ESCAPE 9-to-5. CREATE YOUR OWN FREEDOM. Case Studies of Non-traditional Business Founders

Small Town, Big Dreams: How Purna Duggirala Runs a $600,000/year Global Biz and Lives Life On His Own Terms

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Published under Blogging/Writing, ebooks, Family, Information products, Training & Coaching

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March 12, 2013

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EPISODE 11: When Vizag, India-based Purna Duggirala’s twins were born, he decided he wanted to spend more time at home. His full-time corporate gig entailed too much travel, which he wasn’t fond of. So a few months later, he quit and decided to work full time on his blog/side gig, chandoo.org. From a mere $10,000/year in 2009, the business generated approximately $600,000 in 2012.

In this case study, you will learn:

  • From personal blog to side business to full time business – the Chandoo.org story: the ups, downs and everything in between
  • How Purna smoothly transitioned from working a full time job to running a full time business
  • The best way to know which products to create (even if you have no ideas)
  • The key factor involved in increasing his business’ revenues by 400% from 2010 to 2011
  • The various challenges that cropped up in the early days, and how he dealt with them
  • 3 wise actions you can take to start and own your freedom business

Here’s the case study:

Audio only:


10-min SUMMARY OF CASE STUDY

 

Purna Duggirala – Summary of case study
12-Mar-13

Note: All $ figures are US$

Background:
• Lives in Vizag, a small coastal town in southeastern India.
• Runs chandoo.org with a mission to help people become awesome in Microsoft Excel and Office applications.
• Has a computer science engineering degree and an MBA.
• Worked with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) as a Business Analyst for almost 3 years.
• While working at his day job he started a personal blog – chandoo.org – where he used to also write about Microsoft Excel. The blog eventually became a full-time business in April 2010.

Gross revenues (approximate):
2009 (side business while working full time): $10,000 – half his full time salary.
2010: $100,000
2011: $420,000
2012: $600,000

Year by year story:

2009:
• Chandoo.org was started in 2004 and was a personal website – personal rants, MBA life, etc.
• Started his TCS full time gig in 2007. Shifted blog’s content focus to technology, marketing, etc.
• At work, he had to use MS-Excel and PowerPoint every day and often came up with different ways to use these applications. He then started writing about these topics on his blog with a view to help others.
• In 2007, a few MS-Excel-related attracted some attention and comments from readers.
• In 2008, he went to the U.S. on work. He found he had more free time and a balanced life, unlike in India. He spent evenings writing his blog.
• One of his articles at the time was picked up by Lifehacker, the popular productivity website and other social networks. Sent so many visitors to the site that it crashed.
• That’s when he realized that there’s so much to be shared about MS-Excel and there was a lot of interest in the topic. Decided to post consistently on his blog.
• Had around 3000 RSS subscribers at the time; decided to release his first product.
• As an experiment, he repackaged existing content (along with a few new additions) into a new ebook and released it in February, 2009, priced at $5.
• Sales were okay. Made $150 in the first month.
• Realized it was priced too low. Hiked price to $10. Sales jumped. Started earning $200 to $250 per month from this product.
• At the time he had a full time project management gig and faced challenges in project tracking, reporting, etc.
• In September 2009, he launched his second product, a set of MS-Excel files called “Project Management Templates” which was a solution to the challenges he faced (mentioned above). Generated approx. $3000/mo. In revenues in the first month itself. Continued at the same level well into the New Year.

2010:
• Most important decision: he quit his job in April. He didn’t like that he had to travel too much for work. His wife had delivered twins in September 2009, so he wanted to avoid traveling too much. So he decided to go full time with his side gig.
• He decided to create higher value products – $250 and above.
• He looks to other startups for inspiration. Lots of startups have a ‘freemium’ model (have a free and basic offering along with a separate paid-for offer). He realized ‘freemium’ wouldn’t work for his business.
• He surveyed the market and realized customers paid $500 for certain products, so he created similar products for $250 to $300.
• E.g. A set of online training programs called ‘Excel School’. Visual Basic classes. Initially priced them at $67 and $97 – two different levels.
• Increased the price later to $97 and $150.
• Finally added another module and priced the program at $250.

