like, can I actually make another course? Like in another year, let's get it.
Like, that seemed all too scary. So I never made the jump. And I still like where I work a lot. It's kind of like I'm embedded in the liberal community. I work with people who are super into it and just like in, stay in slack and telegram channels with them also all day. So I really liked the aspect and don't really want to lose that by just like, kind of going off and doing this other stuff.
, but you know, we'll see. Cause I have to see if chipper is going to grow at all. , It's grown like a bit since I started working on it. I was about to say full-time, but it's not full-time, it's just like, as this, this year I've been really actually trying to get.
**Chris:** we're going to see what happens. I got some new pricing that's going to come out.
Let's should . Hopefully, uh, move the needle a bit and then do some more marketing stuff. Um,
**Alex:** people find, how do new customers find shipper? Like, is it from like the, a community that you're involved in? Are there like, is there a lot of marketing or blog posts or things like what's that sort of path.
**Chris:** so there's going to be more of that content stuff, but also just being part of the Laravel community it's, , referenced. The main thing is that it's referenced in documentation for a few first party things like level of forge that makes the servers. Uh, vapor, which is the serverless offering and Nova, which is like the admin panel.
So it's like, that's one of the bigger ones than Twitter, then my email lists and stuff like that. , and then I'm going to do a marketing push later after that. So after this new pricing, cause the new pricing is like we'll fix some issues in terms of, I don't, I don't get enough value from people using the app. you know what I mean? Cause they're still paying like 39 bucks a month or maybe a little more, but like, not enough really. It's like you have that love usage. They're getting out of it. It's crazy. On the low end, you know, it's kind of a jump to go from zero to 39 bucks a month for depending on, on like the user persona, but I haven't mind.
So I'm going to change pricing to help do that stuff. And that's been a whole journey to like figure out what the right pricing seat is
**Alex:** And are you, are you like, how do you investigate that? Like, do, are you just talking with a bunch of other SAS people or like, how do you figure out?
**Chris:** that's partially why this podcast exists, which it's also an excuse just to talk to people about. But then also I'm talking to people who, you know, like Ian who works at or owns UserScape my boss. Like he's part of the reason why I stay is because he loves, like, I don't know if he loves it, but he allows us side projects.
It doesn't try to own our IP or anything, but he's also a good sounding board. Like we'll give, get info. And then, people in the Laravel community, Taylor, uh, Adam Wathan you know, just like people who are. Well, let me talk to them. Or luckily, , I had Matt Wensing on this podcast and he gave me some really great. ideas and pricing and, and Peterson who does reform.
It's just like trying to talk to, I don't know, like in the last year or two, I've developed a, of network of people doing this stuff somehow, just like, and I'm finally, I'm trying to like cash in those ships. Finally, after like meeting all these people, like getting their advice and people like, you know, that people love giving their take on stuff.
More so than any other time, I've really been getting feedback from as many people as I can on this specific topic. So, um, it's been kind of crazy to get so many points of view on it, and it's all been really helpful. , Aaron Francis, who was on the podcast, uh, got me invited into a slack of other business owners, and they've also been super . Helpful, , especially Like, talking towards people who sell to businesses to get more advice on, on getting like, the high end of, uh, capturing value.
Right. Getting more money from people.
**Alex:** like, will you ever go to like a contact desk type of plan or where you all, will you try to make it always self service? ,
**Chris:** That's technically exists, but no one has ever done it.
**Alex:** No, one's contacted you. Yeah, you're probably because you're providing too much value at, at 39 bucks a month
**Chris:** Yeah, yeah, And it's all weird, depending on, you know, it's very level specific. We're just kind of weird for a CA tool. So the people using it are looking for like an easy onboarding, like easy to use pre-configured tool, not like the all powerful can do it.
**Alex:** Yes. And are there any other like layer of El specific ones or are you mostly just competing with like Travis and circle and more generic ones? Get
**Chris:** it's all competition. I, I knew of one rail specific one, , by his name is Andrew Culver. Do you know of him in the rails community?
