What would you do if all of your suppliers said to you, “You know what, we don’t sell to Internet companies. Sorry, never going to happen”?
Well, I bet you won’t believe the unexpected solution that today’s guest came up with, but it worked. Anthony Bucci is the co-founder of RevZilla.com, which sells apparel, gear and parts for two and four-wheeled motorsports.
Also, how are you going to deal with a patent troll who wants to sue you for patent infringement? Anthony says it happened to him, and he’s going to reveal the correct advice his lawyers gave him, the advice that saved him and just might save you. That and so much more is coming up.
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Anthony Bucci, RevZilla
Anthony Bucci is the co-founder of RevZilla.com, which sells apparel, gear and parts for two and four-wheeled motorsports.
Andrew: Coming up, what would you do if all of your suppliers said to you, “You know what, we don’t sell to Internet companies. Sorry, never going to happen”? Well, I bet you won’t believe the unexpected solution that today’s guest came up with, but it worked. Also, how are you going to deal with a patent troll who wants to sue you for patent infringement? Today’s guest says it happened to him, and he’s going to reveal the correct advice that his lawyers gave him, the advice that saved him and just might save you. That and so much more is coming up.I have told you about them forever, so you probably already know the names of my three sponsors, right? For example, if I asked you, “Who’s the lawyer that tech entrepreneurs trust because he understands the startup community,” you probably know it’s Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law.
And if I asked you, “Where should you send your friends who want to build online stores,” you’d probably tell me Shopify.com because Shopify stores are beautiful, they’re designed to sell, and Shopify makes sure that there won’t be any tech support for you to do because they’re easy to set up.
Finally, if you have a friend who says, “Hey, I want a phone number, and then if somebody presses one, I want it to go to sales, and two, I want it to go to a tech support cell phone number, and three, I want it to reach my home phone number, and all that stuff,” where do you send them? Of course, you send them to Grasshopper.com. Three great sponsors, and now let’s start with the interview.
Hey there freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I am the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart and home to over 800 entrepreneurs who’ve come here to tell you the stories of how they built their businesses so that you can learn from their experiences, go out there and build your own success story, and I hope when you do, you’ll come back here as today’s guest is and tell your story, too. In this interview I want to find out how a guy who likes motor sports creates a multimillion-dollar e-commerce site in under three years. Anthony Bucci is the co-founder of RevZilla.com. Let me make sure that I say that again because I’ve got a bit of a cold. RevZilla.com, which sells apparel, gear, and parts for two- and four-wheel motor sports. Anthony, welcome.
Anthony: Hey, thanks for having me so much today, Andrew. It’s fun to finally meet you. I’ve been following you for quite some time.
Andrew: Oh, thanks. It’s so cool to see that now people who heard my interviews, they were starting their businesses, are now back and actually doing interviews with me. And you told me as much as you like this program, you’re not going to tell me everything in the interview. In fact, when it comes to sales, what can you say to me on camera here with everyone watching? What are your sales numbers?
Anthony: Sure. I think that we’re five and a half years old. Over the course of time, we’ve done tens and tens of millions of dollars in revenue. I mean, this year we’ll do north of $50 million in revenue. We’re growing really, really fast, and I guess that’s about as specific as I’ll be with you today.
Andrew: What about for last year? I like to see where people were, not where they’re going.
Anthony: So as far as growth curve goes?
Andrew: No, just like what was the revenues last year, revenues that you actually booked?
Anthony: Sure. So booked revenue for last year would’ve been more than half that number. So growing quickly, not quite doubling every year, but just growing really, really fast.
Andrew: And within three years you were a multimillion-dollar online business, online store.
Anthony: Yeah, we did $2 million actually our first year. We did about $1.8 million in revenue that very first year when it was three of us in our apartment.
Andrew: Unbelievable. I want to see how you got there. And the reason that you started this was you looked around, and we’re not going to say the name of this company, and you saw several companies that didn’t do things right. Specifically, the one that we talked about earlier without mentioning their name, what were they doing that you said nuh-uh, this is not the right way to sell online?
Anthony: Well, I think the first thing you have to look at about our business, and you can apply to this to a lot of different verticals, is that we’re really specialty retail. People need toasters. Nobody needs motorcycle gear. People shopping online for gear, they love it that much more, and the local store doesn’t have it, so now they’re forced to go into a new medium, or they’re a younger or more adapted consumer, early adopter [sounds like], that’s going to search on their own. My background is in e- commerce, my two co-founders are, as well, and we looked at it. We said everything’s so sterile in our space. It was ’06. We said it’s a very 2001 approach. If you put lipstick or children’s clothing or beach balls on the front page and change the logo, these Web sites could be any site online, and we said that’s not what drives passion. That’s not what drives people to spend their discretionary income on a very emotional purchase, which is something like a motorcycle helmet. So we just said this has to be about why we love this sport and why we’re carrying the products we’re carrying. Not so much about what we’re carrying, which is kind of the endless aisle of online which has a tendency to cheapen everything when you put too much too soon.
Andrew: All right. And I can see what you mean. When I go to ratzilla.com, I can actually see that this is a motorcycle site right away. I may not know what exactly they’re selling, or whether you’re selling anything or writing about the sport. But I get it. This is a place for enthusiasts. You understood this because of your background. What were you doing before this?
Anthony: Sure. I was working my first job out of school and I was a tech, a developer in my teens and early twenties. I went to Drexel here in Philadelphia through their coop program. I remember going back to a company that I’d spent a coop with that was an e-commerce platform agency in the wild west show of e-commerce for consumer brand which was the mid 2000s.
Anthony: We were doing e-commerce platforms. My clients were Trump, Spencer Gifts, Vinyard Vines, L.L. Bean, a really wide range.
When I went back after school, I said I don’t want to be a developer anymore. I said, I’m kind of burnt out on writing code. I said, what about project management we’re bizzed at. They said, well, do you manage a project after the fact, or do you want to ring the bell and close the sale? I said, option 2 sounds a lot more fun.
It just so happened, that even at 24, for a young guy, with my tech background and my really interest in consumer brand and the emotional aspect of creating, I’m a creative person, by nature. It was a really good fit. I spent three and a half years there. All the clients I just named were my clients that I had closed, where you get to sit down with them and say, I get all your tech, all your warehouse, all your ERP and how things need to talk to some technology on the front end and shopping cart. How do we take your brand and create an online experience out of it and translate who Smashbox Cosmetics is into Smashbox Cosmetics as a brand?
Andrew: Give me an example of that.
Andrew: You said Trump was one of the people who you brought in?
Anthony: It was a lot of fun. Yes.
Andrew: We all know the Trump brand.
Andrew: How do you take the Trump brand and communicate it in a website.
Anthony: Sure. It’s actually a great story because it was three different brands. It was actually their casinos in Atlantic City which did a huge business. If you’ve ever been to Atlantic City, it’s big casino hotels, Taj Mahal, which was high-end, chi-chi. You had the Trump Marina which was more party-focused and on the water. Then you had the Trump Plaza which was its own animal altogether.
When you sit down with the key stakeholders internally, which, the Trump Taj is a far off place. It’s exotic. Here’s what we go for in the wood tones we choose, and the color schemes in our marketing, in the materials that we physically use in the casino. How do you take that brand DNA and then turn it into a look and feel that not only says that, but is very functional and usable for an end consumer that, for them, it’s booking reservations and redeeming promotions.
