On Overtime, designer and entrepreneur, Dustin Lee shares, how he built his wildly successful resource marketplace for designers—RetroSupply Co. In this episode, Dustin shares the numbers and why they’re important, where his inspiration for creating analog resources and assets comes from, and what it’s like to build tools for creatives.
Additionally, Dustin shares how he’s built a community around RetroSupply Co., how teaming up with other designers can help you both grow your businesses, and how embracing imperfections can create authenticity in your work. We also chat about his side hustle and passion for helping other designers unlock passive income. And maybe some other secrets too. You’ll have to listen to find out.
This episode is brought to you by Wix. Push the limits of design and start creating beautiful, impactful websites that are uniquely yours at wix.com/dribbble.
Links mentioned on Overtime
- Dustin Lee
- Dustin on Twitter
- RetroSupply Co.
- RetroSupply Co. on Dribbble
- RetroSupply Co. on Twitter
- Paid to Exist
- Creative Market
- Entrepreneur on Fire
- Brad Woodard
- Amy Hood
- Palm Canyon Drive
- Wood Type Revival
- Alana Louise on Overtime
- Retro Supply Interview with Alana Louise
- Cross Country Crosshatchers
- Alana’s illustrations with Cross Country Crosshatchers
- Passive Income for Designers
- Jason Carne
- Side Hustles for Designers
- Clockwork: Design Your Business to Run Itself Mike Michalowicz
Dan Cederholm: Welcome to Overtime, Dustin Lee.
Dustin Lee: Thank you so much for having me.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, thanks for being here. I’m very excited to talk to you. I think I want to jump right in to talk about RetroSupply Co. , which is your company that you started. It’s used by a lot of Dribbble members, I know, and designers out there. I’d love to hear the origin story of this, because I know it’s really interesting and how you got started and went from being in debt to running this business that’s supporting you and the family and everything. So yeah, well, I guess tell us about what it is, and then we can get into the history a little bit.
Dustin Lee: Yeah. So, RetroSupply is a site that provides brushes, fonts, textures, tutorials, webinars, that are very specifically catered to people that are interested in bringing analog elements to their work. That’s at RetroSupply.co.
It basically started six years ago. I was just in a bad place. I was struggling as a designer in many ways. I was working as a contractor for a company called Paid to Exist, which people always joke, “Well, isn’t Paid to Exist like communism?” I don’t know. Maybe it is. Anyway, the site was called Paid to Exist, and it was essentially a site that was to help people that wanted to start their own business, build a business around their passions.
So whether or not you think building a business around your passion is a good idea, I learned a ton as I was working there about how to run an online business. So, everything from how to attract an audience, how to get email addresses, how to provide value to people, and then ultimately, how to get people to trust you so you can make a sale.
I learned a lot from that, and I was designing for them and I was getting by, but before that, I’d been a banker, so I had gotten into design later in life, and I had acquired somewhere in the range of $30,000 of credit card debt.
I was living down in California in the Bay Area and me and Jonathan, who ran Paid to Exist, made a startup which meant that I quick working for Paid to Exist and I was making zero dollars and I was trying to get this startup going. Won’t get into the startup. It doesn’t matter. It failed.
So, I was making zero dollars, and then of course, perfect timing, I found out that we had our first daughter on the way. So, I was immediately super excited that I was going to have a baby and then in about a minute, I was terrified because I realized I’m in debt, I don’t have money coming in, what am I going to do? I’m doing 40 hours a week for this startup that I’m making that’s making me no money, so I had to find out a way to make money with the small amount of time I had, so I decided to start getting up early.
So, I started waking up around 4:30 in the morning and going down to the coffee shop right around the corner from my house in Los Altos and just the very first thing that came to mind was to offer products on Creative Market. I don’t think I even really thought about it. I just thought, “Well, this is something that’s kind of low-hanging fruit that I can ship a product pretty quickly.”