**Alex:** That name sounds super familiar.
**Chris:** He's making, , a product that is sorta like Laravel spark, which is a assess in a box thing you can
**Alex:** Ah, okay. Yep. Yep.
**Chris:** and all sorts of stuff like that. And he also made those cool laptop stands.
**Chris:** I don't know if you've seen that
**Alex:** Wow. That's amazing. I love like people doing hardware. I feel like there's like different levels of difficulty, like info products is the easiest one. SaaS is like a level up it's, , you know, harder and then like making real stuff in the real
**Chris:** right. People who have to
**Chris:** get stuff made from China or something. I don't understand. I saw I'll ask him about that. Um, but he started a rails one and then, , shut it down. So I'm going to get him on the podcast and ask them how that?
went for him. Um, so I don't know of any. , language frameworks, specific ones.
Everything's kind of generic. I think the biggest competitors get hub actions because they have such a good. free tier and most people are in get hub.
**Alex:** And it's in your code? Yeah, for sure. Although, like, I don't know all the, uh, I mean, there's been a lot of reliability stuff with them recently. I've heard, so, you
**Chris:** And I've every time I'm like you can't tweet about it. It'll look bad.
**Alex:** yeah, yeah. It's true. Yep. Do you have. What was I gonna say? , oh, do you have any like reliability issues or do you get paged in the night or the weekends or anything like that? Uh, with
**Chris:** been so good. I don't know why I had to, oh, I'm this lucky I'm going to knock on
**Alex:** about it, you know, don't want to jinx it. Yeah. Okay.
**Chris:** , the set of is fairly simple. It's uh, the front end is literally just a server. One server. It's not autoscaled or anything. It just like keeps chugging away. , the main, that's the main application and That's easy to rebuild if I need to.
Um, but it hasn't been really an issue. And . That is, , just the web app and also, uh, queue workers. But the, the interesting part is the nomad cluster that that is auto-scale and is fancy. So it's all ECE, two servers, you know, there's a cluster of the servers, which is like, you know, we don't call it master anymore, but the, the servers, and then there's the clients, uh, which are the things that actually run jobs.
And those are auto scaled separately and do kind of interesting stuff. , So, and I can auto-scale and business hours. Cause luckily CI is so, , regular with, you know, people are at work, so they're doing work. People are at home, they're not pushing code to their work stuff. So,
**Alex:** Yep. So, oh, so is that auto-scaling setup more on time rather than low, just because you can predict it. Okay. Yep. Okay. That's awesome.
**Chris:** which is really nice. Cause doing our load would be scary. Cause it goes through load gets really high all the time because people are, are periodically running, no JS tasks and all that stuff. So like it would be really hard to balance that. Correct. So because it's so spiky and if it's busy, then it's spiky all the time And it would be auto-scaling out, but I wouldn't necessarily be able to fill those other servers up.
Um, you know, it's all weird. There's like so many caveats to, to how that all works, but it's fun. It's not, sir. I've, I've been thinking about trying to see if I can fit it into a serverless, like Lambda thing, but there's a lot of weird stuff I'd have to do
**Alex:** we did a little bit of that when I was at serverless on some staff, we were wondering if we could run CIA jobs like in Lambda, and then it depends on like what people are doing. So we ended up doing. More like far gate type stuff just to give us, um, Docker containers and things like
**Chris:** yeah, exactly. It's weird. If like you need to talk to my SQL or something,
**Chris:** although I think there's sneaky ways to build that into your Lambda runtime now.
**Alex:** Yep. Yeah. You can do all kinds of things. , yeah, I, I, the other big part was just like the 15 minute runtime. If people had really long
**Chris:** Yeah, no, that would be an issue for some.
**Chris:** average run time is about five minutes, but some people definitely go about 15.
**Alex:** Yeah, exactly. Do you ever have to scale your cluster up beyond like those pre-configured rules or like, does the queue just sort of backup a little bit if that happens or how's that work?
**Chris:** Yeah. Occasionally. , but pretty rarely, which is nice. I'm a little over-provisioned and then I purchased reservation. So the price is cheaper. You know, I did the, I did this past year. I did one year full upfront, so I had a big bill up front of. , and that kind of stuff, which is nice. Like there's, you know, there's, , thousands of MRR is not enough to live off of, but if I have expenses like that, there's enough to cover it, which is a Nice.
spot to be in at least, you know, I'm not, I'm not, it's not like doing so poorly that a server classes an issue.
