How to build a marketplace for publishers and advertisers? Todd Garland is the founder of BuySellAds, the marketplace for online advertisers. Todd was an early employee at Hubspot. As a one man show, Todd grew BuySellAds to $1.5 million in 11-months. He did it without spending zero dollars on sales and marketing. Listen to the following interview to find out what it takes to build a successful marketplace.
Say hi to Todd at buysellads.com.
Peter Shankman is best known for founding Help A Reporter Out (HARO). HARO is currently the largest free source repository in the world, sending out over 1,500 queries from worldwide media each week. HARO’s tagline, “Everyone is an Expert at Something”, proves over and over again to be true, as thousands of new members join at helpareporter.com each week. In June of 2010, less than two years after Peter started HARO in his apartment, it was acquired by Vocus, Inc. The New York Times has called him "a public relations all-star who knows everything about new media and then some,", while Investor's Business Daily has labeled him "crazy, but effective." Peter is an author, entrepreneur, speaker, and worldwide connector. He is recognized worldwide for radically new ways of thinking about Customer Service, Social Media, PR, marketing and advertising.
Say hi to Peter at shankman.com.
What does it take to build a $6 million training business? Kevin Cope founded Acumen Learning in 2002, the leader in business acumen training. Kevin's ideas and business models have been taught to some of the world's most respected and successful companies – including 17 of the Fortune 50, reaching tens of thousands of participants in over 30 countries. In 2012, ISA, The Association of Learning Providers, recognized Acumen Learning as their Training Company of the Year. Also in 2012, Kevin came out with his New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller, "Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career, and Company". Since Acumen Learning opened its doors, it has continued to grow strongly every year, even through the recession. Last year Acumen Learning did $6 million in revenues.
Say hi to Kevin at acumenlearning.com.
What does it take to take action? Chris Taylor founded ActionAbleBooks, a company dedicated to help business leaders develop themselves and their teams through the application of lessons from leading business books. Chris has published over 150 articles, speaks regularly, and has read more business books he cares to count.
Check out Chris' new book, "Beyond the Picket Fence."
What does it take to start a business at 7? Syed Balkhi created his first business when he was only 7 years old. Syed has been doing internet stuff since he was 12. He is an online marketer with design and development experience. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Wired Magazine, Yahoo, just to mention a few. Syed is the founder of WPBeginner a wildly popular site that provides quality tips, tricks, and hacks for Wordpress users. In 2011, Syed created a site called List25 which is an extremely popular site. Within 3 months of launch, the site was receiving 5 million pageviews per month. List25 has over 700,000 subscribers and 100 Million video views on its Youtube channel.
Say hi to Syed at balkhis.com.
Read Raw Transcript Now:
Success Harbor: Hi everyone this is George Meszaros with Success Harbor and I have Syed Balkhi with me. Syed created his first business when he was 7 years old, yes, that’s 7. Syed has been doing internet stuff since he was 12. He is an online marketer with design and development experience. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Wired Magazine, Yahoo, just to mention a few. Syed is the founder of WP Beginner, a wildly popular and successful site that provides quality tips, tricks and hacks for Wordpress users. Welcome.
Syed Balkhi: Thank you for having me George.
Success Harbor: Thank you for being here. I really appreciate Syed. Let’s get into your beginnings in business. I read about you that you have started at 7. Your first business was at age 7, is that correct?
Syed Balkhi: Yes, that is correct. I started a greeting cards business when I was back in Pakistan because I grew up there and we have 2 very popular holidays and [line breaks 1:07] you have and you ask people are doing--, kids are doing lemonade stands, we have like, you know, a lot of kids doing greeting cards so that was my first business.
Success Harbor: Anything after that, after 7? Because I think I read about, what was it, 12?
Syed Balkhi: Yes.
Success Harbor: You know, you’ve been doing stuff online so, I mean, it’s kind of crazy to start that young. Why, what’s the attraction to business at that early age?
Syed Balkhi: So, one of the big motivations at age 7 was I saw other people doing it and, obviously you know, kids were a little older than me but you know, it’s not really uncommon for you to see like a 9-year-old having their own greeting cards stand and that’s what the adults would buy from. I have given a long talk about this and I’ll try to keep it very short. I saw the power [inaudible 01:53], with the chips, one of the chips brand, they were giving away toys so I got into the greeting cards business and it went real well and kept on doing it for as long as I was in Pakistan and then my family moved to US when I was 12 years old and that’s when I got into all the internet stuff, buying and selling domain names, building proxy websites, arcade websites, getting really involved with the SEO industry, with the web directories and then consulting and then blogging and all that.
Success Harbor: And then later you got into buying and selling domain names right?
Syed Balkhi: Yea.
Success Harbor: What age was that and how did you get into that business?
Syed Balkhi: So that was age 12. I started high school fairly early, I was 12 years old and I didn’t have a lot of friends, you know, I was playing a lot of online games at that time. I would get up in the middle of the night and start playing games. Didn’t really have a schedule, you know, my parents weren’t really strict. So one of my cousins says, “Dude, you wake up in the middle of the night to play games and to earn fake money that the games would have right, the game point, why don’t you wake up and buy something that has actual value, like expired domain names, and he explained to me the whole concept, that expired domain names expired a certain time and if you can get it they can be worth some money and that’s how I really got into it.
Success Harbor: Do you have a number or was it just a few domain names or did you buy and sell thousands or hundreds of domains?
Syed Balkhi: No, at one point I had over 450 domain names and then after that I slowly started cutting down, selling them as part of bulk packages and now I have like, I think closer to 100 but those are the ones that I like to keep.
Success Harbor: Ok. So they’re not for flipping, they’re more of a long-term investment for a potential business?
Syed Balkhi: Yeah. Now they are yes but in the past, I would buy and sell, like flip a lot of domain names. I had 3-letter.us’, 3-letter.coms, 3-letter.net and you know, I would flip them.
Success Harbor: Wow. Do you think that’s a viable business model even today, this 2014?
Syed Balkhi: It’s more risky because a lot of the good domain names are already taken, unless you come up with a new industry name that you think is going to be worth money. The one thing I always tell about domains is, it doesn’t matter what you think its worth, it’s what the buyer is willing to pay you for it. But you’ll be sitting on that domain name for a very long time because there’s no--, the value of it is completely on the user.
Success Harbor: Yeah, yeah. So you have then started, and now we’re jumping way forward but I want to get started talking about WP Beginner which you started in 2009 if that’s correct, right? 2009?
Syed Balkhi: That’s correct, yeah.
Success Harbor: So, when you started WP Beginner, what were your goals with the site? Was it for business, hobby? What was your dream about that site or what did you want with it?
Syed Balkhi: Yeah, so I started using Wordpress in 2006 and I had built up quite a portfolio of clients that I was working with, you know, building their websites using either static html or like custom php framework and at one point it just came to me that I make a lot more money when I sign a new client versus keeping long-term retainer clients on like, you know, maintaining their websites practically the small businesses and I thought to myself what if I could give them WordPress? They don’t have to ask me to maintain it or ask one of my staff members to maintain it and I sent all of them an email saying, “Hey, would you be willing to pay me an upfront fee if I switch you over to WordPress and then you would never have to pay me again on a monthly retainer?”, and most of them agreed so I switched them all to WordPress, only to find that I was getting emails from them again but it was a different type of email. They were asking me how do you do this in WordPress and how do you do that in WordPress. I reached out to a bunch of my friends that were consultants and developers and asked them how they were doing it and most of them had a pdf that they would give out to their clients to learn how to use WordPress and so on. I didn’t want that and the reason for that was because I asked everybody. “What was your biggest complaint about this method?” and they said “Updating them.” So I started looking at web-based versions because you know if you have a site that’s powered by WordPress, it’s fairly easy to moderate and manage; there was none. Most of the sites about WordPress were by developers for developers. Nobody was really targeting beginners and there were some coaches that were selling the courses for, I think like $400 to learn WordPress and I said well I’m not going to send my client to somebody who’s going to charge them $400 because I just billed them a significant chunk of money. So instead I decided that there’s a huge need in the market and I started WP Beginner.
Success Harbor: So, did you have to do anything special for WP Beginner to stand out? I mean, we’ll talk about it later, your Alexa ranking which is super impressive but when you started it did you think that you had to do something special or you just kind of added some articles and then see what happens?
Syed Balkhi: So WP Beginner was not my first site so I was very familiar with how the search engines work, how social media worked. Back then, social media was a lot of Digg and a lot of stumble upon so I had fairly decent profiles on all those platforms. So I knew exactly what I had to do to grow the business right, in terms of like, getting traffic. Getting traffic wasn’t the issue for me thankfully because I’ve had so many different sites but the one thing that really helped to differentiate WP Beginner was that I actively listened to the users. I used ‘search.twitter.com’ and I just sat there like a hawk on the WordPress hashtag and I would check it several times a day to see what kind of questions people were asking about WordPress and that’s how I got all of my article ideas, because I saw exactly the questions people were looking for so I know if I gave them that, they would automatically help me stand out and build trust because somebody--, you know, most people would just rant about their problem on Twitter. Somebody actually listened and gave them a solution; that will make sure you stand out.
Success Harbor: So, I want to just understand how you did that so, you did a search and then did you respond immediately or did you develop the content and then said, “Hey, I have an answer to your question”? What was your process?
Syed Balkhi: A little bit of both. So, if it was--, I did a little bit of both when answering the Twitter questions. If the article was something really simple, like too, too simple that it didn’t really need an article, I would reply to them in a tweet but if it was a little bit more complexed, I would write about it. If it was too complexed that it wouldn’t really fit the WP Beginner type of audience, I would find a resource that the user would find helpful so I try to cater to all of them.
Success Harbor: Ok. So it was more important to be helpful than just to push people to WP Beginner?
Syed Balkhi: Exactly. That’s very important. I didn’t always, you know, get the users, there were several people who were developers that were looking for questions and I still answered their questions because I had a development background. It was just to be purely helpful. The goal wasn’t always to bring the user back to WP Beginner, it was to build trust.
Success Harbor: So, I want to talk about your Alexa ranking for WP Beginner, you have about 1400 the last time I checked, I think a couple of days ago which is amazing, I mean, some people in the audience may not be very familiar with it but Google is number 1, Facebook is 2, Twitter is 9 so to have 1400, that’s out of all websites in the world, is just a super impressive accomplishment. What are the reasons for you to reach that level of popularity for your website to get that kind of traffic? What were you doing right?
Syed Balkhi: To be quite honest, I have very strong reason to believe that Alexa’s flawed and that’s mainly because I have other websites that get a lot more traffic than WP Beginner and Alexa’s not as high as WP Beginner. So, I don’t…
Success Harbor: So it’s not very accurate but I mean, if you have like, a 10 million Alexa ranking or a 3 million or a few hundred thousand, it kind of gives you kind of an idea but it’s not an exact number right, we agree on that.
Syed Balkhi: Yeah, so it’s not very accurate at all. I have higher sites that get more traffic that should be at 1400 versus WP Beginner but to answer your question, it was just a word-of-mouth advertising. I was helping people, people were talking about it, I had a decent profile on ‘Digg.com’ so I would occasionally get my articles to hit the front page of Digg and that would instantly bring a good chunk of users, close to 60-80,000 people on the website in the matter of like, a few hours or as soon as the article would hit front page. So I wasn’t new to social media. I did use all of my skills there to get the traffic but a lot of it was building relationships, trying to be as helpful as possible and then let the organic growth begin.
Success Harbor: And so how long did it take WP Beginner to really take off from 2009? Was it within a matter of months, weeks, I mean yes you had experience to drive traffic to it but was it more of a hockey stick type of growth or more of a gradual growth?
Syed Balkhi: No, it was very much of a hockey stick growth in the beginning because every time--, imagine getting like several articles on the front page of Digg.com when it was really powerful? So you’re getting like 80,000 people in a day, 100,000 people in a day to a brand new website and that’s what caused the initial big burst of growth and then the word-of-mouth started coming in and then several influencers that started noticing it and then they started twitting about it and then ever since then, the growth has been very steady.
Success Harbor: So, help us out, for those that are starting a new site or a blog, what do they have to do today, 2014? Let’s say it’s just a one-person business, they don’t really have people helping them or they don’t have a whole lot of time or experience, what do they need to do to set themselves apart from competitor sites and to get traffic?
Syed Balkhi: So, what I would say is find out what your audience is looking for, ok and you can do that by creating your audience profiles, [inaudible 11:46] profiles, user profiles, there’s all the different words for it and see exactly what they need. Now start offering what they’re looking for, whether they are articles, whether they are podcasts, videos. Next, find out exactly where those users are going to be. Which websites do these users go to currently and then see if you can work out a collaboration deal with them or if you can target them using either advertisements but also, you know, everybody’s on Twitter - it’s an open network; you can build relationships that way.
Success Harbor: Ok. Ok, you have also co-founded ‘List-25’ in 2011 and that site has over 1 million subscribers on YouTube which is more than BBC Worldwide so again it’s a very, very impressive number. What do you do right to become one of the top 700 YouTube channels for List 25?
Syed Balkhi: The YouTube channel was a pretty good experiment so we did an experiment and it turned out real well. To be quite honest, we didn’t really do too much special. We just tried to create videos that triggered some kind of emotion and then we just based all of our content based on some sort of emotion whether it was the ‘huh’ reaction or the sad reaction or the happy reaction and we continued to build videos that way and we would occasionally send emails to larger websites that had few tweets like the Cheese-Burger Network and the New York Time editors and there was just a lot of sending email, “Oh we have a video about this, we have a video about this…” and occasionally we would get picked up by one of the publications and that would help us captivate the audience. Our content was good, the video quality might not be the best but our content was good and it triggered the right emotion in the users and after that it was just word of mouth, people started sharing it and the type of content that List 25 has, had a lot of viral potential when it’s done right and we were able to hit the nail.
Success Harbor: How did you learn to create good content? Was it easy? Did it come to you easy or you had to really work at it?
Syed Balkhi: So, yeah, I obviously had to do a lot of work on it and creating good content is not something easy. Even now when I hire new writers I have to spend good several months training them. Yes, they’re great writers but they don’t know how to write for the people. A lot of times people write for themselves. You have to understand, you are not your own audience; you have to break it down for whoever your audience is. Imagine if I start writing an article on WP Beginner that caters to me? I would alienate 95% of my audience and that’s exactly what all the other blogs at that time that were about WordPress were doing. It was written by developers, they were writing for themselves so they were writing for developers, which is why they were only targeting 2 or 3% of WordPress users. The 97% that are do-it-yourself for businesses weren’t getting that. So 1 - Write for your audience; figure out what your audience needs and then give them that and if you can hit that then you know, it just takes time and practice and you’ll get consistently better and better.
Success Harbor: So what do you think is the proper way to do SEO in 2014? Is there still such a thing as SEO or it’s really about content creation and content promotion anymore?
Syed Balkhi: I mean, good content always trumps any dirty black-hat trick you can find. I’m sure if you start doing your research on Google and start following several black-hat forms, you can find all the black-hat tricks. However, I wouldn’t recommend you doing any of that mainly because black-hat is short-term, they’re short-lived. You are in right now and then maybe a week later you’ll be kicked out because you were manipulating something in Google. So I recommend writing good content. Make sure your on-page SEO’s optimized if you’re using a WordPress blog or WordPress site then you can use the WordPress SEO by Eos Plugin, configure that and just keep on writing good content. You can use Scribe content which is another plugin that kind of gives you an idea of what your keyword density is but you know, you don’t really need that. It’s nice to have, it’s one of those plugins that’s nice to have but you don’t absolutely must have it to create good content. But just focus on your on-page SEO and then start building relationships. If I build a relationship with you and you write a blog post about me and you naturally gave me a backlink, that’s a good backlink of course instead of me trying to force a backlink into a website that’s completely unrelated or kind of buy links, which are also inaccurate.
Success Harbor: So, let's talk about it. You've been in business basically most of your life. Talk about a good learning experience that may be a big mistake that you have made that our audience could learn from that you could share with us.
Syed Balkhi: I’ve made a lot of stupid mistakes. Some of them were not as big but they were just as detrimental because a lot of stupid mistakes can add up to be a big mistake. 1 - Always keep back-up. Just because you think you're not going to get hacked or you're not going to need the back-up, you will. Spend the money and make back-ups for your website because I have lost months and months of content because I didn't make a backup. Thankfully it wasn’t on WP Beginner or List 25, it was on one of my older sites so definitely, definitely make back-ups. Don’t try to think too far advanced. A lot of times, people are looking at their 5 year plan versus looking at their 6 year plan, because guess what? If you don’t execute on your 6 month plan or your 3 month plan, you’re not going to get to the 5 year plan that you spent most of your hours planning for. So start building short-term goals; short-term goals that you can easily evaluate and those short-term goals should lead to your long-term goals. And when you can do that, you’ll be pretty good.
Success Harbor: You know, the average consensus is that about 50% of businesses fail within the first 4 years in business. Why do you think so many businesses fail?
Syed Balkhi: I don’t know why every business fail or why some of the businesses fail but the general idea that I’ve seen from people who have reached out to me, you know, they started something and didn’t follow through, is because they don’t follow through, they’re not really passionate about what they’re doing. People say, “Oh, I think I can really kill it in this particular industry” but maybe you don’t know enough about that industry. Maybe you’re just not that into it, you know, like I am very passionate about WordPress so I think I can do real well on WordPress. I don’t always write on List 25 because I’m not the best suited person to write for List 25. That’s why I have my co-founder and I have other--, a group of writers who write for it so not everything can be done by you and a lot of the times, by the time most people start realizing it, it’s too late.
Success Harbor: How do you deal with the roller coaster ride of being in entrepreneurship? You have been very successful with the sites that we talked about but I’m sure there have been some downs as well so--, and you’ve been in business most of your life so I’m sure you’ve had a lot of ups and downs that you had to deal with. What advice do you have for our audience for dealing with the roller-coaster ride so to speak?
Syed Balkhi: Embrace it. I live for the ups and downs and a lot of times when people are going towards down, they start putting negative vibes out there and they start discouraging themselves. Take it one day at a time, look up and keep moving. If you’re having a bad day, tomorrow will be better and that’s the attitude that I’ve used and gone through but I really enjoy what I do and I appreciate what I have right now versus what I could have or what I could’ve had, so learn to appreciate what you have.
Success Harbor: What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Syed Balkhi: The best advice that I would ever receive is that time is the most valuable asset you have and it’s also the most expensive teacher so try to learn from other people's mistakes rather than making the same one over and over again by yourself.
Success Harbor: Ok. What is the most important thing for an entrepreneur to do during the first 12 months of being in business? I ask this because I think the first 1 year in business is so crucial and a lot of people make a lot of mistakes or maybe they focus on the wrong thing. So based on your business experience what is your recommendation they should focus on?
Syed Balkhi: It's really, really hard to say what you should focus on because every entrepreneur, every different business has different needs but I would say try to nail down exactly what you’re building, what you're creating. A lot of times people say they want to create something but they kind of have an idea or sort of idea of what they want to create. Nail it down. Nail it down to exactly what you want to build and then build it versus trying to go in and then figure out as you’re going.
Success Harbor: What do you think is the biggest time-waster for entrepreneurs?
Syed Balkhi: Distraction. It could be anything, it could be social media. I think not being organized is the biggest time-waster. Start time-tracking yourself, whether you use something like a Rescue Time, I personally use Time Doctor, it takes screenshots and really hold yourself accountable and see where you're wasting your time.
Success Harbor: So, where do you see the biggest opportunities in business today? You've been in business most of your life, where do you see the big opportunities now and not just something general like online or social media but do you have anything specific that you been thinking about or you think is a good opportunity now?
Syed Balkhi: Yeah. I'm always a believer that you create your own opportunities. If you're talking about which sector is hot right now, e-commerce is fairly hot right now. Just because I was looking at one of the numbers the other day, it said only 6% of all businesses actually have an online presence like e-commerce presence, so imagine the 94% that doesn't and so I think e-commerce is really big, or is going to be really big, if it’s not already; it’s pretty big.
Success Harbor: Ok. If someone came to you, a friend or a family member that had a job but they saw your entrepreneurial success and they said, “Syed, teach me”, what would be the first thing you would teach that person to succeed in business, to set them up for success?
Syed Balkhi: I probably wouldn’t because most of the time when somebody comes to you and say, “Oh, I see you’re successful, I want to be successful”, I tell them to go and figure out what are they trying to accomplish first. I’ve had several people who’ve come and done that but it’s not like--, what does success mean to you? Most people don’t know that, they just think that this is successful. Define for yourself what does the successful George look like? What does successful Syed look like? And whatever your name is, determine what does success look like to you and what do you need to get there and if that means ‘I need to create a business around this’, figure that part out and once you have that, then come back to me and then we can work on how you can get customers, where you should be looking at, what you can do but a lot of times when people come to you, they’re not really there yet. They’re in a very, very early stage, they haven’t figured it all out themselves and quite frankly I don’t think helping them figure out what they want to do is what I need to do.
Success Harbor: Ok. Well Syed, thank you very much for coming on Success Harbor today to share your story and your wisdom basically, I really appreciate it. How can people find out more about you or connect with you?
Syed Balkhi: You can find me by going to ‘wpbeginner.com’. You can follow me on Twitter @wpbeginner or @SyedBalkhi. Thank you for having me on the show George.
Success Harbor: So everybody go and check out WP Beginner. Syed, thank you and I wish you much luck with all your endeavors.
Syed Balkhi: Thank you.
What does it take to sell more than 10 million custom stickers? Andrew Witkin President and CEO of StickerYou, the company he founded in 2008. Andrew got the inspiration for StickerYou walking down the street through Manhattan Beach, CA. It was there that Andrew noticed how stickers were such a big part of the local scene. Today, Andrew is focused on building StickerYou into being the best custom sticker platform in the world.
Say hi to Andrew at StickerYou.com.
What does it take to build a business with $10s of millions in revenue? Jason Cohen is a successful serial entrepreneur. WP Engine, a managed hosting provider for Wordpress, is his 4th startup. In just a few years, Jason has built WP Engine into company of 125 people and 10s of thousands of customers. His took his previous company, Smart Bear, from start to multiple millions in profit, without debt or VC, then sold it for cash. Jason is also a mentor at Capital Factory (like TechStars or Y-Combinator in Austin) and investor in a few companies.
Say hi to Jason at blog.asmartbear.com.
Read Raw Transcript Now:
Success Harbor: Hi everyone. This is George Meszaros with Success Harbor and I have Jason Cohen with me. Jason is a serial entrepreneur. He built and sold Smartbear software. He's now behind WPEngine. Welcome.
Jason Cohen: Thanks, thanks for having me.
Success Harbor: Thank you for being here Jason. Now WPEngine, those few people that may not know in the audiences is a managed Word Press hosting solutions. What were you doing before you started WPEngine?
Jason Cohen: Well WPEngine is my fourth startup so I was, I had sold Smartbear in 19, oh sorry, 2007 and left in 2009, had a baby, was a stay at home dad for a year and then at the time I had this, I still do have a blog about startups that was getting popular and the blog kept crashing every time I got good press like getting on Hacker News and so I had this kind of pain myself and of course I recognized that just because you have the pain doesn’t mean that's a business. There's a big business between the two things but it turned out in this particular case, the pain was very common. In fact it turns out that more than a fifth of the entire Internet is powered by Word Press right now so lots of people with lots of websites have the kind of problems that I had, wanting to make their sites faster, or scalable or protected from hackers and so on now we have lots of features and various things but it all stemmed out of a personal need and I didn't have a solution that I could just use.
Success Harbor: So how did you test that to go beyond your personal need that there was actually a wider need? Was it just your own network or did you do some tests, advertising or what kind of research have you done?
Jason Cohen: Yes, so, I think, I mean, I know I'm fortunate in starting, you know the more reputation you have and so on you have a bigger network, the more people you can ask. That makes it easier but there's a lot of things. So I was able to use my network and also just sort of reach out in general but there's a lot of interesting techniques for finding people to talk to when you don't have a network built in. So for example, something that I did at WPEngine later on that did not rely on my network, in fact it didn't want to. I wanted something less biased and so I what I did is I'd go to Linked In and you could do this too, anyone can do this particular technique. Go to LinkedIn and you find people whose title of their company matches the thing that you're interested in and if you say well I don't know what the title would be that's impossible to know, then I would argue that it’s going to be very hard to market to that person since you can't describe who they are. So supposing you can and in this particular case, it was people who were independent word press consultants in my case, so that was pretty easy to find people who said they were freelancers or consultants specializing in Word Press so then I would reach out to these folks and say, ‘hey I know you're a consultant about word press, we're trying to build a product for you and I’d love to ask you about your daily life and the pain you have and describe some of the things we're thinking about and see if that resonates with you. I also know you're’, this is the key thing, ‘I also know you're time is valuable and I don't want to get your time for nothing so I'd be happy to pay you whatever hourly rate you think is fair even if that's bigger than your normal hourly rate because this is a special one off thing but I really do want to know what you think and I'm happy to pay to hear what it is.’ Now what's interesting is I sent this message through LinkedIn to thirty people, or at least thirty people responded I think maybe it more like forty people. Thirty responded. One hundred percent of them took the call and said yeah I'd love to see what you're up to and zero percent of them actually wanted money. They all said no, no, I'll just take the call. I'm just interested. In other words, just because I respected their time, and came at it from that angle, that was sufficient to get a meeting and in fact I didn't have to pay out even though of course I would have because it would've been worthwhile to do that so I think even if you don't have the network you can do things like that to reach out and actually talk to the people you need to.
Success Harbor: So do you recommend that basically for anyone regardless of what product it is you know that they're trying to build, is to talk to you know I'm not saying as many people as possible but at least some people? I don't know what the number is. Do you have any idea of what the number would be?
Jason Cohen: Yeah.
Success Harbor: Is it per a gut feeling?
Jason Cohen: No. It's not a gut feeling but it's also like everything in life, of course you can't use every technique in every circumstance. Of course not. Should you talk to people first before you build and should you try to talk to more than just a few and should you get out of your network? The answer has to be yes because you're going to have to anyway. In other words if you're going to build this business at all, you are going to have to find potential customers and talk to them somehow. Whether that's getting them to a website or talking to them on the phone or chatting with them or chatting over a ticket or emailing or going to conferences or sending out post card mails. I don't care how you're going to reach them you're going to have to do that, so why not start with that and see if you can reach them first and learn something since you're going to have to do it anyway. So I think it's very hard to argue against that particular concept. In fact that's where you get into trouble of course, you go build something without knowing how to get to people and then it doesn’t matter if you built it or not. It doesn't matter if it's awesome or not if you can't reach out to people. Now so, yes I think you always have to do that. Now, the question is how many people? The answer is definitely not like three because then you don't have enough data points to know anything. Well a lot of people do that. They'll say, well I [00:05:48.23] Inaudible
Success Harbor: My neighbor and my cousin.
Jason Cohen: Well and maybe if.
Success Harbor: [00:05:51.22] Inaudible
Jason Cohen: It's a consumer product but maybe more like, I got this idea from my dentist so I talked to him for a while and then and I talked to another dentist and he agreed so I'm going to do it kind of thing right. That's not really validation but how many? You know I've seen people talk to one hundred and fifty, two hundred customers before they felt comfortable or you know as few as twenty before it was really clear. What I'm going to say is I've seen a lot of people. Another thing that I’ve done is that I cofounded capital factory which is an incubator here in Austin and that was 5 years ago so I actually have quite a bit of experience with new startups, trying to help them through and help them grow and help them exactly because this part this hardest part of the phase where you’re trying to figure out what do I even have, how do I communicate that, is there someone who even wants it, is that the right price and all that sort of stuff so how many people, so here’s what I think about that. First of all, you, the likely outcome is that you're wrong and there isn't a business. It doesn't mean you're wrong, there's no pain or you're wrong but you’re product is not interesting or that your features aren’t interesting. Of course they probably are or you wouldn't be so excited about them. So that's not really a question. The question is, is there a business meaning there are people in and you can find them cheaply enough and you can communicate what it is you do and they agree to and they want it and they want to give you money for it and they want to give you enough money for it and so on. That's a business. Unfortunately a lot of ideas are not businesses, in that sense. And a lot of, pretty great products are not business’ in that sense. And a lot of pain that you see in the world is true and yet you can’t formulate a way to make money off of that pain so first of all the likely outcome is failure that you can't really formulate how to make this work and therefore you should be seeking that failure. In other words you should be almost trying to disprove that this idea is so good, because it probably isn't and the faster you get that the faster you can move on to something else or change what your idea is or change how you're approaching it and so forth. So you should be going in to disprove, not to validate and as evidence of that WPEngine was not my first idea and I went out and validated it. It was just the last one that worked when I was validating. I had other ideas before that and when I went out and talked to people and I would still talk to 30 people, I would find that it wasn't really converging on something you know. I would show the product or I would talk about the product and inevitably the person I'm speaking to says, that's really interesting. You know what you should do with that? And then they'd run off on some rabbit trail. You should charge a whole lot of money and sell it through consultants and it should go to Fortune500 companies. The next person would say, that's a brilliant idea but you really should do is add this completely different feature, make a premium, go after like really small business and see if you can upsell this way. And then literally every person I talked to had like a different, said, ‘that's great’ but then kind of veer off into a kind of different way and so I could not find a sort of consensus on what it is that I should build that seems like it matches the truth that many people see and I couldn't find it and so even though the idea I had was quote on quote good, in fact everyone said it was good. That was the initial reaction, actually it wasn't a business and with WPEngine, though it turned out was a business too but that's just the point. So, also in that story is how you know how many people to reach. So I mean it's got to be in the double digits or you just don't, you just haven't talked to enough folks but what happens is, either it's not feeling right, you're getting different mixed messages. Some people just say no that's okay. If some people aren't interested, that's fine. That's why you got to talk to more people. It's okay if three in a row say no if the next five say yes right? So you know discarding the no’s and how many yesses do I have and then are they, is the story kind of converging on something that everyone's pretty much nodding on what price you're charging, how you're charging and what features would be necessary for it to get going and the state of their life and what pain they have and how they articulate it. Either that sort of converges on some kind of shared truth. I mean it's fuzzy. It's not precise right. It sort of feels like you're having the same conversation over and over again. In fact it gets boring because the conversations are so similar, you kind of know what's coming. At that moment you've talked to enough people and you've validated it and the way you know is you stop learning. If you're bored because you've stopped learning then this particular activity is not useful. That doesn't mean you know everything but it does mean that this activity is not helping you learn more so stop it and maybe it is time to build and get going so you can have different conversations and move it along. On the other hand if it sort of gets disparate and it's not converging on a truth and a lot of people are saying no and it's always a struggle and you're kind of afraid almost of what people are going to say next because it's going to be another god-awful thing. That's a sign it's not working and you know just talking to more people is not likely to solve that. What could solve it is maybe you seeing that maybe a different pitch or a different thing and you go down a different path and keep talking to people. That could work but again the usual outcome is, it's not going to work so rather than beating your head against developing a product that people will eventually not buy anyway and waste all that time, it's a good signal to stop early and say okay, this was too hard. This is too hard to make work. I got to find something easier. Another way I put it early on with WPEngine was, it was just super easy to get people to say yes to $50 a month hosting. We made Word Press fast, scalable, secure and if we answered the phone we could answer Word Press questions and not just say, is my server up or down. It was so easy to do that and so I used to say, startups are so hard. There are so many things that are going to go wrong and that you don't know yet and this is going to be so much struggle. Why in the world would you also set up other barriers, like the stuff when you talk to someone needs to be really easy because plenty of other hard stuff that's going to stop you.
Success Harbor: So should that process earlier on involve taking people's money just to know that you have traction or people are actually serious when they're talking to you?
Jason Cohen: Oh I'm a big fan of that and I almost always advise that people do try to get a check, even if it's a small one like $9 because as you say it's a signal. You're not really doing sales though so you don't want to fall into this trap where you're trying to convince the person that you're right because you probably can't. You're probably persuasive; you're probably passionate about it. You're probably knowledgeable about the subject so if you sit down with someone who is in fact a potential customer and you beat them over the head for 45 minutes they'll probably give you $9 just because of that and so that isn't validating anything so although yes I think in the end it's really interesting to ask for a check because that is the best validation, I don’t think you should go in thinking about that goal and driving toward that goal because I think you'll actually miss the point of talking to customers early which is to learn from them, learn how, what their life is like, not to sell.
Success Harbor: So even if you would go in and say, you know what, pay me fifty percent and I give you a year's worth of service, at the end of the meeting, before you actually decide that this is a good idea to build, you don't think that's something that we should strive for as a business?
Jason Cohen: Well as I said you should. I think that it is wise to ask for that at the end. That's the ultimate validation but what you should not do is think that that is the goal of the meeting.
Success Harbor: Okay.
Jason Cohen: Because then you get into a salesman mindset and that's wrong because you're not going to be able to sit down with every client for over an hour and beat them over the head in future. Now I guess if your business is that way where you are going to have that kind of sales then maybe that's okay but if you to expect sell things over the internet and not have those kind of protracted sales things, if it's possible that you won't always be the person doing sales, then that's not validation. That's you, that’s coercion and you're missing the whole point which is to find out what you should build, what their life is like. So for example, one of the great things you learn from these conversations is you learn the language that your customers use to describe these things which is almost never the language you use. Their language will be less precise, less accurate. They won't use technical terms. They won't use the right words. They'll sort of be trying to say something but they won't say it the sort of the way that is accurate but those are the words you need on your home page because those are the words in your own heads, those are the words you’re going to need in ad-words because those are the things they're going to be keying off of. Precision might be wrong and so this is one of the things you get to learn is, of the way they don't think of this as, like when I say scalable site I mean you get a lot of traffic. Almost none of our customers would ever choose that word even though it's the correct word so I shouldn't say scalable websites here in my adwords. I should say something like you know, you get a load of traffic, we'll stay up or if a thousand people hit your website at once, we stay up or whatever the customer would say when the customer is thinking about it. So again if you're in sales mode you're just plowing through this. You're not listening to their words. You're not learning how they think about the world and how they think about stuff so that you can form your home page. You're just, ‘let me show you this feature. Let me show you how great it is. Let me tell you the benefits you'll have. Think about how your life will be like afterwards. Isn't that terriffic? Won't that save you a lot of money? So isn't that at least worth the $100 a month. Tell you what I'll write.’ That salesmanship, you’re convincing and cajoling and explaining to them instead of listening to them and having them guide you into how you should then be selling the next thousand customers. You'll be selling the whole rest of your life. This is your chance. This is not your only chance but this is your main chance to get out of the gate with something that's kind of in the right ball park.