Specifically, it’s a lot of conversation, and a lot of standing on the shoulders of what they’ve done, but then really creatively working within what we know about how people interact with websites. That was really the specialty of what we . . .
Andrew: When you have conversations with them, what are you trying to pull out of them so that you can design a site that represents their brand?
Anthony: That’s a great question. I’ll flip flop off of Trump for a second. Spencer Gifts. Spencer Gifts uses two archetypes, Jack and Nicky. Ten years ago, they may not at this point. They say Jack is 16. Nicky is 18. Jack likes GI Joe video games, and Little League baseball when he’s not hanging out at the mall or on a skateboard. Nicky’s into her friends, her phone, and getting her little picture on a card that hangs off her backpack. It becomes who they are, and what they’re interested in. Looking at trends, but also becomes what’s their motivation. Why are they purchasing? Is it about them? What’s leading them in? What are the key things that they’re looking to gain out of their websites?
For Spencers, they talked about their community, and the fact that there was unique aspects of content, and there was a lifestyle element even for a teen or a tween of expressing themselves. That’s one example. Clearly, even on the gender side of things, these brands would have two potentially very different archetypes of who their customer base was, why they were shopping.
Andrew: When you’re imagining this new website of yours, who are your Jack and Nicky?
Anthony: Sure. It’s a great question. We thought. It’s the danger that every entrepreneur gets into. We made some bets. We made some calculated risks, and we did as much homework as we could. Ultimately, what we wanted to do was attack, what we thought, were ourselves in the higher end of the market. I was a casual rider. I was into Italian bikes, and Ducati. I was a 24-year-old kid. I didn’t have lot of discretionary income, but I was really into the sexier side of things.
What we said was, let’s focus on brands that are a little more exotic, have a little more emotional appeal. Again, I think I’ve always thought of myself as a creative new brand guy, so I looked at that, and we kind of came at it from maybe a more experiential or high-end side of things. We thought our customers would be guys that motorcycling wasn’t necessarily a mode of transportation. It wasn’t this dusty thing that lived in their garage. It was really what, regardless of what brand they were riding, it was something that they were really in love with and very passionate about. But I’ll tell you, when we launched the website, because of the way things were set up in this industry, we opened a store. The three of us were holed up in our apartment, we lived together. But we launched the website with about 3,000 different products. Some we would have to buy and some we could drop ship which was nice.
We really did as much as we reasonably could handle, throw a lot against the wall. Especially you know, we launched late 2007 going into the recession. And we saw then really where early traction came from. A lot of it came from where we thought it was going to be. But there were definitely some surprises along the way.
Andrew: I see, so for you the typical customer that you were going after was someone like you, but a little higher end. Someone who cycled. Is it called cycling?
Anthony: Riding. People say rides.
Andrew: Okay. Someone who rides but not every single day and has a nicer bike because you can afford to spend some money on it.
Anthony: Absolutely. I knew from my past, and when you really think about modeling out your customer, we didn’t want to go after kids that were trying to buy from mom’s credit card for discretionary income. And even our age group, we didn’t have any money. So we looked at segments of potential customers that might be in a better position for discretionary income than we were.
Andrew: Okay. And then what’s the first version of this website look like when you have this in mind?
Anthony: It’s awesome. The first version of the website is so go big or go home. On the home page we had to tell you everything about us. We had to puff our chest so we felt like a real company. Not three guys in their underwear in their apartment. It was everything we could tell you, we have dirt bikes, we have ATV, we have sport bikes, we have cruiser bikes. And it was this very non-segmented mish mash of kind of vomiting content on you where we’re just trying to get you to go into some touch point or entry point into maybe something a little bit more specific to what you could be looking for. Knowing to that it was a male audience and males tend to search as well. So we had that going for us.
That first version of the website lasted about a year. It was awesome. I mean, we look at what we pulled off with no budget and three and a half months. And I look back and I’m very proud of it. But very quickly through the feedback we were getting, we realized that there was a lot that had to change within the first year we had re-launched.
Andrew: I’m on the archive.org snapshot of the site. I see muscle cars and trucks on here, which I didn’t expect. And hot rods. So it’s everything.
Anthony: No. That’s the guy that owned it before us.
Andrew: Oh, I see. Okay. So how did you buy the domain?
Anthony: I said I was a college student that was working on a senior project and I had a limited budget. I still ended up paying $1,500.00 for it because the guy called my bluff so far away.
Andrew: $1,500.00 is what that early version of the site looked like.
Anthony: No. $1,500.00 just for the domain name. And it was the biggest purchase besides the deposit on our store and $1,800.00 for rack space hosting when we launched. We wanted moto zilla. And we called a guy and we were hammering him. It’s funny, my business partner Matt was the zilla, I was the rev ultimately. We couldn’t get moto zilla. We called the guy and he said, ‘I’m launching a motorcycle apparel website. Leave me alone, I’m not selling.’ And we said, ‘Well, that doesn’t work.’ So then we brainstormed rev, and ultimately it was a guy that had just, he was sun setting this motor car oriented product site. And he said, ‘Well, it’s just sitting.’ But I gave too much away too soon and he felt the sense of urgency. Back then that was a rent payment. It was more than our store rent. It was one of the bugger trigger pulls in the early days when we maxed the credit card out.
Andrew: All right. You told April who pre-interviewed you that the first version of the site was still kind of a minimum buyable product. In what sense was it a minimum buy-able product? It seems like it had a lot of features and a lot of breadth to it.
Anthony: In my previous life in e-commerce, a really smart guy I used to work with, one of his favorite quotes in a sales pitch was, ‘Trust us, you know, you might think one size fits all, but one size fits none.’ And I think our first version of the site was one size fits none. And when I say minimum buy-able product it was, we need to get something up that’s transactional with a semblance of a product catalog. We open one distributor that could offer us 3,000 products. And we said, we’re going to just make sure we measure and listen to every single touch point. And we under a microscope look at how everybody’s interacting with this thing that we’re really taking a little but of a chance on. Or big chance on. But the bet was that people would hopefully get past the limited product selection but look at the passion factor and believe us to be trustworthy.
As far as ethics of business, we’ve always really stuck to our guns and we’ve approached things the right way. But if they knew that it was three guys in bathrobes when they weren’t at their store, I don’t know how many people would have placed an order. And in the early days not many people did.
The first three months we launched in November. By early February we were within a month or two of running out of money. We started the business with a maxed out credit card at around $15,000.00. What ended up saving us was what we inherently thought, but it was March 1st in our industry the weather changes and it just goes bananas. We literally went from six orders a day to 30 orders a day over a span of 10 days towards the end of that first February.
Andrew: Just because the season changed, and people said, “I need to go riding.”
Anthony: The sun came out, and people started thinking about their bikes again. Literally, we went from losing money to cash flow positivity in the course of 10 days. By March 1, 2008, we were less than four months old, and we were in the black. We weren’t taking salaries or anything. We did the very classic, we starved for 2-1/2 years, absolutely, but we grew through retained earnings, and at that point we were off and running. Then it was bringing on brands, merchandizing and opening up new distributors. Then we had the luxury of seeking out things that we wanted to focus on that we believed the market was ignoring.
