This is the story of a guy who got bored selling shoes, so he created a web site that sells removable graphics that you can post on your wall.
Jason Weisenthal is the founder of WallMonkeys.com, which offers more than 20 million images to browser and print premium removable wall graphics.
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Jason Weisenthal, WallMonkeys
Jason Weisenthal is the CEO at WallMonkeys.com, which offers more than 20 million images to browser and print premium removable wall graphics.
Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. I’m the guy who sticks his hand in your face every time he introduces himself. Also known as Andrew Warner, founder of mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. And today I’ve got an interview for you with a guy who got bored selling shoes. So he created a company that sells removable graphics that you can post up on your wall. His name is Jason Weisenthal; he is the founder of wallmonkeys.
Wallmonkeys creates, well, you know, if I wanted to put my logo right over my shoulder right back here, wallmonkeys.com is where I would go. Or now that I’ve got a new baby, if I wanted to put my baby up on the wall, outside of a picture frame, just really nice big picture, wallmonkeys.com is the place I would go for it.
You can also see it right behind him on his wall. See another example of how wallmonkeys can show your logo off. This interview is sponsored by Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. He is the entrepreneur’s lawyer. Why? I’ll tell you later. If you want to jump ahead, you can go check out walkercorporatelaw.com. First I’ve got to say hi to Jason. Thanks for doing this interview, Jason.
Jason: Hey, Andrew. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.
Andrew: Hey, you built this into a multimillion dollar company which, go figure, that stickers like that could be so huge. But do you remember the first million you made?
Jason: Absolutely. It didn’t happen overnight. Took a fair amount of work.
Andrew: How many years?
Jason: Took about three years, between two and a half and three years. The first two years, we really didn’t make much money until we started to get content and figured out how to market that content. And sales went from zero to a million pretty fast.
Andrew: I want to find out how you found the content because that’s huge for you, and how you found the customers. But I said, first of all, that you used to work selling shoes. Your dad owned a shoe store and you went to work for him when you were a kid. What was that like?
Jason: It was good experience. You know, I used to fake like I was sleeping on Saturday mornings because I didn’t really always want to go to work. I wanted to play with my friends. But going to work in the retail environment every Saturday was great. And you got to see and deal with lots of different people and customers, and got to watch my father run the business and see how he dealt with shoe companies and the customers. You don’t realize at the time, but it’s invaluable experience.
Andrew: You know what, I used to do it. My dad owned a retail store for a while. I hated it. Everything just felt so small time. You were making a sale for like forty bucks to someone who would agonize over it for an hour, you know. I hated it. Didn’t you feel like, I’ve got to do something bigger than this? Something that’s scale, something that doesn’t force me to come in every day. Something that’s bigger sales at every turn.
Jason: Yeah. When I was young, I don’t think I was that smart. The internet wasn’t around with thinking about scaling and the way we look at business now. I mean I look at things completely differently. I just saw the difference between an easy customer and a tough customer, and all the challenges that a small business faced managing inventory and the expenses and the employees. I knew it wasn’t something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life. That’s for sure.
Andrew: What did you learn by watching your dad in the shoe store?
Jason: It took a lot of work. You had to be there. It was really about the relationships with the customers. A lot of the sales were based on the relationships and the customers coming back because they liked the staff and the store and the location. And how taking care of your customer was just really, really important.
Andrew: What’s a good way when you’re working retail, to show your customer that you’re taking care of them?
Jason: Remember their name when they walk in the door. Greet them with a smile.
Andrew: How would you remember someone’s name? People, I imagine, aren’t buying shoes every week, so you might go a month or two in between meeting them. Did you have a trick for remembering their name or did your dad have something?
Jason: I think my dad was probably better at it than I was, but customers were pretty loyal. They came back more often than you think. It really wasn’t that hard. And if you didn’t remember it, at least just greet them with a really big smile.
Andrew: Gotcha. Like you’ve seen them forever or you know them. Gotcha.
Jason: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: You also told Jeremy Weisz, our pre-interviewer producer that there are things that you didn’t agree with your dad on, what was that? What was one example of that?
Jason: Even from a young age, I paid attention to detail and I saw the difference that the little things would make. And I guess the biggest thing was his approach to inventory management. If you don’t have what the customer wants, you’re going to lose that sale, if you can make them buy their second choice if they had one.
And he had a more laissez-faire approach to inventory when I wanted to keep an eye on every pair and really micromanage the inventory to make sure we made every sale.
Andrew: You mean, he wouldn’t keep inventory? What did he do differently?
Jason: Sometimes he would buy – I don’t want to talk bad about my dad – but he might not buy as many of the most popular sizes. He’d buy all the sizes across the board when I could tell that there was a trend that the bigger sizes were selling better, where you should buy heavier of the basic color. And then maybe forget about buying that funny color to put on the wall.
Andrew: My dad sold sneakers for a while, and I remember one of his friends saying that you have to tell your sales people that when they go to the back to get someone’s size always look at a size above and below just in case so if they say it’s a little tight and you know that you have a size above then suggest it. But if you don’t then you can suggest another shoe or help them get comfortable with the one they have on. There’s little things like that that I remember watching.
I also hated that I had to show up all the time. Before holidays if it was a big sale day, you had to show up. You then ended up running your own shoe store. How much of an issue is that for you now that you’re an adult and want to sleep in on a Saturday?
