How does a founder who says he got screwed over by his cousin go on to build a multi-million dollar company?
AJ Kumar is the co-founder of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency. They specialize in helping start-ups and large companies with search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media, and other marketing strategies.
I want to do a biographical interview to see how he went from getting screwed over to where he is today. Along the way, I want to find out how you can do similar things and how you can learn from his experience.
AJ Kumar, Single Grain
AJ Kumar is the co-founder of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency. They specialize in helping start-ups and large companies with search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media, and other marketing strategies.
Andrew: Coming up in this program, have you ever heard of those Internet
marketers who are just so freaking rabid about getting traffic? You wonder
to yourself, how do they do it and how do I get traffic? Well, I’ve got one
of them here today. I’m going to grill him and find out what he does to get
traffic for his clients, and what you could do to get traffic for yourself.
If you’ve ever been too chicken to ask someone out, like maybe have you
ever been too chicken to ask a date to the prom? Find out what happened
when today’s guest chickened out, and how it changed his life. That story
could change yours, too.
Have you ever wondered how those slick seminar operators get people to pay
thousands of dollars? We’re going to find that out, too, in this program.
All that and so much more. Stay tuned.
First three messages:
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Here’s your program.
Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com,
home of the ambitious upstart. What I mean by that is, this is not a
program for people who have already made it, who are relaxing somewhere on
a beach, who are enjoying the rest of their lives in glory.
This is for the person who’s so rabidly determined to succeed, to leave a
mark on the world, to do even better, that that person is willing to invest
an hour of their time to listen to this program with all my audio issues
sometimes, with the fact that we don’t have perfect video, because the
content here is going to help you get there.
The people who I fight like mad to bring on here to do interviews for you
are going to work with me like mad to produce, to give you insights into
how you can help build your business. I know there are tons of other
podcasts, tons of other shows you could be watching. There’s a reason why
you picked this, there’s a reason why it picked you, and there’s a reason
why I’m going to work like mad to do well for you here.
All right. In this interview I want to answer this big question, how does a
founder who says he got screwed over by his cousin go on to build a multi-
million dollar company. AJ Kumar, who you see up on your screen, is the co-
founder of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency. They specialize in
helping start-ups and large companies with search engine optimization, pay-
per-click, social media, and other marketing strategies.
I want to do a biographical interview to see how he went from getting
screwed over to where he is today building this successful company. Along
the way, I want to find out how you can do similar things and how you can
learn from his experience. AJ, welcome.
AJ: Andrew, thank you so much for having me here. Just a quick little story
I wanted to tell you about is that about a year, a year and half ago I
think, I actually had a conversation with Neil Patel, telling him that one
of my goals is to be on your show. So, it’s an honor to be in here today.
Andrew: Thank you. You know what? It means a lot to me that I’ve kept the
reputation of this show high, that people, entrepreneurs tell me all the
time that they aspire to be on here. That’s one way that I measure success
here. Frankly, if it comes from you and it comes from Neil Patel, then it
means a lot to me. Is Neil investing in your company? Is that why he
suggested that I have you on?
AJ: No. He’s actually cousins with Sujan, the co-founder.
Andrew: OK. I’ve hit him up for a lot of the companies that he invested in,
and he’s introduced me to them to come on and be guests. Hey, you had an
incident recently, where a company that does some subscription-based
business came to you. Can you tell the audience a little bit about that?
AJ: Yeah. It was maybe, about six months ago, we had a company that’s doing
really well right now. Their main target is women within teens-20s. They
were actually interviewing a bunch of different digital marketing companies
and they came to us basically looking for advice on how to grow their
business. So, I had a conversation with them just a few weeks ago.
I got an intro from them a couple months ago, and just had… I messed up
in the story. Hold on.
Andrew: Go for it. No. You know what? Let the story go even if it breaks
up. We don’t edit it. Let it stay real here. The fact that people watch
sometimes at the end is to see how I’ll screw up towards the end, and I’m
usually the one who does. So, continue with it. She comes over to you. She
says, ‘Look, I’m talking to a lot of your competitors. I’m also here
talking to you and I want to figure out who I go with.’ You say to her at
that point what?
AJ: Well, at that point I basically tell her about why it is that we do
what we do and why we do such a great job.
AJ: It was really easy and simple enough for me because of the fact that we
work with so many high profile companies.
AJ: Companies like RIM, Sales Force, Yahoo. We have a lot of credibility
and I think that the best indicator of future success is past performance.
It was really easy for me to show that to her. It really got her to feel
comfortable with moving forward with the decision of working with us.
Andrew: When you work for companies like Sales Force, it’s to get them more
traffic? To do what for them?
AJ: Well, it’s actually a variety of things. For some people it’s, hey, I
want to get more traffic. Some other people, I just want to rank high over
certain keywords because of the money that I’ll make from those keywords.
Some keywords the clients can equal tens of thousands of dollars a month
from just a single keywords.
Search engine optimization in general is an amazing thing for a company to
grow and create a sustainable, long-term business.
Andrew: All right. These bigger companies are trusting you. From what I’ve
seen, also the smaller more hustling entrepreneurs are also working with
you, guys like Tim Sykes, the guy who sells those investment videos. Right?
Ramit Sethi from “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”. The runs the gamut the
people who go to you for help. Right?
AJ: Yeah. It’s really a variety of people, from individual people like the
Tim Sykes or the Ramit Sethi’s to hot start-ups like Warby Parker. It’s
really a variety of different clients with different verticals, and it
could even be hypercompetitive verticals like the insurance industry or
their travel states.
Andrew: All right. Later in this interview, I want to grill you a little
bit to see what you’re doing for them and how you can walk in as confident
as I’ve seen you be with clients, and say, ‘Dude, I’m going to absolutely
blow you away with how much traffic I get for you.’ I know it because I’ve
talked to other people who have been your clients, and because you and I
have had conversations in the past.
Let’s go back and see how you got here. Why don’t we go back to that time
for a moment, where you broke your leg. Tell me about that point in your
life. Things weren’t so hot then, huh?
AJ: Things weren’t hot at all. It was actually an interesting time. I used
to have a company with my cousin. This was towards the ending of that
company, where things went really bad. There was a lot of debt. I invested
a ton of money into the company. It was really interesting because at the
time, I think I was 19, 20 or something, and I put in all this money to
Owen. I think it was about 2% of the company.
The way valuations work, or the way I understand valuations now, it was
probably the most stupid thing I’ve ever done.
Andrew: How much money did you put into your cousin’s business?
AJ: Almost sixty, $70,000 at the end.
Andrew: OK. How much of a business did he have when you invested that much
money and only got 2%?
AJ: Nothing. He had nothing.
Andrew: He had nothing? He had just sold you on a great idea. He was a good
AJ: He sold me on a really amazing idea, and he was a great salesman
because he had a lot of success in the past. He drove a Ferrari. I was
really amazed by him. I pretty much had him as a mentor, so naturally I
quickly made the decision to move forward with it because I saw what he
saw. I saw that vision. So, it wasn’t a mistake entirely on his part. It
was a mistake on my part in the sense that I should have known what I was
getting myself into.
Either way, at that time when I broke my foot, it was the same time where
we departed ways. I was just in the worst rut of my life. I was miserable.
I had no money. I owed my parents a lot of money. It was just a weird time
for me because my parents, throughout the two years I did work for my
cousin, just constantly told me nonstop that I needed to get out, and they
One of the hardest things for me to do was to tell them that, “Hey, you’re
right. I’m wrong. I made a mistake. I need your help now.” What had also
happened was, since he had bad credit at the time, I put my name down for a
car that he got under my name. It was this $60,000 BMW and towards our
ending, he ended up leaving the car at my house and told me to deal with it
because we were just on the complete worse terms. Now I had this $60,000
leased car that, he used up all the miles, and I had still had two years on
the lease and the payments were like $800 a month. I mean I was in a
terrible situation, with that negative mindset, that I was . . .
AJ: yes maybe I asked for this but I was in a car accident with my brother
and it broke my foot. So now I was in this position where I had a broken
foot, I couldn’t find a new job, I had a lot of debt, and I had this car I
had to deal with, and, I have to get my parents to help me out, even though
I spent so many years trying to live life on my own.
Andrew: Is this depressing?
AJ: It was terrible. [laughs]
Andrew: Let me get into the mindset that you had. How old were you at the
AJ: I think I was like 20.