I started releasing things. The interesting thing was, I’m very interested in entrepreneurship. I consider myself a little more entrepreneur than a designer, so from the beginning as I was making the products, I was making them trying to improve upon the model that other people in Creative Market were using to sell products.
Within about, I think about the first month, made around $800. Second month, maybe … I’m pulling these numbers out of the top of my head. If you look my site, you can see more accurate numbers, but I think it was maybe $1,100 the next month, and then the third month, I kind of nailed it in terms of finally finding the right balance. That month I made around I think $15,000.
That’s when I realized I was onto something, and that’s where really the entrepreneurial training I had gotten working for Paid to Exist came in because I started to build an email list and I started to listen to customers to build products. Fast forward to today, it’s about six years later, the business is on schedule to make I think $600,000 this year.
Dan Cederholm: Wow.
Dustin Lee: So, this went from starting with a logo template to a full out business doing like I said everything from webinars to fonts to brushes to-
Dan Cederholm: Wow. First of all, thanks for being so candid about numbers. I mean, not everyone does that, right?
Dustin Lee: Yeah. I think what’s probably behind that is that I’m a big fan of copywriting, and in copywriting, one of the things that they teach you is that you need to be really specific with people. So, saying that, “Oh, my business did well,” or, “I was struggling,” is a very different thing than saying, “I was $30,000 in debt,” or, “I made $17,000 this month.”
So, it’s not to … What would it be called … To try to emphasize my struggle, and it’s not to try to brag that it made a lot of money in the past year. There’s plenty of businesses that make way more than that. By no means is this the most successful business ever. It’s just been a good business for me, but I think that when you give people real numbers, I think it puts some reality to it. It wakes them up maybe and makes them realize that what you’re saying is a real story.
Dan Cederholm: Oh, I agree. I think it’s awesome. I mean, I think it’s super helpful, especially with your story of how you went from debt and being a banker to where you are now. It’s awesome. I got a lot of questions now based on what you just said, but what was your first product, I guess is the first thing I want to ask.
Dustin Lee: So, my first product, and I think this is interesting, too. I was on a podcast a couple years ago called Entrepreneur on Fire, and he had talked about something called the baby effect, which is just the whole idea that when you find out you’re having a baby, your entire life changes and you make dramatic jumps in the way you do things.
So, when I made my first product, it was logo templates. And the thing was, do I love logo templates? Do I think logo templates are the most glamorous thing to sell? No, I don’t really think that, but I was so desperate to take care of my family and to take care of my daughter by the time she was born that I looked on Creative Market, I saw what was doing well, and I saw where there was an overlap between something that I thought that I could do as good or better or differently than the people that were currently succeeding at that, and those were very popular at the time on Creative Market. They were selling really well, and I thought that I could compete in that area.
So, my very first product was some logo packs, and they did pretty well. That’s not really where I hit my stride, but that’s where I got that $800 first month. So yeah, that was my first product, and the reason was purely because I felt like that gave me the best odds of success.
Dan Cederholm: Wow, and you said you were a banker before. I mean, I guess I assume design was always something that you also did on the side, or when did that come into play?
Dustin Lee: Yeah. I didn’t really know design was a job. I mean, I always had a love … I was babysat a lot by my grandparents as I was growing up, and they lived in this house in California that was mid-century ranch house. They had inherited it from my great-aunt, and one of her stipulations in the inheritance was that they don’t change the house. So, you’d walk into this house and it looked like it was straight out of the 50s. I mean, it was the same furniture. The garage was filled with old boxes and merchandise. So, I grew up around that and I came to find that very nostalgic. Even though I’m a child of the ’80s, the stuff from the ’50s and ’60s was very nostalgic for me.
Dan Cederholm: Is that where a lot of this RetroSupply stuff came from in terms of the visual feel of it?
