How to Make A Living From Developers With Chris Coyier

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by Chris Coyier to discuss his daily work life as founder of CSS Tricks and CodePen.

This week’s show is sponsored by The Digital Project Manager School and Optimal Workshop.


Paul Boag: Hello, and welcome to the Boagworld show, the podcast about all aspects of digital design development strategy. My name is Paul Boag. As you probably already heard, because we spoke over me the immediate moment I opened my mouth, is Marcus Lillington. crosstalk 00:00:45

Marcus Lillington: I could've got away with that, Paul. I was about a nanosecond before. There would've been a gap if I'd zoomed into the end level, I could've edited me out of that bit.

Paul Boag: Okay, well let's just-

Marcus Lillington: But you ruined it.

Paul Boag: Let's just start the episode as unprofessionally, as we need to go on.

Paul Boag: In addition to Marcus Lillington, we have the very wonderful Chris Coyier joining us. Hello, Chris.

Chris Coyier: The very wonderful. Thanks so much, Paul. You're very wonderful, too.

Paul Boag: Well, mutual loving. Should we … you know.

Paul Boag: For those of you who don't know Chris, he does an excellent podcast that I highly recommend called Shop Talk. If you haven't listened to it already, chances are if you listen to this show at some stage or another, you also listen to Chris's show.

Chris Coyier: I'm sure it's likewise, you know? Double the seasons on us, at least. Maybe the first podcast I ever listened to, maybe?

Paul Boag: Well, it was the first web design podcast, so that … We get props for being early if not quality.

Marcus Lillington: It's quantity.

Paul Boag: Quantity over quality every time.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, we're certainly over 500 episodes now.

Paul Boag: That's scary, isn't it? But you're up to what, 372, something like that I saw?

Chris Coyier: Yeah, we're in the mid threes, so we're old, too. It's cool. We can be in the old club.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah.

Paul Boag: Don't even start there. I'm feeling very old at the moment.

Chris Coyier: I'm on crutches, so I win.

Paul Boag: How did you end up on crutches?

Chris Coyier: I was just at the gym and we were doing little shuffle exercises. I was going a little too fast and just did it. Then of course you're sitting there with an ice pack on you and everybody at the gym has their own advice for you. "You gotta drink electrolytes, you know? That's the only way."

Marcus Lillington: There is a lesson there, crosstalk 00:02:46 if you do exercise, don't go to the gym.

Chris Coyier: There is it, yeah. There's something to be said about that.

Paul Boag: For people who don't know you, Chris, do you want to just introduce yourself a little bit and say a little bit about what it is that you do for a living these days, which we're gonna come onto it in a lot more detail, but kind of give us the top crosstalk 00:03:07.

Chris Coyier: Yeah, I see that's kind of a part of the … I like the series that you got going here. That's really smart. But anyway, yeah, like you mentioned, I have a podcast, too, Shop Talk Show, which is kind of the … I think we may get to this, but it's sort of the smallest thing I do these days as far as bill paying kind of thing, but it's still worth doing and kind of a big part of it because everything that I do revolves around front end web development and doing it but also talking about it and helping other people learn it and kind of being a talking head or like a web design pundit or something, in a way. They don't have me come on CNN yet, but those days are coming, I think.

Chris Coyier: But no, crosstalk 00:03:48. Yeah?

Paul Boag: No, carry on. Carry on.

Chris Coyier: I kind of just write about it. I have a 10-year-old blog, really, called CSS Tricks. It's a little bit more than a blog because we have screen casts there and forums and snippets and an almanac section that documents the features of CSS that I sort of keep up to date and curate on a daily basis.

Chris Coyier: It's a little bit more than a blog. It's a site., and that's been a big part of my career, you know? At least over the last 10 years, which is about how long it's existed.

Paul Boag: Wow.

Chris Coyier: Not out of the gate, it wasn't but it was halfway through, at least, it started to be like, okay, this is definitely a part of my career. It definitely still is to this day.

Chris Coyier: Then the biggest thing I work on is CodePen, which is kind of a full-blown company at this point where we have a staff and it's a web app for … You play with front end code there. You build things with HTML CSS and java scripts, mostly a front end kind of outfit, and you log into it, so you have an account. It's a little bit like Dribble, if there's a lot of designers who watch the show, where you can follow each other and like each other's work and comment on each other's work.

Chris Coyier: It's kind of a social coding environment, we call it. There are pro plans for CodePen, which everybody, please sign up for. It's mandatory, actually.

Paul Boag: I heard that, you know? He has to do it if you want to be called a professional web developer.

Marcus Lillington: The words "CodePen," and we're looking at it, were used in the office today.

Paul Boag: Looking at it. Looking at it. How behind the times, the Headscape crosstalk 00:05:33.

Chris Coyier: Paywall. Paywall is coming. Just think, it's absolutely … That's the thing. It's more of a full-blown business. CSS Tricks has a part time staff of absolutely wonderful people that work with me, but the CodePen is a full time staff. It's a real business, Paul. We really did it.

Paul Boag: Yeah. So I mean, what you've done there is kind of hit on the premise of the entire season. In case you missed the first episode, because we're pretending this is the second one of the season even though we're recording it first. If you missed the first episode of the season, the premise of the season is that they're all-

Marcus Lillington: I missed the first episode of the season, Paul. When's that happening?

Paul Boag: You have. I've missed the first episode of the season.

Marcus Lillington: crosstalk 00:06:28 my happy new year's for Friday.

Paul Boag: Exactly. I know, it's all back to front, isn't it? It's horrible doing them out of order. It's my wife's fault. We'll blame her.