**Alex:** Is, is your dream to go? Full-time on chipper.
**Chris:** think so, but it depends on what it does so they can, it depends on how. It would be an error to actually be nice to have chipper. be like 10,000 MRR. And then also have a job. If, if that 10,000 MRR rate isn't, , is sustainable in terms of support and everything and supports actually the volume right now is super low.
So, , you know, we're going to see the new pricing could change that cause I'm trying to get people at the lower ends of the price tier to get into. So we'll see if that turns out to be a different type of customer in terms of customer support volume also, ,
**Alex:** That's cool. That's fun. Do you like doing support?
**Chris:** it's okay. Sometimes it's annoying. , but it's, it's it's okay. So the most annoying part about support, isn't the questions. It's just the fact that I don't know how to possibly offload this to anyone else, because this is very server specific and it's like, you need someone technical enough to know what their question is.
**Alex:** and then it's hard to like, how do you hire?
**Chris:** Well, I mean, I'm paying our dev salary at that point, right. Like, so, and I can't even afford to live off at myself. So I guess this be for a little while.
**Alex:** It's obviously you need like four really close four or five, like really close, sort of all technical people, all can be working on the product. I'll take some time on support, but then it's, I dunno, it's hard to find that many people and get the MRR up high enough to support that many people.
I've definitely thought about. If I could get people in the Levo community to help and like pay them, but like, you know, part-time, whatever rate would work or just whatever I could do to get people to help out. If it becomes an issue, the volume right now is low enough for it's really not, which is a nice, you know, it's, it's like simple enough.
Most stuff kind of just works in occasionally. There's a weird issue where I can help people out with like super occasionally there's someone who like, has never really done testing or anything and like needs a lot of hand holding, but that's, that's more.
**Alex:** How do you do, do you like go through all that stuff or do you more just be like, sorry, like this is beyond what I
**Chris:** I go through that stuff because I feel like I need to, at this phase to get people to stick around.
**Alex:** Yup. Yup.
**Chris:** And I, I mean, I really like my job. My W2 job is a customer score application and we all do customer support have always done that. So I've, I've, you know, had eight years of doing customer support.
And then before that I was doing a lot of project management at my, at my job at this marketing agency.
So I've always been doing like kind of customer communication stuff.
**Alex:** Yep. Yep. Nice. Okay.
**Chris:** I have questions for you. More questions for you.
**Alex:** More questions from you. All
**Chris:** You recently deemed me about some personal finance stuff. And that's a super interesting side topic that I always love to dive into. Um, one, two things. One, what are you doing for healthcare right. now? Because you're US-based is . It all, , you're on the market, I guess, Obamacare.
**Alex:** Now we have like this specialty, we have like, sort of a weird situation where in . Like this, , health share type thing, it's I would say it's sort of like, almost like a high deductible. Health care plan that you can get for, for being on your own. The part of the reason we can do this, where we're sort of fortunate is like my, my wife's dad is a general practitioner doctor, uh, like a family practice doc that lives five minutes for us.
So from us. So if we have like very small things, we can go to him and like, don't need to go to. Urgent care or stuff like that. So that helps with like a lot of the lower stuff. And then we had just sort of have the insurance on top of that. If, you know, somebody gets cancer or, or some major thing happens, you know, we have that covered.
So definitely fortunate in that I think the general insurance market for so people is, uh, not fun, not a fun
**Chris:** Super expensive
**Alex:** Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
**Chris:** and hard to find like Dr. Lake we'd have to switch. We'd probably have to find new pediatricians and stuff. That all sounds very.
So I don't know what we do if we just make, do I suppose on the marketplace if, if not, but, , yeah, so sort of lucky to be in, in that particular situation not replicable for most people. So that's why I don't give advice on this, but I think you're wrong. So I'm like, I'm sorry. I'm
**Chris:** Yeah. it's hard. And like all of us talking here are lucky to be in like the dev salary range. So like a high deductible plan could potentially work out as assuming you're saving.
