How much revenue would you expect a founder to generate if he sold jellyfish online?
Alex Andon, founder of Jellyfish Art, is here to say that his company did $250,000 in its first year by selling aquariums with jellyfish.
I invited him to tell you how he did it, including:
– How he got his funding through a Kickstarter campaign
– How he generated press from The New York Times, NPR and others — without a marketing budget
– And he sends live jellyfish through the mail
Watch the FULL program
Alex Andon, Jellyfish Art
Alex Andon is the founder of Jellyfish Art, which makes jellyfish tanks and supplies live jellyfish.
Andrew: Three messages before we get started.
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Do you remember when I interviewed Sarah Sutton Fell about how thousands of people pay for her job site? Look at the biggest point that she made. She said that she has a phone number on every page of her site because, and here’s a stat, 95% of the people who call end up buying. Most people, though, don’t call her, but seeing a real number increases their confidence in her and they buy. Try this: Go to grasshopper.com and get a phone number that will make your company sound professional. Add it to your site and see what happens. Grasshopper.com.
Remember Patrick Buckley, who I interviewed? He came up with an idea for an iPad case. He built a store to sell it, and in a few months he generated about a million dollars in sales. Well, the platform he used is Shopify. If you have an idea to sell anything, set up your store on Shopify.com because Shopify stores are designed to increase sales. Plus, Shopify makes it easy to set up a beautiful store and manage it. Shopify.com.
Here’s the program.
Hey everyone, my name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart, the place where you come to listen to successful entrepreneurs tell you the stories behind their businesses.
How much money would you expect a founder to generate if he sold jellyfish online? Jellyfish. Alex Andon is the founder of Jellyfish Art. He’s here to say that he generated a quarter of a million dollars by selling aquariums with jellyfish. I invited him here to tell you how he did it, including how he got funding through a kick start campaign, how he generated press from the New York Times, NPR and many other outlets without a single dollar of PR spending.
The last part is something that is not especially business related, but I’m kind of curious about: How can you even send anything live in the mail? I want to hear the whole story. I want to learn from his experiences. Alex, welcome, and thanks for sharing it all.
Alex: Thanks for having me, Andrew.
Andrew: So, we’re in October. Actually, we’re at the end of October right now. How much revenue have you generated – forget the first year – how much revenue have you generated right now?
Alex: Last year was our first real year. This year we’ll probably do about half million, or so.
Andrew: Half a million by the end of the year?
Andrew: That includes the Christmas rush and everything else.
Alex: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: Fair to say that you’re about 350 so far?
Alex: Yeah, yeah.
Alex: A little better than that, yeah.
Andrew: All right. A little bit lower, or a little bit higher?
Alex: Better, better.
Andrew: A little better than that already?
Alex: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: Oh, wow. So, you might have a killer Christmas then.
Alex: Yeah, yeah. Christmas is always good to us.
Andrew: Hey, tell me about that time you went to play soccer. Let’s start off with that and then we’ll go back in time and figure out how you got here. Do you remember that story?
Alex: Yeah. So, this is when we had first put up the Kickstarter campaign. We knew we had a quirky product, which is the kind of thing that tends to do well on there. People had been buying it already, so we figured we’d do all right. We put the goal at about $3,000 that was our Kickstarter goal. We were 95% sure we could get that. We started off the first couple days of the campaign doing well.
Then my business partner and I head off on a Friday afternoon to go play pick up soccer. We come back and our inboxes are just packed with orders. We’re like, “What is going on?” We had made a few thousand dollars just in that time period that we’d been playing soccer. We start scrambling, trying to figure out why.
We actually falsely attributed it to this Tweet from Jermaine Dupri. He’s this rap artist. I hadn’t heard that name since middle school. He had tweeted about us. We were like, “Oh, man. A famous person Tweets about you; that must be it.”
It turned out it had been mostly from this blog, Uncrate.com, that had posted about us. Immediately tons of other blogs had picked it up. We bought a bunch of Cokes and started pounding away on laptops, to make sure we were ready to scale with it. That whole weekend the sales just did not stop. I mean, every 20 minutes, or so, they were coming in, and we were selling pretty basic items. It was a big weekend for us, it’s a lot of fun.
Andrew: How much did you bring in over all from Kickstarter?
Alex: So we finished off with $163,000.
Andrew: $163,000 and how much did you in for again?
Andrew: So $3000.
Alex: Yeah. That was actually our goal. That’s what we wanted and that’s what we thought we would get.
Andrew: The idea behind Kickstarter is you say, “If you guys give me this money, then I would create this product for you”. And you show the product that you wanted to create and sell the people. But what I’m wondering is, I imagine people go to Kickstarter, because they need money. They don’t have the money to create the product that they’re trying to sell. Why do you have to go to Kickstarter to just bringing in $3000?
Alex: I mean, we probably set our goal artificially low. Maybe we should’ve done $10,000 or so. But we saw…
Andrew: Why do you need anything, if you were bringing in quarter of a million dollars previous year?
Alex: Yeah. I mean, we knew we were going to do this. We knew we were going to launch this product. We been showing it at trade shows, and getting it there and contacting retailers. But we barely had enough to do it. It costs a lot to manufacture a product for the first time. I mean, first of all you’ve got those sum costs just for developing the product, that you never see again. And then once you go to that scale, where you actually working with a factory and manufacturing it, you have to do pretty large orders. So we were going from eCommerce, selling one to these customers to doing these huge orders. So we need a lot of capital…
Andrew: This is whole new kind of product, one that you could fulfill much more, one that you could manufacture much more rapidly.
Alex: Right. What we’ve been doing is, we kind of like slipped in the back door of this business. We were taking another company’s product and retrofitting it, and passing it off as our own. And just see if there is a market. We started selling it online, we like, “Oh, lot of people are buying these. How can we expand?” Let’s make our own product, designed specifically for jelly fish. And then, now if we’re manufacturing, we’re doing that at much lower cost. We can actually whole sell. So that’s been the plan for awhile.
Andrew: Is it also that there wasn’t a big margin? When I say quarter million dollars, I use it because of Vanity Matrix, and it’s a number that gets my audience’s attention. But is it fair to say that, if you needed to put up a Kickstarter campaign, that the margins are fairly small, because we’re talking about a little bit over 1% of your overall revenue for the previous year. If you needed to raise that if you didn’t have that in the bank to come up with the new product. Is it the margins were pretty small I’m imagine?
Alex: So, I mean, the real costs of bringing this new product to market, was about $100,000. So that includes like the development costs, and the cost to place that first minimum order. So it was a pretty big cost, we were looking at. $3000, is probably not really accurate for what we needed. We really needed like $10, or $20 grant to really get a boost. So, we were hoping to get that. $3000 is more just a way to make sure we get something. Because if you don’t meet your goal in Kickstarter, you don’t get anything. Yeah. That was sort of the going behind it. And then we looked at the other campaigns, and when people met their goal on Kickstarter, that didn’t deter people from continuing to donate. So we figure we set it well.
Andrew: I see so. Part of it was, if we set it low, then there will be more excitement. People feel like they’re definitely going to get something if they put money in. And it feels like an active campaign, and that’s what they were thinking.
Alex: We want to think conservative, yeah.
Andrew: All right. Let’s go back in time and figure out how you got here. Where did the original idea come from?
Alex: The original idea is really simple. For the past 10, 15 years or so, jelly fish has been really popular in the public aquariums. They require special tank design, so they don’t get sucked into the pumps and filters. So the public aquariums figured that out in a big scale. They start putting out these jelly fish aquariums, these exhibits. And people just absolutely love them. And now every public aquarium in the world has a jelly fish exhibit.
