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Norby Presents: How Ellen Yin quit the 9-5 and built Cubicle to CEO from $300 to $2M before she turned 28 years old (Part 1)

by Female Startup Club
November 7th 2022

Today’s episode is brought to you by our pals at Norby - who we just love so much - we’re talking to Ellen Yin, the founder of Cubicle to CEO on all things being a content creator and working in th... More

this podcast is brought to you by Clay vo the email and SMS platform built just for e commerce brands, start sending beautiful branded emails in minutes with a free account at Clay vo dot com, that's K L A V I Y O dot com. This is Ellen yin for female startup club, Welcome back to the show, This is Dune, your host and hype girl. Today's episode is brought to you by our pals at Norby who we just love so much and we're talking to Ellen yin, the founder of cubicle to Ceo on all things, being a content creator and working in the digital space. And what I love about this episode is Ellen's ability to see when things aren't serving her and take big leaps to move in new directions as entrepreneurs. We're always evolving and it really is a process of iteration.

So I personally really resonated with this episode and I think you're going to get a lot out of it, you're gonna hear about her transition from the corporate grind to agency owner to course creator to media company and it's packed with tips and insights that will give you inspiration wherever you are in the journey. If you love this episode, please do leave us a review or share a screenshot on your instagram stories to help other ears find us. Let's get into this episode, this is Ellen for female startup club as you gear up for fall, you need to find the right people on your team to help your small business fire on all cylinders linkedin jobs is here to make it easier to find the right people you want to talk to faster and for free if you follow me on linkedin or you're a subscriber to our newsletter, you already know how often we're sharing jobs that are coming directly through linkedin. It is so powerful, you can create a free job post in minutes on linkedin jobs to tap into the world's largest professional network with over 30 million people in the UK alone.

It's why small businesses rate linkedin jobs number one for delivering quality hires versus their leading competitors, then add your job and the purple hiring frame to your linkedin profile. So your network can help you find the right people to hire simple tools like screening questions, make it easy to focus on candidates with just the right skills and experience so you can quickly prioritize who you'd like to interview and hire linkedin jobs helps you find the candidates you want to talk to faster and you can post a job for free. Just visit linkedin dot com slash F S. C. Again, that's linkedin dot com slash F S. C. To post your job for free today. T and CS apply. Ellen. Hi, welcome to the show dude, I'm so excited to be here. This has been a long time coming and I'm so glad we finally get to do this. I know I love when the the I g connect turns to face to face, connect. I'm really excited to chat to you today. Also selfishly because I think I'm gonna learn a lot and I think we're gonna get so many good insights from you.

I always love to start by getting our guests to give us a little bit of an introduction into who you are and what your business is for anyone who might not know yet. Absolutely. Well I am the founder of cubicle to Ceo, where a top 1% business podcast and a media platform empowering women entrepreneurs through our free content, our live events both in person and virtual, as well as our collection of educational products and marketing programs and really our whole mission is to help women pursue what's pa possible for me growing up without a lot of visibility into entrepreneurship or exposure to this world, I'm sure you can relate. It was difficult to imagine this path for myself. I really firmly believe that it's hard to be what you can't actually see in your in your real life. And so our goal is that through featuring diverse voices and stories on our platform that we're really introducing on entrepreneurship and business to a whole new range of incredible minds that are here to change the world with the amazing gifts that they have.

So that's our business in a nutshell. And I am coming to you from my co working space here in Salem Oregon. So if any of you are ever passing through the area are women's coworking space, it's called the clubhouse for short is our physical extension of our online communities. So that's the business in a nutshell. Um there's a lot I could dive into on the personal side, but I'll let you leave the conversation there, so I don't go too long. Oh my gosh, I love that. And I love that you say, you know, you're creating this space for people who might not have had that access or might not have that community around them in their family or their friends. I definitely relate to that. You know, when I was younger, it was a totally different story. My life looks really different now to what it did back in the day and I'm wondering for you, like, You know, you were in this corporate 9-5, you were out there hustling doing that day to day thing. What gave you that itch to switch? Like, what got you thinking about entrepreneurship and was it always something that you kind of started to eat away out or did you just have a wake up moment one day and be like this, is it in a odd way, the answer is actually neither.