Paul Boag: So the premise of the season is there's all these people that are out there doing jobs that are really hard to define. One of the most common questions I get asked all the time is, "So what is it that you do?" Not just by people that don't work in digital. You can kind of understand them not … I get asked by developers and designers because so many of us, our careers have gone in these kind of unusual and weird directions, so that's what I want to explore is the season.

Paul Boag: And or course, the other thing is that we have to work very closely with lots of different people and lots of different disciplines. It's good to understand what it is that they do and how they operate. So that's what I want to get into a little bit.

Paul Boag: We thought we'd kick off with Chris, because to be honest, if I'm honest I was nosy about what Chris was doing these days. I thought, if I pretend it's an interview, he might actually tell me. So that's what we did.

Chris Coyier: Sure. What a great idea for a show. Everybody is having a little bit of a … Whatever level you're at, people have a little bit of an identity crisis of being able to crosstalk 00:07:49. Good luck being able to just do it to a random person in public, I mean, oh my gosh. crosstalk 00:07:55 they might have the same problem with you. Yeah, well, what do I do?

Paul Boag: What do you do? How do you describe what you do to your mom?

Chris Coyier: Yeah. Well, you know, they latch on sometimes to big moments that are easy to define. So if you publish a book, they get that. Everybody gets that. Oh, you wrote a book, woo! When I reflect on the things that I've done, it's not that I'm not proud of that, that was cool. I'm glad I did that. But it was a tiny fraction of my actual output, you know?

Chris Coyier: That's weird. I don't seem to downplay it. I wouldn't want somebody to be listening to this and be like, "Oh, writing a book is nothing?" No, it's something. It's complicated.

Chris Coyier: Anyways, but more like-

Paul Boag: It doesn't count very much if only about four people read it, which is what happens when I publish a book, so you know, it can only go so far. It's not like we're writing the next crosstalk 00:08:55 are we?

Chris Coyier: No, no, no, it's very niche. Everything we do is so niche. Anyway, sometimes we're talking to each other in a way. We build products for the world and then only talk to each other. It's funny.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Chris Coyier: Project management, to some degree. There's a lot of my days, the actual workday is CodePen stuff, because I'm one of the co founders there, so we need to … Every day we're in Slack and we're talking and figuring that out. Then I'm talking to my founders and we're figuring out the direction of CodePen, what is it that we're doing here, what's important? What matters? You have to make these … Unfortunately, you have to make kind of high-level decisions, like I think these highly-paid employees, you know, like specialized smart people that work with us, we need to put them to work in the most efficient way.

Chris Coyier: We've made the choice as a business to hire these people because they're amazing at what they do. Let's make sure that they're guiding our group vision to where we want to go with this. That's tricky stuff. That's like, it's hard to … It's one thing to wake up and answer an email. I do that stuff, too, but then you have to be like, wow, I also have to think of grand plans for us and make sure that I'm shepherding people in that direction the best I can. They have the tools that they need to do those things, and they're not blocked on things.

Chris Coyier: That's the type of stuff. That's hard. You couldn't be sitting on a plane next to somebody and be like, "What do you do?" Be like, "Oh, I shepherd people. I unblock them."

Marcus Lillington: Good description. I like that.

Chris Coyier: That's not … Yeah.

Paul Boag: So what do you say to the people on the plane? This is what I want to know. What do you describe as your job?

Chris Coyier: I have tried to stay away, because I mean, you've done client work forever. I don't. So I can't say I build websites, because that immediately means, oh I have a brother who needs a website, kind of thing.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris Coyier: Which I don't mind. I'd just be like, I don't do client work, kind of thing. It's not that big of a deal. I try to avoid that, and so I tend to lean on the "I teach it." Sometimes I'll say that, because I don't think that's entirely inaccurate. I teach people how to make websites better crosstalk 00:11:14 tend to be somewhat satisfied with that.

Paul Boag: You ever describe yourself as a tech startup or an entrepreneur or anything? You don't see yourself in that kind of way?

Chris Coyier: I've tried to lean into that a little bit more. I feel like entrepreneur used to rub me the wrong way in some way, because I'm like, hm, I don't feel like I'm a … I think of entrepreneur and I think of modal overlays, trying to get email addresses. I can't separate the idea of cheesy growth hacking and entrepreneurialism. They're attached.

Chris Coyier: But I'm like, no, I am, I guess. I realize that everything I think about all day is … I'll flip through a magazine and be like, that's a great idea. They should do X, Y, and Z. Or my wife will be like, "I'm thinking about brewing kombucha." I'm like let's register a business immediately. What's the label crosstalk 00:12:04 for the bottle? You know? Not everybody is like that, so I'm like, maybe I am an entrepreneur, I guess.

Paul Boag: Well, I mean, the chat room seems to have decided you are a web shepherd, even reduced your job title to two emojis, which is pretty impressive, so crosstalk 00:12:23 that's sorted. Spiderweb and sheep emoji. There you go. Everything you need.

Chris Coyier: I'm okay with that.

Chris Coyier: (music)

Paul Boag: Okay, before I dive into some of the questions in more detail, I just want to pause very quickly and … I was about to say get our first sponsor out of the way, but it doesn't go down well with sponsors when you talk about getting them out of the way. I do just want to quickly mention our sponsors for this season. We've got some great sponsors for this season.

Paul Boag: I'm gonna start with Optimal Workshop. Optimal Workshop are one of those tools that if you work in any area of UX, you probably already come across them. It's so easy just to forget about these different tools that are out there, and actually Optimal Workshop is a brilliant tool for running fast and affordable user research, right? They've got … I say "tool," it's a whole suite of tools, right? So you sign up for Optimal Workshop and you get tree testing for your information architecture. You can do first click testing, which is absolutely invaluable. You can do card sorting. I was using it for card sorting only the end of last year. Sounds like ages ago now, doesn't it, when you say the end of last year?

Paul Boag: You can do it crosstalk 00:13:36.