Jason: It’s a different world now. I’ve learned so much about being an entrepreneur than when I was running the store back then it was a grind worse than a Saturday. At least Saturday it was a busy day. When the sign on the store said that you were open until 7 p.m. and it was pouring rain and 40 degrees outside and you know no one is coming in at 4 p.m. And you could go home and play with your kids or you could do anything and you stay at work, that is a sign that retail stinks.
Andrew: Okay, and so you were in there and you were feeling like I’m bored with this. It stinks, I need something else. How do you come up with the idea for WallMonkeys?
Jason: I actually wasn’t thinking that this stinks. We were really at the time still making really good revenue and profit. I was more bored. I was sitting in my office. I called it on cruise control. Everybody in the place were great. I had the inventory under control. So I was looking at other businesses. I actually investigated a business, printing business and I went and checked it out. I really didn’t care for the people running that business, but I was really amazed by the equipment. There has to be some unique use for these printers. They’re so awesome.
And that was when the idea hit me. Fathead was doing all the decals of, you know, professional athletes, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. My son was paying Little League, and I thought how cool to be if somebody could my kid on the wall. I’m a grown man I don’t want to put Derek Jeter on the wall even though I am a Yankees fan. So I started to do my research. I saw nobody was doing it, and I took the steps required. This can be done. I’m going to do this.
Andrew: You know, I was reading the About Page on your site, and you’re basically say the same thing there. You saw Fathead do something. You’re actually very clear. “I saw Fathead.com offer Derek Jeter and ARod, et cetera, and I decided to make a version of it that fit my needs.” Doesn’t bother you that you’re announcing to the world that you’re basically copying Fathead with a twist? Does it bother you with . . .What do you think?
Jason: Honestly, they have a great business. They have tons of licensed content. They’re a really large company. They’re larger than we are. They’re in the states. And we offered custom decals before they did. What do they say, good artists borrow great artists steal? No one has an original idea. It’s all about repackaging. I saw an opportunity and I thought it was good. And I still had to put all the pieces into place to launch the business and I did it.
Andrew: How did you know that there were other parents out there who were willing to get decals of their kids to put up on the wall?
Jason: You know, I had a local printer print one of my son, and I showed it around to a bunch of friends. Everybody thought it was cool, and I really didn’t do too much market research. I just thought it was a great idea, and I put my money where my mouth was. And actually I was wrong initially because the technology wasn’t there. People like it, but I didn’t have a quality image when I uploaded the photo to the website. Initially my great idea was actually a failure. It took a while for us to make money.
Andrew: It was a failure because most people didn’t have digital pictures of their kids that had clear enough resolution that if it was blown up to the size of decals that you wanted to create that it would stay clear. It gets fuzzy when it gets blown up.
Jason: Yeah, I mean, the cell phone cameras weren’t even close and digital cameras, the megapixels weren’t enough and people were sending in blurry pictures. And the kids were too far away. I mean, it was just problem after problem after problem. They couldn’t figure out how to get it off their camera or the computer so they could upload it to the website. It was like, the demand was there, but people couldn’t actually make the purchase.
Andrew: We’re talking about roughly, actually not roughly but exactly 2007, right?
Jason: Yeah, at the end of 2007.
Andrew: So when you’re watching all these problems happen, how did you initially try to address those issues?
Jason: You put up tutorials on your website about how to take a good picture, get a clear close up and zoom in. How to check the file size, right click, and select properties. And you talk through customer service on the telephone. You hold their hand as much as you can to make the sale. It’s really all you can do.
Andrew: And you’re doing this and doing this and it doesn’t work. Why didn’t you say, you know what? Maybe this whole printing thing is not right. I’ve got to move on.
Jason: You know, I didn’t really think about that at the time at all. I think the reason is, one, I believed in my idea. I would find an angle, and I would be successful with this. And, two, I think the biggest thing which didn’t hit me for a long time I didn’t have a better idea. As an entrepreneur I think if I had a better idea I may have jumped over to it, but I just felt in my gut that I was going to find the right angle for this business and it would eventually be successful.
Andrew: What about this? You bought your printers, right?
Jason: Yes, sir.
Andrew: You paid roughly $75,000 to get in business. We’re talking about $50,000 into two printers and then 25,000 into the website. Did you feel like, you know what? I’m committed. I can’t just back away because the resolution people’s photos don’t work. These printers are sitting here.
Jason: I guess I could have sold the printers if I had a better idea. When I was in retail I always said I would never go down with the ship. If I feel that something’s going to be a failure don’t keep investing in that failure. I never felt that I was going down the wrong path. I just felt it. I had to find the right angle. If I thought it had been a failure, I would have dumped the machines, taken a loss, and moved on.
Andrew: Gotcha. So you just felt like I’ve got no better idea I might as well see this one through.
Jason: Yeah, I felt strongly that I was right.
Andrew: You know, I’m looking at an old version of your site, and on the bottom somewhere I see Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Geek Life, Rising Stars. Was that your attempt to say, you know what? If people can’t upload proper photos, I’m just going to see if I can use some of these popular celebrities and topics.
Jason: Sarah Palin was a really big hit. That was totally to get press. That was right when she was initially picked to be vice-presidential nominee, and there were hardly any pictures on the Internet. I contacted a guy. I tracked the photographer down. He was in Alaska, and I got in touch with him to get the right (?). And we issued a press release, and it was picked up all around the world. So really that was just like, please let’s do something outrageous to try and get more eyeballs.