Andrew: Talk to me a little bit about the head game here. The idea is that if you’re building sites for other people and your experience is in creating sites for luxury brands, when it’s time for you to launch for yourself don’t you get in your own head and say, “Oh, people are going to say, this is the expert who designed websites for all these other people?” and judge you based on your own website? Doesn’t that start mental chatter?
Anthony: Meaning it’s too good or it’s too bad?
Andrew: Needing it to be so good that you don’t launch it. I’ve talked to entrepreneurs who said, “When I developed for other people,” — in fact my wife talked to an entrepreneur yesterday as we were trying to get to know the audience and what they’re issues were. She said she talked to the guy who does ad buying for other clients. When he buys ads for other clients, but when it comes time to buy for himself, he has trouble. She said, “What’s the trouble?” He said, “Here, look what happens. I go to buy ads for myself. The first ads are never going to do very well. That’s natural, they don’t do well, but immediately,” he says, “I start to think Uh oh, if anyone saw how badly I do for myself they’re never going to want to work with me. I better shut this down so that I don’t prove any of my haters wrong. I don’t prove anyone who says hey he’s not any good at this right.” You get what I’m saying even though I’m getting a little mixed up in my words here.
Anthony: It’s OK.
Andrew: Did you have this issue?
Anthony: No because we hid behind the website, and we puffed our chest out, and we had big company policies, and big company tag lines and ‘isms like live free, ride hard, and all this stuff when we started. If you stumbled onto our site you were like, well these guys have to be huge. We didn’t tell the story you’re getting today. It took us a good, and this is actually a funny little anecdote, we knew we were doing something right, and we hadn’t put our faces to our business, which we really didn’t realize and we didn’t know that’s become so huge in the success of what we’ve done is making it more personal. One time on a forum about two years in one of our competitors that we respect a ton that has a small shop on the west coast, was posting on a forum and he says, “Oh, don’t go buy from the faceless monster mega company, the Zilla.” I said, “Wow! Is that we’ve become?” We’re looking at ourselves as the lone dark horse upstart out of left field, but now we’ve been around for two years, and I wonder if consumers think we’re a mega-mart. That’s exactly what we didn’t want to be. I think it was just because we were very visible on certain forums, and we found through technology the ability to scale processes to push harder and faster into different realms that, for a human, would be hard to scale on their own.
At that moment we changed our about us page. We changed how we did things. It was right after that that we started doing video, and we said, “Let’s be a little more freewheeling in telling our story.” In the early days we weren’t going to give anybody an excuse or clue anybody in that we were three dudes with a maxed out credit card just hoping the products show up tomorrow, and when you send it back to us for a size exchange, giving you your money back because none of us had time to go to UPS and get the package and even see if it was used or not when it came back. We just said, “It’s such a low amount of stuff we don’t even have time to focus on it. Just give them their money back.”
Andrew: I see.
Anthony: It was running gun from the very go.
Andrew: I see the way you got past all that self criticism is by just not showing who you were. You didn’t show yourself, so people couldn’t criticize you. Having a website allowed you to start getting distributors to work with you, right?
Anthony: Sure. Well, no. No, no, no, no no. Having a store did. There were no pure plays in our space. In all honesty, we were tech guys, but when we were starting out we said, “We really don’t want to open a store.” To the credit of the industry that I’m in, they all said, “No, you have to have a real store. We don’t care. It has to have signage. You have to have a yellow pages ad.” The pure plays is almost like a car dealership. The points of sale and brick and mortar that are selling motorcycle gear are dealerships that sell units of bikes as well — Kawasakis, Hondas, BMWs and Ducatis — and the distributor supply chain of our space said, “This isn’t about a race to the bottom. It’s not about the internet,” to their credit, “just coming in and undercutting everybody. We’re going to create a little bit of insulation here to make sure that this whole industry doesn’t go down the tubes the way that consumer electronics market.”
Andrew: So they said you have to have a store for us to do business with you, and that’s why you opened the store in Queen’s Village.
Andrew: A little store just, I see. And even though they know that most of the sales are going to come online, they figure that’s there’s going to be a barrier to entry. Some kid in his house is now going to come and start selling the same products that you are, and undercutting you because he doesn’t have your expenses.
Anthony: You’re exactly right. And we can call them a pajama dealer. What they would find is somebody would open up an account out of their garage, and what they were doing was, one guy sitting in his boxers can discount stuff on eBay all day long, cut his margin, but make 10% on a lot of stuff. It’s one guy doing a really poor job of everything, that’s really cheapened the products he’s selling, but ultimately is making enough to make it worthwhile for him. They’re trying to minimize that factor.
Anthony: How long did it take you to realize that you needed to open a physical store?
Anthony: I went 1099 in my previous career in July of that year, and I started calling distributors. The first three I called all said, ‘Well, sorry, guys. If you don’t have a store. If you’re the real thing. We don’t care who you are, or what you know about technology, and forget about a project data feed. Forget about anything you want in our catalog electronically. Have a store and call us back.’
We tried to finagle our way in. I have a background in business development, so I thought I could talk to people, but they were staunch. So we opened a store.
Andrew: Oh, wow. So before you even opened the website, you opened a store?
Anthony: Yeah. Absolutely. In late September, early October, six weeks before we launched a site, we had a store.
Andrew: You said you just wanted to throw things out on the internet to see what people were excited about, where you were able to get your customers and that’s what you would grow. The reason that you got so many different products to sell is because you had a drop ship agreement with your first distributor. Is that right?
Anthony: The industry we’re in had just started toying with the idea of drop shipping, and like so many things, we knew a lot about technology and commerce, but our timing was really, really good. Part of it we knew our timing was good, but part of it was the perfect storm, because the first distributor that said we’ll open you guys said, ‘oh, and by the way, for $8.00 a package, on top of postage free, we’ll drop ship for you.’ We said, ‘Well, you just told us that we can put 5,000 products on your catalog online.’
We started with products that we knew, used and liked, and then we said, well, sure, dirt bike goggles, knee braces, fuel canisters, and silver paint, which was ultimately our first sale. We’ll put it all up there. Who knows? All we know is what we like. There could be this whale of a customer out there that’s buying sprockets from us every two weeks that’s going to spend a ton of money. Let’s figure out if we can do a better job serving him than what else is out there. [??]
Andrew: Do you remember your first customer, Anthony?
Anthony: I remember our first customer. Just for privacy issues, I won’t call him by name. We launched the site on a Wednesday, and he bought an $8.00 can of paint. After we shipped it, paid for the distributor, drop shipped it, paid the drop ship fee. I’ll never forget we reconciled a day later. The checkout was live for four days, and that first sale finally came in.
We really thought it was going to be like flipping a switch, and bang, we’re on. It was $8.00 in revenue on our fourth day live. It was the only sale that day, and we lost, I think, 6 bucks. We all looked at each other. My wife and I had a baby on the way. There was no going back to our previous lives, or our previous safety nets. We looked at each other when we reconciled the shipping data, and we went, oh, [laughs] are we going to make it? It was a lot in those first few weeks, first few months.
Andrew: I asked you before the interview started about how you got subsequent customers, and you said that you leveraged the brand equity of the brands that you carried. What does that mean?