Andrew: All right. Let’s go back to when you were 17 this is when you
wanted to ask that girl out. This was a formative need for you, what
AJ: So this is back in high school. From high school and before that I was
a complete shy person. One of the hardest things for me to do was to ask
this girl out to prom and at that time I had to make a decision to myself
saying, hey you know I can’t be a shy person anymore. I wasn’t depressed
but I definitely wasn’t happy. So it took me so much courage to finally ask
her out and it felt so amazing when she said yes. It was awesome and it was
around that time where I decided to make this shift in my mindset, saying
that, you know what? I’m going to not be shy anymore. I have to make a
decision, and you may have heard this from Tony Robbins, when you make a
decision you basically make an incision and cut away from every other
Andrew: Right, but you know what though? I’ve heard him say that, and I
remember even being a kid listening to him say that and I remember actually
how many summers I’d leave school and I’d say I’m making a decision, now
I’m going to out there and no one knows me from school, I could be a new
person, I’m going to meet lots of new girls, I’m not going to be shy
anymore and then I’d be the same old loser I always was. It didn’t work. So
making a decision isn’t enough, what did you do? Were you able to break
this shyness or did you stay with it for a long time and then eventually
figure it out?
AJ: So what I eventually did was, I made that decision, I decided I won’t
be shy anymore. At that point I started talking to my cousin, who was a
successful loan officer like I said, he drove a Ferrari and he was my
mentor at the time.
AJ: And I kept asking over and over again, hey you know what, college isn’t
for me, it’s not really the direction I want to go into. So maybe you could
help me out, give me some advice, tell me something. And he would say you
know what? I don’t think you’re passionate enough, I don’t think you really
have the energy, and persistence, and the courage to really make a
difference. And I said I did, and nothing happened, and it would be months
later, then I’d ask him the same questions. He’s like but you’re just not
showing it, I can’t see it. And then I’m like OK fine, decided at that
point I’m going to call every single day for 30 days and I did. And after
30 days of pestering him, and bothering him, being persistent, he’s like OK
fine I’ll get you a job.
He got me a job at a telemarketing place. So what I was, I was a sales
consultant for a company called The Mike Ferry Organization and I would be
making phone calls talking real estate agents and selling them on coming to
our seminars for 300 bucks, 600 bucks, and then eventually selling them on
a 1,000 dollars a month coaching program. So for a shy person like myself
at the time, going into an industry where I’m talking to adults, you know,
17, 18, at the time. I’m talking to these 40 year olds and convincing them
to give me a credit card over the phone. It was hard but I did it because I
decided I had to move forward, I had big goals, I had big dreams I wanted
to accomplish them and I knew this was a path I needed to get into. I knew
I needed to break out of comfort zone.
Andrew: All right. Let’s pause here for a moment and really understand what
you learned while you were there. One thing that you told me you learned
is, you learned how to sell and you also learned how to talk to people.
Give me some of the lessons that you learned from talking to people on the
phone how did you learn to interact with people?
AJ: Well, one of the biggest things, and also this applies to being online,
and marketing online because when you’re marketing online it’s pretty much
the same thing but to a mass group, is to just to be conversational with
people, be real.
Andrew: How do you do that? That’s so tough because if you and I are going
to be transactional, I know that I could have a conversation with you. I
could ask about the goals, I could ask about how to structure our way to
get to the goals and I have an easy conversation. But I remember going back
to when I was a teenager and when I got my first job. I didn’t know how to
make conversation with people, to just chit-chat with them. To see how
things are going, you and I chat. You and I before the interview started.
Andrew: …we talked for the first time in, I don’t know, it’s been two
years since we talked before?
Andrew: I didn’t say, how are you doing? How are you enjoying life?
AJ: Yeah. (?)
Andrew: I just said, “Let’s talk about your (?)”. You’re shaking your head.
Teach me now. Apparently I still need to learn this stuff.
AJ: Well, at the same time, one of the most important things I did learn at
that time was that telling is not selling, it’s asking questions. That’s
what I did. When I talked to these people I was genuine. I genuinely cared.
I’m not here about making a quick buck. If I could feel that this isn’t the
right fit for somebody, OK, cool. Then I’m not going to force…
Andrew: What kind of questions did you ask?
AJ: I’d ask questions like, how long have you been in the business? What
are you doing right now? What are the major challenges that you’re having?
If you were able to fix those challenges by learning what to say and what
to do, how much would that help your business?
Andrew: I see. First of all, you’re asking them so you get some information
and you let them do some the talking. Then you also want them to answer to
you the value that they’re going to get from this program instead of you
Instead of saying, “This is going to be worth tens of thousands of
dollars,” you want to say, ‘If it was helpful, how helpful would it be?’
Then they say tens of thousands of dollars. Now they own that statement.
That’s one of the things that you learned?
AJ: Right. It’s about finding the pain and the pleasure points. Some people
are more motivated by pain. They’re more motivated by the fact that, hey,
they’re not going to have enough money to feed their family a couple months
down the line. Or some people are motivated by making a lot of money. Hey,
I want to make six figures next year. OK. Well, I can teach you exactly how
to do it. This is exactly what you assign for the course.
So, it’d be different conversations like that, and then it’d be handling
objections because people are all day long going to give you excuses as to
why they can’t. It’s just a normal part of things, and that time it was
just really about understanding that you’re going to get five or six of the
most common objection. Then it’s just learning about handling it.
Andrew: So, you would write down your five or six objections and you’d be
prepared to answer them. What were some of those five or six objections?
AJ: Maybe stuff like, I don’t have enough money to attend this seminar.
Andrew: Perfect. So, if someone gives you that answer, and you probably get
it a million times a day from talking to a million prospects a day, what’s
the answer when they give you that issue? What’s the answer that you gave
AJ: Well, I’d go into the same thing about, well that’s exactly why you
need to attend this event.
Andrew: I see.
AJ: You want to be in the situation where you are…
Andrew: It’s not that you’re fighting with them and saying, “Hey, you can
afford this because you buy latte all day.” No. You agree with it. You say,
“No. Money is an issue, that’s why you need this.” You don’t argue with
their point. OK.
AJ: At the same time, it’s like the fact that you can’t afford $300 to
better your career, to make more money is exactly why you need to attend.
Then it’s just really about breaking down the ridiculous. $300 a month,
what is that really? That comes down to each single day. You just make it
very logical for people, and at the same time, you put a lot of emotion
into the mix.
To put emotion to the mix, you really have to be genuine with people. One
of the major things that I’ve learned in my life is that you have to be
genuine. One of the guys I’ve worked with a couple years later down the
line, his name is Neil Schwartz, he owns the #2 Century 21 office in the
entire country. Very successful man. Very successful.
The one major thing I learned from his is if you just be genuine with
people, you’ll automatically connect with them at a level that most other
people don’t. As opposed to trying to be that slick, slimy salesperson
trying to make a quick buck.
Andrew: How do you build a genuine connection with someone who’s a stranger
over the phone, who you have a clear ulterior motive when you’re talking to
AJ: Well, it really comes down to yourself. It’s hard for me to say, hey,
be genuine, or it’s hard for you to believe if I’m genuine or not unless I
actually care. You have to, as a human being, actually care about other
human beings and making a difference.
Andrew: I see. I see.
AJ: It’s not something that you can teach, it’s just your inside self, your
self-realization, your own morals, your own ethics. At the end of the day,
that’s what you’re portraying to people. The moment you screw that up and
you lie, you just tarnished your entire reputation.
Andrew: What if you’re a robot like me, and you just have a specific goal
in life with every conversation? You know what? I’m kidding, but it’s
really reminding me, I didn’t have a human conversation with you. It would
have taken me 60 seconds. It would have taken me maybe three minutes tops
to say, “Hey, I see you shaved your head a little bit closer. How are you
enjoying life now?”
You know what? I didn’t do that. That was a little bit weird now that I
think of it. I think I might need some cues to remind myself to do this.
What about more of the slick stuff? I do understand the real personal
connection that you need to have with people.
You and I, I remember sitting down at Santa Monica Boulevard over coffee
talking about some of the seminars that you used to sell. You told me some
really cool things that you guys did to get people to buy. Give me one or
two of them here.
AJ: Yeah. I used to study a lot of (?) and (?) programming.
AJ: A lot of that just dealt with how to build rapport with people. Well,
one of the concepts that makes most sense is that it’s not about you, it’s
about the person in front of you. So with everybody, everybody reacts and
behaves in a different way, and at the same time a person could use this
for good and evil, it could go either way. So, if I’m legitimately trying
to build or form a connection with you, I’m acting like you, I’m being like
you, I’m talking at your speed of voice, I’m talking with your same
tonality, I’m making similar body movements as you are, and on a
subconscious level, over time, you’re going to naturally feel really
comfortable with me because if you actually thought about the people that
you hang out with the most, you’ll realize that you guys are very similar
in how act and how you communicate, and how you move, and how you talk.
It’s very similar and if I come and manipulate that, for good obviously, B
is for bad, but if I manipulate that same feeling with you without you
knowing it, you’re going to subconsciously feel (?). And it would be using
techniques like that with people to just build credibility and trust.
