We've talked to a lot of community leaders so far on this podcast, but what about folks who are “community-adjacent?” After all, great leadership is only one component of what makes a community truly thrive: a community needs influence and energy from more than its actual leadership or membership base to stay healthy. A community needs people like Matt.
Matt Sonnenberg is on the show today to speak to his experience becoming well-regarded in the niche community of the Skylanders games, some of the first collectibles in the “toys to life” gaming genre. Matt built up a well-known site around the game, but one day it was announced that there would be no more new releases. So Matt stepped away, only to find himself re-entering the niche later down the road. How does one … do that? Plus now that he's back in the niche, Matt's faced with an interesting situation: should he start his own community to support his business now that he's back in the niche?
We get into all kinds of interesting questions like this today: like the pros and cons of participating in a community under an alias and how to successfully enter or re-enter a niche community. Not everyone has to lead a community to be massively influential in it, and Matt's story is full of great takeaways on doing exactly that.
Matt was an entrepreneur before he even knew what the word meant, but it took him nearly 25 years to discover the path he needed to follow. Since that time he's built dozens of websites, started multiple podcasts, helped build numerous communities, dabbled in everything from YouTube to eCommerce, and made thousands of mistakes.But as long as he was making a difference in someone else's life, he knew he was still on the right path.
In This Episode:
- The “toys-to-life” genre in gaming
- How cyclical online entrepreneurship led Matt to the Skylanders game
- Jumping into a niche headfirst, finding a gap, and filling it
- Why Matt ran his site under an alias (at first)
- What went down when Nintendo, Disney, and Lego got involved in the toys-to-life niche
- Why Matt ghosted his community and how a long drive to Disney World changed everything
- Finding your way back to a community after a hiatus
- Community as a stablizing factor in Matt's business
- Should Matt start a community?
- The popularity of unboxing streams
- Superfans by Pat Flynn
The CX 010: TITLE FORTHCOMING
Jillian: Have you ever pursued a great idea that is entirely dependent on something you have zero control over . . . like, say you build a business around a social media platform and then one day you wake up and that platform is down. Or sold. Or whatever. Or how about this: a video game that announces it won’t be releasing any more updates or characters. That is essentially what happened to our guest today, Matt Sonnenberg. But what’s even more interesting is how he was able to walk away and come back years later without skipping a beat, thanks to the power of community. We’ll talk all about it and more today on The Community Experience.
Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Community Experience podcast. I'm your co-host, Jillian here today with...
Tony: Tony Bacigalupo here as well.
Jillian: It's us again and today we have a super fun episode with Matt Sonnenberg of Skylanders Character List and he is going to talk about, well, we are going to talk about an exciting world of making a name for yourself in a large community without actually having to lead said community.
Tony: That's right, what Matt created offered a lot of value to an existing community, so much so that they wouldn't let him walk away from it, which we'll get into in more detail. But what we were just so excited to find out about which we'll be talking about in this conversation is just how you can be providing value to a community, and why that's an important role. Not everybody has to be a leader, and you really do need to have people people who are offering value in a lot of different ways.
Jillian: Yeah, and this is a special episode because Matt is actually a member of SPI Pro, which is the private community that I run at SPI Media, that's my job. And he posted about this experience in the community. And when I saw that, I told Tony, "Hey, we got to interview him and talk about this because it's just a cool story and it's fascinating.
So stay tuned. And here is Matt Sonnenberg with SkylandersCharacterList.com.
All right. Welcome, everyone. I'm so excited to introduce our guest today. We have a fantastic guest that I know through SPI Pro, our community that we talk about from time to time, and his name is Matt Sonnenberg. Hello, Matt.
Matt: Hello, Jillian, how you doing today?
Jillian: Doing great. The reason we wanted Matt to come on the pod today is in Pro he shared this really touching amazing story about a website and community that he had, and then walked away from and then came back to kind of open arms from the community that he'd helped cultivate. So really wanted to talk about this. And I also just want to acknowledge that you have lots of projects. You've got the Podcasters Guild, you have a website called Collection Crossing that’s semi-related to what we're talking today, which is Skylander Character List. So the first thing I think we should do is let you introduce yourself. Matt, tell us about you.
Matt: It's always such a broad question, but my name is Matt Sonnenberg. I live in Wisconsin. I have been an online entrepreneur for roughly 10 plus years. I've been following Pat Flynn for that long too. It's been quite the journey. But I've had various successes online from time to time a lot of ebbs and flows and nothing really as stable as I had hoped. And so every few years, I found myself starting a new project or relaunching something, or it's been all over the map kind of. So this was kind of a welcome surprise when I found that something I had started many, many years ago was still alive, and that it was something that I could spend more time evolving even now.
Jillian: There's so much noise out there about like six figure launch and just like all the money and things. And the reality is, it's hard work, like getting to passive income is actually a lot of work. It's way easier to have a 9:00 to 5:00. So I just wanted to acknowledge that because I think more people need to talk about entrepreneurial realities. But so this, I think you need to, so dumb this down for me, teach me like I'm five. I have no idea what this is. I remember asking you about this but the SkylandersCharacterList.com that you started, tell us what is Skylander and why are there characters, for the non gamers in the room?