Andrew: I also know that bars have them sometimes, and restaurants.
Alex: Yeah. We’ve done a couple of those, yeah.
So now, when you take that tank design and try scale it down to size, it gets really difficult. So people weren’t able to have their own pet jelly fish. Because you can’t put them in a regular fish tank. So there were couple companies out there, making these big $4, $5, thousand tanks, trying to mass market them. It wasn’t really working. So we knew we needed something cheap and affordable, is easy to let people have their own pet jelly fish. And people are going to the public aquariums everyday to see these things and taking so many pictures of them, and raving about them on Twitter. So we know people love them. So like I said, we took this other company tanks, and we retrofitted, and sell it online as our own, just to kind of test the waters. And that started doing really well.
And what was great about this business is, in addition to the customers, buying the product, because they like it, it’s such a corky product, that the press just was drawn to us. In the very beginning, when I was still working out of my living room. All I had was a laptop, and a folding chair. We were on the cover of Sunday New York Times. So and then from there it kept coming in. So that’s been a great perk of this business, it just attracts attention, an especially from the press.
Andrew: All right, I want to go a little bit slower here. So you saw the opportunity, I want to go slower so I can understand exactly how you built up, how you got the first customers, how you figured out to even supply the first customers by mail. As I said, in the intro, the part where I stuttered over, was the live animals being sent in the mail. Actually is a Jellyfish an animal or a fish?
Alex: It’s a very, very simple Cnidarian, so really it’s [??] coral and sea anemones so they’re really just like a sack that has enough muscle to move around.
Andrew: So what do I call it, do I call it an animal?
Alex: Yes, it’s an animal.
Andrew: All right. So it seems like before you even started selling online you were selling them off line right?
Alex: Yes, I suppose the business really started when I started selling these custom tanks. Because I knew public aquariums were doing it at these large size, so I knew that was possible. The basic formula was there was a demand, people love jellyfish. If I can just figure out a way to supply them then you got yourself a business. So first I figured public aquariums are making these big tanks, someone’s building them somewhere. If I can sell them then I’m selling something.
So I started with the custom tanks, did that for about a year. It was horrendous because I’m not actually doing any of the work, I’m not building acrylic or filtration equipment. So you’ve got these customers who are throwing a lot of money down on the table and are very demanding, but I’m not making any of that. I have to pass off all of it, and so that was very stressful, so no money for about the first eight months or so. And then that’s when we started [??] I transfer to an e-commerce model, with a retrofitted tank the other company’s tank.
Andrew: The first website you put on, what was it based on. I mean what platform was it built on?
Alex: It was my buddy who spent about 20 minutes putting up a couple of pictures and text and I just ran some ad-words.
Andrew: Was it WordPress, Yahoo Stores, Shopify?
Alex: When I was doing the custom tanks it was just some simple html. When I first started e-commerce, again it was just my buddy doing like a PayPal buy now button. Finally I ended up using Volusion, it’s pretty similar to Shopify. And their just like out of the box turn key e-commerce software.
Andrew: Volusion, OK. So you just set this thing up. All right, so now you’ve got a website, you know product you’re going to sell. Because you’re essentially reselling someone else tanks. Let’s pause a minute ask about that. Where did you find the tanks, the supplier of the tanks that you were going to send out?
Alex: There’s this company from the UK. That makes a pretty unique aquarium that uses an air-pump instead of a water pump to generate the water flow. So that flow of air bubbles generates the water flow. And I was able to kind of make some modifications to the tube in the way that water comes in to make it suitable for jellyfish.
Andrew: What kind of modifications are we talking about?
Alex: So there’s a little 10 inch tub in the tank. I make it 11 1/2 inches, cut some notches in it and, add some marbles to the bottom, to shield the jellyfish from the rocks on the bottom, and then it’s good to go.
Andrew: I see. I saw the video on line where you tell people how to introduce the jellyfish to the aquarium. And you say put some gravel but then cover it with the glass marbles. Why do the jellyfish need the gravel, this is kind of a science question?
Alex: This is purely a biology thing. This is kind of cool thing that we do with our tank that no other company does. Normally when you buy a fish tank, there’s a colony of helpful bacteria in there that digest the waste from the fish, and normally you have to allow the colony time to grow to catch up to the waste that’s being produced by the fish. It takes like two to four weeks.
Andrew: You say they take the weight off of the fish?
Alex: The waste.
Andrew: The waste, oh, I see.
Alex: So what we do is we’ve created a great loop hole where we have all this bacteria growing in our own holding tanks. So we ship a little packet with the jellyfish, and anyone who knows anything about exponential grow, once you reach kind of a critical point these bacteria colonies double very quickly. So we provide that critical minimal mass, [??] and then it’s able to double very quickly and catch up to the load within a few days instead of a month.
Andrew: All right, I see now where you got it, I understand the modifications. What I’m curious about now is, taking it step-by-step and seeing. Like if I was in the audience what would I wish this dude Andrew would ask. Part of it is let’s get to the money, I’ve got to slow that down here. How do you even know this stuff? Like if I wanted to sell jellyfish I don’t know anything about jellyfish. From everything that I’ve seen in your bio you graduated from Duke University with a B.S. in biology and environmental science so that’s what helped you to [??].
Alex: Yeah, so I did a lot of marine bio in college that sort of made people think I knew what I was doing, but I had no idea what I was doing. Especially and even less so in business.
Andrew: So how do you figure it out?
Alex: Literally Googling in the very beginning to get some basics and then just asking around. The best thing to do is just ask someone who’s done it before, and talk to them, and people are always willing to help.
Andrew: Who’d you find out that was special early on?
Alex: Really random people, people who had their own aquarium business, because they were really practical. I thought the public aquariums would be very helpful but they have this kind of scientific, they want every detail, and they want to test everything. I just wanted something that works, so it was much more helpful to go to the people who were running aquarium shops and stuff like that.
Andrew: All right, so now you understand it, I also understand how you built up the website. How do you get the first customers to come to this website and buy from you?
Alex: It was just add-words, we weren’t up on any search results so it was purely ad-words in the beginning, and that’s how we were getting those big sales too. Like that first $25,000 sale that came from this restaurant in Seattle. That was just AdWords and a really simple website my friend…
Andrew: They just Googled for this Jellyfish aquarium, they found you, and how did you up-sale them on 25000, I can’t imagine that you had an offer for 25000 on your site, did you?
Alex: No. When you’re starting out and you’re really hungry it’s incredible what kind of sales you can pull off. I don’t even know if I can pull that off today. I think I just figured that I could figure it out so I have to just book the sale. I did what ever it took to book the sale.
Andrew: I guess he just called you up, you had your phone number on the site?
Alex: Yes, phone number, email, so we talked for a while. He was building out this new restaurant, and he wanted a center piece, and he’s seen Jellyfish at the public aquariums.
Andrew: So the $250,000 that you did that first year you were on line, that just came all from ad-words?
Alex: Well it started with ad-words, but then like I said, we were getting all this press, right from the start. And then I realized that’s really valuable SEO. So immediately we put a little effort into SEO and our page rank was super high for a new website because we had links from the Holy Grail, the New York Times, and all that. So SEO wasn’t very hard so pretty soon we started coming up on the organic searches. But again, it was all search in the beginning.
Andrew: So what we have is AdWords first, then PR, then that fed into SEO?