Andrew: You told Jeremy Weisz, our producer, that you were on one early
phone call, nervous, talking to a prospect and your coworkers were in the
background, and they were whispering looking at my notes, they were saying
to you, ‘Go for the close, go for it!’ and so you just said, ‘Hey, what
credit card do you want to use?’ You assumed the close and he said, ‘Visa’
and you went on to sell him a telemarketing seminar for 1,000 bucks a
month. From telemarketing to selling seminars at 1,000 bucks a month that
helped you get there. That’s an assumptive close, you’re just assuming the
close with him, what else did you learn?
AJ: That was at my real estate job when I was working at the My Priority
Organization and that was one of my first sales and that was, my mentor at
the time Patrick Ferry, who was teaching me sales from knowing zero, zilch
about anything to just making me do it, just making me take action. And one
of the things that I learned is that if you just take action on this
information that you learned, you get amazing results. It’s like I have all
these books and I may not finish all my books but at the same time I read
enough to pick out certain ideas that I think are compelling enough and I
just take action on them. And me doing that is a lot more than a person
does reading an entire book and doing nothing with it. So taking action on
whatever it is that you know.
Andrew: OK. Give me one thing that the seminar guys do that’s sleazy but
effective? Not necessarily the one’s you work for but you’ve been in the
industry, one sleazy but super affective thing that we’re not supposed to
AJ: It’s not really a specific technique it’s more so just forcing a person
to fork over a credit card even though when you know they really can
absolutely not afford $1,000 a month and a 12 month contract. And that’s
the way the contracts were set up for the technique back then, it has to be
12 months, it has to be $1,000 and some people just can’t afford it. They
might be able to afford the stepping stone program, which is $300 a month,
but not the $1,000 a month so they would force people into, well not
physically force, but emotionally force people to sign up. Whether it’s
like, ‘hey, my wife’s not going to let me do it’ and then kind of egging
them on saying, ‘who wears the pants in the family’ type of thing. So it’d
be more so along the lines of emotional persuasion. It’s not the coolest
thing to do.
Andrew: The disturbing part too, is that people who are the most fragile at
the toughest parts of their life are the ones who are most vulnerable to
this kind of close, to this kind of a pushy close, and that’s what seminar
AJ: Because people are in such an emotional state when they go to these rah-
rah events, for example, when Tony Robbins does his seminars, he gets
really super excited, there’s lights that are flashing on in the
background, like white lights, and what happens is when it comes time for
him to do the sell, those white lights flash on again and what he’s doing
is he’s anchoring people to that white light. This hand movement here, so
when he’s selling he’s getting people back into that natural state of
Andrew: I see. So if you guys were going to mimic him, what you might do is
get people to clap at key motivating moments, like a certain kind of clap,
not clap like you would at the opera, just like WHAP.
AJ: It’s something that weird. If you’re trying to anchor somebody to feel
a certain way, you’ve got to do something weird, like his claps are like
Andrew: So it would be some weird claps, like, we’re all going to make it,
right? Weird clap, they all do it, a light goes off, and we’re going to
leave our mark on the world, right? Weird clap, light goes off. And then
later on he’s making sales pitch and he’s saying, ‘This thing only costs
1,000 bucks, but we want to change the world, right?’ and then we all
WHACK, clap our hands, the light goes off, and now he’s all right. So,
that’s basically the kind of stuff that you were doing. It’s exciting
because you’re making sales. It’s exciting because you feel like you’re
mastering yourself. It’s exciting because you feel like you’re helping
other people master themselves. And you’re also seeing all the money in
this, and that’s when your cousin comes to you and he says, “I see an
opportunity.” What’s the opportunity?
AJ: So, the opportunity was that he was also a coach for the Mike Berry
organization. So, when Mike sold a person a $1000 a month coaching program,
that person would be under his wing and his guidance for a 30-minute call a
week. Great program. He did an amazing job there, and all that kind of good
stuff. What he wanted to do is, he thought bigger. He wanted to create his
own coaching company. So, he did that. He started that process, and then he
invited me to the opportunity of this vision. And it was amazing. And
obviously, it’s easily sold, because I already thought so highly of him, I
forked over my cash instantly. I made good money as a kid, and I forked
over instantly. And our company was going to be set up in Las Vegas. And,
you know, I quit my job, and I’m gung ho about this. I know I won’t be
making money for the first, like.
Andrew: You moved to Vegas.
AJ: So, what I did was, we had our company in Vegas, and I got an apartment
in this kind of like crummy neighborhood. I didn’t want to spend too much,
because I had forked over a lot of my money. And, yeah, I lived in Vegas
for about six months. Gnarly time, very gnarly time. I was under 21, so I
couldn’t do a lot of things.
Andrew: And they ID pretty heavily there. Why didn’t the company work?
AJ: Why did it work?
Andrew: Why did it not work?
AJ: Why it didn’t work? Because we started this and geared it toward loan
officers and real estate agents. And this was the exact time that the
economy hit really hard for that particular market. Where people weren’t
getting deals, and it was just a miserable time. It was like a ghost town
for real estate agents and loan officers. It was bad. All these
regulations. Stated income loans didn’t work like they used to. It was just
a bad time. So, it was hard for people to pay money for these seminars
because they were just struggling so hard.
And the only reason why we were able to get to where we got, we had to
maneuver the industries. We got out of just loan officer coaching, and went
into more life coaching, and just general business coaching. And my cousin
even got to the point where he was coaching poker players on mindset. He
was actually working with Phil (?) and really big poker players for a
little while too, and UFC fighters. no, it was just a really weird industry
we got into. But at the same time, it wasn’t a profitable industry. It was
just a lot of money being spent, and I saw nothing of it. I even had to get
a card. I was excited to get my first American Express Card. It was
connected to my Social Security Number, though. And I put a lot of the
company money on it that was supposed to get reimbursed, never did. So, it
was like ten grand, and I had to pay it out of my pocket, because it ended
up going to collections.
Andrew: You know, the average guy who has issues with his business, like if
he’s running a software company and the software is not selling well, he
feels really down about himself. The woman who runs that business is going
to doubt her ability to succeed at anything. But when you are selling
success to other people, when you’re trying to teach other people how to be
successful, and you are struggling yourself, that, to me, must mean you go
into this ten-times worse situation. Describe to me what was going on when
you guys were coming at this as success coaches, and at the same time on
the inside, failing.
AJ: It was terrible. It kind of brings me back to what I was talking about
earlier, genuinity [SP]. I felt really bad about what I was doing, I can’t
speak for him. It just felt terrible taking people’s money, and then taking
some more, giving them some bullshit program that was just regurgitated
information that wasn’t even that amazing. And it worked. He was an amazing
salesperson that did a fantastic job of making that happen. But people
didn’t get results, and I personally felt bad and guilty. And over time,
just as I felt worse and worse and worse, I got to a point where I just
couldn’t take it any more.
And I remember a time where I was in Vegas. One of the things that my
cousin taught me besides persistence, is just a strong work ethic. I used
to wake up, get to work by 7:30 and stay there until 12:00. Because, like I
said, I looked up to him. So, he said anything less than that was, like,
not acceptable type of thing. In other words, you’re not working hard
enough. And I’m like, “Okay, cool. I’ll do it,” 7:30 until 12:00 at night,
I was there, just doing something. Whether it was trying to get him to
speak at certain events, or just trying to get people to sign up for
something, I was trying to do something. I even got him to speak with
Deepak Chopra at an event in Canada one time. Stuff like that. It was
amazing, all the things that we were able to do, but at the same time, it
just wasn’t profitable. And I remember one night . . .
Andrew: Do you remember one time where you felt like a sham and what you
did about it?
AJ: Yeah. I was going to say that. This one night, I was sitting, and our
office was at the Howard Hughes Center. So, this is right next to the Las
Vegas strip, it’s literally one street away. We paid a lot of money for
that office. And I remember sitting in one of the offices, and there was
view of the Wynn Hotel, and I was so miserable, felt so depressed. And I
just remember looking at the Wynn. I’m like, “God, I want to like get to
the level where I can enjoy stuff like that, but I am so far away. I’m
like, I’m stuck. What am I going to do?” It was just a terrible time.
Andrew: And your voice, I’m sure, changes when you are feeling that way.
And your ability to come up with ideas. You’re smiling.
AJ: Everything. It all hit me like a ton of bricks, you know?
Andrew: Were you dating?
AJ: No. At that time I wasn’t dating, I was working literally 7:30 to
Andrew: Was it also partially because you felt, “Who would want me because
I’m not doing so well.” No?