Success Harbor: So you don't want to sell during the meeting but in the end before you leave it's okay to say, would you pay fifty bucks for this a month or would you pay 100 dollars?
Jason Cohen: No wait a minute. There’s two things. If you talk price which is what you just said, ‘ould you pay 50 bucks a month?’ You must talk price. This is controversial. There are a lot of folks who say you must not talk about price. Their argument is that it will taint the argument, taint the conversation that is, because the conversation and discussion should be around their life and their perception of things. The last thing you want to do is name a price and start talking about that and the value and the dollars and the budgets because you're still trying to find out what would they would even find valuable in the first place for any price, for a dollar. What would they find valuable so let's not taint the conversation; that’s' the counter argument. I actually don't believe in that argument at all and the reason is that I think your price determines many things about your business, really the whole business. If I tell you the product is a dollar a month, you're like, ‘oh god a dollar a month, jeeze it must not do a lot, a phone number.’ Certainly when you can't sell it with sales calls you're going to have to do it super cheap, maybe even word of mouth. You probably can’t even pay to acquire customers at that rate. Like just all this stuff that appears when you say a dollar a month. If I told you a thousand dollars a month. Oh I can't even afford it. Oh well it does it do X because do I need to get approval or will I tell this other person? I didn't think I was would have to talk to them. Do I have to? Now I do. It's a, in other words if the price changes, everything about how you get to market, who has that kind of budget, why they make choices in buying, and what their product might need to do and what might be okay for it not to do. The price determines a lot of that so to me if you leave that out of the initial discussion, you've actually left out tons of important pieces of information of your business that you're going to need to understand so you have to talk about price for sure. I definitely did and I said, would you pay me fifty bucks a month and I tried different prices of course as I was talking to people but fifty was what we converged on.
Success Harbor: So let's talk about pricing. What do you think is the best way when you price a product? Should we start high and then work our way to low or start low and then keep bumping the price up? See what resistance we're finding?
Jason Cohen: Well pricing again is like these questions like hey how do I get my first one hundred customers? There's no clean answer. It's going to depend on lots of things. I mean are you trying to boot strap a business that only has one person ever? Are you trying to do a small boot strap business? Are you raising money to build a huge business? Are you selling to consumers or bid or businesses? Is this something that, what kind of businesses, how much value are you delivering? I mean in a case of
Success Harbor: So in the case of WPEngine.
Jason Cohen: Yeah.
Success Harbor: How were you think about pricing? Were you thinking well you know I'm going to try $300 a month? See where it goes and then lower it or increase or decrease. What were your, what was your thought process?
Jason Cohen: No I talked to customers and asked them, what would you pay for this? That's why you got to do that because you can't just draw numbers out of a hat and hope that works. So look, I mean that the rule of thumb of course is charge the most you can and not just because that's not leaving money on the table or whatever cliché you like, but also, for any business but especially a bootstrap business, the price you charge also determines the number of customers you need before your business is really a growing concern or before you get to a million dollars in revenue or whatever kind of milestones you might want. How profitable you are. The price determines that so higher is better. I mean you much rather as a small business, much, much rather you charging in like the fifty to $150 range per month say and then you only need about one hundred and fifty or two hundred customers before you're making ten to 15k a month in revenue and you can quit your day job and this is really a real business and getting a hundred and fifty to two hundred customers is doable. I mean you can scratch and claw your way there. You can have phone conversations if you have to get to that point. In other words, you can sort of brute force your way there. You can brute force your way into a thousand customers. Certainly not to ten thousand but you can definitely do a hundred to two hundred customers so if the price is high enough, you really have a better shot of success. Most businesses period and full stop never get a thousand customers, never get as many as a thousand paying customers ever so if you charge enough, you have no choice but to get a thousand customers. So for example, if you're charging $10 a month you have to get a thousand customers even just to make ten grand a month in revenue which depended on your job cost may not be enough to quit your day job just depending. Maybe it is. The point is you need a ridiculous number of customers that's going to be hard to get to. Most companies don't so again why are you choosing that path that's so much harder? So in general you know more is better but again like every order of magnitude you go in price, everything changes so you could take that to its logical extreme and say I want to, it should be $1000 dollars a month or it should be $10,000 a month or $100,000 a month and indeed it can but then the business needs to be different things you’re selling to different people who require different things that you probably can't deliver on right now anyways so that may not be an option. So again you know for better or worse, this is, there's a lot of things tied up in that so it's hard to give one answer so.
Success Harbor: It's like how long is a piece of string right? It's hard to answer it like that.
Jason Cohen: Well what it is, it actually, it's a very good discussion if you have a very particular example of either this business which has this goal with this model we'd like to use. Then what should I do, what kind of tricks should I use? What should I do now or later? Of course you have to start lower now, because the product sucks now. It's the first product. It always sucks and then it gets better later, you can charge more so that's clear. At the same time again if you charge too low you've set wrong expectations. You're getting customers who by definition don't spend a lot of money on software. That's a bad place to start and again you may need too many customers. A final thing on price though by the way is with a higher price you can afford to pay more to get the customer. That can come in the form of time, like actually getting on the phone and doing a sales call. You can do that for $100 a month customer but you can't do that for a $1 a month customer. There's not enough time to do it but it's also true of whether it's ad-words or Twitter or doing guest blogs or anything, anything where you're spending money in order to get attention and get sign ups. The higher the price the more you can afford in those arenas and that means the more channels are available to you and more of the channel you can go bid against and so again a low price, very few marketing channels will be cost effective and so you've closed those doors and again that's hard for a business to close those doors. You need lots of options because who knows which of these marketing channels will work for you. Who knows which ones you'll figure out so more options, that's the de-risking, that's the power. It’s having more options and the higher price allows you to have more options and that's why that's such a de-risker for a small business.
Success Harbor: So companies that want to be cheap because maybe they’re afraid when they start out that it's going to be expensive, it's going to be hard, they're actually increasing their chances of failure right, in essence because they just limit their own options?
Jason Cohen: Yeah you got to get a ton of customers and you can't pay enough to get them so.
Success Harbor: Sounds like you need magic. You need something viral which almost never exists right?
Jason Cohen: Yeah, viral doesn't, almost never exists, that's right. Some, now, there’s a difference between word of mouth and viral. Word of mouth can exist but the problem with both true viral, meaning the product itself truly does pull in additional users, that's what viral really means, the product does it or word of mouth. The problem with those things is, before you have a critical mass of customers those effects are nil. In other words if I have ten customers, doesn't matter how much word of mouth they do. One way to get one more customer. Like, I can't grow that way. Now once you have you see some of these consumer businesses, once you get ten thousand customers or even one thousand customers, certainly a million customers, then word of mouth has a real effect or viralness can really be powerful but you're still going to have to in a car analogy you're still going to have to have a starter motor to get the engine turning over before that effect matters. Therefore to get going, word of mouth and viralness even if you have it, is actually not a growth driver, not for a while so you’re still going to need an answer. Now for some companies the answer is raising money so that we don't have to. That doesn't mean you don't have to charge although that's also a route some people take, but raising money means well I realize that I mean, going to charge, I realize I'm going to need tons of customers for this to work but by raising money I can spend it anyway to get that engine turned over, to get some of these effect happening and so on and that again of course is a perfectly rational answer so again this is part of the problem with the generic answer of raising money, the answer is very different because your constraints and your goals are very different so your actions need to be very different than if you're bootstrapping so it's not a right or wrong of course. It's a matter of aligning your goals with the business and the market you're going after and so on. Aligning things so that it's consistent.
Success Harbor: So how did you or I don't know, how this applies to WPEngine but going from monthly to yearly or one versus the other, what was your thought process in that and do you think you can go, I mean, what, how do you determine which one is a better model for your business?
Jason Cohen: Well you don't have to pick. We don't. In fact most companies don’t have a monthly rate. Well that is, most companies which have a monthly recurring revenue model in the first place of course have a monthly rate and then they have an annual rate in which you have some discount right. So if you're on an annual plan, it's cheaper than a month times twelve and so by you're essentially paying the customer for the privilege of getting a year of money up front and that is always a good idea and we can get into why but you know, maybe it's better to cover more topics but the basic and obvious reason is you get the cash today. You get the cash today you could spend it today. You can spend it on that next set of marketing or that next feature you need to make or that conference that you finally can go to or you name it right. You can go put that to work now instead of waiting and that's huge. At WPEngine we have marketing campaigns which pay themselves back in negative one months. What I mean is, we get, because enough people pick annual and that of course gives us more cash up front, that cash more than covers the cost of the marketing campaign and so because the cash we get immediately but the marketing campaign is paid on credit card which we pay the following month, we actually get more money than it costs and we don't have to pay that cost until next month so that's why it's negative one month to get the money back. When you have marketing campaigns like that which an annual plan affords you if course if people pick it, when that's possible like that's the kind of cash flow you can suddenly have and that's transformative to what a business can do especially of course if you're bootstrapped and therefore you're absolutely aligned to cash only. But even if you raise money as we eventually did at WPEngine, still cash is king no matter who you are and it's phenomenal. So it's absolutely transformative to offer the annual plan. One little note on that. In our case we're fortunate that a lot of people pick the annual plan up front and that's great. Most products that’s not true or even in our case, most people don't right, but a pretty high percentage do more than you think. Most companies, it's not true because you haven’t developed a relationship yet. You haven't developed trust yet. Customer doesn’t necessarily know if they want this product for a year yet. And trust in a relationship is something that builds over time. You don't get that immediately. You get benefit of doubt immediately but you don't get trust immediately and so a lot of people are just not prepared to do an annual plan but if you then message people six months after they sign up and say, ‘Hey, so glad you're getting all this use out of the product. So glad you're happy. By the way did you know we have annual plans. If you wanted to now switch to that you know you get two months free’ or whatever your deal is there. At that point, since they do like the product, they do trust you, they can see themselves using this, well this is just a good deal for them. So just a reminder that coming back behind later, after you've built that relationship is a great way to get the annual plans going, even if it doesn't work out in the initial sale.
Success Harbor: So let's talk about what works for WPEngine in terms of signing on new customers especially the first year or so in business?
Jason Cohen: So in our market, Word Press there's a large community of people who already are active and talk to each other online and also at conferences. That's actually pretty rare for most markets that that would be true but if you think about it these are people who are freelancers therefore they're online to get business and to talk to each other about what's going on and also there are people who are bloggers which means they write and they're active on social media and so on and so they're particularly adept at that and therefore using social media channels and so on was actually a really good way for us though obviously that wouldn't necessarily automatically apply in other markets. Again also there are these conferences. Now, you know, every reasonable sized market has a couple of conferences of course, but Word Press has over three hundred conferences a year around the world. They're called Word Camps and they're in different cities and so with you know with literally dozens of conferences per weekend that you could go fly out and attend it was really possible to get face to face with people, potential customers number one but number two, these people in the community and those people are very influential. You know a lot of people look to them for advice on things like you know, hosting so we're fortunate and that there were these dynamics in the Word Press ecosystem that we could, we could tap into. Of course today, we have lots and lots of channels in which we acquire customers. We try new ones all the time but just to calibrate the discussion we have about one hundred and seventy employees now and we're still growing really fast in revenue and in employees and of course customers. And so of course now it's very different. There's tons of stories there. You know it's a whole team of people doing different things and so on. There's specialization, lots of different channels but you know we had some, things that were particular to the market and I think when you look at lots of companies who are successful, you find that similar story. In other words it's very, when you see a successful company, it's very rare they said, I just took out some ad-words and it just worked. That's actually not usually the story. Usually there's something about the audience, the market that they're selling into where they had something unique. Either they had something unique to say and that people wanted to hear because they had an interesting story or they had some kind of creative marketing and that doesn't mean it has to be super creative and no one’s ever done it before. Not that kind of stuff. Maybe another company did something sort of creative in another market and you just copied it in your market because in your market, no one did that creative thing. That's good enough right? It doesn't have to be unique in the world. It just has to stand out a little bit and so turning perfectly fine copies of other people's creative ideas for other markets to do that so I don't mean to sound like it's impossible or you have to be a genius. We certainly weren't super geniuses when it came to how we approach that. It's just that we said what's available to us in the market? Where did the influencers go? Can we go there too and again we're fortunate this market is very a well-versed in social media and therefore that was a good outlet for us. Again though like you can look at it in either end of the telescope. You can either say okay so I have to find the interesting or easy or unique parts of this market or messages in this market I can use or you can use this as a constraint in deciding whether the business is a good idea at all. Again going back to the idea that, the idea is fine but is it a business? So whether you can get two people easily especially those first two hundred people, real customers, that is a big factor in whether the business will be successful so if you have no ideas, there is no particular way the market's noisy and too hard to break into. Well that might mean it isn't a good business idea or that is the idea, that's not an easy business to follow unto it. That might be one of the main
Success Harbor: Yeah.
Jason Cohen: Of the main things that kill a business.
Success Harbor: So when you start out how many channels should you test simultaneously. Is it, let's say you just have maybe like 10, 20 customers starting out, should you try just a little bit, maybe multiple channels and the one that hits, the one that works, drop the others and just focus on that one or?
Jason Cohen: Well here's how you know that's not a good strategy. That is what everybody says, and most businesses don't hit on. It doesn't work that way. They don't find that one channel that works. Most businesses never find a channel that really works, so I think the spray and pray thing is not particularly useful. So rather let's not assume we know nothing at all about any of the channels and spray. By the way, of course as a person or as a small team, of course you don't have expertise in all these channels so we start with, I don't have expertise in this channel, then you layer on, also since we're spraying to 10 channels or even 4, I don't have expertise and I don't have time to really try to do a really good job. I'm really trying to learn how to use that channel so I won't do a very good job and so of course, why would that work? Like there is no particular reason why that sounds like a good plan right? So instead I would say, look, as the founder or as a small team, some of these channels are just naturally something you understand better. Like you might say, I'm a big Twitter user but Facebook is just weird. Great then work on Twitter ads, work on Twitter social media and don't do Facebook ads because you don't understand that. You don't understand that environment. You don't understand that tool. You, the kinds of people who are there and love it aren't you so you're guts not even going to be right. So the last thing you want to do is go there knowing this is you're set up for failure right. Instead you know, of all the social media things out there, maybe there's one that’s the one that you understand the best already. Focus that one, or say, look we're going to hit in person. We're just going to do this in person or we're going to cold call. I'm good on the phone. I'm good at closing stuff on the phone. Now will cold calling be the best strategy for ever and ever. Maybe. Probably not. So what. The goal isn't to do this forever and ever. The goal is to get to a critical mass of customers so that this is a real growing concern and you're really reinvesting in the business and it's a real, going business. That's the initial goal and getting to that by any means necessary is perfectly fine. I think calling people on LinkedIn all day or other lists that you bought or whatever, if, if you love the phone, you love calling, is a great strategy and I've seen tech companies and actually other non-tech companies be really successful at that but only because the founder already felt comfortable in that medium. That's why. I wouldn't feel comfortable in that medium. I hate the phone. I have to force myself to do these customer interviews because I hate getting on the phone. I don't know why. I have like a phobia of the phone. I'd rather do anything than to answer a phone call. But so, I shouldn't start my business with cold calls. Those other folks, if you send them an email are like ‘ehh, I don't want to talk by email, let's get on the phone.’ Well that person maybe you should start with cold calls. So what is it that you are sort of naturally adept at or comfortable with and then just lean the hell into that. That is your best chance of success. No it doesn’t mean it'll work and maybe you will have to try another channel but get focused unto something that's your best chance of success before giving up and trying a channel that's actually less, even less chance of being successful and certainly don't dilute over a bunch of channels. That's, to me that's the worst use of your energy.
Success Harbor: So, WPEngine has, I don't know how many customers you have but its tens of thousands right.
Jason Cohen: Right.
Success Harbor: Customers at this point approximately. So at this point, what is better, how do you grow? Do you grow by adding more services or do you grow by adding more customers? Which is a better way to grow for you?
Jason Cohen: At this point?
Success Harbor: Yes right now.
Jason Cohen: Based on current day? Okay. Alright so now you have to make a mindset shift because I've been speaking all about getting your first, you know, fifty customers, a hundred customers, two hundred customers. At our current stage, totally different mindset, totally different goals, different constraints and so on. So, there is quite a few answers to that question. There's not, at scale there is never one answer to things. It's just more complicated than that. There's more moving parts, more things to do. So for example, any business that, that's a recurring revenue business has cancellations. Let's suppose that is three percent a month, three percent of your customers cancel every month. So let's suppose also that your company at scale, is growing at three percent a month. That's actually pretty fast for a company that's making say fifty to one hundred million dollars a year. Growing three percent a month is actually pretty impressive at that size. Like that's about fifty percent a year over year and once you're say over fifty mil’ in revenue, that's pretty damn good growth rate. Even in tech, that's a good growth rate, certainly everywhere else. But wait a minute, so I add three percent but then three percent cancelled so actually that three percent which I added which is super-duper hard gets literally removed by the cancellations. I can't grow. At all. In that scenario. Now early on none of this matters, you're not focused on that at all. In fact these factors are not there. But at scale, these statistical factors are a law of nature. So for example, lowering your cancellation rate is one of the most important things you can do at scale, which isn't one of the things you mentioned for growth. But lowering the cancellation rate is actually an incredibly powerful leverage against growth. The second thing that's related to that you’ll see why in a second is, do the existing customers upgrade? Do they upgrade automatically because it's like a you know pay by use and so if they use it more they already pay more money or maybe it's tiers, like hey, you're on the middle tier, you should be on the higher tier. You should get these features and do you try to upsell them on that or as you say, are there additional services they could purchase? That's yet another way right. There's different ways in which a customer could grow their business with you or for an enterprise customer. We have both small business and enterprise customers. We have both small business and enterprise customers. On the enterprise side we have conversations around, hey this whole campaign went really well but there must be other campaigns there. Maybe we should be talking to them, and that's another way to grow on the enterprise side. There's many ways to grow an account that you already have. Growth of accounts you already have in a way if you think about it, mathematically, counter balance the cancellations because if two percent of people literally leave but of the ones who remain, you get two percent more revenue from them due to all the factors I just mentioned. That, literally cancels out the cancellations even before we get to the growth side, just focusing on the customers you have. Some leave but some grow but within you when you can get that to counter balance, that is people are growing within you, as much as their cancelling, that's a magical point mathematically because instead of having this cancellation rate which is an exponential decay that's very hard to get in front of you've now eliminated that. In fact the best companies have a negative net churn as that mathematics is called. In other words they grow even despite cancellations with just a customer base. RexSpace, a public hosting company which has that characteristic so though. SalesForce has that characteristic. Zendesk has that characteristic. So that’s part of why those companies are so highly valued and why they can grow so fast even though they're big at scale it's because they actually have negative net churn and their customer base itself actually grows even despite cancellations. Then on top of that you have growth so the reason I'm like dwelling on this is these are the interesting factors which appear as you grow and they suddenly become mathematically important. In fact, not just somewhat important but literally, prevent you from growing any further unless you've addressed them and of course you need to address them early and not wait until there's a problem right. So when you think about growth in all these dimensions, retentions, cancellations, these upsells of say new products, is growing within us, enterprise is different than small business, and so on and so on. And then also there's new customer growth and so there there's a whole bunch of channels you know. Some of it is sales assistant, some isn't. There's all kinds of different channels and then different advertising channels which have different strategies depending on what's going on there. I'll give you an example because this is applicable to literally all businesses so hopefully this is useful information. So you think of these marketing channels all like ad-words, Facebook ads, Twitter ads, going to conferences, sending out mailers, doing magazine ads, billboards. I mean you name it, like these are all ways to reach people through channels right. So each of these channels has some kind of limit or inventory limit where there's nothing more to buy. So like with Adwords, you can bid the highest possible on whatever keywords are relevant to you and however many clicks you get, you can try to optimize that a little more of course, try to get more clicks, but ultimately there's only so many people searching for those keywords and who will see you and click you. There's only so many, so much and Google click traffic is actually going up very slowly now. Last decade it was going up fast so people think of it as going up fast. That's no longer the case. In fact, it's one of these questions that Wall Street now has on Google is how they will grow, continue their overall company growth and an interesting clip when search traffic is not growing in an interesting clip. So anyways, the point being whatever ad-words can deliver, that's pretty much all it can deliver. It will maybe grow kind of slowly but there's just not that much left. You tap out the channel. So when you're thinking about growing a company at scale, you tap out these channels, there's nothing left to provide so you have to go get additional channels to continue growing and so at scale yes you are testing multiple channels and doing that but that's because you're attention isn’t divided. You in fact have a whole team, to go after that so you have the time and money to in fact go after that in an intelligent way unlike when you're first starting out and that dilution of your time is deadly. Here you can simply plan for it, hire for it, budget for it, you can get consultants in certain areas and so in fact you can and must attack that but only because you have the time and resources where that is rationale. So we have lots of channels. Some of them are saturated and so our efforts there are around optimization and then others are not saturated so our efforts there are how we can take the most inventory there. Another interesting point, I know maybe I’m rambling but hopefully.
Success Harbor: It's okay.
Jason Cohen: It's interesting.
Success Harbor: It's good information.
Jason Cohen: Okay even when you’re starting out this is useful. There are marketing channels which are zero sum games and there are marketing channels that are not. So what I mean is, there are channels where if you get a click or a customer or a lead then someone else doesn't and there's other market channels where that's not true so. Like in social media that's an important channel but it's not true that like if you talk to someone, no one else can right. It's not like that. It's simply that you're present and you're part of it. Adwords is also not zero sum. You have an ad but so do other people and yes maybe you can get a better ad position but still other people get clicks. So it's not zero sum either but other things are. So an example would be an affiliate program so these are people that when they give you a lead or when they give you someone who closes, then you pay them you know like a kick back for having done that. And some affiliates use email lists to drive that. Some people are good at SCO's so they'll write articles that get ranked highly, that drives traffic to the article and through the article it clicks over to you and they get credit. There's different ways affiliate works but you can, there's a fundamental way. Affiliates are a zero sum game because an affiliate who has an email list of say a hundred thousand emails he’s not going to show up through a whole lot of companies in the same space. Like he's not going to show up for ten different hosting companies because he doesn’t have a good story for why he's recommending so many different ones. Like he wants to say look these guys are the best. Let me tell you why. It's a service to you that I'm even telling you this. So you can't tell that message ten different ways in a year right. Like that's just disingenuous. So that guy is going to promote somebody. He is going to promote some hosting company because he can make money at that and wherever he promotes, he's promoting them and not anyone else. Whatever leads he sends, he's sending to them, not anyone else. That's a zero sum game. So one thing I want to point out is that zero sum games, again when you're first starting out, this distinction is not as important because you're just trying to get customers. You're just trying to crawl your way into this thing. Once you get to scales, since that's what we're now talking about, zero sum games are interesting because it's more valuable to get a customer in a zero sum game because it's someone you got and the competitor didn't. And so that's an interesting, different dynamic along those channels and so your strategies there might be different than you would in other channels where that's not true. So, and of course, word of mouth kind of stuff is still kind of super important. I think we still get sign ups through word of mouth even today so word of mouth is definitely important. How can you? So early on as we said earlier, if you only have fifty customers, there's not much they can do to help you in any way. There's not enough people but now as you say we have tens of thousands of customers, and so yeah if one percent of them a month help us find a new person to sign up, that's a hundred or one or two, actually hundreds of new customers in a month, that's a lot. That's material to a company of any size to get at one percent a month by word of mouth. So that.
Success Harbor: Yeah.
Jason Cohen: Becomes really important at skill so that becomes a really good campaign so lots of different things all going at the same time. Those are of course not even all of the things that we think about, when it comes to growth at skill but as you can see there's actually a lot of components that go into driving real growth because skill brings complexity.
Success Harbor: Yeah you know earlier you mentioned that most businesses never get a thousand customers.
Jason Cohen: Yeah.
Success Harbor: And that's so, you know, I believe you and I, you know, and all of that but why do you think that is? Why do you think, it doesn't sound like a huge number.
Jason Cohen: It does to me.
Success Harbor: But why do you think they never get to a thousand? I mean, you know, okay your business is tens of thousands of customers, okay, and there are of course businesses with millions of customers, you know, but a thousand sellers is doable.
Jason Cohen: Not really. No I disagree. Name three companies with millions of customers, and I mean paying customers, not people who downloaded an app. That's not a customer.
Success Harbor: Well Dropbox is one but I don't think that they have, most of those are free accounts right?
Jason Cohen: Right, paying customers.
Success Harbor: So I, Google drive, I don't think most people are paying so.
Jason Cohen: Right.
Success Harbor: Yeah. It's tough.
Jason Cohen: Amazon does.
Success Harbor: Yeah.
Jason Cohen: Apple does.
Success Harbor: Yeah.
Jason Cohen: Ebay you could argue. They're not recurring customers but they're customers. You can count.
Success Harbor: Well what do you need to do to have a thousand customers? Why, what's missing from those businesses that just can't get a thousand customers? Is it systems or is it just the market they're in?
Jason Cohen: No it's just super hard to get that many people to agree to pay for something, like to get enough attention from enough people. I mean you think about the chain of events that has to happen. For a small company, for person to buy from them and it's like, it's basically impossible. Like if you were to describe it, it's like, that's never going to happen. Like first you have a company with no brand and no money trying to get attention on the fricking Internet which is where all the money and all the brands and all the other little companies are yelling. It's like basically impossible to get any attention ever on the Internet number one so then somehow or another, you, you know , you don't have an SCO, you don't have a brand, you don't have anything to go, you don't have a budget, you have nothing to go on. Somehow or another you find someone on the Internet. Who knows how you did that and they lean on the home page and you and I know that most of the time people bounce off the home page in four seconds right? Like literally most of the times, you get four seconds and they're gone. That's the usual case after that rare event that you even found somebody. Okay, great. They're gone. Alright somebody stayed. Who knows why. Who knows what caught their attention on the home page. Who knows but I hope you can find it and I hope you find some of those hooks when you’re talking to some of those customers by the way because it is hard to hook them in four seconds isn’t it. You better have the right words there. Anyway so they stay. Then they read through your tripe. You know this weird marketing copy. It's not very good. You have [00:50:38.10] Inaudible you forgot to find. It's not really speaking to them yet. They're reading through screen shots. The design isn't great because this is your first website. Somehow or another they're not deterred by all this nonsense and they use the product. Now how do they use the product? Well they download something or they had to log into something or somehow or another they had to get through more barriers, more reasons to not do it before they used the product. Also they saw the pricing and they weren't deterred. By the way, they could be deterred because it's too low and they think, ‘Oh, this is just some crap, it's too low. I need a serious company’, or vice versa. ‘This is too high. I don't have the budget and they leave.’ All kinds of reasons why the pricing can deter someone right so okay, so they're undeterred by the price, they're undeterred by trying the product and then they try your product. You're a new company so the product can't be that good. It can't have all the features they want. It can't work the best. It can't be the fastest. It can't be anything that's the best because it's new. Of course it's not. Somehow or another they decide nevertheless, they're going to pay money for this pile of crap and eventually give money. Now the idea that that chain of events is going to happen with any frequency is almost ludicrous and so it doesn’t. So it doesn't. Like why would it? It's crazy. And even if you say things like I'll find those people because I'll use ad-words. Great. A click through rate that's great on an ad-word is one percent. I mean that's tops if you get one percent. Right. That means 99 out of 100 people who searched for the thing, you know, at best you get like one out of a hundred coming in so you start working the math backwards to a hundred, a thousand paying customers. A thousand paying customers. How many get that ridiculous funnel I just said, like one in a hundred? No. One in a hundred only just gets you the click on adwords. Right, and at best another one out of a hundred get through that damn web page a conversion rate for a home page, oh sorry, a whole website of one percent. Again pretty good. So that's ten thousand to one right there so those thousand people, you've got ten thousand to one. Right off the bat like just conversion rate off the home page and off the adwords, even this, I'm ignoring the whole rest of the funnel, all these other reasons why they wouldn't do it or they believe. Right away you're at a ten thousand to one disadvantage. So it's not, you have to get in front of ten million people to get to a thousand people and that's being optimistic about your conversion rates. Ten million people to get to a thousand. How the hell are you going to get in front of that? And again with no brand, no SCO, no you know, no social media presence. No budget.
Success Harbor: Yeah.
Jason Cohen: Of course it's impossible. Now I say impossible. Of course I don't really mean that. I'm being superlative on purpose to make the point of why it's so hard. It should be hard. Why in the world would we think that was easy. Course it's not. Again, even if the product is good, and your idea is good, course it’s not easy and again that's why I get back to you, well could I get twenty just by the hard way like calling people or going door to door physically or paying too much in ad-words or you know, again these other things which you might say are quote on quote not scalable, not cost effective. Okay but could I claw my way in anyway? Or PR like I get a guest post at a great blog and I get maybe a twenty people out of that right because I get a couple thousand hits to my page, maybe twenty of them sign up because they're sort of predisposed to like me. Yeah that's possible but if you claw, you can claw out ten or twenty people out of you know one or two good PR hit and you can claw some people out of like yeah you can definitely claw and scratch your way in there but to a thousand, maybe but man, maybe but why again you know going back to the top, like why set yourself up for that slog when it's so hard. Let's set it up so that one hundred customers actually gets you cracking and two hundred customers means it's really, you've quit your job and you can plow one or two grand a month back into the business. If we can set up the business model like that, man at least then if you're successful, in all these difficult things, you don't have to get to a thousand first with that impossible thing. Let's get to something else first.
Success Harbor: Okay, you know we're like way over the thirty minutes so I'm just going, I just have like one more question and.
Jason Cohen: Sure.
Success Harbor: I appreciate you’re staying on. If you started a business today, a new business, what would it be and why? Where do you see the opportunities in business today, 2014?
Jason Cohen: Well I mean, again like that's, there's opportunities anywhere.
Success Harbor: Okay.
Jason Cohen: Anywhere. Like even the big huge successful businesses that sounded so stupid at first like when possible, really, people are going to rent out their sofa and they trust strangers and deal with money and damage and that's impossible. And of course everyone at B and B is one of the big success stories out of Silicon Valley. So no idea is too weird, to potentially be successful. No market isn't, is done and there's no room for innovation at all. That doesn't exist. So, it's anywhere. It also depends on your goals like if you say look what I want is just to take control of my own life. It's okay if I never make ten million dollars or something. What I want is to quit my day job, put 10K in the bank in profit every month after, I want to get to that point. It won’t happen immediately. I just want to get to the point where I’m putting 10, 20, 30k a month in profit in the bank. I'm in control of my own life. I own something. It's an amazing journey. It's an amazing challenge. Well then that's incredibly great and its possible but of course the market's you go after, the choices you make in product and the business model and the support model and what opportunities would make sense for that kind of business, it's going to be totally different than if you say like, ‘hey I’m going to disrupt hotels and be worth ten billion dollars. Okay, well, great.’ Well you know the guy working by himself should not try to disrupt the hotel industry but someone else totally can so again you know what is it that you want out of the business and then how can we find opportunities where you're the right person to attack that opportunity for some reason, you have some edge like you have an insight, or you have industry experience or you have some customers you know you can bring in and solve some of that problem or whatever your insight is into this particular problem that you're bringing in and you know how can we get to a sustainable business at a reasonable number of customers and reasonable marketing channels and get a product that's not too terribly hard to build, not too terribly risky so we can get it out there and you know all these, basically all you're doing is de-risking different aspects of the business. How can we do that in a way that's going to work with the goals and path that have in mind. That is the right question because there's no area or industry or market or audience of anything that in which it's not possible to innovate and do something valuable.
Success Harbor: On that note Jason, I really appreciate, there's so much that such a great information from you and I really appreciate you coming on Success Harbor. How can people find out about WPEngine or connect with you?
Jason Cohen: Sure so for WPEngine, it's wpengine.com and you can see what we're doing there and if you ,look if you need a Word Press site then maybe you should be using us because we are, our success is ultimately earned by having a great product right so maybe it's useful for you but, if you want to find all these kinds of thoughts. Part of the reason I have so much information to share is because I help other startups as an investor, as a mentor and I've been writing about it for I don't know seven years or something. It's just been a passion of mine to get better at writing, get better articulating and put that into words and so I blog at Blog.Asmartbear, the letter 'A' smart bear the animal dot com and so there's hundreds of articles there. I don't post often because I try to do higher quality, lower frequency especially recently because WPEngine is taking so much time. I really don't have time to write a lot but there's years of archives there too so that's a good way to find a lot of advice.
Success Harbor: Sounds good. So everybody out there check out wpengine.com and say hi to Jason at blog.Asmartbear.com. Thank you very much Jason. I hope you'll come on again sometime in the future. I wish you much luck with WPEngine. You guys are doing awesome.
Jason Cohen: Thanks. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.
Success Harbor: Thank you very much.
What does it take to build and nurture a network of influencers? Dino Dogan is the CEO of Triberr, a social network for content creators that sends millions of monthly visitors to its members. Dino is also a professional speaker. He has been the subject of stories in publications such as Forbes, Yahoo!News, The Huffington Post, and many more. Dino has also spoken and consulted for a variety of companies and audiences such as IBM, Rutgers University, Vocus, New Media Expo, 140conf, and many others.
Say hi to Dino at dinodogan.com.
What does it take to build a blog valued at $3 million? In 2005, Jim Wang started a popular personal finance blog, Bargaineering, that would later be valued at $3 Million dollars. Today, he is sharing all that he had learned on Microblogger. Jim’s mission is to show you how to build a business today, so you can live life on your own terms.
Say hi to Jim at microblogger.com.