**Alex:** Yeah. You're kind of, self-insuring a little bit on the low end and then, you know, if something really bad happens, it's not like you're gonna lose your house or something like that, so yeah. Yep,
**Chris:** Cool. All right. So how, how about, uh, how are you thinking about retirement and that kind of stuff?
**Alex:** Yeah, sure. I mean, yeah. Do you have, do you, cause I love the, when you're talking with Jason McCreary on this, I thought this was, this was super interesting. And like I had a hard time finding a lot of this stuff cause I was like, okay, I have this money. I've heard about like, , how you can save money on taxes and stuff.
If you have a self-employed business type of thing. But I, you know, all the information out there is for people with like W2 jobs and things like that. So I would say it's really nice if you're like a self-employed person and especially if you have like lumpy income and you just want. You know, you ha you release a book or something like, you know, two years ago I released a book and I had just from like the launch and things like that had way higher income that year, then like most years, and just want to put a bunch of that away.
Like, first thing I would say is if you're on your own, you can put away like this year, I think it's 61,000. Pre-tax in retirement, , in retirement accounts where that's a SEP IRA or a solo 401k or something like that. So it's basically like with that 61 K it's it's usually. I think 20,500 is individual and 40,500 is from your company.
But since you own the company, you can decide, Hey, I'm gonna put in the full match and all that or all that money. So you can save 61,000 pre-tax it goes into a tremor account. You don't have to pay tax on that at all. So like, you know, and that's, so you think about what you're saving on that, you know, if you're in like the 30.
Tax bracket or something like that. You you've just saved 30% of $61,000, which is really nice. And then it's just going to grow for a bunch of years. You'll eventually have to pay tax on that when you pull it out. But assuming I'm guessing when you're retired, you're going to be in a lot lower tax bracket.
, so that should be pretty beneficial to you. So there's that, , the other thing is like if you have a really high sort of spiky income and you want to do even more, you can do this thing called a cash balance plan, which is basically like. It's like a defined benefit pension that like used to happen in the eighties and now no companies offer pensions anymore, but you can, you know, again, if you're like a solo company, you set one of these up, you can put away, like, depending on your age, like seriously, like 50,000 to like $150,000.
Oh, again, away pre-tax, which is just bananas. So like, if you have a super spiky year in income and you just want to put away a slug of money, you can do like 150. Uh, fairly easily with sort of those, those two things. So that second one that's going to, like, it's a little more complicated. You're probably gonna have to like, pay an actuary or like a plan administrator to do that.
So maybe like two or 3000 bucks or something like that. But again, , it can be a good way to like supercharge your S your earnings, if you're a solo creator that like has a big slug of income because of a book launch or something like that.
**Chris:** So the I've been filing my LLC as a S as an escort. Right. It's just how it's like an S-corp election that you get treated as an escort in terms of the IRS, which means I pay myself a salary. So I have like a W2 of my own and that kind of stuff. Um, my accountant keeps telling me that my SEP IRA is limited by how much I pay myself that salary, as opposed to the total income of the business.
So I've, I've been staying under, I think it's like 25% of your salary or something like that. that you pay for.
**Chris:** now the Fidel paralyse business doesn't make a lot since I've like, that's where all my courses and stuff are. So like I had two, two good years. Right. I was talking about before, where I made more of my salary and that's when I set all that stuff up thinking that would continue, but then it didn't.
So I'm actually going to file is just a regular LLC next year, I'm going to change it. And then I won't be
**Alex:** Get, get rid of your S-corp you're saying
**Chris:** It's not, it's just
**Alex:** or get rid of your SL election. Yeah. , okay. I'm not man.
**Chris:** I'm not. Yeah, I'm just saying, it's just, it's just what the position I think I'm in because hopefully chipper grows and that's a different LLC. And then, um, the Fideloper LLC just like floats on by with the course stuff as I make it.
**Alex:** Okay. The one thing I would say for like, I think part of the reason to have the LLC is, is like, you're saying, like, you have to pay yourself a salary and you have to take like a. You know, like your FECA taxes against that, which is gonna be like 13% or something like that. Plus like an additional 2.9 self-employment tax or stuff like that.
But if you already have, I believe again, not, not tax advice here, if you already have a full-time job at UserScape, that's already paying your FICO and stuff like that. And then like the fecal limit is, I can't remember 130 or 140,000 somewhere up there, like to where you don't pay any more. If you cut taxes on that, even if you have.