Anthony: Sure. It’s a very fancy way of saying we let the brands do the marketing for us. Because we’re good at technology, and because we were great at working 20 hours a day merchandising our products onto our website, and because one of the distributors would allow us to ship it out and drop ship it from them without buying it up front. We spent a lot of time, much as the same way that Zappos does. You look at multi-brand retailers. Ultimately, now we have a great hook.
Back then it was, how can we get in front of a niche customer that’s searching for a Nari helmet in size medium that’s going to be red that has a race fit, if that’s what he was looking for. Creating very specific categories and landing pages and, truthfully, [??] using ad words tools and Google insight. Seeing what are some of these higher volume mid to long tail terms that we can create almost niche landing pages around. We would spend that time on bigger ticket purchases. Maybe try to inject ourselves into the conversation of someone who’s already qualified, already kind of has an idea of what they’re looking for, and is already shopping online. No missionary selling in the early days.
Andrew: What do you mean by no missionary selling?
Anthony: We didn’t have the traction. We didn’t have the traffic. We didn’t have the ear or the credibility of the consumer or the money to start placing magazine ads, even PPC. We didn’t have the bandwidth or money to go out and say, “Hey, we want everybody to become a RevZilla evangelist now. We’re ready for you.” And plus the fact that the biggest mistake you can do, if you’re not ready, why spend money to put people on the top of the funnel where you haven’t even begun to optimize the bottom of the funnel. So, for us, in the early days it was minimal viable product, get something launched, and then everything, whether it be forum, e-mail, Facebook, the phone when people would call us, we, under a microscope, looked at every piece of consumer feedback to see what people wanted, what they were asking for, and what they seemed to be having the best experience and value from. And that was really what allowed us to then segment and start to create content and focus even on our brand and merchandising selection. I mean, ultimately, and I know I’m getting a little long-winded here, our business is not a promotional business. At the epicenter of RevZilla.com, we’re a merchandising business. Strip it all away, it’s about product. It’s about the right product for the right type of rider at that right time.
Andrew: You said you were looking to see where people went on the site, what they wanted to buy, and then you’d create landing pages to make it easier for them to buy. Can you give me an example of a topic or kind of product they were looking to buy that you created a page for?
Anthony: Absolutely, we created a whole segment out of it. I’ll tell you, so my interest in motorcycles is in Ducati, kind of sexy Italian machines, and, unfortunately, that’s such a terrible stereotype for what you’re seeing on your screen today, but it’s actually what you would peg me. There was a whole emerging side of our industry that was really these 40- to 55-year-old males. It’s called adventure riding. It’s these big Swiss Army knife BMW motorcycles that are like 20 grand that you can ride around the world, you can ride on road, you can commute on, you can ride in all seasons, and you can ride off road, as well. They call it adventure touring.
Anthony: Mountain men see the world on two wheels. We thought they were dramatically underserved. Some of the high-end helmet and apparel manufacturers that we’re carrying we’re making these adventure products that immediately got traction. We started creating as much content as we could early on. Where everybody else in our space was focused on sport bike or Harley-Davidson, adventure was a segment that launched us into the next rung of earnings, which could then fuel further growth of the company because we focused on in it, we learned it, and we went out and bought bikes for it. We didn’t grow up on it, but we’re going to dive in with two feet and become experts at it and then take our expertise, through technology, create landing pages, create segment pages, create content, video on the site, and create buying guides. Any adventure brand that was differentiated, we’re going to get it at RevZilla and invest in it and make sure that it’s a complete adventure riding experience. If you looked at our site now, you’d say, wow, we do a good job at many different riding disciplines. Even [??] years ago, you’d say, “Wow, they lead with adventure touring.”
Andrew: And I can see now actually on the site, adventure touring is a major section of your site. Tell me again how you figured out that that was the section that was worth investing in and customizing landing pages and creating sales guides for.
Anthony: People kept calling us. I’ll give you the best example of this customer. So Matt, Nick, and I answered the phone for the first two years, answered every e-mail, all of it. We didn’t have an employee for 12 months in, and we’d pick up the phone, and the guy would say, ‘Hey, I’m Jim, and I saw this brand that I’m looking at on your site. I live in the Pacific Northwest, I commute 200 days a year, I ride in the rain, I have a big belly, and I run really hot, so I need something that’s not European cut, I need something with really big vents, and it has to be waterproof. And, by the way, I ride this. Oh, and my budget is $300 to $500 just for the jacket.’ That is an hour-long phone conversation minimum, and through that conversation we would learn the motivation, the interest level, the passion, where he was hanging out online, who his friends were, what he was using his bike for, and what the next bikes he was looking at that he was lusting over. And so much of our early consumer base, because of the technicality and the high-end nature of what we were doing, they were all adults. I always say that I’m 32, and I am the early end of our hardcore customer base. Our hardcore customer base skews way older than me, and I always say it’s motorcyclists that have had enough experience to know the difference between good stuff and bad stuff, or it’s brand-new motorcyclists that really just want to learn. I feel like we’re the best for those two segments.
Andrew: I read an article, and I can’t find it here, so I can’t credit it, but it said that within 90 days of launching your site, you guys were cash flow positive. How do you get to cash flow positive so quickly?
Anthony: Well, first you can’t pay yourself, so I’ll throw that right out there. In 90 days our expenses were the apartment that the three of us lived in, our store, which was 1,100 bucks a month, rack space hosting out of Texas, which was 1,800 bucks a month, our utilities, and an extra phone from Verizon to take calls on.
If you really look at that and say we’re eating Easy Mac and our girlfriends and wives aren’t seeing us. I’m a big news Y Combinator guy. I’m a big Paul Graham fan. I’m a big Fred Wilson guy. You hear people talk about it all the time. Think about how much work it could possibly be and then it’s more than that. It was that. We were in this bunker of doing work, but to get there, it meant everything else got put on hold.
I hate to sound so trite as a start-up entrepreneur, but we were privately held. We don’t have VCs behind us. We’ve gotten really big and we’ve done it without any help. To do that means leveraging a lot of technology and a lot of being resourceful internally, but it also meant going without on a lot of stuff for a lot of the while.
Cash flow positive means the business was cash flow positive. We were then growing and gaining momentum through retained earnings, but we certainly weren’t living even three years in, it’s been struggles at home, all of our wives and girlfriends. At this point, we’re all with long term girls and I’ve been married for five years. My wife, actually, has been around since before RevZilla was started. It’s really cool to do different things with them now. I mean, they made the sacrifice with us.
Anthony: It’s [??] that story.
Andrew: To be able to do things with them now that you couldn’t before because you made the sacrifice? For example?
Anthony: Seeing them, being home for dinner, taking a two day vacation. We’re, at this point, in our sixth year. The three of us live in, we have nice places. We’re at the stage of the business, truthfully, where we’re not focused on feeding ourselves anymore. We’re laser beam focused on growth, the opportunity and being good dads, boyfriends and husbands. That’s a nice mix.
If you understand the equation of what will make you happy, you have the ability to do something meaningful every day, and your family doesn’t hate… You get over the hump of where all is forgiven. We’ve managed to land in a really good spot. We’re really enjoying it, but yes, for a long time, we had great girls behind us that had supported us because it’s been mayhem.