Marcus Lillington: All nine days ago.

Paul Boag: All nine days ago.

Paul Boag: You can do online surveys. Not nine days ago, Marcus, because this is the second episode of the season.

Marcus Lillington: We're sometime in April now, aren't we?

Paul Boag: Yeah, something like that.

Paul Boag: You could do qualitive research in it. You can even test whole, real prototypes. It's a very powerful tool that really is kind of a central part of my arsenal, which is why I asked them if they were willing to come on the show. I've just got distracted by the fact that you can actually buy a domain name for web shepherd. There you go, Chris. You can register the domain name. Somebody's just suggested it in the chat room.

Chris Coyier: Yeah, I see.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Not only do they have this huge number of incredible tools, they also offer participant recruitment, which is absolutely invaluable, because let's face it. That is the worst part of user research, is not doing the research yourself, it's finding the frigging people to do the research with you.

Paul Boag: They've got participants over 70 different languages from a pool of 10 million participants. I don't even know how they do that. That must be some magic of some description. So you can create your own panel of whatever kind of people that you want.

Paul Boag: Go and check them out for yourself. You can find out more about them by going to and thank you very much, guys, Optimal Workshop, for supporting the show.

Paul Boag: Right. crosstalk 00:15:15

Marcus Lillington: I have to confess to not knowing about Optimal Workshop, Paul.

Paul Boag: You're kidding me.

Marcus Lillington: No, no. So I'm gonna have to-

Paul Boag: Really?

Marcus Lillington: Blagger a log in from you and have a play.

Paul Boag: I don't have a log in. I pay for that out of my own money. I do. I know, it's shocking, me paying for something. I know.

Marcus Lillington: Incredible.

Paul Boag: Even the chat room crosstalk 00:15:41.

Marcus Lillington: You have tools that you use for things like that, and that's not one of them. So hey, I'd love to check it out.

Paul Boag: Right, now this is the point in the podcast where we start to get personal and dig in to ask Chris lots of inappropriate questions. Right?

Paul Boag: Right. We've talked about, I do all of these things or I teach people and shepherd them and all this kind of stuff. Where do you make your money, Chris? That's where the rubber hits the road. What actually pays your salary at the end of the day? Is it CodePen? Is it CSS Tricks? Where does it come from?

Chris Coyier: It's mostly those two things. I mean, I'm a founder of CodePen and we're a profitable business, and I'm a founder of it, so all three of us founders and every employee just has a salary and it's just a normal tech salary, probably low for as many years as I've been in tech and as deeply as I've tried to hit it.

Chris Coyier: I feel like there's probably a world in which that I bounce to some big mega corp and make a heck of a lot more money than I do now. I have no interest in that. I will happily run CodePen forever.

Chris Coyier: That's just to say that I don't run this little startup to deliver myself some monster salary. That's not happening.

Paul Boag: crosstalk 00:17:12 I can understand … Sorry, I interrupted you. Carry on.

Chris Coyier: No, that's all. I just mean if I had the money to pay myself more money, I'd hire more devs, because I think it's really fun to work with people and it's amazing to see them help execute vision, you know? Not to be too vague, but …

Paul Boag: I think there's also something quite satisfying and something I miss from when I used to run Headscape with Marcus. There's something quite satisfying about I'm paying somebody's salary. I'm enabling them to feed their family and giving them a good work environment. I kind of miss that a little bit, because that was always very satisfying.

Paul Boag: The other thing that I wanted to … Obviously you make some money from CodePen and the pro accounts of that. So with CSS Tricks, does your income come from advertising or is there other aspects to that?

Chris Coyier: No, not anymore. At one point, I was like maybe we'll slow down, then. Because there's been ads, really, on CSS Tricks forever, you know? Since maybe not the first second it came out, but even in the early days of CSS Tricks, literally when nobody was reading it, it was just a dumpy little dumb blog where I was like … I don't know. I don't know what to say about that.

Chris Coyier: But you know, every blog has a humble beginning, I would think. Even then, part of the motivation for doing it at all was like, I want to put Google Ad Sense on this thing. I want beer money from it. If I can write one article that gets a few hundred hits, or whatever, maybe I really can make 15 bucks a month, and that would be spectacular. I was a little entrepreneurial, I guess, you know? I was kind of like it would be nice to supplement my income, especially in a way that I found fun.

Chris Coyier: I still find to this day little ways to extract money from the internet is kind of fun. I will, I if read a book and I honestly like it, I probably will use my Amazon affiliate link in my Tweet, because I might make six bucks. And it might be crosstalk 00:19:09.

Paul Boag: I'm exactly the same.

Chris Coyier: I just think it's kind of fun. So it does, and there's ads on CSS, just literally I guess the kind that most people think of. There's some of that and then there's once a week, if we can sell it, there's a sponsored post, which is kind of nice and that was a idea of if display ads die, which they're always being fought against, so you never know what that market's gonna be like. Over the course of display advertising history is crazy. I'd love to read a book about that, huge highs and lows.

Chris Coyier: You know, when you're an entrepreneur you try to kind of watch your risk level, to some degree. I thought well, why not these sponsored posts. These are not normal display ads. They're just a blog post. They just go out and compete with everything else. They're marked as such, but they give us some freedom of how we want to approach the content in there, and stuff.

Chris Coyier: That's been pretty good, too, and then there's other … Every deal I book, I tend to not have luck with networks. I don't run ad sense on CSS Tricks, because it just doesn't work. It'd probably work to some degree. It would make some money, but it would be much lower and the ads would be much grosser, and it just wouldn't be as nice as what I'm able to do by doing a little hand management of it.