Dustin Lee: Oh, for sure, yeah. When I started the business, it was at my grandma’s kitchen table, so I mean, I was just surrounded by this stuff and I literally would just walk around and pick something up and be like, “Oh, how could I make a pack that would recreate the effect of this particular Tide box?” Or something like that. But, yeah, it was surrounding me.
Just quickly to finish up how I kind of came across it, I didn’t know what design was. I didn’t know that existed really, and then when I realized that people made a living designing packaging and stuff, I was really excited. I went to an art school and studied music and visual arts and moving image arts and you had to do everything, so I did dance, sculpture, everything.
Then, I got accepted to go to Berkeley College of Music to study music and then I decided not to go because I just realized there were so many broke musicians and I thought, “Well, maybe I can figure out the music part, but I need to go to school to understand the business part.” So, I thought, “Well, I’ll go to school for business and then I’ll get a job in business, and what better place to work to learn about business than a bank,” which was completely dumb. You don’t learn about business working at a bank. All you do is handle people’s money that do know about business. So, anyways, that was just painful. I spent a lot of years doing that, and then when I was about to get married, I just said, “I have to get back into art somehow,” and art and commerce kind of meet at design, so that’s how I got into that.
Dan Cederholm: Wow. That’s cool. I almost applied to Berkeley myself for drums at the time. I loved music, but I didn’t see how I could make a living doing music unless you’re one of the lucky people that can. So, that’s very similar, and then the web came along and kind of made me realize that design was a job, so very similar to what you’re talking about here.
Dustin Lee: Yeah, it’s interesting, isn’t it? I would imagine from interviewing people, you might’ve noticed this pattern too, it seems like a lot of designers were former musicians or are musicians, as well.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Yeah, definitely. Obviously it’s creative, but very difficult to make a living doing.
Dustin Lee: Yeah.
Dan Cederholm: Not to say that design was a second choice for me, but in a way … Well, maybe I guess it was at the time back then. So anyway, so you’ve got RetroSupply Co. . It’s kind of incredible to browse, because it’s just chock full of just so much stuff and get inspiration and brushes, and so many things here that I know it’s a giant resource for a lot of designers on Dribbble and elsewhere. But tell us a little bit about what it’s like to create stuff that people use for other things, if that makes sense. So, instead of doing client work for instance, you’re actually creating the tools that people use for their client work. I’ve got to assume that that’s really satisfying to see the projects that people do with your stuff come to life.
Dustin Lee: Oh, it’s hugely satisfying, and this is actually where Dribbble really ties very, very directly into RetroSupply. So, Dribbble was the first place that I ever went online to find design inspiration. I just fell in love with Dribbble. I would probably spend at least an hour a day the first year or couple years that I was doing design on Dribbble. I mean, I loved it.
Consequently or interestingly, a lot of the people that I really loved on Dribbble ended up becoming collaborators and partners on RetroSupply, but something that always drove me bananas that happened on Dribbble was that someone would post a piece of work and someone would say in the comments, there’d be, “Great, you know, great piece of work, amazing, beautiful. I love how you did this,” and the person would be like, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” and then someone would say, “How did you get that texture?” Or, “What font is that?”
Dan Cederholm: Right, right, right.
Dustin Lee: And then all of a sudden it’s radio silence. All of a sudden the person that owns the Dribbble account with 50,000 people isn’t making a response. I understand why, that it’s not about them trying to tell you their secrets. They’re trying to show what they’re working on, but then I also found it frustrating and I also found that it was this little gap.
RetroSupply really, the very seed of it to me in a lot of ways was let’s make products that are the secrets, so almost like magic tricks, like let’s make products that answer the questions that don’t get answered in the Dribbble comments. And so, I started doing that by figuring a lot of these things out myself and then I started recruiting people that otherwise might be too busy to reveal their secrets and asking them to help.
So a great example of this is Brad Woodard. Brad Woodard has a big following on Dribbble, or better known as BraveTheWoods maybe to some people. I was a huge fan of his, still am a huge fan of his. Literally have his posters on my wall right now.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. So great, so great. Yeah.