Andrew: All right, I want dig into each one of these and understand how you got customers from everyone of them, starting with AdWords.
It’s a competitive market in AdWords, because there are already people who’ve been, especially by 2008. There are people who’ve been in the market long enough to figure out the whole sales funnel through ad-words, and they know how to maximize every bit of traffic that they get. And in you walk in, a guy who’s not sure what platform you built your website on, who was for a long time using PayPal to collect payment, and you have to find away to make those ad-words, payments to Google payoff in orders to you, what did you learn, how did you did it?
Alex: We basically saw this very small niche on ad-words for people who were searching for pet Jellyfish. Because they were going to the aquariums, they see them, and they want their own. And there were a couple of companies with expensive tanks but they weren’t doing ad-words, so we knew at least there was this small market on ad-words for people searching for pet Jellyfish. And that’s exactly what we did, and we’re the only ones doing it, so we could dominate it every easily. So that was a pretty simple formula, we started there.
Andrew: So there was nobody else who was doing Jellyfish ad-buys, and so when you came in with a little bit of money you were able to take over?
Alex: Right, exactly, and later on we started going into the market for just pet fish and converting those people who wanted something more novel. But that was once we had a foot in the door.
Andrew: So I see ad-words, and then PR starts coming in the mix. I definitely don’t see any PR training in you background right. You were working at a biotech company, were you laid off from a company when you started this business?
Alex: Yes, yes.
Andrew: Let’s come back to that later on if we have time. So I don’t see any PR experience, how do you get into it, what’s the first thing that you do in PR?
Alex: If you have PR experience and the contacts and you know how to write a good pitch, I think that can get you 10% of the way there, but 90% of it is just having a product or story that attracts attention. So it really organic, I mean we had that quirky product and the cool story. Like the business started [??] that was really what got the business…
Andrew: The business started during a recession that’s what helped you?
Alex: Right, that first article on the cover of the Times was about people who had been laid off during the recession and instead of looking for a new job, they started their own businesses. It was that American entrepreneurial spirit.
Andrew: There are tons of people who got laid off and started their own business, or decided the economy sucks and they were going to start their own business, but had some interesting take on why they started their own business. Almost none of them, you and a couple of other people were in that article, how did you become one of the few people that this writer discovered?
Alex: Right. This writer, Matt Richtel literally went to this event where there were probably about 500 people. It was an event specifically for people like me. He knew he was writing this article, and he just needed a poster child. He literally went to this event where there were 500 of these people and was looking for someone and he stumbled upon me and I had that quirky product, the pet jellyfish.
It just grabs people’s attention every time. Anytime I’m doing a pitch I do pet jellyfish in the subject line. It just always grabs people’s attention. That was really what cinched it. Those two things. I fit the bill for the article he was writing and just that pet jellyfish quirkiness always get them.
Andrew: That’s something that I’m learning about mainstream media, which is fine, I’m not putting them down for this. It’s interesting that they’re not going out to investigate a story and get understanding necessarily at an event like that. They’re going out the way that a photographer might go to the event to get a photo. They’re looking for just a splash of color. Just a story to illustrate the research that they did before, so you become that guy.
I have to tell you, one of the first things that I did when I got to Washington, DC here is I went to a mobile tech event just to get to know who was here. I saw that there was a reporter from the Washington Post there, and there were a lot of people who wanted to get their story in the Washington Post. The guy was writing about the tech start-up scene. He was looking just like Matt was looking for someone like you.
He was looking for a story. I didn’t know how to start a conversation with him and say I could potentially be your story. Other people were either circling him and just monopolizing his time, or I could see that I wasn’t the only one that didn’t know how to get myself into his story. Just being in the room with him is not enough. There is something about Alex that made the Alex stand out and connect with this guy. What do you do? How do you make that happen?
Alex: I didn’t start off good at it, obviously, because I had no experience. I think I’ve gotten good at it.
Andrew: Tell me about what you did before you got good at it because my sense is that the person who is listening to us, or some of them, have never done this at all and they want to understand if they suck, what could they do? Tell me.
Alex: Every reporter has a story in mind that they are in the process of writing, and you need to basically weave your story into theirs and make it more interesting. Ultimately, they are selling their story. They want the popular story that week that everyone is going to read and that people are going to gravitate to so you need something that obviously grabs their attention.
Andrew: Let me break it down a little bit further, a little more granularly. The guy is in the room and you’re in the room. You need to find a way to start the conversation before you even tell him that you’ve got jellyfish and you’ve got whatever…
Alex: I literally start the conversation.
Andrew: You walk over and you say hello?
Andrew: You just walk over? Is your heart beating at the time because you’re supposed to now make someone like you? Is it like going and picking up girls?
Alex: Yeah it is a lot like picking up girls, actually.
Andrew: It is, right? You’ve got to go over and initiate a conversation and have someone tell you in a moment whether they like you or not.
Alex: Probably the hardest step is the first one: breaking the ice.
Andrew: So how do you do it? How do you get yourself at that moment, an unproven entrepreneur, to walk over and say hello? What do you do? Do you get someone to introduce you?
Alex: Probably in the beginning I would just kind of get myself amped up, but now that I have some experience I think about it a little first.
Andrew: How did you get yourself amped up back then?
Alex: I was always amped up.
Andrew: How do you do it?
Alex: I don’t know. I had a lot of energy, I was always excited about everything. I don’t know.
Andrew: So you just allow your enthusiasm for what you’re doing to come through is what I’m hearing you say?
Andrew: You weren’t doing any mental exercises where you said to yourself, ‘I’m going to own the jellyfish market and the only way I’m going to do that is if I get this guy to understand it. Once he does understand it, I’m going to be Mr. Jellyfish, and from there I’m going to end up being on the cover of Forbes magazine as the guy who brought live fish, beyond jellyfish, to the world.’
Are you getting yourself psyched up with this visionary story of where you’re going? Or are you just like, ‘I’ve got this enthusiasm, I’m doing something different, I’ve got to share it with this guy.”
Alex: Yeah I think I definitely wouldn’t have those thoughts going through my mind because they would be too distracting. I would just kind of focus on the task at hand. I think maybe when I’m relaxing somewhere I let my head wander and dream about those things, but when I’ve got something to do I just kind of focus.
Andrew: All right. So you focus and you go in and start the conversation with the person.
Andrew: Now you’re one of the few people who get to talk to him, but you’re still not in the sack, right? Just going over and approaching a girl, to use the same analogy, doesn’t mean that she’s going to date you. You’ve got to somehow make this story interesting. What do you do?
Alex: Yeah. You’ve probably got about 5-8 words to get their interest. You’ve got to really make that first sentence count, I would say. With me, it was just pet jellyfish. It was a simple formula all I have to say is pet jellyfish.
Also, I make this mistake, too when you’re pitching something and you talk a lot and you over explain it. I think it’s a much better strategy to come out with an eight word explosive sentence that grabs their attention and just sit back and wait and let it be silent and let them ask the first question. As soon as they are asking questions, you’ve got it.
Andrew: I see. I think Oren Klaff, when he talked about how to negotiate, he called it the hook. I don’t know if Neil Strauss said it in his Mixergy interview or maybe I read it in preparation, but he called it the same thing. The hook. You just hook them and now they’re joining the conversation and they’re trying to get you.
Alex: Yeah. If you’re talking at them, you’ve lost them and you don’t let them get a word in, you’re going to lose them.