Different income. So depending on that, you know, you'd still be paying like the 3% in self-employment tax or whatever that is. , but you wouldn't be paying all those, all those speaker things. And then, and then you can choose like how much do I want to put in my step IRA this year and sort of set your salary based on that and do 25% of that into your step.
**Chris:** Interesting. I wonder if I gave me do the SEP IRA as of, I don't have a W2 like thing, right. Can you for the, just straight up.
**Alex:** I think you can, it's it's going to be limited to, I'm pretty sure you can. Cause I think if you're just a regular LLC, not an S election, I think that it's just all treated us. I can't remember if
**Chris:** How fast my accountant, because I asked them that when I talked to them about ditching the S-corp election,
**Alex:** you can check out this so 401k, which I think doesn't have the same. Twenty-five percent limitation as the, as the step.
Um, so I'm, I'm not positive on that. I should really brush up on some of this stuff,
**Chris:** I got to see, I am taking a little bit of a gamble, hoping chipper gross, or, but
I'm only going to spend like a year on it. And if it doesn't grow a bunch or I don't know about a bunch, just like B, if it's not in the right trajectory, then I don't know what I'll do. Cause you know, I guess I could just spend time in doing core stuff in between that too.
Like that I don't have to go full on chipper, CIA all the
Plus you plus you're doing great with either shape. Like you're in a good position, you know, you've got you, like, you've got your main thing, your UserScape thing. And then you're like sewing all these seeds everywhere else and hoping
**Chris:** hopefully I'm, um, I just turned 37 last November. So I've started to feel a little old for, I like still like being at those planting my seeds stage.
**Alex:** Yep. , no way, no way 37 is not old at all, so yeah.
**Chris:** we'll see. There's no reason to not keep going. And then in a few years, the kids are gonna be in school full-time all day. So I'll have like all of a sudden, like more chunks of time freeing up than right now.
**Alex:** Yep. Exactly.
**Chris:** , okay. So,
I don't know if this will be quick, but we can't be quick. I don't want to go more than an hour,
**Alex:** then. Whatever.
**Chris:** , cloud cast, I don't know if I like this business at all, because it's. Single you can purchase a course or you can get the subscription and the subscription is a year and then, you know, or renews, but who knows what the turn is going to be, if people are going to keep going.
, and then you get every, everything I put out, which is like a bunch of mini courses. And then also like the, the, whatever big course I put out, like the next big courses. Uh, so you get access to everything if you subscribe, which I think I kind of liked that model, but I wonder if in my position I need to like switch this up and do something.
, cause I'm only, cause I'm not going to be adding videos like every day or every week, even it'll be like monthly, you know, I'll get something up there. Um, sometimes less, but you know, somewhere around monthly as my, as my goal, I don't know. Like, I feel like I need to start being more strategic, like chipper, CIS has put me in this mindset where I'm like doing stuff super strategically, like in terms of the features I built, uh, to, , get more people to know about it Like open source features so people can see it. And then. the pricing I have set is like, Hours of thinking of like, you know, how to set the pricing to, to grow the business. And I'm not doing that with cloud cast. And I feel like I really need to be for, uh, or could be for, um, for the course type stuff. I don't really, I just like don't know what to do with this thing really.
**Alex:** Yeah. , I would say so do you have some free stuff on cloud pass and then some, and then some of it's paid. Okay. So yeah, I think you need to, yeah. Like I would think of like, what are, what are the free things I can get to get people. , you want to say like, sort of the broad based, but maybe like beginner to intermediate things, I think make those free.
And ideally people are coming to you trusting you and, and building an understanding of you. It's like, you want to get people, hopefully that's raking well and sort of search results and things like that, that they can, they can find you and then have the supplemental things on top of that, uh, to upsell them.
, different things, which is hard. , and it's hard to know. I think the balance between like what to give away and what to pay, what to have paid is it is a tricky one. , I think like the more specific things should be paid, an interesting person might be that, that go rails guy. Uh, is it Chris Oliver?
Is that his name or something like that? Do you know what I'm talking about?