So I never anticipated being an entrepreneur. I wasn't someone who grew up wanting to own a business. In fact, I didn't really even truly understand the world of business in general. I was very much a creative growing up writing and reading were my first loves and I thought I wanted to go to university to study journalism. I knew something in storytelling was where I wanted to be something creative and media. So it's kind of funny how it came full circle now with our podcast and building a media company from scratch, but certainly not something I necessarily worked towards my entire life. But on the flip side, I also feel like even though I didn't see myself as an entrepreneur, I did always have an entrepreneurial spirit From a very young age. I just didn't realize that's what it was until I actually made the leap into entrepreneurship, which happened because like many of you, it was sort of by accident, I worked at a corporate job and and left without a backup plan. So I was only 23 at the time, I was End of 2017, I quit a couple of days before Christmas and the only thing I remember having on my calendar when I clocked out for the last time was a dentist appointment that afternoon and then my life was just like one big blank empty page and you know, it was, it was scary and freeing at the same time.

And in my mind I thought the next path forward was to apply for new marketing jobs. I thought I was going to move to a bigger city with more opportunities and then what ended up happening was during that first month of job searching. So this is now january 2018, I reconnected with a colleague of mine at the company I had left and him and his wife owned these local coffee stands as a family business. In addition to his day job at the health care company that we were both worked at and he, you know, reached out and said, I know that you are skilled at social media marketing and we have no presence on instagram. So would you be willing to help us launch our accounts as a side project while you're applying for jobs? And to me, I thought this is such a fun project. I have nothing better to do. Why not? And so Leaping into that, that 1st $300 freelance project is what kicked everything off and helped me realize, oh, I have a skill set that I can monetize outside of a traditional job structure. And so that very week I actually stopped applying for jobs, I stopped sending out my resume and I said, all right, let's see where this path can take me.

Let's see how many clients I can get and take it to the moon. Exactly you and I have so many similarities when you say kind of, you know, you didn't have that vision as a child to be an entrepreneur and you didn't know what it was, but you had that spirit that really resonates with me because I think that a lot of people might not realize that they want to have their own business yet, but they have something in them and I think what they're also is and, and this is just to like, you know, take a different pathway for a second is you can be entrepreneurial, even in your job, you can be entrepreneurial and create projects and, and kind of have a side hustle and do all these things without being like the full on entrepreneur. And I think it's something that we kind of like don't focus on too much on this show because like we talk about people who are building their businesses, but it's something that I think is really important. So I just wanted to say that, But all this to say with this $300, I really want to dig into this because I read that you took this $300 and you bootstrapped your business to $2 million 28, which is probably around this time, I'm guessing I want to focus on this today.

Like I want to deep dive into this particular strategy that you've used and I want to understand those kind of milestones of, you know, getting to your 1st 100 paying customers, getting to your 1st 1000 paying customers and getting to your first after 1000 I guess scaling. So I want to start with getting to your 1st 100 customers, how did you do it? What was your strategy to get there? Absolutely. So for a lot of people, they start with volume and then shift into high ticket. I actually had the completely opposite experience. So my very first freelance client was a $300 project that I then, you know up sold then the second month to $500. And the beautiful thing about working with one on one retainer clients is you don't have to go out and acquire a new customer every month. You can build on your existing client base and receive that, you know, recurring steady income from each client and then continue to go out and secure larger client accounts. And that's exactly what I did. So you know that first client stayed with me for I think 3 to 4 months.

And then my second client actually ended up being my largest client for over a year. They were a natural foods brand that really pioneered the cauliflower pizza craze. So all the products that you see in your marketplace, they really started that whole trend shout out to Cali flower foods. Yes, they're so good. Seriously like so good. Um, if you can't eat gluten, definitely a good choice. But anyways, I started with them in a very limited capacity. I think they had hired me on initially to help with just managing the influx of social media comments they were getting on facebook and really responding to this customer inquiry. So much more community management focused and then very quickly I was able to offer content ideas, strategy, ideas and that basically within a few weeks evolved into me taking over their entire social media strategy and account. And so yeah, I mean it was truly an unbelievable opportunity and it jumped my Client retainer with them from I think 1000 to 4000 in literally a matter of weeks.