Andrew: A big thing for you throughout is you said, “I’ve got something that’s a little quirky. I’m not selling goldfish, I’m not just another guy online, I’m doing something that’s a little bit out there.” What was it that I’ve heard it called? Edge crafting. If you’re going to sell fish online, then you want to go to the far edge of it first, then come back and fill in the more ordinary stuff.
You said, “For me, it’s going to be jellyfish.” Someone that’s listening to us right now might be selling piranha online, or maybe three-headed piranha or something just a little bit out there, and that’s the way you got his attention. You get in there, first of all, what do you do with that enthusiasm? Do you call up every girl who turned you down and say take that? Do you call up your boss who laid you off from the BioTech company in 2008 and say eat that sucker, I didn’t need your job?
Alex: No, that’s not really my style.
Andrew: That’s not your style? OK.
Alex: No, I just channeled the enthusiasm. I worked really, really hard. Unbelievably hard. I can never do that again. I’ll never have the energy for that again. It just fueled an incredible work ethic that I had.
Andrew: What does working hard mean for you?
Alex: Oh, I was doing over 100 hours a week.
Andrew: Doing what? You get your orders coming in…
Alex: Yeah. I would do these crazy things, like, you haven’t asked yet where I got the jellyfish when I first started. So I had heard that there were jellyfish around here, in San Francisco. I started hunting them down. I would go out in a little rubber boat that my cousin had into the middle of the ocean looking for jellyfish and sometimes the tides were right and I had to go at the crack of dawn and camp out at the beach to be able to get up at sunrise. That was one thing.
I was building these holding tanks to house the jellyfish, I was constantly experimenting with different tank designs, working on the website, there’s just so much to do in the beginning. It was a lot of work.
Andrew: Does that work, by the way? Can you go out in San Francisco and find jellyfish and bring them home?
Alex: It worked briefly. It worked for the big tanks because they’re cold water species around here so on the big tanks you can put a chiller unit on there and do a cold water tank. Once I did the desktop tanks, I needed to find a warm water species.
Andrew: What did you do then?
Alex: The whole aquarium industry right now is built on these collectors who go out in mostly tropical areas, collect the fish, and ship them to wholesalers, so I just started contacting those collectors and finally found one guy who said, ‘oh yeah. I see jellyfish sometimes,’ and got him to start collecting for me.
Andrew: So he collects it, and then he mails it to you, and you mail it out to your customers.
Alex: Yep, basically.
Andrew: What do you mean? What step did I miss?
Alex: He ships in a giant metal container that comes on an air cargo shipment and we ship these little FedEx boxes, but that’s basically it.
Andrew: Let me ask you something. When you’re on that boat collecting jellyfish, there are two ways to look at it. One way to look at it is to say, “I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’m running my own company here, these are the early days. I’ve got to take pictures and remember this so I can tell my future employees and customers this is how it all started with me on a boat.”
Another way to look at it is to say, ‘” can’t believe I just keep finding out about all these little pipsqueaks who build a MySpace and make hundreds of millions of dollars, or they build a Facebook and they end up building and making this billion dollar business. These guys are not any smarter than me, or maybe they are but at least they are playing in a funner, bigger arena than I’m in. What the hell am I doing on a boat here?” And do you question yourself?
Alex: I had all those thoughts all the time.
Andrew: You did?
Alex: Both of them. Both sides, yeah.
Andrew: What is it like in your head? For me I just made up a quick little story for you. When it’s on the negative side, open up. What is it like?
Alex: When I first started I would wake up every morning seriously doubting myself and thinking what am I thinking? This is a horrendous idea. Pet jellyfish? Seriously? No one is ever going to buy these.
Andrew: What else is going through your head on the negative side?
Alex: I’ve got a good expensive education, my parents want me to go to grad school, they paid for me to go to school, a lot of money. All my friends are in banking, making tons of money, not working nearly as hard as I am. It doesn’t make any sense. Why would I do this?
I don’t know. I probably had a screw loose. I think I had this stubborn determination in the very beginning when it literally made no sense for me to do this. Logically I should have been doing something else, and I think I just…
Andrew: Was there a specific friend who you were maybe comparing yourself to?
Alex: No. I don’t think so.
Andrew: No. It was just this big, fuzzy, I might be making a mistake here.
Alex: Yeah, and no one encouraged me in the beginning. No one was like, ‘yeah, great idea. You should forget your education and start selling jellyfish that no one has ever bought before. Good idea.’ No one said that. Maybe my mom would tolerate it.
Andrew: So what gets you through? You’re not getting any positive feedback from people. I’m reading, I think I told you in the pre-interview, I’m reading this Steve Jobs book, and apparently his adoptive parents from the very beginning made him feel so special. They picked him and adopted him because he was special.
When the teacher criticized him, they went and told the teacher that the teacher was essentially in the wrong for not challenging their kid enough and that’s why he was straying. This big sense of support is what he had in the early part of his life.
You don’t have that. You’re not seeing a huge response yet, because it’s the early days and you don’t see immediate response. You have these doubts in your head, what gets you to keep on going despite all that? What makes you say, ‘I’ve got to build this thing up.’
Alex: I don’t know. I should preface by saying it’s not like I had no support. I definitely had a lot of support from my family. I don’t want people to think that. I think I had committed myself to this. I think Paul Graham wrote this article about how if you quit your job and just tell people you’re doing a start-up, and now people know that this is what you’re doing really commits you to it.
Now if you fail, everyone knows that you failed, whereas if you’re kind of working on it on the side and no one really knows about it if it doesn’t work. It’s not really attached to your name. I didn’t have another job, I was working on this full time, people knew whether they liked it or not that I was doing this jellyfish company. If I failed, I was failing. It’s scary. Maybe it’s just fear that keeps you going, or maybe kept me going in the very beginning.
Now when I do the formula in my head, it makes a lot of sense that I’m doing this, but back then it’s probably just a fear of failure that keeps you going.
Andrew: I see. All right. That makes a lot of sense. I think several other entrepreneurs have said the same thing. I think the founder of My Pizza might have said it. I’ve got to get better at recalling who said what in these interviews, you know? I have all these lessons in my head.
Alex: You’ve done a lot.
Alex: You’ve done a lot of interviews.
Andrew: I’ve done a lot of interviews, it’s really hard. But it would be so much more authoritative if I could say to you this guy and that guy over there both said the exact same thing. Then it feels like Andrew knows his stuff, he did his research in one-on-one conversations.
The other thing that might help my credibility is, I’m now on a new iMac. I needed a bigger screen for all the notes that I have about guests, but I see that the light is not hitting my face right. You’ve got perfect lighting. You’re like a movie star in this interview. I, on the other hand…
Alex: We’ve got great big windows in your living room here so…
Andrew: Yeah. It’s coming in perfectly. I feel like the phantom of the opera. This side of my head is dark and this side is light. There’s something going on with my hair here. Ever since I started growing it you see that there’s this little thing…
Alex: Oh, right in the middle?
Andrew: If I cut it then forever I’ll have this little shaved spot. If I let it grow, I don’t know that it’s ever going to catch up to the hair up here.
Alex: I’m always comparing receding hairlines with my roommates. I’m not winning, thankfully, but I’m not losing either.
Andrew: You look good on camera. That’s the important thing. I’d rather look good on camera than in real life but I’ve now hit a point in my life where I feel I look pretty good but then I get on camera, and it’s the people in my audience who actually have professional video guys, like this guy [flywheel] emails me all the time and says, “It’s your own fault. Put some freaking lighting up.” Put a little effort into it. I can’t. I can only put effort into one thing at a time and right now it’s the research and the interview. Later on it will be into making me look like a rock star or a movie star or something. Even like, this shirt. People might have seen me play, I’m a little off with it. All right. Back to you and back to this story. The New York Times. How many customers did you get from that?
