19 and Successful: Interview with Sam & Zach Dunn

Interview with Sam & Zach Dunn

To begin, can you both tell us a little about yourselves and about your role with Build Internet?

Sam: We’re both going into our Junior year at University of Hartford, and be turning 20 next month.

In terms of the blog, I typically cover Photoshop and jQuery, although I have dabbled in other categories such as PHP and discussion pieces. Additionally, I’ve been responsible for the design of Build Internet, now on its second revision.

Behind the scenes I have a fair share of involvement in our other projects such as our upcoming One Mighty Roar company site, which has limited the number of posts I’ve been able to make thus far, that’s changing soon.

Zach: Seeing as how we’re twins, I don’t have all that much more to add onto what Sam has already said about our background. However, as far as the blog goes I work a lot more on the regular posting schedule with a focus on usability, motivation pieces, and WordPress.

I handle the majority of the community components of blogging. This means that I go out and promote the latest posts, keep the social media up to par, and just flat out mingle in the web niche when possible.

How did Build Internet begin? What inspired you both to create it, and what has motivated you to keep it going?

Zach: We’ve worked on web design for years now. It wasn’t until the past year or so that I began to actively read blogs in the web design and development niche.

A big motivator has been the successes of other bloggers in the niche. Take Jacob Cass for example! To me, Jacob represents a great example of how a student can get a solid head start into a career while still attending a University. It’s absolutely amazing to see the amount of diverse client work Jacob has brought in as a result of his blog. David Leggett is another great example of a young guy managing high-quality blogs that actually impact thousands of people.

Sam: We were both avid readers of several web niche blogs and wanted to dive into it ourselves. I would say the community has been one of the most pleasant surprises of all, immersing ourselves in it through our blog has caused us to make some great connections.

What do you two write about on build internet? Who should read your blog?

Zach: We (try to) write about useful things. Our articles are meant to spark discussion or food for thought on the topics important to the web niche. We post under the mentality that sometimes people just need to have their attention brought to the simple overlooked possibilities out on the web.

Everyone has seen the “30 Amazing WordPress Theme Widgets” style posts out there, but not everyone realizes how easy it is to do it themselves. We like getting people to do things rather than just show them good looking things without explanation week after week. We try to empower people by giving them bite-sized bits of good internet and give a direction for real applications.

Sam: First off, everyone should read our blog. Now if I can be more specific and slightly less bold – anyone in the web or graphic design niche would probably benefit from clicking around. We also try to discuss trending topics or business practices via articles. Odds are if someone is visiting this blog, they’d enjoy Build Internet too. See how I wove in that shameless promotion so seamlessly?

What is it like to be so successful in the online world at such a young age? How do you balance college, the aspects of offline life, and your growing blog?

Zach: I don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression about our success. Even though we’ve experienced phenomenal growth in the past six months, I wouldn’t define us as a clear-cut success just yet. We’ve still got plenty of growing to do, and a lot of that comes with balancing time.

During the college year our availability changes by the week. Since there are two of us running the blog together, it made it much easier to stick to the every 2-3 day posting schedule which has worked so well for us so far. Our biggest motto is to “Stay social”, and I think we’ve done a good job at that so far.

The New Office

Sam: I get a kick out of this question because while I am appreciative of where we are right now, we still have a long way to go when compared to fellow niche blogs like Tutorial9 and Smashing Magazine.

My friends IRL (that stands for In Real Life, it’s an acronym that saves me bundles of time), laugh occasionally because of the pretty open love affair I have with the internet. While I have been known to do some marathon hours, most particularly in the development of my Supersized jQuery plugin, I keep social too. The whole education thing just limits how frequently we can post new articles.

I wouldn’t normally ask about income in an interview like this, but because you both are as young as me and most of my readers, it’s inspiring to know about income potential at such an age. How much do you make off of Build Internet, and does it function like a business in some sense?

Build Internet is directly tied to One Mighty Roar, which is our web design and development business. The income from the blog has been a moderate success and it’s brought in enough to fund things like our new office and other various costs related to running the blog and business.

I’d rather not get into exact specific numbers, but our chief income comes from BuySellAds (which is an easy number to calculate…hint hint). Adsense brings in a couple dollars a day, and we’ve got a few leads for clients from it too. All in all, we’ve managed to fund some cool things but it’s nothing to get excited about yet.

We’re hoping in the next year to reach an income level from the blog where we can fund paid guest posts in the style of larger blog networks like Envato. We’ve had a few guest posts already for exposure alone, but it should really be a compensated in the future.

Sam: As an added bonus, Build Internet functions as a miniature PR agency for us. We’ve gotten contacted from all sorts wonderful individuals.

Your blog is about web design, development, and business. When and how did you become interested in these fields? Tell us a bit about the history of both of you on the Internet.

Zach: Looking back it’s been funny to see where we came from. Our first website (since taken down) was built at the beginning of high school using copy and paste Dreamweaver snippets. We registered with a .tk address and was filled stuff that only had value to the people who made it.

In high school, we started with the computer science route, but it was too much math and not enough creativity. We jumped over to the web design side of the hall and founded Cazzu Media at the end of our Junior year in high school.

We’ve grown a lot through client work and side projects since then. One of the biggest changes made is the company name. A number of factors led to the change in branding. The least of which is the unsavory meaning of the word Cazzu to southern Italy (We’re sorry). We’re currently finalizing the name change to One Mighty Roar, and we’ll be moving forward with some exciting client jobs.

Sam: I got a kick out of the whole art and creativity thing throughout elementary school, did the computer science track in high school, and somewhere in between decided I hated cubicles. When I put all of those things together I decided that web design was the perfect three-way polygamist marriage between art, coding, and creativity.

Is there any advice or tips you can give to someone just starting out a blog, or with online entrepreneurship?

Zach: Overall, the best advice is the most obvious. Be useful, even if you think it may be obvious. Don’t think that you can produce content without any clear-cut direction. Try to fit in and complement your niche rather than top all the existing players. The blogosphere is not a cutthroat competitive area, and there’s always room for more quality blogs.

I find my best content comes from things where I’m learning in the process too. That’s why I suspect our jQuery tutorials are among the most popular. I teach myself for the tutorial, and then teach others based on my attempts.

Last piece of advice is to have idols. Not a stalker sense, but just have accomplished people in the niche who you look up to. It helps to have someone to aspire to when you’re putting together a plan of action. For us and blogging, it was people like David Leggett, Jacob Cass, and other 20-ish-year-olds with quality content.

Sam: Be the most candid, genuine, real human being possible. When starting a blog you are trying to reach out to a community of real people, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be one too. Be conversational and get involved in the community to build an audience.

What are your future plans for Build Internet, other projects, and for yourselves?

Zach: We’re going to hopefully continue to build up the readership on Build Internet. Sam and I are both currently working on a number of guest posts for other big name web niche blogs.

Sam: We are aiming to expand the reach of the blog by driving up RSS and Twitter subscribers and increasing the frequency of posts. Additionally, we have One Mighty Roar, our company site, which will serve to be a hub for our client work and our blog network. We are currently in the process of getting some quality blogs together under the One Mighty Roar network, we already have The Nonsense Society (an art blog), but there will be some hip new additions in coming months. We’re royally stoked.