Dustin Lee: Yeah. He’s amazing. So, I had talked to him and said, “Hey, do you want to work on a project together?” He said, “Sure.” We did some brush sets together, and it was such a great collaboration because you have this amazing illustrator who’s done children’s book and children’s museum illustrations and I mean, so many things, and we would literally sit together on Skype for hours and I would make brushes, I would send them to him. He would tell me they were rubbish. I would start again and make another one. He would say, “I kind of like this one,” and then he’d say, “Change this and that,” and I would change it a little bit.
By the end of it, we would have this very curated pack of great brushes, and I knew they were great because Brad was like, “I love these. I will use these all the time,” and then he would make the illustrations, so it was like instead of him making an illustration and then you kind of being like, “Well, what’s he using? How did he get that?” He can’t make you a great illustrator by telling you about the brushes, but he can say, “Well, I used these brushes and we’ve included tutorial videos,” and whatnot.
Dan Cederholm: So Brad was one of the first people you collaborated with then.
Dustin Lee: Yeah. I think Brad Woodard has become a really good friend of mine. So, I mean, he’s a collaborator. He’s a friend. We bounce ideas off each other. Another one was Amy Hood from Hoodzpah Design.
Dan Cederholm: Oh yeah, yep.
Dustin Lee: We had worked together on a font, and again, that was a thing where I had seen some of her lettering work and I reached out to her and I said … To back up for a second, I think I realized very quickly that I didn’t want to be the star of the show with RetroSupply. I wanted to, like I was saying, have really great people that you might find on Dribbble share amazing stuff that they could not do without a financial motive oftentimes.
So, for instance, with Amy, I said, “I love your lettering. Would you be willing to make a font for me if I was to pay you for your time to do it?” She was able to do that. She said, “Well, what do you want?” I said, “Well, I like this lettering you’ve done, but I think that I don’t want to get too much in the way because you have much better taste than me. You’re a much better designer than me and I really just want to bring that to people. I don’t want to try to water it down with my own opinions,” and of course, she delivered something absolutely amazing, as they always do.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. Incredible.
Dustin Lee: So a lot of it is curating really talented people and having them bring things to the market.
Dan Cederholm: Wow, and this font, I think it’s Palm Canyon Drive. Is that-
Dustin Lee: Yep.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, that’s beautiful. California.
Dustin Lee: Yeah, and then she’s now making fonts. Yeah. It’s exciting. And another cool thing about it, too, is a lot of designers, they’re struggling. Struggling’s the wrong word. Let’s put it this way. Maybe they have clients where they’d rather not have that client but they keep that client because they need that client. A cool thing about partnering with people has been that it provides them with … So we partner on these things in most cases, and so we’re having a profit sharing of this, so this creates a little side income for them. That’s often the gap that lets them focus more on doing some of their passion projects as opposed to that client that maybe is not the best fit for them, and so that’s been the case with a lot of people too and that’s been really fulfilling, too.
Dan Cederholm: You were saying earlier about revealing secrets, which I love. Well, I don’t love that people don’t share their secrets, but you’re spot on with that. It’s almost like people are afraid to reveal the tricks. So, do you feel like the people you’ve partnered with, it gives them an opportunity to kind of reveal it as a product, but it’s a little less out in the open than someone answering on Dribbble or whatever, like, “Here’s how I did this”? Do you think it’s easier for folks to partner with someone like yourself to release stuff?
Dustin Lee: Yeah, 100%. I think a lot of times, it’s not that people are … I don’t think it’s a lot of times that they’re trying to be stingy and not share. I think most people tend to I think really want to share what they’re doing. It’s just that they’re busy. Most designers are so busy that telling people inventories of the fonts they’re using or where I found this texture or things like that, it’s work, and they’re busy trying to make money for their families and for living expenses.
