An Interview with Yves Hanoulle, Author of Who Is Agile

Published May 16, 2012 by Peter Armstrong

Yves Hanoulle is the author of many Leanpub books, including Who Is Agile.

The Agile community knows Yves Hanoulle from his many contributions, such as the public Agile conferences Google calendar, his Agile Thursday Quiz, the coach retreats and conferences he’s paired to organize, daily coaching questions via @Retroflections, and the Agile Games Google group, just to name a few. He originated PairCoaching, an idea which has been adopted by many agile trainers and coaches. He’s constantly learning, and passing on what he learns as a coach and trainer to organizations large and small.

A self-identified change artist and first follower, one of Yves’ unique qualities is that he gives free lifetime support on anything he does: every client, everything he writes and presents, every workshop he leads.

In 2011, Yves started his popular WhoIs series, a weekly interview with an Agile practitioner. Some WhoIs interviewees are famous thought leaders, some are less familiar to the global Agile community, but readers of WhoIs learn something new and interesting about each one.

Yves believes in maintaining a sustainable pace both professionally and personally. You can learn more about Yves at http://www.hanoulle.be/yves-hanoulle/, and find him on social media as YvesHanoulle.

This interview was recorded on March 21, 2012.

The full audio for the interview is here. You can subscribe to this podcast in iTunes or add the following podcast URL directly: https://leanpub.com/blog/podcast.xml.

Peter Armstrong: As a preamble, I’m here with Yves Hanoulle who is a prolific contributor to the Agile community, and the originator of Pair Coaching. In 2011, Yves started his popular ‘Who Is’ series, a weekly interview with an Agile practitioner. Yves has recently turned this into a Leanpub book entitled Who Is Agile?, which is written in English, and is being translated into German, Spanish, French, Russian and Catalan. We’re going to talk today about Yves’s experiences as a writer using the Lean Publishing approach on Leanpub, and we’ll also talk about ways we can improve Leanpub at the end of the podcast, since Leanpub is a Lean startup and we’re doing the customer development process.

So Yves, thanks for being on the podcast!

Yves Hanoulle: Thanks for having me.

A: First of all, I want to ask you, how did you find out about Leanpub, and what made you want to try it?

H: So I found out about the book from Laurent Bossavit, I can’t come up with the name, it’s an English word and I’m not sure how it’s pronounced, so I will not even try it. But he wrote an interesting book about ideas that are generally accepted but are actually wrong, or there is no scientific evidence for that. And he did that on Leanpub. Now, I was immediately attracted to the idea because I, about a year ago or two years ago, I had an idea to write a book with lots of people about Agile games, that completely didn’t work out, for multiple reasons, but one of the things I was trying to do there was writing it at the same time creating a community, and next to that doing all the technical stuff for writing the book — which was impossible to do all of that together. And when I found Leanpub that was exactly what I needed. That was something, a company doing all the technical parts, for doing such a book, which I believe is the right way to publish a book, in the sense that you publish it, and you find errors, so you change something and you write a new one. I’ve been bugging and asking Agile authors for at least three or four years about, why don’t they write their books in an agile way, and lots of large Agile writers told me it’s not possible, and you guys are proving it is. So thank you.

A: Well, thank you! You’ve basically summarized why we’re making Leanpub…

So, continuing along that train of thought — do you think that, when you started the Who Is Agile? book — actually, let’s talk about the previous book you tried. So, before you used Leanpub, with the other book, you were going to try to build a system, try to create a community around the book as you wrote it. With Leanpub, one of the things we’ve been thinking about, is should we try to do more to try to facilitate community, or, whether what we’re doing is enough, and authors get the community parts they need with their blog and Twitter.