And so that client account just continued to grow and the momentum that I was getting from them and all the amazing relationships that I was going out. It really just grew our client portfolio. And within the 1st 12 months we had made our first, you know, six figures in revenue from that business and it didn't require us getting to 100 customers. You know, I think we made our first six figures with just a small handful of Kuala. Amazing. And so how does this transition into what you do now with cubicle to ceo? Why did you make the switch? And how are you kind of thinking about? Okay, I'm going to take a bit of a different approach here and wind down the agency and go all in on digital. So we really had two major evolutions in the business. The first one was at the end of 2019. So up until 2019. Um those first two years really in my business, I was really focused on acquiring more, one on one clients and growing that boutique social media marketing agency.

We never got into, you know, a huge agency we didn't hire, you know, a big staff or anything like that, but we were grown our client portfolio pretty steadily. However, at the end of 2019 I came to this point in my business where I had started my podcast at that point about six months prior I had launched my first signature program helping other freelancers, service providers and coaches make their 1st 10 K month. And I realized that I just really loved the education and the mentorship part of the work that I was doing. And so I decided to do something pretty drastic. I actually let go of all but one of my one on one clients and basically slashed my income overnight. I know that's everyone's reaction and You know, I'm not advocating that as the right path for everyone because you need to be of course very cognizant of your, you know, your burn rate and and how much you have in reserves. But for us because we were really scrappy team and had low overheads as a service-based business, I had the ability to do that.

Um, and and for me the reason I did that was because I'm that person where if I know I have that safety net of client work and retainers, my 10 is always going to go to the people who are paying me right deservedly. So I need to give them my best work. And so by doing that, I knew at the end of the day when I'm done with all the client work, I just don't have the energy to really pour into scaling my education programs and and enrolling more students in that side of the business. So I cut off my clients out so that I would have no excuse to not focus on growing and scaling our digital products and programs. So that's what I did at the end of 2019 I got my evergreen webinar funnel up for my signature program in about 30 days and from there I think it took another additional 60 days. So I think 90 days in total from the time I made that decision to cut my client work to get that product, that signature 12 month mentorship up to a six figure revenue stream by itself as its own product.

And that kind of, you know, launched the evolution of me as serving more in the role of a coach, a mentor and educator, whatever you want to call it. Um, and over the past three years now we've, we've served more than 10,000 students and are paid programs and you know, we added additional products and whatnot. And then more recently this past summer actually, so this is very raw and recent we went through our second big evolution where at this point I, I'm pretty established in the online business space as an educator with our products, but I really felt this calling deep inside me that my, my true vision in life is not to be known as a personal brand or a coach necessarily, even though I love coaching and I love teaching, I really wanted to use the platform and the community that we were building to reach an even wider audience. And for me I knew that better aligned with the business model of a media company where free content is your product and your revenue model comes more so from aligned brands who want to support that mission and you know, place sponsored ads or content on your platform channel.

So We decided to do that full force and once again I did something pretty drastic and scary and I decided to close enrollment and retire my signature program that has been my largest revenue generator since 2019. And that was again a very scary decision, but once again, taking that safety net from myself is allowing me to step fully into this vision of building a media brand and thinking about how can we scale this next phase of our journey, wow, whoa, crazy! So many things here. Oh my gosh, what a journey! Congrats, love this view, love the new vibe, thank you, I want to kind of stick in this, you know, getting to that 1000 customer kind of benchmark first when you're when we're talking about the signature program and that section of the journey, how did you know what to do? How did you know to build this webinar? How did you know how to drive traffic to your programs and how did you know like all these, How did you even set it up?

