Let’s learn from his experience and start the interview.
Andrew: I had an Internet company that used to do online greeting cards. Built it up really big, sold it, took a lot of time off to relax. Never thought I’d ever get back into business, but then I noticed that all this people who think they know how business works don’t know jack. And so I built up Mixergy where I would bring real proven entrepreneurs to talk about how they built their businesses.
Matt: When you started your first business, what year was that?
Andrew: Oh, boy, it’s been a while. 1998.
Matt: That’s a long time.
Matt: You were right in the dot com boom.
Andrew: Yes. Actually, we’re in the dot com boom right now. The dot com boom might have had a little bit of a boost but it’s growing and growing and
growing. There are people who are building phenomenal companies right now, both phenomenal in the sense of profitability and in the way that they changed people’s lives. And I don’t just mean the big companies like Facebook. I mean even the smaller companies. I talk to them all the time. Guys who have sometimes companies that do $50,000 a month in revenues, sometimes companies that are sold for $50 million, both really much smaller than Facebook but think of the impact that has on someone’s lives.
Andrew: You know, the best part of this is when I got to actually take off to California. There’s a photo that I have somewhere of the day that it felt real. It’s just me sitting with two bags behind me and I think a bike and that’s all I owned and I said, “For once in my life I feel completely free. I don’t have to take care of an apartment because I’m living in a nice hotel. I don’t have to worry about owning stuff and breaking and fixing things. Nothing. I can just be free.”
And from that day on I started to travel through the West Coast of the U.S. I went to Europe. I backpacked through Europe. I just let go of all ownership and the reason that was important was because you get so many obligations as an entrepreneur. You have to pay the bills. You have to pay off debt. You have to try new things. You have the fail and not show anyone that you feel like a failure, even when you’re not sure if you are ever going to make it again. That’s a lot of responsibility to have. And I had that from an early age. So to be able to just let go of it was freeing, was liberating.
You know what? Let me add one other thing to that answer. The reason that’s important and I want to make sure that I emphasize why that’s important. We talk so much in the entrepreneurial space about the hard work. About figuring out what the customer wants. About pivoting and minimum viable producting and selling and converting and all that stuff and sometimes it feels like what the hell is the point? Why are we doing it? And I want to emphasize both in my interviews with entrepreneurs and in
the story of my life that there is a pay-off and that it’s good. And the pay off is worth it.
And partially is worth it because you get to do whatever you want with the rest of your life. I ask entrepreneurs all the time what’s the best part of having made it and they often say, more than anything else they say freedom. And that’s important.
Another part of it is you look at your customers’ face sometimes and say, “Boy, I made that person happy. I changed that person’s life” and we should talk sometimes about that end goal. Those two end goals, what’s in it for me and what’s in for the customer if I build my business right. Those are exciting. And they’re not just the cerebral Hey, I figured it out how to increase my conversions type exciting. They’re the visceral feeling, the energy of one of the things you came into this world to do. To make yourself and other people happy.
Andrew: One of the big lessons is to have some outside interests. We are so focused on business because we’re determined to leave our marks on the world to build something big. We refuse to do outside things. For me, if you invited me to a party, I’d say, “Screw off, I’m not looking to waste my time going to a party. What am I going to do? Drink and have idle conversation, just chitchat about your wife, your kids, and your friends? I have no interest in that. I want to sit at work and bring in more revenue.”
If someone said, “You should be exercising more”‘ I said, “Exercise was for muscle heads, people who have no intelligence. They should be exercising because there’s nothing else they could do with their time except lift a barbell up and down, or run, like, one foot in front of the other over and over.” That’s what I thought.
As I worked every day, I found myself burning out when work took a dive. We all have setbacks. I had a setback where we went from a couple of million dollars a month to half a million dollars a month in sales. I thought, “I am a failure. I’m a failure because I went to half a million dollars a month.” If I look back, half a million a month is no failure but my mind was warped. Anyway, I was feeling like a failure at work. When you feel like a failure, how do you produce? Not very well, right? You start to produce crappy results. When you produce crappy results, how does it impact your mind? You start to feel like a bigger failure, then you produce worse results, and then you feel worse. Anyway, what I wish had done was taken an outside interests up like
Matt: So what did you do at that time?
Andrew: One of the things I did was I signed up for a gym. Soon after, I took up running. I remember when I was at the gym when the trainer was telling me, “Do another set of reps.” I said to myself, “I don’t care about reps, but if I do another ten reps of this stupid barbell, then it means I could do anything and it means I could close another sale.” When I took up running in Central Park, I said, “If I could just run another lap, or even less than a lap, believe me, I wasn’t even that ambitious with running.” But I said, “If I could just run a little bit further,” because I see that guy up ahead gave up and pulled over and is having a drink, “If I could just run past him, then I know I could win at my business.” I saw myself do an extra set of reps. I saw myself actually run further. I felt great. I felt confident. I felt like I could do anything if I could do that stuff.