Chris Coyier: Through the years of whatever, speaking at conferences and just being involved in the industry, I have enough connections, I think, and know people at business that I tend to be able to pitch sometimes and be like, hey, we're looking. We have an opening for a sponsor at CSS Tricks. This is the type of thing that I can do for you. These days, I could deliver you a package that's across Shop Talk Show and CodePen and CSS Tricks and kind of roll it altogether and that seems to be resonating with some companies. They like multiple touchpoint kind of thing.

Chris Coyier: So sometimes, I guess it's the more normal thing these days, is to roll together a package for a slightly bigger company and deliver that and so that's cool. That pays some of my CSS Tricks salary, too. That's not really a salary, I just own that, so I just am able to take payouts from it when I'm able to, if it's doing okay, you know?

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.

Paul Boag: Do you find that you're different … You've got these three kind of pillars to your business. You've got your CodePen, you've got CSS Tricks, and to some extent, Shop Talk, right?

Chris Coyier: Right.

Paul Boag: I know Shop Talk doesn't make you huge amount of money, but do you find they all feed off of one another? So I presume, do you view Shop Talk as primarily a marketing tool or is it just for fun or you know, how does it all fit together? Or does it?

Chris Coyier: Sometimes I think of it as an excuse, almost. It is valuable and worth doing, but it's an excuse to talk to my friend Dave, and we always have good conversations, and I think I grow from that. It keeps me connected in cool ways. There's a lot of listeners to Shop Talk Show, so we hear from them sometimes. People are sending us in, what do you think about this? What do you think about this?

Chris Coyier: That fuels my understanding of the industry, which is pretty valuable. You know, and then when I deliver a package to a company, I say we have this podcast and this podcast and these display ads and stuff, and it makes the package look juicier, and it is juicier, frankly.

Chris Coyier: It's just not … Even though I just couldn't … I sometimes fantasize what does Shop Talk Show full time look like? You know? Could we take this really big and spend a week per show just with tons of interviews and lots of editing and make this incredible story, kind of. That sounds fun but I think even at the high end there, this is such a niche. Even podcasting is a niche, and then to be a niche of a niche is like … I just don't think the money is there to make it full time possible. I think we're seeing most podcasts just serve their niche and have it mostly be a side project.

Chris Coyier: There's a handful of big dogs that are managed, you know … And the topics for those are generally comedy and just general storytelling that not everybody can compete in that general.

Paul Boag: Sounds quite familiar to me.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, it does.

Paul Boag: The story, the description, the why you do it. All of those things sound very familiar. I'm gonna guess we've always said there is an element of marketing to this. Of course there is, but it has got to the point now that we just like having a chat every week. It's even better now we're doing it live and we've got all the other people having a chat as well, so …

Chris Coyier: I reflected on, you know, certain things you do just have intangible benefit that you can't imagine pulling away from yourself. I was doing a wrap up post for CSS Tricks, we call it Thank You 2018 Edition. I do it every single year at the turn of the year where I, instead of getting sappy, I save that for the middle of the year and I just hardcore analytical look at how we did on CSS Tricks through the year, mostly based on … Whatever data I can get my hands on. A lot of Google analytics in there and WordPress dashboard data stuff, and weird just …. How many posts did we publish, kind of data.

Chris Coyier: Looking in Google Analytics, where does our traffic come from? Because that's, you know, if there's no traffic on CSS Tricks, it's dead. It really does matter how much traffic we get on the site. We had a good year that way.

Chris Coyier: Fully 2% of all of that traffic came from all social media combined. Twitter, Facebook, all that stuff. So you're like, two? 2%. You know? The rest of it, it wasn't because search crosstalk 00:24:59. Search is a lot, but it's in the 80's, low 80's, so that's super important. But then that was even lower than it has been in the past, so search is coming more from referral sources and things like that.

Chris Coyier: It just got me thinking, we spend way a lot of time on social media. I feel like it's half my day sometimes if I'm doing a really bad job of just listening and watching and saving tweets and participating when I can. For 2% of traffic, instead of spending my time?

Chris Coyier: But then I think, oh my god, I feel like half my ideas come from that sometimes. If I'm not connected to the industry, then what am I? So it's … I don't know. It matters still even though it's not … But it does need some balance.

Marcus Lillington: That's interesting.

Paul Boag: So there'll be some people that are listening to this that are going, well, that sounds like a very nice life you've got going there, Chris. You know, nice little variety of things to keep you entertained. You've spread the risk of your business with different revenue streams. I like the sound of what you do.

Paul Boag: The big question is, how did you get here? You know? How did you get to this point in your career? I recognize a lot of it will be chance and luck and all of those kinds of things, but I'm quite interested in the-

Chris Coyier: crosstalk 00:26:17 and privileged. Don't forget that one. That's a fun one.

Paul Boag: Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Chris Coyier: I didn't struggle. I didn't climb over any mountains to get here, you know? It wasn't handed to me, but there was no major blocks in the way. From starting with my parents and making sure I had whatever computer I wanted, pretty much, and were happy to let me sit there and do computer stuff. Thank god for them and the people that I was around, and showing me people in life that took that computer and did work with it.

Chris Coyier: It wasn't just a toy, you know, I had my brother's friend was named Steve Raffle. I haven't talked to Steve in ages, but he was a nerd. He lived with my brother and he just sat at his computer all the time, but once in a while, I'd go in there, "Hey, look at this." It was some incredible visualization of a game that he was working on. He went on to found Raven Software, which these days makes Call of Duty and-

Paul Boag: Oh, wow.

Chris Coyier: In the early days made Heretic and Hexen 00:27:17 and some of these … They were like crosstalk 00:27:20.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Chris Coyier: That's him. And I'd look and be like, he's having fun with it. He's just being an introvert and just typing away at keys in his keyboard, which is highly appealing to me, and then was highly successful over it, too.