Read Raw Transcript Now:
INTRO: Hello everybody and welcome to the Success Harbor podcast with George Meszaros, where it’s all about making success happen for you.
Success Harbor: Hi Everyone. This is George Meszaros with Success Harbor and I have Jim Wang with me. Jim is the host of Microblogger. In 2005, Jim started a popular personal finance blog called Bargaineering that would later be valued at 3 million dollars. Jim's mission is to show you how to build a business so you can live life on your own terms. Welcome.
Jim Wang: Thanks George. Happy to be here.
Success Harbor: Thank you for being here Jim. When you started Bargaineering back in 2005, what were your, what were your goals with the site?
Jim Wang: That's interesting. Back in 2005, I didn't really consider myself an entrepreneur or you know a business owner and if you can remember back to that time, most blogs were like personal journals and essentially how I arrived at starting it. I just started working a couple of years before that, you know I, when you get your first corporate job you get the huge employee handbook and especially if you're just out of college, you don't really understand about money management and 401Ks and all these acronyms. I also worked in the defense industry so there were even more acronyms on top of those acronyms and so it was kind of like a blurb and I thought, why don't I, you know, I was, I did software so I was familiar with, you know coding and all that stuff and I soon stumbled upon a WordPress, installed it and said why don't I just start a journal where I would just write down like my thoughts and most of them revolved around personal finances and that's essentially how I started the site. It wasn't, it wasn't a, you know, I didn't have a business plan. I never thought that I would quit my job to run it full-time. None of those things so in that regard I was actually exceptionally lucky.
Success Harbor: So it was kind of a hobby and it wasn't even personal finance initially it was just about your life or things that were happening to you?
Jim Wang: Yeah. They all had some sort, some aspect of money involved in it I mean because so many of the things you deal with in life involve money and it wasn't until later that I sort of focused it down on money management and personal finance specifically.
Success Harbor: So let's say the first year, what were happening with Bargaineering? I mean what were you writing about? What were your thoughts about the whole thing? I mean it sounds like it was kind of a hobby, you didn't really look at it as a business but can you share that?
Jim Wang: Yeah, it was completely a hobby. It was mostly you know, talking to other young professionals, because I was a young professional, college graduates just trying to figure out what to do with their money, trying to figure out how to save more, what budgeting was. I mean I didn't budget before I got a real job so that's basically what this site talked about.
Success Harbor: And we, go ahead, I 'm sorry.
Jim Wang: I didn't approach it like a business. It's kind of funny but when I look back, some of the things that I did were smart but then I actually probably wouldn't have done if I was treating it like a business because I would spend a lot of time like networking and talking and emailing most, not actually talking, but like instant messaging and emailing other bloggers and like building up friendships and just meeting people just for the sake of meeting them with no real objectives and looking back you know had I done it differently I probably would've been more precise in my networking or at least more organized and I was, I guess I got lucky there again too.
Success Harbor: Okay. It's funny because I talk to a lot of bloggers that have you know achieved a lot of success and they're telling me the same thing. You know, networking, reaching out and making real connections with other bloggers
Jim Wang: Yep
Success Harbor: And it sounds that like you were doing that but you weren't really laser focused on the types of bloggers maybe that you
Jim Wang: Yes
Success Harbor: reached out to
Jim Wang: Yep
Success Harbor: So you did some of the like you said you did some of the things right but you weren't really that proactive about it or strategic about it?
Jim Wang: Yep, well it's so I'm a very analytical, like numbers-driven, statistical type of person so if I were doing it, if I were treating it like a business I would get a spreadsheet right and I first, I’d find the people who I want to talk to and I put them on the list and then I, you know I analyze, what's the best way to reach out. Should I reach out on Facebook, Twitter, email? Should I you know go to an event that I know they're going to and I'd just be a little more, proactive is not the perfect term. I'd be more of a, I can't think of the term right now but like exacting, like strategic. I would, because your goal when you're, obviously your goal of networking is to meet people and meet people who you can help and that can also help you and I was just meeting people haphazardly and when I think about it now like, that type of, being too precise and too calculating is, can sometimes be bad because when you're actually talking to someone, interacting with them instead of being like a genuine person, like a nice person, in the back of your mind if you have a very clear objective there is, there might be a tendency, however unconscious, for you to sort of you know be the guide that when you're at the networking event, immediately pulling out your business card and saying, "What can I do for you? What can you do for me?” instead of being like a good person and actually getting to know so I mean it's a double-edged sword but you know I feel like in business you have to be laser focused. You have to be strategic and constantly be thinking about your process and improving it and so in that regard I wasn't and but you know when you're early on and you're just starting off, it's okay to not be super precise as long as you're still going in the right direction.
Success Harbor: Yeah it's funny because you know as long as you're early, you know, I mean you were early, 2005 is when blogging pretty much started. I mean yeah there were other sites that had journals and things but that's very early in the process so as long as you're early make, I don't want to say mistakes but you don't have to be that great in marketing yourself I guess.
Jim Wang: Yeah, yeah, you could afford to make mistakes.
Success Harbor: Exactly.
Jim Wang: And they won't cripple you.
Success Harbor: Yeah. So let's talk about the point where you say you're very analytical, so were you even looking at things like shares or you know likes or traffic and comments and any of those things to see, yeah this is going somewhere?
Jim Wang: Yeah so back then 2005 I, Facebook was obviously around but I think back then it was still relegated to, you had to be you know graduate a certain college and was still kind of solid so social media, Twitter, I'm pretty sure that Twitter did not exist or at least certainly wasn't as.
Success Harbor: It was MySpace. 2005 was still MySpace.
Jim Wang: It was MySpace.
Success Harbor: more of a MySpace that a Facebook.
Jim Wang: And that was all mostly music. I mean when people are talking about it there were like you know bands and such were leveraging that more often than blogs but I mean so what we really cared about back in the day was just search traffic because that’s that was essentially the biggest channel for you to get traffic was through the search engines so there was a lot of SCO and building and I was focused on that level.
Success Harbor: Okay so even the first year you already had done some SEO for your site or not really?
Jim Wang: No, no, definitely not in the first year [00:07:04.22] Inaudible.
Success Harbor: So at what point did you start to get more strategic about SEO?
Jim Wang: Once I started getting search traffic so probably about a year later once. See back then, so much has happened in search, it can sometimes be difficult to remember but back then there was still that thought that there was the idea of a sandbox. Like the first year or 9 months or however long it was when you first started a site, back then, even if you were linked to and were getting crawls, Google just didn't give you as much credit because you were still new. That’s kind of gone away, at least no one talks about it but it's kind of gone away. I think that first year I was sandboxed and then it wasn't until the following year that search traffic really started picking up and was beating out referral traffic from other blogs that I started taking a closer eye towards search and trying to understand what all that meant because when you think about SCO at least in 2005, like 90 percent of the stuff was fixing, like duplicate content, it was like e-commerce sites that you know had duplicate content because they were publishing from the same catalog of products and what not and so WordPress out of the box did 90 percent of on page SCO for you and you didn't really have much else to do.
Success Harbor: Yeah. Yeah. I remember 2005 you could basically get a whole bunch of back links even if it was junk and you could get thousands of visitors a day you know, you didn't have to be a genius to get traffic back then.
Jim Wang: Yeah. You know the meta-description tags were actually used, like you had to try to get into, you had to try to get into, was it an open directory like Yahoo and then it was Deemaz.
Success Harbor: So I want to go and talk about what happened after the first year but before we get there, if you started Bargaineering today, how do you think it would have to be different in terms of you know getting the word out and marketing yourself and even you know SCO, I mean we talked about you know it's almost 10 years ago everything has changed so what would you have to do today to get traction?
Jim Wang: I don't know what I would do today in terms of SCO but what I, to get traction and to get traffic I would have, I would go to social media and just figure out where, see every niche, or niche, I don't know which way I'm supposed to say that word, but whatever niche you’re in
Success Harbor: Either way is fine.
Jim Wang: I'm going to go with niche because it sounds, in my head better, but so each one has a different, like they're different social media sites that work well for each so, obviously like Pinterest, if you're a food blog with gorgeous photos or any type of blog with gorgeous photos, Pinterest is an incredible tool. In some cases, Twitter is better than Facebook and other instances Facebook is better than Twitter so I would go out, you know try all the networks, build relationships with people who are using them, try to learn from them and use social media. That's the quickest, fastest way.
Success Harbor: Okay. Now after about the first year, you know it sounds like you started to get a little bit more serious about Bargaineering or not that you weren't serious before, but maybe it started to look more like something that was gaining traction so at what point did you look at Bargaineering as a business?
Jim Wang: When it started making a couple thousand dollars a month. Actually.
Success Harbor: So.
Jim Wang: When it was started making a couple hundred, I started thinking, huh, this is more than a hobby. This is something that could get a lot bigger and I started reading a lot more online, other blogs about Internet marketing and then once I made a few thousand I saw a path forward where I could quit my job and actually do this as a business.
Success Harbor: So let's talk about the couple of hundred dollars because that's very important to me because a lot of businesses fail very early, within the first couple of years, people give up and even a hundred dollars, even 10 dollars is a big deal I think initially just to get a proof that what you're doing is worth your time, so how much traffic did you have at that point when you first started to make a little bit of money and how did you make money back then?
Jim Wang: So my traffic was probably maybe 3, 4, 500 links a day which I mean when I think about it still blows my mind that 500 people were visiting something that I was writing in the first place so I was, I was thrilled and that resulted in a couple hundred bucks of earnings because I was making it off AdSense and that was you know pay-per-click and it was generally a few cents per click. In finance it's a little higher. I don't remember the exact numbers but you know I would later on start other more hobby type of blogs and the earnings there were much lower on a pay-per-clip basis which makes sense I mean personal finance. I think why a lot of people fail is because they don't see the path forward right. They feel like they're doing, if they're doing the same things over and over again they're seeing no results, they don't see a growth path then it can become very frustrating and easy to give up on something. For me I was still working a full-time job so this was a hobby on the side. I didn't have the pressure of having to make money, like I didn't have to make money or me to continue to do it. I still enjoyed it. I was still learning and it was a very exciting time of growth and education and I saw a path forward. I saw okay. I put AdSense on. It's making a couple bucks a day. This is, I mean it’s awesome; I'm not going to quit my job. I started learning about affiliate marketing and how instead of you know having someone go in the way for dollar click they can go maybe they apply for a credit card, I get $50 a click. Now this starts getting interesting and I see a way forward where I'm not just doing the same thing over and over again for a hundred dollars a month. That wouldn't be something I’d be interested in and no business owner should stop themselves at that you know that level. You don't think I'm going to make a hundred bucks a month for the rest of my life and this is a quote on quote business so I saw the path forward and then you know I just kept learning as I get more traffic, more traffic means more people are seeing it.
Success Harbor: And so how much, how many years were you into Bargaineering when you started to make a few hundred dollars a day?
Jim Wang: I was about, a few hundred dollars a day.
Success Harbor: Yeah because at 3, 400 dollars a day you know when you started to make some money with AdSense because you started in 2005 right?
Jim Wang: Yeah.
Success Harbor: So at what point did you start making some money and you know I'm not talking about thousands of dollars yet?
Jim Wang: I think.
Success Harbor: So maybe.
Jim Wang: It was maybe like about two years in that I was making a few thousand a month.
Success Harbor: Okay.
Jim Wang: Like 3, 4, 5 around that.
Success Harbor: Yeah. That couple of years that sounds pretty you know I've interviewed a lot of bloggers and the 2 year mark is a very important mark. I mean I'd love to actually you know dig deeper in what happens in two years but I don't know if it's, just you know, you get links by then or you get some other you know content, you have enough content on the site.
Jim Wang: Yeah.
Success Harbor: I don't know what it is but the two-year mark is a very important mark so by about a couple of years into it you start to make some money but not enough money to quit your job. So what were you doing then to grow Bargaineering more? Was it just doing more of the same or did you also change some of your strategy?
Jim Wang: So there were two things that changed. One was I became more diligent in getting guest posts because that's back then, what would that be, 2007, that's when, no one was really talking about guest posts as a link building methodology or approach and it wasn't done on the scale that it is you know today or a year ago because you just go to your other blogging friends and you just link back to your own articles with keywords and it would be very specific and no one thought it was bad because no one said it was bad and that helped Search tremendously. The other thing I did was keyword research on the content production site. Up until then I just wrote whatever I was interested in, whatever was happening in my life. Well, as I soon realized that each of the articles, each of the blog posts I was writing was essentially a seed right. You take a bunch of grass seeds and you go out on your lawn and you throw all of them, right. You don't put one down and go to the next one and put another one down. You just throw as much seed as you can and the ones that grow, grow and the ones that don't, no problem you try to learn what went wrong and so that's what I started doing with blog posts is I would do keyword research and I would write articles that were specific to various keywords to try to get them to rank and then convert with various offers on those pages and I would just pick different industries. I started with credit then went into banking, did credit scores, all these areas I felt like I could be as a smaller set be competitive and I avoided areas that I didn’t think I could be competitive. For example mortgages and insurance are two extremely competitive areas that I didn’t think I could you know have any success in so I didn't, I didn't do those but.
Success Harbor: Okay so do you think guess posting this year still something viable as a strategy?
Jim Wang: I would not do it for link building. I would do it to gain a greater audience. What I do now is when I write a guest post. First of all, a lot of places are about much more careful who they let guest post and so they'll also be careful about what you link to in the articles so no keyword rich, money keyword rich links and posts but I don't think doing that has much value anymore unless you're a huge brand and this is one of like a couple thousand links that you're building. I instead when I write an article just have a byline link that goes back to my site that just says, Jim writes about, and in the case now with Microblogger, I write about entrepreneurship and building a blog and building a business so I say, if you want to read more tips about building your own business or building your own blog sign up for our free newsletter and the free newsletters linked up or it says click here to sign up for the newsletter and instead it just goes back to a page, a lending page or micro-blogger that lets them sign up for a newsletter and I don't want it for the length necessarily like the length of equity. I want the people who are interested to come back and sign up and so I can reach them again later with that guest post so it's about audience growth and not search engine optimization.
Success Harbor: Okay, so then a few years into Bargaineering, I actually, I meant to ask you how long did it take for you to quit your job into Bargaineering, how many years from '05?
Jim Wang: Three years. I quit in 2008.
Success Harbor: So in 2008, you're site made enough money or more money than what you'd been earning I guess from your job and you said, yeah I'm going to take the plunge and go all in?
Jim Wang: Yep.
Success Harbor: And did anything change at that point or were you just really looking at Bargaineering as a business and just be very strategic about all the content that you created and how you reached out and how you marketed your site?
Jim Wang: Yeah so what I was, quitting my job the site was making far more than my day job and I was spending 8,9,10 hours a day at my day job, which I enjoyed. The hardest part of quitting my job was that I enjoyed it and you hear a lot of stories where people hate their jobs and they're always looking for a way out and I was a special case where I was fine with my job. The people were good. I loved working there but it just didn't make any sense anymore and to convince myself that quitting was the right choice, because it had done so well without me working on it full-time that I thought I need to chart a path and figure out what am I going to do with this extra time and be, you know how do I think about strategy and be smarter about it so that I'm not quitting a job just because I want to sit at home for more hours but I'm doing it for the right reasons and yeah so I became a lot more strategic and I chartered out all the time that I was going to spend, how I was going to use it, how I was going to grow it and just have a path forward.
Success Harbor: Okay and so by 2000, was it 2012 or ‘13 when the sale of your business was completed? To, you said, you, actually I read this online that [excuse me], your business was valued about 3 million dollars with an additional earn out of 500,000 dollars and did you seek out someone to sell to or did someone seek out you, seek you out I'm sorry?
Jim Wang: There was a period of consolidation in personal finance blogging where there were these large corporations that bought out a bunch of personal finance sites so I was just part of that, sort of that wave.
Success Harbor: Okay and did they have to convince you to sell or did you think you were ready to do this, you were really ready for it or did they have to do a lot of convincing to convince you to sell your site?
Jim Wang: I think at the time I was ready. I mean it's sort of tough to say because it's a, it's like a good decision either way. If someone offers you an X dollar amount for something you can't, it's never a bad thing and I don't, I thought it was a good process and so I liked the end result.
Success Harbor: Okay and after you sold did you take time off or did you immediately want to start something else? What was, first of all how did it feel to sell? I mean you did something that most people are unable to do, to build a multimillion dollar blog, how did that feel and then how long did it take to you know start something else?
Jim Wang: It was like half exciting, half sad because the thing that I had spent the better part of five years thinking about all the time and like being excited about and learning and all this other good stuff was no longer mine and so it was kind of a little sad in that way. In terms of starting new things, I wanted to start something new almost immediately and I think once you get that bug, that entrepreneurial bug and you have all these ideas and you just want to try to get the minimum viable product out there to see if it resonates. Yeah I wanted to start something the next day. I wanted to catch that like excitement back of like waking up in the morning. I mean and now I have kids so kids got to replace that excitement or at least temper it a little bit but yeah back then you know you always want, you always want to be working on something and you want it to be your something and not someone else's project if that makes sense.
Success Harbor: Yeah, yeah and so did you start Microblogger right after or did you start something else?
Jim Wang: No, so I started Microblogger last year so it was a short while later. What's interesting was I actually registered Microblogger six months after I registered the Bargaineering domain because I thought it would be fun and I just never did anything with it. So yeah Microblogger was last year's, it was a couple of years before I started something new.
Success Harbor: Okay and how are you building Microblogger differently from Bargaineering or is the experience different at all?
Jim Wang: The experience is different because the tools that are available to you are different. I leverage social media far more than I did with Bargaineering, dabbling in podcasting and that's been an extremely fun experience. I love talking to people so when you emailed me and you asked me to come on I thought this would be a lot of fun and so I, back then 2005 no one was, very few people were podcasting, you know the technology just wasn't, today you use Skype, it's free. You have Call Recorder that's also free. You just have to buy a mic, a decent microphone and you're off and running. A lot of the editing audio editing software comes out of a box for free if you buy a MAC so it's a wonderful tool. I mean if you have a site and if you have a blog or any business really and you can start getting into podcasting I think you'd gain a big advantage.
Success Harbor: Yeah I mean I agree. I think any business even if you install blinds you know.
Jim Wang: Yeah.
Success Harbor: You could benefit from a blog.
Jim Wang: I would get into YouTube. I would get into videos too. I haven't because the, I don’t know, I haven't had enough time to really investigate it but if you were installing blinds or you were a blind installer or you sold blinds you could do all sorts of like tutorials and useful tools like that, that when someone searches for any how-to stuff, YouTube is always first or second.
Success Harbor: Yeah I think especially because you know in those areas personal finance is a very crowded place and it's crowded for a reason. There's a lot of money to be made in that area but you know there is a lot of other areas that's every underserved when it comes to you know.
Jim Wang: Yeah.
Success Harbor: Online presence so you know if people like that with those kinds of businesses, I think there are so many opportunities today. So let's talk about social media. What channels are you utilizing for Microblogger, because obviously there are so many of them out there and you can't focus on everything, so what works for you?
Jim Wang: I use Facebook and Twitter. I'm not very good with social media because with Bargaineering I didn't, I didn’t use it a ton and so I'm still learning it and understanding it and Facebook I'm trying to get involved in as many groups as I can that are sort of Internet marketing and I'm doing it in a way, I'm not joining Internet marketing groups or blogging groups. I'm joining groups that are you know filled with a specific type of blogger, whether it's like a lifestyle blogger or deals blogger or writers or whatever and going to those places because that's where you’re going to find new people, like people who you didn't know already. You can't go to the same. If you go to an Internet marketing group it's going to be the same group of people as you. You want to try to branch out and meet different and new people.
Success Harbor: Yeah, yeah that makes sense. So what are some of your goals for Microblogger? I mean it's still very new, you know, you started last year. What would be a successful micro-blogger to you?
Jim Wang: I think that changes all the time and for me it's I don’t know, I haven't really thought about the super long-term goals. I think a successful, I'm always constantly trying to learn and so sometimes I do things because I think they'll be fun and because it could be good learning process so for example starting the podcast and you know getting up to you know I think, getting up to I think the high 20's number of episodes, you know thousands of downloads, it's reached, I don't know where it would be if I set a goal. I don't know what number I would've picked because I don't have an informed way of picking you know number of downloads that I'd love to see. Obviously a large number would be better than a small one but I've just been enjoying that process and so I've been doing that. I want to put out some sort of product so I sent out a survey to the people in the newsletter, who read my newsletter to see what they would want me to produce and so make a product, do the podcast, meet interesting people and for the most part, have fun. I don't have any revenue targets for it because I feel like that, I've never liked to judge my progress based necessarily on this end goal, especially not an end goal of how much revenue it's making but instead I like to look at the process that I'm going through and whether I'm learning and growing and getting better every day and as long as I'm doing that I feel like progress is being made and so that's how I like to look at my goals.
Success Harbor: Yeah well what are you using to look at your downloads? What app are you using?
Jim Wang: It's a, so all the podcasts are being uploaded to Lipsin and they'll tell me how many downloads they get.
Success Harbor: Okay, sounds good. I have some general entrepreneurial questions for you. One of them has to do with the first 12 months in business because to me you know with Success Harbor, I'm very focused on, you know trying to focus on the first couple of years of business because I, it's so important and so many businesses fail, so what do you think, what do you think is the most important thing for an entrepreneur in the first 12 months of being in business? What do you think that person should especially focus on?
Jim Wang: I firmly believe in the lean start-up mentality and so even before you open your doors or whatever you’re doing try to do whatever you can to prove out the model and by that, you know, if you're selling blinds right, try to go door to door and sell blinds. Do the minimum you could possibly do to figure out whether or not you’re cut out for that business because so many people. What happens is you get this idea in your head like and it sounds fun because you've never actually done it and you've never faced the challenges that the people who have actually done the work face every day and so you have this romantic view of a business in your head and then you get into it and then you start putting money and that becomes a sudden cost but you don't, you're not able to pull yourself away because you see the sun cost and you keep pushing forward, forward, forward. Perfect example is everyone thinks it's fun to own a bar or restaurant right because you think of like shows like Cheers or other things where you always have fun in a bar, why not, it's like you're constantly throwing a party but in reality starting a restaurant or bar is miserable if you ask anybody who's ever started a bar or restaurant and so it's trying to force yourself to get into the mentality of making those decisions and doing the work without having to put in the huge financial investment. Something that most entrepreneurs fail at, they don't actually make themselves go through the decision-making process.
Success Harbor: Okay. What do you think is the biggest time waster for entrepreneurs?
Jim Wang: That's probably email and social media and surfing the web. It's distractions. It's going down, chasing the next shiny thing and being able to focus is huge and so to the extent that you can reduce the number of distractions and you know build yourself a work day where that doesn't happen as often. That's what I think is the biggest.
Success Harbor: If you had a friend or maybe someone in your family that currently had a job but saw your success as an entrepreneur and they said, Jim I want to be successful, help me. What would be the first thing you would teach that person?
Jim Wang: That's a good question. I would, actually, I would teach them how to implement make that lean start-up mentality of what's the idea you want to do. Let's go through and think about all the questions that you should be able to answer before you spend any money on it and you know it's not because you know my experience is extremely limited. I started a blog right that did well in part because it started early. Certainly I learnt a lot through the process and could impart some wisdom about it but ultimately I think just having a more analytical mind was the only thing that I brought to the table in terms of the success of the site and so I think that's what I would try to offer a friend or family that said, hey I want to try to do what you did. I said okay let's sit down and talk through what you want to do and then maybe out of that we'll figure out, alright these are the skills you need to learn and I can't teach you because I probably don't have them but this is what you need to learn before you get started.
Success Harbor: That's good advice. I'm pretty sure you looked up my site Success Harbor and if you have any suggestion for me to improve my site, I would appreciate your thought.
Jim Wang: I don't know anything off the top of my head but I did, what I did was I, from what I remembered because I looked at it last week when we were scheduling it, I remember thinking that the, you have a carousel at the top right where it changes who your
Success Harbor: Well I do change it when I put a new interview on. I do change that part so it doesn't, it's not like a slide show but it does change at least a couple of times a week.
Jim Wang: But it's not always the latest one right?
Success Harbor: It's always the latest one and there are a couple of other lists. There's one under it with some thumbnail photos of some previous interviews and some longer lists under it.
Jim Wang: Oh what I was going to say, I think what happened was I was scrolling through the various guests because I had seen someone I knew and I forgot who it was but I remember thinking that the one that you had at the top was sometime someone new and then sometimes it was one way in the past like a month or so ago, maybe not a month, a couple of pages back, actually I was going to say that that was a good, that's a smart idea to not always have the latest one at the very, very top and sort of cycle through , just to give your older podcasts some more life.
Success Harbor: Yeah, yeah. I mean right now I have so much content and I think a lot of bloggers have the opposite problem that you don't have enough it's just that I'm trying to actually you know I mean I want to make videos, you know I transcribe, you know, I haven't done everything, but you know there's just so much content there's only so much time to do it but you know, just, I'm trying to come up with many more creative ways of using that unique content that I generate here all the time. So anyway, I like to ask that of people who had success such as you because you know I want to learn as well so I do appreciate it. How can people connect with you or find out more about Microblogger?
Jim Wang: They can come to microblogger.com. You can also reach me on Twitter. My handle is @wangerrific and you, email me, email@example.com. I'd love to hear from everybody and happy to help out whenever I can.
Success Harbor: Well thanks for coming on Success Harbor and everyone go and check microblogger.com out and hopefully you can come back maybe in a year or so and give us an update on Microblogger.
Jim Wang: Sure.
Success Harbor: Where you are and what progress you made and I'm sure we can learn a lot more from you then too. Thank you.
Jim Wang: I’d love to. No, thank you George.
What does it take to be a super creative marketer? Jason SurfrApp (formerly Jason Headsetdotcom & Jason Sadler) is an unconventional marketer. Jason made over $1 million with IWearYourShirt, the company he created that used sponsored T-shirts to promote businesses on social media. To take his marketing creativity further, Jason auctioned off his last name in 2012 and 2013 to the highest bidders. Jason was featured on The Today Show, CBS Evening News, CNN, and The New York Times.
Check out Jason's new book, "Creativity For Sale."
Read Raw Transcript Now:
Success Harbor: Hi everyone this is George Meszaros with Success Harbor and I have Jason SurfrApp with me. You may know Jason as ‘Jason SurfrApp’ or ‘Jason Headsetsdotcom’ or ‘Jason Sadler’. We’ll get into why all the different last names. Jason had made $1 million wearing t-shirts to promote businesses. His unconventional thinking enables him to create business opportunities which he documents in his book ‘Creativity for Sale’. Welcome.
Jason Sadler: Thank you for having me.
Success Harbor: Thank you for being here Jason. You have had so many unique marketing ideas that it’s hard to know which one to start with but tell me how you got started with ‘I Wear Your Shirt’, a company that uses sponsored t-shirts to promote businesses on social media.
Jason Sadler: Yeah, back in 2007, I left my 9-5 job working for a sports agency to start a design company with a friend and while at that design company, we had a lot of our clients ask us about social media and so this is like 2007, 2008 before anything really took off in social media time and I just saw an opportunity where brands wanted to reach people and that people were on these platforms and so I thought I could kind of fill in the gap and be the guy that promoted the company via social media and created a unique way to do that through this company, ‘I Wear Your Shirt’.
Success Harbor: And so, how did you even come up with that idea, it’s a genius idea to wear company shirts but I mean, was there a process to it or one day it just came to you?
Jason Sadler: Yeah, I think the idea just kind of came together through looking at these different free platforms; Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, seeing that people were just posting content and that a lot of people were able to talk to each other quickly and so those things were working in my mind and I remember one day, standing in my closet, as most guys do, staring at all these shirts and just not caring which one I was going to put on for the day and as an entrepreneur and somebody who works for myself, I didn’t have to wear a suit and tie or anything so it was actually more trouble to pick my outfit than it was to have it picked for me so, I just said, I got all these shirts that already have brand names on them, why not try and get brands to pay me to wear their shirt, that seems interesting, and that’s kind of where things started.
Success Harbor: And how much outreach did you have to do initially, and did people even take it seriously? Did they think it was a joke of some kind when you first tried to reach out to people?
Jason Sadler: Yeah, well I originally sent the idea to a bunch of my friends and probably more than half of them rightly so said, “Jason, this is a stupid idea, we’re in a recession right now, no one’s going to want to pay you to wear t-shirts, go back to doing whatever you were doing. And so, you know, I got that feedback and said, “Alright, well that’s their opinion, I still think this is an exciting idea, and so I had a website built, ‘iwearyourshirt.com’ was put up in October 2008 and only 12 people showed up to the website on launch day and I was really bummed because I thought I had come up with this amazing idea and yet no one seemed to care. So as you mentioned, I did some outreach, I started emailing some of my contacts and I didn’t have many, just friends and family, I didn’t know any businesses and just started to say, “Hey, here’s the idea”, personalized emails, I didn’t mass email them and started to get some interesting feedback and people started to see, “Oh yeah, I could buy a day”, you know, I was selling this whole 2009 calendar, starting at a $1 on the first day and $2 on the second day, all the way up to $365 on the last day, so it was very affordable, I mean cheap, to get on board early, and so that average really started to help and I jumped on Twitter and started looking at hashtags and started [inaudible 03:44] people and following interesting people and just jumping in conversations and not trying to sell but I think when people saw the username ‘IWearYourShirt’, they were intrigued by it and they started kind of looking into it so, you know, that was really how the outreach started when I first got it launched.
Success Harbor: So initially you didn’t think about giving up maybe because some of the feedback you received, you had enough positive feedback to kind of keep you going?
Jason Sadler: Yeah, I think--, I will never forget this moment, I was sitting on my couch and this was like right before the website was launching and I had reached a couple of friends and family who told me this wasn’t a great idea and I just sat there and said you know what, how many successful businesses are out there where people have told the owners of those businesses that that idea probably wouldn’t work, right? I mean we’ve all heard those stories, so many success stories and so I just told myself that you know, listen, I believe in this idea, I think it’s interesting, I had set myself up to only try it for a year so I said worst thing that happens, I put this out there and no one buys and who’s going to care, right? I’ll just move on with my life and luckily people did start to care and I just kind of trudged forward and said I’m going to make this thing happen because I think it’s interesting.
Success Harbor: So, ‘I Wear Your Shirt’ sounds like a lot of fun but I’m sure there was a lot of learning there. What were the most important things that you have learned during your ‘I Wear Your Shirt’ project?
Jason Sadler: Oh man, lots of things. You know, I think a lot of them, from owning a business, what it’s like to manage people and that’s not one of my strong suits, to things like really realizing, and we all preach this and read this but, quality of content wins over quantity of content and every day I was filming a video, I was putting tweets, I was putting Facebook posts up, putting out a lot of content and the quality wasn’t phenomenal in the beginning and I even go back and watch some of my early videos and I cringe at them but I had to learn, I mean, I had never made a video before so I just kind of jumped in and said, “I’m going to try this and I’m going to try and get better” and so yeah, it was just always a learning process for me and what I kept telling myself every time I put something out there was, “What can I learn from this?” When I put things out there in this way, whether that’s a critical remark or whether that’s a happy photo of me smiling or a video this way or that way and it just--, all these different things. What can I learn from each thing each time and how can I improve upon it and really build something that people want to kind of consume every day? So that’s kind of the lens that I looked at it through.
Success Harbor: So in 2012 and 2013 you took another great idea when you auctioned off your last name to the highest bidders. Where did that idea come from?
Jason Sadler: Yeah, over the years, having the company, I reassured--, we always got--, I say we because there were multiple people who were a part of it over the years, it wasn’t just always me; in the beginning it was but it grew and I was always trying to find ways to get exposure for ‘I Wear Your Shirt’ because when you do something every single day, sometimes people can forget about it and say, “Oh I’ll come back to that because there will always be more”, so I was always trying to get attention and media attention and just get more exposure so I can grow and get more brands to come on board and an unfortunate situation happened in early 2012. My mom called me and said she was getting a divorce and unfortunately that was my third father at the time and so I had this last name now that I no longer wanted which was ‘Sadler’ and I just joked when we were on a call, and just said, “Oh well, you know, I’ve sold my t-shirts, now I’ll sell my last name” and we laughed. And a couple of months later, we were sitting in a meeting with ‘I Wear Your Shirt’ and the people who worked for me and I said you know what, I think I’m going to do this last name thing, like I joked about it but I can’t stop thinking about it, kind of in the way that ‘I Wear Your Shirt’--, I couldn’t stop thinking about that. You know, I’ve built an audience over the years, I think that’s valuable for a brand to be a part of and I couldn’t really find anybody that had done this in a way where they were putting it up for auction and saying like, “Hey, I’ll be your company basically, on paper for the next year”. So I had the website ‘buymylastname’ built, started the auction at $0.0, I built a pre-launch email list of like 600 people, nothing crazy and in the first 24 hours the biding was up over $30,000 and I knew that I was kind of on to something even though I had a lot of doubts along the way and that idea--, I mean, you want to talk about people giving you negative feedback, try to tell people you’re going to sell your last name, that really brings the angry people out of the wood works.
Success Harbor: Give me some examples of negative feedback because I think people need to hear some of that, I mean, you still kept going right? I mean it didn’t really stop you so…
Jason Sadler: Yeah, I mean, there were so many emails and over the years, when you do anything kind of unconventional or different or unique, you’re always going to get people who are jealous or they’re angry at their thing that they can’t do something unique and so they kind of take that out on you and so--, just a lot of messages, especially with the last name thing that this is the ultimate sell-out, you know, how could you do this, you have no soul and these types of things--, and I’d be lying if I said that they didn’t hurt me a little bit but I’m the type of person who, I never got my sense of self from my last name. I mean, I’ve had 3 of them throughout my life right? And most people have 1 last name so it makes sense for them to keep it and they’ll have it forever but that’s not who I am, that’s not how I was raised and what I was grown up with so yeah, it was really interesting for me to kind of hear that feedback and this constant thing of ‘you’re a sell-out’, it’s just so interesting to me because every project that I’ve done whether it’s ‘I Wear Your Shirt’ or selling my last name or my book, which I’m sure we’ll talk about, has involved doing something that I’ve just really enjoyed and I’ve had a lot of fun with and it’s been hard but it’s been something that I control and I really, really like being a part of, doing these projects and the people who I think are sell-outs are ones who take money for stuff that they don’t love doing, right?... which is a lot of who work in jobs in cubicles and no offence if you have a job in a cubicle, but if you’re going to call me a sell-out and yet you sit there and you hate your job and you go home every day wishing you were doing something else, to me that’s selling-out, not selling your last name for a year and then changing it to whatever you want.