AJ: So, actually, I was dating at the time. And I got to the point where I
had to start driving back home on the weekends. I finally convinced him to
let me be okay with that. So, I used to go to Vegas on Mondays from Orange
County, and come back on Fridays, and then I’d have time with my girlfriend
on the weekends. But eventually that relationship diminished, and a lot of
it was because of the whole way things were structured.
Andrew: Beyond the time, how does just being at that low point influence
your ability to date? Your ability to be with this woman?
AJ: It’s terrible. I mean your self-esteem is down. Your confidence is
down. She makes more money that I do. I mean, in a world, even though women
are successful and make a ton of money, sometimes more than men, at the
same time it hurt to be in that position where, shit, my girlfriend makes
so much more money than I do, and she has to support me. It’s not a good
position to be in.
Andrew: I feel, never mind she has to support you. First of all, she’s
making more money than you, but you’re not making anything at that point.
You’re going deep in debt. You’ve got 2% of this guy’s business, which is
nothing. But more than that, I think we start to feel, I’m trying to
channel how I felt at the time, but I can’t come up with a specific example
for me, so I’ll go more broad. I think we start to feel like, who would
want to be with us? You’re making a mistake by being with me. You’re not
going to want to be with me long term.
Meanwhile, there are a lot of other people who don’t care. You see them,
you live in Southern California, or used to. You see these guys in LA, they
walk around and they’ve got nothing going for them but confidence, like
they’re the man. And they are dating these women who have money, who are
giving them cars, a room in their house. I don’t know how those guys do it.
Their self esteem is not at all impacted by it.
AJ: I have a couple friends who are like that. They are just comfortable
with who they are. There’s nothing wrong with either or, it was just the
situation I was in at the time.
Andrew: Did you have to beg for money?
AJ: Did I have to beg for money? No, but I felt really guilty taking money
from my grandpa, who offered me money when I was back in Orange County. He
was like, “Hey, do you want a couple hundred bucks?” “Yeah, that would be
great.” And it’s a terrible feeling, terrible feeling.
Andrew: All right. How did you get out of it?
AJ: I eventually got in a huge fight with him, and that kind of leads us to
when I broke my foot in the car and all that kind of stuff. I got over, and
said, “Hey, I got to get out of this,” and quit the company, went in
different directions, and had more feuds with him over the fact that he
owes me money. That wasn’t going to happen. Left the car at my house. Broke
my foot. I remember a time when he did drop the car off at my house and I
finally told my mom. My mom works at the bank, so she’s always critical
about my credit score, and I had to tell her what happened and she flipped,
she freaked out.
And I remember having a meeting, it was me, my dad, my mom, and grandpa,
and my grandpa’s brother and his wife. It was like a meeting of the elders.
And I was just sitting there, just like slumped over. And they’re just
talking about how much I f’d up and how to fix the situation. And it was
just a terrible spot to be in. I was so embarrassed. I spent so many years
preaching how I didn’t go to college, and I’m going to do well, I’m going
to do amazing. And the whole time they’ve been, “You’ve got to go to
college. You’ve got to get a degree. Go back to school, just go back to
school.” It was just an embarrassing time to feel defeated. That’s when I
Andrew: And you know what? And for a lot of people this wouldn’t have as
big an impact as it would on me and on you because we’re not just going out
every night and partying. People who do that feel alright, I deserve to
have some pain as a result of it. You’re working hard and when you hard and
you still end up in a situation like this, first of all you can’t believe
it and it seem like it took you a long time to believe it and second, you
don’t know what to do to get past it and part of the way that you got past
it, in fact before I move on I should say that your memory, I’m sure, is
not 100% when it comes to your cousin.
My ability to ask questions to get the ultimate accurate answers is not
really, no one really has the ability to do that. You’re just going through
your memory and remembering what you can about your cousin and I’m helping
you do that. Basically what I’m saying is hey cousin, don’t sue us. We’re
not trying to give an accurate 100% representation of your relationship
with him but if you come here and do this interview, cousin of AJ’s, I
would love it and you can give your side of the story or what you remember
as your side of the story.
All right, you went to school with Neil Patel, this guy was great at
getting traffic, who is now a co-founder of KISSmetrics and then you
reconnected with him. I guess you saw a girl on MySpace who had a tattoo of
Neil Patel on her back? What was this? How did you and Neil Patel, who you
went to school with, reconnect?
AJ: So, I knew Neil back when I was in high school. He was one year older
than me, and we had a business class and we used to compete in this
business class for the highest grade and I remember at the time he used to
tell me about his Internet stuff that he’s starting up. I’m like oh, cool,
awesome, hey I want to get in and this, I had like the entrepreneur spirit
at that time and he got me into this industry selling black boxes on EBay
and I’m like making a couple 100 bucks here and there.
Andrew: With this black box?
AJ: Black box to let you get all the cable channels.
Andrew: So this, in high school, he had you selling these boxes?
AJ: So, I was selling with him and I was making some good money like $500,
$600 for a person in high school is a lot of money but my dad eventually
found out and he got really mad and he told me to just get out of it. But
anyways, I used to have a lot of fun with Neil. We used to joke around in
that class and he ended up getting the higher grade but I was number two so
it was good enough. But we eventually parted ways and I didn’t see him for
such a long time. I ran into him during my short time in college but that
was about it.
And then after my experience with my cousin, like broken foot, all that
stuff, I used to go on the Internet a lot and another ex-girlfriend at the
time, we used to talk about doing Internet business. She actually
introduced me to a Tim Ferriss book, “Four Hour Work Week” and it’s
exciting now because I’m actually, [?] actually works with Tim Ferriss at
marketing so, it’s awesome. But what’s amazing is she introduced me for our
work week and we got into this conversation about starting a business and
we really liked going to restaurants all the time. So, [?] restaurant view
site and that was pending at the time. I was working on that. That was one
thing that’s going for me. And then one day I saw Neil Patel’s name
tattooed on some girl’s lower back. Turned out it was a fake tattoo just
for a joke.
Andrew: I remember seeing this on his blog and I guess you saw it on
AJ: You can probably see it if you Google his name. It’s really funny. But
anyways, I hit him up. I was like hey, what’s going on? Let’s connect,
let’s meet up. So I met up with him and I remember going back [?]. I’m like
hey, what’s up, what are doing, what are you up to? And I’m being friendly,
like, trying to get to know what’s going on with him and he told me he’s in
Internet space and Neil’s a really humble guy. He doesn’t brag about how
successful he is and how amazing he’s made a dent in the Internet space. So
I didn’t know any of this.
So, I just started talking to him like oh yeah, I’m kind of doing some
Internet stuff to. I think it’s going to be really awesome and I told him
about restaurants reviews and stuff like that and then he’s like don’t do
it. How much money have you put in? I’m like, maybe a couple grand. He’s
like, get out, cut your losses. Just trust me on this. I’m like really? And
then I’m like OK fine, I decided to cut my losses and then we ended up
stopping that obviously it was great decision because I didn’t know about
the Yelp at the time.
Andrew: I see. First of all, Neil is not that modest. Neil is good at
telling you how great without telling you how great he is but at the same
time he has this part of him that will take to Macaroni Grill. When I went
to dinner with him once to talk about, I don’t know, talk about my
business, he also took me to Macaroni Grill and he drove his mom’s station
wagon with him, mom’s kindergarten whatever, something on the back. He’s
good at letting you know and he’s also good at holding back. And his
analysis, you’re right, is spot on. He can tell you where the business is,
where the money is right away and he can also tell you where it isn’t. What
was it about this business that let him know that there wasn’t going to be
money there. Yes. Yelp was around but there are competitors in the
restaurants review space that are competing with Yelp?
AJ: Well, I think it was really the obvious. It was the fact that I was a
new(?). I had no technical background, I just had this idea that’s
obviously inexistent. I had no vision of creating this amazing company like
the founders of Yelp did, or any of the other competitors. I just wanted to
make a quick buck online. I thought, “Hey, restaurant reviews sounds
exciting.” It was easy for him to see that, and for me, it’s easy for me to
see that with other people now, too, being emerged in the industry as much
as I am.
Andrew: I see, and he told you right away, “Look, just start a blog. It’s
easier to set up WordPress quickly. It’s an easy first thing to get going,
and then later on, if you want to do something technical like restaurant
reviews, you could get back into it.”
The blog that you started. . . Sorry, I’m just now taking over your story,
but I’m realizing your pacing has been very slow in this interview because
I’m so eager to learn every bit of it: what happened with your cousin, how
you sold, seminars and so on. I’m looking at the time and realizing I
haven’t been pacing this well, that’s why I’m moving a little faster.
Then you launched a blog. What was the blog?
AJ: It was a blog called Persuasive.net.
Andrew: Sorry, the connection broke out. Persuasive.net. OK.
AJ: Yeah. Persuasive.net. A lot of it was just me giving all the knowledge
I’ve spent learning about sales and psychology and just putting it on
paper, so to speak, so just writing about it and just talking about it.