Chris Coyier: It's not like I woke up every day, I want to be like Steve, but I think just being around that idea of you can have fun with your computer and make money doing it, it just seemed obvious to me. That's it. It's locked in. That's what I'm gonna do with my life.

Chris Coyier: Today, it's just an extension of that. I had other friends, I have this friend named Jeff Campana, who's a wonderful ceramic artist. In high school, we had a great ceramic artist's studio in our high school, which is a little bit rare. It wasn't just one pottery wheel in the corner. There was like 12 wheels and a whole outdoor kiln setup. It was great.

Paul Boag: Wow.

Chris Coyier: Jeff just took to it, you know? He was good at it and then something just clicked in his head, and he was like, well, that's what I'm gonna do for the rest of my life. There was no question about it. He was an artist and he worked in clay and that's that.

Chris Coyier: To this day, that's it. Life shuffles him around a little bit, whether he's teaching it or just making a lot of work and selling it or doing residencies and he … But the clay thing is, it's like, that's locked in forever.

Chris Coyier: I feel similar to that. I'm like this computer stuff, where design hits development stuff, is me and that's it. That's all I got.

Paul Boag: So you know, you don't go from that to being this entrepreneur and running these multiple successful projects all simultaneously. I presume you had a proper job once.

Chris Coyier: I did. Sure. Well, you leave college and you're like, wow, I'm a worthless human. I didn't learn anything. What am I gonna do with myself to getting a job, where in the US I made like $25000 a year, you know, whatever that translates to, but very crappy job just doing production work on inserts for a newspaper that was for washing machines and refrigerators and stuff. But I still vividly remember all my duties at that job, and you just level up slowly, you know? Now you're doing it for real, so people …

Chris Coyier: Then I bounced from that to doing more print work and at other companies. Finally get a web job, because I knew … Even when I was working those jobs, I'd be like, can I make your website? Can I make my website for my band? It's the typical story. I feel like half of websites were for your college band or whatever.

Chris Coyier: But I just knew all along, always, that computers is my thing. I get off work, work on my computer, and just sit right back down on my computer and do stuff. It's just what I like to do. I was introverted. I didn't even know that's what I was at the time. I thought I was broken, practically, this nerd just only wants to spend time with himself.

Chris Coyier: It's not like I'm not normal. It's not like I don't enjoy the company of some others. I had close friends and then friends of friends and people who liked to go out and do normal things, but I would do some degree of that and then I'd immediately retreat, like, "Bye, everybody. Computer time." You know?

Chris Coyier: I just had friends that would accommodate that, that were okay knowing that about me because they were like that themselves, in a way. What my time in there, it wasn't always video games. You know, I played a little bit of games, but I'm not like a hardcore gamer. I was always working on some idea. I came across old photo that I didn't even remember I had this idea, but years ago I worked the night shift at some stupid print job. I worked from 6PM to 6AM three days a week. 12 hours, three days a week, so I had four days off but I was total night owl because I had to work straight through the night.

Chris Coyier: I was like, this is my life now, so I need to figure out how to go to the pharmacy and what restaurants are open and stuff, because I'm only awake doing very normal life things at very odd hours. Right in the middle of the night is when I'm awake. I had this entrepreneurial idea called 24 Hour Madison. Madison was the city name I was living at the time where I would just have this interactive map and business listings of all the stuff that's open 24 hours. If you're like me and you work the night shift, which plenty of people do, so I made the site.

Chris Coyier: The photos was not only a photo of the website but I made this print packet that I'd mail out to businesses that said for 50 bucks or whatever it was, it was something like that. I'll feature you on this site, put you listed on to really cap … You're open anyway, let's capture this overnight audience, kind of thing.

Chris Coyier: I barely remember doing it, because it was such a flop. As far as I know, not a single person ever responded to that kind of thing. The website was probably crap, you know? But that's the kind of thing that I'd be working on. I wasn't like, oh, let's play World of Warcraft. I mean, I played a little World of Warcraft, but for the most part, I was more interested in working on an idea, trying to execute some cockamamie scheme I had.

Paul Boag: So how did you make that transition from taking the salary home to stepping away and becoming your own boss?

Chris Coyier: Well, I get one proper web development-ish job, finally, and then my outside hobbies, they didn't dwindle, but they were like, I do so much web stuff at work that it just all starts to melt together. That's when I started CSS Tricks and I was like, well, now I'm learning super fast. I'm a web professional now, apparently, so I started writing stuff on CSS Tricks and you put ads on the site. It starts making a little bit more money.

Chris Coyier: Then I get invited because of CSS Tricks to speak at a conference. So now I'm feeling really on top of the world because I'm a conference guy now. Then I start to get a little bit more known in the industry. I get a job offer from a startup that was WooFoo 00:33:15 at the time. Go to work for them and now I'm a startup kind of guy. Then just the ball keeps rolling, you know? WooFoo gets bought, so now I'm in Silicon Valley.

Chris Coyier: All the meanwhile, I'm still the introverted nerd who's coming up with schemes, computering all the time. I'm just continuing to do that. CSS Tricks makes a little bit more money. Now we're at the hill point where I'm like, I could probably quit my job. It's not even that risky because if I had all day to do my schemes, I could probably make some more money. It was a little risky, but not a disaster, because I could just go back to work. I was single at the time, you know.

Chris Coyier: So I just did it. I remember I had this big Kickstarter I did where I asked CSS Tricks' audience to give me money to redesign the site, pretty much, and I said-

Paul Boag: I remember that. Yeah.

Chris Coyier: I'll record it and give it to you if you back me, so it will be these screen casters, because people were hungry for screen casts back then. There wasn't that much of them like there is now. I don't think you could do it now because people would be like, "There's more screen casts than I could possibly watch on YouTube, so why would I pay you for yours? I mean, if they're really good Wes Boss ones, or whatever, sure. But just for the low-quality just follow along as I work kind of thing that I was producing at the time, it was amazing that people paid for.