Matt: All right, so I'm going to start off by correcting you, Skylanders. It's a very common error I get all the time even with people who kind of know what they're talking about.
Jillian: And I certainly don't.
Matt: So Skylanders is actually a spin off of Spyro the Dragon. Have you ever heard of that?
Jillian: That's a no, but I like dragons, please continue.
Matt: Spyro the Dragon was a video game series back in the '90s. And they kind of wanted to use him to launch this new idea that they had. And so Spyro the Dragon is one of these characters that I'll be talking about today. But ultimately, Skylanders became the beginning of what they call the toys to life genre. So they it involves plastic figurines that you put on a portal of power, it's a USB device that you plug into your video game console. And when you put these figures on the portal that allows you to play as that character in the game.
Jillian: Which is a really cool idea. Yeah. I mean, what a way to make collecting something even cooler, by offering that sort of experience?
Matt: Especially when you're offering this to 6 to 12 year olds. When you show it to adults, and it's like, "Wait a minute." So in order for me to — because in the game when your character “dies" or because it's a game for kids, your character gets tired and needs to take a break. But essentially, what they turn these figurines into is extra lives in your game. So instead of like Super Mario back in the day, you had extra lives and could just keep playing, it's like, okay, cool — no, if you need an extra life, you need to buy another figure.
Jillian: Got you. So can we spoil your age? Like how old were you when you got into these characters that I’m —
Matt: When I got into it, it was, Skylanders, yes. When I got into Skylanders, I was 26. Okay, so be back in 2012. So I'm 35 now if you don't want to do the math.
Jillian: Yes, just could you see my brain trying to do math?
Jillian: I think I understand this. And then obviously, you had a very positive experience with it, because it prompted you to launch Skylanders Character List. So how did you go from Skylanders super player to entrepreneur related to it?
Matt: It kind of went the other way around. So I was in the middle of trying to find something that worked from an entrepreneurial standpoint. And I had first built this site called when my early, "Successes" were actually saw some form of income coming in, was a site called BuyingaHouseChecklist.net, awful URL —
Tony: I love it.
Matt: ... but it's awesome success, mostly from like Google ads and stuff, but whatever it was proof to me that this could work. But one thing I noticed with that site in particular, was that it was very cyclical and I didn't like that, because everybody moves in summer. You get a little bit of business in spring and fall, but nobody wants to move in middle winter, at least not in the northern half of the country. And so there was a definite cycle on that website, and that income follow that cycle. And so I was looking for something that would be year round. So I started thinking of like, well, what releases year round? So I started, think about video games. That was one of the other things. I mean, that was in my mid 20s, I play video games. So I started doing my research, keyword research and all that stuff and Skylanders thing popped up, like interesting. What is this? So not something I've heard of before.
Tony: And you had never...
Matt: No, I had not heard of it.
Matt: I saw it was related to Spyro. I'm like, "Okay, cool." I saw that there are these figures. And at this point, when I was doing the research, it was about a year, year and a half old, then so they were releasing a new game every year and a new set of figures to go along with each game. And the figures weren't just all released with the game, they're released in waves throughout the year. So this is something that was going to help kind of spread out that love throughout the entire year, instead of just in October when the game released.
Tony: Okay, hang on pause. So you're telling me you were not a Skylanders fan when you got into this?
Tony: Amazing. This is great, because it's in such contrast to this conversation we have with Pat Flynn about how he took his Pokemon fandom and then like kind of retroactively turned it into a business after already building an audience. And it's so easy to assume that that's the same idea that you went with, but you actually saw the business opportunity first. And it was in the timing, the rhythmic nature of the releases.
Matt: Yeah, that was a big part of it. It's something that not being a fan of the franchise to begin with was definitely a handicap for me. It's something that didn't bode well, because like nobody knew me. Like I was in the forums and such, but I was a brand new person forums. No, I didn't have any credibility. I didn't have anything to my name.
Jillian: But I feel like that's most people's experience, right? Like most of us, we have to start from that ground level and work up. So it's a testament to like you put the work in. Is this release style, is that common in the game, gamer world, like where they were doing the kind of delayed releases of characters and stuff? Have you seen that before?
Matt: Well, the figures being tied to video games like that, at least at that scale, hadn't really been done before. They were starting something new. They were launching something new. And that's part of the reason they had such a big success was that for the first two years that Skylanders existed, there was no competition.
Jillian: Yeah, it's a really intriguing model. And then you throw kids in there as like your main target, it's like oh, yeah.
Matt: Well, then with the starter pack for the game, the starter packs came with the game, the portal, and three characters, but it also came with a poster. A poster that had pictures of all the characters that you could collect. And like I said, you involve kids — they didn't directly come out and say it like Pokemon did, got to catch them all. They just said, "Hey, here's a poster. See all the things you could have."