H: I’ve not been really thinking about that. Let me answer the first part about, what did I do with the book on the Agile Games. I think a lot of things were confusing at the time. There was not really a real goal, or we didn’t have a common vision there, which is always something that is needed to create something together. So that was part of the big problem that we had. So, that’s one big reason why it didn’t work. There were other as well, but that’s a really big thing. Who Is Agile? started totally different, in the sense that I had already these blog posts on my website which were — actually the questions I created in five or six minutes — when I had the idea I put that together in just a few minutes, I had some set of questions that I liked, and that apparently a lot of people liked. So I blogged about it, and very quickly I got a very emotional response from people who really loved it, so by republishing every week something new, I had very quickly some people who were very in favour of what I’d done there. So there was almost instantly a kind of community around it. And that helped of course for if I wanted to publish something, to go for and have a community. But then in the beginning when I started with the book, it was just me writing, or converting the blog into book posts. But for people that know me in the community, know that almost everything I do I try to turn into a community, whether I want it or not it just happens. So, at one point people were, I’m not, English is not my first language, so I make a lot of mistakes in English and I, actually my first language as well…

A: You speak your second or third language better than many people speak their second or third languages, or some people even speak their first!

H: …but speaking is probably rather ok, but writing I’m rather terrible, so a lot of people started sending me, or a few people started sending me updates saying, well, there’s something wrong there, and there’s something wrong there, and I just, in a real Agile way, I just gave them full permission on Dropbox and others, so they could fix the errors that I was making. And so, very quickly I had two, three people that were helping me out, with the layout, something about pictures, I had a question about pictures being the right size, and I had questions about someone that also had a Leanpub book and he helped me out, and somebody else came up with the idea of maps or something like that, and then I realized that, when I was in France last year, when I lived in France, that most people in French, in France, they actually like to read in French and not in English, so, I started chatting with someone that I know has been translating a lot of English books just for pleasure on his blog, or at least creating kind of Cliff Notes from these books, and he was interested in that idea, and from that I started asking other people if they wanted to translate. So that comes back to, do we need more community support — well, what we do see is I can add all the Twitter accounts for all the contributors to the book, to the editors and stuff like that, which is really nice. What probably would be nice as an extra feature, is if we could see who is tweeting about the book and some other stuff. I’m not sure if it’s interesting for the community, but I know as authors, already a few people have asked this on the mailing list and already you guys have responded to that, is the fact that we could see how many people download something in PDF or in Kindle.

A: Yeah, we have to do the analytics better in terms of formats.

H: Exactly. But I know that you guys are working on that, so that’s and idea that you have. One thing that I know that Amazon is doing lately which I like is that there is an option in Amazon, I’m not sure how it works, but there is an option that if, in a Kindle, I tweet something to a tag that’s called ‘author’, automatically it’s emailed, or somehow the author gets a notification about that. So that could be a nice thing to create community, or a link for readers to do…

A: One thing we were thinking of doing was having hashtags for every book, and putting that into the PDFs. I’ve seen one book, a book on customer development acutally had done, not a Leanpub book, a different book, had done it really well, where they had in the book, built in, ‘Hey, Tweet This’, and it had a hashtag. If every book had a hashtag, that would be an easy way for it to materialize on Twitter. But yeah, I think that would help a lot.

So, in terms of Who Is Agile?, so what are your goals for the Who Is Agile? book? I know you’ve been making a lot of progress on it. Do you think you’re mostly done, or half way? What’s your vision for it?