Success Harbor: I think--, I mean, I don’t know, I’m not trying to figure out or know what these people think but a lot of times it’s fear that’s speaking I think, you know?
Jason Sadler: Of course, absolutely, I totally agree and I think that I’ve actually turned people who’ve sent me angry emails or angry comments on a blog post or whatever, I’ve turned them into fans, not because I’ve had some magical thing but I just told them, “Hey listen, I understand that this may make you feel a certain way or that you don’t like it but here’s the reason why I’m doing this”, and a lot of times those people, well not a lot, I would say maybe like, a quarter of the time, those people will email me back and say, “You know what Jason, I’m really sorry I said what I said. I was just having a bad day myself and I took it out on you and you are doing something interesting and now that I hear that story, it really makes me understand what you’re doing”.
Success Harbor: Yeah, I mean it worked for Bob Dylan right?
Jason Sadler: Yeah.
Success Harbor: And I thought about changing my name so many times and I would imagine many people thought about changing their last names you know? I don’t understand what’s the big deal about it right? I mean, the paper work is huge right? To do it, so that’s probably the biggest thing about it.
Jason Sadler: Yeah and it’s funny you mentioned that because I had so many people email me--, way more people emailed me that said, “Jason, I can’t believe someone’s actually doing this. I’ve been in this situation for years where I’ve had this last name I don’t want and I haven’t known how to get a new one or what to do with it and you’re making money doing it. This is amazing, I’m so inspired. We’ve so many more of those emails than the ‘you’re a sell-out’ email. I mean, it’s crazy how many people came out of the wood-work that said, “I’m going through something similar, I want to sell my last name” or whatever and there was a small moment when I thought about, kind of brokering people’s last name for brands but then I just decided, I don’t think it would’ve worked for the everyday person and I’m fortunate to have built a following online that I could basically monetized with that sale and get some attachment for it.
Success Harbor: Yeah, I’m surprised you haven’t turned it into a product you know? This is how you change your name, steps 1 to 5 or whatever.
Jason Sadler: Yeah, there’s a ten step process to selling your last name online. Yeah, I guess I could but I kind of know that it only really works for someone who has following, it’s not going to work for everybody.
Success Harbor: Yeah, yeah. And were you still doing ‘I Wear Your Shirt’ in 2012 and 2013?
Jason Sadler: Yeah. So, ‘I Wear Your Shirt’, I officially retired in May of 2013, I stopped wearing shirts after 1437 days or something like that, not that I know the number but yeah… So the ‘buymylastname’ thing was basically a way that I thought we could get some exposure for ‘I Wear Your Shirt’ and it totally worked, I mean when I sold the last name to headsets.com at the end of the first auction for $45,000, I was on Fox & Friends, I was on USA Today, I was on a lot of these news outlets and that brought a lot of brands to ‘I Wear Your Shirt’ saying “Ok, we know we can’t buy your last name but how can we do some fun stuff together?” And so we ended up getting a lot of business from it.
Success Harbor: So then, I mean it sounds like ‘I Wear Your Shirt’ wasn’t an easy project but it was fun and you succeeded with it, you made over a million dollars. Why did you stop it? Did you get burned out? What was the reason?
Jason Sadler: Yeah, just a couple mix of things. I mean, I think that when I started ‘I Wear Your Shirt’ in 2009, I had thoughts of grandeur where I knew I wanted to do the first year and that was going to kind of be my test but in the back of my mind I said, “Alright well, I want to grow this thing to 10 people in the second year and 50 in the third and 1000 in the fourth year or whatever and create this new model for advertising right? This word-of-mouth through t-shirt wearing kind of marketing idea and what I realized was that I was putting all of my chips, if you will, on social media platforms, continuing to let me post all this content in a way that everyone would see it and as social media became more crowded, my messages got diluted. As my company got older, I think people--, they received kind of similar content, if you will, that just--, it wasn’t as exciting to them anymore and so I think there’s a combination of the fact that the idea of ‘I Wear Your Shirt’ lost some of its excitement for me personally and I think for people viewing. I think social media had a big change and when Facebook changes their algorithm and my stuff doesn’t show up, it’s really hard to tell a brand you know, “You’re going to get exposure to these people” when I know deep down it’s not going to happen because the reach isn’t there anymore and so, I started waking up. I had to let people go at one point in 2012, we had bills that weren’t paid in 2011 because clients hadn’t paid on time and that stuff happens when you own a business, everyone knows that and it just started to weigh on me and I took a look at my situation in 2013 and said, “You know what, I’m really unhappy with this and it’s not what it used to be. I doesn’t work the way that it used to. I’m not getting the value out of it at all and I know that the brands that are paying me are not getting the value that they used to get and I got to pull the plug and I have to let go”, and it was a super hard decision because it was basically my baby but if I would’ve kept going I mean, who knows how much worse off I would’ve been, just kind of trying to keep this thing alive.
Success Harbor: I’m amazed by your creativity and even just one, I mean, you had multiple great ideas but you didn’t just come up with one great idea, it’s awesome. How did you develop this skill, is this something that you--, it’s kind of like a muscle that you used to train, I mean, talk about that.
Jason Sadler: Yeah, that’s a good question. I really do think that--, there’s a couple different ways that I think I could answer this question. One is that I think some of us are a built and wired a certain way and I think Gary Vaynerchuk talks about that a lot right? It’s in his DNA to do the things that he does and I feel that it’s in my DNA to do the things that I do right? I mean, create these crazy ideas and make them work and hustle behind the scenes where no one sees all the effort but I make it happen and then I do think it’s also a creative muscle. Like you said I mean, I think that you can--, if everybody just took some time in the day to, kind of what you call ‘woodshedding’, where you go into a woodshed and you sit and you focus and you do one task and you only do that thing and you work on that thing for hours and you become really good at that and I think this is what professional athletes do and this is what the greatest minds of our time do and that they turn off all others things in their life and sometimes that means walking away from family and relationships and other things to become really great at something and I think there’s a happy medium there but you can work that muscle if you turn everything else off and you focus on exercising it and doing different things and so I think creativity is one of those things where we have it within us and some of us, a lot more than others but I think it’s also something where, if people just gave themselves the chance to stay off of social media for a day or a week or a month, not check emails excessively, maybe just once a day for an hour and really focus on learning a skill or practicing something or doing actual work, they would learn wow, I’m going to get so much better at whatever it is that I’m doing because I’m going to not be constantly looking at other things, I’m going to be focusing on this task at hand.
Success Harbor: So let’s talk about Creativity for Sale, your book. You have self-published it, which I really appreciate to be honest, not going through a traditional publisher. Why did you decide to self-publish instead of going--, I’m sure you could’ve published something through a publishing house.
Jason Sadler: Yeah well, I think it was really interesting. In 2013 when I struck down ‘I Wear Your Shirt’ and I was kind of at a low point in life and you know, both personally and professionally I was just trying to find my way and what my thing was, what my next thing I was going to do and I met with a friend of mine and he said, “You know you should write a book, you’ve done some crazy stuff over the years, I think it would be really interesting for people to read your story and you might find that in writing this book, you find your next thing”, and I said alright, yeah, I think I could make that happen so I started reaching out to some author friends and they said, “Yeah Jason, the publishing world is a little bit messed up these days, you know big publishers - it’s kind of hard to get in with them. You’re not going to make any money up front with the book. If you do get an advance, it’s basically a loan and you have to sell a certain amount of books to actually get that money back”, and I started looking into all this stuff and I had a lot of people tell me, publishers are going to change your story. They’re going to write it the way that they want it, they’re going to pick the book cover that they want, they’re going to have all the say and I just--, all that stuff just made me throw my hands up and go, “No way”, like I’m not doing that George so I basically…
Success Harbor: Plus it takes about 2 years right? To publish the book, at least.
Jason Sadler: Yeah, the process is really slow and for some, I think some publishers are probably way faster than others and again, I haven’t had any first-hand experience, I’m just going off what friends who work with publishers have told me. But I just wanted to control everything, I’m a control freak. You know? I’ve run my businesses the way I’ve wanted to run them and I knew that about myself and that it would drive me nuts if someone told me I couldn’t put a story about how I met my girlfriend in my book, right? If they’d be like, “Oh, this doesn’t matter to the story that you’re telling, I would freak out so…
Success Harbor: It’s almost like you’d become an employee instead of an entrepreneur and controlling your own destiny.
Jason Sadler: Exactly, right? I mean, someone else is the gate keeper to the information that you want to put out in the world and my friend Clay, he talks about gate-keepers a lot and I kind of get that from him and so when I started to put the idea of the book together more as I thought about it, I said, “Alright well how can I make money with a book. Right? What’s something that someone hasn’t done and then what’s also something that I have done where these things can kind of meet in the middle?” And so I looked at sponsorships, you know? I’ve done the sponsored t-shirts, I’ve done the sponsored last name, I’ve never seen a book with sponsorships on it and since--, you know, where it is now, I’ve heard from a couple of people who people have tried this. They’ve done sponsored chapters or a couple different things but I had the sponsorship on all 200 pages of the book. Its 140 character message, there’s no logo, there’s no QR code, it’s just a very simple, basically footnote style message and so, I sold those pages, along with the 4 covers of the book, the 2 outside covers and the 2 inside flaps and made over $75,000 in 5 months selling these sponsorships in the book and that’s a book advance right? I mean, that’s basically money that I made before a single copy of the book was sold, before a single word of the book was written. That was basically just companies and people opting in and saying, “Jason I’ve seen what you’ve done over the years, I believe you’re going to write a good book, I want my brand to be a part of it”.
Success Harbor: And ideally every book should be done like that or every business should be done like that right? I mean, sell it and see if people are going to pay for it before you even invest anymore time or create a product right? I think its genius.
Jason Sadler: This is very much like the lean start-up method…
Success Harbor: Exactly.
Jason Sadler: Yeah there’s a lot of--, prove that something’s going to be of value or worth and that someone will pay for it before you do it and I would be lying if I said it was easy; I mean I didn’t just send out an email and the book filled up, you know? Through email…
Success Harbor: How many months did it take you to actually come up, to sell the $75,000?
Jason Sadler: Five months.
Success Harbor: Five months?
Jason Sadler: Yeah, and I sent out multiple emails to my lists and I responded to a lot of emails from people who came to the website and I had a lot of phone calls to people and so it took quite a bit of time to make this book happen but it was worth it right? I mean because again, the day that that sponsorship--, and the last one that sold is funny enough, was the front cover sponsorship to tree house and when that sponsorship sold I basically had a huge sigh of relief and said, “I did this, I mean I made this thing happen. Now it’s time to get to work to actually write the book that everybody wants to have their name in.”
Success Harbor: And for the audience most books don’t ever make $75,000, I’m talking about books that go through publishing houses right? I mean, most of them sell less than 5000 copies and make peanuts so your book was more successful even before it was published than most books out there that got published.
Jason Sadler: And yeah it’s a great point that you bring up because I’ve read 30 blog posts on how to make your book a best seller on Amazon and the New York Times Best Seller and as a self-publisher you can’t even get on the New York Times Best Seller list I just learned so there goes that, accolade that everybody wants as an author but yeah I mean these people hustle and have all these systems and gimmicks and tricks an all these hacks that they do to reach these lists and you’re right, most of them don’t even make $75,000 even when they get to be a Best Seller on Amazon. Maybe they’re making a couple thousand bucks a month but it kind of tails off after a while and again Amazon controls what book show up where, right? And so, they’re like another gate keeper in this world of where social media changes their algorithms; we’ve heard about this with the Amazon and the big publishers that there’s some kind of head-butting going on there and again I don’t want to be in the middle of that. I want to be able to say I’ve got lists of people, I’ve got outreach, I’ve got things I can do, I can hustle, I can make this thing happen on my own and I don’t need an Amazon or anybody else to help me make that successful or profitable.
Success Harbor: So I don’t want to put you on the spot but is there may be an action item from ‘Creativity for Sale’ for entrepreneurs that they can take? Maybe just one idea, I mean they should go out and read your book but is there something that they could take action on?
Jason Sadler: Yeah, I think that one of the big messages for me in the book; and we’ve heard this before, is ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get’, and I think that there’s a very simple math equation to having a successful business where we are in life right now and that is ‘Effort equals Success’, right? And the more effort you put in and the more work that you do and that doesn’t mean checking social media and email and signing up for the newest thing that comes up, that means actually putting in work and honing a skill and becoming better at something and creating content and putting that out into the world and you’re going to have success if you get better at that and you work at that and you really do that and that process is something where people don’t--, they don’t want to put in the hard work. Right? They want 'what’s the fastest way I can make money' and not have to put in any effort and those things they really just don’t exist, it’s a lot of bluff and it’s a lot of fake things that are out there and I know that as people have read my book. I’ve gotten a lot of great emails from people, I’ve been so happy to read these emails that people are like, “Man, I had no idea how much work you put into the things you did and it really made me think. I thought it was just easy for you all these years, now I know how hard you had to work and it makes me want to work hard at the thing I’m doing.”
Success Harbor: Yeah you wrote on your blog; ‘2013 was a rough year for me, I went through some of my lowest lows and did some heavy soul-searching’. Can you share what those lows were?
Jason Sadler: Yeah.
Success Harbor: … because you had a lot of success so people think everything is rosy and it’s only fun times and a lot of laughs but can you talk about some of the lows and how did it change you or how did it change your perspective going through all that?
Jason Sadler: Yeah, I mean earlier on in 2013 there was a point where I had to pay salaries for two employees and myself included and I had $92 in my bank account and I had credit card debt and I had basically nothing in sight that said I was going to make enough money for the next month to be able to pay these people and that was probably one of the hardest things to deal with; is to know that people rely on you and that you can’t provide for them because number one, I had lost some of the desire to keep the business going but also that it just wasn’t working anymore and so personally, that takes a big toll on you and I think that I really just got caught up in a lot of the media hype for the stuff that I did over the years and I kept hearing those stories and reading those things and so you kind of build yourself up in your own mind and you compare yourself to the previous more successful version of yourself and it just wasn’t the same anymore and so I just had to take a step back and I went to this conference in Fargo, North Dakota in May of 2013 called ‘Misfit Con’ and I heard from people who were fellow entrepreneurs and people who had been through stuff and this guy, Joshua Fields Millburn, who’s of ‘theminimalists.com’ and he talked about how he had racked up this debt and the more money that he made, he realized the more money he was spending and I was in that same frame of mind and I had to change that stuff and so I just started to peel back the layers and just share not the intimate details of my bank account, but to say I’m not happy with where I am; I’ve been too prideful, I’ve been thinking I’ve been really successful and I was early on but I haven’t had that same success now and everything looks great but it’s not and I need help, I need to figure out how to get out of this. So it was really tough the share that stuff and to put that stuff out there but it was also great at the same time to help me kind of grow as a person.
Success Harbor: Ok. Let’s talk about dealing with the roller coaster ride of the ups and downs - one day you feel like you walk on water, the next day you feel like an idiot. Has it become easier? I mean, I know I go through that as an entrepreneur but my question I guess, is why do you think there isn’t more sharing about the downs of entrepreneurship? I mean, when you read about entrepreneurs it’s always about how somebody sold a business or exited a billion dollars and I know maybe that’s the story people want to hear but I wish there was more interest with the downs and failures from people because I think that’s really what makes business work.
Jason Sadler: Right, I think Chris Boone said it best and I wish I would have said this before him but he beat me to it is that, “No one wants to see your before pictures”, and when you talk about like--, we see these fitness photos online all the time of like this before photo and this after photo and like how amazing this person looks afterwards and that’s what the media does with entrepreneurship, is they talk about the Instagrams making a billion dollars and the WhatsApp’s making this money and Facebook going IPO and all this stuff and they don’t talk about alright well, what happened like a year ago to those people and why was there no article written about when they were a couple hundred thousand dollars in debt and it looked like they were going to have to close their doors, where were you when they were going through that and why weren’t you sharing that story and it’s just because unfortunately George people don’t want to read that stuff. You and I would appreciate it because we could relate to it and it’s something that like we could learn from and maybe we could get some value from but the media and kind of people reading all of this stuff; they don’t want that stuff, they want the great success stories and I think that’s a lot of just kind of our American culture that dictates that and that’s what we strive for and so I’ve tried to just be way more real and relatable with my content and I know that I write for some publications and I try to make sure that the stuff that I’m putting out there is not just the ‘here’s the perfect path to success stuff’ anymore because it’s not perfect and it’s not all rosy like you said and I think more of that stuff does need to put out there and I’m not sure if that shift is going to continue with other people because I think unfortunately the things that get the page views and get the ad dollars spent on them are the big success stories.
Success Harbor: You know because it’s so interesting that we have all these ‘how to write a title’ that it’s going to grab attention and those titles; they all look the same, they’re exciting and boring at the same time. The 7 ways of this and the 5 secrets of that and the 10 tips to do this and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. Tell me what was the best advice that you have ever received?
Jason Sadler: My buddy Shane Mack was really helpful last year when I was kind of through my low times and he was out in San Francisco and he’s had a couple successful start-ups he’s been a part of, and has a new one called ‘Skedaddle’, that’s really cool and he basically just told me, “Just ask”. Just those two simple words just ask and I kind of turned that into my life motto which is ‘you don’t get what you don’t ask for’ and that’s whether that’s a big client for your business; whether that’s someone to help you do your thing but the thing that’s been really helpful for me is to just not think I can do everything myself and to realize that there are a lot of people who are out there, family included who’ve been through a lot of this stuff and have experienced a lot of these things and if you just ask them for their help and support they can really help you get through years of struggle because they can say, “Hey, here’s how to avoid this” or “Here’s what this is going to feel like, you probably want to do the opposite.”
Success Harbor: What do you think is the biggest time-waster for entrepreneurs?
Jason Sadler: Social media, and it’s funny because I’ve built my living on social media and I built my name on social media but the value of social media has plummeted, I mean there’s really almost no value because of the way that we interact with these networks. If you look at anybody on their phone looking at twitter or Facebook their finger is scrolling at a speed that could start a fire, right? I mean, it’s so fast and how is your message going to resonate or do that and why do you need to read so much of that stuff. We’re literally dumbing ourselves down because we’re over consuming all this information and I think that there are so many talented entrepreneurs out there who focus on just consuming all day long instead of creating and you can lean so much more from creating when you came from learning all the ‘7 tips’ blog posts and the ‘4 ways to do these things’ and I think that social media is so great in so many ways but it’s also so hurtful in so many ways because of how much time we spend and how much effort we put into consuming all that content.
Success Harbor: So you have had a lot of success in business and let’s say you have a friend or a family member that has a job now and want to become an entrepreneur, what would be the first thing that you would teach that person if they came to you for help?
Jason Sadler: I think, one of the things; I talked about this in my book, is you’ve got to find the thing--, and Simon Sinek says this, like what’s your why? You have to find the thing that gets you up in the morning out of bed and like you’re just so excited to work on whatever that thing is. I’m really excited to talk to entrepreneurs who come to me for consulting or whatever and they’re just so fired up about their idea but they’re not sure how to put the puzzle pieces together for it right, and I think that’s the start; you have to have that foundation that, don’t just go into an idea and do it because someone else made money doing that and you think you could do that but go into it because it’s something that you can poor all your effort into and you’ll be really excited about and then start building. And again like we talked about earlier I think ‘The Lean Start Up’ is probably one of the most boring books I’ve read in the past year but it’s also probably one of the best because it really shows you kind of this new model for selling things especially in the internet age of, ‘if people don’t buy it you’re going to take a step back and look at why people aren’t buying it’, don’t just keep trying to push it and get more people to look at it thinking that, “Oh well, it just needs more people to see it for people to buy it”. No, there’s a reason why if you show it to 10 people and none of them want to buy it, you’re missing out on some opportunities there so I think those are a couple of places I would start.
Success Harbor: I want to ask just one question about my business ‘Success Harbor’, what do you think would help make it a little bit different from other sites that interview entrepreneurs because I love doing it but at the same time I create all this unique content interviewing entrepreneurs but I want to have a twist. I want to have something, you know, well Success Harbor’s a little bit different. How do you think I should think about my business to have more creativity and maybe to come up with a different angle based on your business experience?
Jason Sadler: Yeah I mean I think for, especially people doing interview series and stuff I mean, no offense to Success Harbor but there’s an interview series out there for entrepreneurs from many people right?
Success Harbor: Yeah, exactly.
Jason Sadler: I think you need to find what it is that really excites you about talking to entrepreneurs and what you can really pull out of them that other people aren’t pulling. I think you’ve asked some great questions today and I think some of the best interviews that I’ve done are when people do--, they don’t just have a scripted list of questions and they segue into each one differently but it’s when they really try to dive deeper and figure out like what’s making this entrepreneur tick that people can take away from that and to me I think that’s where some people are having the most success with podcasting or interviewing or any of these things. So yeah I would just challenge you to say like what’s the thing that you can do or the way that you can interview someone that’s interesting or different or unique that it’s not just asking questions about what they’ve done but it’s really like diving into what’s makes them tick or maybe it’s something completely separate, maybe it’s with every entrepreneur you talk to you want to figure out what’s their lifestyle and how can people adapt that lifestyle to their lives. I think its finding that little sweet spot of the thing that you can really pull out of people.
Success Harbor: That’s great, that’s great. Jason I want to thank you for coming on Success Harbor today. I’m so stoked that you shared your story because so many people see--, I remember years ago I saw an interview with you and I thought you know this guy is a genius and everything is great and that’s never the story. You can look at any business; any successful business and it’s not all rosy and it’s not perfect so I think people need to hear that, that even if you have success there’s a lot of struggles and I’m so excited that you shared it. How can people find out more about ‘Creativity for Sale’ or connect with you or find out more about you?
Jason Sadler: Yeah, I would love people to grab the book, you know, ‘Shameless Plug’, find ‘Creativity for Sale’ on Amazon and grab it on Kindle or Paperback and then also I’ve got a little catch-all website called ‘jasondoesstuff.com’ because that’s what I do, I do stuff so that has all my social media links and email if people want to reach out and I would love to hear from some of the Success Harbor listeners who just want to learn more about my story and maybe what they’re doing and what they’re up to so yeah ‘jasondoesstuff.com’ and find the book on Amazon.
Success Harbor: So everyone out there, check out ‘Creativity for Sale’, Jason is somebody that actually did all that, there’s a lot of people who write a lot of books but Jason is actually somebody that has done all that so I think his story is awesome so check it out. Jason thank you very much for coming on.
Jason Sadler: Thanks for having me George.
What does it take to build a $25 million business? Rick Day is a serial entrepreneur. For over 25-years Rick has been starting, growing, downsizing, restructuring, and selling his businesses. One of his more recent businesses not only survived the Great Recession, but it grew to over 55 people and over $25 million in revenue. After a multi-million dollar exit, Rick became involved in several other businesses as an advisor, investor, and leader.
Say hi to Rick at businessbyday.com.
Read Raw Transcript Now:
Success Harbor: Hi everyone this is George Meszaros with Success Harbor and I have Rick Day with me. For over 25 years Rick has been growing, downsizing, restructuring and ultimately selling his business. Even though he sold his business of $25 million, he is very much involved today with businesses. Rick also blogs and advises entrepreneurs at businessbyday.com. Welcome.
Rick Day: Hey, thanks so much, it’s a pleasure to talk with you.
Success Harbor: Thank you for being here today Rick. I really appreciate it.
Rick Day: Of course.
Success Harbor: Before we get into anything else, I want to talk about your first business venture. What was your first experience being an entrepreneur?
Rick Day: Well it’s funny; it was not my telecom business. I had served 3 years in the Navy and got out of the Navy here in San Diego and I decided to put myself through college and finish college afterwards so I was an enlisted guy and so I ended up working at one place and it was redundant work and I had a buddy that I met in one of my classes and he was detailing cars and I didn’t know much about that business at the time, I was 22 and so I asked him to teach me and then I went and found some clients. So he taught me; I provided him with a couple days of labor, he taught me the business, showed me where to get my supplies and then I started just kind of knocking on doors and telling some friends that I was in the auto-detailing business and so that business actually got me most of the way through college, great flexible hours, met some really great people who drive nice cars which I like and then I ended up selling that business to another student.
Success Harbor: So, thank you for your service; I didn’t want to interrupt you but thank you for your service. And what was that first business experience like? I think a lot of people, you know, to look at the Facebooks and the WhatsApps of the world, billion dollar exit or sale, just unbelievable businesses but starting a business like this when you do everything from actually doing the work and marketing your business, everything from the nitty gritty to just running it daily, why do you think it’s important to have a business like that or have that kind of experience?
Rick Day: Well I think the first and the biggest step that I had to get over George, was just the fear of ‘what if this doesn’t work?’ and I had rented a room from my grandmother at the time and so, I’m living in her house and I’m talking with her a little bit about this and I’m going to college and I said you know what, I think I can do this but what happens if it doesn’t work? What happens if nobody wants to do their cars and maintain their cars for them and she said, “Why don’t you give it a try because you could always go get another job if you want to?”, and she really encouraged me but taking that leap was the most difficult thing. And then I just sort of, you know, my degree that I was perusing is in Finance; my degree is in Finance now and so I knew that you’d had to have the basic operations of the business. Somebody has to do the marketing and sales, somebody then has to perform the work or provide the service or the product and then somebody has to do the administration and the books and you’ve got to pay your taxes and do your banking and so, I had to do all of that myself.
Success Harbor: So then you decided to sell that business. So how long did you run that business and why did you decide to sell?
Rick Day: Good question. So I ran it for about 2 ½ years and I actually ended up picking up an account from--, so one of my bankers was a girl who’s boyfriend worked at this computer company and so I went down to the computer company and I said, “Hey, I would love to come and detail your cars.” They had really nice, like a Ferrari, they had some Porsches, they had a Corvette, the Toyota Supra, one guy had a Lamborghini, and it was really cool so they hired me and I was detailing their cars and we got to talking and they said, “Well what are you going to do when you get finished with school?”, and I said “Well I’m getting my degree in Finance and I love people and talking to people so maybe I’ll go and be a stockbroker or something like that”, and after some discussions they said, “Well why don’t you come and sell these computer systems with us, we’ll train you, if you like sales and you’re good with numbers we can help you with that”, and so it was really kind of a story of where, just taking that initial leap into one business led to opportunities in another business so they hired me and I had a buddy of mine at school and I said, “Hey, I’m going to have to turn over my business, would you be interested in taking it over and maybe we can work it out where you can buy it from me?”, and he said yes.
Success Harbor: So then, in ’92 after getting out of the Navy, you were still putting yourself through college and you founded ‘Daycom Systems’ so did you go right after this job selling telecom to start a business or what was actually the reason to strike out on your own?
Rick Day: Oh, well ok, so after the detailing business then I went to work for the company that I just mentioned, with all the nice cars and I started selling the IBM mid-range computer systems and equipment and that lasted about 3 years. It was a straight commission job so you really kind of ended up working for yourself, there was no salary, there was no safety net, but I was comfortable with that at that point and so I had some success there and this was ’87 so I got out of the Navy in ’85. So in 1987 then, I went to work for this other company, worked there for a couple of years and they ended up going out of business because they literally grew too fast and they did not have enough funding and enough money to purchase the equipment to fill the orders, that’s how fast they were growing. And then, so I ended up working for another company in a similar situation and I didn’t like the way they were doing things and so this was ’91 ’92 so then in 1992 I finally decided, you know, I think I can compete in this industry, I think I know enough people, I know enough of the tricks of the trade, I’ve got the right connections so if I could just put together a little bit of money, I can start my own business and that’s how Daycom started in 1992.
Success Harbor: Is this something that you recommend for people that, you know, maybe they have a job now but they want to start a business, to try to get a job with a business, to kind of learn the ins and outs instead of taking--, because that way it’s almost like somebody’s paying you to learn instead of just trying to strike out on your own and get into something that you don’t know that much about.
Rick Day: Yeah, I think that’s great and I think that’s where most opportunities really present themselves. I think if someone has an interest in a particular industry and they know nothing about it, they absolutely should be willing to go to work in that industry for a period of time, to learn as much as they can, to see how it works and then if they still want to--, I mean they might decide you know, this industry is too complicated or it requires too much money for me to operate so I’m just going to enjoy my employment here but there will be those entrepreneur that say, “You know what, I see how this works, I think I can do it better, I think I can do it faster or in a different way or with a different spin” and I think that’s a great way to start a business.
Success Harbor: So can you talk about some of the early challenges of growing Daycom? I’m very interested about the first 1-2 years in business because that’s when a lot of businesses fail so maybe you can talk about some of the greatest challenges especially, like I said, during the first couple of years in business.
Rick Day: Yeah, sure. So I started--, I knew that I didn’t have a lot of money to start the business and so I knew that I needed to keep my overhead low and I had to really watch my money so I rented just a cheap office and kept the overhead as low as I could and I just concentrated most of my efforts on sales during the day and then at night I would do my invoicing because I knew that it wasn’t productive for me to do that during the day so I really tried to maximize my sales and marketing time during the day and I tried to…
Success Harbor: So how were you selling? Were you cold-calling or what was your sales strategy in the beginning?
Rick Day: At that time, yeah, it was all over the phone. And you got to remember this is 1992, so I did have a pc and I had a fax machine but there was really emails just coming in and the web was just getting started and so a lot of our business was done over the phone and over the fax.
Success Harbor: And how difficult was it to get those first sales?
Rick Day: Well I had had some customer relationships when we talked earlier about people working for a particular company and then striking off on their own. Often times what happens is, when you’re working at a particular company, especially in a sales position, you’ll end up getting to know some customers and so when you strike out on your own, you can call those customers again and say, “Hey listen, I’m striking out on my own, you know, you had a good relationship with the company where we were before, if you’d like to see what I can do for you and how I’m changing the business and doing in a different way then I’d be happy to talk with you about how I might be able to do business so, it was cold-calling, it was referrals, it was a couple of customers that decided to give me a shot at my new company.
Success Harbor: Ok so, sales sounds like it wasn’t a big, big challenge in the very beginning, was it?
Rick Day: Well I think sales is always a big challenge for any business and it was really where I spent the majority of my time but like I said, I did have a couple of customers that would buy and I kept my overhead low and just trying to be really efficient about my time and make sure that I was doing the right things at the right time during the day.
Success Harbor: And you mentioned one of the companies that you worked with, grew so fast they just were unable to finance their own success so to speak, so what did you do in your business to be able to finance just your growth.
Rick Day: Well it’s interesting; I had just a little bit of savings but I only had maybe $10,000 in savings and that might seem like a lot of money to some people but when you’re buying and selling computer and telecom equipment and you have to buy it from your vendor and pay cash for it now and then ship it to your customer and invoice them net 30 and they’re going to pay you in 30 days per the contract and really the check takes 45 days – 60 days, which is one of the things you learn very quickly is, they like to use your money as long as they can. I ran out of money very quickly. So, like most businesses, the first place that you go is family and friends to see if they can loan you some money and so I talked to my grandmother who had been very supportive and she watched me progress over several years and I said, “Here’s the business, here’s what I’m doing, I’ve been doing it for a couple of years” and so I ended up borrowing some money from her and then every single dollar that I had, I rolled back into the company until I had enough cash that I thought that I can operate and then I paid my grandmother back too.
Success Harbor: So it sounds to me that you really did things right in the beginning. What do you think are some of the mistakes people make during the first couple of years being in business?
Rick Day: Well one of the mistakes--, and maybe this is just a matter of opinion but one of the mistakes is that people, I think, project when they start off in sales or they start off in their business, they project that sales are going to grow much faster than they really will and when you do that, you tend to be very optimistic about your sales, very optimistic about your profits and sometimes you take on too much overhead and sometimes you don’t have enough financing to really last though some very lean times so I always kind of tell people to look at their growth forecast and their sales forecast and then cut it in half and see what would happen then.
Success Harbor: Ok. I’ve heard you say that systems were very important for your success. Can you give us some examples of systems that you have created in your business?
Rick Day: Oh of course, yea. So when you look at--, the book that really got me going on that was Michael Gerber ‘The E-Myth Revisited’, and he talks about how you--, a business owner in early stages wears so many hats, you’ve got the sales and marketing hat, the production hat, the accounting hat, you know, everything right? And so then, as you start to bring people into the business, you’re hiring people to take over a particular area and so you need to be able to say, “Ok, I’m taking this hat off and I’m giving it to you so let’s talk about how I like to do that and how my customers expect that done”, and you write your procedures on that particular area or on that particular hat if you will, and then that person can take off and they can improve on it and they can grow. But as soon as you hire somebody, I think you have to start creating the systems whereby they can be successful and whereby they can do business the way you want it done.
Success Harbor: Ok. Now you grew Daycom systems to over $26 million in revenue with over 60 people but then in the early 2000’s the dot-com bubble burst. So, we know the story, a lot of companies ran out of business, it was just a rough time for business so what did you have to do to adjust to such a shock and what helped you stay in business at that point?
Rick Day: Yeah, I got to tell you, that was one of the toughest periods in my career. We were going really, really well, we were $26 million with 60 people and then the dot-com bubble burst and people stopped buying these big companies that I was servicing like Sysco and Intel and Geico and the Gap. So many of these big companies started and; they really slowed down on their technology buying and so my revenues dropped from $26 million to $20 million in one year, which is like 25% and I think I lost almost a half a million dollars that year and it was really, really painful and you know, as a young CEO who had only experienced growth and success after ten years, this was really a slap in the face and a reality check for me and I really had to just buckle down and do the work in figuring out where I could cut expenses and that was when we got into--, the first time I ever had to lay anybody off, it was terrible. It was very emotional, it was very scary. I was losing money, I wasn’t sleeping at night but we ended up doing it. And then the next year, we went from $20 million to $15 million so the sales continued to slow down but I started looking more at the prospect pipeline, the forward-looking indicators and that was one of the things that I did, was put in place where I could really look forward and project what the revenues were going to do and I could make changes sooner and that really helped a lot.