Chris Coyier: But they did, and part of it was just like thank you for existing, kind of thing, you know? I think that everybody gets one of those in their career at some point. I cashed mine in and took some of that. I made no money on it because you gotta be careful with that stuff. You promise everybody a T-shirt and then you hire a bunch of people to help with your website, the money's immediately gone. They look at this number, it's like 70 grand or something, they think, oh, you're rich now, bro. You're like between taxes and all the stuff I sent you, it cost me money.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Chris Coyier: Anyway. That's that.

Paul Boag: Once you kind of set up and you got going, let's kind of move on to life for now, right? It's quite hard to imagine what your average day or average month looks like. Is there even such a thing as an average day for you?

Chris Coyier: I wish there was, you know? I think it's … To some degree, there is. If we're just deep in work on a feature at CodePen, I can come in and whatever. I can go to the gym in the morning and then just sit down and have the whole day. I work on the feature or maybe I write a blog post or something that's been on my mind and get that out the door, make sure everybody's happy at CSS Tricks and then deep dive into my feature.

Chris Coyier: I'm not just a shepherd, I literally write HTML CSS and JavaScript for all of my sites, personally. We have some staff now, but I'd love to grow to the point where I can step away from that, not because I don't like coding, but I feel like, god, I've been deep in the trenches for so long. I'd love to have a break and just guide people instead. I have not been that lucky so far.

Chris Coyier: Anyway, I sit there and work on the feature and close bugs and make sure everybody's happy at CodePen. Then maybe I'll send off a few more … I have a lot of planning work to do. Even the podcast takes a good bit of planning, so there's always email breaks and social media breaks and stuff.

Chris Coyier: And then go home and that's that, you know? It feels good though, because a lot of times you're working on something bigger that's gonna take a long time to get done, which is sometimes not satisfying to end your day if you start it and end it with something that's not gonna see the light of day for a long time. That's why blogging is so satisfying to me. I can start a blog post, finish it and ship it and be like, that feels like I … Whenever I send something to the world, it's highly satisfying to me, you know?

Paul Boag: So it's really a mixture of coding, writing, there's some, I presume, selling. Selling advertising and that kind of thing and interacting with crosstalk 00:37:12 admin stuff. What about on the financial side of your business? Do you just kind of give that to someone else to do or are you down and dirty in all that?

Chris Coyier: crosstalk 00:37:22 part time employees in the past and now my wife helps me with a lot of it. You know, and I'm involved there to some degree, and then taxes we have a company for and stuff. It's not as streamlined, perhaps, as the both of us would like it to be, but we're getting there, you know?

Paul Boag: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Coyier: I don't think we need a full time accountant just yet. You know?

Paul Boag: No. So do you have any kind of routine to your day? You talked about get up and go to the gym. Do you do that every day? Do you start the day with emails, or how does it work?

Chris Coyier: Yeah, I mean, I usually answer the easy emails before I'm even out of bed in the morning, you know? That's crosstalk 00:38:09.

Marcus Lillington: I always wait for emails. They're they one thing that I don't look at in the morning.

Paul Boag: Oh, really?

Marcus Lillington: I'll check out the news, I'll read articles, but emails, I'll see what's come in. If it's anything like, oh, I better look at that, then I will. But generally, it's like nope, they wait til I sit down to my desk.

Chris Coyier: I'm gonna get you on interview sometime, because this is yet another cockamamie idea I have is this … I made, because I find email just fascinating. I do so much email and I love email. I feel like it's the gateway to every good thing that's ever happened to me. Every time I've ever been invited to a conference or landed a deal or had an idea or hired somebody or everything, it all happens over email.

Chris Coyier: Why do people hate it so much? It's amazing.

Paul Boag: I don't.

Chris Coyier: No, you don't. Good. But a lot of people do and a lot of people are overwhelmed by it and a lot of people don't manage it well, and stuff. The site isn't that fascinating yet, but it's kind of like every time I have some idea or see some new app or something about email productivity, I've been kind of logging it at this site so maybe someday I can turn it into a book or something.

Chris Coyier: What I really want to do is talk to people about how they manage their email and just find these threads that emerge, you know? Find the deepest pain points for people at their email and figure out how to attack those, you know? There's something here. Email is not talked about enough, I don't think. Anyway.

Paul Boag: Well, I all I know is I don't think Marcus does manage his email. It just kind of explodes across the world. That's been my experience with Marcus and email, but I might be wrong.

Marcus Lillington: I told you about my email poll. I'll tell you about it on our first episode. How is that gonna happen?

Paul Boag: But, look, the thing I wanted to say, which I think is interesting is you're more of a morning person, Marcus, while I'm guessing Chris and myself are more nighttime people, so that first bit at the beginning of the day is when you're at your peak, so therefore it's silly to waste it on email. I don't know whether I'm fair on this, while I couldn't do anything other than answer email before 10:00 because you know, my brain doesn't trigger until then. I might be wrong.

Marcus Lillington: It's a funny one.

Chris Coyier: See? There's interesting stuff here, too, because I think you've decided through what you've said already that I'm not gonna give my best self to email. I mean, you heard yourself say it, in a way. That could be fine, but what if you did? What if you decided that email is so important to my job that I'm gonna throw all I got at this email thing, because then you're like … I feel like when you're at your best with email, you're giving really good, really positive answers and trying to extract a little bit more from people. You're sending a lot of email because you're like, I have this idea. What if we did this? No pressure, but I have this idea.

Chris Coyier: Go, you know? That type of thing. I feel like when you're at the point where your inbox is so well-managed that all the stuff in there is really kind of good, and you're the one now puppet mastering your email and sending a lot more email. It's good. Good business things can happen.