H: Actually, my vision when I started, I’m almost there, in the sense that I, this week I will publish 50 people or contributors, 51 or something like that, but my vision has shifted of course — we’re Agile! Some person created a map of where people are living in this book, and what I saw there is something I knew more less, but didn’t know how bad it was, is that most authors were actually from Europe and US. And so I thought, ok, this is mostly what it is. But when I saw the map I really realized how little other countries we had. So what I’ve been doing the last weeks is I’ve been inviting a lot of people that were actually already in my backlog, but I’ve been pushing them up front in my backlog, so that they would actually reply now, and so that I could have answers for well maybe not all countries in the world, but for a lot more countries than we have right now. Which would mean that instead of publishing the first book with just 52 — so I came up with the idea of 52 because that’s one year of publishing, so that was my idea. And then I have already about 200 people in my backlog, but then I said, ok I’ll just create a second book, with the next and the next. But still I don’t like to have a book with mainly people just from Europe and from the US. So, I’ve been publishing a lot of people from different countries. It means basically I’m kind of ignoring the people I already have, for example from Belgium, the country I’m living in, I’m still missing two or three important people from the Belgian Agile community, but I’m ignoring them for this book because I think we have already two or three Belgian people so I think that’s more than enough. So I really tried to have more people from different communities, because one of my goals for the book was to get to know people that I didn’t know. So it’s not a book that is a ‘Who’s Who’ of who are the people I regularly work with, or something like that. It’s really a way to get to know much more different people, and that’s in that sense it has been a terrific year, because lots of people that I know from names but have never worked with or who I didn’t even have email addresses for, that are now in the book.

A: That makes sense. Actually I have a question about that. So in terms of the book, traditionally, lots of what we’ve found on Leanpub is the notion of when a book is done or not is a hard thing to figure out. For example, when you have a physical book you can’t make it beyond say 600, 700 pages without it being really annoying to read, because it’s too heavy. But we’ve had Leanpub books that go over 1000 pages. It’s an interseting question about how long should a book be. So if you have a topic such as this, should you make one large book, or yearly books? I’m curious to hear your thoughts on that, like what you think the right thing to do is.

H: So, yeah, like I said my original idea was I would cap it off at 52, which was an arbitrary number, but I can explain it.

A: Yeah, once a week.

H: Yeah, but now it’s harder. I think I now have about 80 people I now want to have in the book, but then today I received another answer from someone, and he proposes someone that is in yet another country, and I’m tempted, like oh, maybe 81! So that makes it a lot harder. I have already right now about 200 printed A4 pages. I have no idea what that would be in small Kindle pages, but a lot.

A: Right. Yeah pages don’t make any sense on Kindle.

H: Yeah, well numbers, or points, or whatever they call it. But still it’s a lot. So I know that I only have 50, and with 80 we’ll probably end up with 300 or 400 A4 pages, which is a rather heavy book. So that’s really, I have been doubting do I really want that, but for me, it was important to have a lot of diverse people in it, so I will stick to that. But after that I definitely want to stop, so that is why I think 80 will be the maximum. And just create a second book.

A: Actually, just for a random suggestion: One thing we found for example, we have Eric Ries’s Startup Lessons Learned on Leanpub, and what he did, he had his whole blog there, but what he did is he subsetted out, like a year of his blog, and then another year, to make print books, so that you wouldn’t have to print the whole thing. And so, at one point on Leanpub, we were sellling three versions of his book: we were selling the entire thing, which was called All Seasons, and then we were selling Season One, and then Season Two, and so, the idea of, a book is a kind of like a collection of content, and you can slice and dice it in a few different ways, and have those all being offered. Because like with the ebook, it’s weird, if you think about it, let’s say you have 90 people in your book, or 80 or whatever, and say that the comfortable amount to have in your hand when you’re reading a printed book is like 40 or 50, then from a print perspective it’s interesting to consider making two books, but then the ebook is almost nicer to have there be one, for searchability, and also just for completeness, in terms of people not understanding which one are they in. So it’s an interesting question.

H: Well, as long as it’s sold on Leanpub, it’s easy to keep it in just one book, but one of the ideas is to also publish it on Amazon because I know that if I look at the books I’m buying for my Kindle, and this is something I blogged about earlier on, where do I buy books on my Kindle? I buy books on my Kindle when I’m somewhere on the road, on a train, on a plane, or in an airport or somewhere, where I don’t have access to a computer. And so I go online using my Kindle, and I directly buy a book. That’s only possible with Amazon, unfortunately, or with Apple as well if you’re on an iPad, but that’s just not possible for Leanpub to sell Leanpub books there. So unfortunately I need to cap it off at some point. And another thing of course is that for all the contributors, in there, and I think also the people who helped with the book, it would be nice to have a physical version of the book, and for that you have to cap it off as well at some point. So there will be a point where I will say “This book is done, we’ll finish it up and make sure that we’ll remove all the problems that we currently haven’t solved yet”, and then just go for a second book.