Andrew: I’m on Alexa.com right now. I wanted to see what search words were sending you traffic. The number one search word, of course, by far is RevZilla. People typing it into a search engine and then they go to the site. I don’t know why people don’t just type RevZilla.com instead of going to Google and typing RevZilla and then going to RevZilla.com?
Anyway, but, the second most is Interphone F5. I do a search for Interphone F5 and I see that you’re the second search result for that term. The first one is Interphonewireless.com [SP] which makes sense.
When I come to your website, I see all these different phone accessories for motorcycles and cables to charge your F5 US. I don’t even know what Interphone F5 is, but I know that I can get the cable from you guys for it. How does that word become such a popular result for you?
Anthony: I have no idea and I don’t believe Alexa, but [laughs] I think it’s a mish-mash. I think what you’re seeing there is our optimization around products, brands and long tail. I could spends lots and lots of what I call, dumb money, to make sure that every time somebody puts ‘motorcycle helmet’ into Google, I’d show up first. Honestly, if I got that organically and natural, ring the gong which we do have in our office. That’s huge.
When it comes to something like the Interphone F5, if we believe in that product, through our technical background, and what we know about SEO and content and the way we do things, we’re absolutely optimizing on, not just head tail terms, but the medium and long tail. I would imagine that that could be something that’s trending right now. I mean, the Interphone F5 is a popular Bluetooth communicator that allows writers to talk to each other.
Andrew: I see.
Anthony: Does that answer your question?
Andrew: Kind of, but I’m wondering how do you know to create that? How would I know to create that for my business? How would I know that I should… Well, yeah, I could do bootstrap companies and create a landing page for all the bootstrap interviews. Terrific. How do I find those long tail key words, like you did here, that I can really rank for? How does someone, who’s listening to us, do the same thing for their business?
Anthony: Sure, that’s actually a great question to follow-up. I spearhead creative, marketing and also the face of the company. That plays to my strengths. Matt and Nick are complimentary to me, but the way that I look at it, regardless of what we do and what we’ve done, and where I was going with quantifying what I do, is that I’m a marketer and I’m a creative, but all of our jobs going forward are so data driven.
Anyone that’s starting a business that has any semblance of anything online, there’s so many free and/or cheap tools that they can use. What are people searching for on your site? What are the keywords people are coming in for? What are the emails you’re getting with questions and tickets? Take all of your emails, and dump them into one of those services that does a tag cloud. See what bubbles up. See what the most popular things are.
Andrew: What’s the best tool that you use for this?
Anthony: Off the top of my head, for tag clouds, I’m drawing a blank. I know there’s one out there. I don’t do that as much. Honestly, I’m not a Omniture guy. I’m not a Coremetrics guy. I use Google Analytics. I use some other tools. I’m trying to think what else I use to really measure. We use a tool called Crazy Egg which shows us visually what’s coming in and what keywords that are driving, and what kind of clicks they’re making.
When it gets into really long tail, and you get into a business like ours, it’s all about how well do you know your products. At the end of the day, like I said, we’re a merchandising business. As three co-founders of the company, with over 50 employees, you’d be shocked at how granular we still are about what we stock, what we buy, how we merchandise.
At the end of the day, we’re a merchant. We’re buying large amounts of things, sometimes from Europe, because we’re looking for differentiated product that has a unique value prop for the customer. Is it the best one? Is it the one that’s priced correctly? Does it have the most functionality. All those different factors. I think then it comes down to, does the brand believe in what it’s doing, and have a premium place in the marketplace? Is it marketing itself effectively so that we’re not taking massive risk, and they’re not relying on us to be the only guy to educate someone on a product.
Andrew: So here’s what I’m understanding so far, you got a big collection of products, because you were working with drop shippers, and that allowed you to see what people wanted and, based on what they were searching for, and what they were telling you what they wanted, you created landing pages that would draw in even more people. And SEO is a big reason why you’re able to get a lot of customers. Is that right?
Anthony: Without oversimplifying, in multi-brand retail, SEO is one of the things that’s a cornerstone of anyone’s healthy business. Yes, I absolutely agree with you that, through the early inklings of what we were measuring, we three guys went into attack mode. Like I said, we’ve measured everything at this point.
Andrew: Like what? What do you measure that other people don’t even think to measure?
Anthony: Oh, my gosh. QuickPath analysis. It’s not that they don’t think to measure it. Some of these things get really difficult. Google’s only getting better. We’re looking at the terms. We’re looking at the value per visit. We’re looking at what they’re coming in from, what the brands are coming in for. We’re trying to predict trends within the industry based on a lot of different data. A lot of times magazine grade cards. The magazines are great because they’re trying to get a lot of demographic data around what people are buying, so then they could be the right advertiser for you.
A lot of times they’re cluing us into things that they might know from the manufacturers before we even know, because the manufacturers are looking at them as a promotional or media outlet. At this point, we’re lucky that we’ve put ourselves in a position that the brands are coming to us first, just like they would a media outlet, because we’ve earned the place in that life cycle for products.
In the early days, we were taking our cue based on feedback from customers and really just looking at what people were searching for on our site, and what was driving them to us. I know it seems a little basic, but it’s not magic, it’s just a lot of time and a lot of spreadsheets and a lot of reports through a lot of free tools. Google Analytics is a great one.
Andrew: Why aren’t other people who have access to these tools generating millions in sales within a few years?
Anthony: I’ll tell you the big secrets sauce, right. This is how I describe our business. We’re a technology and customer experience company run by motorcycle enthusiasts. We’re not a motorcycle dealer trying to figure out e-commerce. We’re not a marketer that wants to dive into motorcycle.
We were guys that had a passion for the sport that our secret sauce is we’ve used technology to scale every aspect of our business. We write all of our own code in-house. There’s no third-party vendor. There’s no six- week turnaround time. I spearhead creative marketing. Matt spearheads operations. Nick is our Wozniak with his headphones on, and we just keep everybody out of his way. He has a small team, and they do the work of 15 programmers.
Andrew: What’s creative marketing?
Anthony: Say again?
Andrew: What’s creative marketing?
Anthony: Creative and marketing.
Andrew: Oh. Creative and marketing. I see. Okay.
Anthony: User experience, content, the marketing piece, digital marketing, the big ideas, you know, the up in the cloud, let’s light a barrel of money on fire, and see how many views it’ll get on YouTube.
Andrew: What’s an idea of something like that that you did?
Anthony: Great one. Other than last year, we gave away a motorcycle. We’ve done some live casting. We do a lot of video. We, one time, gave away, this is year two, and I just think we were ahead of our time. I think it actually would be hilarious now. I’m only 30, but I always joke that I was born ten years too late, and I love 80s metal. One of our brands is Brand Icon came out with this. I can’t remember the name of the jacket, but it was a $1200 studded leather, hardcore Metallica jacket with motorcycle armor in it. I said, I don’t want to just give that away. I said, I want to create a ridiculous video with a narrative. Ronnie James Deo, the second singer for Black Sabbath, had just passed away. I said, let’s do a Deo music video where we put our landlord in this jacket, and we had us chasing down on motorcycles. We had a girl scantily clad, and they were conjuring magic, and there’s after effects.