Andrew: Interesting. So just because she was so popular, people were talking about her, you said, “I’m going to use this for press” and then it happened also to sell.
Jason: We sold . . . We didn’t make a ton of money off of it. We did get a lot of publicity. It was a really good idea to get eyeballs.
Andrew: Is the technology easy enough that if you . . . Actually, why two printers? Why not one?
Jason: That’s a good question. I think Christmas we actually did sell some product and I think I got a little blinded by my Christmas success.
Andrew: I see.
Jason: I thought that I would get the second printer, and also I had this fear. If you have one and it breaks, you’re in really big trouble. But if you have two, you can always print non-stop on one until you catch up. So it’s kind of like security. I didn’t want to let people down should one printer drop.
Andrew: Gotcha. And you bought the printers as soon as you had the idea.
Jason: I bought one printer. I did some research and I hired somebody. I went out and found somebody who worked at a print shop. He knew how to use the printer so he could teach me. I found somebody to build my ecommerce site because the shopping cart wasn’t ready. Everything was custom at that time. So I went out and found the best people to help me execute my idea.
Andrew: I see. That’s what I was going to ask earlier. Is this printer easy enough that you just plug it into your computer and go, but it doesn’t sound like it.
Jason: You can make mistakes to cause damage. You can cause damage to the print head, and you definitely want to have someone teach you for a bunch of hours before you decide to go solo and potentially do thousands of dollars in damage if you hit the wrong button.
Andrew: I want to spend more time talking about how you got customers because I think there’s a lot for us to learn about. But I’m just interested in this printer, the decision to buy it because it’s so expensive. I’m wondering why didn’t you at first use printers that already existed instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on your own printer. You know, just pay per printout until you get enough customers.
Jason: There weren’t a lot of those printers. The printer that we used that I bought at the time was the best printer that prints and cuts. It would cut the image out.
I don’t know. I’ve never been a… I was confident in my idea. I wasn’t afraid to take the risk. I had the money. Like, not that $25,000 is a little bit of money, but I’m investing in myself. I don’t have… It didn’t worry me. I wasn’t fearful at all.
Andrew: That’s the part that I’m amazed by. All right, even if you’re not worried about the cost of the printers, the fact that the prints aren’t coming out right when people send it over would be enough to send many entrepreneurs into a tailspin.
How many entrepreneurs create a website, just a blog, and no one comes, and it sends them into a tailspin that makes them doubt themselves, doubt their idea, and then distance themselves from it and move on? They don’t have tens of thousands invested in the business. Here you were with the money invested in the business with bigger problems than those guys have, and you stuck it out.
What makes you stick it out where many other people would doubt themselves and walk away? What do you think?
Jason: I’m stubborn. I’m a problem solver. Again, I mean if I see something bad I will cut my losses. I’ve done it. You know, I’ve sold stocks for losses. I got out of the shoe business not at the tippy top when the recession hit. I saw that it was time to go.
I never felt that it was time to go. I just wasn’t worried. I had the money. I was living. I was running the business by myself. My expenses were very, very low. And, I was able to afford to ride it out. You know, keeping your expenses low is a bonus.
Andrew: That is a big one. All right. Having people print their kids and put that on the wall wasn’t working out for you. Were you starting to hunt around for different topics that would resonate with people and that they could actually print out?
Jason: Yeah. Before we finally, like… To get to the end of the story would be content is what did it for us. When we were doing custom, I thought it was just going to be kids, and I was trying to target to those soccer moms and the parents. Then, we started to go after the professional photographers that shot the sports leagues. We would try and do fundraisers with the leagues themselves.
Each thing would make some money but never enough money to be like a viable business. So, I would always say I was zigging and zagging. It’s not like I was just sitting in my basement crying and waiting for the sales to come in. I was always trying something else.
Andrew: I see, just different ideas – what could these printers be used for, what would people want to put up on their wall. I do see in an earlier version of your website a whole page dedicated to getting professional photographers interested. You even put your real email address on there and you say contact me directly.
You have an edition to Sarah Palin. You also have top ten ideas trying to just fire off ideas at people to see what resonates. The pets, military, celebrations, college themed images, so I see what you’re trying to do back then. Then, a guy from CNBC contacts you.
Andrew: What does he say?
Jason: That was great. We had just started, and Darren Rovell who was at CNBC for years, the sports business analyst… Now he’s at ESPN. He actually ended up becoming a friend. He was a really big fan.
He was doing a piece. He was looking for products to highlight for products of the year Christmas gifts on CNBC. He calls my cell phone and says I’m Darren Rovell from CNBC, how would you like Wallmonkeys to be featured as one of the best gifts for dad or [??] or Christmas.
I thought he was kidding, because the company was, like, three weeks old. He wasn’t kidding. We made a life-sized version of Darren Rovell. They had a photographer take a picture and send it over.
I was just so excited. We were on live TV and they talked about it, and they joked, and they made fun of the big, life-sized version of Darren Rovell. That definitely helped with cash. That made us some money and got us some more interviews. It got us a little bit more print. It was a kick in the butt that we needed.
Andrew: I see. And I didn’t realize that. It came three weeks after you launched the business.
Jason: Yeah. We were brand new. I really thought a friend was joking with me.
Andrew: I see. Okay, all right. That gave you a little bit of business, but it was still the kind of business that wasn’t working out well for you because people didn’t have the right resolutions for their photos.
