Gwynn Carla Jones ran several different businesses in her early twenties, but nothing quite felt right. She tried to create recurring revenue by launching a membership focused on DIY building projects, but she found herself overwhelmed and struggling after a messy launch.
In 2020, she closed that membership, and was working as a VA and delivering groceries to try to keep a roof over her head. Now, at The Girl with a Glowforge SVG Club, she provides her audience with files to produce laser engravings. Her members can use these to produce banners, décor pieces, and much more in their own businesses, and have a community available to them to answer their toughest questions about what can be a niche hobby.
Today, Gwynn joins the podcast to share the story of how she built a truly unique audience, amassed several hundred satisfied subscribers within weeks, and the power of staying true to yourself, no matter what.
- The major mistakes Gwynn made as she launched her first membership site.
- Why Gwynn chose to build a membership around Glowforge printers – and how this bet paid off.
- How Gwynn launched her second membership site to extraordinary success.
- Why building a massive, thriving community creates value far beyond the content you provide each month.
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- “Sometimes things are not going to work out. Learn what you can from that, and then use it to keep going.” – Gwynn Carla Jones
TranscriptRead The Transcript
Shelli Varela: Gwynn Carla Jones, welcome to the It’s a TRIBE Thing Podcast. How are you, buddy?
Gwynn Carla Jones: I’m doing good. We’ve got amazing weather here in Yuma, Arizona. It’s like 78 degrees and it’s nice out. Everybody else is saying it’s freezing.
Shelli Varela: I’m in Toronto. It’s literally freezing.
Gwynn Carla Jones: Oh, no.
Shelli Varela: Yeah. It’s not the friendliest but, you know, it’s a pandemic. So, what are you going to do? Glad you’re here because you are going to inspire in a serious way a whole lot of people with your story. But before we get to that, who are you? What do you do and who do you serve?
Gwynn Carla Jones: So, like you said, my name is Gwynn Carla Jones. Most of my, I don’t know if I want to call them followers, that almost sounds fancy to me but the people who know me know me as the Girl with the Glowforge. I serve people who are home décor makers, creative crafters, whatever you want to call them, specifically in a really weird niche. We own smaller hobby-sized laser cutters, and so we make everything from 3D pieces to engraved pieces, things like that. And my little corner of the world is helping people understand how to use your laser or find ways to be profitable with them. And then particularly I provide files that they can pull up in their laser to cut and then they’ve got a project ready to go. And whether they sell that as a DIY kit or a finished product, that’s totally up to them. But I provide the file part of it.
Shelli Varela: Brilliant.
Gwynn Carla Jones: That’s my little corner.
Shelli Varela: I remember when you were telling me about your results five minutes ago, my jaw hit. We can get to that little tidbit in a minute, but can you share who you were before all of this? And I always like to share people’s stories just because it’s easy to look at somebody who has accomplished something and is inspiring. But if it’s inspiring in an external way such that I’m like, I’m looking at your story, I’m like, “Oh, that’s really great and super inspiring for you but I don’t see myself in your story,” then that gift and that lesson and that possibility that you’ve experienced isn’t transferable to the other people. And so, I always like to start with like who were you before you had it all figured out? So, I’ll ask you the same question. Who are you before you had all of this figured out?
Gwynn Carla Jones: I still don’t know that I got it all figured out, but so far, we’re doing okay, I think.
Shelli Varela: I love that you said that, by the way.
Gwynn Carla Jones: And I’ve definitely been in those shoes, too. I shared that I’ve seen people have these big success stories and I knew that someday or I hope that someday I would be successful, but not like this successful. So, I started out, I was a jewelry maker in high school and sold jewelry to other people and that was kind of my side hustle. I didn’t have time to have a regular job in high school. I was involved with too many things and so sold jewelry for a while and got encouraged to do that, and it worked out okay. I mean, for an 18-year-old, it was some extra money and things like that. And then after graduating high school, I started in college and I thought I wanted to be a teacher and then I decided I didn’t want to be a teacher. I just always got drawn back into being that small business owner, that creative business owner. And so, I tried a couple of different things that didn’t work. I tried opening a store at one point that was six months and that didn’t work. Just different avenues. And it just was nothing felt quite right. Well, then when my husband came into the picture, I went from being a jewelry maker to being a home décor maker just because beads weren’t really his jam and he would go to craft shows and things like that with me. He was very supportive, don’t get me wrong, but it just didn’t seem right.
