Corey Haines is the founder of SwipeFiles, a newsletter and community that provides new marketing ideas from brands who have done it. We chat about how he manages multiple projects, creating content on Twitter, the future of communities, and applying new marketing approaches from other industries—sharing how he did just this with Calendly competitor SavvyCal.
Corey Haines is the founder of Swipe Files, full-time creator, and podcast host. He’s also massively inspiring.
I stepped away from this episode feeling like I can make things happen and what needs to be done to make them happen.
I think he’ll have you feeling the same way. Because Corey has that ‘just go for it’ attitude. He’s also a lifelong learner with a thirst for knowledge.
Both of these things come across in his chat with Tom. This episode reminded me of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “In every man there is something wherein I may learn of him, and in that I am his pupil.”
Corey sees himself as a student first who learns from others. That’s what has helped him become successful.
And now, thanks to this chat, we can all be students who learn from him.
When I mentioned Corey’s ‘just go for it’ attitude, I may have painted a picture in your mind of him as a carefree—ask for forgiveness, not permission—maverick.
This isn’t the case. It’s quite the opposite. Leaving his role at Baremetrics to become a full-time creator in September 2020 wasn’t easy:
“I'm definitely one of those like analysis paralysis, overthinker types. I just want to have everything figured out to a tee and have a plan and just follow through with the plan and go and execute. And it never really works out that way with entrepreneurship.
“A lot of people told me, ‘it's kind of like having a kid, it's just never the perfect time to have kids. And, you know, now is kind of always a good time.’ And so I knew, basically, that nothing was gonna be perfect. That I would have to get over all the things that I wanted to have lined up.”
This realization is an eye-opener. If there’s never going to be a perfect time, now is as good a time as any:
“I realized that basically [every successful person] isn't that much different than you are today. Like, they've just managed to put themselves in that position, they've gone and done the work.
“But, you know, there are only so many Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk types of prodigies out there, and I would not want their lifestyle. So that was encouraging me to feel like I could do this, like, you know, who am I? Who am I not to be able to go and make something myself and go out and just get after it?”
There it is, that ‘just go for it’ attitude.
Working in the knowledge that it’s not going to be perfect has helped Corey become more proactive:
“The main thing for me is I just need to get things out every day. I need to ship.
“I think it's also been an interesting kind of influence of being in SaaS. It's a very maker culture. It's a very product-driven culture. And those types of people, engineers, designers, product people are very much driven to like, ‘Oh, just ship it. Just get it out there. Just work on something small every single day.’
“And so I've taken that for myself, in entrepreneur[ship] and marketing. I’m just trying to ship stuff every day and knowing that it's not gonna be perfect and the plan probably isn't going to go according to plan but, you know, tweak and iterate along the way.”
And so the question is, what are you waiting for? What am I waiting for? Let’s go out and get after it.
When launching a new product or business, there’s a natural temptation to go all-in on marketing. To be in as many places and get the word out to as many people as possible.
On paper, it’s a good strategy. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn have billions of users combined. Add that to many millions of people who listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, and read newsletters and blog posts every day, and you’re looking at an impressive number of eyeballs on your brand.
In practice, however, you risk spreading yourself too thin, ending up on more channels than you can keep up with. Then the channels you’re less enthusiastic about fall by the wayside, giving people that do stumble across you the impression that you don’t care or are no longer active.
A much better approach is the one that Corey has taken in growing Swipe Files to $2,000 monthly recurring revenue (MRR), that being: less is more:
“It's kind of funny because everyone that I've talked to always feels insecure and almost ashamed or guilty about how little marketing they do. But I actually kind of feel the opposite. I feel like the less you can get away with, the better. Because it means you can do those things really, really well. And if you can get the same results with less work and with less complexity, then that's ultimately better. Like they'll keep you more sane. And you can really own those. You can build moats out of those.
“So for me, the main things are my Twitter, podcasting, and content. So it's like the newsletter, doing workshops and webinars, [and] events.
“I don't mess with any other social platform. I don't run any ads. It's very, very simple. And honestly, a large part of that [is] driven by Twitter as kind of the flywheel and the input to a lot of those other things like the content as well as the podcasting.”