Jason: Well, some people did. It just wasn’t a ton of money. But, Darren Rovell helped a lot, and from Darren Rovell’s piece on CNBC a reporter from “ESPN the Magazine” named Paul Kix contacted me. He wrote a piece with an image, and that actually made us more money than Darren Rovell’s piece. We probably made maybe $1000 a day for, I don’t know, four, six weeks, or more -which at that time $1000 a day was a lot for our business.
Andrew: Gotcha. All right. Then, I misunderstood. I thought you were struggling the first year. But, even though…
Jason: We were.
Andrew: …you had some struggles, you at least had days where you were making $1000 a day. You had attention from CNBC and ESPN. Those are the kinds of things that would keep an entrepreneur going when refunds come in, when the product’s not working, when the print’s not perfect, and doesn’t go on the wall, and curls, and those kinds of issues happen.
Jason: Yeah. Well, our prints didn’t curl. We found the right material. We could let that other company that we were talking about – their prints can curl.
Andrew: Got you. This is the one where you went out to just get a sample made, and that’s the stuff that curled – before you had your own printer.
Jason: Yeah, before we found… We have a material that has like a fabric in it, and it doesn’t ever curl.
Andrew: I see.
Jason: We’ve got to get that clear…
Andrew: I like that you needed to correct me. You’re proud of this, proud of the work that you guys do.
Jason: This is my baby. Are you kidding me! I couldn’t be more proud, and we’re just getting started.
Andrew: Let me do a quick plug here, and then I want to find out… Now I understand how you got your first customers, CNBC, ESPN. I want to find out what happened with your next customers, and I’ll tell you some of what I’ve seen when I did some research on you to see where your customers were coming from today.
But, first, I have to thank Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. Why is he the entrepreneur’s lawyer, the lawyer that I can recommend for entrepreneurs? Well, I’ll give you an example. Someone very close to me said that he wanted to start a business with a cofounder, and he was a little nervous. He didn’t want to take a big piece of the company up front and risk walking out the door… But, you know, actually that’s not such a bad risk – walking out the door owning a share of the business and not doing any work. But, more importantly, he didn’t want his cofounder to do the same thing.
He wanted to start the business honorably. They both earned their share of the business. If either one of them decides to walk away a couple of days after starting the business, they wanted to be protected.
Well, they emailed me and they asked me which lawyer do I recommend. I said the same guy I’ve been telling my audience about for years, Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. For very low money… I don’t even know if I should say how much, but we’re talking very little, not much more than you would pay if you were doing self-service start your own business paperwork. Just a little bit more than that to have Scott Edward Walker and his team get together and organize a structure that allowed them to protect themselves. It allowed them to have a safe working relationship that allowed them to earn their share of the business over time.
That’s the kind of stuff that Scott does. He understands what entrepreneurs need. He can put that together because he’s done this for years. He’s done it for years for the Mixergy audience, and longer before that.
If you need a lawyer and you’re an entrepreneur, get someone who’s experienced. Get someone who’s going to charge you not an arm and a leg but the right amount for a new company. Get Scott Edward Walker. Or, at least, frankly, go talk to him. Keep him on the list of lawyers that you talk to, and I’m convinced that you’ll be happy that you did. Go to walkercorporatelaw.com and get more information. Let me give you that URL again, because someone emailed me and said he couldn’t remember it, walkercorporatelaw.com.
All right. Jason, I see the first batch of customers coming in. I see you hunting around for a way to grow the business. The next thing that you did seems to be content.
Andrew: If users aren’t going to supply their own content that works, you needed to get content, Fotolia seems to be the place you turn to.
Jason: Yeah. Well, initially I just bought clip art or downloaded royalty- free clip art and put up little cartoon animals and street signs…
Andrew: Oh really?
Jason: Just like black silhouettes of kids playing baseball, football…
Andrew: All right. I could see that. Yeah.
Jason: And that’s when the content started to sell a little bit. We had, like, a few thousand. I would buy a little collection from somebody. That was when talk about… You know, how you were talking about retail, about how I can’t live my life in this box, or this isn’t scalable. That was my aha moment when I’m like, you know what, a couple of thousand images, if people want a couple thousand let’s offer a whole lot.
That was when I contacted Fotolia and convinced them to let me have access to all of their images. At the time it was about 14 million.
Andrew: Fourteen million images. What does a company like Fotolia need in order to give you access to all of them?
Jason: I can make a joke. They wanted a financial, a little bit of a guarantee, but…
Andrew: Guarantee that you’d make a certain number of sales.
Jason: A certain amount of money over a certain period of time.
Jason: My customers could preview their collection. The key was that we needed people to be able to preview the collections and pick the ones they want, then I don’t pay for the image until the customer makes the sale. You can’t buy all those 14 million images with the hopes that people buy them.
Andrew: Got you.
Jason: That was the key – to be able to pay when the sale converts.
Andrew: I see. Because before when you had the silhouette of the baseball player that people can get to put up on their walls you had to buy that and hope people would buy it from you. Now, you had a deal with Fotolia that allowed you to do it. Was it easy to make a deal with a company that big when you’re just getting going?…
Jason: You know, you never know what’s going to happen until you ask somebody. I made a nice connection, you know, just personally with the guy in charge [??] Pots Tota in charge of North America, and he believed and he felt my passion, my sincerity. And he convinced the company to take a risk, and you know, do the work required to have my website be able to display all of their images.
Andrew: Is it the kind of thing where as soon as you get their images sales automatically jump? Or do you need now to market them, so that people discover these images on your site?