Alex: The first one?
Alex: Sorry, that was a humble brag. The first New York Times article was before I was even a legitimate business. I had just sold that one tank to Seattle, so hardly any customers is the short answer. I barely had that website up. Got a spike in traffic, but that was only a small percentage in the total volume of people who were looking for this weird jellyfish company online. Since then, once we get press it’s a pretty simple formula.
We’re an ecommerce store, so they come to the website, we get a certain percentage of conversions and sales go up.
Andrew: With the early article you didn’t even manage to convert…Why not? Looking back, what didn’t you do right?
Alex: [inaudible] I guess I had a contact form up there. I got a ton of people’s contact info. Most people can’t afford a $25,000 custom tank, so I wasted all this time calling all these people back and maybe saving their email address for later.
Andrew: I see. It wasn’t that they could go in and buy for like $50 or $150 a quick aquarium that will be shipped to their house? No. They had to contact you, and then this guy who is a new entrepreneur who we just read about in the New York Times is starting a new lease on life, is going to contact them and work out an aquarium deal and then ship it out to them. That was the process.
Andrew: I see. This is awesome. This is incredible because it starts off so simply, and look at how it’s built and evolved. All right. So you’re getting PR, before we go to SCO, how else did you get PR? I understand the first guy comes in, might give you a little bit of confidence, might give you a little bit of understanding of how the media works, what do you do with that and how do you build on that?
Alex: I don’t know. I can’t say we really actively had gone after a lot of PR. We use HARO, Help a Reporter Out, I don’t know if you guys know about that.
Andrew: You’re just monitoring Help a Reporter Out, looking for anyone who is looking for entrepreneurs who were formally laid off, new entrepreneurs, guys who are in new businesses, anything like that that might fit you.
Alex: Yeah, we were monitoring that for awhile. Since then, the press has really just come to us. I think reporters see past articles and they want a business to profile or whatever, and we really don’t spend a lot of effort going after PR. It just comes to us.
Andrew: It just comes to you?
Andrew: All right.
Alex: The one thing I would say is once we do something, like launch a new product or launch a Kickstarter campaign, that’s when we’ll pitch to blogs and reporters just to make sure that the information gets out there. In that case, the few things I’ve learned is just to catch their attention right away with a hook and try to tailor the pitch so that it works with their blog. If they write about small businesses, highlight that aspect. That’s pretty basic stuff. Nothing big.
Andrew: I want to come back to that and understand how when there are so many other campaigns in Kickstarter, how yours stood out and got the attention, so let’s come back to PR. For now, let’s learn a little bit about SCO.
You say you got some traffic that didn’t really convert from the New York Times, you got a lot of reputation, you got a lot of understanding how things work, and later on you learn that search engine optimization, SCO, was going to help you supercharge the traffic and the authority you were getting from links and media. How did you learn it and what did you do?
Alex: So SCO, same thing I learned anything else. Just asked people who I knew who knew about it, just friends of mine who knew the basics and just read some articles online. It’s pretty basic stuff at it’s core and we weren’t in a very competitive space so it’s not like we had to do all these tricky SCO things.
Andrew: Be specific because there are so many basic things that you could do. Some people will tell you that you need to start blogging about the topic, other people tell you to go out and find links and use the right anchor [techs]. On the basic level, there’s still lots of things that could work. What worked for you?
Alex: First you start with your site structure. You have your list of keywords that you want to rank for, and maybe have 10 that are really high priority and maybe 30 that are lower priority. You want those keywords all over your website and your meta tags and also just the text to the website. So when you’re building the site, you do that. Then that basically tells Google what your site is about, so they know what they should be ranking for. Then you want to get your page rank up, so that’s just incoming links. Some links like the New York times are much more valuable than a link from your friends Facebook page, whatever.
So once you’ve your site structured right, you want blogs and forums and whatever else to write about you and link to you. So I mean, small thing you can do is if, we know reporter is going to write about us, and the article is going to be online. We’re sure to ask for a link to our website. Because that’s the thing, that often slips through the cracks and you have to ask for it.
Andrew: You mean they might write about you but not include a link to you?
Andrew: Do you specifically say, “If you don’t mind, give me this anchor text”, or do you give them a suggestion to add a link to you?
Alex: No. We just say, “Make sure you link to us”. Because often the writer doesn’t control that, so they just pass it off to the company’s web person, and that person knows what to do. So we just ask for a link and we tell them our URL address dotcom. It’s pretty simple.
Andrew: We’re talking about really simple stuff here. And the reason that worked is, some of it I don’t even know it’s that powerful. But the reason it worked for you, you’re saying is because there weren’t a lot of people that were selling jelly fish online.
Alex: Yeah. And I think all that edge is all that press you from it, I mean, those links are really, really valuable. So we were immediately blowing by all the competition, which there weren’t much of it.
Andrew: OK. Before we get to the Kickstarter. Was there another milestone that I missed here in the story?
Alex: I would say so. One really cool period in the business was last summer 2010. Like a really cool person I learned. We’ve been selling these pressure fitted tanks online. And they were selling but it wasn’t bringing in a ton of cash, and it wasn’t really what I wanted. But it was something I had sloppily put together, so I knew there was a lot of room for improvement on the website. So I sat down with my business partner, and is like, let’s improve this website. It’s kind of a complicated process. People had to like order the tank, and then get the jelly fish, that can be daunting, kind of like confusing.
So I was like, let’s make it dirt simple. So we made this list like 50 improvements we wanted to do, to the website. And the over arching theme, was to make it extremely simple, and easy for customers. These are all our online customers ordering. So just huge buttons, literally arrows, it’s like, step one do this first, step two do this second. It’s like get the tank, then get the jelly fish. Here are the ten set up steps. There’s a video on how to set up the tank. We got rid of all the distractions on the side of the website.
Andrew: What’s the kind of distractions that you got rid of?
Alex: When you signup for the eCommerce software things, like default they kind of put all these extra on there like, promotion on the bottom of the home page, like feature products, related products.
Andrew: Sorry. Let’s take it a moment. For some reason the connection was dropping out there.
You’re saying on the bottom of the site, you will automatically add what to your…
Alex: Yeah. Let’s say when you pull up the product page, you can automatically have like these small little links at the bottom, that show related products, and that can be just distracting.
Andrew: I see. You say, I can understand how adding all these little features, including related products could help, but what I’ve decided to do, is to get rid of everything and focus people on the one thing they need to do.
Alex: Yeah. Exactly. Like focus at the core and get rid of all these extras, that might bring in like extra $5 or something.
Andrew: What’s your website address?
Andrew: JellyFishArt.com. I got it here on my screen right here. I don’t know why I even asked you, I should have it here.
The reason that I bring it up is because you do a fantastic job of saying to me, specifically, first get the tank, then get the fish. You click and you actually see the person introduce the jelly fish to the tank, it’s just dumb, dumb simple.
Alex: Exactly. Now, we, my partner and I had these 50 things and ultimately what we want to accomplish is to make it dirt stupid simple. And we made all these changes, and drank a lot of coffee, and we launched the new website. And immediately like that day, sales were up 5X from what they were before. So that was simply from just changing the way, customers interacted with the website. So that was a huge, obviously great. But it also was a big lesson I learned, that was when people are running companies or businesses or whatever like I was, there are things in your head, and you think of the little things. You kind of forget to tell customers the basics, and they might miss the whole point of your company because they don’t get some very basic complication that your company proposes. In our case, it was shipping these live jellyfish online. So, when you make that really simple, it just opens up the floodgates even more.