**Chris:** Go rails. Yes, I know. I know of it, but I don't remember who who's doing it.
**Alex:** Uh, Yeah, Chris Oliver, he'd be super interesting, I think, cause he has go rails. That was like, screencasts on, Ruby's on Ruby, on rails. I think he did really well with that sort of thing. , and I think he had like a monthly subscription type thing. He was pretty regular about putting up videos. I think that would be the tricky thing about having.
**Alex:** , a subscription is you'd almost feel earliest. Yeah. You'd feel like obligated, like keep pushing forward, otherwise, like, how are we, you know, how am I justifying that sort of thing? Um, so probably selling those individually if you want, but also having those subscription, I think is good. You know, once I think once your library is big enough to, I think having the monthly subscription is fine because a lot of people aren't gonna want to buy every single one individually.
Or like pack of them individually, but, but just have access to them as they need to.
**Chris:** Yeah, I agree. It's an interesting issue or interesting problem. It's kind of a good problem to. have, I just got to figure out kind of what to do with this.
**Alex:** yup. I think you like, are you focusing on, like you mentioned PHP, my sequel, are you, do you think are most of those screencasts focused on PHP Laravel type folks or are they more generic
**Chris:** They use them, but it's also kind of more generic with what.
I have up there right now. So the two big courses that are full is auto-scaling, which is ECT auto-scaling that kind of stuff. So the fact that the server is I build with an NMI for that has PHP on them is pretty incidental.
**Chris:** , although, you know, some stuff, you know, it's just the example I use, but it's not like it has to be PHP.
So for this to meet. And then the lamp, of course, right now I'm all kind of all over the place because PHP is not inherent to Lambda. It's not officially supported and Laravel vapor exists, which is like, kind of takes care of the PHP angle. It just does all that stuff for you. Kind of like how serverless cloud is, is doing its thing.
Yep. Okay. So then you're not focusing. The biggest thing I would say is try to have your content support each other to where like one person is going to be interested in like almost all of it. Right. So if it's not the PHP focus, that's fine. Like it doesn't have to be language specific focus. It's more like, Hey, , you know, maybe I'm the sort of dev ops person at my five person startup or not even the dev ops person, but like someone needs to figure out how the heck do you get this deployed set up auto scaling, sprinkling these Lambda functions where, where necessary stuff like that.
So, but just like the more you can . Make. , you know, all that content support each other and like the same person that's interested in auto scaling is going to be interested in this Lambda thing. It's going to be interested in your API gateway thing w whatever it is, things like that.
**Chris:** that makes sense.
**Chris:** Interesting. Hmm. There's a bunch of ways I could go with that app. Interesting. Okay.
Do you, do I chat? I mean, You have like a, I assume a decent even email list from like service for hackers or from cloud casts and things like that. Do you use that much? Or like, what's that look like?
Not as much as I should. Um, but it's there. So, , Yeah.
the, the cloud cast list is in the low thousands and those servers trackers lists it's like 20,000 or so. , but the open rates and everything are just like dropped off, you know, in the last few years, since I don't email it regularly and.
**Chris:** That kind of stuff. So it's like there, but I like riding away sort of,
like, I'll even like with like what I'm up to for like kind of across all my stuff. Like, I'll leave incentive, be like, Hey, I have this podcast. And then also like chipper sky's getting worked on, but then also I've put out this course,
**Chris:** that kind of email occasionally.
**Alex:** Yup. And then what about just like, oh, go ahead.
**Chris:** I was just black Friday is, you know, a whole thing where we're emailing at all.
**Alex:** Yep. What about just like initial signup slash drip type stuff? Like if someone comes to cloud cast, can they sign up, get, , you know, access to something if they put in their email and then maybe you
**Chris:** Yeah, that exists. The, I have to remember what I'm doing for the drip sequences there. I don't even know if I had like a proper drip one right now. Cause I, I, I did all that work for previous courses in the past. What haven't so much for this.
**Chris:** , everything's been so weird at the timing of when chipper stuff came up and, and making this.
**Alex:** Yup. Yup. For sure. , yeah. Okay. Cause that's like, I hated sort of doing all that email stuff and actually had a guy that helped me. He helped me do some ads at first. He's like, Hey, I think this could really work well with like Google ads or Reddit ads or Facebook ads or things like that. And that ended up not being successful.
And I think it's just because like developers don't see.