We said we’ll have this video to launch this contest, and it’ll be the Deo giveaway and then we’ll give away this jacket. The guy that won the jacket was ecstatic. The industry looked at us and said, we know these guys are having a good time, but what the hell was that all about.
From the 30% of marketing which goes up in flames, that one’s one of my favorite pages from that book. Why not? Part of it was a video contest. We wanted people to submit their own video review or own motorcycle music video that was one minute long, and three people did. It was a hilarious hashtag fail.
Andrew: You do a ton of videos. I’m on your site right now. I saw in preparation for this, you demonstrating gloves, and talking about the fit of those gloves, and how your hand fits in other gloves in comparison. I’m seeing here on your site you demonstrating helmets. Why are you doing these videos?
Anthony: Because in 2009, with a flip cam ,and zero budget for outside talent, and not knowing what the heck we were going to do, I said to my co- founder, Matt, the worst that can happen is that people might look at me and say, why is the guy from Jersey Shore telling me about a motorcycle glove? I’ll call a spade a spade. I’m from the Northeast. I talk fast. I know how I look.
I said, but you know what, us waiting and trying to find the right guy, and again, it gets into rapid prototyping. I said, I want to throw this against the wall on the free or cheap, do it with a level of professionalism that’s the best we have right now, and see what the reaction is. We shot ten videos where we tried to give somebody enough information to be able to make a decision. The snowball just started there.
Over time, we organically grew and invested in equipment. The reason is, I shot 2200 of these videos at this point. I’m so efficient at it. It needs the scale past me, but I’ll tell you the truth, it’s only a few hours of my week. Right now, we keep looking at it and saying, the camera should be on everyday. There should be other people shooting video.
But, right now, people have connected with me. I’ve become the, I don’t want to say the Billy Mays of our brand, because I think that he was a huckster and a great salesman. I think that, for me, I’m trying to really offer people knowledge versus a hard sell. But if you look at, I think, any business as a startup, your brand is an amplification of your founders. If I am the mouthpiece for Matt, Nick and my personalities, which has become what people have ultimately emotionally connected to with RevZilla. As long as I’m on our cap table, I don’t think there’s ever a time where I’m not, in some way, shape of form, even if it’s that much of my time behind that camera. People, at this point, know me.
Andrew: Does it make it harder, then, to sell the company because now you are the brand?
Anthony: I think yes. I think we’re realistic about who a strategic buyer could be at some point. I think that, in a lot of ways, they’re buying RevZilla, but I think that, even at this scale, so much is still our DNA. I think it’s a talent acquisition, and a healthy business acquisition, but I know that somebody would be putting golden handcuffs on us. But, truthfully, I think that we’re enjoying so much, that as long as it wasn’t five or ten years, I think we’d probably be okay with it. We’re realistic about what that would look like. We’ve certainly had offers.
Andrew: You mentioned forums before. I’m on your site. I don’t see a forum. How do forums fit into this?
Anthony: That’s the beauty of Moto [SP]. It’s very community focused. A lot of times, it’s community focused around either riding style, so I’m a adventure guy, I’m an attractive guy, I’m a long-distance touring guy, or around bike model, I ride a Harley softail, I ride a BMW 1200 GS. What ends up happening is, the like-minded riders, whether it be on taste in bike or riding style, end up doing is gravitate toward each other on very segmented forums. We play on those forums. We have presences. We have gear experts. Many times we’ll have our own forum thread or area. We’ll answer questions.
My philosophy on it is that, when the internet happened in the late 2000s and e-commerce happened, it went from the old days of the retailer dictating the conversation to, very quickly, a consumer dictating the conversation. My opinion is wherever a customer wants to contact, that they’re most comfortable with, we need to play there and offer the same level of service. We’re on forums, Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and then all the traditional channels. Even if they’re a pain, they’re necessary evils at this point.
Andrew: Again, going back to Alexa, which we know is not the most accurate way to get data, but it’s what I have here. Google sends you, according to them, 25%, 26% of your traffic. YouTube is number two at 5% of your traffic. How do you get traffic from YouTube for videos where you’re essentially selling, but not really?
Anthony: Now, that’s the best part. It’s soft ROI [sounds like]. When you go to a video page, we’ll have a link on it. So if it’s the Dainese racing leather jacket, on that video watch page you’ll have a link to the product detail page on our site. Very few people click it, but I think the bigger thing there is that if we’re creating value through content and it’s not a commercial, it’s really a story and what someone’s interested in learning, people typing in RevZilla into Google and coming in directly, I’ll just tell you, it’s a massive number. And to me that’s the fact that we’ve done enough to where we’ve hit the impressions, they’ve seen us, we’ve been around the block to where people know us, and they’re starting with us. And I think YouTube is part of that conversation, where it’s more effective than a 30-second TV spot. I’ve shot videos that are 22 minutes long that are one continuous take. That’s insane. We shoot those, and I said I actually can’t believe we pulled that off.
Andrew: Towards the end you feel a whole lot of pressure.
Anthony: Yeah. Any video we do at this point, we put the bar so high that it really becomes, whether it’s the time, the information, the amount we cover, and every product’s different, it’s about getting the right information. There are very high expectations on us. That’s the point. I like it. It means we’ve done something right, and people care about what we’re doing, but, yeah, sometimes it’s a little pressure.
Andrew: Yeah, it’s interesting because I think most entrepreneurs who are starting out would say, “I don’t want to be on camera. That’s just for people like Andrew who want attention for themselves, who aren’t running real businesses. I’m running a real business, selling stuff. I can’t go on camera.” And here you’re a guy who goes on camera, what did you say, 1,000 times, hundreds of times?
Anthony: We’ve shot 2,200 videos at this point.
Andrew: 2,200 videos.
Anthony: In less than four years, yeah. The average video is six or seven minutes long.
Andrew: And I can see how effective it is. I mean, I watched it just to get a sense of who you were in preparation for this interview. What about Milan? There was some show in Milan that helped you guys out.
Anthony: We just try to stay up on trends, and there’s a show in Milan, there’s a show in Germany, there are shows all around the world, there’s a show in Orlando next year, and we just try to keep our finger on the pulse. We started as consumers. We weren’t racers. Nobody in our family had dealerships. We were just consumers, and we said if I’m a hyper-connected consumer, what am I watching, who am I reading, and where am I getting my news? And then as RevZilla, we looked at it and we said are there pieces of that food chain, that distribution food chain of information, that are vacuums still, that aren’t being met? And I think a lot of our business is just having the foresight to look ahead. So, yeah, it’s interesting that Milan popped on your radar. It’s a super important thing in the mix, but we just look broader than what’s right in front of us here in the States, I think is how you could sum that up.
Andrew: You launched on, is this right, Hacker News? Is it Matt, who 1,900 days ago roughly, did a post saying, ‘My rails e-commerce startup launch: RevZilla,’ and got people’s feedback?
Anthony: Yeah, that’s my business partner, Matt. Absolutely.
Andrew: Why Hacker News?