Success Harbor: Ok. So do you think the companies that went out of business were unable to adjust or refused to look at reality? What do you think are some of the biggest reasons some companies just can’t survive? And it’s true even today. This economy is still not a good economy that we’re living through now, although it’s not as bad as it was a few years ago so why do you think some companies are just not able to hack it?
Rick Day: Well you’re right about today’s economy. It certainly is not an easy economy and I think you have to be on your toes and you have to be really alert and you have to be really paying attention to everything and just on edge. It’s hyper-competitive if you’re going to succeed in today’s economy. But I think that the reason, to answer your question, a lot of people failed, was that they would stick their head in the sand and they would say, “Well, it’s going to get better next year, it can’t possibly be this bad”, and they don’t react, they don’t do the hard things that they need to do, like lay off their friends that are working there or cut their--, maybe sell their expensive car or return it on the lease or downsize their office building because they get so much ego involved, or they get themselves in over their head debt-wise so I really encourage that growth, especially in fixed expenses and long-term leases and things like that, keep that stuff low because you never know when you need to ratchet back and if you’re committed for a long term for big dollars, you’re going to be in trouble.
Success Harbor: So then by 2009 business was good right? Because ‘Daycom Systems’ was acquired, at that point you had $25 million in revenues, so how did that exit impact your life, selling your business basically?
Rick Day: Well it was interesting because after the dot-com bubble burst, we really had to go, and I say ‘we’ because I had a really good management team at that time that I surrounded myself with and we really had to look at the business and re-tool the business, and so, you’re correct at $25 million and 50 or so, 55 employees when we sold, but it was a much different business when I sold than it was when I began and that’s another important lesson for people, is you have to continue to morph your business and change in response to what your customers want. So then after I sold the business, I had a bunch of money that came in. I began to invest and then I volunteered at Connect here in San Diego to be a volunteer mentor and entrepreneur in residence so I could help other small businesses grow and I invested in a sailboat and powerboat dealership that I am now a part of and so, just travelled a lot and had some fun and did my earn out for a couple years.
Success Harbor: Ok. So today you’re involved--, you mentioned this dealership, a sailboat dealership so you’re a partner in that business right?
Rick Day: Yeah, that right, it’s really fun. When I bought myself a new sailboat in 2007, I became friends with the guy that sold me the boat and then in ’08 and ’09 we had that very difficult financial crash and the company that he was working for went out of business right about the time that I was selling my business so again, it’s one of those fortunate situations where, when you’re doing something, sometimes the timing just works out and you see another opportunity and so he told me that he had a great relationship with Beneteau, the French baker, the largest yacht builder in the world and that he could become the dealer here in San Diego and he asked me if I would help him start it, if I could help him get the financing together and if I would help him run the business and operations and so we did that and we’ll be 5 years old in September and doing great.
Success Harbor: So how is this new business different from your ‘Daycom Systems’ business in terms of, what are you learning now about business, how has the business environment changed with this recession. Can you talk about how you had to adjust basically?
Rick Day: Sure, well I think the first thing I would say is how surprised I am that it’s very similar to my past business. If you understand that in my last business we would consult with the customer, we would provide the telecom equipment and the software, we would install it and provide the services, we would take care of the customer in the long-term and then offer them upgrades when they wanted to upgrade their business systems. You could say the same thing about boats right? So we consult with the customer, we provide a boat, we provide our services, we help them maintain it and then when they’re ready for something different, we take their old boat back and sell them a new boat. So in that way it’s very similar. The big differences are that this is marketing to consumers so there’s a lot of social media involved so business to business sales are much different than business to consumer and it’s been a big learning curve for me, especially around the social media. But also, what we’ve learned is that the boating business is a lifestyle business and so you’re providing people with those dreams and answers to those dreams of sitting on a boat in a harbor or watching the kids swim or having a cocktail with friends and so not only do we provide the boats and the services but we also schedule a lot of social activities and we give people a reason to use their boats and that community develops so, the community development part has been a big learning curve for me.
Success Harbor: Ok. Now you mentioned earlier that we’re living in a hyper-competitive environment right now so what advice do you have for entrepreneurs to take their business to the next level? What do we have to do today in this kind of environment to really just stand apart, stand out from the competition?
Rick Day: Well I think anybody who’s had the passion and the guts to start their own business, that’s the first step, is you’ve got to have that courage. I think maybe a second point would be that you have to stay connected with your customers and ask your customers what they see coming and things that they see in their future so that you can move there with them and offer them the services and products that they will need in the future. I think you have to continue to look at technologies and how new technologies can benefit you, such as social media today and all of the free marketing. I mean it’s essentially a free referral system out there so those are key things and then just be committed to learning; learning more about your product, learning more about services that you can provide and learning more about your customers and their needs.
Success Harbor: So you had a successful exit when you sold your business. I want to ask you about why so many businesses are unsellable and what can we do to prepare our business for sale?
Rick Day: Well, that’s a great question and I think a couple things are key. One is, it goes back to why I’m such a believer in systems, my opinion is if you want a business that’s saleable, you have to create and you have to visualize a money-making machine and so ultimately it becomes your vision, your values, the product and customers that you want to serve but you’ve got to put those systems in place and you’ve got to get everybody the right operation systems, the right compensation systems so that people’s compensation is aligned with what they’re supposed to do in the business and ultimately, you’ve got to get it to a place where you can step out of the business and the business runs itself.
Success Harbor: Ok.
Rick Day: That’s a big key and I think a lot of businesses don’t sell because if you take the founder away, the business can’t function without that person and it’s really difficult to take a person from the outside and put them in there and you’ve got personality conflicts and you’ve got learning curve and those businesses are hard to sell.
Success Harbor: So it comes back to creating systems right? So try to think about systems and try to create systems from as early as you can.
Rick Day: Yeah. Yeah, and hire the best people that you can afford right; and you’re not going to create all these systems by yourself right? You want to hire great people and they can help you create these systems but ultimately, you’ve got to work yourself to where you can walk away from your business for 30 days like I did back in 2007 when I did an Atlantic crossing on the sailboat; I walked away from my business for 30 days and they didn’t miss a beat, it just kept going.
Success Harbor: Wow. What do you think is the biggest time-waster for entrepreneurs?
Rick Day: I would say worrying. Worrying about the future, worrying about what might happen if things go wrong and then I would say the second time-waster would be, when you start off on your path and you start a company or you’re pursuing your dream, that attracts a lot of people and you make a lot of noise if you will or if you’re a boat, you know you’re kicking off a big wake and people are attracted to that and they want you to--, they want to join you, they want your advice, they want you to sell their product for them and so, you get so many distractions that come at you, you really have to stay focused and say no to a lot of things.
Success Harbor: If someone came to you, maybe somebody in your family or a good friend that currently had a job and they saw your success as an entrepreneur and they say, “Rick, I want to become a successful entrepreneur”, what would be the first thing that you would teach that person?
Rick Day: The first thing that I would teach that person would be, look at yourself and what you can offer and then find a problem to solve. Find somebody’s problem, maybe it’s your own problem, maybe you hate the way your dry-cleaner works or maybe you hate having to wait in line for a particular service and so, solve a problem and then ask around, so you really have to assess the market, how big is the market, how much--, how strong is the need for the service or the solution that I would like to offer and then do my skill sets fit that ability to fill that need or to offer that solution and if you get those 2 things, then the rest of the things will fall into place.
Success Harbor: So, you had a lot of success in business but I’m sure you’ve made some mistakes so perhaps you could give us an example of a really good learning experience or a mistake. I don’t like to call it ‘mistake’ but you know, maybe a learning experience is better for our audience that you could share with us.
Rick Day: Yeah. No, I think I agree with you on that you know. One of my favorite authors Tom Hopkins, and this is early days of sales back in the late ’80’s but, he said something along the lines of, “I never see failure as failure, only an opportunity to improve my presentation” right? So you can use that same thing in many areas but I would say big failures and mistakes that I made were at Daycom when we were coming out of that dot-com bubble. I created services for my business and kind of morphed the business, we talked about that, but I also tried to add on another product line, in fact I tried to add on 2 new product lines because I thought I would diversify and I was overwhelmed by the technical training, I was overwhelmed frankly by my people’s resistance to learning something new. They would always go back to their comfort zone. So even though we had product ‘A’, if I told them, “I want you to offer product B & C”, they would always gravitate towards going back to product ‘A’ because that’s where they were comfortable and I really underestimated how powerful that was and lost a lot of money trying to do that.
Success Harbor: Wow. So today, tell me a little bit about ‘Business by Day’. What is that business, what are you there; how do you help businesses?
Rick Day: Well great, thank you. So I told you that when I sold my company, I invested in South Coast Yachts and helping them and I invested in a couple other small businesses, one didn’t work and a couple more did but in my volunteer time at Connect here in San Diego, one of the things that really occurred to me was all of these companies, these young companies that we were seeing coming through the Connect system, they had great products, they had great services but they were all asking the same questions. They’ve been inspired to start their own business but how do they manage sales and marketing, how do they do products, how do they protect their intellectual property, how do they finance their business and I thought, you know, ‘they don’t have enough money to afford a full time consultant but if I could somehow package these answers and provide this advice and make it available at a lower cost, then my only answer is I’ve got to have the scalability’. And so, that’s when starting the blog occurred to me and then I’m just getting ready in July to launch my first coaching class and it’ll be for 9 people where I can say, “Ok, let’s talk about your business, let’s talk about the problems that we need to solve”, but we’ll do it in a classroom environment that will also be interactive. And then it’ll be more affordable for them but they’ll still get great advice.
Success Harbor: Well that’s great. I appreciate you coming on today to share your story Rick. Where can people find out more about ‘Business by Day’ or about you or connect with you perhaps?
Rick Day: Oh great, thank you, yeah. The website is: businessbyday.com, just like it sounds. My last name is Day so businessbyday.com. I have also, a podcast that is called by the same name and also it’s named ‘5 Minutes to a Performance Business Podcast’. So that’s being picked up in I don’t know, 40 countries now, which is really fun and exciting and then my email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Success Harbor: Well Rick, thank you very much. Everyone out there be sure to check him out at businessbyday.com. Thank you very much.
Rick Day: Yeah, thank you very much too. I enjoyed talking with you.
What does it take to build the YouTube of lists? Nick Kellet is doing just that with List.ly. He is the co-founder of List.ly which is a social platform for creating and curating lists. List.ly enables users to create lists about anything. Nick understands that people love lists. In the following interview you can find out how he is building List.ly.
Check out at List.ly.
Read Raw Transcript Now:
Success Harbor: Hi Everyone. This is George Meszaros with Success Harbor and I have Nick Kellet with me. Nick is the co-founder of Listly. He's also the founder of Gift Wrap and Answer Sets. Welcome.
Nick Kellet: Hi, how are you doing? Thanks for inviting me on the show.
Success Harbor: Thank you for being here Nick. Can you tell our audience what Listly is and and how would someone use Listly. Why would people use Listly?
Nick Kellet: Okay, well let's just before we kind of, let's jump into the, before I answer that kind of, let's look at the why and the why really comes from the fact that you know we love lists. Human beings kind of organize their lives in lists. We also have moved more recently in consuming content in the form of a list. So we learn and we communicate through lists and some of our research indicated that something like 30 percent of the web's content is in the form of a list so things like "10 Ways to" you know, "10 Brilliant Ideas for Your New Start-Up", you know, "6 Places You Didn't Think of Finding Your New Hire." Whatever, there's a list for everything. Any, any idea can be communicated in a list and there's something magical about a list that says this is going to be easy to skim, easy to consume. We live in an info-snacking world. We don't want the full story. We want just the bullet points and lists are like a ready-made bullet pointed argument so you listen to the title of a blog post or a you know, you read a headline in a magazine and if it's got a list format to it, you now, it's got a number in there, 10 ways, 6 things, 7 tricks, you know, all of those things communicate to us, this is a list I know I can skim it and and so that contract with people is why, you know, why we use lists and since since the web came along and web analysts came along, you know, publishers have always used lists but they didn't know how effective they were when it was just print media. But with the web we can track every click and and and the most shared and most viewed posts on most websites are list posts so that's the kind of why you would use list posts and and and Listly really comes along and says, “Just a minute, anything that's as serious as lists on the internet has a platform. Right. So, so videos on the Internet are very serious medium. We communicate by video. We communicate via slides so we have YouTube as the place to go and look for videos, upload our videos, share our videos, watch our videos, right, and we have Slide Share for slide decks but lists have nothing. Lists, really people haven't realized that lists are a form of media all on their own. And yeah.
Success Harbor: So that's interesting because you know people talk about what makes a great title you know for an article.
Nick Kellet: Yeah.
Success Harbor: And like you mentioned that we, we , we process lists better than any other iinformation and it's for the same reason probably title that include the 7 of this or the 10 of that and the 25 of whatever,
Nick Kellet: Yeah.
Success Harbor: People for some reason respond to those better than others.
Nick Kellet: Our, our, our subconscious sees that and goes oh it's a list I can skim it. It, it matches to the title and says, "Oh you don't need, you don’t even, you, actually see a lot of list content but you don't even notice because maybe you're not interested in you know retro cars or or baseball or fashion whatever right. You don't, you don't, you’re your subconscious skims out that stuff but when you are interested in skiing or motor bikes or you know marketing books right, when your subconscious sees, “10 marketing books you must read this summer”, you're like "Oh, I bet I know them but I wonder if there's something new for me in that list’” and so that's probably the attraction for me with lists. If it's a topic you care about you kind of expect to know what's on the list so you're really checking off to see how smart you are. You're checking the author to see how smart he is and if you, if you walk away from a list with one new thing, it's a good deal you know.
Success Harbor: So.
Nick Kellet: So I sort of think of lists as being like Vegas. They're like a random, they give you a random reward schedule. Not every list is going to be great but you keep looking because you might hit the jackpot next time.
Success Harbor: So give me an example you know, a blog or or or you know somebody like me with Success Harbor where I interview entrepreneurs. I'm very interested in entrepreneurial topics. How would I use Listly?
Nick Kellet: Well you would, you know, you would decide that you were going to write a blog post that was a list, you know, some tricks. Basically any topic can be turned into a 10 ways, 10 things you didn't know or whatever right. And and so what you would do is create that list on Listly and then you embed that list on your blog and so you create a blog post that's like 10 Tricks on How to, you know, Drive Up Video Sharing or whatever your topic is and and you break that down into ten points on the Listly list and the thing is when, once that's on Listly, people can start to vote on that list so things can rise and fall on what's the best tips but people can also go "Oh I can't believe George didn't put this on the list" right, and they can add to your list so we actually make the content social and collaborative so people can add to your list so we actually make the content social and collaborative so people can add to your list and instead of being added to the comments section on your blog post, people can actually, people become a part of your list at the core of your blog post.
Success Harbor: So what if I wanted to come up with the 10, the top 10 characteristics of a great entrepreneur and I had an idea of what those ten were based on my conversation with all the people that I interviewed, my question is if I, if I have an idea for a Listly, let’s say the top 10 reasons why some some entrepreneurs succeed and others don't
Nick Kellet: Yeah.
Success Harbor: and I put that on Listly and people look at it and say, you know “You're way off George. 3 should be this, 5 should be that and 7 is just ridiculous.
Nick Kellet: Yeah.
Success Harbor: So is that kind of the idea behind Listly that it's really not so much my opinion but it's what the community thinks is.
Nick Kellet: Yeah well it's not so much about an opinion. It's about what we’re all trying to do today. What we're trying to do today is engage people in a conversation that makes them care and want to come back and want to be a part of it right. It's not about me being on stage telling you in the audience what's what. It's about us jumping into a dialogue and and and and and getting involved, and getting to know what each other is thinking about and how, how we're progressing and and that's hard to do and that's what really Listly tries to do, to focus on, is creating social engagement with your audience by involving people. So going back to your idea of saying you know, these are the 10 things that determine you know who’s a successful entrepreneur, you could just start with three. “Here's the three things I think really matter,” you know, “What do you think?” and then let the audience add to your list or you could start with 10 and just ask people to vote. You mean, you mean all of these things are valid but basically what you're trying to do is involve people in a conversation so you don't, you don’t want a totally black and white answer otherwise there is no conversation. You need something that's got dialogue, debate, you know. The “no right answer” is more controversial and more open. Open ended is good today, you know.
Success Harbor: Yeah I think Listly is, it really sounds like a really really great idea. How did you come up with this idea and what was your your entrepreneurial experience before, your business experience prior to co-founding Listly?
Nick Kellet: So, so there's two questions there. One, the idea for Listly actually came from my co-founder who’s Shyam Subramanyan and he, he actually began Listly before me. I, I joined, I found Listly in my own journey and and found Shyam and we kind of internet dated as as co-founders and and you know once I discovered Listly I kind of got talking to Shyam and I, I joined him as co-founder but he was actually looking at the web thinking about the challenges of structured and unstructured data and basically lists in a blog posts are unstructured data because we typically don't tag everything correctly so Google doesn't really know that that’s a list and and given how important lists are, when Shyam found out that 30 percent of blog posts are in the form of a list, he was like that's too serious not to create a product and there's a business opportunity there. So that was really the, you know, the fact that people loved lists, lists are highly shared and the fact that lists were not really their own kind of platform. That was the, that was the opportunity that Shyam saw and I you know, I saw that too. As soon as I discovered Listly I was like wow, kind of cool because you can involve people in your content. People are always trying to get people to participate. I don't know if you've heard of something called 1- 9- 90 but it, it's called the one percent rule so if you type that into Wikipedia you'll find it and it, it basically means that 1 percent of people create, 9 percent of people kind of comment and and 90 percent of people just consume and that's the kind of soft or hard rule of the Internet and even as people you know, so what, we're always trying to get people involved and that's that’s the sort of fun part of it but that was what we saw with lists you know, here's a way of getting people involved, so the other question you asked me was what have I done before, what were my other kind of things have I done before this?"
Success Harbor: Yes.
Nick Kellet: And I, I’d done several things. One, I think I probably had my last kind of proper day job where I had to borrow some stuff when I was like 23 and I, I started a, a company and it kind of ended up being in the kind of CRM space but after that, and that was great. It didn't necessarily go very far but we got lots of traction and stuff but but it didn't come to any kind of material outcome but it was a really good learning experience and felt, when I left there, I took some of the ideas from there and I got focused on segmentation and I actually built a a business intelligence tool called Sir Analyzer that basically allowed people to visualize and use venn diagrams as a way of describing queries and you know discovering business questions instead of using, people typically use ands and ors and brackets and brilliant logic and that's kind of confusing and venn diagrams kind of made that whole notion much more visual and explainable and that that was a company, I actually sold that company to to Business Objects, and they so they acquired that technology and integrated that into their product line and then after that I actually went on to, it was a lifelong passion to produce a board game. I'd always played a lot of games, I invented a lot of games and even as a teenager I, I tried to sell a computer version of of Connect4 back to Milton Bradley. It was funny. They didn't think there was much opportunity for electronic games at the time. It's kind of funny looking back. But I also created some board games as a teenager that I tried to license in the UK and I've still got all those rejection lettered from 1984 when that was, I was doing that, but I actually went on to produce a board game and that game went on to win 20 plus awards worldwide. It got translated into you know 12 languages and it was a game about gift exchange. If you were really bad at giving gifts we we’d lie. We basically tell everyone that every gift they've ever given is as wonderful and so so we give people bad feedback which means we don't get better at gift giving. That was a fun experience to to to publish a board game and that was right at the beginning of kind of social media and social marketing and and crowd sourcing so I crowd sourced all of the content for that game. It was very fun. It was an early experience in social. Even then, that was before, I thought it was before, before Twitter which is hard to imagine a world pre-Twitter these days.
Success Harbor: Yeah and then you you started you started Listly after after.
Nick Kellet: I had done a couple of things in between, little experiments and research projects and I was researching and that's when I came across Listly and I had an idea for something kind of similar to Listly and I found Listly hence I got talking to Shyam who is my co-founder and and realized it was just him working on it and so we you know, we kind of swapped lots of emails and then we had lots of Skype calls and then eventually we decided you know what we should team up so we a month later we met in person and that was kind of 2 and a half years ago so.
Success Harbor: So how many people use Listly today?
Nick Kellet: Oh we we have something around maybe 140,000 users of Listly so far so you know people you know people, I mentioned before the 1-9-90 so people kind of you know 1 percent create, 9 percent comment, contribute and vote on lists and then 90 percent of people kind of consume that content. Some people just discovered Listly for the first time just because they find a list on Listly. They were looking for something you know. What apps can I use as a lead in startup and then they find a start-up list and then go "Oh this is a list of useful things. This is cool stuff. Oh it's on Listly." Then they begin to realize what Listly is and then later on they might vote on a list or they might say there's something missing on that list, they might add to it and then they'll come around to going, oh I should create a list myself.
Success Harbor: So 140,000 people use it. How many lists are on Listly today?
Nick Kellet: Oh God. I think something like 70-80,000 lists yeah.
Success Harbor: 70, 80,000. Okay so how do you promote Listly? How do you get the word out about Listly? What is your marketing strategy?
Nick Kellet: Well really basically I kind of think of you know, Listly is a living machine. It really is. It's alive because people create it and people contribute to it, people embed those lists on their blog, they share them and they are kind of the living advert for the rest of the platform. So it's a living machine where there are inputs and outputs and what we're trying to do is have a machine that grows itself and really that's, for a social platform to take off, you need to have that self-propulsion and and so that's really what we have with Listly is you know, people using lists on their blog, they’re sharing them, they're contributing to them which which helps other people discover Listly so right. I think you can in the early days of Listly you, I would get involved in you know, and jump in and try and convince people to use Listly and and that's not a really scaleable model right. It’s very early, enticing people to come and once the platform is more mature it really needs to have its own self-propulsion and Listly definitely does have that kind of mechanic in place where it's growing naturally on a daily basis.
Success Harbor: So how, I mean you, you, you've been involved with Listly for about two and a half years you mentioned.
Nick Kellet: Yeah.
Success Harbor: So what is the growing you know what kind of curve you know, you're at 140 now where were you 12 months ago in terms of number of users?
Nick Kellet: Oh my God. I don't know honestly. It's I mean it's been a steady steady you know growth, kind of just I think when I joined Listly we had 15,000 users so it just it comes in waves of different projects. Some projects bring in lots of users. People run a contest and bring in lots of users so it's it's a steady growth as people discover Listly and you know there's a, we built, and and we're sorting of building out the product as we go so we're building out capabilities, making it easier, simpler. I think one of the things today you know is to bear in mind is, people, you have to create something so super simple because people just don't have the attention span to actually figure out what something is so they really want it spoon fed and one of the best ways of spoon-feeding people is to is to take stuff away and just keep it. I mean Listly is a very very simply concept of a list, right, a list is a header and number of items and keeping it simple is what makes it what you're what you're always trying to do is figure out where's the friction. What is it that's stopping people signing up to do something right now, right? You got to try and find out what it is that people need and and a lot of it, what we found is, people, the longer you exist, time is time is a really a powerful communicator. People have like heard of Listly, seen it you know, people have got it on their their short list of things to focus on but they haven't even touched it yet because we, you know a social sharing tool like Listly or platform like that gets seen by a lot of people right so people have, people are aware of it. It's maybe necessarily haven't used it yet so that's what you're really trying to build up, is is to raise that awareness and you, you want to get people to come to the platform and try it out and start using it you know and make sure you're finding out where the friction is in the processes so you can actually try and remove that so we're always, we're always iterating to figure out what it is that's stopping people and then finding those opportunities of when they can, where and when they can contribute and that's that's what we look at all the time is how people are using it and you can get, you get an incredible amount of data from your web analytics and how long people spend on the site, the more content, where they find you from and where your search ranking is in a bunch of key words, key word terms right. A lot of people, like 60 percent of our traffic on Listly use organic content to be able to discover us through the lists right.
Success Harbor: So you have a your site has a very impressive 7,000 ranking on Alexa and we, which obviously means what you're saying is kind of a viral effect although I don't, I just don't like this word viral. It just reminds me of a disease.
Nick Kellet: So here's a funny thing right. It sounds like a catching lightning in a bottle right. You had your China get millions of people to do one thing. I think what we. Listly has grown by lots of little, lots of interest by lots of people, slowly and slowly over time and so the, it's like you're building this, we have thousands of people that cone to the site on a regular basis and they're all committed to it in different ways right and the way many of these things work because people fall in love, in and out of love with all sorts of services on the web and they're just too many services out there for us all to love them equally all at the same time and so really it's a battle for attention. It’s a battle for emotional connection and and that's what we're really trying to do you know is build up people's preference to choose Listly as a place to go, as a primary destination. Oh I must do this on Listly and I think one of the things that we think of with Listly is very much as a tool and to me a tool is something you know like. A tool can do many jobs. First is an app is is something that’s applied to do just one and apps sometimes are easier to use but they only do one thing. Tools can be a little harder to use but they do many things and I think one of the things we think of as Listly is definitely as a tool. You can use slides on Slide Share to do many things. You can use video to do many things and we think of Listly in the same way but the lists and that’s what we really see Listly as as like Listly has this Slide Share but lists so we're elevating the idea of lists as a platform and making it, making people realize, "Oh I could use Listly to make a playlist of videos. I can use Listly to make a playlist of of slide decks or I could use Listly to track all of my guest blogging or I could use Listly to create a curated list of the best bloggers or the best blokes to visit on this topic. It's like there are 100 different ways to use Listly and when people realize you know that they can use these things in many ways they go it's much easier to use one tool like Listly that to try and remember to use different apps. So that's
Success Harbor: So. I'm sorry go ahead.
Success Harbor: No go on yeah. So how much, how much traffic does Listly get a month today?
Nick Kellet: Oh God. Well we you’ve seen our Alexa ranking which is kind of a reflection of that right so, we don't we don't publish all of this data but Alexa is a pretty good indication of that traffic so it's it's, you know, it’s like, just a committed base of people and then new people coming and going and joining up and creating new lists all the time so.
Success Harbor: Okay and so what is the revenue model for Listly? How does Listly make money?
Nick Kellet: Well we, we basically have a premium product where we our target audience is really brands and publishers and and bloggers who who want to you know involve their audience and build audience participation and so we, we have a premium product that basically allows you know more control of how they embed their lists. More control over you know, how they manage that process and what options they have to you know, on a list. How they can control who can vote or not and you know, how they curate a list, if they can hide the curation queues. There’s there are lots of little options that we have that give people control as a publisher and so that, that’s. Everyone can create 3 premium lists for free and they can try out those options but then you know once they've tried them out people convert to to owning our premium product and and and using that for their their, to support their marketing efforts so.
Success Harbor: Okay. I have read that you were self-funded for about 18 months and recently began raising the small age-around of 350K via Angel.
Nick Kellet: Yeah.
Success Harbor: At this point what do you need to invest invest in? Is it your technology, is it marketing, what what what do you need to ?
Nick Kellet: First of all there’s always, it's always a balance of both you know. Basically it's been very much a lean start up so you know which basically means you know we don't overdo anything. You know we try different features with the basic feature set and see what people use and what people don't use right. So we’ll take things away if people don't use them and we'll extend the things that people do use so there's there’s always more that we need to add to to fill out our vision of Listly becoming SlideShare for lists as a platform and some of that you know. A lot of the time we've invested along the way in infrastructure to make it scalable, the number of people who are hitting Listly. You know think of a world design architecture so makes it fast and responsive and reliable and and then the other side of Listly is kind of business development and we're looking to outreach to to bloggers and to brands and publishers, to have them integrate Listly into their product line or to use Listly on on a regular basis. So that takes, that takes kind of, you know, people can find Listly and discover Listly through social means so but it’s, we can also reach out to people to have them use Listly on their on their branding, and their blogging and their publishing platforms so.
Success Harbor: I'm very interested in the life of a business especially during the first couple of years because that's when most businesses fail and so I, I you know want to ask you in your opinion what is the most important thing for an entrepreneur to focus on for during the first 12 months of being in business? What do you think they should spend their time on?
Nick Kellet: Well I, Ikind of alluded to this before, thinking of it as a living organism and I think in the beginning you push, you're pushing this, not even a boulder, it's a small pebble right and it grows into a, it grows bigger as you go and you're pushing this boulder uphill and I think you need to keep looking for signs of life that it’s actually pushing itself right. If you always need to be their pushing forever more, you you haven't really built something that's, I mean you can build businesses that way but it costs, it takes more money because you're always having to provide all of the growth momentum by advertising and promoting so it’s it’s managing that mix of paid owned and owned media, the discovery that your product has a natural appeal with people and is going to promote itself virally on its own.
Success Harbor: So so you mean if it's all push all the time there is something wrong with either your pricing, the product or the market.
Nick Kellet: Or your pitch yeah.
Success Harbor: Or your pitch? Okay okay.
Nick Kellet: If it works you don't have to try very hard. It does, it promotes itself right? And that's something to keep looking for is you know, am I pushing or is it propelling itself and then once you've got that natural propulsion what you're looking for is to keep removing friction because then this boulder can gain more momentum, it can roll more easily, it can, it can grow itself more quickly, so you're always looking to remove friction but before you can remove friction you have to make sure it has some natural momentum so.
Success Harbor: Yeah yeah so that's excellent actually. I think that's great advice. I do have a couple of more questions so I know we're almost at the 30 minute mark. Do you have time for a couple of more questions?
Nick Kellet: Sure.
Success Harbor: What do you think is the biggest time waster for entrepreneurs?
Nick Kellet: You know I think sometimes, listening, listening to the wrong people, listening to too much advice. Sometimes you need to like you know you don't want to live in a bubble but if you have a belief in something you're heading towards, listening to too many people will simply detract you from that goal right and I think the listening I try and do is through the platform, you know looking for natural signs of life. Is it growing faster, where, how etc. right. But if I listen too much to people, I tend, you know you can get very questioning. You start questioning their questioning and you know that that can be a bad thing.
Success Harbor: Okay and if somebody came to you, maybe somebody in your family, good friend that had a job but they saw your entrepreneurial success and say you know “Nick you know I want to be successful,” what would be the first thing that you would teach him or her?
Nick Kellet: You know I, that's a good question. I think I think it's just figuring out why you're doing it you know. I think you have to. If you want to become an entrepreneur I don't think I'd do it, I wouldn't do it for the money. I'd do it because you love the thing you're doing, because you love the challenge, you believe in the idea. If you do it for, if you think you're chasing money I think you're motivations are a little bit askew. So money comes if you do great things. To do great things you have to believe in something, stand for something you know. If you haven't found that yet I would stay where you are. You don't got that natural you know topic that you care about, something that you see that's wrong that needs correcting, some source of friction , some opportunity, if you haven't got that yet then stay funded by somebody else. Learn at, learn at somebody else's expense because once you start you're on your own nickel and that’s kind of ,that can be hard, that's when the ideas have to work.
Success Harbor: Well Nick thank you very much for sharing your story and to talk about how you're building Listly. How can people find out more about, how can people connect with you or find out more about Listly?
Nick Kellet: So you can, so you can find Listly, L-I-S-T dot -L-Y on on the web and we have a blog of blog.listly and I'm Nick Kellet on Twitter, N-I-C-K-K-E-L-L-E-T and so I'm pretty findable via the web, via Twitter, you know LinkedIn, well these things, I'm in all these places, I welcome to accept invites from people that want to link up on LinkedIn and and follow people back on Twitter yeah so it was always good.
Success Harbor: Well thank you Nick and everyone check out List, L-I-S-T dot -ly to learn more about Listly. Thank you very much. I wish you much success with it.
Nick Kellet: Thank you.
What does it take to create hype to build your business? Susan Baroncini-Moe is a Guinness World Records® record holder for the world’s longest uninterrupted live webcast. (Find out how long is the world's longest webcast from the interview.) Susan is an author, entrepreneur and business consultant. She is the founder and CEO of Business in Blue Jeans®, a business and marketing consulting firm based in Indianapolis, Indiana. She has worked with clients on four continents.
Say hi to Susan at businessinbluejeans.com.
Read Raw Transcript Now:
Success Harbor: Hi everyone. This is George Meszaros with Success Harbor and I have Susan Baroncini-Moe with me. Susan is the author of the book "Business and Blue Jeans." She holds the Guinness World Record's title for the world's longest uninterrupted live webcast. In case you were wondering, the webcast was 36 hours and 23 seconds long. Susan has started successful businesses in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors and I'm sure I left some things out but welcome Susan.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Thank you.
Success Harbor: Thank you for being here. Tell me you know first how did you come up with the idea to start or actually to try for the longest uninterrupted podcast?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: [LAUGHS] Well I, I was turning 40 and I wanted to do something kind of momentous for that. I tend to do big things on monumental birthdays so I thought that was something I'd want to do and when I was thinking about what the big thing should be, I really thought I wanted to do something that wasn't just important to me but would also be important for my business and would help a lot of people so basically what I ended up doing was finding a record I could do and then realizing I, even though I probably, as you can probably tell, I could talk for 36 hours if I wanted to, I really didn't have to so what we did is we turned it into this big business and marketing extravaganza with best-selling authors and celebrities and we made it a really big fun event that people could really learn from.
Success Harbor: Okay and how long did it take for you to plan that and did people think it was a crazy idea or people thought, "Yeah this sounds like fun. I want to be a part of it."