Also, at the same time, what I was doing was, this was around the same time
that my mindset was just in the gutter. I was in just a really shitty spot.
I used to write about changing my mindset and making that shift and how I
should be. I kept writing about that, hoping that it would influence myself
to. . .
Andrew: And this is to yourself you wrote that, or on your blog you told
everyone this is how I should be?
AJ: Well, that was my intention of writing it was regurgitating it out
there. I used to get people that would interact in my comments. It got a
lot of engagement. I remember it getting a lot of readers. Neil was the one
that helped me set it up. I remember being at Starbucks with him at the
time when we set it up and installed it, hosted it and all that. It was
It ended up becoming a really successful blog. At one point, even Tony
Robbins tweeted my post out to a million plus of his followers and that was
probably the pinnacle of the blog’s success, but it was a great
accomplishment for me.
Andrew: You also created a product that you were trying to sell. How did
AJ: It didn’t do well.
Andrew: Why not?
AJ: I made some. . . Well, I wasn’t. . . It was just me, like, “Hey, let me
put a book together and let me just steal somebody’s sales copy and just
reword it and let me just put it out there and sell it.” With the knowledge
I have now and the amount of time I’ve spent learning about marketing, I
would kill it, but back then, it was just throwing it out there and hoping
to see if it works out there.
Andrew: You’re going to tell us in a little bit what you would do now to
kill it, right?
AJ: I paid like $600.
Andrew: $600. OK. I’m going to come back and I’m going to ask you what you
would do today to kill it. There’s one more part of this story that I want
to get to before we hear how you get traffic, how you market products like
this book that you sold, or products like the one that Salesforce and your
other clients are doing.
Let’s see how you even got into this. You were working for Neil Schwartz,
who was a coach, I guess, right?
AJ: Yeah, he was a coach for the Mike Ferry company in (?), and then, he’s
also the one that owns the number two Century 21 office in (?).
Andrew: He comes to you and he says, “Look, I need you to do some social
media marketing for me. I don’t know what it is, you know what it is. You
do it for me,” he says.
AJ: At that time, same time when I met Neil and the same time I broke my
foot, I made another decision in my life that I was in the gutter. This was
about the time my girlfriend, a different girlfriend broke up with me. I
was just miserable, like this was another state of depression. I wanted to
go puncture a hole in my cousin’s car. I was that pissed (?) selling me out
of. . . This is when I decided, “You know what? I can’t be angry any more.
I have to let that go. I have to let that part of myself just disappear and
focus on what I want to accomplish.”
When I made that decision I started thinking more clearly. Then I’m trying
to figure out, “Who can I call? Who can I connect with to figure out a way
for me to go in that direction?” I remembered Neil Schwartz, who was an
amazing guy when I used to know him at the company, so I call him up. He’s
like, “You know what? I’m actually looking for a social media guy.” I
didn’t know much, but I’m like, “OK. Cool. I’ll figure it out. Yeah.”
Then I go to his house in Beverly Hills, really nice house, met his wife. I
get into this long conversation about my goals, my dreams, and what I want
to do. He’s like, “OK. Cool. I want you on board. How much do you want to
get paid?” I have no idea at this point, “Oh crap, I’m about to make some,
like, money.” This is new, I’m like, “$2000.” He’s like, “OK. Cool. $2000.”
Andrew: $2000 a month?
AJ: $2000 a month.
Andrew: Is that too low in retrospect, considering the amount of work, or
AJ: I don’t know. I guess for the amount of knowledge I have it was fine.
Andrew: OK, and you were just getting started, all right. So you had the
client, you were doing work for him. You also got other clients from Neil
AJ: Yeah. Like Neil started introducing me to a couple people because I did
a lot of copywriting work so he introduced me to like the white pages
people and I started doing random work for some of their campaigns or some
of their websites and earn some extra cash and it was great. A lot of it
was used to pay people off that I borrowed money in the past. But at the
same time, from then on I started becoming more of an entrepreneur. I
started researching more. I started understanding the Internet a lot more
and how it works and how to get a message across to people. It started
making more sense to me.
Andrew: What’s one thing that you learned back then when you were doing
copywriting work for White pages and for Neil Swartz’s site, what’s one of
the basic things that you learned that gave you quick results?
AJ: Well that’s when I discovered the power of email marketing and
blogging. Before I had my own blog and what I’ve learned I didn’t think
much of it but then when I started working on Neil’s blog, and it wasn’t
mostly Neil’s blog, I was like holy crap, there’s a way to make a lot of
money from this.
Andrew: What was it you learned from Neil’s blog?
AJ: Affiliate marketing.
Andrew: Oh, affiliate marketing.
AJ: Discovered affiliate marketing working for Neil Swartz’s blog and I
connected with a couple different vendors in the industry. I’m like hey
we’ll sell your products to your listed agents and did and made several
thousand dollars a month.
Andrew: And you created a blog post where you were basically talking about,
what was the blog post like that did so well?
AJ: It was, like I do a direct, like, hey this is the product you should
buy because it’s to obvious. Just my experience with dealing with
salespeople you can’t just slam in front. You’ve got to be really ninja
about it. So I would write different posts about this is how you make more
sales and by the way, you should use this system because it’s going to help
you make more sales faster and then people would sign up for it and then
I’d get residual income.
And like I said, I was making several thousand dollars and we were
splitting it because Neil gave me the opportunity of making it even though
it’s his name on the blog. So we were splitting it and I was like, holy
crap this is a nice little extra income. I’ve got to figure out more ways
to do this. So, then I started looking into more areas of affiliate
marketing and a couple other side business.
Andrew: And this is, again, Neil Swartz, who you were doing this for?
AJ: Neil Swartz, yeah.
Andrew: OK, then you went through so many Neil’s here, two actually is not
that many. Then you went to do some free lance work for Neil Patel.
AJ: And then I started working for, like, Neil wanted my help because he
realized I started doing one, I started getting it. I spent a lot of time
learning it. If I want something badly enough I’ll spend the time to learn
it. So then I started helping him with [?] in his blog. I started helping
him with his blog posts, his commenting. Just copywriting work, just
whatever I could help him with. I wanted to know why he was so successful
and to figure out, like, I wanted to model his success. I wanted to see how
he made decisions. I wanted to see how he talked to people. Why is it
people give him so much money to consulting. I wanted to figure all that
Andrew: What did you learn by sitting at Neil Patel’s side and watching him
work while you worked for him?
AJ: Well, one of the things that I learned that worked really well for me
is, and I learned this from him, is that entrepreneurs, investors, they all
love scrappy people and I remember a time where Neil actually set me up
once with five meetings with these DC’s, I met them in Seattle. I was
pretty nervous, really intimidated to meet these really smart, educated
people and the only thing I remember Neil mentioning from the past was they
love scrappy people. That’s the only thing I have. I don’t have an
abundance of knowledge to talk to about VCs or whatever. So I was like, OK,
let me take the scrappy approach. So, I went to these meetings and met
these five VCs and showed them how scrappy of a person I am and hard
working I am and I won’t…
Andrew: What were these meeting about so you can go work for their
AJ: These were just meeting for him to introduce me to these people and by
the end of those meeting I think I had three or four of those DC’s that
wanted to give me money for my affiliate business.
Andrew: So, to fund your affiliate business?
AJ: Yeah, they wanted to give me money for my affiliate business.
Andrew: What was your affiliate business?
AJ: I didn’t move forward with that.
Andrew: Oh, I see. So you had an idea for an affiliate business. He
introduced you to…
AJ: It was just me doing affiliate marketing but scaling it but the method
I had was working and I was creating residual income, I was growing. So,
obviously, it was to get a couple hundred grand to start buying bigger
sites, building them out, leave me SCO work involved and making affiliate
marketing and I did get into it by myself but I decided not to take their
money and bring them on board because it wasn’t something I was super gung-
ho about. I didn’t want to go super crazy into just building these random
sites. I know their plans.
Andrew: OK. All right. I understand the scrappiness. One of the things I
notice about, this is becoming an interview as much about Neil as it is
about you, but he’s a part of your life so it’s worth including. One of the
things that I remember was that I was having dinner in Argentina and this
guy who was also at this dinner said, “Oh, you also know Neil Patel? Do you
know that story where-?” And then he starts telling me a story where Neil
got some deal that he didn’t deserve to get and then I told him about a
story how Neil’s mentor got the guy at Verizon to give him not just an
iPhone for free, but the cover for an iPhone or some non-sense like, they
tell these stories all the time about how scrappy they are and they, people
share them and they keep continuing this legend of the scrappy. What was
the story, what were the stories that you learned to tell investors to
show, hey I’m really scrappy?