Imagine going into work with that feeling, it was empowering. People noticed the difference. I noticed the difference.
Matt: How did you discovered the entrepreneur with in you?
Andrew: I knew I was an entrepreneur the way some kids know that they’re gay, at an early age. That’s exactly who I am. I used to sell, if I got candy from a birthday party, I tried to sell it to my sister so that I could bring some extra money.
Matt: Oh, I know that.
Andrew: You used to do it too, right?
Matt: Yes, i used to do it too.
Andrew: You know, I feel like there’s some kind of entrepreneurial gene, just like some people are creative and can paint and will start painting before they even understand the value of paint. There are some people who are like us, like you and me, who are entrepreneurs and will do before we fully understand what the word entrepreneur even means.
You know, when I was in high school I walked outside the building one day, going home, and I saw that they were taking the bricks off the side of the building and they just tossed them in a dumpster. So I went in the dumpster, I was running this club so I asked the people in the club to go in the dumpster to pull out the bricks. I had them mounted on a plaque and then I sold the plaque with a brick on it to the alumni of the school. I said, “Now you can own a piece of the school that you used to attend” and they sold out.
That’s the entrepreneurial essence already in me before I even knew what to do with it.
Andrew: Oh, just one thing, man. I wish I knew so much. I started Mixergy like an idiot. I failed so much. I mean, the first thing I did with Mixergy was I created events before I did anything else. That was a big mistake. You have to start with the philosophy first and then go on into the product. You have to understand where you’re going and then create the product.
But if I had to find one thing I wish that I knew what it was talk to the people who I want to serve and find out where their problems are, find out what’s really bothering them, what’s keeping them up at night. And imagine if I understood what kept them up at night and I found the solution for it,
I’d be useful in the world, they would be happy to work with me because the stuff is keeping them up at night. They need to get rid of the fears, the issues that are keeping them up at night and I if I say ‘Hey. There’s a little bit of a fee that you have to pay to get this stuff out of your way, would you be willing to pay?’. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Andrew: I ran the first version of Mixergy as an idea that failed. But the one thing that worked for me was a blog. And the blog was on, I forget what one of the blogging platforms was but it was just pretty cruddy. Didn’t let me change the URLs, wasn’t optimized for search, wasn’t optimized for humans. Forget search engines. Wasn’t optimized for humans like me.
And then someone said, “Try WordPress” and over a weekend I was able to install it easily. I was able to install themes and I could adjust these and I do it all by myself without thinking, without having any design eye.
Come on, look at me. Look at the way I’m dressed. I’ve been wearing the same shirt that’s on the back of my door every day for interviews for the last year. And I do it because, I don’t know, I don’t care what new styles are out there. I have no design eye. I just wear whatever is available.
But here I was with WordPress able to put a new theme on and have a nice design and have something that looks good, have something that’s functional, have something that represents me well with no development time, with no design eye. Boom. Fully hooked.
Andrew: As far as I know, no. But I don’t really care about that.
Matt: People in blogging space were freaked out about it.
Andrew: I don’t freak out about that. What I freak about is is the content that I’m creating really changing people’s lives? Is it really having the kind of impact that I got into business to have? Am I going to do something that’s going to leave a legacy? And those are tougher questions to have. And more significant questions also. Yes, Panda can do this, Google can do that. But I’m not up at night worrying about them.
Andrew: There are two kinds that I do. First of all I’m lucky that I get to interview my heroes and I think one of the best pieces of advice I ever got is to find the people you admire and connect with them so you can learn from them. And so, every week I do interviews with people who I admire and I get to ask them questions, like how do they get where they are, I get to ask them questions about my challenges and see how they would overcome them. And that’s incredibly helpful.
And the other thing that I do and I want to do more of is talk to my customers where I get to see what they’re doing well and where they’re struggling and where they’re struggling I get to feel like a hero for either solving their problem right there or I get to feel challenged for being able to try to solve their problems over time.
Andrew: My big thing is I want to understand the frustrations, the real frustrations that entrepreneurs have. Not the things we say but the things we really feel and then I want to put together courses to solve those problems.
Andrew: You know what? I hate to say it but more and more I’m trying to use fewer apps and fewer service and the reason is that we start to really get distracted by all the different apps that we have on our phones and we can’t find the one that we really care about. Or we start to believe all these different web apps and web services are going to change our world but really we end up wasting time playing with them like games.
