Ryan Irelan

is building Mijingo.

Building a Puzzle

Apple CEO Tim Cook in his recent Charlie Rose interview:

If you’re a CEO, the most important thing is to pick people around you that aren’t like you—that compliment you—because you want to build a puzzle; you don’t want to stack chiclets up and have everyone be the same. I believe in diversity with a capital D. And that’s diversity in thought.

60 Days Mijingo Check-in

It’s been a bit more than two full calendar months since I left my position at Happy Cog and went out on my own to focus on Mijingo and see where I can take the world.

Most days over the last two months I’ve filled with two martini business lunches (three would be excessive), single origin espressos to fuel the afternoon grind, and late night caviar dinners followed by a single barrel nightcap.

Lift Off

Nothing like that all.

Working for myself has been almost exactly what I thought it would be. Long days, some nights, and a lot of simple, hard work.

Going indie was described to me by one person as a freefall; you don’t really know what will work when you first start, so you just try stuff and see how it goes (hoping to land on your feet). Someone else instructed me to not freak out if the money takes some time to catch up with the effort.

Both are true.

It’s Work

Most of what I’ve done isn’t even public yet. I’ve revamped a couple courses, created a brand new course (JavaScript Task Runners), worked on some marketing videos (here’s one), did some consulting (with more to come), and quite a bit of back-end work on Mijingo.com.

I fixed the account page where you access your course library. It’s now much easier to see what you purchased (but far from perfect), and the code behind it makes more sense and doesn’t have quick-fix conditionals with hardcoded values.

There is now more robust support for course bundles. I have already published two of those: CMS Learning Pack and ExpressionEngine Mastery. Bundles are just products that are collections of other products. Not very difficult to do within ExpressionEngine but, like most things, I just needed the time to do it right.

I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about ways of giving my students more with each course. For example, there are some free additional resources that I’m adding to the courses. I’m also experimenting with taking my research and notes from the course prep and turning it into an ebook for students. I just did that for my JavaScript Task Runners course.

I do this because I want the experience with Mijingo courses to be so good that it’s the first place web designer and developers go when it’s time to learn something new. For me, this means over-delivering and making it easy to learn again with Mijingo.

Choosing What to Do

Finally, the ever-present, nagging, dull pain of the two months has been the constant worry that I’m working on the wrong thing at that time.

These thoughts run through my head:

I should be spending my time creating that course instead of improving my email marketing.

I should spend more time fixing the website design instead of take an hour to just sit and think.

I should be spending my time editing that course instead of recording a podcast episode.

A clear idea of what my short term goals are has helped a lot. I work only on stuff that brings me closer to meeting the goals. Obvious stuff when I think about it.

I have two goals right now and each is written on an index card. The cards are taped to my desk. I look at them every day and now I’m better about knowing whether what I’m doing is the right thing, right now.


David Allen:

Complaining is a sign that someone isn’t willing to risk moving on a changeable situation, or won’t consider the immutable circumstance in his or her plans. This is temporary and hollow form of self-validation.

Taken from his book Getting Things Done.

Preamble to a Guest Blog Post

I wrote a guest blog post for EllisLab about my Mijingo courses on ExpressionEngine. Here’s the introduction that I cut from the guest post.

Almost 20 years ago I landed in Germany on a one-way ticket with two duffle bags stuffed with almost everything I owned. I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t know anyone except a few people. I was a college drop-out and I didn’t have a job.

I learned German through an intensive, immersive course that used real world contexts and scenarios. There was no rote memorization of words or verb conjugations. I learned as I acted out daily life scenarios, like buying groceries, asking the bus driver for help, or going to the doctor because of an illness. It’s the kind of stuff that would be critical to know once I left the comfortable confines of the classroom.

I became fluent in German in less than a year because this was such an effective teaching approach. It stuck with me. As a graduate student, I later taught students German using the same methodology.

Today, I don’t teach foreign languages anymore but I do teach people how to use the tools that help them build the web. My students learn through these same principles in my courses at Mijingo.

Read the guest post on the EllisLab blog.

