Tue, 16 Nov 2010 05:00:57 GMT

The MBA who quit his job to earn $100,000 doing Excel blogging

Purnachandra Rao Duggirala, more popularly known in the cyber world as Chandoo has several illustrious achievements to his credit. Not only did the simple Vizag boy get into IIM Indore’s class of 2006, he wrote his story in a manner that it gained cult status over time.

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What sort of products did you launch and how did the money you were earning grow over time?

For the first two years, most of the revenue came through Google Adsense advertisements. When the blog became a bit more popular in 2009, I started recommending third-party affiliate products. These were essentially products such as Microsoft Excel related books or software that its creators wanted to promote to my audience. I used to test these products myself and if I felt they had genuine value, I advertised them on the blog in return for a generous commission for each sale that originated from Chandoo.org. Since there was no middleman and I was in direct touch with both the customers and the sellers, they shared 30% of the revenue per sale with me. That itself used to be something like USD 200-300 per month, almost as much as I was making through Google Adwords.

In 2009, my traffic also went up. I used to have 100,000-150,000 visits every month. That was a good number created due to word-of-mouth, content sharing with other websites, or my article being featured on other blogs. That increased the revenue to USD 400-500 per month.

Then I released my first ebook on Excel priced at USD 5. This was a mistake I made. I call this a mistake because the content I produced was high quality, not just elementary Excel tips. But the perception of my site among people was that of one that produces high quality and high value content. But when I started selling the ebook at as low a price as USD 5, it did not align well with the perception of my site. So in the first month although some people did buy the ebook, the revenues were not a lot. That was February 2009. Then after some thought I increased the price to USD 10, added a few more pages and announced it on my blog. I thought people would not buy it. But to my surprise the sales increased and I started getting USD 200 per month from the book alone.

While this happened, I started getting offers to do consulting work related to Excel. This was in conflict with my day job at TCS so I didn't accept most requests. But if something very interesting came along, I did it for compensation in kind. It was challenging work, and I was making powerful Excel-based dashboards and reports.

Simultaneously, I was learning new things about Excel by doing them and then producing new articles based on those learnings.

During 2009-end I released my first Project Management Template for Excel. It was my first big product. I had gotten a huge response for my articles based on the template and it gave me some confidence that maybe I could sell Excel templates. So I started charging USD 30 for the template I had created. If people wanted the template for both Excel 2003 and 2007, they had to pay USD 45. It did appear costly and I did get emails from my audience complaining that the adprice was too high. But I sold around 50 templates in the first month itself. But then the sales started going down, and I realised that I had to keep reminding my readers of the existence of these templates in my articles continuously. I started linking the templates in my articles regularly and that brought the template sales back on track -- so much so that in September 2010 I sold about 100 templates and made about USD 3,000 from templates alone. But I think the sales will plateau here because there is only so much reach that my blog can have and the Excel template market has a lot of competition worldwide. Apart from that there are newer project management softwares coming up including those that are on the cloud.

The interesting thing here is that once people saw value in my templates, they wrote testimonials for me. Others made variations of my templates and became heroes in front of their bosses and colleagues by using these templates. I was also giving a 10% discount to people who were writing to me specifically asking for one.

At the same time as my customer base was growing, I was getting a lot of support requests for my products. I found that the time I was devoting to support was growing. I was planning to upgrade the templates and include some of the new features in Excel 2010. All this meant that I had to increase the price also include support in the package. I had to make these products be 'value for money' rather than speak about them as 'cheap' or 'costly'.

By 2010 both affiliate and Google Adsense revenues also went up. But the 'killer product' was my training program - Excel School. This is priced at USD 100 and includes 20 hours of Excel training and make people much more productive. This received a response beyond my wildest dreams. The first batch had 150 students and except for two who dropped out, everybody loved the program. They had glowing reviews throughout the program. In the second batch, I had 200 students and in the third one which I closed in September, I had 350 students. I'm still getting requests to open this batch again. Some corporates included their entire team of 20 people into the program. I gave group discounts to them and to repeat clients.

And that's how in the last 12 months, I crossed USD 100,000 in revenue.

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