**Alex:** Love as you know, like that. And so we didn't do that, but he also helped me just set up like the email drip sequence, like, Hey, you can sign up, you can get a little preview of the book and then I'll send you two emails after that, just to remind you.
And I think that helped,
**Chris:** Yeah, my, my issue with those is always the strategy of how to wear those emails on the way, like the strategy of the drip, Mimi email sequences. Cause I've definitely made them and I've always just felt like I'm just firing things and just hope this spaghetti sticks.
**Alex:** Yep. Yeah, I know. And you don't want to be like, Hey, I'm bugging you again or something like that. Yeah. I don't know. It's it's, it's tough, but, , figuring that out.
**Chris:** Yeah. There's so many angles to this. I mean, it's a whole nother business, so it's not like any of this is easy.
**Alex:** Yup. Yup. Exactly. It's true.
**Chris:** Cool. , Okay. So we're almost at an hour, 10 minutes shy of an hour. I don't know if you have anything else you, um, want to talk about
**Alex:** Um, yeah. , I don't think so. I would just say. If I would, if I would sum up like my learnings from this, from the last like five, 10 years or whatever, I just think like writing on the internet really is a super power. And like Patrick McKinsey, you know, talks about that all the time. A lot of people, but just like I, yeah, the biggest benefits I've had over the last, over, over my careers have definitely been from just like writing on the internet.
You gonna meet interesting people. You get to, uh, you just get lots of things. Job opportunities or work opportunities like, so I would, I would highly recommend that for, for anyone, like, you know, a lot of cool stuff, put it out there and, and I think you'll just get a lot from it.
I agree. I've also had some interesting conversations with Aaron Francis and other people about, , using Twitter effectively, which is neat. Like not being super grim on Twitter is the short, the TLDR at it.
**Alex:** It's, it's true. It's true. I'm I would know that like the. The threading and Twitter right now that's like popping up everywhere. So that's, it's like frustrating to see all the like, oh man, you would never believe this bananas story that happened. And it's like, like giant, giant 20 thread
**Chris:** Yeah. it's kinda like a little bit of tick-tock range bleeding into Twitter. like, something like that.
**Alex:** Yep. Yeah. So
**Chris:** of it's interesting, but some of it is, is not, you
**Alex:** just like over yeah. Overwrought type thing, but, but, um, but yeah, I agree like using Twitter. Twitter is like my favorite place to hang out. I was, I was talking with a group of guys the other day about like our social media habits and things like that. And I feel weird cause I was like, I probably spend four hours a day on Twitter, which sounds, it sounds horrible, but it's like, it's also just a lot of networking and learning type stuff.
Like I live in Omaha, Nebraska, and I don't work for a company. So I don't have devs that I talk to on a daily basis other than via Twitter or something like that. You know? So I think. It's an awesome way to learn, learn things, meet people, all that, all that sort of thing. If you're, if you're using it well.
And not just again, like you're saying, being, being grim all the time.
**Chris:** , what's do you have any next kind of goal that you're working towards? Um,
**Alex:** I wish, uh, I like, yeah, I want to, um, I want to find like a big project. So I feel like right now, Muddling along and like take the contract work as it comes, but not working towards a big project. I think part of that is just like fearful of, I think I got lucky with like the positioning and timing of the dynamo DB book and it worked pretty well.
And I, I think I'm like, ah, the next thing I do is probably not going to work as well as that. And I don't like, don't want to have that sort of thing, but I, I need to find some sort of big projects. So I'd like to do either another book or a course or. Even try a Sasol that feels intimidating as well. So I'm trying to, I'm trying to find my next big project, but I wouldn't say I have, have anything in mind.
**Chris:** All right. , Okay. so let's do the usual podcast ending stuff. Where can people find.
**Alex:** Twitter is probably the best place. , it's Alex B DeBrie, uh, is my, is my handle. You can also find my blog is Alex debris.com. If you want to find me there, I've got my email all over it. So feel free to reach out if you want to talk dynamo, DB, AWS, uh, personal finance for solo creators, um, writing on the internet, anything like that feel free.
I always like to chat with people and, and hear more about what they're up to.
**Chris:** All right. Cool. Thanks for coming on.
**Alex:** Yeah. Thanks for having me.