Andrew: I made that mistake for years. I think people landed on Mixergy, and they didn’t understand what the name was. They didn’t understand what the site was, and I was hoping they would end up figuring it out once they look at the interviews. But the clearer I make it, the easier it is.
All right. Let’s see.
Alex: When people question you, you’re like, what? It says right there jellyfish right there in the bottom right-hand corner, but your website has to say ten times, “We sell pet jellyfish. Here’s where you buy pet jellyfish. Here’s where you set up pet jellyfish.” You’ve really got to make it super clear.
Andrew: You know what? It’s so easy to think those guys are stupid, that’s why they don’t get it. This one person who I‚Äôm talking to over dinner is stupid, and that’s why he doesn‚Äôt get it. It’s a lot harder, and I have to keep training myself to do this, say: shut up and just listen to what he’s saying and just accept whatever truth is in there, but it’s really hard.
Andrew: For some reason, I get defensive in person. If you say to me, if I were running your site and somebody said, “I don’t know where to buy”. I go: this guy just must not understand. There is a buy now button. Just scroll down past the pictures. You want to see the pictures first to understand it.
Andrew: Ah, man. All right. So, I see that, and now it’s time for you to say: no more reselling somebody else’s stuff. It’s time for me to sell my own. I’m going to go to Kickstarter. Now, you put yourself on Kickstarter. For some reason, your Kickstarter campaign did better than many others. What did you do when you launched it on Kickstarter that made it stand out?
Alex: We started off just looking at the top ten campaigns that had done really well and figured out what they had done and just copied it. That had to be it.
Andrew: What are some of the lessons that you got from them?
Alex: So, I’ve been helping a lot of my buddies with Kickstarter campaigns. I had a good list in my head of the essentials. So, you want a good video. We shot ours in a studio, and we had a friend of ours shoot it who was somewhat professional. It wasn’t just us with a camera phone. It was like a good professionally edited video. I think that helps a lot with promotional . . .
Andrew: What did that cost you?
Alex: We paid a thousand dollars for everything. That was like, studio rental, editing, filming, everything which is pretty good because . . .
Andrew: That’s a great price.
Alex: Yeah. It can range from zero to “get your friend to do it” up to $15,000 pretty quickly. So, we got a good deal there. Other things, like I said, you want to set your goal conservatively low because if you don’t meet it, you get nothing. That’s not why people are donating. They’re not donating to get you to your goal and then they stop. Once you reach your goal, all successful campaigns go way over their goal. So, there’s no reason not to set your goal pretty low.
Other things are . . . it seems like people really love tangible rewards. So, if you’re doing a product, the obvious solution is: once a product is ready, they get it. If you’re doing sort of a documentary, I don’t know if you can send them, maybe a nice little custom cover for the DVD or whatever, some kind of tangible thing. People really like that. I’m trying to think of other.
So, we ran a campaign. We did 45 days. Somewhere between 30 and 60 days is pretty ideal. Then, the other thing is: once our campaign was running, a lot of the traffic that came to it was coming from outside Kickstarter, from blogs and stuff like that. Once our campaign was up and running, we were pitching the blogs a lot.
Andrew: How did you pitch yourself when you’re just a guy with a Kickstarter campaign? How do you get these guys to pay attention to your campaign?
Alex: You’re talking about the bloggers who write articles about us?
Andrew: Yeah. I think Boing Boing wrote about you at that point. Is that when Gizmodo wrote about you, too?
Alex: Yeah. Gizmodo, Concrete, a lot of them. I mean, some of them were natural. They just organically picked us up, and that was great. Boing Boing, I knew one of the writers. So, I asked him to write about us.
Andrew: How did you know one of the writers?
Alex: That was from way back from . . . Well, actually we did an article in Make Magazine, so how to build your own jellyfish tank.
Andrew: You created the article for Make Magazine.
Alex: Yeah. Yeah. I wrote an article.
Andrew: You wrote it. You got the photos or illustration. I forgot what it was.
Alex: Yeah. Yeah. So, I knew those guys because it’s the same guys who do Boing Boing. I’m trying to think of some of the other ones. It was just mostly cool pitches where I had a long list of bloggers and their contact info. We just pitched a lot of them and maybe 5% or 10% of them will put you up. It’s a combination of everything.
Andrew: All right. Let’s stick with this. Because if I just said, if I leave my audience with this, we had a corky product and everything just happened, I think, I’m going to do them a disservice. And more importantly, your story a disservice.
Because this isn’t just some happenstance, that you happened to have created an interesting product based business, and everyone beat the path to your door and said, “Oh, Alex, Tell me how you did it”.
There’s a lot more magic, a lot more active magic making in Alex’s business that I’ve got to learn about it.
So let’s start with Make, and then I’m going to ask you about the cold PR pitches that you did.
You wrote an article for Make magazine, it’s a natural fit for you. You were going to teach their audience how to make something that some of them were going to duplicate on their own. And many others are going to come to your site, and buy. Regardless, though, you’re going to get that healthy link back to your site.
Great. How do you go from that, to building a relationship that ends up, getting you in, I think you said, it was Boing Boing, right?
Alex: Yeah. So yeah, I mean it’s pretty, you just, I don’t know, I think you get allot of advantage just by time passing and meeting people at these connections that you just build over time.
So if I’d just done the article, and sent it in, I would never actually met the people, who were behind Make magazine. But we did a photo shoot, and bunch of those guys came to the photo shoot. And we were hanging out all day. So, I talked to them all, and I then got to know them. So it wasn’t weird for me to write them an email later and it wasn’t, the way I phrase the email, it wasn’t like, I didn’t give them the same pitch, I was giving everyone else. I was more friendly with them.
Andrew: But going back to that time when, I understand they invite you over for a photo shoot. You know what most people would think at that point, ‘I want to look good for this photo shoot’. And then after the photo shoot is over, what they will think is, ‘ I hope I looked good in the photo shoot, and didn’t make an ass out of myself’. And then they would, ‘I don’t want to bother these guys any more, take up anymore of their time, hey, they just put me in their magazine, I’m going to send them a thank you email afterwards, I’m going to show this to my friends, I’ll hopefully get some links, I better get back to work’.
Some thought like that is going to come through their heads, you’re saying ‘I want to connect with these guys a little bit, I’m going to hang out with them’. These are the writers at Make magazine that you’re hanging out with?
Alex: Yeah. Writer and editors, yeah.
Andrew: OK. You’re hanging out how? What do you do? How do you introduce it?
Alex: I mean, I think, it’s like pretty basic, friendly, human Interaction, I mean, we were just shooting the shit at the photo shoot. And that’s enough to develop rapport. And then I just thought of a good behind the scene thing. One thing I do is, for all my contacts, I basically put keywords, next to them, so anytime I meet a new person, I put the keywords, next to them. And the case of any sort of press, that’s when I came in there. So these people are, I gradually build this list of people, who are in PR or around magazines or blogs or whatever.
So now anytime we have an event coming out, or new products or whatever. I can search and look through these people, and I may not remember them specifically. But I’ll remember, ‘Oh, yeah, this guy loves gadgets, I can go back and hit him up. Even if this is like over a year later.
Andrew: Even if this is where you have your phone at your disposal.