So, we kind of transitioned into the home before and I really found that I love that. I loved being able to personalize things for people. In fact, our home décor business was called Getting Personal, and that was because I love getting to know people and getting to know why do they want this quote on the wall in their house, and things like that. And so, from that, we’ve done everything from craft shows to little DIY classes and that sort of thing, but none of that really stuck quite the way I want it to. We made it work, but it wasn’t all the things and it wasn’t paying all bills. So, then it’s just kind of a handful of different things in between there. Well, then I started kind of thinking I figured it out. I knew I wanted something that was consistent for income and so said, “Okay. Well, let’s start a membership. What are we going to do?” And my husband who’s a builder who is a construction contractor type guy before coming home full-time for us, he could build. We’d show him a picture of something. He’d figure it out. And so, my first attempt at a membership was he was going to show the DIYs, or not the DIYs, but the building plans on how to make these different projects. I would record it and then I would provide the files to make something to go along with that. And I’m going to be really honest, that first membership was terrible. I was fortunate it was a small group. I knew most of my members, very close on a first-name basis, even before they ever joined us but it was a mess.
We were doing way too much and it was stressful for us and we were trying to put out a new project every week and it was too much. It was all not the right things. And it got overwhelming really quickly. And it wasn’t paying the bills for sure too, so that was hard. Then we took this whole course over the summer called TRIBE. I don’t know if you guys heard of it. That was pretty cool. And I kind of took a lot of the tricks from that and thought I knew what I wanted to do going forward. So, we completely closed out that membership. We decided that wasn’t what we’re going to do and I thought I had a plan. And then it completely got derailed in a good sort of way. So, like most people, 2020 was a hard year for our family. A lot of other families, too. I’ve been a full-time creative since 2018, but I wouldn’t say I was a successful full-time creative at that point. My husband was still working but it was almost like we had traded one side hustle for another. We had said, “Okay. Well, you’re going to be a full-time maker now,” but still we were side hustling. I worked as a VA for somebody. In between everything, I was delivering groceries from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed. I had, well, at the time a two-year-old in tow with me most of the time. And it was a lot. We were just trying to keep the roof over our house like a lot of people were.
But it was just one of those things that I could not – and we had a lot of backlashes. When are you going to go back to work? When are you going to get a regular job? And it’s discouraging but just something about it said, “Nope. Not yet. Not yet. Try again.” And so, we added this little tool, so we took TRIBE last summer, and then in the same timeframe, we took what money we had leftover to put into buying this little hobby laser cuts. The bed size of it is like 24 x 12 inch, smaller projects but a lot of people in the maker community were purchasing these and they were doing really well.
Shelli Varela: So, the people that are listening are like what does the laser do?
Gwynn Carla Jones: Okay. So, it can cut – it’s like a cutter of things like an electronic one. So, instead of taking the saw and trying to cut a shape out, you would put the files that I was designing into the software that runs the laser and it would cut out shapes or you can engrave with it or look at, if anybody saw what a Cricket is, think of what the laser version of a Cricket. It cuts and stains. And so, we went ahead and purchased one of those. And it was one of those things that when I finally got to hit the buy button, I wanted one of these forever. But we finally got to hit the buy button. It’s still scary because it was scary to put any kind of money out when there wasn’t a whole lot coming in. And I know if we had told my family members, they would have lost their marbles, but sometimes I’d do it. I am normally not a risky person, but it’s like, “Let’s try it. Let’s see what happens.” So, I got the laser and I’ve always been a little bit on the techie side, a little bit of a nerd, and I quickly started picking up things to do with it. And I had friends who had them, not close to me, but far away and stuff like that. And from talking to them, it was like, “I can’t figure out how to do this.” “Well, let me help you.” “Well, I can’t figure out how to do this.” “Okay. Well, let me help you.”