AJ: I would tell them the story about when I worked with my cousin. I
worked with him for two years and I would show up 7:30 to 12:00 every day.
I was making no money. I told them what I would do. I would always be on
the phone, always be on the computer, I was always doing something and when
I’m not doing something, I’m learning. I spent a really great deal of time
just learning, whether it’s from blogs or the Internet, or going to
seminars or whatever it was. And I have an interesting story actually about
creativity. There was a time not too long ago, several months ago, where I
had this epiphany. And It was just a weird day; it was a really weird
experience I had. It felt really surreal to me. I’m not sure what it was
exactly that activated this feeling. Maybe it was because I went to
Berkeley area and I didn’t go to college myself and I’ve always lived
college vicariously through other people, no experience in college. So when
I went there it felt like a really college town. Maybe that’s what
Anyways, I started thinking all these, I started thinking more systematical
and realizing wow, there’s so many ways I could apply all these
systematical techniques to Single Grain and our business to acquire more
leads and create funnels and these sequences. It just felt like an epiphany
to me. And then when I realize is that I became, I don’t know if creative
was the right word, but I felt creative or inspired or something. So I was
like, how can I figure out how to manipulate this feeling. I want to get
more creative ideas. So I started researching creativity and how people get
inspired and how people get epiphanies. It was interesting. I spent a lot;
I dug into a lot of books. The most interesting technique that I got from
it, was that, and I mixed this with meditation which I can tell you in a
second how amazing meditation has been to me recently, but when we’re
creative sometimes our creative ideas are sparked by our daydreams for
Andrew: By what?
AJ: Daydreams. Like when you daydream.
AJ: You’re daydreaming and all of a sudden, oh crap, I just got this idea.
Kind of like how it happened to me. But what the problem is, is that when
you daydream you go from level one daydreaming to level two daydreaming
where you get more into that dream. Kind of like an inception type of
thing, right? And I realize that when I daydream I just get off into the
world and then I don’t even remember what I’m talking about. So one of the
things I learned from meditation was about breathing and how when you focus
on your breathing you become more conscious of yourself. So what I did was
every time I find myself daydreaming, before I get lost into level two,
level three daydreaming, I envisioned myself catching myself and holding
myself in level one daydream. It sounds weird. I don’t know if you’re
getting what I’m saying.
Andrew: I’m getting it. I’m not sure if we can teach it within this
interview, but we can at least give people an understanding of what you’re
doing, which is what we’re getting.
AJ: All I’m trying to do is like, when you’re in level one daydreaming you
can basically do whatever you want. You can say, “I’m the king of this
world.” Whatever you’re doing, start sparking ideas. And then what you can
do is you can spark those ideas into reality. And I started doing that and
it’s actually working in the sense that I’m putting a lot of these new
systems together for Single Grain that’s helping…
Andrew: Let’s get to Single Grain. I want to continue the narrative and get
also to how you market online. Looking at my notes, I’ve got notes on you
everywhere man, everywhere. But it’s helpful; it’s helping to get to the
right spots in this interview. Neil introduced you to someone who then was
also doing SEO business. Who was this person and what did you guys do
AJ: Sujan was Neil’s cousin. He introduced me to him; I think it was back
at a conference in Seattle. I think it was SMX advance. He just told us to
hang out and like, maybe share our thoughts with each other. Because I had
some SEO clients myself that I used to work with personally. Then he had
Single Grain and he worked with a couple of clients as well. He told us to
just hang out and see if we clicked. It’s kind of like he set us up on this
date to see if we liked each other. I met him and he was a really awesome
guy. One thing about Sujan is that he’s very systematical. I personally am
not that systematical but Sujan knows how to put the right systems together
so everything starts working automatically.
Andrew: For example?
AJ: For example he used to be really fat and he lost a ton of weight. And a
lot of it was because he had the right systems in place for following a
very strict diet, for exercising periodically, and it was only, I think, a
year where he lost a ton of weight. When he told me that story and the way
he sets up, like, if something’s working and then he changes it after a
certain period of time. The way he was explaining it to me was like wow,
this guy really understands systems well. He’s really smart and really
scrappy in the sense that he knows a lot about Internet marketing. To the
level of technicality that is beyond what I know. I’m like, this is
Andrew: You were saying he had this systemized way of looking at the world,
he knew how to do online marketing. You were starting to learn how to do
online marketing. And you guys decided to get into business together and
that’s how you formed Single Grain, the company that I introduced at the
top of this interview, right?
AJ: That’s when we got together and clicked and…
Andrew: What’s the percent breakdown in the business? Who owns what?
AJ: I can’t share that.
Andrew: It’s not 50-50. Clearly, he owns a majority. Do you own more than
Andrew: You do? OK. And when I said it’s a multi-million dollar company,
you guys doing over $1 million in sales a year, right?
Andrew: What’s the net margin? I mean, are we talking about over $1 million
a year but you’re spending $5 million a year in expenses? Is it profitable?
AJ: It’s profitable. I can’t share the margins but yeah. We have a really
great system, we have great employees, and we’re very strict on how we
actually spend the money. We’re not spending a million to make a million
type of thing.
Andrew: Any outside money in this business?
Andrew: You guys doing more than a quarter million in profit?
AJ: I’m not going to get into that.
Andrew: I shouldn’t have smiled. You saw me smile. That’s when I knew the
poker face went away, that was a mistake. I’ll have to work on that.
AJ: We do well. Our margins are really well and we do well. Again, a lot of
it is because Sujan is really good at making things systematical and making
sure that we’re not wasting money on things that we shouldn’t waste it on.
Andrew: OK. Who goes after the clients, you or him?
AJ: I go after the clients. I do the sales part of the company and then
sometimes he, he’s been in the business a lot longer than I have so more
often than not he introduces me to a lot of people. Then we just get them
Andrew: All right, so now teach us. Now I’ve got somebody who’s listening
to me, more than one somebody but let’s bring it down to one person who’s
listening who said hey, at the top of the interview Andrew said he’s going
to show us how Single Grain does killer marketing for these big brands and
also for hustlers like Tim Sykes. I listened to this whole interview
looking for the key moment, they still didn’t hit me with it. We have an
obligation we have to live up to. What do we tell that person? What are
some of the killer marketing systems that you guys have put together?
AJ: Well, a lot of, like, with SEO comes down to link building. The way we
like to break it down, and these numbers aren’t 100% accurate, but we put
it at 10% of it is the social signals of things, 30% of it is the on-page
factors, and then 60% of it is the off-page factors, which is the link
building. Most people have the hardest time doing the link building because
it’s very difficult to get links.
One thing I recommend that works really well for us is that we’ve been
fortunate enough to build relationships with a lot of different website
owners and web masters. The way we build them is by just going to different
events, different seminars. It’s because of that inventory of links that we
have access to, we can scale our link building methods in a very, in a
completely legitimate way that most others can’t. My advice to people that
are trying to do SEOs themselves is you need to go to these different
events and make relationships with these types of link builders.
Andrew: Who are these types of people who are link builders who will send
you links on command?
AJ: They don’t send it on command. It’s usually for an exchange of
Andrew: What do you give them?
AJ: We give them content, you know? More often than not these web masters
have a lot of sites that they make money off, like, ad sales. They’re not
super savvy, they just have a lot of blogs. They’ve just been around for a
long time. So what we do is, we have writers on staff and we pump them free
content and they’re more than happy to do it because it just helps their
blogs brain. At the same time, we put links on those articles.
Andrew: Do you give them content and you end up getting links on their
articles. You have a database full of these people?
AJ: We have a lot of people we have access to, yes. And then from that site
a tree with a lot of different sites.
Andrew: OK. What else to you do?
AJ: We also have a lot of social media power in the sense that we have
access to a lot of power accounts, like the Diggs, the Reddits, the
StumbleUpons of the world.
Andrew: How do you get those? You weren’t in this space and passionate
about Digg long enough to have assumed some of that.
AJ: They’re not my personal accounts. We just have access to personal
accounts. Whether it’s our employees or just people we know, we have access
to these power accounts, so we get to utilize them and it allows us to get
certain blog posts on the top of Digg or make them go viral on Stumble and
stuff like that.
Andrew: So you just hit these people up, and you said: ‘Hey, look. You’re a
dig player. I need you to submit this to Digg and then you go to twenty
other people you have on IM. Is it IM that you use to talk to them?
AJ: Our people who do this? Yes. I personally don’t do it.
Andrew: So you have people who would then go on IM and say go hook this up?
AJ: Or help load this up, or help get this out there. Push it to your
network. Whatever. Sometimes it could take days, but at the same time, it
works really well for some people.
Andrew: Who do you have internally who can do that? How do you hire people
who have access to all these people?
AJ: Sujan does all the hiring, everybody we have. We have 14 people now.