Paul Boag: Wow. crosstalk 00:41:17 that's a can of worms. Yeah, you've blown my mind, Chris. I need to reevaluate my life priorities.

Marcus Lillington: What you were saying about good things happen in email, and also when … It was more, actually, what you were saying about when you finish a blog post and you send it to the world you get a good feeling, if I put a lot of effort into a reply to a potential client or something like that, I get the same feeling from that. So yeah, email is great, Paul.

Chris Coyier: Good life hacks. When I'm really tired, I can still write stupid inaudible 00:41:54, you know? But you have to decide who's gonna get my worst self, then, you know?

Paul Boag: Yeah, absolutely. That's a very fair comment. Chris, it's been so fascinating talking to you. The one thing that is coming across again and again is … Someone has actually almost said the same thing. There is this real enthusiasm and passion and positivity in the way that you talk and stuff.

Paul Boag: You seem to kind of throw yourself into so many different things. How do you focus, right? When you get enthusiastic about it and oh, I could do this thing on email or I could do this or I could do that. I come across a lot of people that have all these wonderful ideas but lack any focus. You've obviously succeeded in that. You can say these are the three things that I concentrate, or the two things, or whatever.

Paul Boag: How do you decide what to do and what not to?

Chris Coyier: Oh, that's great. It's hard. I mean, before I had the three things that I mainly work on, I had a lot more than that, and really had to just slaughter some of them out of my life, to the dismay of some people that I was working with on those projects. They would come back with something really reasonable, like why do you need to just slice yourself away? Can't you just poke around at it when you have time? Why do you need to excuse yourself from this thing that isn't … It's not like any of us getting paid from it.

Chris Coyier: No, it's a mental thing. I do need to. I do need to say I'm off that thing. I don't work on it anymore, because I needed to trim down. I was having a hard time with how many different things that I do.

Chris Coyier: Then even with my three things, once in a while there will be a fourth thing. There'll be like a conference talk that I need to prepare for or a book I'm writing or some new blog, stupid blog I've spun up. Questionable idea or something.

Chris Coyier: Then you realize, those things have a real cost to them, even if you're very clearly, and I do do this, be like, "I'm taking the easiest way to do this." When I spun up email is good, I'm not gonna hand craft the theme. I'm not hiring a logo designer for it. I'm gonna spin this thing up. I picked a default WordPress theme, because I was like no, I'm not getting in there. This is about the content for me, at the moment.

Chris Coyier: Or with Shop Talk Show, I'm like we're gonna have an editor, we're gonna empower that editor to record sponsor spots. We're gonna empower that editor to handle our sponsors directly for us and have him step up his role there. Every choice we can make on this show to make it easier and not dig into my time, we're gonna do.

Chris Coyier: If somebody says, I don't know, if it becomes more complicated to schedule a guest other than … You probably know this from a show, it's amazing. You send one email to somebody like how's Tuesday at noon for your podcast? They're like fine, sure. That's great. I'm happy to do it. What the heck? Can you imagine being on radio and trying to book JK Rawlings or whatever for your show? Be like you have six minutes as I drive under a tunnel. That's it. For me, it's easy to book stuff.

Chris Coyier: But everything, it's a word press site crosstalk 00:45:00.

Paul Boag: This is why you're the first guest of the season, Chris, is because you were the easy one to arrange.

Chris Coyier: So easy.

Marcus Lillington: He understands.

Chris Coyier: Just send me the email and I say yes. It's easy. But you know what I mean. Everything I do, I try to be like, what's the easiest thing to do this. Even in a big work at CodePen, we're always like can we write a test for this so it doesn't break? We're spending too much time on this particular thing. How can we avoid that? This feature isn't used that much. Can we slice it away to remove technical debt. It's not just little traces that you make on your personal projects. All your work benefits from this what's the least amount of effort I can do here, or can I spend a lot of effort to make sure it's low effort later? Is just good. It's just a forever fight.

Paul Boag: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Do you have plans for the future? Do you look ahead? What do you consider yourself … You mentioned earlier you'd be happy to do CodePen until you retire, kind of thing crosstalk 00:46:00. Is that the way … Oh, die, sorry. So what's the … Do you have plans for the future? How far do you look ahead?

Chris Coyier: I feel so strongly about CodePen, I'm like this is a good idea. This is really cool. The world needs this. It's not there yet because we have so many ideas that we want to bring to life, but we also have this now six or seven year old app that has a lot of technical debt to it and there's a lot of users and there's this app that we need to maintain now. And we haven't struck gold on CodePen yet. We haven't hit the perfect vein. We haven't found the perfect marketing angle or the perfect feature set or whatever like some apps do when they blow up, you know?

Chris Coyier: I have to imagine Notion is doing super well. They came out of nowhere. It's awesome. They have good pricing for teams and stuff. I just feel like they're probably doing great. I haven't looked at their books or whatever. They struck gold in a way that I haven't been able to do yet and I'm madly jealous of. I feel like it's still possible at CodePen.

Chris Coyier: We have the ideas that seem like a gold vein to me but are slow to get there because we have only … We're not willing to … You know what I mean? We have to be careful with our business at this point. It's not green field anymore, so …

Chris Coyier: I am really excited about that, and I don't care how long it takes, as long as we're doing okay, I'd like to just keep at that, you know? Hopefully fight the fights and keep the battle going and make a little bit more money and hire a little bit more people and hopefully hit one of those veins so that we can grow up because it's a good idea. I feel really strongly about CodePen. I need to see this through crosstalk 00:47:42.

Paul Boag: Now that's really interesting, because a lot of people that are full of ideas as you are who are very entrepreneurial as you are, get bored. You know? I would be an example of that. To work on the same app for seven years or whatever it is, I would be beginning to reach the point of going, "What's next?"