So, I started a Facebook group. I was like, “These people need help.” There’s tons of other people who need help. And I’d already known about making passive income from selling files. And so, it’s like, “Okay. I’ll start a Facebook group. I’ll help some people. It’ll be a slot where I can post my files and maybe we’ll get some sales off of it.” Well, then the group kept growing. It’s like, “Okay. Well, I feel like I see something here,” and we kept getting questions and people would say they love that group. And so, we just started serving this community of other laser owners. I always used to be one of those people that was like, “What do you mean your niche is that small? How can you work within such a small group? Like you have to offer more to more people.” And that wasn’t what that group needed to be. And so, we kind of centered into helping them running their machines, providing files for them. It made a little bit of income, which was cool plus, of course, we were making income from selling what I was actually cutting on the laser. And then, I don’t know, it hit me one night but I was like, “Well, maybe we could try this with a membership.” And so, I told my husband who’s like, “Will people pay for that?” I was like, “I don’t know, I don’t think so. I don’t know. Maybe. We’ll find out.”.
Shelli Varela: Well, we’re going to try it out.
Gwynn Carla Jones: We’re going to try it. What’s the worst that happens? So, I started hinting that in the group, but still throughout all of it, I think the biggest thing I could say we did was serving the audience as best as we could to where it got to a point to where I joke around. I say this where it was like people are like, “Okay. Where can I send you money? Because you helped me a lot. Where can I send you money?” Not really but, you know. And so, I was like, “Okay. Well, let’s just see how this goes.” So, we put it out there. Is this something that anybody would be interested in? We got a little bit of feedback on that. And I said, “Okay. Well, let’s do it.” I had what I thought was a lofty goal. I wanted to hit 72 members and what that 72 members meant for us was being able to make an extra house payment and pay for the website where my membership would be hosted. That was my only goal. I wanted 72 members and I think we hit that. So, in our opening our founding member launch, I think I launched to an email list of like 2,000-ish people that we had collected over the course of about three months. And by the time we closed the end of that week, we had 300 members in my, yeah, I was not prepared for that.
Shelli Varela: Wow. So, let me just pause you for one sec. So, when you were originally thinking, “Man, I don’t know if anybody’s going to want this,” and 72 seemed lofty for you.
Gwynn Carla Jones: Yeah.
Shelli Varela: What was going on for you internally when you’re – because there are so many people who are sitting on a founding member launch and it’s like, “I don’t know, like what is this going to mean about me if I don’t achieve my goal?” Like what did that look like? Because before you got 300 people, it could have landed anywhere. So, what did that moment of unknowing feel like for you?
Gwynn Carla Jones: I was just at that point, I was like, well, the worst-case thing that’s going to happen, especially because this was a digital product or a membership, and not like a physical thing I was having to send out, I think the worst that’s going to happen is it’ll be a smaller group than what I want, and I can open again. We will close it on Friday like we did on Monday through Friday sort of thing, so the worst thing that can happen is we close it and we work again and we still put whatever does come in towards pay for that extra payment towards your house or whatever and we’ll open it again and we’ll just keep trying. And until then, we’ll continue to serve a community and hopefully the next time around we’ll have enough people that will be interested to know who I was. Like I said, we started in July and our founding member launch was in October. So, July, August, September. So, three months later, we had our founding member launch and previous to that, I didn’t have an audience for this because I didn’t have the machine to teach them.
Shelli Varela: Right. So, where are you sitting now? Like, how many launches have you done? Like, if you were to take us through the total timeline from that moment when you’re like, “Man, I would love it if I could get 72 members,” to where you are now. How much time and how many launches and where are you now?
Gwynn Carla Jones: So, October we had our founding member launch is when we hit the 300 that again my goal was 72 and I think we hit 72 in the first two days. And so, after that, I was like, “Okay. Do I just de-throttle it, let it ride? What do I do?” And so, we pushed just a little bit more and made sure that I was, you know, we did a whole going live on Facebook. I mean, it was not by any means a super fancy planned out. There was no strategic team put together for this. It essentially was me doing lives on Facebook. My husband’s not techie in that sense. He can build things all day long but strategy-wise on this, that wasn’t there. So, we didn’t have any kind of fancy launch team, but it was a handful of emails and then lives on Facebook talking about what was in the files, creating stuff that was made from them, and stuff like that. So, we did that for the whole week. Well, I already planned to do these. Let’s just roll through it. And so, we hit the 300 and I was kind of taken aback, to say the least. And just like was any close to membership, there were people who emailed me the following week, “Oh no, I didn’t get signed up. How do I get in?” I said, “Okay. Well, my next plan was to open in January,” and so I said, “Just stay tuned. You never know what’s going to happen between now and then, but my plan is January. Just hang out here. Soak up what information you can. Just stay tuned because January is coming.”