A: That makes sense. Let’s talk about pricing for a minute…

H: I wanted to add one thing. Because I was curious you didn’t mention, you guys actually have an extra service that does grouping of books, right? Next to Leanpub, you have another service or website?

A: Yeah, this was… We made a thing called LeanBundle. It was one of those, we have one of those things inside our company where if someone has an idea, and they’re willing to say ‘This is doable in 24 hours’, well, we’re not in our 20s, well, some of us are, but some of us are in our 30s and we’re married with kids, and, 24 hours doesn’t mean one day anymore, but if you can build a minimum viable product in 24 hours, obviously supporting it means that is a lot longer, but it’s worth considering doing something as an experiment. So, LeanBundle is an experiment that we’ve created, primarily as, we actually, during customer development, one of our authors, he wanted to sell a bundle of his book with another book about nodejs, and the other book wasn’t a Leanpub book, and so for us it was like, well, Leanpub has to sell Leanpub books because readers expect all three formats, and so we can’t just sell some arbitrary PDF that someone has. And so we thought, the idea of selling bundles is interesting, so that’s why we created LeanBundle. We’re not really empahsizing it right now, because it’s sort of an experiment, and some people find it and use it, but at this point it’s an experimental product.

H: But it’s good that you mention it, that it’s not limited to Leanpub books, because I thought it was.

[Editor’s note: LeanBundle has since become a feature of Leanpub.]

A: Exactly. It’s actually arbitrary digital content. I could sell coupons for a sushi restaurant on Leanbundle. It’s like, if Leanpub went and made Groupon, what would we do? Right? And that was sort of our Leanbundle idea. But we’ve just, we’re just a bootstrapped startup, and we only have a certain amount of time during the day, and there are things for example like fixing Dropbox syncing issues, and other things that we have to do. Leanpub is the thing that we’re betting on, and that we really like, and we think that LeanBundle is an interesting thing, but it’s more interesting for things around questions like business models, and experimenting with selling just arbitrary digital goods, but that’s a space that has everything from like Gumroad where you just sell an arbitrary link…. We don’t really offer anything unique there. I mean except for the idea of creating a bundle with other people that you don’t necessarily, where you like wouldn’t give them your credit card number, and that’s the interesting idea of it. If you and I wanted to make a bundle of our books, we could do that, and LeanBundle would split the money and all that, and so we’d be — it’s sort of a combination of Groupon plus… It’s an experiment. If we had infinite time and money, I’d like to see what we could do with that, but for now it’s just a little experiment on the side.

H: What I wanted to say is I really like that, because it offers the possibility to, say, for example, we translate books, or the Who Is Agile? will be translated in a few languages, there’s actually more people that people are signing up so they’re not busy yet, so we’ve not made any publicity, but I would want to have an offer to say, well you can actually buy the French and the English book together. And things like that. So it’s nice to have a way to deal with that kind of stuff. So it shows in multiple ways that you’re Agile in some ways, you stick with Leanpub, that we sell the three versions, which I really like, every book, I saw multiple questions on the mailing list, people saying ‘Oh I want only to sell PDF or only Kindle’, and you’ve been, really, kind of hard but fair, saying then sorry you have to go somewhere else, because that’s not what we’re doing. Which is a good focus, but at the same time you found a way around that. Well, if you want to sell with something else, that’s how you can deal with it, so I like that.