Jillian: It's so smart, it's like Vegas baby but for kids. So take us to you know, you did your keyword research, you found this thing it aligned with you. I mean, right now, for everyone listening, Matt is wearing a Zelda shirt and has figurines of various games and who knows what behind him. So you're like legit gamer, it wasn't just like keyword search, fake it till you make it like this aligned with interest you have. But bring us to what like launching Skylanders Character List, like you figured it out and you launched and this is primarily a place where people can buy and sell the character so they can play. Is that correct?
Matt: Now it is. It wasn't originally. So originally —
Jillian: Walk us through.
Matt: The site was when I started looking around for Skylanders information, one thing I saw that everybody wanted, that you could find scraps of here and there but nothing as complete as I wanted was a complete checklist of all the figures. And there was one other site that was considered like my main competition at the time, that had a checklist, but it wasn't complete. And there was even a period of time that they had figures listed there that didn't actually exist. And I just not sure where they're getting their information and they obviously didn't care enough about the site to do the research and remove figures like that. So my sight actually started out — like the only offering I had early on was a black and white PDF checklist of all the characters. That was my calling card.
And that's what people knew me for, for first few years, honestly, like over that time, I did add like a picture directory on the site. And that attracted a lot of people, not only from kids wanting to just browse and look at all the cool pictures, but it was also from an entrepreneurial standpoint, something for me to... It was SEO. It was me saying, "Hey, I'm going to create an individual page for each character in this game." So with a name like SkylandersCharacterList.com, get the Skylanders in there, you got character in there. And then you take that further, and it's like, well, now I'm going to say Spyro series one and that's the URL. All the keywords are right there. Is only a matter of time before Google says, "Hey, they have all this information on Skylanders. And it's broken down into the individual pieces that people are actually searching for. What do you know?"
Jillian: That's clever. It's very cool. I mean, it's kind of like a Fan Wiki in many ways, but pre fan wiki as far as I know. And then how are you able to, so you had, you got SEO on your site obviously because you clearly knew how to play that game, which helped you tremendously. And you mentioned before you were in forums and didn't really have like a name for yourself, if you will. So how are you getting — besides Google search results, like how are you kind of building community around your site?
Matt: It was a really, really slow burn in the beginning. There were a few things that I did intentionally and there are a few things that just kind of happened on their own. In the early, early stages, I hate to admit this, but I was so worried about people not trusting me and not wanting to build a bad reputation for myself that I operated the site and even my forum identity under an alias.
Jillian: Oh, go on. What were you worried about?
Matt: I just I was new to this world and like with the Skylanders thing, I felt that I had something but I wanted to kind of infiltrate the forum community and not have to worry about getting on somebody's bad side. I mean, looking back at that it was really kind of a dumb decision to do because eventually I reached a point where I'm like, "Okay, I've kind of positioned this character as running this site. And I need to turn this over to me and just kind of erase that character."
Jillian: Did you have like a big reveal you're like it is I, Matt?
Matt: That's what I should have done looking back on it. Honestly, just came out and said, "Hey, actually, this is me. This was an alias." I took a semi shady route to it and wrote —
Jillian: Please tell.
Matt: I wrote a blog post saying, "Hey, so this is me Ezra — that that was my alias, Ezra — and I don't have time to run this site anymore. I'm going to be handing it over to this guy named Matt, so you know please welcome him." I went back and I think I may have deleted that post now. And just switch everything over all the author names and all the articles to my name because everybody knows me now, they know me SCL Matt. So I just kind of erased that overtime. But it was sketchy, it was sketchy.
Jillian: Did anybody say anything when you did the handing the torch to that guy, Matt?
Matt: More than anything, people were confused. They're like, wait, I may have even had someone asked like, "Are you the same person or?" So wait, you're both running site and now just Matt is or like, what's happening? Apparently I didn't explain it very clearly. I don't know.
Jillian: I think it's fair, especially almost 10 years ago now, when we all weren't sure ... Also, let's just acknowledge that the gaming community is one of the most hardcore toxic communities like when gamers turn, they turn. So I empathize with wanting to protect your identity in some sense, because they can be a little cutthroat.
Matt: Yeah, I think it helped that this game was aimed at kids. And like there were a lot of adults in there even just for the collecting aspect, like I was, but the game itself was aimed at kids, is pretty kid friendly. So it's not a huge deal overall.
But to kind of answer your initial question before, things I did, it was little things like putting a link to my PDF checklists in the forum signature. Forums aren't a huge thing anymore, necessarily. But that's that back then definitely, like darkspiral.net was the place to go for a while used to be just the Spyros franchise. But then Spyro the Dragon like, that kind of spawned into Skylanders. And so they covered that as well and that became the kind of top resource at the time for Skylanders information.
Jillian: Well, I like this, because you were at basically what I'm gathering as you were using what was available to you to kind of get people to the site. And obviously it took off on some level. Talk us through when you started, the pain points and the struggles with the site that were kind of when you started to consider just walking away.