And so, my arm got twisted a little bit because we had a lot of people come in shortly after from people who were then sharing the great files. They were getting and talking about it. So, it’s okay, we’ll do a weekend-long opening for Black Friday. We opened Friday night. We closed Saturday morning. And so, we did that and I want to say we added another 200 at that point, which was way more, right? That was more than what my initial goal was, to begin with. And we didn’t do like a big promotion for it. I think I made one post on social media and I think a total of three emails, one saying, “Hey, we’re going to do this,” one saying it’s open and one saying it closes in a couple of hours and that was it. And it was just people at that point had heard and they wanted in and they didn’t want to wait until January. So, I said, “Well, okay.” So, the next plan was January and we decided we got to do it the first week of the month. Now, my strategy on the first week of the month was that’s when all the big bills come out. And so, we need to get paid the first week of the month. Sometimes I’m still in that mindset. I don’t think it’s completely hit me on how many members we have now, but, whatever. So, January comes around. We’ve been psyching everybody up telling January is coming and we’ll be opening up then and so we opened up January. I think it ended up being whatever the first week of January was this year, but the Monday through Friday and we actually end up taking a family trip out of town when I closed at Friday night and we landed at total member count, including previous memories and stuff like that, I think our total member count at that point ended up being like 780 something.
Shelli Varela: That’s great.
Gwynn Carla Jones: Yeah. That was not like my goal at that point. I wanted to hit 600 total members but still seemed lofty to me. My thoughts were we had, you know, hyped up so many people in the beginning so that’s where they all came from. And so, maybe my subsequent launches won’t be quite as big and I’m okay with that. I’m okay with that because I hit my initial goal and we’re going to keep rocking with that goal for a while. And so, when they just kept coming, I was like, “Oh, okay. Oh, okay, that’s cool. Okay, now what do I do with all these people?” I mean, honestly, with the membership, it’s essentially the same thing as whether I had 20 people or 700 people because it’s something that can easily be scaled but it does mean a lot of difference to our family in terms of what we can do as just normal people.
Shelli Varela: Right. For sure. Wow. So, much to dive into. There’s something I noticed that is like a theme throughout, and that is just your unwavering ability to be true to yourself. You’ve said it originally when you said you thought you were going to be a teacher and then you’re like, “No, this is just going to be not my thing.” You said it again when you were talking about, well, things are really, really tough financially. Maybe I go back to work and then you’re like, “Nope, not yet.” You said it again when you were like, “I can’t really afford to buy this laser,” and something inside you said, “Just do it.” And then you said it again when you’re like, “Well, you know, this is a really small niche, like, is this too small?” And you’re like, “No, I just want to give it a try.” What would you say to somebody who is maybe not as endowed with the amount of bravery or truth that you just have and is sitting on something that they really know to be true or want to try or want to take the leap of faith but everything in their being is afraid and saying, “I don’t know,” but they know the thing like you knew the thing? What would you say to those people who want a membership site of their own?
Gwynn Carla Jones: I think it’s one of those things where you have to have a little bit of faith in yourself and you have to know that even if it doesn’t work out, you learn something. Like I said, I opened my grand opening for my storefront that lasted all of six months that’s on I think by 21st or 22nd birthday, I don’t remember now, but it was this big, exciting thing and six months in, I mean, four months in I was like, “Oh gosh, this is not right but my lease that I had will be there for two more months,” so I did. It sounds bad, but sometimes you just have to know that sometimes things are not going to work out. Learn what you can from that, take what experiences you can, and then use it to keep going. But if you never take the opportunity to begin with, one, you can never learn those lessons because you never put yourself in a position to learn those lessons and, two, you might have something fantastic that like I said I didn’t know for sure if a laser SVG club was going to work, but it did. And it worked really well, if I do say so. But sometimes it’s just having that faith and knowing you might fail.