A: Yeah, we believe in the Lean Startup and Agile ideas, very deeply. It’s a really interesting question. Because there’s two types of books in the world: there’s finished books, and there’s in-progress books. And there’s all kinds of ways to sell finished books. And lots of people are in a situation where I have this Word document, it’s done, make this a book please. And there are services like BookBaby and other competitors and they charge like 50 or 60 bucks and they provide services like that and I’m sure they probably do a fine job. And so we’re like well, you know what, we don’t really add anything unique there. And converting a book, if you want to take a Word document and make a PDF, going through Markdown is probably not the most inuitive thing in the world to do. Now if you want to iterate on a book, then all of a sudden we add value, and then… So we try to focus on the things we’re good at and then ignore everything else. Because we don’t have time focus on things we’re not good at.

H: Right, exactly, and that’s typical Lean Startup mentality, which I think you guys are indeed very good at. I’ve been throwing lots of ideas at you, and at everybody at Leanpub I think, and I can see that if it’s an idea that has some merit and can be quickly solved and will help a lot of things, you will quickly do it, but if it’s an idea that you think might be interesting, but it’s not really in your core values, or not on your roadmap right now, you might say “Well nice, but we’re not going to do that.” Which is what you need to do, you need to focus, you need to prioritize, and I think you guys are really good at that. So thank you.

A: The danger, the weird thing, is there’s this scary middle area. I’m curious to know how you deal with this: we have the ideas where we know are outside of our core, what Leanpub is, and we just say no to those, and we have ideas which are, like, this is on fire, it’s hurting an author, fix this today, and then everything in between, there’s lots of good ideas that go into our backlog, and the problem is, we use Pivotal Tracker, and it’s fine, it works well for us, but our backlog is just growing and growing, and just trying to prioritize our backlog, like…

H: It’s a full-time job.

A: It’s hard. It’s really hard. Especially when you only have a few people and you’re bootsrapped, so it’s, we have to be pretty ruthless, but even still there’s lots of things that are in our backlog. For example, when we were talking about, earlier in our conversation right now, when you were saying you’d like to be able to sell the multiple language versions together, and we were talking about Leanbundle, I mean, to me, if there are a bunch of Leanpub books that want to be sold together, that are translations, of the same thing, that should be something that’s, it’s one of those, I just felt a little tug, it’s like, there’s a little feature hiding there — should we support buying all the translations of a book? Or should we support arbitrary bundles, like, for example, when you suggested you’d like to be able to buy books with your royalties, I think that’s a fanstastic idea and I want to do that, and the nice thing about that one is that there’s a business justification which is easy, which is that we don’t have to take a PayPal cut twice, right? So that’ll get done. The question about LeanBundle, if you have a LeanBundle, if you have three Leanpub books that are all being sold together and are by the same person, you shouldn’t have to use LeanBundle for that.

H: I have a few answers because you asked multiple questions there. So, you asked, how do you deal with that? I will reply to that afterwards. But the first thing, you said, right now about well, LeanBundle, and should we make it easier? One of the things I have already answered at the Leanpub mailing list, which is a great support by the way, but one of the things I have answered is, if there is a way that I, as an author, can do it myself, then I don’t think it’s your top priority, because you do have things that I’m still not able to do myself, and that is really good. Of course, you should at some point do some of these things, like having ways for people to buy them together, that might be interesting, for the translations, but it’s not, for me, it’s not a top priority. I haven’t also started doing this, well we haven’t started selling translations, so it’s not on my plate yet, but it might be for some other people. But again, thanks to LeanBundle, we can deal with that.

A: …or just coupon codes. You could just have coupon codes on Leanpub too.