Like what are the resources that you were going through and educating yourself with to get to that point? That's a great question. This really goes back to my belief that relationships are your greatest assets and business. And it also goes back to the whole driving force behind building this media brand. That visibility is key because you're right, if you are not exposed to other people doing similar things or achieving similar goals, you have know how would you have any clue where to start. Right. So I was very lucky that as I was building my clients based business, I was being exposed to other educators in my network who were building these really successful course and program based businesses and through that I understood what I liked about their strategies and what I didn't like about their strategies. And for me, at least in that phase of my business, obviously it's different building a media company now. But in that phase of my business I knew I didn't want to be chained to my phone creating content every single day. So I didn't want to follow the live launch model. So I knew Evergreen was going to be me more aligned with me where my students could basically, if you're new to that term in the digital course, well Evergreen just means that you don't have an open and closed enrollment period in your programs.

People can join at any time go at their own pace and you're always open for enrollment essentially. And so because that evergreen model resonated with me, I had to think about, okay, I don't wanna be selling people 1 to 1. I don't want to get on the phone with every single potential student who might be interested in joining my program. So how can I create essentially a sales vehicle or generator that is automated so that all I have to focus on is sending eyeballs or traffic to that sales generator and then I can create basically duplicate myself as a salesperson And create something that when someone watches that or consumes it, this content that they are sold and that thing that tool sells on behalf of me. And so that's how I landed on doing an evergreen webinar funnel. I essentially teach this value packed 60 minute masterclass where I really walk someone through the framework of how I scaled my service based business and then you know, I give them enough for them to understand and really believe in the framework in the method and then I say, hey, if you want to actually implement this step by step and get my continual support and guidance on this.

Here's an invitation for you to dive deeper with me inside my mentorship and that program or Yeah, that that webinar scaled our program like I said, two multiple six figures and and really just changed the trajectory of our business. That's super cool. So interesting. Gosh, so many things for people to learn and for different business models and blueprints for people to follow, which I'd love to now focus on the model that you're kind of facing the media company on and the direction that you're moving in now. Like what's the plan? What's the model and how are you shifting the needle? Absolutely. So with a media business, like I said, the majority of your revenue now comes from brands that you partner with your sponsors, your advertisers. And so it's interesting because you really are serving to end audiences right? You're serving your community where you're creating this incredible free content for them that keeps the coming back and seeing you as a trusted voice for them to follow in your content nature topic area, which for us is obviously business and helping women grow successful businesses.

And then you also serve a different stakeholder which is your advertisers or these brands that want to get in front of your audience and helping them utilize their ad dollars and stretch their ad budget further by helping them be successful marketing to your community more so than they would in another traditional channel, essentially your dilemma that you have to come up against is how can I prove to these brands and partners that spending their ad dollars with me is going to be more effective than spending it paying, you know, Mark Zuckerberg face money, you know, for facebook ads or more effective than putting it towards a tv commercial or a radio ad or wherever they would normally spend their money. So, you know, that that's kind of the challenge is serving these dual audiences and making sure that at the end of the day they're two interests need to be aligned, right? And we're never going to be promoting a partner or a brand that doesn't actually serve our audience and that's why we're so picky about who we were work with and to this point, most of our partners that we have worked with, our software companies whose products and tools actually make the lives of the women entrepreneurs that we serve easier through their software programs.

Absolutely, That's so interesting. And so for you now, like with working with the sponsors and shifting and kind of going out and convincing these brands why they should spend their money with you instead of with face on something like facebook, how are you doing that? What's your approach to kind of outreach and convincing them? So a lot of our partners started as us being customers with their product, right? Some of our longest time partners are people or people that say people because now we know the faces behind the company, but really at the time a brand that we truly paid for and resonate with and it helped our business grow. So we thought to ourselves, okay, how can we get their product out in front of our community? So that the same things that have helped us be successful, we can be re An educator and bridge that, that knowledge gap or that tech gap for our, you know, our customers and our communities. So it started out very organically for a lot of these things. Um you know, us just reaching out and saying, Hey, like we've had the success with your platform, we would love to help you get in front of our community of 90,000 women in business and what are some initiatives that you're working on this quarter that we can help amplify?