Jason: I mean, they sell pretty quick, but you do need to optimize, you know, you need to follow some SCO tactics. And you can do a better job with marketing your images, and you could buy, you know, pay for some placement as time went on we sold on other sales channels. So you definitely have to do work.
Andrew: What did you do first? Was it SCO was it [??] Advice was it something else?
Jason: First things that we did was SCO we tried to make sure that the pages got indexed by Google and that the page the titles about Meditags and Alt images all that good stuff was correct. My theory was that I was going to have the longest, Long Tail that there is. And then if you were looking for some obscure image I wanted to make sure that my contents showed up when you searched Google. Because there’s a good chance that I’m the only guy in the world with an image of some random thing that you’re looking for.
Andrew: And were you able to create a page on your site for basically every image on Fotolia that you got? You couldn’t do that.
Jason: Yes, we alternated…
Andrew: You could?
Jason: We automated … we have now, one the most automated customizable systems. I don’t know of another company that can do what we can do as far as, customizing and changing hundreds of thousands of millions of images across multiple sales channels with a few clicks of the bottom.
Andrew: What’s an example of a Long Tail phrase that you rang for?
Jason: It is everything, it just depends on your business. Like, for example, you never know what you’re going to sell, there’s a company that sells popcorn, and they bought several thousand dollars’ worth of decals worth of popcorn.
Andrew: I see, and would you have a search result that would … I mean if that person typed in popcorn decal that’s how they would discover you?
Andrew: I see actually from looking through your keywords. I see solar system decals, sending new traffic, dripping blood I don’t know why that, wall tattoos, removable wall decals, surf wall mural. That’s the kind of stuff we’re talking about.
Jason: You know, what you’re looking at and what sells, what’s interesting is we’ve been selling from … it’s not just Fotolia, but every day over 30% of our sales are items that are selling for the first time. So we have best sellers, and you can pull items off that list, off your search list. But a lot of our sales every single day are things that are being searched for, for the first time or being searched for very seldom.
Andrew: I see, so this isn’t an indication where you’re getting your customer, what’s selling, but it is an indication of the kind of keywords that are bringing you traffic.
Andrew: And I couldn’t really find a bunch that were heavy hitter for you. Of course, I could see Wall Monkey sending you a lot of traffic and Custom Wall Decals but Wall Murals and Fathead sending you traffic also. Not giant but sending you some. Is that one of the reasons, by the way, why Fathead appears in you About page. So that when someone types in Fathead they might come up with your site and see an alternative?
Jason: We definitely, I think all companies do a little bit of SEO with their competitor’s names. On the About Us page on that page specifically it’s there because it’s truly part of the story. And if I met the CEO of Fathead and say, ”Hey, you know, I’m not trying to step on their toes.” When go out somewhere, and they say, and somebody says, what do you do? I say, ”I sell removable wall decals.” A lot of times they say, ”Oh, like Fathead?” And if I really don’t want to have a big conversation I can just say, ”Yep.” Thanks you just save me like three minutes of explaining.
Andrew: So with such a big competitor how do you differentiate yourself?
Jason: I have 20 million Images, and they don’t…
Andrew: I see.
Jason: We have every niche. I put a lot of efforts into looking at the content that we have and filling in the niches.
Andrew: You have Spider Man, but you have the perfect sunset that the person who’s looking for the right … for the place that they went on vacation might want.
Jason: Yeah, we have tons of … you know, we have a lot of images that they don’t have. We also have a really fast turnaround, our customer service is a bit different. They can be nice, but we ship our custom images. They offer custom now also. But our turnaround time is much faster than theirs. Our material is premium. It sticks on more surfaces. We could pay attention to smaller details. It’s a more premium product. We have things that differentiate us from Fathead. So, I really don’t view them as a major competitor. Clearly they are to some degree because anybody that sells wall decals is, but I’m happy they’re there.
Andrew: Okay. Here’s something else I saw when I was looking to see where you’re getting you’re traffic. Amazon.com sends you traffic. That was one of the milestones for you in your growth. What was the original thing that you did with Amazon?
Jason: When I had little street signs, and silhouettes, and little animals I put them up for sale on Amazon. . .
Andrew: Just the standard? I think they were calling it Z-Shop at the time?
Jason: I’m not sure, right now if you’re just like a regular guy selling, you sell in the marketplace. So I put them up in the marketplace. Basically, the customer makes the purchase, you ship it, Amazon holds the money, every two weeks they give you a disbursement and that’s it. That’s how it goes. They take their 15% commission. So, that’s how we started with Amazon. So, I guess what happens is we don’t aim to drive traffic from Amazon to our site, but we’re a seller on Amazon to this day and on Amazon we’re WallMonkey’s Wall Decals, so people are smart enough to figure that out.
Andrew: Got you. So if they’re searching for wall decals, you’re coming up.
Jason: You know we have a smaller selection on Amazon. So, if you’re looking at, say pictures of monkeys, you might go to WallMonkeys and go, maybe they have more monkeys if I search on their site.
Andrew: Gotcha. That’s why they’re ending up on your site.
Andrew: Okay. I also see that Fotolia sending you traffic. How does that work?
Jason: Not really sure. I know we’re on their business API page. We’re a pretty good partner and they had asked if they could use our site as a case study and as an example. So, I think we probably get traffic from Fotolia because we have a graphic on their website, on their business API.