Anthony: So you heard me mention Paul Graham earlier. We love to quote Paul Graham, Joel Spolsky [SP], Fred Wilson. We think and follow the private equity, venture-backed startup space religiously. We think there’s so much value and so much knowledge there, and some of these people that are out there are the curators of great, not only startup wisdom, but scaling wisdom. I mean, we’re not an emerging growth company anymore. We’re really at this middle stage, which is, wow, if we don’t do this the right way, our culture, our process, everything could get really wobbly. We get speed wobbles. I love skateboarding, so I always use skateboarding analogies. We get speed wobbles really quick if we don’t really take care of this. So Hacker News, especially as being developers, it came out of Y Combinator–I’m sure you know it really well–it’s still one of the best sources of information, not just on tack [SP], on running your business type stuff that’s out there.
Andrew: Here’s something I didn’t know. According to Matt here, 1,939 days ago, you guys applied for Y Combinator two years before.
Anthony: Matt did. Absolutely.
Andrew: Oh, I see, but you weren’t part of that group?
Andrew: And he was rejected?
Anthony: He was a reject.
Andrew: What was the idea that he got rejected for?
Anthony: You know what, I don’t even know. I don’t know if I knew Matt at that point. I worked with him briefly in my previous life. He had moved on to work on a startup that was going to be around social and night life. We were young 20-something guys that were single. He was, as well, and he was, I’m going to create this city-based, proof of concept, promotional singles and parties. I think it’s what every 22-year-old male that likes to go out and be single that does programming thinks of in some form or another.
I don’t know what his idea was, but Matt was probably, to his credit, has been following Paul Graham longer than I have been. Matt was one of the guys that, when I was 25, introduced me and we started talking about different things. It’s funny to look backwards. I’ve been reading this stuff for almost a decade now. Matt was more in tune with it earlier than I was. He’s younger than I am. God bless him. He’s hardcore.
Andrew: 595 days ago, he said on Hacker News, help, basically. We just got patent rolled by Colera [SP] Systems. Need advice. This is a patent for search method where, instead of the hierarchical approach, the application uses family groupings to narrow products. They call it guided paramedic search. What did you do about that?
Anthony: I love it. I love your digging. They were patent roll. We contacted a few different lawyers that were in our network. Like any startup, I would say to have good counsel, especially if they can be free or cheap. Someone’s emerging growth practice should be nice to you, if you’re lucky. We made some phone calls, and we were ultimately given advice that there were bigger players. I think Newegg was at the table actually.
It was faceted navigation, guided search. I search for motorcycle glove, and I see shop by price, shop by color, short cuff, long cuff, waterproof. What Endeca Systems and Mercado Systems had done ten years ago, that everyone on their site has as an ante, at this point, they were saying that we’re just going after everybody, and you should settle with us or we’re going to take you to court.
Ultimately, I’m telling a longer story. It’s not that interesting. Our lawyer said, there’s going to be a judgment on this come December. It was probably August. They said, if you’re willing to take a little bit of a risk, hang on by your fingernails, and just try to drag your feet. So we did. Ultimately, Newegg took it to court, beat them, set the precedent, and we got to ride off in the sunset with them. There have other things. I’m trying to think of anything I can mention. Well, actually, I’m going to stay away from it. There are other things that have been a little bit gnarlier that we’ve faced, with different trademark, copyright, or people infringing on our site, that we’ve had to be more aggressive with, but that one was of these here ones.
Andrew: How about the other way, where someone accused you of trademark or copyright issues? Violations.
Anthony: Oh. I’m trying to think of a good example. Do you know more than I do from recall? I don’t think I have a good one. I think we pretty much kept it clean from go. Actually, I’ll give you a good example. I’ve got a couple of cease and desists. We took a little creative license with one of our brands, an Italian company that did a giveaway, and we wanted a really crazy picture of an Italian guy with a funny moustache. We went to the Google machine and worked in one of our call-outs and got a very nice cease and desist. It said, we appreciate your contest, but you can’t use so and so’s likeness.
This is the insanity of me, which made Matt, who’s a little more practical than I am, cringe. I had our creative guy, my right hand guy in our art department. I said, go put an eyepatch and a beard on him, and put a little pirate bird on his shoulder. I said, let’s see if they think that’s okay, so we relaunched. We obscured the guy’s face. They came back the next day, they said, making our client a pirate is not . . . You still don’t have license to use him even if he’s a pirate. Then we took it down. That’s the best I got for you on that.
Andrew: How about hiring? You hire a certain kind of person. You gave me an example of it before we started recording. Can you tell the audience?
Anthony: Yeah. No. We’re relentless about hiring. We’ve only gotten better. We’ve hired, I believe, 40 people in the last 12 or 15 months, so you can get a gauge that we are larger than 50 people. I said larger than 50 people. It’s reasonably larger. Our hiring methodology. When we first started this, we hired the way we knew we’d hire. We hired the way that we’d hired at other companies. We realized really quickly it was broken. We’ve hired two types of people. We’re a web company, and we’re a motorcycle enthusiast company.
Motorcycle enthusiasts, we’ve hired our customers. Our general manager, our oldest employee right now, who is our second employee, walked in when we had no employees. He bought a pair of dirt boots from me. He walked through our little store into the back of the house. I took him around. We found these $200 pair of boots. He told me that he worked in cycling, but he loved motorcycles. It seemed smart. He was my age. He was enthusiastic. I called him the next day based on his account information.
I called Matt because Matt wasn’t there. I said, ‘Matt, I just had this great kid walk in. He seems really smart. He knows retail. And he’s a hardcore rider.’ He said, ‘We’ve got to hire him.’ And I said, ‘I agree.’
I called him up about three weeks later. I was in a Chili’s in Villanova, Pennsylvania negotiating a salary that we could pay him over the phone. And like a month later, I’ll never forget, I was with my father. Last night we just had his four year anniversary review dinner. He manages more people in the company than I do. He reports to Matt. He reports to the founding team. He’s one of our executives. He is, it’s about as good as you gets when you look at the value of driven type A, organized, hustle, proactive, resourceful, but understands our vertical as well.
That’s a perfect story about us getting lucky early. But then on the flip side, we’ve taken our lumps too. We’re at the point now where maybes are nos. If there’s any whiff of anything, we’re just so selective. It’s not people always think it’s the financial cost of the mishire. It’s the opportunity cost. When you’re growing as fast as we are, the wrong person in the wrong seat, you don’t know how much you’ve lost by just not being able to execute and ship.
Andrew: The first guy you hired, even though he wasn’t looking for a job. But you said, hey, if we can convince him to come in here and follow his passion, we’ve got a smart guy who cares about this product so much he’s actually a customer. That’s kind of interesting actually. I would’ve waited for somebody to look for the job. You convinced him to take the job.
The other thing that you did was, you put ads out I think. And you’re saying that, some people said, yeah, maybe, I’m not sure. And you thought, ‘We’ve got to get these guys.’ Just like we went after employee number two. We got him. We should turn this maybe into a yes and they’re going to love working here. And that’s when it didn’t work out for you. Is that right?
Anthony: No. It was us a maybe. It was seeing building blocks and being overwhelmed and having scaling issues. You know, being three people, three employees and doing $10 million in sales. Everything melting around you and figuring out to ship 200 boxes a day. Really insane to build all this infrastructure and process from the ground up on the fly. It really became looking for folks that were, it became the same skill sets, enthusiastic, smart. Regardless of where they were in their level of experience, self starter, resourceful, proactive. It was never, ‘I want to come in and do a good job. I’d be excited on your team.’ It was, we looked for, ‘I have to work here. I have to, I see so much opportunity.’