Matt: So I had a very good run for about five years, from 2012 to 2017. They released a game every year, they released dozens of new figures every year. I think I was flying high at that point, like I was getting five figure income from this site. And it was just a great time. And the problem was, over time, like said the first two years, they had zero competition.
Year three, Disney steps in and says, "Hey, we want a piece of this." And so Disney Infinity pops up and it's the same idea, but with Disney characters. And then in 2014 Nintendo says, "Hey, we want a piece of this." And they come out with Amiibo. And then 2015 Lego says, "We want a piece of this," and they come out with Lego Dimensions. The problem was with all of these other brands that came in, not only was a competition, but each of these brands had known quantities, known IP that they were using to launch their product.
Whereas Skylanders, they started with Spyro the Dragon and there's one or two other minor characters from the game Cinder and Sparks, the Dragonfly and stuff that they carried over, but kind of dropped pretty quickly. And then said, "Hey, we're watching with these new characters." And so they were fighting an uphill battle the entire time trying to launch with brand new IP, brand new characters every year creating dozens of new characters and saying, "Hey, love these new characters." Then Disney steps in and says, "Hey, remember all these characters that you love, we're going to give them to you and figure form and then let you play with them in the game." Like, oh, okay, great.
Jillian: That's hard to compete with. Okay, we're going to open the vault.
Matt: Exactly. It was just everything started heading downhill a little bit. It hurt because that third year Skylanders produced more product than ever before, but Disney stepped in and took away basically half their market share. So then they had this imbalance and their budget then in the next couple of years, I think started getting slashed a little bit. And it was just downhill, downhill, downhill and we saw the bubble like it was going to burst. There were more brands that came in towards the tail end of this, 2016, 2017. And everybody just wanted a piece of this because it was a multibillion dollar industry at this point. They were dominating both the video game category and the toy category. It was just massive. But it did see the incoming, unfortunately, it happened a year sooner than I expected, and so I wasn't quite ready for it.
But when they announced in 2017 that that was their last game, the one that they released in 2016, that I didn't know exactly what I was going to do at that point. I had some idea, but it was not the end that I had hoped for. And the biggest thing was, I made an assumption right at that point, that if they're not coming out with new games, and new content, the community is just going to dissolve.
Jillian: I think you come from that, you look at things from a business owner standpoint. So you have one foot ready to jump ship and pivot, because it's your livelihood, for sure. So when this was happening, the new game was announced, at that point was your site still just like a super directory of all the characters? Had you gotten into anything else on the site?
Matt: Not really. During that five year period, it was just a whirlwind of news the entire time, because like I was looking for something that was year round, and it was year round. Like there was like maybe a two and a half month lull from roughly May to July or so where the last figures had released. And we're still kind of tracking those because they release over time. And before we get the announcement of the next game mid summer, and then you start tracking the new game, and it's like, okay, cool.
Jillian: I'm sorry, how were you making money because you mentioned it was like a five figure like monthly or whatever? How are you creating revenue from this site of the every character ever?
Matt: Well, the best part is, I didn't even have to create my own product. All my revenue was affiliate revenue between eBay and Amazon.
Jillian: So what kind of things? Like were people going to get the characters on eBay and Amazon, and you were...
Matt: So I mean, the October or the months leading up to October when people could pre-order the game were huge for me, they had made a big, big push. And then October rolls around, and all the pre orders actually go through the system and then I get my big payday. But I mean, I was still regularly, because of the way Amazon's affiliate program works. And let's be honest, it used to be better back in the day. I could hit that top tier where they're paying me 8.5 percent or whatever on everything. Whereas now, it's vastly different, especially in the video game category. Because video games are notorious loss leaders for stores. And so that's why affiliate programs hate to give them percentages, especially on consoles.
Jillian: I didn't know that. Okay, so I mean, I think so we see what's happening, like you that there will be no more games. And so you're kind of like, "Okay." So this is kind of when you step back a bit?
Matt: I step back entirely. I just said, I left the site up, and just kind of dropped it. I looked at the last article I posted, and it's like, hey... the last figure to be released was Robo. And the last article I posted on the blog was “Let the Robo Trickle Begin.” So this is how we refer to it because these late wave characters, we'd start to see him come in on the West Coast, and they'd slowly trickle across the country to the East Coast, and it would take a couple weeks or months sometimes to get them all the way across the US. But I didn't even follow up on that. I just said, "Hey, we're starting to see the last character appear." And then I never posted again after that. I just kind of ghosted them and it's like, huh, that was kind of awkward.
Jillian: So at this time, so you did your Robo ghost and then I'm assuming like there was... what places were people connecting on the characters and all of this? So there was obviously your site where they could, you had like the master list of all characters and the ability to use your affiliate links, but where else were people? It sounds like YouTube, like, where was the with [inaudible] chatter.