Andrew: So, how do you learn all of this stuff? We’re talking about APIs. We’re talking about SEO. We’re talking about a multi-channel approach where most people, most entrepreneurs would say, “I have my own site. I don’t need Amazon.” You’re great at all of this and you’re guy who used to sell shoes from a physical store. How did you go about learning all of it?
Jason: Just read and watch videos and talk to people and just learn man. Just absorb it, enjoy it, and love it. I mean, right now I think I’m one of the most, not cocky, but knowledgeable guys when it comes to selling in multiple sales channels with millions of products. Just don’t give up. Just grind it out and learn what you need to learn. It’s not like you work for somebody else. No one’s going to do it for you. You have to do it yourself.
Andrew: What’s the one mistake that you see other e-commerce entrepreneurs make that if you could stop and give them some coaching you’d have to tell them?
Jason: Good question. I don’t know if anyone’s asked me that question. What mistake did they make?
Andrew: Yeah, I mean I feel like you do know this so well that you can tell what mistakes people are making at this point or what advice you might give entrepreneurs.
Jason: Yeah. Sell in multiple marketplaces is a big one. Maybe people try to be too much to too many people to really focus on your core. You know, develop your core market. Focus on a niche. Too many people try to be everything to everybody. Focus on a niche I think would be the biggest thing. Find a niche and take advantage of it.
Andrew: The niche. What was your first niche then?
Jason: My niche really is the long tail. It’s this ability to find holes in the market and be. . . I don’t really want to sell items where you’re competing on cost or you’re competing against 10, 15, 20 other people on Amazon or on my site, or on eBay, or anywhere. I want to find products and images that no one’s offering.
Andrew: Got it. I see. You know, I was just looking around and thinking to myself, “Boy, this guy’s great. How do we even find him so we can find more people like Jason?” We didn’t read about you on TechCrunch. I didn’t read about you on TechCrunch and email the team and say we’ve got to get him on. So, I’m looking and I see Danny from Jack Taylor PR contacted us via our form on Mixergy. So, that makes me think you have a PR agency that helps you reach out to people like me. Why? You’re methodical. There must be a reason for it.
Jason: Well, first of all, I really like those guys. There are only so many hours in a day. I have hired and fired people to do different things for me, whether it’s to manage our SEO, our PBC campaigns. There’s been things that I had hired the best guys and they totally messed it up. The guys who happened to contact you, they provide value to me.
Andrew: What’s the value being on an interview program like this?
Jason: I don’t know. I can let you know in like six weeks.
Andrew: Okay, so you . . .
Jason: If somebody else is going to contact me, ask me a question, some big corporate customer could come, anything. Who knows?
Andrew: It’s just about getting your name out there. And so you hire a P.R. agency, and this is one of the places where they went out. It wasn’t like you said, you know what? To increase our S.E.O. juice we better go out and do as many blogs as we can.
Jason: Well, we’re not doing that through them, but we do go after mommy bloggers to review our products, and we do have a strategy. Part of this is I really enjoy talking to people like you. For me just personally this is great fun, like I love this.
Andrew: I know before we started you and Jeremy now are becoming close friends. You’re going to see him in Chicago, the guy who pre-interviewed you, the producer here.
Jason: He’s the best. We trade emails all the time.
Andrew: You do?
Jason: To me it’s like my drug to talk to fellow entrepreneurs, smart people. I just can’t get enough of that.
Andrew: What city are you in?
Jason: In Maryland.
Andrew: In Maryland?
Jason: Yeah, I live just north of D.C., in between Baltimore and Washington.
Jason: My office is in Kensington.
Andrew: If I had someone in my audience who wanted to get out to you and say, “You know what? I saw you on Mixergy. I know this is your drug. I’m a new entrepreneur. I’m building something. Can I come over with coffee or lunch?” You’d be open to it.
Jason: If he’d be serious and it was legit, sure.
Andrew: It has to be something interesting, not just anybody.
Jason: Yeah, not yet.
Andrew: The time that you and your wife went out to celebrate was when you got National Geographic. Why was that their contents so major for you that you celebrated?
Jason: Well, first of all, I think a lot of entrepreneurs . . . I’ve been think about this a lot lately. We’ll stop to celebrate anything. As soon as you accomplish anything, what can I do next?
Andrew: As soon as you accomplish something, you belittle it like that’s not nearly enough. I’ve got to do something much bigger.
Jason: Yeah, it’s never enough. It’s never good enough. You don’t think you’re good enough. It’s proving yourself to yourself. So for some reason I thought that getting National Geographic was going to be really difficult, that they wouldn’t give their content to a company my size. And when I was able to make that connection and get the content, it just was really satisfying to me because I look at them and say, “It’s such a premium name and they have such great imagery” and to get that I just felt that it was more than a sales number. It was like, we’ve arrived. Finding National Geographic, I can get anybody’s content that I want.
Andrew: So how did you get National Geographic?
Jason: It was really much easier than I thought. I have a friend who works at the images, Getty Images. And so I called her up, and she’s a great woman and I said, “Hey, do you know anybody at National Geographic.” And she said, “I do.” She made an email introduction and it was really, really simple. I gave them some sales information, some (?) information. Proved to them I was legit and it was a done deal.
Andrew: I see. And that’s what it is. It’s just about asking, the same way you got (?). It’s just reaching out and saying, “Hey, those guys are big, but I need to ask them anyway.”
Jason: If you don’t ask, you’re never going to get a yes.