Hi, how can we support you in your current campaigns? Just really starting that conversation in a way that's collaborative and curious rather than entering with an agenda and saying, hey, I'd love for you to be a sponsor. This is you know what we're looking at in terms of investment, this is what we can provide for you. I find that even though having packages that have been successful for other partners is of course helpful to a conversation when you go in without asking questions, you truly cannot come up with the right solution for that partner because you don't understand what it is that they're working on and what their challenges are to begin with. So, always leading with curiosity, I think is the best way to approach any conversation, no matter who is on the other end, whether it is a brand partner, whether it is a customer or whether it's appear in your industry, like you and I do like us coming to the table and saying, okay, let's let's, you know, be on each other's shows, what does that look like and how does that better serve our collective audiences? I love that. We should do some like promo swaps for our intros, thinking I love it, I love interest swaps, love that for us.

How do you see the landscape for content creators changing today? Like what's coming up in 2022 that you think people are kind of moving towards? So it's interesting because creator and the creator economy, right, is this very buzzy term right now that everybody is really centered on? In fact, I I was just at the headquarters for coup job, which is our favorite all in one marketing platform and course platform we've used for years and they, you know, everything they're doing right now is focused on the creator economy. I think it's interesting because at least in my opinion june you can correct me if you feel differently. But I think in my opinion, there's there seems to be a divide in the online space between people who identify primarily as creators versus people who identify as, oh, I'm a business owner, I'm not a creator, even though they do create content to support and grow their business. Right? And so I think that's interesting that that identity split I guess. But I think as we continue to evolve and as social and another, the metaverse, all these things, I think more and more people are going to start to see how they are producing content in some form and whether or not that is the primary way they monetize it is something that will impact their business.

And it's almost essential to business. It's very hard these days to find a business where content marketing is not at least some form of strategy that they're using to get the word about their services and products out there. So that's something I see coming down the pipeline. I think also the future of media is really interesting because even though historic institutions like the new york times or you know, NBC news or all these mainstays are not necessarily going to disappear of course, but I do think the way that consumers engage with the media will change because I think people these days would rather receive news and updates from a trusted voice or personality than they would, you know, tuning into the nightly news like their grandparents may have done. And so I think for us, it's understanding how our creators influencing the media space and how our creed, the future of the media space. Absolutely. I feel like these days I get my news and my updates from Tiktok, like I'm not going to read this headline in the new york times, I'm going to find it from the creators that I follow and it's definitely a big shift in how we consume and how we kind of like take in the news.

It's definitely changing. I also want to bring up the sponsors of this episode today, our beautiful pals at Norby. I feel like this is a good intersection to talk about them because I know they're huge in the creator space, that's why we're connected, that's why we're here today. So I want to talk about your partnership with them and how they've helped your business. Absolutely. Well, we love our people at Norby. I mean, oh my gosh, talk about people talk about a people driven brand, right? I think the Norby team embodies what it means to build with relationships first and they have since day one. What I love about Norby is they're so obsessed with their user. They really want to understand what are the pain points and hiccups that make it difficult for creators to connect with their communities and they want to make that whole experience on both sides as seamless as possible. So the whole team at Norby, I mean my first introduction to Norby I think was through Sam yes, she's wonderful, truly just such, such a gem of a human being and then of course over time we've gotten to know so many of their amazing team members, you know Claudia Tory, you know, nick all of them have just been truly incredible and again they lead with curiosity.

They're always asking questions, what could we be doing better? What kind of features are you looking for? What are you paying for? That is redundant that we could build into our platform and for us, what we love and use Norby the most for is that smS text. I mean that was just such a new channel for our business and we never had explored it prior to Norby but they made it so easy and so affordable for us to be able to connect with our podcast listeners with our community and this new and much more intimate way. I think traditionally people view texting as a channel that's reserved for you know people you know in real life like your friends, your family typically not interacting with brands in that medium, it's very different than email and I think just being able to have a two way conversation with their two way inbox that Norby provides through their platform. It really allows us to interact individually with our customers but in a much more scalable way because our team can all log on to our Norby account on the back end and be able to continue and carry on these conversations with our with our customers.

