In the first part of our multi-part history of the Secret Origin of All New Comics (which was also featured on Episode 18 of Sequential Fiction), we had named our company, incorporated, built a website, secured a distribution account, and now we just needed to figure out how we would find $2,000 in monthly sales.
The Road to $2k
I worked at TSN at the time, and had a number of friends there who were closet comic collectors – we kept it on the down-low back then. A decade ago being a comics aficionado was not nearly as cool as it is today. Also, there was a good chance the jocks would shove us in a utility closet shouting “NERDS” if our secret was exposed.
Between the four people who regularly collected comics there, we were up to about $500 / month. Add Peter and I, and we were easily at $900 / month. We learned that it needed to be $2000 RETAIL, and since we were approved for a 50% discount for the first three months of our account, that meant we were very close to meeting our mark. Peter got in touch with a few people, and we made up the difference by purchasing a few TPB’s and Hardcovers for stock every month.
Along with our first order, we were sent a dozen free TPB’s from Image Comics which immediately went on the site. We decided that we would always keep these titles in stock for the first couple of years, and that would help us on our way to $2,000 a month.
Minimum Viable Product
In website and software development there is a concept of a “Minimum Viable Product”, you build just the essential parts of the software to figure out if you actually have a business or not. For us this meant that all lists were in an elaborate Excel sheet, and I spent most of that first year in Excel.
I had a pretty clever system going on, and if anyone wanted to update their list, I updated the master list. I was paranoid of losing data, so I had a copy at work, a copy at home, a copy on my own key chain, and a weekly copy at Pete’s place. In these early days, I did all the fulfilling, I got all of the orders in, and I shipped them out of my house to the two people who needed comics shipped to them.
Every week I would create a PayPal invoice, and send that out to our customers. I would also create an Excel invoice that I kept handy.
Comics were delivered to my house on Wednesdays, and I would have to go through them when I got home from work, find out what had been short-shipped or damaged in transit – there are always mistakes and damages, and call the distributor to let them know what was wrong. Then I would pack everything up, send orders to the post office, and meet Peter on Thursday with the orders that he delivered to his people, while a bunch of comics would come with me to work for the people there.
I’m responsible for a human being now!
Then on August 16, 2005, my daughter Kaylin was born. Suddenly all of that free time I used to have was now used to take care of an entire human life! Peter and I quickly decided to split up the duties, he would take the comics, and I’d deal with the website. It took me a few weeks to get used to this new lifestyle, but soon I was back working on All New Comics, and improving the site.
I had been talking to my friend Ryan about creating a subscription tool to allow me to do all of the work directly on the site. I mocked up a bunch of screens, mapped out how I thought things needed to work, and planned out work flows and screen flows for different things.
Ryan customized CandyPress to the extreme, and added the ability for us to add subscription products. We then added a new type of customer called a “Subscriber”, and proceeded to put all that together.
We launched the new Subscriptions section on April 16th 2006, which just so happened to be Easter Sunday. I put together a couple of cool front-end pages for the new subscriptions, and we started really promoting that people could subscribe to their comics.
Every week though, I still built everything in Excel, and sent out an invoice to people once a month through PayPal. All of the subscriptions were tracked on the site now, which made ordering easier, but billing was still a combination of my Excel Skills and PayPal invoices.
It was manual, it was kind of painful, and it would continue being that way for a little more than a year.
Two weeks after we launched the all new All New Comics, Peter and I were at the Paradise Comics Toronto Comicon, April 28-30th 2006. At the show the featured guests were George Perez and David Lloyd (who’s V for Vendetta had just opened the previous month). Peter had also aggressively promoted “The Women of Comics Symposium”, which featured among others Tara McPherson, Gail Simone, and a relatively new talent named Nicola Scott.
The show was really well received, and we met a ton of new customers. Everything was flying along, and we were ready for some serious growth.
All of this, with a site that was mostly held together with wishes and unicorn tears, and soon there would be 200km separating Peter and I, we’d find out soon enough if our business partnership was strong enough to thrive long distance.
That wraps up part two of the Secret Origin of All New Comics!
Next time, All New Comics gets automated, Brian moves away, and the site nearly gets killed.