Matt: I didn't have a huge community hub at that point. I had the blog, and they could comment on that. And they did and I would reply and get a little bit of chatter there. But I did have a YouTube channel, but mostly what I posted there was just like gameplay videos. I tried a few things over the years and I tried posting like, tips on buying Skylanders, and where to look for him and that type of thing. Never really took off that big. For the last few years, I did have a weekly SCL news segment, where just covered that week in Skylanders, what was going on. And those are probably my most popular videos at the time. And that's something that, once again, I just kind of stopped. And so I mean in the comments there, people could talk to me.
And so I mean, I interacted with the community, but not so much in a community forum or gathering place as we know them today.
Tony: Did you find that people were surprised? Or did they reach out to you and they saw that you were not showing up anymore?
Matt: Honestly, I don't recall too much. I don't recall much of that time when I left. And anyone that would have written me, I would have written them back. I've always over the, all the time that I've been gone from SCL, I was always available to the community if they had questions, because that's one of the things that towards the end of it, the last few years I realized it wasn't just the kids that were using my site. It really turned into a resource hub for the parents of the people of the kids who were buying the stuff because parents had the money and so over the past last few years, I really got into like this getting started section. And you know, like here's how the game works. And all these little details about the game.
Jillian: Bless you as a parent, bless you, I've read many of posts about like, Can I get Minecraft Pocket Edition to work with this device and just stuff for my daughter that I'm like, I don't know what this is.
Matt: But that's how I gained a whole new audience basically. Before I just started with the kids and then I got the adults and now like I help them all. But I mean, like I said over the past four years when I was gone, I was still getting messages from parents with questions, and I will gladly help them out. Absolutely.
Jillian: So at what point you're getting these messages and whatnot, do you kind of realize like, hey, maybe there's something here and start to think about like, what could I do with this because I have all this content I've created that I left up which, smart, I think a lot of us are tempted just like pull it all down, pretend it never happened. But you left it all out there on the interwebs. Where was the shift, where you decided to revisit SCL, as I'm learning to call it.
Matt: It's a simple way to go. Plus like said I am actually the name SCL Matt like that's me within the community, and that's who people know. Over the four years that I was gone, one of the things that stuck out with me, and like I didn't really think too much of it in the beginning, but it was as passive as it gets because I had those affiliate links up there. I had the Google juice running to them and that site was still bringing in two to $300 a month, without me touching it for four years.
And it was in early 2021, when I was down in Florida visiting a friend of mine, and we were driving from his house in Jacksonville, out to Disney World. It's about a two hour commute. So we have some time to talk and we enjoy talking about business. And I was struggling at that point. I had tried some other things, I had another product that went up and down in two years, because kind of similar situation like they stopped creating the product. Then the most recent two years, I've been really into podcasting. But unfortunately, it hadn't taken off like I wanted to, I wasn't seeing the income. And so I'm like, "Okay, I need to do something. I need to find something that works, something that's stable, something that will last over the years." And that's where he asked me, "Well, what about your Skylander site? You've mentioned that a few times, you mentioned that like there's still some income there. What can you do with that? And it's like, is the site still getting any traffic?" So I looked at it, and it's like, it's getting about five to 10,000 page views per day so yeah, maybe I should do something with that.
Jillian: Just a couple.
Matt: So that was kind of the instigator to tell me, "Hey, go investigate this further and see what's going on. Like why are people still visiting the site?" And that's when I found some communities that had developed over the years in my absence. Discord which was not a thing back when I was running, maybe they had just launched barely but...
Jillian: Not what it is now for sure.
Matt: Yeah, like everybody has a Discord and now there are multiple Skylanders Discords out there. So I joined some of them and started talking with some folks and I changed my name to SCL Matt. And they're like, "Oh, SCL Matt's in here." It’s like, "You know me?
Matt: But yeah, that was a big thing, a big crazy moment for me that four years later, I jump on the internet again and say, "Hey, SCL Matt's here," and people know who I am.
Jillian: And you weren't expecting that.
Matt: I was not expecting that at all. I was expecting that like, okay, who's here now are these folks that have just picked up the game the past two years, and there are some of those out there. But a lot of it is what I've found out was, it's these kids that grew up with it. It is the 10 and 12 year olds who started back with me back in 2012. Now they're 20. Now they're single, [inaudible] have a job, they have disposable income. And they're still interested in Skylanders. Either, they've been collecting the entire time, even when I was gone — because that's something I didn't realize, Skylanders are extremely, extremely collectible. I knew that, but it didn't register in my head that even without new stuff coming out, they're still collectible.
But then, it's also these kids who were interested in Skylanders. They moved away, either they sold their collection or their parents sold their collection. Now they're back to it again and they want to reclaim their childhood. So there is a very, dare I say rabid Skylanders collecting community out there right now. That I found was my way back into this community.
Jillian: That's great. Well, and you provided so much I mean your site in many ways. I mean, sure you made affiliate revenue, but for a lot of people it was a resource, a free resource, right? So I mean, you provided a lot of value. Obviously people remember you and appreciated you. You are probably a big part of their journey with collecting, especially back when there probably weren't a lot of other than the poster. There weren't a lot of references to the complete set.