We just moved into a new building. If I go like this, ready? You’re going to see our new building a little bit. It’s our first big building. But we were in the scrappiest of scrappy places for three years. A year after the first apartment, we moved into a terrible old building. We lived there for three or four years. Now we’ve moved into a big, big building which is brand new.
But we look at it. And the type of people that were coming in and interviewing. The best ones would be like ‘What about the building?’ Anybody that said, ‘What about the building?’ in any kind of negative fashion, didn’t get hired. The people that came in and said, ‘You guys are scrappy. You guys are changing the game. I don’t care that there’s no air conditioning. I don’t care that it’s in this rough part of town. I want to be part of the grassroots startup. I want to be part of this cause. I don’t just want to come in and work somewhere.’
I think we look for that really diligently, going from 3 employees to probably 30 employees in that space. The best employees were the ones that said, ‘I’ll take out the trash. I’ll change a light bulb. I’ll answer the phone, or I’ll ship boxes.’ On top of being the guy that handles paid search. Those employees were the ones that are, they drank the KoolAid with us. That’s a really bad ism. But they’re in. And they’ve worked well.
Andrew: Do you guys have outside funding?
Andrew: It was all done with those credit cards?
Anthony: We maxed out one credit card, 15 grand.
Andrew: Oh, that was one credit card, 15 grand and you built this multi- million dollar company.
Anthony: We pulled a couple thousand dollars that we had in cash. We maxed out our credit card for 15K. We were almost out of money towards the end of February ’08. We’ve been around since November 14th through Valentine’s Day ’08. We were almost out of money. Then the first spring hit. We immediately turned the corner. We went from 6 orders a day to 30 orders a day.
I remember, we were just on the phone with each other. We’d rotate who worked in the store and accepted UPS boxes. I remember being down there and just watching the orders come in. I mean, 30 orders over an 8 hour span is hilariously slow. That was it. Our [??] table was clean. We’re in a position where we’re still calling all the shots. Which is scary but really awesome and we don’t take it for granted.
Andrew: By the way, I should say, I’ve been holding up a mug here from one of my viewers. His name is Dean. And he says that he runs a company called Baseball Classics which offers a high quality board game with any major league teams from 1901 to 2012. I told my audience, “Hey, I drink in this case hot water, sometimes tea and coffee, during these interviews, and my mugs in the office are all blank. Give me something with your logo, and let’s see what happens. I hold it up in the interviews.” Dean sent me this mug. It’s called Baseball Classics, and if you guys want to check out his site, it’s playbaseballclassics.com.
Anthony, let me ask you a question for him. He has all these board games . . .
Andrew Warner: . . . oh, look at that with the moustache on your mug. He has these board games he’s selling on line. Based on your experience, what could he do to get more customers into his site.
Anthony: How does he find more customers to his site. He’s got board games. He’s specialty, he’s passion driven, and there are people out there who are hardcore baseball fans, and they’re statisticians. I have friends that work for ESPN. I’m not a die-hard sports guy, but I know that contingent. The question becomes figuring out — I mean, he’s been around, but I don’t know how long he’s been around — who’s buying his product, and why are they buying it? Also, how do they find him? What are the types of things they’re looking for? Is it a novelty? Is it for a friend? Is it a Father’s Day gift? What are the baseball-oriented key terms that can be more specific than not where he can slide into territory that big Milton Bradley and Hasbro aren’t optimizing for. Really, he’s a niche product which gives him great ability to go after niche search terms. I mean with the AdWords tool, he should be able to get creative around the attributes of his product.
Andrew: Maybe baseball player from 1912. If I type that player’s name in I should be able to find Dean’s website. That’s the kind of thing you’re talking about.
Anthony: I love that. You think about all these old rosters, all these old families and all these old relatives. I mean, he should have a page for every team. If I was Dean I would have a page for every team of every year with that roster optimized, with text there that’s searchable and indexable by Google. Just on the fact of having that catalog there’s value just in that. I’m sure there are databases of names where you can go in and query the 1968 Texas Rangers, but is that information exposed and crawlable by Google? Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. Even if it is, there are probably two to three sites that have it. If he’s number four and the title text on the page is 1968 Texas Rangers board game, authentic roster, I don’t know. There’s a massive collector market out there. We all know baseball is popular as it is.
Andrew: Dean, if it’s a good fit for you. I think you’re a Premium member. Check out Patrick McKenzie’s course at mixergypremium.com. He talked about how he automates this process that Anthony just talked about so that he can have tons of web pages that are specialty and narrowly targeted just for his people.
Anthony: I’m writing that down, too.
Andrew: Patrick, McKenzie. Oh, he’s fantastic. I should send that to you. He’s done this on forums. He’s explained this in SEOmoz forums and other places, but on Mixergy Premium he walked us through the process step by step how he had it all automated. He does bingo cards, and he thought, I think he said, “You know what? Some teachers might want the Japanese politicians on bingo cards as a way of teaching who the politicians are in Japan. I’m going to create a page for bingo cards for Japanese politicians.” That drives customers to him. That’s just one of many different pages that he created that he automated.
I had somebody in my audience who actually followed that method, who built a bunch of sites this way, and I’m not sure if he’s willing to come on here and talk about the interview or not. I won’t even mention his name, but I know that it’s worked for him, and I hope that we can get him on here.
Patrick McKenzie, go to mixergypremium.com and just grab that course.
All right Anthony, I think we covered everything. If there’s someone who wants to follow up with you and say, “Thank you for doing this interview,” what’s a good way for them to say hello and thank you.
Anthony: Sure. I would send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org, and it will get bubbled right up to me, or you could send me a note directly at email@example.com. I’ve got to give a shout out to anybody that’s watching, I’m hiring A’s right now on all sides of the creative aspect on the marketing side of things. We are hiring like crazy right now. If anybody is watching and feels like they like the story we’re telling and our approach to business, I would love to hear from any elements of your audience or any folks in your audience.
Andrew: If they work with you, I mean considering how big the company is, are they ever going to have a chance to site down with you and ask you questions like I’ve asked you here or maybe even go more in depth and learn how to build their own sites based on what you’ve done, or is this the kind of thing where, “we’re hiring so many people, I’m kind of stretched for time. I’m sorry, maybe in a couple years we can talk.”
Anthony: No. My team is small and elite. My team is Seal Team 6 for marketing and digital and creative. I spend personal time with everybody each week. I’m a very hand’s-on collaborative manager. I spend most of my time out of my office, that’s why, thank God I have an excellent assistant who just keeps everything together. There are different aspect of the business that maybe the managers can be a little more arm’s length away from because you get them rolling, they gain momentum, and they become processes. I find that so much of our secret sauce is really collaborative efforts between me and my team. So no, somebody that would be on my team would work directly with me everyday.
Andrew: All right. How do we find out what job you guys have?
Anthony: RevZilla.com/jobs. You can watch our awesome 1980s montage video, “Pushing To The Limit”, which is what it’s like to work at RevZilla in our old space.
Andrew: Yeah, you guys are hiring a whole lot.
Andrew: All right, Anthony thank you for doing this interview. Everyone else, thank you for being a part of it. Bye guys.
Anthony: Thanks Andrew, lots of fun. See you.
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