I think when you partner with someone, you give them the financial opportunity to say, “Hey, I’m literally going to be able to make money for you so you can indulge in this thing that maybe you were not normally able to do.” So, it’s typically not that they’re super tight with secrets. It’s typically that they just need the time made available to them and that oftentimes means financially they need to be compensated to be able to open that time up to share something with people, which I totally understand, and so it’s cool to give them that opportunity.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It’s awesome. And so you’re not only just selling the digital goods, but you’re also doing tutorial stuff. It’s almost like you’ve created a community around this.
Dustin Lee: Oh yeah, for sure. Something that in the past, gosh, maybe year, I’ve noticed is we’ve started doing webinars, and as most people probably know with webinars, you have this chat area on the side so everyone can be talking, and we started doing those. At first we didn’t really plan them out a lot. We would just kind of get on and have a certain very simple subject we were going to cover, and we would just invite people and it would be free, and a couple hundred people might show up. People would just start talking, and yeah, you realize they’re all getting to meet each other in the comments, so they’re making new friends, they’re following new people on Instagram, they’re making partnerships with people in this chat area, and we’re getting to talk to customers.
So yeah, it truly is a community, and something else I started recently doing was looking at my best customers and then writing them and saying, “Can I get on a Skype call with you and can we just talk?” That’s been illuminating, because it’s one thing to imagine who is on the other end of the computer buying a product or maybe in some listeners’ cases, paying for a service. It’s a whole different thing when you see them in person and you see the stuff behind them in their workspace and you hear their story about their kids or about their other hobbies, kind of like you were talking about Berkeley and about drumming. People become very three dimensional and you get I think a better understanding for how you can help them. Also, it can help I think to gain some … I don’t know if empathy or compassion is the right word. It just helps you put yourself in their shoes more, which I think makes it easier to make good products for them.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, totally. I love it. I’m just looking at the … You’re actually showing how to make a crosshatching pattern brush in Illustrator, which is cool, because those are things you sell, as well, but you’re actually showing how to make it. I would assume that these tutorials help immensely with sales because you’ve got … Here’s an example of something you can make in a style, and then here’s how to do it, and then also the tools that you need to do it, right?
Dustin Lee: Yeah, absolutely, and the thing is with RetroSupply or insert your favorite marketplace or individual that sells brushes or textures or whatever, most of these kind of things are not rocket science to make. Making brushes is not rocket science. You get better with time obviously, but it’s not so much that these things are hard.
One analogy that I use a lot is it’s a lot like the whole story that you hear about the Gold Rush where oftentimes the people that made more money were the people selling the picks and pans than the people that were mining for gold. It’s not that making it is hard, it’s that people that are doing illustrations and design, if you’re in the middle of making an awesome illustration, you don’t want to stop, or a lot of people don’t want to stop and scan textures or spend three hours geeking out over making the perfect brush. They would rather go find one that just nails it for them. It’s a time saver and a money saver.
Dan Cederholm: Yes. Absolutely. I kind of want to buy everything now.
Dustin Lee: Please do.
Dan Cederholm: Totally. Exactly. Well, you did praise Dribbble earlier, so that’s… That was not planned. But yeah, so I mean, what’s also great about this is that these are digital tools to create … Well, it’s RetroSupply, it’s in the name, but textures and shapes and things that are from a time past. It’s actually harder to create in Photoshop, Illustrator, whatever people are using. I feel like that’s always gonna be a challenge. It’s harder to make something look older, right, in digital products, so it’s just so valuable. That’s why I said I wanted everything.
Dustin Lee: Yeah, it is harder, and at the same time, I feel like we all have … I mean, at least the things that I follow on Dribbble, I love seeing when things don’t look perfect. The better someone is at creating the illusion that it wasn’t all made digitally, the better, and really the best way to do that is if the source material is analog.