What we really need is an understanding of our business, of our customer, an understanding of what we’re trying to do in this world. And more apps, more websites are often very distracting to that.
Matt: OK. But if you can list some apps that you’re interested like KISSmetrics…
Andrew: You want to know what I use in my business? Here’s what I use. I use Desk.com to keep track of customer issues. We do all our support in Desk.com. I use Pipedrive.com which makes easy to take a prospect and convert them into a sale but we use it actually to take potential interviewees and follow them through our pipeline until they do an interview on Mixergy. I think that’s a great sales tool and I’m glad that we are using it for interviews.
What else do I use on a regular basis? I use EverNote to take notes because it makes my notes available everywhere. I take a lot of paper notes like I’ve been doing here in this interview and I toss them in the scanner and they come right in my EverNote. I hate paper in every other way so as soon as any piece of paper comes in whether it’s a receipt or bill or whatever I just toss it into EverNote and toss it right in the garbage right afterwards. So that’s a really big tool for me.
And another thing I’ve been using is Spotify. Listening to music in the background as I work. I love it. I get to listen to Sean Parker, one of the guys behind Facebook and Napster, I get to listen to his musical taste and as smart as he is an entrepreneur, I feel like his musical taste is just as impressive.
Andrew: I do love to read. I read all the time.
Matt: Please suggest some books, your favorite books.
Andrew: I always say that for my favorite books it’s things like, Dale Carnegie‘s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I’m reading a book now that an interviewee recommended. It’s called, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk.” I don’t have kids yet, but I’m reading it and I could see how this works with human beings too. The whole idea is that instead of telling kids what to do, if you just show them that you’ve listened then you could get them to do what you want. I feel that
even in regular interactions, if we could just show people that we’ve listened, they’ll be much more likely to listen to us and to be more open to our ideas. More open to acting on our ideas.
Matt: Thank you.
Andrew: Here’s another one that I’m going to recommend.
Andrew: Let me give you one other one, an audio book, James Caan’s Autobiography. This is a guy who built up a headhunter firm in the UK. What I love about it is, he was so small time that he couldn’t really afford an office. He rented a closet in the most impressive building he could afford.
He’d have clients come up to meet him, but as they were in the lobby, he would come down from his closet office and go, “Oh, I’m on my way out. Let’s go have a cup of coffee and we’ll talk there”‘ In that way, he didn’t have anyone see that he was in a small closet. He just gave them the impression that he was working in this big business and that they should be doing business with him.
That’s just one little tactic that he had. The reason I love that is he’s being open. A lot of entrepreneurs, when they become really successful, hide the stuff that they did because they don’t want to seem like they were tricking anyone. They want to feel like everything they did was completely proper. The second thing that I love about it is that it shows you that you don’t need to have any money. It doesn’t take money to make money. It doesn’t take connections to make money. It doesn’t take any of that to leave a mark on the world. It just takes hustle and creativity. That guy had it. That’s the reason why I think that’s a great book.
Andrew: I started out by interviewing my friends, people I knew. And then, instead of working my way up slowly and going to bigger and bigger people, I said, “Who’s the biggest person who I could get, who everyone else I want to interview respects?” Then I thought, All right. Let me go to him. Let me go to them. I made a list of them in my head, of people who were big that I knew if I got them, everyone else in our world would say, “Ah, if Andrew got Guy Kawasaki, then he’s and okay guy to get. If Andrew got Seth Godin to do an interview, then he’s an okay guy to do interviews with. If he got Jimmy wales, then he’s an okay guy.” Then, I looked for times when they needed me or people like me, and that’s when I asked them to do interviews. In our world when Guy Kawasaki needs me is when Guy Kawasaki’s got a good book to promote that he recently published. That’s when I asked him to do an interview. I think that’s the way it is with the world.
I remember I interviewed Tom Szaky (@Tom_TerraCycle) from Terracycle. He’s this guy that took literally garbage and he turned it into products that he sold in stores. One of the things that I learned from his was he started out by talking to the small mom-and-pop stores and thinking he was going to go to bigger mom-and-pop stores and bigger mom-and-pop stores still. That would have taken him forever. Instead, he started with those small mom-and-pop stores and then he stopped. He said, “No more of those, let’s go after the biggest
baddest customer out there.” So, he sold to Wal-Mart. It took him a while. It was a tough sale. Once he got it, everyone else said, “Huh, if Wal-Mart’s buying from Tom, then we could buy from him, too. If Wal-Mart trusts him then we should trust him, too.” That allowed him to get other customers that he couldn’t get.
Matt: Andrew, I want to thank you. I know you are a very busy person. I really appreciate the time you spent with us today. Good luck with everything you do.
Andrew: Thanks for doing this interview with me. Thanks for having me on, guys.
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