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Well you know, it's funny, I decided kind of quickly that I was going to do it and so I planned and executed the event in spite of 55 days and we had you know, 33 speakers and you know a bunch of sponsors who made the event possible. We had to coordinate [INAUDIBLE] because it was a webcast but the Guinness rules require that you have your record-breaking attempt in a public place where people can come and witness it so trying to negotiate that was a challenge and then of course we had to have witnesses and all kinds of things so it was a really big project but when I put my mind to something I do it. Now, in terms of whether people thought it was crazy or not. Yeah, I didn't tell a lot of people about it early on and I talk about this in my book Business in Blue Jeans mainly because I knew a lot of the normal people in my life would think it was nuts. I told my husband and my husband is a recording artist from Uruguay and has had platinum albums and the first Platinum albums in his country actually so I knew he wouldn't think I was crazy because he's done pretty big things in his life too and he didn't. He was really supportive. But the rest of people in my life who aren't entrepreneurs or who don't have the crazy gene that we want to go out and do big things, they definitely would not have really understood it. So I kind of kept it quiet but when I reached out to sponsors and participants that I wanted to invite, everybody was very receptive and excited and everybody wanted to participate and they just thought it was the coolest idea they'd ever heard.
Success Harbor: So when you say it had to be in a public place but the challenge with that is not many public places are open 36 hours.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Yeah.
Success Harbor: So was it like a hospital?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: No, no, no
Success Harbor: Or emergency room or a hotel lobby? What was the location?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Yeah so that's a really good point because you know there were a lot of logistical challenges like that you know. It's not just, "Hey we need it to be available for 36 hours” and we didn't know we're going to go for 36 and we knew we'd break the record at 24 but I figured if I'm going to break it let's really break it right. So you know we did go to a hotel and we had to find the right hotel because you're talking about an event, an event where you have to be open to the public and you don't know how many people are going to show up so that's a real trick for the hotel to agree to that and to agree, "Yeah sure you can have an unknown and unspecified number of people come to your events that is available 24 hours a day" you know, like it was a little tricky but we did find a great hotel partner and you know we were able to negotiate exactly what we needed so yea it's tricky, yeah.
Success Harbor: Okay well that's definitely something that will help you stand out so I think it's a great idea and I you know wish everybody would come up with something like that. I think everybody kind of wishes they would come up with something like that for their own business because it's like definitely, I, I, I love the idea.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: I teach a class on it you know.
Success Harbor: Oh wow.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Yeah there's a actually a web based class on my website that people can take to learn how to do something big like that you know. Big ideas, fast traction. It's all about how to know how to do something like that.
Success Harbor: Okay, Okay. Can you tell our audience about your business background? What types of businesses have you started? I read that your first entrepreneurial venture was a grape Cool-Aid stand in the front lawn because everybody was doing lemonade so you know again that was something to differentiate yourself and that was when you were 6 so I'm sure that you started some other ventures since then so I don't know if you can maybe cover some of them that kind of stand out.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Yeah. I have done a lot of things. Some successful, some not. I, in graduate school I had, my first online business actually was. My first, very first online business was I was selling, I, I, I'm very into like doing a different craft or hobby at every moment of my life so I never stick with something. I just kind of learn it, experience it and then I move on and try something else and I think that keeps my brain fresh and helps me continuously be creative so I did, I, I did this one thing called Lamp-work glass bead making and you actually have a flame and you use glass and you make beads so I had a little online business selling the beads that I made because you know you can only keep so many so at some point you've got too many beads , what are you going to do? But my second online business was a a a non-profit business where we solicited donations of knitted hats and then we solicit, you know, we would make those hats available basically just for the price of shipping them out and then we would send those hats to women who had lost their hair due to breast cancer treatment and that was really close to my heart because my mom had breast cancer and had experienced that hair loss and you know it was the winter and her head was cold so I knitted her a hat and that was kind of the beginning of you know understanding that sometimes you feel really powerless in a situation like that and you want to be able to help and you can't do much for someone who is contending with cancer, but you can provide comfort and love and so we would give people the opportunity to fill out an online form and they could they could basically write a note to the person encouraging them and supporting them. We would send that with the hat and also a little first aid kit because you know there's a need for that when women have the test done. They take out a lymph node and make their arms susceptible to infection so we had these little first aid kits made up that women could put in their purses and then we'd send out the hats. It was very successful, very good venture. Eventually it was a project that I was unable to continue to maintain so I turned the operations of that over to the American Cancer society and moved on but it was a really good business.
Success Harbor: So why were you not able to you know continue with that? Was it not the kind of business you wanted to be in or too time consuming or change of interest?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Yeah. First and foremost it was extremely time consuming and it was, it was very much something that was close to my heart but at the same time as doing that I was also launching my first coaching business and so trying to do both as my coaching business took off was extraordinarily difficult. It it you know when you have you know massive quantities of a product coming in and you live, at the time I lived in a very small condo in Iowa and I didn’t have the room, I didn't have the infrastructure. It grew quite a bit more quickly than I expected because we received a lot of press and because it was one of the first times that a non-profit was using the Internet in that way and so we got a lot of press and it grew too quickly so that's a really good lesson that I learnt early in my coaching career was you have to balance and make choices but also you have to be prepared for growth because if you're not prepared it can cause some really big problems.
Success Harbor: So so after the non-profit you started your first coaching business. What what year was that and tell us a little bit about that?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Oh my gosh.
Success Harbor: A little bit about that.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: That's a good question. 19, 1999 I want to say, I think.
Success Harbor: Okay.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: I can't I can't remember when I first started.
Success Harbor: So so the third business was then the coaching business. So how did you get into coaching?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: I actually, I I put myself through grad. I have a Master's degree in Social Psychology so so psychology and the way people interact and the way people are at you know the dynamics of people in groups are very you know something that really interests me and while I was in graduate school I took a job in a techno, technology center and it was the most advanced technology center on campus at the time and I sort of bluffed my way into that job and then had to learn all the skills I needed to keep the job and I ended up learning so much that I taught web design and development at the University of Iowa and so then I was recruited out of the university which had kept me on after I had agreed to kind of help faculty and staff with their web presence. I got recruited to work with magazine publishers to help them take their printed content and put it online for sale and what happened with that is a couple of years into that I I started to get this tingling in my arms and I started to have numbness in my hands and I found out I had carpal tunnel and so the doctor basically said you can quit and and go have another career or you can have surgery and continue this career but you'll probably have to have surgery multiple times or you'll never really recover. Well I'm not a big fan of surgery and I put my health pretty much above everything else so I left that job and I decided to go back to my Social Psychology roots and I spent 6 weeks in the mountains of Colorado doing a whole lot of training and spent a whole lot more time doing training. I trained with Nightingale Conan and I went through a wellness coaching training and honed into other things and launched my career.
Success Harbor: Okay so that was about 99 like you said and how did you get your first clients back then?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Well back then it was really just a matter of telling everyone I knew and so my first clients really were friends and people who I already knew because that's always the first think g you should do when you start a business right is tell everyone that you know that you're starting a business and what you're doing but the other thing is back in those days like people didn't really have websites right. It was really unusual so if you had a website it was pretty easy to be found right, if you knew what to do so that was one thing that really gave me a real leg up was that I had a website and I could be found and a lot of entrepreneurs would want to work with me because I knew how to do that stuff already and so it became a process of transitioning from being exclusively a coach to being a coach and a consultant.
Success Harbor: Okay and how do you differentiate yourself because I don't know if it was like back in 1999 but today it seems like you know everywhere you go there are at least some real estate agents and some coaches so so it's a very competitive, and competition is good in a way right because that means there is money there, there is money to be made, there’s a market for it but you know how do you how do you differentiate yourself you know when a market is so saturated and the barrier to entry is virtually none?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Yeah. It's funny, I I just finished a blog post about this. It's coming out on Monday. It's basically about how coaches rip people off. Because here's the thing, back in the day you know when I first started being a coach just as there were not very many people online, there weren't very many people who were coaches so those of us who were coaches tended to work with people who were really successful because that's where coaching really started. It was with executives and successful people who knew they did something right to get where they were but knew that those weren't necessarily the things that would take them to the next level. So there were a lot of people who were very successful who had coaches and then that began to trickle down as coaches got into the media, on Dr. Phil and on Oprah and all those other shows and what ended up happening was that the coaching industry because of its low barrier to entry got flooded with pretty much anyone who had ever watched Dr.Phil or Oprah and thought they were really good at giving advice to their best friends. So you have a lot of people in the coaching industry who have no training. In fact a lot of people who are very successful because they’re good at marketing themselves but have no experience in business or actually coaching and really don't do a good job with their clients and to me that's the best measure is are your clients happy and are they better for having worked with you. So that's kind of the first thing that distinguishes me is that I do have training, I do have experience and I have experience in business and I'm not afraid for people to ask me the tough questions so if someone says, "Well you know what do you know that I don't know?" or "What sets you apart?" you know I can talk about my experience in the web industry, the fact that I don't tell, I don't say to somebody I'm a sales coach. I don't say I'm a real estate coach. I don't say I'm a specialist because I am very general in my knowledge. I do have an a kind of a larger area of digital marketing because that's where most of my expertise lies right because I've been in the web industry for so long. But at the same time I think that it's both skill and something that can be trained but it's also innate. It's a talent. It's the, you know, the way that I grew up. You know I learnt how to understand people and pay attention to subtle cues and I think that those things really matter so you know the way I differentiate myself is, I do business in a very ethical way, with a lot of integrity. I'm honest about my expert, my expertise and my experience and I really work very hard to go above and beyond for my clients so that they're extraordinarily happy and that they end up being more successful because they worked with me.
Success Harbor: So so you started that coaching business in 99 and you said it was your first coaching business. What did you do? Did you stop that coaching business or what happened to it?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: No, it just transitioned into a different brand that was more corporate in nature and really focused more on consulting and then that brand developed into Business and Blue Jeans which is very much a hybrid or a fusion of coaching and consulting.
Success Harbor: Okay. So mostly do you work with businesses or individuals?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: I work with both and I work hard so that I can work with both. Primarily because I think that my heart lies with working with individuals who are entrepreneurial in nature and who want to start businesses or have started businesses and want to grow them but the work I do with businesses and corporations make that work possible if that makes sense from a financial perspective.
Success Harbor: Okay. Can you give us an idea, I mean the size of your business, how many customers you have and you know can you share the revenue of your Business and Blue Jeans?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: No I never share that. That's private. No all of those numbers are private.
Success Harbor: Okay and about the kinds of businesses that you work with?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Yeah I mean I primarily work with service oriented businesses so I have clients who are in the wellness space. I have clients in HR. I have clients that are in B to B service businesses and that's kind of the bulk of my business but then I have individual clients who are doing really interesting things. I work with a greeting card manufacturer. I work with a couple of bloggers. I work with a massage therapist here in Indianapolis and I have a client also here in Indianapolis who just launched a company that it’s designed to build connections and community among Indianapoliserean families so it's a very broad range and that keeps things really interesting for me.
Success Harbor: Okay and these clients come to you through what method? How do you market yourself?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: I have a variety of marketing strategies. I certainly make use of social media and you know I'm not on every single platform but I have certain platforms that I use for different reasons and in different ways. I do a fair amount of speaking and a lot of guest blog posts. I do podcasts like this one but there's no real one way that I would say this is how I get clients. It's really more a matter of gaining visibility in a large variety of ways such that when someone has read something I've written or heard me speak or heard me on an interview or they've read my book, they then when they're ready for me they think of me.
Success Harbor: So how do you know which one is effective? Do you do you measure you know how effective one or the other is in terms of speaking and you know social media like how do you know what works?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Well you always ask, you have to measure. You know I mean you know and I am now at the point where I don't do a lot of the things that don't work for me. So I know speaking is very good for me. I almost always gain clients when I speak. I know the book has been very good for me and and LinkedIn has been good for me but more than anything else the thing that is the best for me, and this doesn't mean that this is the thing that is best for everyone. This is the what works for my personal business. Now again, you have to know your target market. You have to know how they operate but the thing that's most profitable for me is simple relationship building. It's bottom line having conversations with people who know people. Making sure that I'm connected to influencers and people who have relationships with other people who do business because they're going to be the ones who are going to be in the conversations when someone says, "You know I just I'm thinking about hiring a coach" and that's the person who's going to say, “Hey, you know who I know? Susan Baroncini-Moe. You should call her."
Success Harbor: So can you give our audience an example of how you reach out to an influencer, maybe something that somebody in the audience could replicate for their own business?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Well I think it depends on the business so so it's always a little dangerous in my opinion. Free advice is worth what you pay for it right, so it's always a little dangerous to say, this is an example you can replicate and get the same results I got because you won't do it the same way that I do it and
Success Harbor: No not to. I don't want to replicate.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: No, no, no.
Success Harbor: but just to hear you know this is how I reached out to.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Yeah yeah.
Success Harbor: so and so and I'm not saying we're going to go and copy that because that I don't believe in that either but just you know just to get the thought process and you know why you did what basically.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Yeah so sometimes it's a matter of you know tweeting somebody and saying "Hey I really liked you know what you did with this" or sometimes it's a matter of like for example there's a, I had a relationship, a friendship with someone who was working for a company and we had lunch one day and he was telling me about an event that his company was putting on and I said, "Oh you know, you should think about marketing it this way." Well that conversation, just the conversation of two friends talking evolved into the company hiring me to help them market it in the way I had suggested. Another thing I do sometimes, is just I'll find people on LinkedIn and I'll send them a message, "Hey I'd love to talk to you. It looks like you have an interesting business. Can we schedule a phone call?” Sometimes it's as simple as just saying, "You look like an interesting human being." I build relationships. I get to know people. Would you like to talk?”
Success Harbor: Okay.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: It's sometimes that simple.
Success Harbor: So so you work with quite a few businesses as you mentioned earlier and I'm very interested in the in the life of a business especially in the first 1 to 2 years because most businesses fail during those times so what do you think is the most important thing for an entrepreneur to focus on during the first 1 year of being in business?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Yeah that's a really good question because you're right most businesses fail early. So with my clients the things that we focus on early are relationship building, connecting with everyone you know. When you're starting out, you know, you want to make sure that everyone you know and that knows you knows what you're doing, knows that you're building a business. Now there are times that you know I think that networking serves a purpose for some businesses but more often than not, networking groups are not particularly beneficial because they're either structured the wrong way or people approach them the wrong way. What I mean by that is they approach it with the mentality of getting business rather than you know coming to with an air of, what value can I bring to the table for this group? So I spend a lot of my time thinking about the people I know and my vast network that maybe I could connect. So if you're a connector, people think of you and remember you or if you know if you bring a lot of value to the table for people they want to bring value back to you. It's not, that's not why you do it but it's a good way to show up in the world and it tends to be pretty profitable as my friend Bob Berd likes to say so I think that one of the things that you really want to focus on is relationship building, not necessarily for the purpose of growing your business but that is going to be the result.
Success Harbor: Okay so again very early in business or the first couple years what do you think is the biggest time waster because you know a lot of times people start as a sole entrepreneur, you know one person in the business maybe two, you know partners so you really have to be careful with your time? What do you think based on you know your experience working with entrepreneurs or just being an entrepreneur yourself is the biggest time waster?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: The biggest time waster. Gosh there are so many. And and I think it's a good question. One is probably social media. I do think it really is dependent on the business. What is your business and what are you spending your time doing you know that's important. I recommend everybody kind of every month or so keeps a couple of days where they keep a time log to see where they're losing time so they can start to address it but social media is a big one, especially if you don't have much of a following or your target market isn't where your egging out. So if you're not connecting with your target market in social media, it's a waste of time anyway. The other area I think people waste a lot of time is going to these like business-card-exchanging, hand-shaking networking meetings where they don't actually get any business and I think that you know these networking meetings, one thing I've experienced is people are always saying "Let's go have coffee, I'd love to have coffee with you sometime.” Yea that's great but how do you have time for coffee? I'm working, I'm writing, I'm connecting, I'm doing business most of the time so I always try to turn those, "Let's have coffee" dates into "No, let's actually have a phone call" and in the instances where it turns into, okay this could actually be a useful relationship that could ultimately yield business then okay we'll go for coffee if there's a reason to but for the most part I like to initiate my relationships with a phone call because it's a huge time-saver and most of those people who are out having coffee, they feel like they're busy and they feel like they're being productive but being productive and being busy are two different things.
Success Harbor: Okay. So let's say somebody comes to you either you know it could be a prospect or a client or a friend or a family member that currently has a job but wants to become an entrepreneur, what do you think is the one thing or the first thing that they need to really know or learn to set them up for success or at least help them succeed?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Well, I think the first thing is you should not quit your job to start a business. That's the one mistake people make is. It's one thing if you lose your job and then you go well I think I'm going to go out on my own, and it it but to quit a job and then go tomorrow I'm going to start a business, that's usually a big mistake because you have to have the money saved up to live on otherwise you're going to make a lot of decisions based out of want and fear and that's always the wrong place to make decisions from in your business. So you don't want to make decisions from that space so so I always caution people to make sure they have a lot more than they think they're going to need saved up that they can live on while they're they're growing their business but if you can start your business and keep your job and start your business in your spare time, then, and I have clients who are doing that, then it makes more sense and is quite bit more safe to do so but the things you need to know really are, is there a market for what you want to do. That doesn't guarantee that you'll be successful but is there a market? Who who are you going to do stuff for and what are you going to do for them and are they going to be willing to pay for it and and if that's the case if those the answers to those things are yes there are people and and yes they're going to want what I have to offer and yes they're going to pay for it, then you at least have a shot. That does not mean you're going to be successful but at least you have a shot.
Success Harbor: Okay, so you help people as a coach or as a consultant, what was the best advice that you have received in business?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: The best advice I ever received in business came from a guy named Larry Winget and he's a well-known best-selling author. He's on Fox News all the time and he said to me, "Always do what you say you're going to do when you say you're going to do it the way you say you're going to do it" and I sort of amended that to say, "or sooner and better" because if you always keep your word and you do the things you promise people you're going to do and you do them either when you say you're going to do them or sooner, and the way you promised to do them or better you almost can't fail because people will start to trust you, they will know that they can rely upon you. You know I mean I'm sure you've I mean I don't I can't say for sure but as a as a host of a podcast myself I know there are times you know before there used to be times when you know people would say sure I'll show up for your podcast but they wouldn't show up. Well what does that tell you about that person and their integrity? So you maintain integrity by doing what you say you're going to do when you say you're going to do it, the way you say you're going to do it or sooner or better and you almost can't fail with that as your as your foundation.
Success Harbor: Okay now everybody has ups and downs and I think entrepreneurs have more than the usual, at least in my experience, so it's very important to deal it with right because you can't really eliminate it so what is your advice for dealing with the roller coaster ride of being an entrepreneur?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Yeah it is a roller coaster and it's also one that I'm very happy that we're talking about now because there was a long time where we didn't talk about it. You were supposed to just be you know master of your fear but now people are talking about the fact that it is scary to be an entrepreneur because there are ups and downs but of course the ways in which you manage it you, you manage in two ways. In one way you manage it in a business strategy right so when times are tough you don't pull back on marketing, not ever, that's a terrible mistake and a lot of businesses did that in the recession. They pulled back when they needed business. That's so stupid. How do you think you get business? Marketing. So you know you never pull back on marketing when times are tough if you can avoid it. The other thing is you you build in risk management strategies so just because you've got a proposal out doesn't mean you're not trying to get more business coming down the pipeline so you should never rest back because you think you think things are okay so if my client load is full I don't sit back in my chair and say I'm good because at any moment any one of my clients could for a variety of reasons give me their 30 day notice. So I have to be prepared and keep that business coming in at all times. That means you never let up. It can be exhausting but you know that's why you build in balance. I have a time every day that I have a commitment to my husband, that I quit and the computer gets closed and we're done for the day so you balance the fact that you really never let up and your great productivity, trying to make sure you take care of your mental health. That’s the other side of it. You have to protect your mental health and that's why you know you want to make sure you deal with your money brain junk in particular that can get really dicey and it can hold you back like you wouldn't even believe. Your personal brain junk is hugely important because that's the thing that will keep you believing in yourself and it's really not about conquering fear as it is about mastering your own mind and there are some really basic things about sort of mastering the anxiety stuff and something as simple as exercise which sounds like such a silly thing to say in the context of business but exercise has been shown medically to be as effective as an anti-anxiety pill or an anti-depressant so if you continuously keep yourself active and getting up with the sun you know and keeping in your community and making sure that you're eating healthy, you can do a lot to mitigate some the anxiety around being an entrepreneur. It might sound crazy but it's absolutely true.
Success Harbor: So I have read about you that, I think it was on one of your websites because of how you have structured your business. You have traveled a lot and tried a lot of different hobbies so, which is great. Everybody wants to travel. If you ask people what do you want to do more of, it's almost always travel.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Sure.
Success Harbor: So and it is because of the way you structured your business so how have you done that and what advice do you have for us to be able to structure our own businesses to be able to take more time off or just do more business while on the go?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Yeah so one of the ways that I've done that is I keep all of my client records in a CRM so all my notes and all my information for my contacts, my prospects, my pipeline, everything is in a digital CRM in a cloud so.
Success Harbor: What do you use by the way? What what which CRM are we?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: I'm so cheap I use Zoho.
Success Harbor: Okay that's good that's good.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: It's actually. Zoho is the perfect solution for a variety of reasons and I use both Zoho CRM and Zoho Invoice. I I think they're great tools. They're very inexpensive and they're robust and they're good for a solo entrepreneur so.
Success Harbor: Yeah that's true.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: So you can add team members as needed but I use that quite a bit. I also have an online calendar. I use Book Fresh for that and so my assistant handles a lot through Google and we have a lot set up through Google calendar and Gmail and all that but the one thing that's really important to my business is that I do most of my work on the phone so if I am visiting, like we just spent a half, well more than half of April in Uruguay and when I'm on vacation I still simply for the purpose of continuity and providing my clients with the support they need, I will cram all my clients into one or two days while I'm travelling so having systems like Skype, I now can get T-Mobile which does a world wide service so I can use T-Mobile when I'm in South America without being charged more and really just having Wi-Fi wherever I go is a huge asset so it's really about you know managing expectations, staying current with email and just being able to keep your files so you don't have to lug around a bunch of paper.
Success Harbor: Well Susan thank you very much for sharing your story. How can people learn more about you or connect with you?
Susan Baroncini-Moe: BusinessinBlueJeans.com It's the easiest way.
Success Harbor: Okay so everybody out there go and say hi to Susan at businessinbluejeans.com. Thanks for coming on.
Susan Baroncini-Moe: Thank you so much for having me.
What does it take to be a successful serial entrepreneur? Matt Paulson is a serial entrepreneur. He is a master of traffic generation. Matt has multiple profitable websites focusing on investments, press release distribution and even animal photo contests. Listen to the following interview to find out how he builds multiple businesses simultaneously.
Say hi to Matt at mattpaulson.com.
Read Raw Transcript Now:
INTRO: Hello everybody and welcome to the Success Harbor podcast with George Meszaros, where it’s all about making success happen for you.
Success Harbor: Hi everyone. This is George Meszaros with Success Harbor and I have Matt Paulson with me. Matt publishes a daily investment newsletter to more than 92,000 subscribers. He co-founded GoGo Photo Contest, a company that helps animal shelters and humane societies raise funds. Matt also founded Lightning Releases, a press release writing and distribution service. Welcome.
Matthew Paulson: Thanks. Thanks for having me George and good to be here.
Success Harbor: Thank you for being here Matt. I appreciate it. Tell us, let's talk about your daily investment newsletter. How did you start that business? How did you get into that and you have a 92,000 subscriber which is a very impressive number. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Matthew Paulson: Absolutely. So the story kind of starts off about 2010 I have an investing news website. It's called American Banking and Market news and you know that site was really starting to take off in 2010.
Success Harbor: Why do you think it was that? Why do you think it was taking off in 2010 and how long had it been online by then?
Matthew Paulson: Sure, so I started that site in 2009 and it got picked up by Google news and Bing news and Yahoo finance and some of those more specialized kind of financial search engines and that's what I contributed to a lot of the success to and I think we, we found you know some types of content that worked relay well and garnered a lot of traffic and are easy to write.
Success Harbor: Okay, and what was, so what was some of the content because I, you know I want to hear the whole story but this is very important. There are so many sites out there that never get any traffic and they have a lot of content and still nothing happens so what, what happened, what kind of content and how did you figure that out?
Matthew Paulson: Sure so I kind of figured out that the way to do well when you're talking about public big traded companies is to mention their stock ticker in their article. So that way like an MSN Money and on Twitter and DotTwits, Google Finance, if you mention this, the stock ticker of the company, it'll show up and some of those kind of more specialized financial portals and you have to do a little bit of work to get into those sites, into those portals but if you are and you mention the tickers of, the stock tickers of publicly traded companies in your article, you can pick up a lot of extra traffic that you wouldn't normally get form Google Search.
Success Harbor: Oh wow. That's impressive. That's impressive. How did you figure that out?
Matthew Paulson: It actually happened by, by accident. I had one of my writers, I think a big Sidney group mentioned the stock in 2009 and I just saw that particular article just got a ton of traffic from Google finance and Twitter and a few other places and I thought, hey I should have them do more of this so, I just kind of had everybody start doing it and traffic just sky-rocketed from there on and we were really able to take some, some article type, some, we were able to latch on to certain news, certain formula, formulae so whenever a company writes you know or does an earning announcement you know it's basically the same story every time. So we are really able to kind of make a system out of that and kind of have this, you know we didn’t really have to look for new content all the time because whenever you know a big company announces earnings or announced dividends that's the story, so we were able to kind of build the system off and regularly pour on those and get a lot, and get a lot of traffic as a result of that.
Success Harbor: So when you say, traffic skyrocketed, what was that traffic? What was the traffic before and what happened after Google News and these other sites picked you up?
Matthew Paulson: Sure. So we were, and we were probably at a hundred thousand pages per month. You know in late 2009. We got picked up then by here mid 2010 we were at about a million pages per month and I think now we're at about two and a half million pages per month.
Success Harbor: Even a hundred thousand is very impressive. How did you even get? I mean you're talking, you're not talking about, I mean I talk to bloggers that have blogs on since like 2004, 2005, some of 2003, you know what, I mean ten years and they have the kind of traffic that you have, so how do you even get a site to a hundred thousand visitors?
Matthew Paulson: I think it's a matter of finding out you know where is I, who is my audience and then where are those people at on the Internet, and then how can I reach them and it just happened to be that people that are interested in investing are very easy to reach so I kind of got lucky there. I mean there are so many sites targeted towards people that invest in individual stocks and it was not terribly hard to get into those portals. There are still a few places I'm trying to crack like Yahoo Finance, I haven't really been able to get into yet but there are a lot of places that aren't hard to publish content for that we’ve already reaped the rewards for. And it's not the same in obviously every industry but finance happened to work particularly well.
Success Harbor: So is it through guest posting when you say I'm trying to get into it? How do you try to get into those portals?
Matthew Paulson: Sure. So with like Yahoo Finance, they only let people like they have pages for each company and on that they have like a news section and they only let like people in who are kind of their partners and they do business development deals and it kind of varies a little bit as you go from platform to platform, like on stocks I would say, I just send them an email to say this is what I want to do, are you guys okay with it and they said, sure go ahead. You know so that, they send me a couple thousand page views a day just from that site and anybody can publish to Twitter using the hash tags for stocks and Google Finance takes some work to get into but it's not impossible. There's an application process for that.
Success Harbor: Okay, so, so you got in about a year, you got to 92,000 subscribers?
Matthew Paulson: No that well right now I'm at, some of the investment newsletter so when I started collecting emails, I just, that was probably in January of 2011 so that’s really been over three and a half years that that 92,000 has been built up over.
Success Harbor: Okay so three and a half years and 92,000 subscribers. Now do you also own, Analytics, Analystratings.net?
Success Harbor: Yep, that that's my site as well and it’s, the reason I started that site was because American banking and news and kind of my other financial websites, they, they did very well in terms of advertising revenue but some , so much of the traffic came from kind of those specific search portals and you can't always control that, that flow of traffic and I just didn't want to be so dependent on these other companies to send me traffic to generate revenue so I decided that you know I'm going to need some customers that are buying something from me so I really wanted to kind of have my own audience that I could kind of contact at my discretion. So that's why I decided to start doing the email thing and put you know I kind of put in opt-in forms on my website so I could, like, catch as many emails as I could. You know when I first started collecting emails I didn't really know how I was going to monetize it at the time but I knew that if I, if I was going to be able to, if I’m going to, if I wanted to sell something to my audience I'm going to need a way to contact them directly. So I started, you know we had, been covering stock ratings for a while on our website so I thought you know we already have the data, so we can just send it out in an email in a newsletter. So you know there's no way to get people to give you their email address and it kind of, kind of exploded from there. Even after, I think after collecting emails you know for about six months we already had ten thousand people subscribed to the free email list so it was really something that started to take off really quickly.
Success Harbor: So, what do you use, do you use Word Press and some plugins to squeeze the emails? What is, what tool do you use for that?
Matthew Paulson: Sure. So all of my sites, all my kind of front-end websites that people visit are based on Word Press and then the opt-in four hours are, I had a developer actually make the most recent versions of them and so what I wanted to do is pretty specialized to what I am doing because the formatting so I had a, a guy that I know put it together but they're obviously plugins like pop-up domination that can collect email addresses as well for you pretty well.
Success Harbor: Yeah because I'm looking at analyticsratings.net and I don't see really aggressive way of getting emails there.
Matthew Paulson: If you like, open up like a private boxing window and you go to it, there'll probably be a pop up that will show up. Like it'll only show up once a day I think so if you.
Success Harbor: Yeah I was there yesterday so maybe that's why it's not showing it. The group probably hasn't expired.
Matthew Paulson: Yep, yep.
Success Harbor: Okay so now how do you make money with, with these subscribers? Do you have products that you sell or is it advertising only?
Matthew Paulson: Sure.
Success Harbor: What are your revenue sources?
Matthew Paulson: Sure there's actually three and when I first started I thought the money was only in like subscription to paid newsletters and I do pretty well at that but there are also two other things so for the, the subscriptions I have two different things. One is a premium version of kind of a daily newsletter that I send out. So when I first started this, I had gotten a lot of feature requests of people that told me they wanted some different stuff in their newsletter. They wanted it like sent before the stock market opens so they have time to make their trade. Some people wanted like a watch list of their stock so they could get kind of more news and information about what they had. Some people wanted email alerts and a few other things. They kind of said you know hey maybe there's an opportunity here to come up with a version of the newsletter that people get so much value out of that they would be willing to pay for it. So that I launched in I think July of 2011. There's also kind of a web based version of that where people can have more kind of access to my database of financial information. So that's another product called RatingsDB. So between those two I think I have about two thousand active subscriptions right now and those are ten to fifteen bucks a month so that's a kind of a nice monthly revenue stream right there.
Success Harbor: Okay. And all, approximately how much revenue do you generate from just this one business because it's not just one website, it's, it's at least a couple of websites and multiple different revenue services. Can you give our audience kind of an idea?
Matthew Paulson: Sure, so the, my kind of whole business kind of four things put together generate between one hundred thousand and one hundred and fifteen thousand a month and about out of that, about ninety is net profit. So out of that ninety, probably about sixty-five to seventy is from the news websites and newsletter total.
Success Harbor: Okay so let's talk about the GoGo Photo Contest. What gave you the idea to start and actually before you get into that tell our audience what GoGo Photo Contest is?
Matthew Paulson: Sure. So GoGo Photo Contest is, kind of a, it's a way for animal shelters and human societies to raise money so they can host a contest, kind of online and basically people will send photos of their animals for the contest and then they will invite, like the people that are participating in the contest, they will invite their friends and family to vote for their animal in the contest and then every vote will cost a dollar so then so whoever, you know, at the end of the contest, has the most votes will win the contest and will win some kind of prize that the humane society puts out. A lot of them will do a calendar and then the winning pet will like be the calendar pet in like the month of their choice. So, a typical kind of human society in a larger city, there's one in the city I live in, [00:11:52.22] Inaudible South Dakota. It’s a city of about one hundred and fifty thousand people and our humane society is a decent size and they were able to raise I think six or seven thousand this year with us just from that contest alone. And then out of that, we keep, I think it's 15 percent for the first five grand they raise and then after that so most of them end up paying somewhere between like seven and ten percent given to us in exchange for running the contest.
Success Harbor: And how did you come up with this idea?
Matthew Paulson: Sure. It was actually a business partner of mine. He had been volunteering with the humane society I think back in 2005 and he, they kind of approached him and he had been doing, and they had been doing contests where people process and they kind of approached him and said, "Hey can you help us do this online?" So he had written kind of the initial version of that software back then and last, I think it wasn't until last July that we kind of turned that into an independent business that is you know making, going to be a company and we're going to try to make it, max it out this year.
Success Harbor: So about a year ago right?
Matthew Paulson: Yeah. We’ve run, I think, let me see how many contests we've run. I think we've ran, I think we’ve run about sixty contests so far and we've helped animal shelters and humane societies around the country. I think we’re up to about 325,000 dollars that we've helped them raise at this point.
Success Harbor: That, that sounds like a very impressive number. Now tell me how do you market GoGo Photo contest?
Matthew Paulson: Sure. So there are, the humane society and animal shelter world is really kind of a close knit community, so they all talk to each other. So there , there is a lot of word of mouth so once we kind of get into an area where we have had some success with the shelter like we tend to get a lot of neighboring shelters around, like we, like, I think a, a basset hound rescue in Florida and all of a sudden like after that, after they had run a contest we got three or four more so there's, it’s a nice kind of network effect that happens when you kind of go into an area.
Success Harbor: Wow, that's kind of viral.
Matthew Paulson: It is. I mean there's also some more traditional marketing we do. There's email marketing we do to let people know that the contest exists to show the kind of success that other fund raisers have. We're going to look at going to a trade show that The Humane Society of United States puts on, sometime, not sure, this year, sometime next year but that'll be a good opportunity for us as well.
Success Harbor: Okay, okay. How did you start Lightning Releases? You know we mentioned Lightning Releases has to do with press releases for small businesses, so how did you come up with that idea?
Matthew Paulson: Sure, so I had a, I was, it was actually when I was releasing one of my products for Analytics Ratings net worth. I did a press, one press release at PR web and then a couple of other press releases with some smaller sites and you know, I just wasn't terribly happy with the results for what I paid. You know
Success Harbor: So why not? Why weren't you happy? Give us an idea.