You don’t need to be omnipresent. You only need to be where the people who are likely to invest in your product are.
Find your core marketing platforms and give those your complete focus.
As well as being a newsletter and a goldmine of marketing courses, tips, and inspiration, Swipe Files is a growing community of over 5,000 marketers.
Not bad for a creator who has no prior experience in running a community:
“When I first launched the community and was even thinking about launching the community, I was deathly afraid, to be honest. Because community was not in my circle of competence, not in my wheelhouse, not something I'd really done before in any capacity.
“I knew that it was also very delicate. Because with a community, it’s kind of like a two-sided marketplace in a way, where you're matching people. And so you have to supply and demand. If it's just me and one other person [it] doesn't really work. You need some sort of critical mass for the community to really take on a life of its own.
“For things to start working, for people to be able to post a comment to engage with each other, this kind of interconnected web and this flywheel, you have to kickstart. And so definitely, that analysis paralysis kind of theme was going on when I was going through that process.”
That kickstart came from being a student — learning from others:
“What I started with was, I first asked on Twitter, ‘Hey, are you a part of any marketing communities? If you are, which ones and why? If not, why not?’ And that spread on a whole bunch of DM conversations, comments about what people like [and] what they don't like.
“And I really pressed people, because if they said that they were in it, I would ask them, you know, ‘How often are you in there? What do you like about it? What do you not like about it? Is there something you would change about it?’
“If they weren't in a community I would ask, ‘Why not?’ You know, what communities have they tried, and did they kind of fall out of. What are they afraid of when they join communities? I was really trying to flesh out all the different scenarios and also flesh out what could I uniquely bring to the table?”
This research—finding out what people liked and disliked about communities and what they want they want a community they’re part of to look like—led Corey to the core pillars of the Swipe Files community as a paid, closed space for marketers. One that’s free of spam and centered around meaningful conversations.
He then put these pillars and value propositions to his email list and people in his Twitter DMs, along with a question: ‘Would you like to join?’
Those that replied yes received a link to become a member, and a community was born:
“That's how I recruited the first 100 members of the community, kickstarting it. It was basically, you know, I would post a few things. I had a few close friends post a few things in there. But then as soon as someone joined the community, then it was just like this welcoming committee of ‘Hey welcome, so glad [you can] be here. Tell me about yourself. Oh, that's so cool. Tell me more about that.’
“I'm posting things in there every day. And after like, I would say, after two weeks, it started to become apparent that people were returning, they were engaging, and this whole kind of magic thing was working.”
There’s an old saying where I’m from in North East England; ‘Shy bairns get nowt.’ It means “if you don’t ask, you’ll never get.”
If you don’t ask your audience what they want, you’ll never get the answers you need to create something they’ll invest in.
Swipe Files isn’t just a business name that Corey plucked out of thin air. They’re a useful tool that marketers use to kickstart creativity.
If you’ve ever heard a designer or photographer reference a mood board when creating a color scheme, swipe files are very much the same thing but for marketers and advertisers:
“A swipe file is basically just, ‘Hey, let me find all the great marketing examples I can find — landing pages, emails, ads, taglines, branding — and let me have something to reference for later when I need the inspiration, when I need something to reference.’ And it really helps you to not have to start from scratch, not have to reinvent the wheel.”
It’s that touch of inspiration that every creative needs to overcome a blank page:
“How I started Swipe Files actually, one of the big kinds of starting points was spinning up an affiliate program for my last company, Baremetrics.
“I was like, ‘What the heck goes on a landing page for an affiliate program recruiting affiliate partners? Like it's so niche and obscure. I don't know; I’m just going to be guessing. I'm just gonna be throwing spaghetti at the wall.’ So I went and looked at other people's affiliate marketing landing pages, went and talked to other affiliate managers, went and looked at other industries to see how they did things, what the best practices were.
“Once I had the information, then I could go and make a good affiliate marketing landing page. But if you don't have that place to start, those things, those resources, then you're making it up as you go.”
It’s like Mark Twain said, “There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn, and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely, but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
A swipe file is your kaleidoscope.