We’re in San Francisco. San Francisco has a lot of talent, so we have a
very strict process of who we hire. We’ve just been fortunate enough to
have done a good job so far doing that.
Andrew: What else do you do?
AJ: We also do PPC management, (?), so that’s been going really well for
us. We have an amazing PPC expert at our office whom we’ve hired and he’s
building our department and we’re managing a lot of money for a lot of big
clients. That’s going really well. A lot of that is in relation to emergent
optimization that we’re doing for our PPC clients and building awesome add-
in pages and making sure that people are getting ROI from what they’re
Andrew: All right. I have to drill down further and give people a lot more
concrete things that they could do. Why don’t we start with if somebody’s
listening to us and they don’t have all these people who are connected to
them with Digg accounts and Reddit accounts, what do they do to use social
media to start getting some links and traffic?
AJ: One thing, there’s this one client. She’s in the health industry and
she used to have about 30,000 hits a month. That was her traffic. It was
not bad. It was decent. But the thing that took her to where she’s at
today, which is half a million visitors a month, is very good content. I
know it sounds really as if I’m trying to avoid the question, but really it
was just really good content with solid headlines. It was utilizing an
email list which was 2,000 people at the time, and now it’s at 42,000. It
took about 7 or 8 months to do.
Andrew: All right then. Let’s go one step at a time. Great content. How do
you get it? I try to hire good writers. I remember even emailing Neil and
saying, “Dude, how do I hire some good writers? Do you know any?” And he
goes, “Nope.” This is a guy who introduced me to everyone, but not writers
because it’s hard to find good writers who can do this stuff.
AJ: Good writers are very hard. I don’t disagree with you. As an agency
that writes a lot, we have to be able to write ourselves on a consistent
basis. We even have several employees who spend most of their time managing
these writers other than me who has approval out of the articles. Writers
are difficult to find and that’s why it’s very important that you spend
good money for content. There are a lot of people who are spending $15 or
$20 on content, but there’s a huge difference between a $20 piece of
content and something like $60 or $100 content.
Andrew: Have you systemized your writing? Do you have a set need?
AJ: It’s a program called Trello. I think it’s still free.
Andrew: Yes. Joel Spolsky created it. Yes. Sorry.
AJ: It’s a good way to systemize it. Then you can have multiple writers,
multiple boards, whatever you want to call it, for different sites. That
works really well.
Andrew: Oh, man. The connection’s going really funky on me. Let me see if I
understand this. Let me repeat what I heard. Tell me if I got it right. You
go to Trello and there you can create a list, in fact it’s basically a
collection of lists, and one of your lists is the template for how to
write, where you say, look, the first word needs to be this or the first
sentence needs to be that, the second paragraph needs to do that, step-by-
step what people need to do when they’re writing for you. Yeah, like step
by step what people need to do when they’re writing for you. Yes.
Add pictures, add notes, whatever you want, and then the writer comes in
and looks at it. Then puts the article together, uploads it back. Puts some
kind of color label. This is how you would systemize it.
Andrew: OK, if I looked at this board would I be able to start writing for
you guys based on what you’ve got there?
AJ: Yeah, I would just have to explain the color system to you.
Andrew: Interesting. All right, so that’s how you systemize your writing.
AJ: Green means OK, go ahead and publish it.
Andrew: I see.
AJ: It’s really important because, and this is something that I tell a lot
of the companies to do. Especially, there’s a forming company that didn’t
have a blog at all. They were in the fashiony space. I told them to do it,
I stressed it so much. They finally did it and now they’re getting almost
20,000 visitors a month plus from their blog. It’s really that simple and
most companies don’t utilize their blog for company news [??].
Andrew: Company what?
AJ: Company news, like telling about…
Andrew: Yeah, what’s the advice that you gave her beyond write good
articles. You couldn’t tell a friend write good articles. You’d have to
give her something more specific so what specifically did you tell her?
AJ: For that particular industry I said look, you guys are in a certain
vertical of the fashion space so you guys need a blog that’s more broad. I
want you to cover the fashion space. I want you to not talk about your
products at all. None whatsoever. Write about anything fashion related.
That’s what they did. I told them you have to be consistent and that it
takes time. It takes a couple of months to do it. If you have special
promotional accounts it helps but it’s not necessary. They didn’t use any
promotional accounts. It took them a couple of months and now they’re
generating really good traffic.
Then what happens is that for most companies that do this method with that
traffic then you’ve just got to optimize the blog. Whether it’s to collect
emails or whatever it is. Then you can get that traffic to purchase your
products or your services. One of the epiphanies that I got that one day I
was sharing with you earlier was about creating sequences and funnels that
are really elaborate and that have assumptive closes and that don’t push
too much of the product until X days afterwards. You get these systems in
place and then you start building relationships with your email list and
you get them to purchase your product. One of the ways to drive them in
would be to your blog. It all starts at putting a powerful blog together.
Andrew: OK, so putting a blog together. Get some links going. You told us
what to write the blog about. Walk me through a little bit of this funnel
that you’d create for people or that our audience should be creating for
themselves. First step, come in for the blog. Second step, what?
AJ: First step they come for the blog but then you’ve got to convince them
to sign up for your email list. Whether it’s giving them some kind of
incentive but you’ve just got to give them some kind of value. The mistake
that most people make is that hey, here’s a free e-book or hey, sign up for
my list, get alerts. And then they just kind of continue to maneuver and
fix the wording on stuff like that. But what people have got to do is
they’ve got to really understand the thought sequence of the people that
are coming to the blog.
Sometimes that includes surveying them. Sometimes, you can use Kiss
Insights and put a survey on the bottom and ask them whatever questions you
want about understanding what type of person they are. Then based off of
the data that you collect from them then you start modifying the messaging
towards the type of audience you have. Then you start collecting emails
from that. Then with the emails you send them some kind of welcome…
Andrew: Hang on, let’s stop for a second just to make sure that I
understand everything so far. I understand what the blog covers. I
understand it’s now time for me to learn more about my audience. But you
said ask them some kind of questions but we weren’t specific. Let me see if
I understand the kinds of questions you want me to ask. You want me to pop
up one of those little Kiss Insight boxes on the bottom right of the site,
or anywhere that I want to survey them, and say something like what’s your
big challenge now? What are you worried about? What are you trying to
solve? What did you come to this page for?
You’re nodding. What you’re trying to do is understand what the person
wants and needs. And then, going back to the email collection box, if I
were running a fashion site and people kept saying to me I can’t afford all
of the clothes that I see in your pictures. Or I can’t afford all of the
clothes that I see in US Magazine or whatever. Then the thing that I would
offer them to collect their email address is something that said can’t
afford the hot styles? Here’s how to get them for cheap. And that’s how I’d
AJ: Yeah, if you discover a pattern or a trend in the type of answers that
you’re getting then yeah. That’s how you start modifying the messaging.
Then one of the other things that people do a bad job at, especially bigger
companies, is that they start sending messages as the company. As opposed
to sending messages as a founder. When a person changes it from company to
people, because people like dealing with people, it’s a tremendous
difference in the level of engagement you start getting from clients. Also,
at the same time it’s about being conversational. Remember how earlier we
were talking about being conversational?
AJ: You know marketing’s the same thing. So, what I’m really doing, is
like, when I had that epiphany, what I realized is that a lot of the
techniques, you know, marketers use, you know marketers, the people that
are the “how to make money online” that make crazy cash with launch
sequences with all this cool fun stuff. I basically started applying that
for some of my clients and this worked out really well. Having that
conversation with the people…
Andrew: How do you, alright, so now I’ve got the email address and you told
me “hey, don’t come at them from reddresssite.com, but come at them from
Robin Stern to make up a name.” And now Robin Stern’s sending them emails.
What are the emails that are coming to the user in a sequence?
AJ: First, you’re giving them whatever the incentive that you give them.
So, “as promised, here’s the incentive that I was talking to you about.”
So, you’re making conversation in a sense that, “Hey, I’m Robin and I’m
giving it to you now, so take it.” And over time, whether it’s a thirty day
sequence or a 4G sequence, whatever it is, you can offer them different
things like tips and flights. Whatever your blog is associated with or
talking about, those are the types of emails you want to start sending out
to people. They don’t need to be too specific. They don’t need to be that
big. They just need to be some valuable tidbits of information that you
want to give them. Maybe it could be about how to use that incentive that
you gave them. Maybe you gave them some crazy book and you’re just teaching
them how to use that book. And then over time, you slowly start mentioning,
by the way, we also sell this product. Oh, we also sell Red Dresses so you
may want to check them out.
Andrew: I see. And buy your red dresses from us.