Matt: Yeah. I mean, I made checklists every year for the characters that came out. But one of the other things that people always loved, and when I came back, people brought them up again. And like, “I remember when you had the day one checklists,” the checklists that I put out on the day the game launched, so you would know what was coming out in wave one and wave two, what was available on launch day. And there were a lot of times like store exclusives. So you'd have to go to Target to get this character and then go to Walmart to get this character, but then you can get the best deal on the starter pack here.
Jillian: Oh, wow.
Matt: It was useful.
Jillian: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it sounds amazing. And I could absolutely see the nostalgia-collecting of the kids who grew up. I was trying to think of an equivalent for an oldy like me, and I can't think of anything other than like, Garfield.
Matt: Do you collect Garfield?
Jillian: I don't, but I have a quite the collection of my own like the little guys that used to stick in people's windows. Apparently those are like a highly sought after collectible. I just happened to have like three of them because I was a total Garfield geek as a child.
Jillian: But like if I was at an antique store or something and saw a really cute Garfield, I'd probably buy it. I love Garfield.
Matt: Fair enough.
Jillian: So back to not Garfield, back to SCL, so since you've come back and realized like, "Hey, this is a thing,” what have you changed on the site or just your strategy? Because it seems like you sell things now or at least help facilitate.
Matt: I do. And that was the biggest change for me. It was a question I got a lot back in the day is, do you sell Skylanders? And I had made disclaimers all the time, it's like, "No, I do not actually sell Skylanders on this site but here's where you can get them." And it's just something I never wanted to deal with because I didn't want to hold the inventory. I didn't want to worry about shipping stuff. I didn't have any experience in that. But in the four years that I was gone, online retail is something that I did get into with the other franchise that I followed. So that was something that I was very comfortable with, especially after coming... Like I worked with a trading card game called Lightseekers. And they had thousands of different cards, and I sold singles. So I had thousands of different listings on my website.
And now I came back to Skylanders and said, "Okay, they're not trading cards, so they're going to take up more space, I get it. But it's a maximum of 600 items, unique items that I'm going to have to deal with. I can do that.
Tony: So as you go forward, Matt, where are you seeing the role of communities and people who care about these kinds of things as you're kind of looking ahead to other directions you want to go in your business?
Matt: So I think that's going to be the piece that I need to fully implement now. Like it's always kind of been there in the back of things but and I mean even just in the comment section like said like that's about all the community I had full control over at least. And like I said, people have been requesting like, "Start an SCL Discord." And I'm like, I'm still hesitant do that because I've started discord before and I know it can be a chore to do it right and just get all the pieces in place. And like, I'm focusing on the shop right now, I do want to start something like this, especially if there's a demand for it, but I need to be in the right headspace to do it. I think that he's going to be something that's necessary in the long term, that's going to help me because I do kind of have this fear that even though the collecting seems big right now, and sales are doing really well for the site right now, I've seen my products collapse before, and I don't want it to happen again.
So I kind of need that community piece for the longevity I think. Because I think they're always going to be people, even if they're not actively collecting, they'll still be interested in talking about it. There are a few people out there I know who have completed their collection. And so like, they're not going to be actively buying, but they're still hanging out and talking about it with us, helping other people find stuff. And I think that that's going to be a huge piece going forward to bring some stability to what I'm doing.
Jillian: And your role in that community doesn't always necessarily have to be like running a platform. It can be more adjacent, and it can be a big part of the community, but not necessarily like the spot, not to say don't do it. But just another way to think about it. I think about, like Pat's Pokemon, Deep Pocket Monster, YouTube channel, and he has memberships on that. In a way like he's not the one Pokemon card collecting community, there are several, but he's found a way to participate in it that's fun to him, which is YouTube, because he likes to create. And so maybe there's something like that with you. But all that to say, if you do want to have your own community that offers it something, obviously, that's a great thing to do, just don't let that stress you out because you're very much a part of the community.
Matt: Very much so, yes.
Tony: Well, and I actually, I think that's a big takeaway for me that, I don't necessarily recommend that people try to become community leaders, unless they really know that they want to be because once they do, they're kind of signed up for something that's hard to walk away from, and comes with certain obligations. I think in Matt's case, you have created a resource that's useful to a community, but you're not a community leader per se. You are adjacent to this community, and the community is grateful for you. But they're not counting on you to continue to nurture their relationships in order for this community to work. I think that that's a really, really powerful position to be in. And it's a valuable role to play that I don't think we've necessarily discussed a lot.
Matt: I think that makes a lot of sense, yeah. I think that's kind of my hesitancy right now is that I don't necessarily want to be that community leader either. And more than anything, like people are like, "Start an SCL Discord." I'm like, "Well, there's already multiple Skylanders Discords out there, like why would mine be different? What would be the point of mine?"
Jillian: I think there's value to it, because it would be your special perspective and people know you from your site, but that doesn't mean you have to do it, if it's not something you want to do. I mean, I could definitely even just the videos you were doing on YouTube, like the weekly news obviously, no games are coming out, but maybe there's a way. Whichever way you like to create content and engage with people, there's a way to leverage the community in that which is what's beautiful about these big communities and like fandom type communities.
