Visualize Value's Jack Butcher on Idea-Generation, Consistency, and Going Viral
Butcher is the founder of Visualize Value, a business that generates more than $1 million per year.
Jack Butcher spent 10 years working in advertising as a creative director for multi-billion dollar brands. And then he realized he was missing something: Freedom.
“So in search of freedom, I started my own advertising agency,” he writes. “No fun, and even less freedom.”
After two years of working on his own agency, Butcher figured out that he needed a model that could scale infinitely. “The insight behind this transition? Productizing myself,” he says.
He pivoted to a business he called Visualize Value, which consists of a $1 million per year product business and a media platform with an audience of more than 500,000 people. (You may remember when Butcher illustrated a guest post I wrote for his website.)
On Friday, Butcher participated in an hour-long, live "Ask Me Anything" with readers who are part of The Profile's members-only Telegram chat. (To join, consider becoming a premium member here.)
Below are the highlights of his Q&A with the readers:
Q: Jack, you recently became a dad. How did you continue to consistently produce content without losing momentum even though (I assume) you had to make more time to spend with your new baby?
BUTCHER: I’ll start by saying my wife Celia is an incredible mum, so that definitely accounts for 90%. The other 10% I think comes down to a shift in priorities that a life event like that brings. It’s amazing what you’re actually capable of in 5 minutes if you literally only have 5 minutes. So you start to prioritize the things that have the maximum (or close to) amount of impact for time spent.
Q: To follow up, what things are maximum impact for you?
Making visuals or working on the systems in the back end of the business (email sequences, product updates, stuff that you can do once that works in perpetuity)
Q: I wanted to know if you were influenced by the Bauhaus movement or Japanese minimalism? Do you have an opinion on them?
Probably subconsciously yes. Not much of an academic so can’t credit as accurately as I’d like, but Swiss graphic design had a huge influence on me: Josef Müller-Brockmann. Also product designers like [German industrial designer] Dieter Rams.
Q: You recently appeared on Jim O'Shaughnessy's Infinite Loops. Which one of the question stumped you the most?
I can’t recall the exact set of questions he asked, but the hardest question to answer is always “What’s next?” I plan maybe two weeks out versus 10 years.
Q: How do you get ideas, and is there a reason you prefer to work in the short-term?
I think I just forged a preference for working under pressure in an agency environment, and the idea of "running out" of ideas is weirdly motivating. Each iteration of the business wasn't planned in a traditional sense. It was more of an organic evolution, so I've stopped trying to predict those things and just lean into trusting the process and see where it ends up.
Q: Do you recall the moment that your visuals gained traction on Twitter? What was that feeling like? And how did you know that what you were working on was working?
I think it was a Nassim Taleb retweet that made me realize that this thing could work. I was new to Twitter and experiencing the power of network effects on that platform when it shifted something in my brain. I went all in after that.
Q: How did you decide to monetize your graphics after realizing there is a chance post-Naseem Taleb's RT? How did you figure out the skill-market fit?
My background is in advertising, so I think I understood that the ability to capture attention organically is worth something. The first product took that idea and turned it into an education product "How to Visualize Value."
Q: Did you start VV with the idea that it would one day be a business & if not, how did you come up with the idea to monetize it in the way that you did?
VV was a lead generation tool for my agency business originally — post a bunch of graphics hoping that someone would hire me to work for them. I did that for 9 months or so, then developed products when the demand exceeded my ability to supply on the consulting side.
Q: You are have tried different things so far — some text , some images; mostly images, and different colors in images. What's the reason you mostly stuck with black and white?
Pattern interrupt (stops your thumb as you scroll)
Build brand/equity in a consistent visual style (people hopefully know VV without even needing to see the name next to the work by now)
Q: What advice or tips would you give to educators who are creating content to teach online when designing content to have maximum learning impact?
My personal approach is “principles first” — so understanding the building blocks of knowledge that are necessary for someone to practice something effectively, and introducing them one at a time.
Lots of online education teaches tactics first (or the memorization of something), which is much less effective than teaching someone the fundamentals and letting them figure it out for themselves.
It's also about encouraging people to create things off the back of what they learn creates the best kind of feedback loop — “If you can’t explain it to a 5-year-old, you don’t understand it.”
Q: Have you thought about creating a book for toddlers or younger kids? Your graphics are exceptionally simple to understand, which is the best part of the creation.
I had a baby recently and did not know that the black and white high contrast images were a cognitive development thing. I'm looking into it right now. (There's also room for something for older children too I think).
Q: Have you built a personal brand for anyone using VV methodology and if so, was it as effective as doing it for a product or business?
There have been plenty of graduates of our courses that have built solid personal brands on the same principles that VV uses:
— Work out loud
— Demonstrate that you can produce a result repeatedly
— Build assets by productizing your unique expertise
Q: Does your design philosophy also apply to your leadership? Restraint, minimal, to the point, etc? And any quick advice on leadership?
Definitely. Great question and gave me a new idea.
The best working relationships I’ve had are with people who were attracted to working on something versus coerced into it. If you’re focused on making something that people want to work on, the right people show up. “Lead by example” I think is what it boils down to.
Q: You use constraints with great success in the visuals you create, but also in your products. They're one of very few products I return back to again and again. Do you use those same constraints for your own development?
There are definitely fewer and fewer things that really move the needle on a long enough timeframe. Get good sleep, do creative work every day, and spend time with family.
Dieter Rams says: “Less, but better.”
Q: One of the things I’ve found is that great content is fueled by great and/or challenging life experiences. Sometimes as a creator, it can be hard to stay fresh with life experience to fuel content that’s relevant and authentic. What do you do to continue gaining experience that’s reflected in your content?
This is true. What's also true is that you'll continue to have those experiences as you push yourself to keep creating things. If something doesn't work, you'll have something new to think/talk/write about, same is true if something works.
Q: Are you planning expanding your reach to a wider audience (outside of social)? Is platform dependency a concern you've had?
Email is a focus for this year (had a few Twitter accounts banned a few months ago). It never was a huge fear of mine, but since it happened to me, I'll be doing what I can to hedge. I've also started playing around with bitclout.
Q: What are some of the best ways you've found to getting outside of your network and getting exposure to new audiences who haven't yet heard of VV?
Finding people to collaborate with in different worlds, doing podcasts, pushing content out to other networks (Instagram leans younger people) & LinkedIn for corporate/enterprise).
Q: How did you deal with consistency when starting VV?
I loved doing it, so consistency just happens. May be a controversial point of view, but if you have to try exceptionally hard just to motivate yourself to do something, chances are you aren't going to be able to compete with people who love doing it.
To follow up, there needs to be some selfish motivation underlying the pursuit — even if no one saw VV graphics, I was sharpening my design skills by working through them.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration from on a daily basis?
No specific thing — reading, scrolling around, walking, thinking, sketching, and having a very specific canvas (black and white graphics) helps filter ideas into actual deliverables though, so that's been a huge part of the flywheel.
Q: How do you think about measuring successful content on social platform? When you post, do you look at certain things to gauge viral-ness and/or use that to inform future content?
I think I'm 10% analytics, 90% gut. A few rough frameworks I use for knowing how viral something is off the bat though (over 20% engagement/impressions on Twitter is going to fly)
The other way I think about it is content can be this really cheap method for validating things. One tangible example: tweet an image, it goes viral, and make it an NFT (as opposed to just launching an NFT and hoping for the best).