H: Yeah, so there is ways to deal with that, and that’s fine. But there are options that are not possible. Like with Lean startups, you have to focus on some stuff. You asked, how do you deal with that? Well, I have a very nice example. I had a request for, so, I’m really busy with way too many projects, like a lot of people, and this one is one that’s taking a lot of my time, but I had a really interesting question from another Leanpub author, who asked me to write a particular part in his book, which I’m really interested in because it’s something I’ve been talking about for years, and actually wrote a few articles about that, about core protocols, but I really don’t see how I can start writing it right now because I’m so busy with the Who Is Agile? book, but then I just realized that I just reviewed a book of a friend of mine about the core protocols and the last year, and my idea was to orginally write that text and ask her to review, but I just sent her an email today and asked hey, Vicki, would you be interested to write most part of it, and then we can begin to work together on it, but you write the main part, and she said yes. So basically I delegate all the things where, that are in the middle. This is partially how I create communities, in a sense that I ask a lot for help to people, and, for example, you know that I am working also on a Lean startup that is working on showing statistics for book sales, and so, yeah, I think this is where, I know that you guys really want to make much nicer statistics for all the book sales and all listings, but we have a service where we think we can actually at least in the first time we can kind of work together, until the moment where you have time to work more on statistics, and we could show some of that stuff, and so you could delegate, and this is just an example, but I’m sure that some of the other stuff could be delegated, like LeanBundle, it’s kind of delegated in a way that you said, well, people can do that in 24 hours, in a FedEx day, they can just do something like that, well, it was kind of delegated to such a moment. So for me, there’s multiple ways of that delegation. The book I have, I think we have now 14 people working one way or another on the book, that’s just crazy, that’s just me asking for help, and other people that are really glad that they can help out.

A: Yeah it’s fantastic. Is the Dropbox experience working well? I know that in the past few days we’ve been having trouble with publishing, but, other than that, in terms of collaboration, does the Dropbox approach work well for you, or do you need more…?

H: I’m a really big fan of Dropbox. I’ve been using it for about half a year for multiple things. So my Dropbox account is really full, I’m at very high levels, because I’m doing trainings with other Agile coaches around the world, so that’s one way that we deal with large slideshows and other stuff. So I’m using that a lot. With now 14 people editing, we have lost already some content, and, but we can find it back so that’s not a problem, because thanks to Dropbox you can find the history back. But the problem there is that then you have some kind of merging problems. But then of course Git or SVN would be something because then you have tools that are there for merging, which is not possible with Dropbox, which is a shame because it’s text. So it technically, it could be merged.

A: I understand.

H: But, ok, we are dealing with that making sure that we communicate a little more. I’m not sure how it will work with the translations. We had a spreadsheet that, where people are saying, I’m working on that file, so I think with translations it’s probably less of a problem. On the other side, the new files I’m adding to the book, I receive them, I add a little introduction about the person, and I add a lot of links to it, and at the same time, other people are reviewing the text and removing spelling mistakes and other mistakes. And that’s why we had some hiccups. But we kind of, I think, we didn’t lose anything in the last two weeks, I think it’s because we streamlined our communication better. So we worked around it, and I think it works for us. Where Git or something would be more interesting, is that we can fork translations, because now, one thing that makes it harder is that if I start with the new translation, we have to copy the files over, and at that level, we kind of lose if people are still changing it. That’s not a problem right now because like I said we have 50 people who are in the English book and they all need to be translated, and by the time we are it 50 we will probably already have added 10 or 20 more, so we’ll probably finish the English books before they’re halfway into the translations. So I don’t think we’ll have lots of problems there. But there might be a risk that when we change something in some of the earlier files that it’s hard to see for the translators. Moreover, the part where I see most of the problems is, we have a file that’s called ‘Library’, so we have I think about 200, no I’m not sure, I don’t know, 100 or 200 books in it, that are sorted alphabetically, so every time that I add a new contributor’s answers, I add all the books that he’s talking about in his files in his answers, and I add them alphabetically in the library. So if the people that are doing the translations have already translated part of the library, that is a problem.