Matt: Yeah, the YouTube right now, I did start off with a when I jumped back into the community, I created a series called Figure Focus, where I went back and started highlighting each of the characters and all the different figures they made of each character over the years, and people really enjoy that series. But other than that, I've actually been live streaming a lot. And so that's kind of been my way to interact with the community more than anything right now. So I have regulars that show up to those live streams. One of my, I feel kind of lightbulb moments that just happened accidentally, was whenever I get a new shipment of figures for the shop, I always unbox them on a live stream to give people a preview of what's coming into the shop.
And like it's just like I tried it once and people loved it. And honestly, those unboxing streams, like I also have streams during the week where I just sit down and live stream me playing the game and talk about Skylanders. But the unboxing streams are way more popular. They get like twice the viewership that any of my other streams do.
Jillian: Yeah, it's like Christmas morning. It's like what did you get?
Matt: But it's crazy, because it's like, like said there's a maximum of 600 different figures out there. So I'm pulling the same figures out of the box over and over and over, and it's like, they still tune in to see it every time.
Jillian: I'd watch. Honestly, I don't know what it is about those, but they're just like fun to be like, yeah, how many of this one did you get? It's just I don't know why, I don't know the psychological reasoning, but I'm down with those. Well, we definitely wish you the best with it. Anybody listening, check it out. Let's see if I can say it right. It's the SkylandersCharacterList.com, if you're interested if you'd like to go down a nostalgia wormhole. But now we are going to shift gears a little bit and Tony is going to ask you a series of questions.
Tony: Yeah, get ready.
Jillian: The test has begun.
Tony: Okay, so let's start with this. What did you want to be when you grew up?
Matt: That's a very tough one. The story I always go back to is in fourth grade we had to write this down on a piece of paper where what do you want to be? or what do you want to be or where do you see yourself working in 10 years? I said working at McDonald's? That was my dream. I obviously didn't understand time very well. That from the age I was 10 to about 20 and when I was 20 I wanted to be working McDonald's, that was my big dream. I don't know. That's all I got.
Jillian: You can take breaks in the ball pit. There's a lot of perks-
Matt: I don't know.
Jillian: Fries, all the time.
Tony: Plus I mean at the time you probably really liked the food and it made you happy to go there. So why not? Okay, switching tracks. How do you define community?
Matt: A place for people to gather and discuss a shared interest.
Tony: I love it. Something on your bucket list that you have done.
Matt: That I have done. That's a very interesting twist.
Tony: Something you maybe would have been on your bucket list or was on your bucket list, and yet went and you did it.
Matt: Went to Australia actually on my honeymoon.
Jillian: Oh, what part did you go to?
Matt: Sydney area. Actually made it out into New Zealand too but when we were in Australia, it was just the Sydney area, we didn't have much time.
Tony: Okay, and something on your bucket list that you have not yet done.
Matt: Speak on stage at a major convention.
Tony: Good one.
Jillian: You’re speaking Tony's language.
Tony: Let's talk about books. Is there a book right now that you're just absolutely loving?
Matt: My book reading goes in spurts. Right now I'm unfortunately not reading anything.
Tony: I'm also happy with all time greats or just one that you find yourself really recommending to people.
Matt: The one I'll probably recommend the most honestly is Superfans. As cheesy as that sounds, but...
Tony: We did not pay Matt to say that.
Matt: No, no.
Tony: Tell us why.
Matt: I mean, I feel that book was the culmination of everything I've seen Pat Flynn do over the past decade. I felt while reading that book because I followed him for so long, there wasn't necessarily anything new, but it was all packaged in a nice way that anybody who hasn't followed for the past 10 years gets the same education.
Tony: If you could live anywhere in the world other than where you currently live, where would it be?
Matt: Orlando, Florida so I can visit the theme parks every day.
Tony: I love it. Amazing. And finally, we're digging now, how do you want to be remembered?
Matt: So all the things that I haven't done on my bucket list that I should have mentioned for the previous question are flooding back to me right now. I've always wanted to leave my mark on physical objects. As in, I want to write a book, I want to create a board game. That's a big one for me. Things like that. They don't need to sell millions of copies. They don't need to be my main source of income or anything like that. But knowing that the work that I did was enjoyed by people that I don't know, would be success to me.
Tony: Amazing. Thanks so much, Matt.
Jillian: Well, we will pay attention to when your board game comes out. And we'll know that one more thing was crossed off your bucket list.
Matt: Looking forward to it.
Jillian: Matt, thank you so much for joining us today and being really vulnerable and talking about this project that has just picked up again, full steam and it sounds like you're just crushing it. Where if people want to connect with you, where would you like them to go?
Matt: Well, if you just want to follow me, you can follow me on Twitter @AsaMatterofMatt. Or if you're interested in the Skylanders stuff, you can follow me on Twitter @SCLMatt.