Merchant Account vs. Stripe

The history of selling at Mijingo has been a progression toward bringing it all closer to home. I started selling training materials with a publisher. Two years later, I switched to a hosted selling platform that handled the cart, and all aspects of order management. Two more years later, I moved to running the store right inside of my website CMS, and created a merchant account with my bank using Authorize.net as my gateway.

Over the course of six years I’ve removed some middle people and a lot of the cost. I gained more control over all aspects of selling (including checkout funnel tracking), money from sales hit my business account faster, and fees decreased significantly.

But I keep thinking about Stripe, its modern API, and its wide support among so many e-commerce tools. Authorize.net is an old hog of a service; their website and tools are sorely in need of an update (I dread having to log in and process a refund) and my bank’s tools for the merchant account are equally as awful (I once spent 2 months trying to get access to reporting).

The web professional in me wants something better. Stripe is that something. But the small, indie business owner in me wants to keep everything as close to home as possible and with the fewest fees.

So I did the simple math using some fake numbers to see if Stripe makes sense for me.

Fees and Costs

Stripe costs 2.9% plus 30¢ per transaction. If you do $10,000/month in net sales over 500 transactions (averaging $20 per transaction), Stripe takes $440 ($290 in commission + $150 in transaction fees). If you do the same revenue with fewer sales, Stripe will be even cheaper.

In my situation (and I can only speak to my merchant account terms), the same transactions could cost me more depending on how my customers pay. American Express is an expensive payment method to process (which is why some retailers refuse to accept it). The Visa/Mastercard network charges you based on attempted transaction. If your site is used as the testing grounds for fraudsters then you could see your account dinged for every attemtped fraudulent charge. And then there’s the monthly fee.

Additionally, about 40% of my customers pay through PayPal instead of with a credit card. This is almost always the case for non-US customers. PayPal charges the same as Stripe so I am saving on the expensive network charges.

Like PayPal, Stripe hides the variable network credit card fees and simply charges you a flat per transaction fee. They probably do pay a variable per transaction fee to porcess your payments depending on the type of card used but you don’t see it. They can offset those costs by mixing larger transactions with smaller ones, and presumably by negotiating better rates directly with the card networks.

My guess is that Stripe is using the 25¢ per transaction to cover the network fees and most of the 2.9% is for their operating expenses (staff, servers, security, PCI compliance). But I have no insight into their business so that’s just a wild, simplistic, uninformed guess.

But because Stripe’s customer base varies in amount processed and number of transactions, they can set a flat rate and come out profitable after AMEX and Visa/MC are paid.

As a small business owner who has spent thousands per year on fees, Stripe is appealing just for the fee arrangement.

Access to the Cash

A major benefit of going with a merchant account is that you get faster access to your money. Revenue from my sales today will be in my business account tomorrow morning when I wake up. It doesn’t get much faster than that.

When I used a hosted e-commerce platform a couple years back, they only paid twice per month. It was nice to have the lump payments come in but that can be tough if you’re in need of the cash. It also wasn’t so nice that a company is holding and earning off my money even though I’m paying a hefty fee to use the service!

Stripe offers two day rolling deposits, which is nice and doable for cashflow. I could do just fine with that if the trade-off was reduced fees.


Finally, there’s the chargeback situation. I haven’t had many chargebacks since setting off on my own with a merchant account. But there have been some and they are expensive. A payment gateway like Authorize.net will typically charge you a hefty fee per chargeback that can be more than the total transaction. That means I lose the sale plus the fee that was more than the sale. They subtract the fee and sale amount from your nightly settlement so you don’t have time to dispute it. They have direct access to your bank account (and automatically debit fees and chargebacks).

Stripe doesn’t entirely protect you from chargebacks. They charge $15 per chargeback but refund that if the dispute is resolved in your favor. That’s more than half what other gateways charge.

So am I going to switch?

The decision is centered around the variable fees for different card services, the high chargeback rate, and some future changes for how Mijingo charges for courses.

Changing payment gateways is easy enough for me within my e-commerce tool, so it’s worth a month or two trial to see how the fees and experience shake out. I’ll keep you updated.

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