Shelli Varela: Yeah, for sure. Regret is a real thing. And worst-case scenario is you try something different or you try again. But the thing that I keep hearing again and again and again is like, “Man, I wish I had done this sooner,” and that fear that we build up in that way usually does not go the way we anticipate. Such a great, great gift to speak with you. Last question for you. What is the greatest unexpected surprise that you got from having a membership, from being a membership site owner that you didn’t see from the outset?
Gwynn Carla Jones: Well, obviously, with the numbers, the financial side of it was huge. We were able to bring my husband home full-time. My son now is able to attend a preschool full-time, whereas previously I was side-gigging with him in the back seat so that we could make ends meet, let alone be in a much better position. But aside from that, I think the aspect that I didn’t plan on building because I wanted this to be simple. I am a mom with two toddlers, so my time is pretty filled as it is and so I wanted something very simple. I was like, it’s going to be a file that could sent out. You log on to the website, get your files, sell them, do what you need to do. But I didn’t expect to see the community side of it near as much as it came out. We have a Facebook group. And I’m one of those weirdos. I actually don’t have a separate Facebook group just for members. And I always get asked, why not? Because the part that I provide for us or just for my membership is just the file itself. Here’s the file. Go do with it what you need to but the support of being a community of people who have the same machine, have some of the same struggles are trying to learn how do I paint it, how do I do this, material suggestions, all that sort of thing. Whether you subscribe to my files or not, you can help someone else who has those same needs. And so, we all stay in the same Facebook group.
So, it’s neat to see the community that I’ve built but there is definitely a little community of just the people who are in the club and the people who are like, okay, well, when is the next opening of the club? So, it sort of works on its own that way too. But the community side that comes from it is just, oh my gosh, what color did you paint on there? And you would think it’d be so easy to install. No, I didn’t want to share all of those details with you. I just want to show you my pretty picture. I’m going to go sell my thing. But the community that came alongside with it like you can’t fake that part. You can’t buy that part. It just happens if you kind of harbor the space for it to exist has been unreal. And I think other people have noticed that, too. And I think those are probably my favorite posts to read or when somebody posts in there, “I love this group. This group helps me so much. Thank you to this person, this person, and this person,” who they don’t know outside of a Facebook group. You know, “You helped me find the hardware I needed or the paint color I needed,” or whatever it may have been, and I think that’s probably the part that is really, really rewarding. You know, it’s not a financial part of the whole thing, but it’s rewarding as a person just to see people willing to help each other out.
Shelli Varela: Right. Well, that’s actually a brilliant tactic for anybody who’s listening and has a membership site. It sounds like a really great way to create excitement for the people who have not yet purchased watch the people who have purchased. And it’s like, wow, people like us do things like this and it’s like, “Well, I want to be one of those people.”.
Gwynn Carla Jones: Yeah. Like it wasn’t a marketing tactic in the beginning in the least, but it was just it was more of, “Oh, gosh, another Facebook group to keep track of. I don’t know about this.” Obviously, I didn’t expect to have near as many in there either. I was thinking there’d be 70 some odd people and how much can, I mean, 70 people can do a lot, don’t get me wrong, but you can either have this group with, at the time, 3,000 people in it, my free Facebook group, which is now closer to 7,000, but this 3,000 Facebook group people bouncing ideas off of each other versus 70 people, which now, of course, is a 100 or almost 800. But that’s where it came from. But it sort of has worked on its own. So, I’m going to let it go.
Shelli Varela: Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much for your time. If people are looking to reach out to you online or to be part of your community, where is the best place for them to find you?
Gwynn Carla Jones: So, my name is spelled kind of funny. It’s G-W-Y-N-N and my parents had to be extra, but our website is CreatewithGwynn.com and then on Facebook, we have that Facebook group, which is the Girl with a Glowforge but my page by itself, which is really meant for all sorts of makers, whether you’re a seamstress or like a laser like I am or anything in between is just Getting Creative with Gwynn.
Shelli Varela: Amazing. Thank you so much for stopping by.
Gwynn Carla Jones: Thank you for having me.
Shelli Varela: You’re a true inspiration.
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