Gumroad is a pretty cool e-commerce platform that also helps build an audience. As the website itself states, “Gumroad is for independent writers, designers, software developers, musicians, artists, teachers, filmmakers, and anyone in-between. Whether you sell digital goods or physical goods, you can use Gumroad. Simply put, if you make stuff for people to buy — Gumroad is for you.”
Gumroad founder, Sahil Lavingia, took time out of his schedule to answer my questions.
Mike: Where did the idea for Gumroad come from?
Sahil: Quite simply: I wanted to sell an icon I had designed in PhotoShop. For just a buck, to just my audience. I looked around and couldn’t find an easy way to do that. There were huge marketplaces and things, but I just wanted a link. So I built Gumroad.
Mike: Prior to launching Gumroad, you worked at Pintrest. What was it like to be an early employee there and did you learn lessons that you could apply at Gumroad?
Sahil: It was great! I learned a lot, shipped a lot of product, and got a ton of feedback. I also learned about being an early employee–what I wanted from the company I worked for–so that when I started growing Gumroad, I had that perspective.
Mike: Your Linkedin Profile states that Gumroad has “…put more than $77,000,000 in the pockets of musicians, artists, writers, and more.” Amazing! How does that feel to be responsible for this?
Sahil: We should update that! It’s over $175,000,000 now! It feels great. But there’s a lot of work to do! I’m hopeful we can get to that first B in the next 3-4 years.
Mike: I’m a domainer at heart. I was pleased to see you own your own name as a domain at sahillavingia.com. What is your philosophy on owning your own name? Should everyone attempt to do that? What can we expect from your musings when subscribing?
Sahil: Yes! It was a little easier with my relatively unique name. It just keeps things simple. Instead of having to invent a brand, it’s just my name. Easy! With my newsletter, I want to share thoughts about the creative process. As I write, paint, and of course ship software–the differences and similarities and how they all interconnect for me.
Mike: At the time, when you launched Gumroad, how did you promote it and enable the business to gain some traction? That seems like a difficult task.
Sahi: Honestly, a lot of cold emails. Just finding people already selling stuff in a janky way, or people with audiences that weren’t selling stuff yet–and letting them know Gumroad existed now. That is really it. A lot of that.
Over time, people started to know what Gumroad was and it became easier. But I still do that today!
Mike: I imagine the are some top sellers using Gumroad. People that really rake in the sales. I won’t ask you to reveal numbers, but can you tell us about any of these top sellers?
Sahil: Yes, we have creators that are multi-millionaires off their Gumroad sales. Just last month someone made almost $900,000–in a single month!
It’s all about building an audience that trusts you. It has to have a significant size, sure, but it’s more important to prime them for your upcoming launch.
There are no hacks or secrets. It’s a lot of time, hard work, and giving away your learnings as you grow–so that you have a dedicated audience when you’re ready to sell your product.
Mike: It’s one thing to start a company as a founder, but quite another to run a successful company as CEO. Was it a natural transition for you? What challenges or lessons can you share?
Sahil: It’s not too different. The focus is still the same: ship a great product. Build a great team.
It’s easier if anything, because now we have thousands of creators telling us what we need to build, and a lot of data to learn from.
Mike: Are there any changes or evolutions in the internet or technology that you are anticipating and will need to adapt to for long term success?
Sahil: Honestly, no. I am just constantly iterating on Gumroad. Not trying to scope out some grand future, but betting on the obvious stuff: more mobile usage, for example. But really we’re a nimble startup, so we can react to change pretty quick.
Mike: Where did the name “Gumroad” come from and does it have any meaning?
Sahil: My mom 🙂 – I like names that take two words and combine them. It makes it easier to remember and spell, in my opinion. So…yeah. Nothing too deep!
Mike: What is one book that you have read that has impacted you and you would recommend to others? Why?
Sahil: The Golden Compass is my favorite book of all time. That whole series made a pretty profound impact on me, I think.
I won’t recommend non-fiction, because everyone already does that 🙂 – read more fiction!