Chris Coyier: Yeah.

Paul Boag: That's not you, from the sounds of it. You actually get a joy out of maturing and growing and pushing crosstalk 00:48:15.

Chris Coyier: It's just a product of your own experiences though, to some degree. I'm like that because it's the only way it's ever worked for me. Anything I walked away from earlier, it didn't go well. Anything I stuck out, it did go well. I've learned that, hey, sticking it out tends to work. Sticking it out on CSS Tricks when nobody was reading, worked. You know? Sticking it out at CodePen has grown it from something that people now think of it as … You know, in the early days we were looking at competition and be like why would you trust us? We're new. Now we're not new anymore and we've built that trust. Now people, I think, there's some part of the CodePen brand that's like, of course I'm willing to use CodePen and put it on my blog and use these tools because they're clearly not going anywhere.

Chris Coyier: Hopefully I can look you in your eye like I'm doing on this podcast. Watch this video and say CodePen, you can trust us. We're here for you. I'm gonna work on this thing forever and take care of you as users of this site.

Chris Coyier: But we still need to hit that feature set just right.

Paul Boag: Yeah. crosstalk 00:49:15 it's so good to see the enthusiasm still there. That's really good to see and really encouraging.

Paul Boag: Wow, that was absolutely brilliant, Chris. I had all these other things we were gonna do on the show but I'm not gonna do any of them now. Marcus, you're postponed til next week.

Marcus Lillington: Am I? Cool, well …

Paul Boag: Did you even know …

Marcus Lillington: I was …

Paul Boag: Did you even know you were gonna do a thought for the day?

Marcus Lillington: I did, but I was struggling with how on earth am I gonna follow the one I did last week?

Paul Boag: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Which was amazing.

Chris Coyier: crosstalk 00:49:47 just pounding that joke through this episode. Good job.

Paul Boag: Yeah, we really are. We don't know when to let go of a joke.

Chris Coyier: No, I really appreciate it.

Paul Boag: So because you know, I think what we've covered has been really, really valuable and so it's good to be a bit flexible, but I do want to talk about the second sponsor, because this sponsor is sponsoring the whole season of the show. They're really doubling down with us and I always really value people that do that.

Paul Boag: (music)

Paul Boag: You know, in last week's show .. See, again, I'm gonna have to do it again, right? In last week's show, we were talking about the digital project manager. We were talking about the challenges of managing projects. We haven't recorded that yet, but I will be, right?

Paul Boag: I introduced you last week to this thing called Mastering Digital Project Management, which is 100% online course that you can run, right? Time zone agnostic, you can take this course anytime you want. It is a crafted course for digital project managers.

Paul Boag: If you're running projects, you want to check this out. It's got over 40 modules to complete, over 15 hours' worth of material to do, right? It's a seven week scheduled with different things you do every week. Although it's time zone agnostic, you're all kind of working through the stuff as a class together, right? At the end of it, you could end up with some certification, so it's great from a professional development point of view and a really useful course for anybody that's having to do any kind of project management, because most of us don't have that kind of official training with project management. We're making it up as we go along. I know I am.

Paul Boag: So you can work through this course, right? It consists of video lessons, right? Everything you'd expect from a central project management theory for managing digital projects, all the kind of stuff you know. You get assignments which are both practical, hands-on learning. All of those assignments are peer reviewed and you've also got some instructor reviewed assignments as well.

Paul Boag: There are panel discussions you can take part in where you can talk with your tutor. So this isn't like a skill share course or something like that. This is a proper course, and there's a community class via Slack where you can talk with other class members, right? They also give you templates that you can work with. There's loads of materials that you can work with.

Paul Boag: If you fancy giving this a go, the next course starts on the fourth of February, so it's not long. There are limited spots. It's not … Each class has got a limited number of people, because otherwise it becomes unmanageable.

Paul Boag: If you fancy giving that a go, go to Really, really interesting. Great way of improving your project management skills, which I think we all need. Let's be honest.

Paul Boag: Marcus, crosstalk 00:53:01. Oh, you know everything there is to know about digital … I've seen you manage digital projects Marcus.

Marcus Lillington: I'm better now than I used to be. I've had to be, especially lately. That's my little moan, but yeah. I think that's actually true. The more you've got on, the more efficient you become. crosstalk 00:53:23 wise words for this week.

Paul Boag: There you go. That could be your thought for the day.

Marcus Lillington: Yeah, it is. There you go.

Paul Boag: We have to, as tradition dictates, end with a bad joke, Chris. I'm sorry about this, but it's a part of our show. Go on.

Marcus Lillington: In case the UK is ever invaded by unfriendly forces, I've got a pop out painting on my living room wall that hides a secret panic room. I call it my handy wall hole.

Paul Boag: Oh, no.

Marcus Lillington: That's quite good. Come on.

Paul Boag: That is a good one. Where did you get that one from? Who gave you that?

Marcus Lillington: It was from Paul, of course.

Paul Boag: That is brilliant. I love that one. That's the best one for a long time, actually.

Marcus Lillington: You have to start with a good one, don't you?

Paul Boag: Yeah, which says something about the level of the jokes crosstalk 00:54:15.

Paul Boag: Okay, all right. Thank you very much, Chris, for joining us on the show. Thank you everybody who joined us live in the chat room. That about wraps it up for this week's show. Next week, we have the Vitaly Friedman joining us, founder of Smashing Magazine, to find out what it is that he does all day.

Paul Boag: Until then, thanks for watching, and goodbye.

Marcus Lillington: Or listening.

Paul Boag: Goodbye. Or listening. Well, it's watching if they're in the chat room.

Chris Coyier: It was a pleasure, everybody. Thanks. It was great.

Chris Coyier: (music)

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