One of my favorite examples is we have a bundle from a really talented guy that has a bundle called Wood Type Revival. We started talking, and he was like, “I started going to these wood block print shops and stuff like that and realizing they were literally getting them because obviously this kind of printing is slowly going extinct,” right? He said they were literally getting these wood block letters, putting them into the back of cars, and bringing them out camping and lighting them on fire as firewood.
Dan Cederholm: Oh wow. Oh jeez.
Dustin Lee: He was quite literally, he said, “Well, gosh, can I buy for you or just take them from you so they’re not just being burnt?” He literally was saving these things from the fire.
Dan Cederholm: Wow.
Dustin Lee: So, he got those and he inked them up and he did all the letters and turned them into fonts. You can see the imperfections in these letters. They’re not fake or added on like you might see other places. It really is flaws that are built in that you might be able to get close to replicating, but there’s something that’s very satisfying about knowing that something’s coming from analog material.
So, with that, that’s analog, or when we do our brushes, I have a ridiculous amount of mid-century catalogs and things like that where you can look at commercial art and we’ll either sample the lines from the commercial art or we’ll buy the closest pens we can find and then we’ll try to replicate it, and then bring that into the computer. So, I’m not saying that everything is pulled directly from analog, but whenever we can, whenever it’s feasible, it’s something analog pulled into the computer.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, I agree. It helps the authenticity of it. Yeah, we interviewed Alana Louise for a previous episode, and I know you had an interview with her. This always blows me away when it looks like they work analog and they don’t and they’re using purely digital tools to do that.
Dustin Lee: So, she partnered with us. I saw her work and contacted her and we did do an interview with her, but we had these crosshatching brushes, which are absolutely amazing Illustrator crosshatching brushes because crosshatching is something that’s so time-consuming and hard to do right in Illustrator, and this pack really made it much simpler, and so we came to her and she had work that we thought would really show that off. We said, “Could we send you these brushes and obviously pay you and buy you some recording software to get some good recordings, and would you just use these brushes and make some artwork?”
Again, this is where I … Sometimes it frustrates designers, but I’ll be like, “I don’t really want to corner you. You do what you want to do. If you need me to make a decision, I will, but I love the idea of people” … I mean, Alana Louise is so talented. I love the idea that she’s able to just do something that maybe she doesn’t have the right place to do it and it gives her the freedom to.
She did this thing, we ended up calling it Cross Country Crosshatchers because she did these kind of travel-style illustrations of Arizona. I mean, if you’re listening, you should really go look on the site at these. The artwork is amazing. She did wildlife and nature scapes and all of it using crosshatches and it’s just absolutely amazing.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. I’m looking at it now. It is amazing. Her work’s incredible. You’re right. It’s like being able to purchase a magic trick from another magician.
Dustin Lee: It is.
Dan Cederholm: Not that I can buy this and make exactly what something like Alana makes, but I mean, it really does take some of the guesswork out of how a certain style can be achieved. It’s awesome.
Dustin Lee: Well, the cool part too is with Alana, some people are very generous with sharing, and Alana, I said, “If I buy you some good screen recording software, would you be willing to share with people how you did this particular part of an illustration?” She did.
So for instance, when you buy the pack, you get access to her showing part of her process. She’s working on a laptop. I couldn’t believe it. You see this stuff, I guess you picture four monitors on walls. You just realize, you don’t need that many tools. She’s using very simple tools.
Just to go back to a music analogy, you’ll probably relate to, when a great guitar player picks up a bad guitar, and imagine a great drummer picks up a bad drum set, they make it sound great.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, true. Yep.
Dustin Lee: So yeah, I mean, she’s working on a very humble laptop and that’s all she needs.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. I wonder if some of it is that the old constraints are good for artists and designers, or the less you have to work with, sometimes the better. But yeah, that is surprising. I mean, jeez.
