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Joel on Software

Aardvark'd DVDs Ship; Final P&L

by Joel Spolsky
Thursday, December 01, 2005

Agckphbft. I didn't expect so many of you to order the DVD of the movie we made here, Aardvark'd: 12 Weeks with Geeks. I thought we'd get about 1000 orders. So far, we've received about 2600 orders, which went to 55 different countries, including Kazakhstan. We even sent a copy to someone in New Orleans.

Picture of DVDs ready to shipNow, anyone in their right mind would have found a fulfillment house to actually package and ship these damn things, but here at Fog Creek we seem to have developed a do-it-yourself kind of culture. That led to a three day packing and shipping ordeal to get the first batch out the door, which is finally over.

The way I justify this silly exercise in hard labor is that I can write it off as a learning experience! Here's what I learned:

  • Barcodes are the greatest thing since sliced bread. I didn't think we'd need a barcode because all we had to type was an eight digit order ID.  Lo and behold, typing an eight digit order ID three thousand times adds up. The three day ordeal would have been a two day ordeal if we had thought to put barcodes on the packing slip and had a scanner to read it.
  • It is amazing how much easier our life would have been if we had found a way to get the packing slip and the shipping label onto the same physical piece of paper. Otherwise you need to spend a remarkable amount of effort trying to keep your packing slips in the same sequence as your shipping labels. If they can both be printed on the same sheet somehow, the sequence stops mattering and everything you do is just that much easier. You can throw things on piles as you assemble the packages instead of carefully keeping things in sequence. You'll notice that a lot of shippers use special paper that is half peel-off-label, half plain paper for this exact reason.
  • The difference between desk/table height (intended for working sitting down) and counter height (intended for working standing up) makes a huge difference ergonomically. Three days of working with things at various heights while standing up taught me that lesson in a visceral way. Luckily our new office expansion was not completely set in stone so we were able to alter the design of the new mailroom shipping station to use counters instead of desks.
  • You can't send Global Priority Mail to Italy. Who knew?

So far we've shipped to just about everyone who ordered, except for the last 100 people who ordered the NTSC edition, because we flat ran out. More NTSC DVDs will arrive on December 14th and will go out quickly. We still have some PAL in stock, so those are now going out the same day.

In case you're wondering how much it really costs to produce a movie like this, here's the approximate breakdown.

Incremental Expenses (per unit)

$2.00 - DVD production and delivery
$5.00 - Royalty to filmmaker
$0.30 - Envelope for shipping
$2.52 - Postage (weighted average)
$0.20 - Other supplies for shipping (labels, paper for packing slips, toner, boxes, etc)
$1.00 - Shipping labor (estimate, since most labor came from Fog Creek employees on the payroll anyway).

Total per unit: $11.02. Since we're selling at $19.95 that's $8.93 gross profit.

Fixed Expenses:

$5,000 - Stipend paid to Boondoggle Films
$5,000 - expense reimbursement to Boondoggle Films
$925 - English-language subtitles
$3000 - Terabyte storage server used to hold footage while editing
$1000 - Graphic design of DVD cover and silkscreen
$200 - Damaged goods, accidental double shipments (due to lack of bar codes!), spoiled postage, etc.

Total: $15125. So we need to sell 1694 copies to break even. As of today, we've sold 2595, so we made a profit on the movie of about $8048.

There's one thing this doesn't account for: since we buy the DVDs in lots of 1000, at some point in the future we're going to have a bunch of DVDs that we just can't sell and we'll have to write those off. With 2 SKUs and batches of 1000 we'll waste an expected 500 units per SKU which is $2000, so deduct $2000 from the profit giving you a final figure of $6048.

Not bad! I was hoping to break even on the movie, and make a "profit" through more applications to our summer internship program from people who saw the movie and were inspired to work for Fog Creek.


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About the author.

I’m Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable. Programmers get private offices, free lunch, and work 40 hours a week. Customers only pay for software if they’re delighted. We make Trello, easy web-based collaboration software, FogBugz, an enlightened bug tracking and software development tool, and Kiln, a distributed source control system that will blow your socks off. I’m also the co-founder and CEO of Stack Exchange. More about me.

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