Alex: Google contacts.
Andrew: Google contacts, you add their contact information. You put a tag on it or a label what ever they happen to call it. You said press, and you also say something interesting about them.
Alex: Yeah. Exactly.
Andrew: Got it. ‘This guy happens to like shoes with fat shoe laces’.
Alex: There is no way you’re going to remember all that.
Andrew: This is important to me, this is the whole thing the whole reason this program exist, is to go deep into this tactics.
Alex: Yeah. And I almost forget about them myself.
Andrew: And that’s the other things, people when they are especially good at something. It becomes second nature to them, and they forget how they got to make it second nature. How they figured it out in the first place.
So now, you’re in Make magazine. You developed the rapport and some kind of connection to them. And it’s time for you to talk to them and then get into Boing Boing.
Do you email and say, “I got this new things at Kickstarter, you guys should write about it.”
Alex: So, well, I put myself in their shoes. And forget other things, they were talking about it, what they like to write about. And high light the aspect of what I’m doing that fit with what they like. And I know that they’re busy people, so I keep the email very short, and send them a picture so they can look at it. I want them to be able to read my whole email and get a gist for it in like 20 second or so. So, I don’t want to overload them with information.
Andrew: OK, so you send them a quick short email. You tell them what’s going on. Great.
Andrew: It fits their editorial goals, and they write about you. Now you somehow work that into a relationship with Boing, Boing. How do you do that?
Alex: Yeah, and the other thing is, when I pitch these guys, and they write an article about us they always thank me. They’re looking for stories. They’re happy to get leads on cool stories. As long as you’re not forcing it down their throat, and it’s a story they would actually be interested in, they’re happy to put it up. You are helping them. That is really important to remember.
Andrew: OK. So they’re thanking you, and they’re grateful to you. How do you work that into a relationship with a different site? With Boing, Boing?
Alex: If it’s a really important person with their fingers in a lot of different pies I’ll do just five minutes of research on their background, and see what else they do. A lot of these guys who maybe have started a magazine also have started a few companies, run a blog, and do a lot of different things. So I keep all that in mind, and those people tend to have a lot different interests. So we can often connect on a lot of different things.
Andrew: So connect with a guy at Make magazine, or one of the guys at Make magazine. How does that connect you to Boing, Boing?
Alex: So it’s the same guys. Specifically, I don’t know how to say his last name, Mart Graffin Louder [SP], [interrupted]
Alex: … or something like that. I forget his last name. Anyway he started Boing, Boing, and he’s, I forget his position at Make magazine, but he’s on the board or whatever. [interrupted]
Andrew: I see, so he had some position at Make magazine. You got to meet him through there, and that’s how you got in. That’s how you got him [interrupted].
Alex: Right, right, right. That is specifically how it worked. Yeah.
Andrew: OK, and then when you pitched them. I understand you got something to pitch. I understand how you kept it short. What about then, what’s the other thing that you said? You cold pitched. What’s your tactic for cold pitching? Give me an example of how you [interrupted].
Alex: That’s just brute force. So you’re want something that you’re going to be able to repeat over, and over, and over again. So we just have a list of maybe like 500 blogs, and I’ll write one pitch. I’ll go down the list, and, for any blog I think is remotely relevant, just copy, paste. Each pitch takes like ten seconds or so. In that case I’m doing like 200 pitches, or I just have someone else do it. So you don’t want to spend 20 minutes crafting these brute force pitches because it’s just a cold pitch. You have to do a lot of them to make them work.
Andrew: How do you get that list of bloggers, and their email addresses?
Alex: Some of it is from my own contact list. Also if I meet anyone who has their own list I swap with them. So we just exchange lists. It works for me. [TD]
Andrew: I see, and you go one at a time through them when it’s time to cold pitch. That’s how you pitch them?
Andrew: Interesting. You want to swap lists?
Andrew: I got like one person on my list. We’ll swap.
Andrew: I should be pushing [sounds like] you afterwards. All right. What else do I want to know? How do you ship? How do you get this stuff in the mail?
Alex: So we weren’t the first company to do this. There are other companies that ship live aquarium fish in the mail so we just copied them. I saw a lot of them. They use FedEx Overnight. They’re using insulated shipping containers. They put a heat pack in the winter in a sealed plastic bag.
Andrew: How do you know about the heat pack during the winter?
Alex: By just talking to people who ran aquarium businesses. I talked to those people a lot just to kind of learn the ins and outs. Because I think it helps a lot to start a business in an industry that you’ve worked in. That would have given me a huge head start. I hadn’t worked in the aquarium or pet industry at all. So I had a lot of really basic stuff to learn in the very beginning, but I think it’s a lot easier to start a company in an industry you’re already familiar with.
Andrew: So as soon as you get into this industry you’re thinking to yourself, or one of the first things that you’re doing is saying, “Who else is in this industry? I’ve got to go pick their brain and find out essentially and find out how they did it.”
Andrew: I get emails all the time for pick your brain conversations. I go screw that. I can’t like spend half an hour with everyone who wants to get into this space, and just want to pick my brain. Which really means random questions that happen to occur to them today. [interrupted]
Alex: That they probably could have googled, and . . .
Andrew: Right. That they probably could have googled. In many cases, there are some people who done there research and they’re ready to really have this conversation. The only way they can get to the next level is to have a conversation with me, terrific, but there’s also a lot of people who are just nude-nicks who have nothing else going on. They just want to hang on to somebody in the world, and say, “Help me out!” Which, believe me, I’ve been in that place myself. I’m sure I’ve reached out to someone, but you can’t respond to all of them. Now you’re one of those people. In the early days you have nothing to offer these new guys. Right?
Alex: Well, so what I would do was kind of feel people out and find people who had the information that I wanted and people I wanted to learn from and on an ongoing basis. It wasn’t like I had a list of 10 questions and I was done. I knew these people, these are people I would want for a long time to be able to go to and ask questions, and they were smart. I talked to them enough to know that.
I just started doing favors for them. Like, this guy had an aquarium shop, so I would stop by any time I had extra equipment I would bring it to his shop so he could sell it or I’d refer customers to him all the time. I would just stop in a lot and chat. If he was busy, I wouldn’t get to talk to him. I’d go to the shop, I couldn’t get a word in, and I’d have to leave, but if he was free he was happy to chat and answer any questions for me.
I think you have to start doing favors for those guys and just get to know them and that kind of thing.
Andrew: I see. I’m going to ask two questions that I’ve got to scribble down here so I don’t forget. First, let me say this to the audience. If you want to know more about how to do PR, Stella Fayman of FeeFighters is freaking phenomenal. All she did, I’ve got to tell you Alex, do you know FeeFighters?
Andrew: These guys help you find a merchant to help you process your credit cards. A very unsexy business, but this woman, Stella, keeps finding ways to get the founders of the business and to get the business as a whole into Business Week and into other Business Week caliber publications. I saw how she worked, and I said come on here and teach me how she does it. Unlike you, where you’re just doing it, it comes to you naturally, she is so freaking methodical.
Just to do a course on Mixergy, she had tabs opened up on her computer, she had a list of resources, she had step by step worked out how to do it. She said, ‘I’m not a PR person. I had to figure it out myself. I had to create a little plan.’ She showed it to the audience, if you’re a premium member I’m not selling you on this, I’m telling you go to mixergy.com/premium. By the time this interview is up, that course will be up. You’re going to fricking thank me for it.