A: You know I think there might be… I have an idea that might work. So, as an aside, we actually used to use Git, and GitHub, before we switched to Dropbox. Back in the day Leanpub was a thing where you could use GitHub or Git or you could use, in the website, WordPress, like editing your book in the browser, and the conclusion we came to was that Git was too elitist, and the website one was just terrible because you shouldn’t write a book in a web browser, and Git put us out of the reach of almost everyone. But we really liked Git and we use it internally, and whenever you hit Publish now, we — we had to reset this when we did our recent refactoring, but now whenever you click Publish, or Preview, we make a new Git commit of everything. But the interesting thing is we ignore Git repositories, like .git directories, and so what that means is you can use Git yourself with a Leanpub book and it will have no effect on our use of Git with a Leanpub book. And so what you could do, is you could have one Git repository for your book, and all the translations, as forks, and you could use GitHub to share as well. And then the convention would be that you just check it out in multiple places, each into a different Dropbox folder, for the translation, and the translation would be on the branch, but that’s just the equivalent of you having — I mean it’s a bit ironic, that you’d have for example, like all the translations, let’s say there’s five translations on your computer, then you’d have six copies of the same repository on your computer, well whatever, they’re all just on different branches, but you’d still… I think there’s a workflow you could use where you could have all the benefits of Git. Because, our goal at Leanpub, with Git at a high level, is, we think Git is the best way by far for distributive version control, and we should not ever get in the way of authors using Git and GitHub. Without requiring authors to use Git and GitHub. And so I think you could actually set it up the way you want, with all the branches, with branches for all the translations, all with one repository, and have Git for diffing and merging and whatnot. And I think it would work just fine. I think it would take some work, obviously to pull it all back together. What you’d want to do basically is have everyone pause, and then have one person, presumably you, do all the grunt work, but I think it is possible. And if it’s not possible, for some reason, let me know, because if something Leanpub does stops you from doing that, let me know, because it shouldn’t be the case. Because for us, my goal is for Leanpub to be useable by people like us who can use Git just fine, or by people like my Dad who, you know, I had to show him Dropbox for the first time, let alone Git, right.

H: The advantage of Dropbox is exactly that, that we have some people helping out, that are actually not used to Git, and so that would definitely be a lot harder. I actually worked with a few authors that even have problems with Dropbox, because I shared Dropbox with all the contributors, so everyone who wrote for it, like these 40 people right now in the Dropbox, because some of them did accept, others didn’t, but some of these people and then I’m talking more about some of the Agile coaches who never wrote software themselves, already had problems with Dropbox, so I agree there that going to GitHub…

A: Yeah, it’s hard. If everyone used Git, life would be fantastic. I mean, when my father was working on an autobiography, I’m like yeah, well, it’s like, and I was trying to explain what distributed version control was, and I was explaning well, if you wrote something six months ago, and then deleted it, how can you compare these things on Microsoft Word, the idea that this is something that you should be easily able to do, and get really angry if you can’t do it, is like, ok, yeah, once you get that idea, then it’s OK, now you understand…

…back to Leanpub. So one thing I found really interesting about Who Is Agile? is the pricing that you did. Because your spread of, your minimum price is 99 cents, and your suggested price is $29.99, and that’s probably like the largest spread other than free and a big price, that I think I’ve seen. What have you found with that, what’s led to that thinking, I’m just curious, because I think you might have something here.

H: Ok, I really believe in having people set their own price. So I started out with actually zero and $29.99, but I think it was Johanna Rothman who said to me, Yves you’re crazy, you should not sell anything that you spent so much time in it just for zero. They should at least give some money. And so I wasn’t really convinced yet, but I said, when people that smart like Johanna tell me that I’m wrong, I’m listening, so even if I didn’t grab the idea, I said let’s just change it to $0.99. My idea with the proposed price was that, I had the idea that proposed price would be the maximum that people would pay, and that’s exactly what happened. Of course, it’s a little biased because it’s that high, but I said, let’s see what happens, and I get prices a little bit all over the place. I had in the beginning when it was zero, a lot of people zero, but of course I also had all these authors that also contributed, and at least some of them bought it, and I, they spent probably more time on it than I did, or at least some of them spent a lot of time in creating these answers, and so I thought they could download it for free, and so that was happy for me, or fine for me. But I thought also that it’s, I had no idea how much to money sell this on, so I let people set their own price, and that was interesting to see what people would actually pay for it, and in that sense I have an idea of multiple people paying multiple things, and I am convinced that if I would have sold, set it to eight Euros, for example, I would probably have more sales, but less money. And now I let people decide and there are people who are actually paying $0.99, I think there are about 25 percent pays the proposed price, so that’s interesting to see that. For me, it was a kind of play, let’s see what people will do with it. I never intend to get rich off this book, because I know there’s not many people that can live off these books. So my idea was just, if I can make some money out of it, it’s nice, if I can, yeah.