I want to cover something else that you’re involved in, too, and that’s the Passive Income for Designers. If you could tell us a little bit about that, I think this is fantastic, because you’re really sharing a ton of insight in terms of how you’ve built RetroSupply Co. in helping other people create passive income businesses, and this is a course you can take and there’s a podcast and there’s a whole bunch of things here, but yeah, I wonder if you could tell us about the creation of this and how it’s going.
Dustin Lee: Yeah. So, Passive Income for Designers started because I originally, RetroSupply has its own website now, but it started on Creative Market, and early on, once I started to get some success on Creative Market, Creative Market contacted me and said, “Can you write an article about what you’re doing that you think is making your product so well?”
I didn’t want to, because at this point, you’ve got to remember, I didn’t have much money. The money was just starting to come in, and it was a scary position to be in because I wanted to please Creative Market because they were essentially pulling me out of debt. I was making money. I was able to enjoy being with my little girl, who was born at this point. So, I didn’t want to share the secrets, to be honest with you. I really wanted just me to know them and to make money.
Dan Cederholm: Right, which is normal, I think.
Dustin Lee: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. But then I realized, and I’m just being completely honest here, something very selfish entered my mind, and that was that if I wasn’t to share the secrets, someone else would and they would take all the credit.
Dan Cederholm: That’s also true, too.
Dustin Lee: I decided, “Well, I’m gonna share the secrets because if I don’t, they’ll just find someone else who will, and if they don’t find someone else who will, someone else just will.” It’s not like any of this is rocket science. Anyone can do this.
So I started sharing them on there and it got a really good response, and then once I shared it, it taught me a valuable lesson, which was that sharing your secrets with other people does not subtract from you. So, sharing how I’m doing things is not taking away from me financially with very, very rare exception of people that will try to do a Me Too type business.
So, for instance, I did a Passive Income for Designers paid course a couple years ago, and I did a guarantee. I said, “If you don’t make your money back in six months, just show me that you actually shipped the product, did the stuff we talked about, I’ll give you your money back, because it’s very hard to ship the product and not make money if you’re following the course.”
So many people made products. So many people made businesses. My friend, Jason Carne, ended up partnering with me with something with Lettering Library. He was on the verge of … He literally had contacted me and said, “I’m thinking about going back to construction and pushing a wheelbarrow.”
Dan Cederholm: Wow.
Dustin Lee: This is Jason Carne. I mean, this is a guy who’s done lettering for Disney.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. Right, right.
Dustin Lee: We ended up partnering up and I’m certainly not responsible for him not doing that. I think that maybe it showed him a little possibility, but Jason is such a giving and talented person. I think maybe if anything, I just helped him to hold out a little longer, but there’s other people that someone made something for their church where they sell design resources for their church, or for all churches. They make a great side income from that now. Someone else started a type foundry that makes a nice tidy little amount of money month in and month out for years, and guess what? My business has grown every year. It hasn’t taken away from me to do that.
So, if you go to PassiveIncomeForDesginers.com, there’s a five day email thing where every day I send an email and I just go over a very broad thing of how I got started and what the main components were. I did something for LinkedIn Learning, which was absolutely amazing, called Side Hustles for Designers. On that one I talk about all the different ways you can make money other than trading your time for money. So, not just selling digital downloads like I am, but also, how could you make money from shirts? How could you make money from live streaming? How could you make money from selling a course? How could you make money from writing the guide, a simple short guide to something? Yeah. Sorry. Went on a bit of a rant with that.
Dan Cederholm: No, no, I love it. I think it’s wonderful. I love the thought that sharing your process and “secrets” doesn’t affect your business, and actually in your case and in many cases, it helps it, right? Because it looks like you’re giving away your course on building a passive income.
Dustin Lee: Yeah. Well, on the five days when you sign up for the email list, and granted I’m giving the course away because I’m trading it for an email that I can sell a premium course to people. Trying to be completely honest about how the whole process works, but those five days aren’t a bunch of fluff. Those five days are literally the basic components. You could look at that and then you could ship something and start making money.
