Fizzy Inc. and DIY MFA founder Gabriela Pereira have worked together since 2014. DIY MFA is the do-it-yourself alternative to an MFA (Master of Fine Arts degree) in creative writing, and in the current business parlance, this brand might be called an industry disrupter.
DIY MFA challenges the status quo of what an MFA looks like and helps writers get the “knowledge without the college.” This is especially timely since over the past century arts education (including writing) has evolved to a state of extreme cost and exclusion. The price of getting a degree makes this option impossible for many talented writers, not to mention the mountain of debt many students incur. Plus, unlike degrees in medicine or law, there is no guarantee that after graduation students will get a book deal and earn back the money they invested in tuition.
DIY MFA offers a flexible, customizable, and robust alternative for writers who can’t afford or don’t fit the mold of the traditional MFA degree program. You can read more about DIY MFA here.
Today, we catch up with founder Gabriela Pereira to talk about taking a simple blog and turning it into a full-blown business model.
Fizzy Inc: DIY MFA seems like such a natural response to a huge industry problem for creative writers. You’ve written about why you got started (which I encourage readers to check out). I’m curious about how the actual start went for you: what were the first challenges you faced in building out a real solution?
Gabriela: I think the biggest hurdle for me was wrapping my head around DIY MFA as a business, and what actual business model would be. In the beginning, I thought the website would be nothing more than a stepping stone toward writing a DIY MFA book, but I realized quickly that the topic was bigger than that and that I would need to combine various different media to bring it to life.
This is where building a web-based platform has been so important. The internet allows me to create an experience for my students, with different ways they can interact with me and with each other. Whether it’s through video courses, or the podcast, or through downloadable worksheets and infographics, I’ve been able to explore so many facets of DIY MFA that would have been impossible to deliver in book form.
Don’t get me wrong, writing the DIY MFA book was a lot of fun, and I am so thrilled with the end result, but if I had only focused on that one goal, I would have missed out on so many wonderful opportunities.
F: Obviously, you brought several kinds of expertise to bear upon the DIY MFA program. Why was it that you originally brought in Fizzy?
G: As an entrepreneur, it can be hard to let go and delegate certain tasks, but I knew from the outset that DIY MFA needed a solid foundation in terms of both in terms of managing our free content, and also delivering courses in a way that was seamless for the students but also efficient for me. Originally, Fizzy helped to build out our shopping cart and the e-commerce portion of our site, but shortly after that we began work on our membership site, that I have been using to deliver courses to my students.
What I love about working with Fizzy is that I can tell the team “I need the website to do this, and here’s why” and they can translate that strategy into actual tangible tech that works. I might not know how to write the code, but I know how I need the website to function and Fizzy can implement that in a way that even the more non-techie members of my team can learn to use.
F: From your podcast to online articles to your unique writer igniter app, you have put in heaps of energy to help and educate writers and enlarge the DIY MFA community. In marketing terms, this means designing and building out an enormous inbound marketing platform. What have you learned about inbound work—both solo and in your collaborations with Fizzy and others—that you’d offer to other people struggling to get their amazing solutions in front of others?
G: I find it funny that you call it “inbound marketing” because though I know that’s what it is, I prefer to think of it as “building cool stuff for my audience.” I think a lot of people get mired in the tactics of content marketing and obsess over the wrong things.
The truth is, there are a lot of people doing content marketing nowadays, and it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. I think there are three things that make people sit up and take notice with DIY MFA:
1) Don’t just build content, create an experience. At DIY MFA, whether we’re building a paid course or a free download, we don’t just focus on building the thing, we craft an experience around it. You have to take your customer/student/end-user by the hand and walk them through that experience beginning to end. There has to be a gestalt to it as well, so that the whole experience feels bigger than the sum of those individual components.
2) Learn to say “no.” My team and I have put a lot of time and energy into understanding and honing the DIY MFA brand, not just in terms of visuals, but also in terms of the personality. We’ve found that sweet spot for our brand that combines intellectual rigor, sassy humor, and beautiful design in a way that’s very much us. Being clear on the brand makes it easy to make business and marketing decisions. We know what we can say “yes” to, and what’s outside the DIY MFA scope. Being able to say “no” to certain ideas or projects allows us to focus on things that really move the needle in terms of growing the business.
3) Keep it fun. It used to be that I tried every content strategy under the sun. Between all the different social media platforms and ways of sharing content, it can feel like you’re being pulled in a million different directions. This is why I have made the deliberate decision to only engage in marketing activities where I really enjoy the process of creating that content.
For instance, over the years I’ve come to realize that I really dislike being on video. I love speaking on stage in front of a live audience, and I podcasting is one of my favorite parts of my job, but video… not so much. So I’ve dialed back on how much “talking head” video content I create for the website. Sure, if Oprah calls me up and says “Want to come on my show?” I’m not about to turn that down, but when it comes to my own platform, I want the process of creating the content to be fun.
F: The beauty (and challenge!) of an online community platform is that it’s always evolving. What’s ahead for DIY MFA, besides world domination?
G: World domination is definitely in the five-year plan, but more immediately, we’ve got some exciting projects in the works. In particular, I’m excited to partner with Fizzy to build a subscription website so DIY MFA feels more like an online “campus.” My team and I are also finalizing the rebuild of the flagship course—DIY MFA 101—and that should reopen sometime in the fall, 2017.