So that's what I love about Norby personally, but I'll let you chime in too. I mean I also love their SMS feature, we kind of took a note out of your playbook. We launched our hype girl hotline earlier this year and we just saw such a cool uptake people post about it on social media. We don't have the two way, we're just kind of like sending a a kind of monday motivation text that's like super cute, super uplifting and a nice way to start the week off. But I'd love to hear from you like for your two way text conversations like what are the kind of things that you're saying and what do people say back? Like what does that conversation look like? Yeah, I mean it can be about all sorts of different things, but the way that we position that to a conversation is similar to your hype girl hotline, which I am obsessed with alliteration. So when I saw that I was like, yes, that is such a good name, it's so, so well done. So congratulations to you and your team for thinking of that. But for two way conversations, the way that we position it is we say, hey we have a podcast concierge service.

The reason we say that is because we want our listeners to feel like they get access to a white glove experience where they're really taking care of and supported and the way we do that is we say, all you have to do is text us a word, you know, it could be, marketing, could be sales, could be speaking could be podcasting, whatever you Are wanting to learn more about or a problem in your business that you're wanting to solve. And we are going to curate a personalized playlist for you and we'll send you the direct links like usually, nothing overwhelming so that they don't have to go dig through our entire back library of episodes because we have close to 200 episodes now it's a lot to go through when you're just discovering our show for the first time and they're able to get targeted information at exactly the moment. They need it when they need it. And then if they have questions after listening, they have a real human behind the screen that they can text and reach back out to and say like, oh hey I listen to you know the conversation with SAm at Norby and I really love that she said this, I was cure. Do you have you know the uh I don't know the trial link or the resource that she mentioned, it's so easy to just open that conversation and make people feel really supported Oh my gosh, I love that.

Maybe we should make our hotline, two ways that people can chat with us. That is so fun. It is really fun, You should definitely do it. I think it would be a great way for you to further interact with your, you know, with your female startup club listeners. Super fun. Gosh, anyway, love that for us, shout out to not be love them, super cool. Before we get to our six quick questions. I always love to kind of wrap up the episode to understand what your key piece of advice is for founders who are just getting started in this kind of journey of content creation and all things digital. I think the key here is to be obsessed with iteration because if you're obsessed with planning, which is what usually people are doing, you fall into this trap where what I call planning yourself into a prison, which means you're not putting anything out there because you're so you're so anxious to share anything until it's perfect and the truth is you don't know what your audience wants until you put it out there and you collect data and the only way to collect data is to have a live piece of content to actually track analytics and engagement from.

So my advice to you is if you're just getting started in the content creation space, please please let go of that need for your first attempt at anything to be the final version, it won't be, I promise you that so fall in love with iteration and I always tell my community if you're not embarrassed by your first attempt at something, you waited too long to start. And actually just recently I listened to my very first episode on cubicle to ceo like the trailer or whatever and I was cringing at how bad my audio was. Which is so, I mean it's everyone I'm sure has that moment. But again had I waited and had I been like, oh I need to have everything, you know, have this perfect setup and and all these things in place before I can start my show, I wouldn't probably be talking to you right now and having this very conversation so fall in love with iteration. I love that so much I think done is better than perfect. Just get out there, Start trying and iterate as you go. I'm all on board for that. Absolutely yes, I'm so glad you resonate. Hey, it's dune here.

Thanks for listening to this amazing episode of the female startup club podcast. If you're a fan of the show and want even more of the good stuff, I'd recommend checking out female startup club dot com where you can subscribe to our free newsletter, we send it out weekly covering female founder business news, insights and learnings in D. C. And interesting business resources. And if you're a founder building an e commerce brand, you can join our private network of entrepreneurs called hype club at female startup club dot com forward slash hype club. We have guests from the show joining us for intimate Ask me Anythings expert workshops and a group of totally amazing, like minded women building the future of dTC brands. As always, please do subscribe, rate and review the show and post your favorite episodes to instagram stories. I am beyond grateful when you do that.

Norby Presents: How Ellen Yin quit the 9-5 and built Cubicle to CEO from $300 to $2M before she turned 28 years old (Part 1)
Norby Presents: How Ellen Yin quit the 9-5 and built Cubicle to CEO from $300 to $2M before she turned 28 years old (Part 1)
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