Matthew Paulson: Well I mean with some of the bigger press release sites you pay sometimes, 3 or 400 bucks a year in US. We expect your release to get out there and it just, didn't really happen for. I didn't get the value for what I paid for it. It didn't get out to that many sites and I really thought, you know, I felt I could probably build a network just as good and be able to charge people you know a much more competitive rate than they did so that's how that idea came to be.
Success Harbor: And when was that? What year?
Matthew Paulson: So that would've been 2012 when I started that business.
Success Harbor: Okay so, so how are you different from like a PR web? One thing is cost. You mentioned you were less expensive.
Matthew Paulson: Yeah.
Success Harbor: In what other ways are you different?
Matthew Paulson: Sure, so we are, the benefit that I pitch to, are people who are on the web site is that +you know I'll get their press release in places where people actually go, like use search engines, Google News and Yahoo news and Bing news. You know people go to those and read the news. They may be looking at you know news about whatever type of organization that you're promoting and then your article comes up and people read it. I, you know, when you, when your one of ten press releases is on a big network you know your article can get lost in the fold. So what we do is, well, you know we'll try to get it in places where you know people will read it on those news search engines and also send it out to targeted journalists based on where you are. So a company in Sufa, South Dakota you know we can send your release to two people in South Dakota as well so it's really kind of a two pronged approach between us getting your release on the web as good or better as some of those other sites and then we also send it directly to people that are relevant that might be want to read it.
Success Harbor: And so you mentioned on on your website that you have worked with about a thousand, about a thousand companies each year use your service for PR?
Matthew Paulson: Yeah I think right now, we’re kind of turning anywhere between 200 and 225 releases a month so obviously a lot of those are repeat customers. A few people though periodically buy them in batches of 50 so it’s kind of nice to know that people are getting the value out of your service. A few weeks ago I had sent like a request to my customers to see if anybody would provide like a testimonial so I think I emailed 100 people and then within a day about 20 people replied back and said sure here’s a testimonial so that was, it was kind of nice of nice to see that.
Success Harbor: Yea it's always good to hear when people appreciate what you do. How do you market Lightning Releases?
Matthew Paulson: Sure there’s a few things we do. One, we do Google ad-words to target kind of target those relevant key words. I do a little bit of email marketing for that list as well so there's I, I bought into a few of those stuff from people that have bought press releases from other places so I've been able to really leverage those to tell people about our service and kind of compare it to other services that they might have used in the past.
Success Harbor: So you get, you buy an email list from like an email broker?
Matthew Paulson: Yep.
Success Harbor: What, what is the name of that place in case someone wants to check them out for their own business?
Matthew Paulson: I can't tell you. That’s a, that's a trade secret.
Success Harbor: Okay. So they only deal with press releases, email addresses, people that purchase press.
Matthew Paulson: No, no I mean, it's a, it's just a list broker with all sorts of people that sells lists of all sorts of things. It's just the list I happen to buy. I think they do a lot of other things as well.
Success Harbor: Okay alright. So you, so you market through email. You market your business through email and some ad words.
Matthew Paulson: Yep and we're looking at doing, I’m going to try to launch an affiliate marketing campaign to one of the networks pretty soon. I've had some people request you know to be an affiliate so I think that's. I mean the margin, distributing press releases basically a hundred percent so you know you can give an affiliate like a thirty percent commission and you're still fine at the end of the day.
Success Harbor: Sure, sure.
Matthew Paulson: I'm going to try to, try to get going on that pretty soon.
Success Harbor: Okay, okay that sounds good. So I was going to, you know ask you about, I'm very, very interested in the first one to two years of the life of a business because most, most businesses fail, and they fail fairly early and I just wanted to you know get your input on you know, why, why do you think so many, it seems to me that you were able to start all these businesses, although you haven't started them at the same time but it's still you know, it's one thing to make something successful once but then to do it over and over, you know requires some real skill, so why do you think businesses fail or businesses never take off?
Matthew Paulson: Sure. I think, i think some people just kind of get married to their one kind of idea that they have. My first idea didn't work. I wanted to be the next big personal finance blogger. I know they have guys from PTMoney on a few weeks ago. I wanted to be that guy.
Success Harbor: Okay.
Matthew Paulson: That didn't work out for me so.
Success Harbor: So how fast did it fail for you?
Matthew Paulson: Sure. So I started writing on a site. It was called American Consumer News which is also named my company but I started writing on the site in December 2006 and I think it was about, about, kind of mid-2008 when I figured out you know that this isn't getting the level of traction that I want it to get and I don't know if I'm ever going to be the next big JD Roth or whoever the big guy
Success Harbor: So we end up at two years, how much traffic were you able to get, how many visitors, I mean did you, was there nothing or was there just not enough?
Matthew Paulson: No I mean the site was getting maybe 1500 people a day but it just didn't scale to the point where it would you know be more than a 50,000 dollar a year business.
Success Harbor: Okay, okay. So it took you about two years to say, "You know what, this is not, not, not the right business for me?"
Matthew Paulson: Yep, yep and I think at that point some people think, well I tried it, and it didn't work, I failed and then they go back to whatever it is they were doing before so I think the key is it's like, “Okay, what I was doing didn't work perfectly but maybe in that, there's something that would've worked or was working I could just try more of that or is there something else I could try,” so it's really a matter of when you failed, you have to understand why you failed and then you can try something else then not make that same mistake again.
Success Harbor: Okay, okay and how long do you think, I mean do you think it's, it’s reasonable to go for two years or somebody should know sooner or you can't really, you know, how much time do you think you need to know, like you know, I need to pivot here?
Matthew Paulson: Sure. I think a lot of it depends on the type of business that you're building. Building a blog and building an audience that’s, that’s kind of a slow ramp up unless you're somebody like John Lee Dumez who happens to take off out of the gate. You know most people for the first year and a half, they don't have many people rating their posts. It's really kind of a hockey stick growth when you're doing it right but you know I'd be getting about a thousand visitors a day for a year straight and I was kind of at the point where I was like, yeah I don't think it's going to get more than this so I decided it was time to do something else.
Success Harbor: Okay.
Matthew Paulson: But if you're going to do like a bricks and mortar business and nobody is coming into your business at all for the first two months that's a, that's a big sign that you're not doing something right so it really depends on the type of business that you have. What is, what's a reasonable amount of time for it to take off and I think the only way to know that is just to talk to other people in similar businesses and kind of ask them you know how much did you make the first year, how much did you make the second year, how long did it really take you to take off and hopefully you'll be able to find someone that will tell you that information.
Success Harbor: So why didn't you give up? I mean there's so many people that start something and it didn't work out and then they say, you know what, this is not for me. I'm going to get a job and you know it's just not, it's just not fun. What, what, what kept you going and what, what told you, well this didn't work I'm going to do something else?
Matthew Paulson: I just, I think I'm the type of person that wouldn't thrive on kind of having a full time job for somebody else. Also, I like to be the person, I’ll, you know I want to get the full value of kind of the economic value that I've created. I don't want to be working at an hourly rate for somebody the rest of my life so I knew that you know while that didn't work out as well as I wanted it, I made fifty grand a year and it would probably still make fifty grand a year whether I rode on it or not so I though you know, maybe it's time to try something else and see if that would work better. So it’s I mean a part of it is that I didn't want to have a full time job and I did at the time and that's not the kind of life I wanted to live and the other is just like I know there are people out there who are making a great living through Internet businesses but right now I'm not, and I don't think that the people that have had success are any, any more special than I am so maybe it's, they're just working harder and been doing it longer and have gotten beaten up, beaten up enough so they know what, what works so a lot of it is stick-to-itiveness and kind of trying to realize what works and maximizing that and realizing stuff not working and be smart enough to quit and go do something else and I'd like to say that you know I've had one failure and three successes, but there’s been nearly half a dozen other sites and businesses that I've tried that haven't really taken off so I'd like to say I'm batting a thousand but really I'm maybe batting twenty percent at the end of the day.
Success Harbor: I'm glad you said that because I think it's so, sometimes people forget you know and then people when they hear stories like yours which I would definitely consider a success story you know they think well, it's so easy you know you either got lucky or you know you're just a genius you know but it's really not that then you know the more people I interview, the more you know I see that you know that's just not the way it is. It’s really, you actually, to succeed, you have to fail a lot more than succeed right and?
Matthew Paulson: Yep.
Success Harbor: And, and just like you said betting two hundred average instead of a thousand it just doesn't, doesn’t work like that. Tell me now, so far it sounds like things went really well but maybe if you could share a mistake, maybe one of the biggest mistakes that you made in business that would be a good learning opportunity for us.
Matthew Paulson: Sure, so I think early on I was, was too dependent on getting traffic from search engines so like a lot of people I get a big chunk of the people that went to my news website early on was from Google and they had an algorithm update and I think it was January 2010 or 2011. It was called the panda update and other than some, I took a pretty big hit as a result of that because of that because you know the length of content I was posting was too upward flight for them. The amount of traffic that I had from Google kind of sunk about sixty percent overnight and you know kind of after that I realized you know I'm kind of at the mercy of all these other companies I'm working with so if I'm going to be in business and stick around a while I need to develop a business that's going to be okay if one of these companies decides to stop sending me traffic or decides to stop working with me. So that's what I really wanted to illustrate was that’s where my work came from. I wanted to deal with my own customers. So it’s, I think being dependent on you know a big company that doesn’t really care about you or who you are or somebody you don't really have a relationship with, that's a dangerous game and I think too many people do it and too many people kind of get their butt kicked in Internet businesses just by being too reliant on Apple or Google or any company that has kind of a platform that they own you.
Success Harbor: So what do you think is the most important thing for an entrepreneur to do during the first twelve months of being in business. Is it, is it sales? Is it, is it building, I mean in your, in your experience, building your own businesses, what do you think we should focus on in the first twelve months?
Matthew Paulson: Sure. So I think the common mistake that people make in their first year is that they spend too much time building a product or service and don't spend enough time talking to customers. So I think really early on your goal shouldn't even be so much about your product but more about identifying kind of market that you want to reach and just figuring out you know is there a way I can market to these people kind of on a cost-effective basis? And is there a way kind of to get repeatedly get in touch with these people to let them know about my product or service? You know can I do direct mail? Can I do email? Can I do ad-words? Is there some website I can advertise on to you know get in touch with these people because you know I’ve built some products that I thought were great products but I just didn’t' know how to market them so it didn't really matter that I had a great product because if you don't know how to get in touch with your potential customer you're kind of off the deep end. So I think, you know, really in the first year, your two goals should be you know market identification, and market reachability so if you can find a market that has a problem that needs to be solved, and then you also figure out that you can research people then you can kind of start thinking, you know, they have, they have this problem that needs to be solved, you know, can I find a solution for them to solve it and if you can, you kind of have all three legs of the stool that you need.
Success Harbor: Okay. What do you think is the biggest time waster for people that start a business, for entrepreneurs?
Matthew Paulson: I think there's, there are a lot of people that worry about stuff that might be problems down the road but aren't problems yet. People worry you know too much about like what kind of software they're using and just issues that aren't going to be issues for them for a long time to come. I kind of tell people well you know worry about what web posting that they have. It’s like it doesn’t really matter because you only have fifty people that go to your website a day so I think if you, if you worry about problems, you worry about problems when they become problems. You don't worry about them ahead of time, I guess is what I'm trying to say.
Success Harbor: Okay. Now if somebody came to you in your family or maybe a good friend that had a job today and said they see your success in business and they say, “Matt teach me, teach me to become an entrepreneur”, what do you think is the first thing they need to know?
Matthew Paulson: Sure, I mean the first thing I think really is to understand what it really takes to start a business. Like I've had some friends that have gone to business school and wanted to start businesses and it’s like you have no idea what it actually takes to start a business. You need to work, you know, fifty to sixty hours per week for the next four years to make this happen and I don't think people really understand how much work it is and everything that they have to do. Some people think that they just have to make something that they can sell which is so much more to that. I think, I think really kind of showing people what, what the actual challenge is, up front you know, really kind of gives them the perspective of, you know if I want to do this and I want to do this right and make it work, I need to come up with a marketing strategy. I need to talk to potential customers. I need to go to product. I need to talk to them and make sure they want it. I need to come up with the operations plan to be able to deliver that product. You know I need to figure out how I’m going to do customer service. I need to figure out my accounting and my corporate structure. Really I think if people understand all those things then they'll know what they're getting into ahead of time. I think, a lot of people, like I have a friend, his name is, his name is Peter and he's trying to start a business for a massage therapist and I love the guy but he spends, he ends up spending nearly enough time to actually make the business happen. You know I met with him like a couple months ago and then I met with him again this week. Anyways, he hadn't really gotten anything done and I was like, Peter if you keep working at this rate it's going to take you three years to get your first product out. You need to really step it up. And I, I see a lot of guys like him that they want to do stuff like that and they work on stuff a little bit but they don't work on, they don't do enough work in a short enough period of time to really get anything off the floor.
Success Harbor: So I, I only have one more question but before that question I want to you know basically tell people how, give people an opportunity to contact you and get in touch with you, but you know what advice do you have for me, for my? You looked up my blog you know I interviewed over 50 entrepreneurs and you know you're very successful with your business and you know I, I, you know I want to take advice from you. If you have one advice or a couple of words for me, I, I, I would be, I would very much welcome it.
Matthew Paulson: Sure, I think with you, you're doing a great job of producing content. I love how many interviews you've done and your consistency in doing them and just to kind of write about the people that you've done I really applaud you for that. I think, you know, to really, I think you need to look for ways to maximize the content that you're producing. The question is, how can I get this content that I'm already producing into as many different places as possible so if I were you I'd be looking at getting, you know, versions of your interviews on YouTube. I would try to be creating maybe like an online course that has content from the videos that you have. I'd really make sure that I’m doing social media well. I'd make like a LinkedIn group for Success Harbor. You know obviously John Lee Dumez is a great example for how to promote a podcast well and he, he's done a great job in getting his content kind of all over the place and Pat Flynn is another great example and if you can get that content in just as many places as possible, that's you know, how you're going, how you’ll be able to build that audience as as fast as you can.
Success Harbor: Well thank you Matt and how can people connect with you and what's the best place to check more, get more information about you and contact you?
Matthew Paulson: Absolutely. So first thing I wanted to share is that I'm currently in the process of writing a book. It's called 40 Rules for Internet Business Success and it's going to be out on July 21st and if you want to learn more about the book, the domain name is fortyrulesbook.com. Right now just go to my website but if you're looking at this after July 21st of 2014 it'll go to, right to the Amazon page but basically the pitch is you know it's all the lessons I’ve kind of learnt in building my businesses during the last seven years so that you can kind of avoid some of the mistakes that I've made and kind of grow your business faster. So I have been posting some of the chapters on my website. It's mattpaulson.com and Paulson is P A U L S O N.com. So if you want to read, sample chapters now you can on my website or you can follow me on Twitter and my user ID is just matthewdp, D as in die, P as in pony.
Success Harbor: So Matt, thank you very much. Make sure you check him out mattpaulson.com and hopefully when your book publishes you reach back and I could, I could add that to the podcast notes so people can, so people can find it though my site as well.
Matthew Paulson: Sure. I will absolutely do that
Success Harbor: Thank you very much Matt and hopefully we can connect maybe in a year and see how your book does and see how the rest of the businesses are doing just to get an update.
Matthew Paulson: Absolutely I will look forward to that.
Success Harbor: Thank you Matt
Matthew Paulson: Alright, thanks George.
What does it take to increase your traffic by 300%? Are you frustrated with anemic traffic figures for your site? Find out how to rank #1 on Google with expert roundups. Richard Marriott is the creator of clambr, a site where he shares his secret blueprint for creating viral roundups. Listen to the following interview to find out how Richard increased his organic traffic by 348%.
Say hi to Richard at clambr.com.
Read Raw Transcript Now:
INTRO: Hello everybody and welcome to Success Harbor Broadcast with George Meszaros, where it is all about making success happen for you.
Success Harbor: Hello everyone. This is George Meszaros with Success Harbor and I have Richard Marriott with me. Richard is the man behind Clambr a blog that shows how to get your site discovered and increases popularity. Welcome.
Richard Marriott: Thank you George and thanks for having me.
Success Harbor: Thank for being here Richard. Let’s start out by talking about how you started your online career on Ebay, can you tell when you started and what you sold initially.
Richard Marriott: Yes, no problem. Basically I was doing a Chinese degree and I spent one year in China and I wanted to go back for another year as a kind of extra year abroad and to save up money to pay for that I needed to make some money pretty fast and so after working as a Waiter for a while I was counting my bank balance up and I realized I'm not gonna be able to save enough money so I jumped onto Ebay and started researching a little and found out that there is all these people selling clothes through China like Ralph Lauren, Abercrombie and all that stuff you know I didn’t if it was real or not at the time and then I thought oh I would set up an Ebay shop and see how it goes so I bought a load wholesale clothes from a supplier and then wacked up a load of adverts and then started selling them one by one.
Success Harbor: And then this was while you were in China or while you were in the UK?
Richard Marriott: This was first in the UK I had to pay for my plane ticket and everything the money started coming in. I got enough money to fund a year abroad in China and pay for college and that was done in literally about three months from Ebay and then I flew over to China and when I got to China I kind of scaled up the business. So, then, I decided to try and become the wholesale supplier rather than selling t-shirts individually. So I found a source myself and then in the early stages I used to drive my motorbike from one side of Beijing to the other to pick up all the orders I had on Ebay, and I had this massive workstack and I put like about 40 or 50 cashmere jumpers or t-shirts stuffed into the workstack and I would drive 1 hour across the other side of Beijing to this cheap Korea post office and package them all up and then send them to the UK or whatever. So it actually grew to become a bit kind of, how would you call it? It grew so much I had to actually employ someone to help me with it in the end and we then would literally shipped off 10 boxes a day of these wholesale clothes and making a hell of lot of money from it.
Success Harbor: So, when you mean wholesale, you mean you sold to businesses instead of consumers?
Richard Marriott: Basically, we sold to Ebay sellers, for example one guy wants to sell a lady a Ralph Lauren t-shirts, he needs to find a wholesale supplier. I’d sell to those guys on Ebay who needed the wholesale bulk and then they sell those individually, so it was all on Ebay, everything on Ebay.
Success Harbor: Okay and was shipping not too expensive to ship all that stuff from China to Europe?
Richard Marriott: It was very cheap back then because the exchange rate was really in our favor back then.
Success Harbor: Ok.
Richard Marriott: So, it was amazing like about $100 to send a box of I think maybe 20 t-shirts it was ridiculous it was so cheap.
Success Harbor: What year was that approximately?
Richard Marriott: That was in 2008.
Success Harbor: 2008. So, now there was there an issue, I read on your blog that the business ended as a result of the exchange rate and poor quality of products your fulfillment persons sent. Can you share how that happened?
Richard Marriott: Yes. That was pretty terrible actually. As soon as I got back to the UK I left the China end with my business partner, who was suppose to keep finding the same quality clothes and sending them back and everything. But, he started sending absolute crap in the post to these people who bought them and one by one we got huge complains on Ebay I got bad feedback and a few threats as well.
Success Harbor: Not life threatening I hope?
Richard Marriott: No, luckily not but a few kind of threats like blackmail, so I had to pull the plug on it on the entire thing then just scratch my brain to work out another way to make money. Because you know you want to have a good lifestyle at University so making money on the side was always something I used to do.
Success Harbor: And then u started selling mascots on Ebay?
Richard Marriott: That was a bit random, you see I got into mascots because I was really freaked out about the whole Ebay thing. Actually, customs came knocking at my door at one point and they wanted to ask me the origin of my clothes. I was a bit freaked out so I thought ok I got to find something that is totally legitimate and I am not going to get screwed over for.
Success Harbor: So did they think they were like knockoffs or counterfeit stuff, I mean or was it?
Richard Marriott: They might have been but I am still not 100% sure I knew they were made in the same factory and there apparently what you call second not sure what they call knockoffs. They are made in the same factory but they make them when the lights are turned off secretly.
Success Harbor: It’s funny because when I was in China just before the Olympics we bought stuff, not me, but some people bought some things that were actually was you said made in the same factory.
Richard Marriott: Yes.
Success Harbor: I think it was north phase or something really expensive stuff and when the boss would stop these people would come up to the bus and they said, I don't know if it is true. They said all this stuff was made in the same factory that the stuff you buy in the US, I don’t know if it’s true but it’s kind of crazy.
Richard Marriott: Yes, Yes I don't know if is true that at the time would like to think it's true and I believe it was true. Yeah, that's all I needed.
Success Harbor: So, the mascots and why mascots?
Richard Marriott: Well, I kind of liked animals I found them pretty amusing and also, there were lot of people selling them on Ebay but they had really crappy adverts and I don't think people could trust a lot of the sellers on Ebay and it just looked like easy business and the mark up was pretty good on each costume so, yes, so just into mascots. It was a bit random the whole choice but it made a few bob each month to be able to give me a good life at University, play poker and what not.
Success Harbor: Ok. Then, after I guess this was after you graduated from University you went into the steel business and you wrote kind of a dog eat world decided to change the way you sell steel by moving it online. How long did it take you to see that the way that these guys are selling steels is not the best?
Richard Marriott: Yes. Well, it didn't take me long actually, after about three months of working in the company I was just sitting around each day looking at what we were doing to get sales and it just was really inefficient to me. So basically what the sales team would every day they go on the internet, try and find some steels suppliers around the world and then they write a standard template email which was absolute crap most of the time and they'd just send the 100 emails a day to try to find customers and that really caught any fish. Unfortunately, the sales team I was working with, their level of English was very poor. So they couldn't make sales calls either so they literally relied on email for everything and it just dawn on me, wait a minute, why can't we get the customers to find us instead of wasting all this time trying to find them and then we could focus more on selling.
Success Harbor: And what year was this?
Richard Marriott: I think it was 2012.
Success Harbor: So in 2012, there was really no online way of buying steel?
Richard Marriott: Well, there was but the thing is there was no website competing. So people could rank on online these steels keywords but the thing is websites were absolutely appalling, they'd be doing some very very bad SEO and I mean they were people doing it but we worked out a way where we could out rank everybody pretty fast and then turn all those visitors into leads. It's amazing the steel niche if you looked in that niche, that industry, all the websites are incredible tired and outdated and so we just thought let's quickly make something new and then get inquiries every day.
Success Harbor: Yes, that's so interesting because you're talking about this billion dollar industry and everybody is thinking about weight loss and personal finance when it comes to websites and a lot of people ignore these huge opportunities and I would imagine this is one of the many.
Richard Marriott: Oh my gosh honestly if I had time and if I had the team of people right now I would make a big kind of steel portal website because there is nothing out there.
Success Harbor: Wow.
Richard Marriott: Then I would drive a load of links to it, bump up some press and then just you would be able to sell it on so much it’s like all the Chinese supplies at the moment they are still using very outdated techniques for example you know Alibaba.
Richard Marriott: Yes, so they were all going onto there, Alibaba, paying Alibaba thousands and thousands a year to get premium listings which basically puts their keywords at the top but all they need to do is make really high quality website with good content and they would outrank anyone but they are not doing that they are still using the old methods so that’s just one little niche that's ready to be absolutely slaughtered but I know there are hundreds more of it just like that.
Success Harbor: Incredible.
Richard Marriott: Amazing isn't it?
Success Harbor: Incredible. Now, with the success of your steel and they are few other sides that you have worked with approximately at the same time you wrote that you became an SEO addict.
Richard Marriott: Yes.
Success Harbor: So. Was SEO was new to you at that point as well or where what was happened at that point?
Richard Marriott: It was very new I was always knew about SEO and I got one of my friends to help me on the SEO for my little mascot website I ran a while ago. So I knew about it and then what I did first actually when I made these websites for this Chinese company, I made the website, wrote the content and got all the conversion things sorted out on the websites like big buttons and funnel for getting leads. Then I had actually had to employ an SEO but luckily I had read enough about SEO that when it came to interviewing guys for the job I found one that was actually pretty good and he did a really good job but before then I'd read about SEO, I knew about it but I had never actually done it myself and only onsite SEO which is what I did for the websites and then when they employed this guy, he did the link building.
Success Harbor: Ok. So, let’s talk SEO today this is 2014 and obviously changes all the time and there are all kinds of Google updates you know, Panda to this and that basically and you know it’s a major challenge for a lot of people because people have limited time and sometimes because there are so many things to do you don’t know what the heck to put your time into. So if you take a brand new blog, like you take mine Success Harbor or any other blog you know I have been online for a few months, what should I focus my time on? Because obviously, there is an infinite different number of things you can do right?
Richard Marriott: Yes.
Success Harbor: So, if you only have time, maybe an hour a day or a few hours a week what should we focus on?
Richard Marriott: Well I will say, your site Success Harbor, one of the things you could do dramatically, immediately to get a better SEO would be to transcript of your audio, videos into words. So for example get all the content written out, that would be a good thing because then you would be able to rank a lot higher for these experts you interview.
Success Harbor: I started that as a first, it's time consuming; you're talking about thousands of pages of content right off the bat you know with all the interviews. So transcribing is good, so you suggest it for everyone if it’s a video on their site or audio. Transcribe it as soon as possible make it crawlable.
Richard Marriott: Exactly. Make it crawlable.
Success Harbor: What else?
Richard Marriott: It's is amazing because we found recently that time spent on pages now I think is one of the biggest factors and in the new niche site we made for example, we have five big power pages and these power pages, some of them have 8,000 words some have 18,000 words which is unbelievable right? We found that we were able to rank those simply by first getting a lot of traffic to those posts and then just people spending ages on the page and then Google see these signals and then after that, after only building just a few links, those pages skyrocketed up Google because you know Google knows the high quality pieces of content and so the main focus these days should be to make your page be the ultimate best resource online possible with as many words as you can and also to make sure it’s very nicely split up so it goes step by step through the posts.
Success Harbor: Ok. So, transcribing would be one thing. What else can bloggers do?
Richard Marriott: Transcribing videos as well of course to keep time on site, it’s all about sticky content I think at the moment because as you know people's attention spans are getting shorter and shorter and they just jump off a page and in few seconds or whatever if they are not grabbed. So what we focus on now is trying to grab the user in, so if you going to give them some secret advise, you've just got to keep adding some "keep on reading because later I am going to reveal this or blah blah blah". Just keep them glued to the page and it's a huge ranking factor.
Success Harbor: Ok. What other things can bloggers do or anyone with a website for that manner? Transcripts, sticky content, what else do you have?
Richard Marriott: Well, at the moment, I also to do a lot of link building at which is the bulk of my work I really think. I mean a lot of people these days, obviously some like to focus on social media for example and they are experts at social media but I have a to be a bit honest, I'm a little bit of a sociopath so I think a bit of a bad thing running a blog. I can't deal all the noise the constant going on and trying post every hour or what not and retweeting and all this so the way I get around this, is I focus this pretty much 90% my time on emailing people cause I find that emailing people you can solve everything. For example if you want to get your post tweeted loads or loads of Facebook likes, you just email all those influences who you know have big social followings and share the post with them and maybe link out the new posts and then get them to do that work for you so then you don’t have to worry about spending all day on Facebook or Twitter or trying to schedule your tweets out. Instead you send very targeted emails to the influences you know can cause a lot of shares to your post, email them and get them to do it for you. I find this works with everything and also for example for using Reddit, a lot of the time in the niche I'm working in and other niche is I'll find out who in that niche shares a lot does a lot of stuff on Reddit and whose got a lot of karma and everything and then when I got an important post I will get them to post the Reddit link for me and then I'll email it.
Success Harbor: How does that work?
Richard Marriott: It's quite easy you just maybe give them a link from your post and then you hit them up. "Hey man, I linked you from my post, oh by the way I noticed your really active on Reddit. I don't actually have a Reddit account myself I'd love it if you'd help share the link for me. Then, they share that link and because people on Reddit don't like it when you share your own stuff. And then what I will do is I will go on to Fiverr somewhere that and buy a load up votes. This is pretty cool, I've don't this a lot of times, you can pay people to up vote on Reddit and then these people would go on Reddit and up vote that post and then if the link stays at the top of that for a long time you get a heap of traffic. Then if you got sticky content and people are reading that post when they get it free from Reddit then that's giving loads more signals to Google that it's high quality content and then after that you just build a few links and it's just the magic formula I found.
Success Harbor: And do you use some kind of software for your link building and outreach knowing people that you would recommend or it is still the old fashion way?
Richard Marriott: Yes. I do actually use a special software it called Buzz Stream I actually use them a lot and write about them on my blog you could schedule your emails, you could make sure you don't accidentally reach out to the same person again, also you can make really personal sounding emails very quickly with all these kinds of drag and drop fields. So I do everything through that software.
Success Harbor: Ok. So, it makes the process faster, easier to manage the work for you. Ok so you know I like that because I have actually interviewed several people that don't do anything with social media and they still have tons of traffic they make a lot of money, they have a lot of influence and I like to hear that because I think sometimes people think you have to do the same thing that other people do but so many options out there.
Richard Marriott: Your totally right there George, I mean with social media, if your an expert on social media, go for it, if that your thing, if you love hanging around Facebook all day then for sure. But there are definitely other ways of doing it and sometimes the oldest tricks in the book like emailing is the best way, it's behind the scenes, no one knows what you’re up to but the most important thing is traffic right? Finding the best way to get traffic is definitely more valuable and then getting those people onto your list.
Success Harbor: So if I want to get a thousand visitors per day to Success Harbor, what do I need to do in the first 24 months? Basically you mentioned transcribing, sticky content, link building using something like Buzz Stream maybe then Reddit as you mentioned, reach out to people, influencers on Reddit. Anything else or do you think that's the secret recipe or not secret but that's the recipe to get there?
Richard Marriott: Yes. I mean what you could do is, obviously you've interviewed a ton of really big names on your site, some really cool people. So if you get those posts transcribed and maybe you can outsource that to someone on Odesk or something and save you the time and then just Google that person's name, get everything single site that has ever mentioned that person ever in the history of time or you don't have to do that but get a large amount. Then I'd go and email those people and ask them to perhaps add a link to their page where they have talked about that a particular person you interviewed and then 100% thing should be to try and rank for some of these experts' names so if you put all the experts names into Google and then find out who’s getting searched the most and start with them and just keep on going like that.
Success Harbor: Ok. That's great advise, I like it because it is kinda like old fashion like working with the email its a little bit different I think a lot of people don't really want to do that kind of stuff anymore. I interview so many people and networking is really what comes up over and over and over. Just reach out to people, get to know people, be useful to other people, network network network, it’s so valuable today, you mentioned I've interviewed so many people it's funny because I looked on new and noteworthy and I am on the top page, I am actually on the top row and it's the first time that's happened and I am up there with Tim Ferris who I really like and a whole bunch of other people that I follow and followed over the years and books that I have read and you know. It has nothing to do with the interview but I just came to mind, that I am kind of stoked about it.
Richard Marriott: Yes, that's absolutely awesome.
Success Harbor: So you had a post you made on May 14 about building a site in just 90 days to get to get 9,000 dollars in revenue per month. I read that today you have about 500 visitors, probably more than that since u wrote it. Where you are with that project in terms of revenue and what is your strategy to grow the traffic to that site?
Richard Marriott: Ok. That's great. I love to talk about this as well. Ok so I was very naive when I went into the whole project, I was like we're going to make 9K in 90 days and it was a catchy title but I think a bit too naive at the beginning. But we've seen some amazing growth in the last month or so, what we done basically at first was we created a huge amount of content, so we launched a site on at the end.
Success Harbor: When you say huge amount does it mean those really longs posts that you talk about the multi thousand words or is this the very many posts or separate posts?
Richard Marriott: Ok. So, 16 posts in total when we launched the site, it was a bit of a crazy thing to do but we launched with 16 posts and some of them were 3k some of them were 5k but most of them were 1.5K long as average. But then what we did was after the site launched and we showed it was pretty quality site, we then did a couple of expert round ups and that was to create really huge pieces of content, these power pages and then after the round ups went out -I think that was in February- we then just went on massive link building binge as it were. So we have already got the content, we were already pre-emailing most of the important keywords in their niche so now I mean focus is just to build the links and get those up Google. What happened, we are now taking in over 750 visits a day and I think we are going to hit the 1,000 mark in a couple of weeks if we continue at this at this rate because I posted that post in May, we were at 500 visits and it's gradually growing.
Success Harbor: So, you give us an idea of how many links you mentioned you wanted to a link building bing. How many links have you built let’s say you are very close to a 1,000 so just say to get 1,000 visitors a day. How many links did you have to build?
Richard Marriott: Well, the answer is I can't use this word because it is a swear word but it begins with a "F" and ends with a "K" and the next word is" ALL" so "F -ALL" honestly hardly any links whatsoever what I have done is focused on creating the best possible links I can get so when I find a page I really want to link on, what I will work out a strategy to get that one link and from a main power page which is 18,000 long. All I did was actually build about 6 links to that power page but they were all really hard earn links.
Success Harbor: Okay, so give us an idea like in that niche or whatever if you don't want talk about particular niche you could talk about business. How do you identify? I think some people have to build 1000 links for anything to happen but this sounds very doable to me but give us an idea of how you found those links, what makes a really good site for you to use and then how do you reach on to those sites?
Richard Marriott: Okay. Well, what I want to first is find is a post from a very high quality website so to make sure a website's quality I use Majestic SEO or interest and I will check the domain to see if it’s got some good domain authority with most and then I will make sure it's a quality website. Now with that it’s very important the link isn't contextual. By that I mean if your going to do a post for example on dog training, you want it to rank for dog training. Then you want to find an article that's very high up on Google where they are writing a lot on dog training in the article and then if you can get a link on that post then that is going to be massive for you right. So what I do first is I want it to rank for a particular keyword which let's say was training poodles. So I typed in something like training poodles into Google and then variations of that and then I found some very authoritative blogs that wrote about that and then what I did was I work out a strategy on how I can get a link on that particular persons blog. Now, one way I did it when I find a link I really want.... Let me just quickly say what makes a really good link. Basically, the site has to have a very high authority so it has to be a good site with trusted site.