Andrew: What’s the situation that happened with the watermarks on your images that cost about $150,000?
Jason: Yeah, so in the marketplace but there’s a marketplace where we’re selling. We make a lot of money, good revenue, and just overnight we had watermarked images for a year and a half, no problems.
Andrew: You had images that are on their website in their service.
Jason: Actually photo images. We were getting images that had a total watermark on them, and we got an email saying, “We had 24 hours to replace the watermarked images with non-watermarked images.” And it’s not like I’m a little guy selling 20 images. You’re talking 300,000 images or something like that.
Andrew: I see.
Jason: And I didn’t have access to them so I had to call my connection and explain the situation and pray that they would allow me to use non- watermarked images. And I had to go up to the C.E.O. and then we had to do all of this programming to pull down 300 images and download all of these hundreds of thousands of images, replace, recreate these data feeds. And this is why the system I replaced is so powerful. Even though it took a while, it was still . . . Nobody else could be able to do this. We had the system in place to feed all of these files automatically back to Amazon. The whole process took a few weeks, and we had to put all out items down because we couldn’t risk being kicked off.
Andrew: Why is a watermark an issue for a marketplace?
Jason: It’s their rules, their marketplace.
Andrew: I see. They just decided, we don’t want other watermarks on the products in our stores.
Jason: No text, [??] no images. All these marketplaces have rules like the image has to fill 75% of the screen on a white background, blah, blah, blah, and somebody decided it was time to enforce that rule.
Andrew: Oh, man. So you’re building up the business. What’s keeping you now from growing even more? What’s the next big hurdle?
Jason: We have excess capacity right now. It’s really a game of where do you spend your time, your energy, your money to get the most eyeballs, or how can I be smarter than I am now to make more people aware of our product faster.
Andrew: I see. And so what’s working for you now other than SEL?
Jason: We’ve been blogging very, very, very aggressively because we feel that it’s going to be effective for us to blog about evergreen topics. If you spend $100 on ad words it’s gone. If you create 10 new blogs, they’re there forever, so we’re spending a lot of time on that content. We are tweaking our strategy on ad words, and we’re also developing … we have a couple new products coming out, but one in particular that we feel is going to be a game-changer…
Andrew: What is this thing that you’ve just leaked on Facebook that’s been a secret for so long?
Jason: Yeah. We are going to absolutely change wallpaper. We are about to launch a removable wallpaper line that is just sticker material, simply peel and stick to the wall. No professional installation, no paste, no mess, no mess when you take it down. We’re going to have thousands of patterns and colorators [??] [SP]. We can do custom designs. It’s unlike anything out there. It’s literally going to change wallpaper.
Andrew: So if I want to have one wallpaper today, and then a different one next month so that it looks like a fresh environment I can do that because I can peel them off.
Jason: Yeah. You can leave them up a day, a week, a month, a year. If you’re a retailer, [??] customers you can create seasonal displays. You put it up for the fall, you take it down for Christmas, [??] for the spring, and it’s so simple. It’s a thicker material than our regular material, and it doesn’t bubble. It doesn’t wrinkle. It’s so simple to apply. Customers are just going to be…the convenience factor is going to worth the price, [??].
Andrew: I’m looking at your logo, by the way. It’s so effective to see it over your shoulder.
Jason: Thank you.
Andrew: I’m wondering what the logo is. What is the squiggly mark?
Jason: Oh, come on. We got rid of the monkey, because when we started to grow, I thought we had a funny name, we might really have to mature a little bit.
Jason: So it’s a W-M.
Andrew: Oh, I see now. Okay.
Andrew: I thought it was like a graph going up, like, “We are growing, baby”.
Jason: You know what, that’s true too. Maybe that’s what it is. It’s a W-M, and we…I think that’s less than a year old. I really like it. The monkey is just a little too childish for when you’re trying to sell to corporate, you know. Sell to [??].
Andrew: You know what, I’d like to get Mixergy, buy it off of your site and put it over my shoulder. I just never know how to get it to be the right size. I think it would look really professional, right? I have my font. I just need to create Mixergy, put it up there, but how do I know what’s the right size to put over my shoulder?
Jason: My God. You know me, we’ll do it for you. We did it for Jeremy, we printed it for him.
Andrew: Tell me, [??]
Jason: Of course.
Jason: I talked to him first.
Jason: All we need is your logo as a vector, the vector file for the logo.
Andrew: For me, I guess we could talk and we could make it work. Let’s take it to someone in the audience who says, “You know what, I got a wall behind me all the time, I’m doing these webinars or I’m doing webcam calls with people. I think it’ll look professional if I have my logo over my shoulder. How do they know what the right size is?
Jason: All you need to do is send us your logo, and we’ll take care of that for you. The sheet behind me is 6 x 4 feet. It’s 100 hours, so you could put one of those up, or you could put two of those up if your [??] is bigger, or we can make it exactly the dimensions that you need.
Andrew: I see. [??] repeat like you have over you, it doesn’t need to be a certain width. It can just cover the whole wall behind the person, and then they’ve got the logo all over.
Jason: We know, we’ll ask you how far in front of your wall will you be, and that will tell us just how big to make your logos, if we should make them bigger or smaller so that they look good on your videos.
Andrew: And we just call up the company and you guys will talk to anybody and help us out?
Jason: Of course. Or send us an email. I mean the best thing to do is just send us an email with your logo and say “Hey I want to step in the P [??] to put behind my Skype backdrop; I want to look more professional, and we will hook you up.