AJ: Indirectly, dabbling in that and mentioning it, and then email number
seven, email number ten, you can talk about, ‘hey we’re doing this really
amazing special on red dresses today. You got to check it out.’ So it’s
more of a hard sale towards the end as opposed to being a soft sale over
time. And then…
AJ: I don’t know. Go ahead.
Andrew: No, no. What you were going to say, “and then…”
AJ: I was just going to say and then what happens with all those soft sales
and all those tidbits. You’re really just nurturing the list. You’re
building a relationship with people. You’re building a genuine relationship
with a person that I don’t get to talk to on a day-to-day basis other than
via email. So, I’m building the rapport with you so that over email seven,
email ten, whatever it is, it’s an easier sale. You’re more likely to
purchase from me because now you know me as a person.
Andrew: So, I understand how that would work with the Tim Sikes because
he’s selling CDs and videos about how to trade stocks, but would it also
work with, let me see, your clients are Yahoo, Sales Force, Cafe Press,
Mint, Zarley. You’re wearing a Zarley T-shirt. Would it also work for a
company Zarley that’s trying to get people to use their personal
Andrew: … to do work?
AJ: I’m actually talking to Zarley right now and we’re literally setting
this up and putting it in place on a similar type of format, similar
system, except for them, it’d be more so of a person hosting a request. You
know the way their system works.
Andrew: The end is a person posting a request, not buying a red dress, but
you still also don’t want the email to come from Zarley. You want it coming
from an individual. You don’t want them collecting email. OK. So
essentially this is what you’re trying to do for them. OK. I want to tell
people about Mixergy Premium and then I’ve got to ask you for something
that’s a secret. I will break the secret, so that you don’t get in trouble.
I’ll just ask you to confirm it and hopefully you will confirm. But I’ll
reveal it. Actually, in fact, you know what Mixergy Premium is. If you were
here in my place, trying to sell it to the audience, trying to get the
audience to go to MixergyPremium.com to sign up for courses, what would you
AJ: Well, I’ve, my like, the way I’ve gone and developed all my knowledge
is through people that have done it before, people that are successful and
I’ve been into your Mixergy Premium before. I’ve looked at all the videos
and it’s like, having access to all of that up in one area as opposed to me
trying to filter through the entire Internet, finding, like, you know,
tidbits of people that say they’re amazing, and not giving away this and
that and selling expensive programs. I’ve seen your stuff and it’s really
good, and it’s very affordable for the amount of knowledge that people give
Andrew: A mutual friend, including Neil Patel, told me to increase prices.
Do you think I should or am I doing ok where I am?
AJ: I think you should, but you’ve got to just start [??]
Andrew: The what?
AJ: I have a lot of advice that I could give you over, outside of it, just
to talk about it more.
Andrew: You know we talked about you guys, I’ve, I know Single Grain. I’ve
seen the work that you guys have done for other people. We talked about
having you guys do for Mixergy. And I’d love it, but I’m so distracted with
trying to improve the courses, that I can’t get you the feedback. You guys
don’t just, the idea that you would just put up a landing page and close
sales was maybe a dream that I had when we first talked, but that’s not how
you work. What you want to do is talk to the customers and see why they’re
buying. You want to talk to potential customers and see what issues they
have, all that stuff is really useful, and we’re doing a little bit of it,
you want to do even more of it, and it means I have to interact with you
much more than I was able to when we first talked. Hopefully I’ll have a
little bit more free time so that we can do that. But I didn’t want to keep
letting you down by not coming back to you with the next project, and the
next survey, and so on.
AJ: When we’re doing this, for (?) for example, the first month alone is
really understanding the customer and the voice of the customer. Because
all the messaging is tailored to that, as opposed to just making the
standard changes and putting this, that, and the other thing. It just
doesn’t work that well. You don’t get as much of a (?) as you do when you
actually alter everything.
Andrew: I want to work with you, and I also want to see if you could do a
course for (?) premium members, but I don’t know what the course topic is.
Maybe we should just put it out there guys. If you want to hear from A.J.,
what course should he teach? What would you want him to teach you? Now
let’s see what people say to that. All right, would you be up for doing a
AJ: Of course. Definitely.
Andrew: Courses, of course [jokingly]. All right, here’s the thing, here’s
what I heard: Neil Patel always answers all the comments that come to his
blog. I heard that was you answering all those comments. That you were,
back in the days when you were hustling, you were pretending to be him
there, and pretending to be him in other places.
AJ: Are you asking if that’s true?
AJ: I’m not going to answer that.
Andrew: You’re not going to answer that?
Andrew: All right, you know what? We’re . . . [laughing], you’re smiling,
that’s enough of an answer. You can’t ask me to edit this stuff out. Neil
Patel, actually when I was doing live events and I had him up on stage, he
admitted to having – he called them monkeys. He said, “I hired monkeys to
go and pretend to be me on lots of websites and that’s how people think
that I’m everywhere, but I’m not that engaged with all those sites.” Can
you confirm that? You said “yup” when I said the monkeys.
AJ: Yeah, he has a lot of monkeys. [laughing] Yeah, definitely.
Andrew: All right, here’s what I suggest: anyone who wants to see that,
Neil, when it comes to conferences, is very available. Go to Neil and ask
him these questions. I think if he tells you in private, you’re going to
get the good stuff. I don’t think I can get A.J. I don’t want to put A.J.
in a position where he rats . . .
AJ: Have a drink with him and then he’ll tell you.
Andrew: Are you going to ask me to edit that part of the interview?
Andrew: We’re good with what we said. All right, you know what, here’s the
one thing I didn’t get to was just all this work, you’re finally here.
Jeremy, our producer, asked you what are some of the good parts of this and
here’s what you said, something that I can identify with, “It’s the simply
things that sometimes make this whole struggle worth it.” You said, “Look,
I used to have to go to check my bank account before I went to Taco Bell to
just buy food.” You remember that?
AJ: Yeah, of course.
Andrew: Now, when you want to buy something, you just go to Amazon, you hit
“buy now”, you don’t even think about it, it just comes. It’s an easier
life, you don’t have to worry about the basic nonsense of life now.
AJ: It’s absolutely amazing. The fact that you don’t have to check your
bank account when you’re making any kind of purchases is a great feeling.
At the same time, just to add something that I recently started doing again
which I mentioned before, is meditation. Meditation has been huge because,
as an entrepreneur, your emotions go wild as a roller coaster. It was Ethan
Shaw that told me that sometimes you get so excited you’re up here, and
sometimes when you get so depressed you’re going to be down here. The goal
is to keep it at that equal medium, that way, you’re always stable and you
can keep moving forward. It’s easier said than done. Until I came across
meditation. Now I catch myself getting into whatever mood, whether it’s too
much, or too little, and I level myself with my focus and my breathing. My
doing that has made an amazing difference in my life. Absolutely amazing,
where I’ve been so happy, so consistently happy over the last several
months, and a lot of it was because of meditation.
Andrew: Where did you learn to meditate?
AJ: My friend Max actually introduced me to it and told me about how
amazing it was and how he was doing it himself, and then I just started
reading a book on it. It’s called “Real Happiness”.
Andrew: “Real Happiness” is the book?
AJ: “Real Happiness”. I just listen to it at night time, and I’m
practicing, and it’s just amazing the way the book is done, and it teaches
you step-by-step how to do it, and now all day every day I’m just thinking
about breathing every time I get into that negative mind set. I even bought
these notes, these shower notes, for ideas that I come up with and I just
have ‘focus on your breathing’ written on it because you daydream so much
and I just want to keep myself focused and centered.
Andrew: I’ve heard that a lot in interviews. I meditate. It’s so helpful. I
don’t even know how to begin explaining meditation though in an interview,
or course here. I had one guy who was going to teach meditation, but he
must have backed out after he worked with Jeremy to put together the
outline. It’s a tough topic to teach.
AJ: It’s really hard, and honestly, I think most people won’t do it. I
haven’t done it for years and I’ve been exposed to it for a long time.
Unless you really badly want to do it. And again, if you do do it, you’ll
experience happiness, which is the end goal for most people. People don’t
realize that happiness is an experience that you should be indulging in
daily, as opposed to an end goal that you’ll get to when you’re successful.
When you have that mind set, things just start to align in place, and it’s
Andrew: All right. A great place to leave it. A.J. from singlegrain.com,
thank you for doing this interview. Hey everyone, thank you all for
watching. If you got anything out of this interview, I always tell you to
do this, this is the way that we all connect with each other, we just shoot
an email to someone we’re interested in meeting. Someone who we’ve heard
and gotten something from. So, if you got anything valuable from this
interview, be a hustler, find AJ’s email address. Don’t ask for anything.
Don’t offer to hire him right away. Just say, hey AJ, thanks for doing that
interview. I’m going to do it right now, “AJ, thank you for doing this
interview”. Thank you all for watching. Bye.
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