Success Harbor: Do you use something like Moz? How do I know what site has high authority?
Richard Marriott: Okay, at the moment I like to use Majestic SEO actually because they have this thing call trust flow and it shows you how trustworthy the site is so it means its got a lot of good links and trustworthy sites and its got a good link neighborhood and the matrix on Majestic will show you that. So you want to look for sites like anything above a trust flow of 10 and then anything above that. A really site would be much higher so much higher than 10 like 14 or 15 or whatever so that would be a high trust flow. For interest as well a really good site would be like Aetrex rank say 80 or anything between 60 and 80 would be really good so if you read up on those numbers you work out roughly what it is they are varying, different software.
Success Harbor: Okay. That gives a good idea so now we know that first we would have something to do with our niche and it has good authority so those are the first things then what happens?
Richard Marriott: Also if the page is writing a lot about your topic then that's awesome, if you can get a link on that page then you know it's not for example if I was wanting a link from training poodles, then if I got a link on very a trustworthy site that for example was Techcrunch but the article is all about mobile phones, then yes its a high authority site but that link wouldn't help much because it’s on a page which is totally unrelated. So it's also very important to get a contextual link so within text of someone who's writing about a topic. So I will tell you how I got one of these links, there was this page I really I really wanted a link on, so what I did was I looked at this persons website and I put them through a tool Screaming Frog SEO Spythetal. Basically in this tool you can find out which of the pages on this persons site has broken links so I put the entire site through this tool and I found out any of their pages that had issues; for example an image missing for a link or whatever. Then what I did was I actually included this person in an expert round up, so I included them in an interview a bit earlier on, a month before and so then they knew me they knew like we're cool, we already given them a link on this cool page. Then what I did I'd just go back and then I sent them a massive report of all the problems with their site and said what they should do to change them and this didn’t take long, it took almost an hour and then what I said was by the way you got this awesome page on training poodles you wouldn't perhaps mind adding our link to the anchor text for poodles? They said yes sure of course you just helped me out with my entire site of course I will give you the link. So that the way we earned that one, but after getting that link, we shifted up Google pretty much the entire page within a very short space of time and then it's just links like that. I also got a link on someone's home page widget which is crazy, they put a link to our site from their homepage and on every page of their blog. I did that by pretending I was a girl and being really flirty and it took a few emails but I went in there and said this is Natalie or whatever and I kind of warmed up to them and they put the link on their homepage widget. So its just different tactics for different kind of links and that's the way I do it, just emailing people.
Success Harbor: Be useful, provide value, and give before you ask for something. So you know these are so simple ideas but I don't know people forget those, it makes sense to me. I have a few more questions I know we went over 30 minutes. I hope that's okay I have a few more questions, can you stay for two more minutes?
Richard Marriott: Yes, no worries.
Success Harbor: These are some general entrepreneurial questions. You've been in business for years and it's really important for our audience to hear what your opinion on these things is. What is the most important thing for an entrepreneur to do during the first 12 months of being in business in your opinion?
Richard Marriott: Ok. The first 12 months?
Success Harbor: Yes because let me tell you why it’s important to me most businesses fail and they fail within the first 1 year right? So what can they do in other words to help them stay in business? Because that is a really crucial time.
Richard Marriott: Yes. For sure as long as it takes, don't launch that business until you fully research the market and know your way in, that's the first bit of advice. Before you even think of starting a website or anything, make sure you properly have researched the market and find a special angle you can go in, which is totally different to everyone else. Otherwise you will just get lost amongst all the noise and I'd also recommend heavily networking even in the research stage before you launch a business, so drive up a lot of excitement to the people in that industry. So you haven't even launched a blog yet but they're already getting excited. So then when you do launch, you're not just going to go off like a lead balloon, that's one of the first I do and then once you do launch continue the networking.
Success Harbor: So networking, prepare and make connections even before you actually start your business and the research part and respect the business so you know exactly what you are getting into?
Richard Marriott: Yes. Exactly. Definitely, initially I would recommend if we are talking keywords, go after some much less competitive keywords in your first posts and then once you built up a few links to site and you got a more authority, then chase the more competitive keywords cause it would be easier for you to rank once you've got some links site, some authority, people are interested. Then you can find out all of the linkages from your other posts that you already launch to those new big posts which you are targeting harder keywords and that will give you much better chance of ranking to those.
Success Harbor: So what do you think is the biggest time waster for entrepreneurs? This could be in your experience in your own business or what you see around from all the people that you know in business?
Richard Marriott: I definitely say the biggest timewaster is trying to do too many things at once. When your getting into blogging, it can be so overwhelming, you read posts "oh this guy should be telling me I should be doing this I should be getting on Tumblr and Pinterest. This guy is saying I should increase my Twitter followers, this guy is saying get on YouTube set up YouTube account” I mean the most important thing to do, things like that for example dabbling in different things at the beginning, what you need to do is just focus on mainly one social network at a time or mainly one a particular strategy at a time rather than spreading yourself thin. I think too many people try to get popular on the different social networks, they waste too much time on that, when they should just be focusing on building up their traffic. So the biggest waste of time is just letting all the noise get to you and stopping you from assuming what you originally set out to do. I'm sure so many times, I'm sure you have experience it George, you are on a course to do something and someone something in your ear saying oh you've got to be doing this and then you stop half way through what you're originally doing, try something else and then once you done that you know you're just in a mess right?
Success Harbor: Yes it makes sense to me try to stay focused and don't get distracted.
Richard Marriott: For sure yes.
Success Harbor: If you could train someone, say you have a friend or someone in the family that sees your success as an entrepreneur and they have a job now they want to try to become a entrepreneur, what would you teach that person if you could train that person to be successful entrepreneur, what would be the first thing you would teach them?
Richard Marriott: I think that the first thing would be to teach them how to maybe...... you need to cut this George I am trying to think.
Success Harbor: No it's good I appreciate it when you think about it that means there is value.
Richard Marriott: First thing to teach them?
Success Harbor: There are people that succeed and there are people, that fail there are people that can build businesses over and over and they know just have it down. What do you think is one thing? I am sure there are more than one but what is one of those things?
Richard Marriott: I think one of those things would be to teach them how to respect their competition, not sure if that sounds right.
Success Harbor: No. it's good, respect the competition.
Richard Marriott: Yes, respect the competition, learn from the competition. You might think oh I am going to do a business, a new bakery site and I am just going to beat everyone up, my idea is so good, I'm gonna kill everyone. But if you don't respect your competition then if you go full in and you just launch your idea and expect it work and it doesn’t work and it fails and you end up scratching your head thinking why the hell did it fail, such a good idea? If you didn't actually research the market to see how your competition is doing it and actually realize that they were doing it that way because that way works rather than thinking oh my way is going to work then you're not going to screw up. So respect your competition. Even if you think they are not doing things right, they obviously are doing some things right because that's why they're there now and that's why they are successful. So no matter how crap or lame you think a competitor’s business is or how much you can beat them, they are doing something right, they are the ones ranking Google right and currently making money, so respect the competition. I guess that would be the first thing.
Success Harbor: Yes that's good I appreciate when you think about it and it doesn’t come out that easy because that means you actually think about it so it has good value. So how can people connect with you or learn more about you Richard?
Richard Marriott: Okay. You can head on over to my blog which is Clambr.com that basically is the word clamber as in clamber up without the "e”, I could not buy the domain name with the "e" obviously because it was bloody expensive and then the second you could do is follow me on Twitter @clambr. Those are basically the two places that you could find me. I've also just launched a brand new YouTube channel called Clambrup where I'm going to be releasing plenty of high speed link building video tutorials which show you exactly how I build links and rank my sites. So that's how you can find me.
Success Harbor: Yes, that's sounds great, you know may be at some point check about that niche site that your working on at the moment maybe in 6 months or a year I would like to give an update to my audience to maybe some of the things we have learnt from you to go through that process. Everything you told me was really awesome and I really like the actionable items that you talked about so I very much appreciate and I'm sure our audience as well.
Richard Marriott: This has been an absolute blast, I really enjoyed it and yes I would love to update you when this niche site is making loads of money and hopefully that's gonna be soon.
Success Harbor: Okay Richard and I'm not just saying it, really reach out to me, let's hear when you reach that 9000 or get close to it. Ping me and we will either do another one these or appendix or whatever but I definitely want to give an update because you know I think you have some really good ideas and I wanna share it with people.
Richard Marriott: Cheers man, that's brilliant. That's for sure I will put it in my diary right now.
Success Harbor: Thank You Richard.
Richard Marriott: Okay. Cheers George.
What does it take to be a suitcase entrepreneur? Natalie Sisson is the founder of The Suitcase Entrepreneur. She built her life and business around freedom. Natalie is a writer, author, speaker, blogger and fun-loving, down to earth entrepreneur. Natalie travels the world as she runs her business from her laptop. I am especially excited to have Natalie on Success Harbor since I have been reading her blog for years. I always found it fascinating that she is building her business from exotic locations around the world.
Say hi to Natalie at suitcaseentrepreneur.com.
Read Raw Transcript Now:
INTRO: Hello everybody and welcome to the Success Harbor Podcast with George Meszaros, where it’s all about making success happen for you.
Success Harbor: Hi everyone this is George Meszaros with Success Harbor and I have Natalie Sisson with me. Natalie is the founder of the Suitcase Entrepreneur. Natalie is a writer, author, speaker, blogger and fun loving down to earth entrepreneur. Natalie travels the world as she runs her business from her laptop. I’m excited to have her with us today, welcome.
Natalie Sisson: Thank you, thank you for having me.
Success Harbor: Thank you for being here. I’ve been reading your blog for years and watched your videos and been following you for a long time so it’s a real honor to have you on my podcast.
Natalie Sisson: Oh, thank you I didn’t actually know that, that’s very cool.
Success Harbor: Since 2006 when you left your hometown in New Zealand, you had a life of freedom. You’ve been living out of your suitcase, how do you manage the perfect life or how did you imagine the perfect life back in 2006 and is the life you live now, what you had in mind back then?
Natalie Sisson: Actually 2006 is when I left New Zealand and headed off to London England to find a job and also do more travel but since then, is it the life that I was expecting? No not really but I definitely wanted to travel more and I wanted more freedom in my life and I think it’s better than I could’ve ever expected or imagined in my own mind. It was really 2010 when I started living out of my suitcase, which kind of came about just through me wanting more freedom and wanting to do what I wanted; when I wanted from where I wanted so it’s been a pretty amazing journey and I’m very happy with how it’s going.
Success Harbor: And I read on your blog I believe, that in 2009 you started a cool tech business, what was that business?
Natalie Sisson: Yeah, it was late 2008. It’s called ‘Fund Raiser’ it’s the Facebook application; it’s actually a fund-raising application, the #1 on Facebook and the company is called ‘Connection Points’ so we started as a tech company to build an application that would allow people to make easy online payments and fees, etc. etc. and really it was just a complete, for me, dive into the entrepreneurial deep end and try and figure out everything like how to create an app, how to work with Facebook with changes overtime, how to deal with payment applications, how to build a customer base from scratch, how to build a team of developers, get customers, use social media, it’s a really great learning experience for me in my first foray into entrepreneurship.
Success Harbor: Is that business still online or running?
Natalie Sisson: Yes it’s definitely still running. They’re into year 4 or 5 and they’re profitable now and they have over a million users with the app so I’m really, really proud of the team.
Success Harbor: Wow that’s pretty cool. Now in December of 2010, you have rebranded the suitcase entrepreneur to focus both on man and woman. Initially you only focused on female entrepreneurs, what caused the pivot?
Natalie Sisson: The reason I initially focused on female entrepreneurs is, in the tech sector it’s just heavily male-dominated and it still is, so for me I wanted to interview and talk to and learn from women entrepreneurs, founders, CEO’s etc. who’s done really well and what caused the shift is that I realized as I became more of the suitcase entrepreneur and living this kind of designer lifestyle or location independence, there were a lot more men who were capable or able to do this and often younger men who’d be traveling the world with their laptops doing that more so than women who will often be with a partner or maybe not wanting to travel quite the same way. Now I think that’s changing but it’s still, I guess in some ways, more prominent that guys would be doing that and I just found more men entering my community and so really I was always writing to anybody who was interested in entrepreneurship and specifically doing it from anywhere but I just found I was getting more and more attention and feedback from guys so I made it more relatable to anybody who wanted to pack up their business and travel the world.
Success Harbor: And when you started the suitcase entrepreneur what were your goals? What did the suitcase entrepreneur look like in your dream or the perfect world; what were your goals back then?
Natalie Sisson: I don’t know if I had a really clear cut plan but the minute I realized that I’d run a workshop in Vancouver, Canada that I could turn that physical workshop into an online program and the minute I made a few sales and recognized wow, I could actually make money online by packaging great knowledge and information that people actually want, then that’s when I kind of settled it in my mind to, “Wow, I could actually live somewhere else”, so I flew off to Buenos Aires, Argentina and also I guess I can do it here where they speak Spanish and the internet’s not that great then, maybe I can do this from anywhere and maybe I don’t have to have a base ever so I think from there it became clear to me what was possible. And it was actually in January last year when I put together my painted picture, which is my vision for my business in life for the next three years as if it’s already happened, that’s when I got really, really clear on what’s possible, the impact I wanted to make, how many entrepreneurs I wanted to help to create freedom of business and adventure in life so it wasn’t like clear cut from the beginning at all.
Success Harbor: So how important is it for everybody you think, to come up with that clear vision of what is their goal and how often do you think people actually do that?
Natalie Sisson: I think it’s ridiculously important and unfortunately George, I don’t think they do it enough at all so it’s actually something that I take all my clients through now. My coaching clients, customers in my program, I’ve got a pilot program coming out and it’s going to feature really heavily because I think the #1 reason people aren’t doing what they want is because they actually don’t know what they want to be doing. So for me, it was really important that I always had a pretty clear vision of where I wanted to head but by putting that out there publicly online saying here’s where I think I’d love to be in three years as if it’s already happening, like with the best-selling book and all the stuff that I wrote in it and it was just incredible for me because by the end of the year 60% of that has come true and that just shows you how powerful it is when you get clear and you write it down and you put it out there, what you will actually do to make that happen and come true.
Success Harbor: And so how did you initially create awareness about the suitcase entrepreneur?
Natalie Sisson: How did I create a way that initially. . .
Success Harbor: Yeah, like how did you market it, how did you build a following? I mean, it’s one of the most important aspects of any business so how did you do it?
Natalie Sisson: A lot of hard work and hustle initially, offline and online, I would go to a lot of networking events, I would talk about the kind of work I was doing online; I was learning everything I could about blogging, out of writing really great headlines, creating great content. I started dabbling with podcasting myself, I started putting out videos, I was guest posting, I was commenting on other peoples post, I was introducing myself to influencers and I was just really working hard to understand and learn exactly what it takes to market online; in addition to what I’ve learnt at Fund Raiser because really we built that business online through social media, so I took all that stuff that I’d learnt, I took my eight years in the corporate world of doing marketing and branding and business development. And then I took my online learning and just really up scaling myself and taking courses or programs or going to events where ever I could to just make myself known, to become visible and to start to make, kind of waves in the online community so there was a lot of combinations or factors there really.
Success Harbor: So how long did it take you to get your 1st customer, your first paying customer?
Natalie Sisson: Actually it was in the first year, in the first 4 or 5 months, right about the time I was coming down to having zero money. I picked up a consulting client who needed help with their start-up with leveraging social media. So I didn’t really want to go the client-consulting route but it was good money, it was an area that I felt I could add a lot of value to and then not long after that client and understanding what they needed from me and their pain points and their questions around social media and developing a business start-up through it, is when I did my workshops and so I actually ran three sell out workshops in a row and Vancouver made about $15,000 and was like “Ok, now I’m off and running”, and from that came my first digital online program, so it was 6 months of earning nothing.
Success Harbor: So let’s talk about that 6 months because I think a lot of people quit when that happens right so what kept you going? Were you disappointed? Were you just, you know say, “Yea, this might take me 2 years, this might take me a year”, were you ok with that? What were your thought processes back then and how did you feel about your business before you got your first paying clients or your first few paying clients?
Natalie Sisson: I wasn’t disappointed because this was my first real attempt at running my own business outside of being a co-founder. I thought it was probably one of the scariest and most exciting things at the same time but I was really determined. Like, there was no way I was going back into the corporate world, I could take a job at any time and probably get paid really well but that to me just felt like a cop-out and an excuse. Perfect time and opportunity to prove to myself that I was capable of doing my own thing but I wouldn’t say necessarily that I thought of myself as an entrepreneur or a business woman for those 6 to 9, 12 months; just because I was just trying to learn everything and figure it out and often I think in that first 6 to 12 months you feel like you don’t know anything. You doubt all the things that you think you do know and yeah, it was definitely the most defining and toughest months. So I think I was really lucky at that time, I actually took on a mentor; became part of a, sort of a mentoring program because having somebody to talk to and kind of go “Oh my God I’m not going crazy”, was really useful for me.
Success Harbor: Was that a formal mentoring process or was it just someone that you reached out to and periodically talk to or email back and forth?
Natalie Sisson: It was a formal mentoring process that I did when I was still working at Fund Raiser through the Women Entrepreneurs Foundation, but then I always kept in touch with that mentor and also just all the people that I’ve met in my time in Vancouver. I was just quite strategic about reaching out to a couple who I thought were really supportive and just asking them if I could meet up once a month or every couple of months for coffee and just talk about a specific area that I was challenged by. And then I started meeting more entrepreneurs who I made an effort to hang out with and meet up with often just to share our experiences.
Success Harbor: So what do you think is more important initially for you to feel some level of success? Revenue or recognition or let’s say if you were trying to guest post and getting accepted to other blogs and websites, what do you think is a good early win for somebody?
Natalie Sisson: That’s a really good question. I mean obviously revenue means that you have a legitimate business. If you’ve got revenues flowing in the door, that’s a good thing and you’ve got to be proud of that, but I think for me it was probably more recognition and if anything, it was external recognition and then my own internal recognition that “You know what Natalie, you’ve done this on your own, you’ve managed to achieve this so that’s awesome, now can we take it to the next step?” Think it’s a combination of things, obviously to be recognized by your peers or other people to say “Hey, this girl knows what she’s doing”, or getting customers on board who actually trust you and support you is a pretty incredible feeling but I think it really has to come from within.
Success Harbor: So being a woman who’s trying to build a business do you think you had more challenges? What are some of the challenges that you had, you think, because you’re a woman as opposed to being a man in the business world?
Natalie Sisson: That’s a great question you know, not enough people ask that. Yes I think there’s a ton of challenges. I still feel, in the business world in particular, it’s heavily now dominated across so many industries and women in general have to fight harder and sometimes we’re our own worst enemies and there were a ton of supportive guys in my community and my world who were excellent, smart, strategic business men, same for woman, but I do think we do have to fight harder in general. Sometimes that’s because we doubt ourselves more, we don’t take as many risks initially or we don’t necessarily, what I found often, is charge enough or promote ourselves enough. Men are excellent at networking and they’re really good at promoting themselves and standing up for what they believe in and saying here’s what I’m really good at. Women are more thinking about community, other people etc. and wanting to help. So yeah, I think I’ve written so many articles on this because I find it a fascinating topic but in general yeah, I’d love to have some more, I guess, a few more leg ups and a few more wins for women really because often in the media world as well, men are often promoted far more heavily and when you look at online influences or even offline influences it’s often the proliferation of men and I think there needs to be more women seen there because there are so many doing incredible work.
Success Harbor: There are a lot of influencers out there and they are both men and women but I think there are a lot more men so, if you are a woman and you’re trying to start a business, want to become an entrepreneur, do you think it’s better to get advice from a female entrepreneur, somebody that has been there and done that?
Natalie Sisson: I would actually say both. I feel like men and women have a different perspective. I think from a support perspective, from really understanding what challenges they faced, it’s great to have a woman there but ultimately, the best support and mentoring you can get, is from somebody who’s in the industry of the business that you are in or going into that has done and achieved what you want to achieve because they’re going to be able to fast-track you there. So I think it really comes down to the right person for the job that has--, that you admire and has done what you want to do.
Success Harbor: So I’m very, very interested in the first one year of being in business in general because so many businesses fail and I think the first 12 months is so crucial, everything from trying to generate revenue, getting customers and structuring your business the right way. What do you think are some of the greatest challenges businesses face during the first 12 months or maybe what do you think they should be focusing on in the first 12 months?
Natalie Sisson: Great question, so many things.
Success Harbor: There are probably a million different things, just maybe a few that comes to mind.
Natalie Sisson: Actually I think it comes back to that vision thing, so I think a lot of people when they start out, it’s so busy just trying to learn all the ins and outs of running a business, you know? You’re the CEO, you’re wearing every single hat possible and you barely have time to look at the business, let alone work on it, you’re just involved in it. So I would suggest that, that is the definitive year of which you actually do need to step back and have a look at what you really want to achieve because you’ll get there a lot faster. It always seems like, “No, no I don’t have time, I’ve got to work on all these things”, but if you actually gave yourself a weekend to really go, “What do I want for this business, what in my wildest dreams would be amazing success or how would I feel so proud if I achieved this?”, I think you’d get there a lot faster in that first year. The trouble is, you often don’t have that vision yet, you’re just trying to make ends meet or you’re just starting out and you’re excited but I really do feel in hind sight, which is a great thing to have, that’s actually the best year for you to go ahead and create some really serious plans and right focus on what you do want to achieve and also start surrounding yourself with the right people who are going to help you achieve it.
Success Harbor: Today, according to your website, you have 9 sources of revenue, which is very impressive and makes perfect sense to me or anyone, I think. Tell me what were some of the early challenges of generating revenue with your business and you described that this was kind of an organic development for your business but how did you come up with all these different ideas? What do you think is the most effective? Do you think it’s necessary to have 9 different or multiple revenue sources?
Natalie Sisson: That’s a lot of questions.
Success Harbor: Yeah, sorry. I was going in a circle and I had to stop.
Natalie Sisson: In a nutshell, yes, they were organic revenue streams and my advice to people is obviously to pick the ones that are initially the easiest to implement and that will bring you the immediate form of revenue because most people in the first year, that’s what they need. So for me…
Success Harbor: So what were those for you?
Natalie Sisson: Generally it’s a service based thing, so consulting, coaching, teaching, whatever it is that you can do right now and offer as a service through your skills, your knowledge, your products, your service, whatever it is and being able to get that out to market most quickly so in my instance it was coaching. For other people that may be web designing, a nutritional consultancy, personal training, whatever it may be. And then from there, I think it’s really smart to go about creating packages, products or offerings that don’t necessarily need you as actively involved so you can scale yourself. That might be group coaching, it might be an online program related to what you do. It could be a product, physical or digital. So the things whereby you can set it up, you can market it, you can put in the work. You can launch it, which is a huge amount work in itself but once it’s there, it’s really a matter of continuing to promote and having it sort of on auto pilot depending on what you’ve created and that just allows you to have a bit more residual revenue, whereby you’re not always having to push or get new clients or take on new work in order to actually have revenue. And from there for me, I really just looked at well, what are these other things that I’m doing that would relate? So affiliate marketing became important when I realized that I had credibility, people trusted in me and that I was already recommending products and services that I used and I could do that and actually earn a commission. So, that was something that I learned and wasn’t taking very seriously but now it’s a pretty lucrative part of my business. I started getting sponsorships when I had a bit more of an audience and not even a huge audience but I started realizing my key skill was networking with companies and businesses that I really liked working with and that they would actually come on and support a brand and a personal brand there because I had a good audience and I had the right kind of skill set or I had the right way of going about promoting it in an ethical way. And then speaking and my book and retreats and workshops kind of came just as I grew in confidence with my businesses. I understood my audiences. I realized who I wanted to work with and how I wanted to work with them. Even though I travel all the time, I still love to meet people in person. I do some of my best work one to one or in groups or live and so it’s really important for me to have that mix of lives and active revenue streams as well as residual and passive revenue streams. So yeah, I think you work with what you’ve got and 9 may sound like a lot to people but not all of them have prominence throughout the year. I don’t priorities all of them and several of them become important depending on what I’m doing at whatever time. Some of them kind of just run in the background really well.
Success Harbor: Yeah I love businesses with multiple revenue streams too. It makes perfect sense. Can you talk a little bit about reaching out to sponsors and potential advertisers? How do you do it? What advice do you have for others? How should we approach it and also, you mentioned that initially you didn’t have that much traffic. How much traffic was that because I think sometimes people think I need to have 10,000 visitors a day before I can even consider getting advertisers and all that so, if you can share anything about that, that would be good.
Natalie Sisson: Well that would be nice, 10,000 a day; I don’t even have that now. When, at the time, I honestly think I had maybe 500-1000 people on my mailing list and maybe a couple thousand visitors a month but that point was I didn’t sell them on how big my community was. I sold them on the type of community I built and how engaged they were. So even though it was small, it was growing and it was the exact audience that they wanted to get in front of and I didn’t lie about my stats, I said it’s small and growing and it’s highly engaged, which it was, and they’re your exact ideal audience because of this business and I wasn’t asking for huge sums of money initially, I think I was asking for $150-$200 to be part of a tools book that I put together. I singled out the exact people I wanted to work with and once you could say “I have one or two on board”, the rest seem pretty keen to come on board and a couple of hundred dollars to a big company is nothing. So that was my first experimentation in paying for the complete design and kind of creation of this digital guide that I went on to sell for many years. And then when it came to my book that was easier because I did have more of a community but ultimately I just built great relationships with people. So for me sponsorships have often come from personally reaching out to people and connecting with and saying look, here is what I think would be a good fit but it doesn’t require as much of an audience as you think, it just requires you to really be able to visualize and see why it would be a good fit for them and pitching them in the way that makes most sense to them.
Success Harbor: So what do you think is the best method or what’s the best method for you to stay engaged with your audience and kind of keep the conversation going and to keep them excited about what you’re doing?
Natalie Sisson: I’d say care. So many people seem to just be building up a business or a community for the sake of making more money and they don’t actually care about the people in it so I cared deeply. I want to get results in my community. I want to share with them everything that I’m learning, whether it’s for free or paid. I give away 90% of everything I do. So recently I had my website--, just was screwed, it got taken down by a contractor, everything went wrong that could have and I turned around and wrote a mega post on every single step that other people could take to avoid having that done. And you know, I had so many emails from my community just saying “That’s so lovely of you to do, I can’t believe you had to go through that, thank you so much for sharing this because, I’ve gone and backed up my site now, I’ve gone and got CloudFlare, I’ve gone and done this, I’ve gone and got security measures”, and people really appreciate that. Turn up, do the work, provide tons of value and show people that you care and that you’re human.
Success Harbor: Is it through blog comments or is it through email, what do you think--?
Natalie Sisson: Everything really. I mean, I’m on social media, it’s a huge business tool for me, customer service marketing [line breaks 22:23-24] … answer all my emails from my community, not every single email that comes to me but from people who personally reach out and also I’m just available, not to the point of being at the top but I’m accessible and I’m down to earth so I will answer all my comments on my blog, I will answer them on social media, I will engage where my audience are at and I think they really appreciate that.
Success Harbor: And what are some of the best things that you can do for your website to date in this year 2014, to drive traffic to your site? What is working for you?
Natalie Sisson: You know, for me it’s 4 years of building up a reputation and continuing to show up and to do the work and I post my podcast on a Monday, my video on a Thursday, every Friday my email goes out so, I think for me, it’s about reliability, people really appreciate somebody who’s always there. There a lot of people who come and go, they put in the effort then they go away then they’re suddenly back. And you know what, people want that person to know, that they’re there and they can reach out and that they’re going to be there in 1 year or 2 years. So, I’d like to say that there’s a quick fix but I would say, turn up, be real, show value and put in the work, like be there on a daily basis, that honestly is how you build a community and I think a lot of people think it’s a quick win or a quick fix, you can’t buy people. You can buy likes and you can buy followers but you won’t be buying any loyalty or any equality so I always think it’s good to just turn up and do the work.
Success Harbor: Ok. What do you think is the biggest time-waster for entrepreneurs?
Natalie Sisson: Ironically, I think it was probably social media. So, a lot of people jump on it and they get caught up in reading tons of feeds and different messages and videos and photos rather than going on and thinking, “Ok, today I’m going to connect with these 5 people, I’m going to answer questions in these 3 groups and I’m going to spend 5-10 minutes just connecting with my friends and then I’m going to get off it again and do some real work. So I think when used properly, it’s a great personal tool and it’s a great business tool but unfortunately people, I think, use it as an excuse for procrastination and not getting work done and I’ve definitely done that myself.
Success Harbor: So, let’s say a friend came to you or maybe somebody in your family that has a job now but wants to be an entrepreneur, maybe not a suitcase entrepreneur but an entrepreneur that has freedom or whatever it takes to make it. What would be the first thing you would teach that person?
Natalie Sisson: What they need to do to make it?
Success Harbor: Yeah. I mean, what do you think is the one quality that is a must have?
Natalie Sisson: Well, I think the best thing is to self-believe. I’ve talked about that before but for the first year at least, I really didn’t probably consider myself an entrepreneur. I didn’t really believe that I had what it took and I probably--, I was going to use the word [inaudible 25:13] which not everybody knows. I kind of probably played around quite a lot and building up lots of nice communities but not necessarily doing the work and thinking about “What’s my sales funnel and how am I going to make money and where do I want to be in year 2 and year 3?” So a lot of that came from just literally learning the ropes and not necessarily believing I had all the right credentials. I think a lot of entrepreneurs I spoke to in that first year feel like a fake or they feel like well, who am I to charge for this or do I really know much? How am I going to stay in business? So for me, self-belief was critical and how I got that was through actually doing some personal development work. I would read avidly, I would watch the right videos where I’d be learning from experts, I invested in myself through courses or programs I thought were great quality and then I actually went ahead and took action on those and one of the best books that I probably read in the first 2 years in business is ‘Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield’ because I remember reading that a couple years ago and just going “Oh yeah, I actually have to step up and turn pro.” There’s a point at which you need to stop telling yourself all the wrong stories and just say “You know what, from now on in, I’m going to turn pro and everything I do is going to be to the best of my ability with the best quality investment and I’m going to make this amazing.”
Success Harbor: So you’ve been travelling for years now and you’ve been running your business while travelling, living out of your suitcase. When I’m on vacation, as soon as I leave town, I’m not interested in business, I hardly even check my email so how do you--, what’s your secret? How do you stay focused on your to-do list and your tasks, and how do you get things done and not get totally distracted by all the different things you could be doing?
Natalie Sisson: It’s taken quite a few years of figuring that out and actually I think the secret is discipline. So just being disciplined with my time and knowing how much I appreciate it and what I want to be working on. I write about this in my book, actually I have a 6-step daily success plan, which I won’t go through right now but it’s actually just really knowing where you want to put your time and what you want to get out of your day, having a very clear sense of what that day looks like. Predominantly, I tend to do my best work in the morning; I will get up, I will do exercise and then I’ll focus for 1-2 or 3 hours on network then I’ll go out and explore and have fun and adventure and be a tourist and then I’ll come back in the late afternoon, early evening do some more and then take time off again. So that’s something that I’ve found works well for me depending on where I’m at. If I’m going to be launching something or doing a big piece of work then I would definitely try to be in one place for a couple of weeks or more. I’ll try and get myself an apartment or rent something or a hotel room that makes sense with great Wi-Fi and then it gets to come back to like really figuring out what my year looks like, like when am I taking off more time, when do I want some down time, when do I want to be focused on our work, when do I just want to be traveling and working and enjoying so it’s really just been trial and experimentation but I have a very clear sense of freedom and how that looks to me so I just make sure that I continue to balance myself [inaudible 28:21] but balance my activities and make sure that I’m having fun.
Success Harbor: And what was the best advice that you have ever received either personal or business advice?
Natalie Sisson: That’s a good question. I think my favorite quote is probably the best advice that I ever give to myself from Yoda, which is “Do or do not, there is no try”
, which I love because whenever I’ve been procrastinating or becoming unfocused or doubting something or just not really doing the stuff that I want to do I just come back to that so I’m a massive action taker. I implement everything and I think it’s--, can turn a lot to Yoda and just remembering his wise words and he makes me smile.
Success Harbor: So I want to ask you what advice do you have for me, for my blog? I just wanted to ask, I tend to ask this one question close to the end of the interview. I’ve been interviewing probably about 60 different entrepreneurs from very small start-ups to business like 50 million in size. How can I make my site to stand out, what would be your one advice for me?
Natalie Sisson: Well I think I gave you some advice when we first emailed, but I would say just probably injecting more of yourself into your blog and your site so apparently when you come to your site and look at the podcast etc. I think there’s a lack of ‘George’ in it, in your photo and also on the write-ups for the podcasts, I think you could have more feeling and emotion in there so they’re quite short right now and I think it would be great to give more insight into the person you’ve interviewed, all the things that you’re going to get out of it, why you enjoy the interview because people will like that. I always put in a personal touch in mine, I’m like, “Here’s what you’ll learn when you’re listening to this interview but here’s particularly what might relate to you or you might find the best to look at.” So just really bring in more of a sense of you into this.
Success Harbor: That’s good advice Natalie. How can people connect with you?
Natalie Sisson: I’m all over social media but the best place to come I guess is ‘suitcaseentrepreneur.com’ and say hello or my social media sites are featured there, I’m also on twitter @NatalieSisson, same on Instagram, same on Facebook but I would love for you just to come across and say hello.
Success Harbor: Well Natalie, thank you and as I mentioned earlier I’ve been reading your blog for years, I really enjoy it and I think you have an awesome lifestyle and I really, really appreciate you coming on and I wish you much luck with the Suitcase Entrepreneur going forward.
Natalie Sisson: Thank You so much.
Success Harbor: Bye.
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Philip Taylor or "PT" is the man behind PT Money blog. In addition to writing for his own blog, PT has been published by US News & World Report, Turbo Tax, ING Direct, and PerkStreet. PT is also the creator of FinCon, the annual conference for financial bloggers. PT Money is viewed more than 350,000 times on a monthly basis.
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