How does a guy who started out working for the Dept. of Juvenile Corrections end up building a million dollar consulting company?
Jay Baer is a social media and content marketing strategist and president of Convince & Convert.
He’s also the author of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not Hype
Jay Baer, Convince & Convert
Jay Baer is a social media and content marketing strategist and president of Convince & Convert.
He’s also the author of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is about Help Not Hype
Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner and I am the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. In this interview we’re going to learn how a guy who started out working for the Department of Juvenile Corrections ended up building a million dollar consulting company.
There he is. Jay Baer is a social media and content marketing strategist and founder of Convince and Convert. He’s also the author of “Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help Not Hype.” Welcome, Jay.
Jay: Thanks very much for having me. I appreciate it. And, if you get out of line I know a lot about the prison system, so we can cut this short.
Andrew: What if I got out of line while I was in the prison system? What would you do? What would happen to me?
Jay: Actually, you might get put into the isolation room which is not a place you want to be. I worked for the Department of Juvenile Corrections a long time ago. I was only there for about four months. I was the spokesman. I was the Public Information Officer.
My job was to make sure that we weren’t in the newspaper. Because if you’re in the newspaper as a Department of Juvenile Corrections either somebody has been injured or somebody has escaped. There’s never any good news. There’s never any profile piece of what an amazing job you’re doing.
So my job was to make sure we were not in the newspaper and also to give tours. So, I gave lots and lots of tours of the prison system to legislators, members of the media, and other influencers and things like that.
It was my only foray into government service. I was there for 120 days. Towards the end of my tenure my boss called me in. He was the director of the department. He said, “Hey, we need to work on our branding.” I said, “Yeah, no doubt.” He said, “We want to put together a committee to redesign our business cards, and we’re going to make you the chairperson of this committee.” I said, “Great, I get to be the chairperson of the committee.” I said, “How many people are on the committee?” He said, “13.”
Jay: So, I became the chairperson of a 13 person business card redesign committee, and I quit the next day. I said, “If it takes this many people to do business cards this is probably not the entrepreneurial environment that’s going to work for me.”
So that was my one and only service in government. In fact, every quarter I still get a piece of mail from the State of Arizona that says, “If you retired today your pension would be like 74 cents a month or something like that.” I was only there four months, but I do have dollars accumulated in my State of Arizona pension.
Andrew: One hundred twenty days after starting, a day after you’re made chairman of this very big committee, you leave. Which to some people would seem impulsive and rash, but to you it’s part of your makeup. In fact, when you were growing up your dad took a trip to Arizona that I was hoping you could tell the audience about.
Jay: Yeah. I come from a line of self-employed entrepreneurs going back, I don’t even know, Andrew. I’d have to pull out the family tree, but at least seven generations. My family business, going way back into the early 1800s, was the furniture business. We were furniture retailers. We owned a series of furniture stores in the Midwest, in Nebraska actually, and it was called Baer’s Furniture. It’s still there. We don’t own it anymore, but it’s still there, Baer’s Furniture.
My dad, this was the late sixties, was like I don’t want to take over the family business because that’s not cool. You know, it was the late sixties. Also, my dad is color blind, which is not really what you want in your furniture professional. Because that’s where you get circumstances like, that’s going to look great in your house. Then, obviously, it doesn’t look great in your house.
He was like, no I’m not going to do this. He didn’t want to be in the family business. He struck out on his own and got into the finance business. I was just a baby. We were living in Nebraska.
At that time there was a property development, a real estate development, in Arizona called Lake Havasu City. The developer of Lake Havasu City was Master Plan. So one company owned like 100,000 acres, something like that. Master Plan.
They would put small print ads in newspapers in the Midwest during the winter when it was super cold. These ads said come out to Arizona, with a picture of a palm and a lake. It’s amazing. It’s warm. No obligation. The flights are super cheap. Have a great time. Look around.
So, my dad said, okay let’s do this. He gets on this plane. It stops in Phoenix on the way out there. He’s in the bar and is sitting next to this guy at the bar. The guy says, “Where are you going?” He says, “I’m going to Lake Havasu.” He says, “Oh Lake Havasu, that’s a little small town out in the middle of nowhere, but I think it’s got potential. I’ve been thinking about putting a steakhouse at there.”