A: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s interesting, we’ve found with some books that have a smaller spread, like say three dollars and eight dollars, or four dollars and ten dollars, we’ve seen some people actually pay more than the suggested price, and we’ve also seen people round up. For example, if it’s a ten dollar book and that makes the author earn $8.50, with the royalty, we’ve seen people grab the royalty slider and drag that up to ten dollars, and so people will buy the book for $11.60 or something. And with free, I think you’re right, that obviously, free is slightly easier to buy than not free, because you have to use PayPal for not free, and since we’re in Canada, using alternate payment, like we’d love to use Stripe, or Google Checkout or Amazon Checkout, but these are more of a pain for non-American startups, than American startups. But, we’ve found that when you enable free, you get a lot more purchases, but then a lot of them are just free. And I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m not sure whether — I think free is an interesting thing for some books that are mass market, but that once you have a minimum price, then the spread you get goes a lot more towards the suggested, than with free.

Anyways, this has been really interesting, for me anyway, I’m not sure for listeners! A couple of last questions: What surprised you the most about using Leanpub so far, about your experience with it?

H: What I’m really happy about is the way you guys support things. So I’m happy-surprised. I was kind of expecting it, but it’s really nice to see that you guys are really doing it the right way.

A: Thanks.

H: So that’s a happy surprise. I like to work with smart people, so that, you seem to have all of that, and you seem, which is most important for me, to have the real Agile mindset, for the focusing, so I like that. The negative surprise is what you just said, PayPal, I don’t like PayPal at all, I think I’ve said it before. I understand your problem with payments, that’s exactly at this moment what we’re trying to solve with the PragAuthor as well, we will go for an official sales with lots of channels, but that’s not easy. So we’re right there in the middle with doing all that kind of stuff, so I understand the problems that you have with that. I personally don’t want to go with PayPal for my own startup, because I heard so many companies having trouble that PayPal decides, Well we’ll block all your money, and so that’s not a road I want to go to. But that’s just a choice, right. But I’ve seen people not want to go pay for the book, and that was actually another reason to put it zero in the beginning, which I already forgot, which is that way anybody can pay, they can just download the book and find another way, so that’s possible as well, if it’s at zero, otherwise it’s not.

A: Yeah, we’ve had thousands of people buy books, and get free books, and we’ve probably had about five or ten, sort of indignant, I’m not going to use PayPal because they’re bad, types of feedback, which means there’s probably about five or ten times that amount that think that way. But’s it’s probably a small percentage, it’s like one percent, two percent, but we’d do it in a second if it was as easy as using Stripe. Probably the day after Stripe is available in Canada, we’ll probably be trying to integrate it, but it’s a hard, annoying problem, and we have so many other problems, that we just have to prioritize.

H: Right, and I think it’s correct, because maybe by the time the other problems are solved, maybe other services are available in Canada and then it’s not a problem, so, although I don’t like that it’s only PayPal, I do understand that this is your priority.

A: Yeah, we want to make Leanpub as good as possible for authors, I mean right now you can’t even put parts in a book, which is something I’m going to be coding next!

…Anyway, thanks, this has been really nice Yves. Thanks for talking with me. I’m going to post this this week on Leanpub and also look at adapting this into the Lean Publishing book I’m writing, and if I do that I’ll ping you beforehand and show you what the section looks like, and see if you’re fine with that, or if you have any feedback or comments.

H: Cool. Thank you very much.

A: Thank you very much, and thank you for being a Leanpub author!


Originally published at leanpub.com.