The beauty of a swipe file is that there are no rules. Anything that catches your eye can be safely tucked away for future inspiration. Writers can take ideas from musicians; artists can take ideas from dancers; marketers can take ideas from telephone companies:
“One of my consulting clients right now that I'm working with is [scheduling tool] SavvyCal with Derrick Reimer, the founder there.
“Early on, when I started working with him back in November of 2020, the product had just launched [and we had] barely any revenue. We were just trying to figure out, like, ‘What are some guerilla marketing tactics and things we can do to kickstart revenue and get it out there in front of people?’ And one of the big comparisons was Calendly.
“So Calendly is the big incumbent in the space. SavvyCal is another scheduling tool that has some more personalization and a better UX on top of it. And so the big question on people's minds was, ‘Okay, well, how is this different from Calendly? We also had a lot of people who would get it, would understand the value of SavvyCal, but then they would always tell us, ‘Well, you know, I'm on an annual contract with Calendly. And so, you know, remind me in May or June.’ Or like, ‘I just renewed. Sorry, but you’ll have to catch me later.’
“So I thought, ‘What can we do to really get these people on board who understand the differences and really want to get on board, but maybe are locked into a contract?’
“And then we thought of how a lot of the telephone services and carriers will buy out your contract with the other competitor. You know, like Verizon or T Mobile or AT&T, they'll either buy out your contract or they even give you a free phone. And, you know, they'll financially incentivize you to switch over and make that friction frictionless. And so we thought, ‘Why don't we buy out people's annual subscription to Calendly?’
Inspiration can come from anywhere, at any time, from any industry. Think outside of the box, take ideas from far and wide, and put them into your swipe file. You never know when they’ll come good.
Before going all-in as a creator and entrepreneur, Corey was Head of Growth at Baremetrics. In the early days of joining the company, his role involved chatting to SaaS founders about growing their business, which opened his eyes to the importance of customer research:
“I started to see some really clear patterns, that every time someone was doing really, really well and they were on top of things, they were mature, they had great metrics, they were really ahead of the game, they could anticipate their customers' needs, they were the ones creating the cutting edge strategies.
“They always had a culture of customer research. They always had this sort of feedback loop where they were always continuing to learn from their audience, from their customers, from their users, from their partners.
“On the flip side, the people who were always floundering around or had bad metrics, weren’t growing, who were just sort of like desperate scraping [the] client for every extra dollar, were just throwing spaghetti at the wall. They had never talked to the customers; anything was a good idea. They had no idea what they even meant [and] what customer research could mean in a business setting. And so that really kind of struck the importance to me of ‘Wow, this is actually a really key critical business practice.’"
This realization served as the basis for the solid advice Corey now passes on to others:
“What I encourage people to do now — and it's a core part of my process, for every company that I work with — or just my overall advice for people, is to get on the phone with your best customers and get to know everything you possibly can. Also, do the same thing with people who maybe, you know, came through the door but weren't activated or even canceled to get their feedback.
“Run surveys. Try to get some aggregated, quantitative data. And then do a lot of detective work online as well. You know, look at reviews of competitors, look at reviews of books in your industry, or maybe books related to the topic that your software is built around, or your product is built around.
“See what the sentiment is like on Twitter. Twitter is an amazing advanced search engine. If you just go to their advanced search. And, you know, do some keyword research. Use tools like SparkToro to figure out where people actually hang out online. Who are the influencers? Who are the people that we should be connected with? What are the blogs people read, the newsletters people subscribe to, the podcasts people listen to, the YouTube channels people watch?
“Then you can start to build out this really well-defined marketing strategy that one, you're hitting all the right channels, you're showing where people are, but you're using the right language as well.”
Launching a business, creating a community, growing a product, it all starts with research—listening, learning, and asking questions. Always being a student.
Maker Mixtapes is a podcast about the entrepreneurs, creators, and marketers building impressive things in their field. From content marketing to YouTube and growth, agency life to e-commerce and SaaS, this podcast aims to dissect and share lessons from their success.
To listen to Corey’s episode in full — including the revelation that he never set out to be a marketer in any shape or form — as well as other episodes from the brightest minds in tech and business, check out Maker Mixtapes on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
Founder & CEO, Grizzle
Founder, Swipe Files