On decision-making:
• New startup brought new challenges: business operations, government regulations, employee management, etc.
• Whenever he faced important decisions, he chose the option that was simple for both himself and his customers to understand.
• Another key focus: how to make the business sustainable? One of his early mentors advised him not to become indispensable to the company. That’s how you build a sustainable business.
• He (Purna) could’ve become a freelance consultant, but the business would start and end with him – that wasn’t his vision. He wanted to build a business that would run successfully even if he were absent from it for several months.
• So he started hiring the right team. He has a team of 6 employees as of this writing.
• His vision was to create and sell products that were easy to understand and buy.
• He became a dad and business owner around the same time. The demands of both of these roles forced him to prioritize and do the most important things first.

2011 & 2012:
• Key factors for increasing revenues 400% were focusing on higher priced products (training products with an average sale price of $150) and creating product bundles where people could purchase multiple products at the same time, albeit at a discount.
• He was upfront (but not pushy) with customers about the value his programs delivered. He also focused on creating products people would appreciate.

Customer acquisition:

• Structuring the products in a very easy-to-use and learn manner helped increase word of mouth and referrals.
• He hasn’t relied too much on advertising. He’s done a bit of affiliate marketing.
• Main customer acquisition strategy: writing quality blog content three times a week round the year. Encourage people to sign up via RSS and newsletter. The blog posts are of unmatched quality and value. Promotional content is added occasionally as a footnote.
• Around 10% are repeat customers.
• Template products have more one-time customers; courses have more repeat students.

Business operations:
• 6 employees; he operates out his home office.
• Customer support and experience: 3 employees – customer emails, phone calls, chat messages, technical customer questions.
• Website challenges – website can go down and give you sleepless nights.
• New product challenges as well. E.g. customers not able to pay us due to payment processor issues.
• Being a business in India, credit card processing is a big pain. Not many vendors with good services. Paypal is an option, but experience is poor.

Live training – boon or bane to lifestyle objectives?
• Recently started live training outside of India.
• Travel is a personal goal, so live training allows him and his family to travel and see new places.
• Also, meeting customers live is a great way to get feedback from customers and understand real-world problems. This helps him create relevant products.

What would he do differently if he were starting from scratch:
• Nothing
• Lots of luck and randomness involved in his success. You have to work long and hard, yes. At the same time he has enjoyed the entire process of building his business.

3 actions you can take to build a freedom business creating information products:

1. Think like a business. If you’re revenue is $100, spend less than that. Don’t spend $200 and hope that someday you will get $300. Don’t do this unless you’re building the next Facebook or Google. But if you’re building a freedom or lifestyle business and want to enjoy the process, put profit first.
2. Don’t be afraid to say ‘No’. When you start out, don’t put up with any crazy requests from clients. If you want a good lifestyle, you have to say ‘No’ a lot.
3. Don’t expect overnight success. Think long term. Imagine yourself running your business for 10 years, then go about running it.

Contact info:
Chandoo.d@gmail.com
Facebook and Twitter – see the website chandoo.org for details.

chandoo-pointy-haired-dilbert-small-about-photo

About Purna Duggirala

Purna Duggirala launched Chandoo.org in 2004 as a personal blog. Over the years he transformed it into a business that trains others to become awesome in Microsoft Excel. Chandoo.org gets 1.65 million monthly views with readers from all over the world, with 55,000 subscribers via RSS and email. The blog has been featured in major newspapers, books such as $100 Startup and publications such as Lifehacker, MSN, BNet, Technet and Delicious.

 

 

    9 Comments

  1. vinodh

    said:

    Faheem. This is a great case study. also mentioned in the $100 startup book

    • Hey vinodh, yes Purna is awesome. I read about him in $100 startup and then invited him to the show. Thanks for watching!

      • vinodh

        said:

        your website is great. I am regularly reading it to get glimpse of how people are achieving success in their business or profession

        • Thanks so much for the kind words. Glad you find value in this website. I’m planning more content so stay tuned for more.

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