Jillian: So many Twitters. Awesome. Thank you so much.
All right, and that my friends was Matt Sonnenberg with SkylandersCharacterList.com. Tony, that was such a fun conversation.
Tony: Absolutely. One of the things that stuck out to me, one of my takeaways is just not to underestimate the value of just one really good hit. And I think it's nice to think in terms of what's what's one thing, what's one really valuable resource that might be missing in a given community? And how can I just create something that generates so much value that it can live on beyond even when I thought it would?
Jillian: Yeah, absolutely. And it's such an interesting just like, idea, right? Like I'm going to make this character list and use SEO techniques and just get people here. Honestly, I don't think I would have thought of that.
Tony: It also helps to know the seasonality of the business that you're kind of getting into. If there's release cycles for different products or characters or things like that. How can you lean into that? How can you plan your business accordingly?
Jillian: I think just kind of being beholden to a brand that is releasing things, back to Matt's business. It's kind of one of those things where, when it's good, it's good, but then as soon as they make a choice like they did to end the series, you kind of have this now what? I thought he was pretty smart about strategically picking something that had ongoing releases. But I guess that's part of the game, the releases may end. Although I guess there were other brands doing similar things he could have expanded to, but it sounded like he was just kind of ready to take a break at that time.
Tony: Yeah. And he was smart to recognize that he was using a brand name and his URL. And eventually somebody might come knocking and say, knock that off. And so for him to start to build up a persona that wasn't explicitly attached to the brand, so that he could carry over some of his social capital in case of a cease and desist. I think that's a smart way to back yourself up.
Jillian: Yeah, it's definitely a risk using a brand name in your name, for sure. But interestingly, I feel like now he has this SCL Matt kind of brand around him. And even if he does want to get into other games and things like that, people will know who he is, which is fantastic. I think we, let's talk about the Ezra in the room. The choice to aliases, which, I mean, I totally get it as someone who kind of is on the internet as part of a role, much like yourself. And when you do decide, or if you do decide that, "Hey, I want to align my own name with this." Like you do run a risk, so it's definitely something to think about. But I did appreciate him being pretty candid about that whole situation. What were your thoughts Tony?
Tony: Well, I've actually been really enamored with the idea of creating aliases or kind of anonymous alter egos, for creative projects.
Jillian: Like Sasha Fierce?
Tony: It just insulates you from judgment or exposure to your name, if you want to just try stuff and see how it goes. Right? And I've seen people use alt accounts on Twitter to just have a very freed up voice, because they don't have to worry about what they say being associated with their human name. But you then also maybe want to plan accordingly for if you do one day want to attach your real identity to it.
Jillian: Yeah, I mean, it's so true, because I am one blessing of being a like Gen X, Y, older person is I didn't grow up on the internet the way people are now. And it's true, I mean, if I had a digital record of what an idiot I was in my teens and 20s, it's just the cringe.
Tony: The top takeaway for me was absolutely the fact that you can be community adjacent. So in Matt's case, he was able to provide a tremendous value and service to the community without being a linchpin and a bottleneck himself. So the communities around this game existed in other places, other people were maintaining that to the point where he could walk away for years, not even really know what was going on, and then come back and find his thing was still providing value to that community on its own without his interference without his participation, and that he could just kind of jump right back in the water. And people would be like, Oh, yeah, I remember you. So I think there's just a really nice value to being able to play that role, looking for opportunities to play that role in communities, especially if you're interested in a community before you're certain that you want to undertake the commitment of the burden of being a leader.
Jillian: I also just love the freedom of that. It's such a lower bar, a lower barrier of entry to be like, I want to be a part of this community in these ways, but not necessarily run a Discord or run a platform dedicated.
Tony: And it's if you do want to start a community, it seems like a pretty terrific way to get yourself set up for that. Because if you are providing value as a community member, then people hold you in higher regard, there's trust, people know that you have something of value to provide. And then once you're ready to flip the switch and take charge of a new community, people are going to be behind you.
Jillian: Indeed. Well, that was our episode for today. Be sure to check out Matt Sonnenberg or SCL Matt, as we know him now and his site the Skylanders Character List to see all the characters and all about them should you be interested. I'd never heard of this, but it sounds it's a cool idea for sure.
Tony: All right. Well, we hope this has inspired you. Let us know what you think. We are team SPI on Twitter. And you can find out more about everything related to our work at SmartPassiveIncome.com. So in the meantime, keep bringing people together, keep building relationships, keep doing the good things you're doing in your world to make other people's worlds better and less alone. And keep being awesome.
Jillian: Yep. And we will see you next Tuesday.
Tony: Bye. This has been The Community Experience. For more information on this episode, including links and show notes head over to SmartPassiveIncome.com/listen.
Jillian: Don't forget to check out Matt Sonnenberg, our guest, at SkylandersCharacterList.com.
Tony: Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our series producers are David Grabowski and senior producer Sara Jane Hess. Editing and sound design by Duncan Brown, music by David Grabowski.
Jillian: See you next time.