She’ll walk you step by step how she did it. When I asked you Alex how you got a list of contacts you just gave me a brand new idea how to do it. I love that idea. She has a different system. She says she went to ODesk and for $45 she put in a request for a specific type of journalist and she got this media list back.
She shows it in the course where she goes, ‘here’s the name, here’s the contact information, here’s how they fit in, here’s a sample.’ Boom. Then she talks about how she got that list, then what she does to pitch them. If you’re into PR, you want to take this to the next level, and you’re already a premium member, go to mixergy.com/premium and you’ll see it. If you’re not, I hope you join us and you’ll get courses like that available to you.
I should be clearer. I look now at my server logs and my spring metric numbers, and I see a lot of people come to my site by Googling for “Mixergy premium”. You don’t even need Google. You just skip a step. You go to mixergy.com/premium and you get it right there. All right. So, how did I do by the way as a pitch? You’re an entrepreneur, you’re listening to me pitch here one-on-one, give me feedback and I promise I won’t say, “I can’t believe this guy is so stupid the way he did it.” I’ll listen.
Alex: Yeah. I think that’s really good. Repeating that mixergy.com/premium or whatever, you’ve got to say it five times for people to remember.
Andrew: OK. Five times. Mixergy.com/premium, mixergy.com/premium…that’s too much.
Alex: Yeah. I remembered it already.
Andrew: But you did remember it, actually. There you go. And I’ve got a name for a company name I should have done before I did any interview here before I started anything, the first thing I should have done was a series of interviews on how to pick a company name. It would have been like noname.com is doing a series of interviews and then we’ll give it a name and we’ll go to the next level because Mixergy is one of the dopiest names out there.
Alex: Let’s not say that.
Andrew: At the very least I could own the trademark of it because God knows that there’s nothing related to Mixergy out in the world.
Andrew: All right. Here’s the two questions. You have emailed me now, I’d say a dozen, maybe two dozen times. I’m sorry to reveal something that might be private but I admire you for it and I’ve got to learn about this. Asking to do an interview, why? Alex, what does my audience have that benefits you? How many aquariums could you sell? What’s the goal here?
Alex: Oh, I think it’s an honor. I remember watching Mixergy interviews in the very beginning. First starting, there is very little practical advice on starting a business. When you look online, I mean. There’s so much get you fired up, these are the 10 things you need to do, and after a day of reading that it’s a complete waste of time. There is very little practical advice on starting a company.
Mixergy was the one website I found that actually offered practical advice. You interview these pretty successful people who it’s tempting to just ask them about cool stories and big numbers and get people amped up and excited. But what I loved about the interviews is you would really drill them until they revealed their secrets and the practical behind the scenes stuff that actually helped me to start the company. So, I…
Andrew: So, I can actually understand why you might listen. And thank you for listening for as long as you have. But why then come on here. You’re not going to sell that many jellyfish aquariums, are you? I can’t imagine that it’s going to be worth it. And here you revealed your numbers. We talked before the interview started about how you now have to start keeping things private, especially your financials. And one of the first questions I hit you with was what size revenue are you earning this year. And then not only did I leave it at that but I wanted to drive to how much revenue did you earn so far. There’s not reason to go through that…
Alex: So, what do I stand to benefit?
Andrew: Open up.
Alex: In one word I would just say networking. So, that has kind of (inaudible). But I love networking and just connecting with people who I think I can help or who can help me or I can find someone who can help them. So if I meet one person through Mixergy who either saw my interview or I saw their interview, and I’m like, oh we were both on Mixergy, and I meet them somewhere else. If there is just one of those people I think it would be well worth it.
Andrew: Alright, I get that. We have a mutual friend, Patrick Buckley.
Alex: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. We shared warehouse space with him.
Andrew: You shared warehouse space with him. Do you happen to know how much, did he sell any Dodo cases after doing the Mixergy interview? I mean, this isn’t about selling products, but I’m curious sometimes.
Alex: I think it’s bigger than that. I don’t want to get a spike in sales from this. I think it’s more about meeting.
Andrew: It’s about connection.
Alex: Yes, I hope to be able to meet people through this interview. Whether, like I said, people who see it or I see other people’s interviews who can help me or I can help them.
Andrew: Some point in the future. I’m going to put this out there, but I’m also going to say I’m not doing it now so please don’t urge me to do it now. Not to you Alex, you can urge, but, I don’t want e-mails from the audience pushing me to do it now because I’ve got to stay focused on the courses. But, at some point it would be cool to do some kind of get together for just the people who have spoken on Mixergy, just that audience, just to get together and talk quietly without me pushing with questions.
Andrew: A final question. Piece of advice. Picture yourself, the kid who was on that boat. Whatever, the person that was on that boat. Getting started with the insecurities in your head and the uncertainty of where you’re supposed to go and miles of mistakes ahead of you. There’s someone in the audience who is similar to that. Picture the way you were. What advice would you give your old self? And the audience I’m sure will relate and pick up on that. Talk to yourself.
Alex: I think you have to be patient. So, it’s very tempting, you know a lot of people start a company because they want to be hugely successful and they want it immediately. And there are a lot of unseen (inaudible) come with time, like purely with time. So a lot of the connections I made were really random ones that I make them and a year later they pay off. A year can seem like a really long time when you’re starting a company because you’re watching your bank account tick down and you’re just scrambling around trying to get things to work. But I think if you can, as long as it’s a good idea, if you can stick with it. I think being patient and just giving it time is a huge advantage that a lot of people fail to do. A lot of people just quit before they give it a chance.
Andrew: Alright. Well that’s a great place to leave it. Keep at it. Take a look at what Alex has built here. I always at the end of these interviews say, don’t just be on the sidelines of life, in the audience of life. It’s great that you listen to us, but go and do something. Hopefully use what you’ve learned and better still use it and also thank Alex for it.
Let me suggest something else. I see now a lot of people are e-mailing my guests, and I love it, keep doing it. Even if it’s just to say thank you. But if you want to take it to the next level, go to the guest website and find one thing that they can do better. If you’re listening to me you’ve got an understanding of business that’s miles ahead of the average person. And even if you don’t know more than every single guest that I have on here, which is impossible of course. You might know one little thing that they’re not aware of. And when you send that to an entrepreneur, when you say hey your link over here is broken or hey you can do so much better if you rephrase your button, or consider this. Without any expectation that they’ll use it, just plant a seed in their minds. They’re going to appreciate the hell out of that because A it means that unlike everyone else you’ve actually checked out their site and really gotten into it. And B, the idea makes.
What is it that Neil Strauss who I interviewed said, that you’ve got to prove value, you’ve got to show value. It’s part of his whole process. Even when he’s picking up women he’s trying to show value. When you’re connecting with someone, with an entrepreneur and saying, here’s how you can do a little bit better, you are showing miles and miles of value. And I’ve seen it happen because a lot of people that e-mail past guests will cc me. It’s so worth the few minutes that it will take you to do that.
Alex: Yes, I just had this thought. I remember that I was at this small business association meeting and this guy taught me to. You know, you always approach someone you want to talk to asking for whatever you need from them. But just to start off with something you can do for them is so much more helpful. Even if they’re like, ahh, actually I can’t use that, and usually they can’t. But it’s such a better way to approach people.
Andrew: Way better. And in some cases it’s almost too powerful because the person who you’re giving that little bit of help to now feels indebted. They’re going to go out of their way to help you, where before they might have gone out of their way try to avoid getting you on the calendar. Check out jellyfishart.com and let Alex know if you appreciate the interview. Thank you.
Alex: Thank you MJ.
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