In fact, I have people write me emails at least a couple times a week and either tell me that, “Wow, this finally got me started,” and I’ve had people write me and say, “I released something.” It turns out the only thing that was stopping them, and this is often the case, is that … This is a pretty accurate number, too … 90% of people that say they want to ship and release something out into the world and sell it don’t do it, and 10% do. Of those 10% that do, a lot of those people make sales very quickly. So when they say, “Oh, 80% or 70% of businesses,” or whatever it is, “Fail within three years,” or whatever it is, it’s like, well yeah, but a lot of those businesses, they technically might file as a business, but did they ever go to one person and actually ask for someone to buy something from them?
Dan Cederholm: Right.
Dustin Lee: You know what I mean?
Dan Cederholm: Yeah. It’s not a good statistic. Right.
Dustin Lee: Yeah. So for people listening, if you’ve been thinking about doing it, oftentimes it’s a mental thing. People just need to believe they can do it and then ship something and then unabashedly let people know that it’s there and not worry about what people think. Typically, people are pleasantly surprised that people really want the stuff they’re making.
Dan Cederholm: Yeah, that’s awesome advice. Inspiring. Well, jeez, what’s next for RetroSupply Co.? Is there any secrets? Oh, well, speaking of secrets, right? Any secrets about what’s next and aside from the collaborations you’re doing, is it just you or is there a team of people there? That’s something I wanted to ask about.
Dustin Lee: Yeah, that’s a great question. So originally, it was just me and then I realized there was just too much to do and I hired a variety of contractors. I eventually came across one contractor who’s been with me for a couple years, and like I said, the business has been growing particularly in the past couple years very quickly. I think that it’s more to do with just after you’re around for a certain amount of years, it’s just your name starts to spread because it’s been around for so long. So, it’s something that I’m literally focusing on right now. The book is on the table. Been following through on this. The book is called Clockwork, if you want to look it up.
Right now I’m in the process of hiring employees. So I have typically two to three contractors at all times working on things, but we’re strategically growing the business out to three to five people, part-time and full-time. That’s just because I think that I realized as the business was growing that in order to truly grow, I need to focus on the very small bandwidth of things that I’m good at and I need to be comfortable with getting the things that I am not good at and passing them off to someone else that’s talented at that.
The main reason for that is not to put less work on my plate, although that’s a great byproduct. The main reason is because I want to focus on what I’m good at. I want to find other people that are great at what they do so we can make more great products for people so people are just … The best feeling is when you release a product and people love it and they start sharing it on Dribbble and tagging you in it and showing you the work they’re doing. That is the best feeling and the only way to make that happen more often, because not every product is a hit, the only way to make that happen more often is to invest in people that are spending full days day in and day out all together as a team working on making a great product.
Dan Cederholm: That’s exciting.
Dustin Lee: I’m scared, but I’m excited.
Dan Cederholm: That’s awesome. Well, look, Dustin, thank you so much for being on and sharing so much, being candid about your success and the route that you’ve taken. I just love all the stuff. You’re creating a real resource for designers, and it’s just awesome, so congrats on that and thanks for being here with us.
Dustin Lee: Thanks for having me. I mean, I still get so excited when someone says … I remember you sent me an email, I don’t know, it was a month ago now, that we had to plan it out. It’s so exciting to actually be on. When someone says, “I want to listen to you talk for 40 minutes,” I mean, who doesn’t feel good when someone writes them and says, “Hey, would you mind just talking for 40 minutes?” Oh, sure, I’ll talk about myself for 40 minutes. So yeah, I appreciate it. Thank you for having me on. It really is an honor. I love Dribbble. This is something off my bucket list, so I guess pun intended again.
Dan Cederholm: Nice. Well, that’s great man, and keep up the awesome work. We’re gonna be continuing to follow what you’re doing, and yeah, thanks so much.
Dustin Lee: Awesome. Thanks.