Andrew: Let me do a quick plug and then I want to ask you something personal here that’s helped your business that I think we can all learn from. The plug is for mixergpremium.com. If you like this interview and want to take this relationship with me and my over 1,000 entrepreneurs to the next level, the place to go is MixergyPremium. What is MixergyPremium? Well, that’s where we have the vault of over 1,000 interviews with entrepreneurs who break down how they built their businesses.
Every step is dissected; I will hunt around and find out where they get their traffic from, I will hunt around and find out what their revenues are, and so on. And I bring it to you, so that you can learn from them and build your business based on what’s worked for them and avoid the things that have gotten them into trouble. And it’s more than that. You know what this interview is like. You understand that we have over 1,000 more like this. But what you may not understand is that we also have courses. Courses where I bring an entrepreneur and say you are especially good at coming up with a business idea, at talking to customers, at making sales, at getting traffic. Whatever it is that they’re especially good at that my audience needs to learn about, I invite those entrepreneurs on.
We have Jeremy, and we have April, and we have a team of people here who help make their expertise into a teachable course that we teach to you together. Me and the entrepreneur teach you directly from them, and we show you specific examples of how they did it. Those are the courses. If you want to learn how to get traffic, you don’t want to learn from a guy who’s a professional teacher. You want to learn from an entrepreneur who’s especially good at it, and that’s the idea behind MixergyPremium. We have over 100 entrepreneurs who’ve talked there, over 1,000 entrepreneurs who have done interviews like this, and it’s all available for you – all of it – one shot, instantly if you go to MixergyPremium.com, and I guarantee you’ll love it. Go sign up right now. Here’s a personal thing. You journal.
Andrew: Why is journaling so important to you as an entrepreneur?
Jason: I didn’t start to journal until a few years ago. It’s incredible that you never know what is going to come out of your pen until you sit down and start to write. Even if you had a thought ten seconds before you sit down, something different might come out. It’s a great way to soul search, it’s a great way to have quiet time, it’s a form of meditation. Sometimes ideas come out, sometimes you find out more about yourself. There’s really no downside to journaling.
Andrew: How much time do you spend journaling each day?
Jason: I don’t journal every day. I would say I journal two or three times a week. Sometimes more if I feel like there’s a lot going on in my life, if I’m really inspired or if I’m really down or struggling with something, I might journal more often, but two to three times a week.
Andrew: If you’re sitting down and journaling and you want to get to deeper understanding, do you have a process? I mean, I love journaling, I’ve done it for a long time. One of the things that I do, is I ask myself questions. Like, “Why didn’t that work out?” And then I’m forced to really examine why something didn’t work out. And then if I don’t really push myself, I say, I literally will write it down and go, “Come on, you’re not really pushing yourself enough. There’s something else going on. What is it,” and then I’ll write and it’ll just be a stream of consciousness. And by pushing myself with questions like that, I force myself to either answer the question or realize on paper that I’m running away from the answer and that also is a signal that something is up. Do you have a process like that?
Jason: Not exactly. I like what you had to say, I might incorporate some of that into the next time I journal, or the next bunch of times I journal. One of the things I like to do when I journal is write about things that I’m grateful for. I don’t feel that I feel grateful enough often enough – how lucky I am. And then I try to think about… I always feel that I’m not pushing myself hard enough, so I’ll write down important events in my life and struggles, and I’ll write down goals that a lot of times I’m really writing about things that have happened and things that I am grateful for to try and appreciate how lucky I am.
Andrew: And then what’s the advantage of doing that? The reason I’m asking is because I can already hear people in the audience saying, “That’s a little bit too self helpy, too new agey, I don’t need to pat myself on the back, I’m really better off just constantly pushing myself and talking about what’s not working for me and using that as a way of pushing myself to correct it.” I don’t think people accept and understand the power of being grateful on paper, of thinking about things that are working. What is the reason that you do it?
Jason: Well, I’m not journaling. Journaling really has nothing to do with business. I’m not journaling to write new business ideas. I have a notebook for that. I write down my ideas and my to-do lists.
Jason: The gratefulness thing really has to do with everything outside of business. I haven’t achieved all of my goals that my company is doing well enough that it provides for my family and a nice lifestyle, and it’s important I think to write down different things that you’re grateful for every day, even if it’s a simple thing like being able to take a walk and nothing hurts, or to be able to play tennis with your son, or to be able to take a walk with your daughter. You know, be grateful for the little things. You can eat healthy food. Write it down. See how it feels. Maybe it will make you feel better than you think.
Andrew: Right. Instead of passing judgment before you try it, write it down for a bit. I believe in the power of that; I’ve done it and it does feel great and I urge everyone in the audience to do it, and when they do, find a way to contact Jason and say thank you, because I know that it’s going to make an impact on you. The website is wallmonkeys.com where you can see all the different examples of decals and you can see the logo I talked about. Jason, what kind of revenue are you guys doing with this website before you say goodbye? I should be pushy and ask for personal information.
Jason: Last year, we broke the $2 million mark for the first time, and this year is doing better than last year, but what that number is will be a mystery to both of us.
Andrew: And you did tell me before the interview started, in all fairness, that you were not going to tell us what 2014 revenues were, but I appreciate you being open about 2013. Congratulations on the success. If you don’t mind, hang on for a minute, I’d like to ask you about the decal, and for the audience, thank you all for being a part of it. Bye guys.
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