It turns out the guy my dad was sitting next to is a guy who owns a very prominent, very old, famous kind of saloon in the outskirts of Phoenix. He says to my dad, “You seem like a good guy, do you know anything about the restaurant business.” My dad says, “No, nothing, never even worked in one, never been a busboy.” Well, that’s okay, you seem like you’re pretty smart, you’ll probably pick it up. If I built a steakhouse out there, would you run it?
He said, “I don’t know, maybe. I haven’t even been there yet. I haven’t made the connection on the flight but maybe. So they exchange phone numbers, my dad flies out there again 2000 people, basically cactus, and lizards, but he’s like this is amazing, flies back to Nebraska tells my mom we’re moving to Arizona after the weekend.
So he quits his job, she quits her job as a teacher, they take me as a baby. We move out there, and he opens the only steakhouse in town in the middle of nowhere, and Lake Havasu City has now grown to be 60-75,000 people. It’s actually, a fun fact, it’s where the London Bridge is. So if you know the London Bridge Is Falling Down nursery rhyme? That’s true, it was falling down, and they bought it.
This company, McCulloch [SP] Properties bought the London Bridge from the city of London, numbered all the pieces, took it apart, put it on a boat, floated it to California, put it on trucks, drove it to Arizona, and reassembled it like Legos, and turned it into a tourist attraction. That’s right.
Andrew: And so to me actually, it seems rash and it makes me feel…what I’m trying to say is this story makes me feel like people who just take crazy risks end up succeeding. I should be taking crazy risks like Jay’s father, but that’s not really what happened. Why did dad’s steakhouse work for him? Why did that quick decision work? Was it just luck?
Jay: I don’t think so. I mean, he understood that the growth in this community was going to be extremely rapid, and it was because you had this huge company that owned every interim land running hundreds of thousands of dollars of print ads all across…what community has that going for them right? So the way he looked at it if it worked on him, it was going to work on a lot of other people.
And having what ended up being the only nice restaurant in a very fast growing community ended up being very, very wise and ultimately he sold that business and then Lake Havasu City in addition to being America’s home for the London Bridge is also the hottest community in the U. S. Hotter than Phoenix, usually two or three degrees hotter than Phoenix.
My dad ultimately opened and started the very first ice company in that town, which is also a good idea. So when your average summer temperature is 117 being the guy that sells the ice is a good move.
Andrew: That makes sense. [laughs] So this is the backdrop. These are the kinds of stories that made you who you are. Why bother then going to work for the corrections department?
Jay: It’s a super good question. I started off in politics. My original career was in political consulting, and I helped people get elected and things like that. I [??] I loved it. I went to school for it, but I got out of it because back in those days you didn’t run for office all the time the way you do now. So you would run one year, and then the second year you’d usually be a lobbyist, and I didn’t like being a lobbyist because it’s not… it’s too amorphous.
What I loved about politics is now what I love about online marketing which is trackable and measureable. If you’re running a campaign, the day after the election you’re either psyched or you’re totally bummed. You can’t get half elected.
Lobbying you never really know where you stand, and I don’t like that. I don’t like that psychology, so I quit politics because it was too fuzzy, and I got into corporate marketing for a while, and I worked for Waste Management, the trash and recycling guy, so I also gave a lot of landfill tours. So Andrew in addition to telling you a lot about juvenile prison I can probably tell you more than you want to know about how a landfill is made, if we can get into that some time.
So I got into that side of the business, but ultimately I didn’t start my own company until I was 30, yeah 30/29, because I was scared. I was scared to fail, and I always wanted to, I wanted to since I was 22, but I was scared. I was like what if this [??]
Andrew: What do you mean? Everyone feels like they don’t want to fail. What’s different about your feelings about failure?
Jay: Nothing. Nothing’s different. I just didn’t have the courage to do it, and I had a pretty cushy job. I was getting paid pretty well. I was like well, you know, why rock the boat? Why…
Andrew: When you were thinking about failure, was it “I don’t want to fail when my dad was so successful,” or was it “I don’t want to fail when all these people are going to watch me leave a safe job, and wait for me to fail, and then they’ll be proven right.”
Jay: Well some of both of those, but more I had a wife, and a child at that point, and it’s much easier to do the bird in the hand as opposed to doing the two in the bush. And I’ll tell you what changed my mind.
So I had a pretty good job as the Senior Director of Marketing for a company called VisiTalk.com. And VisiTalk was, true story, was basically, not even basically, was almost exactly Skype, [??] eight years before Skype. So great idea, terrific technology, but way too early. At that point nobody was saying “You know what this telephone sucks, we need a better way to do this.” There just wasn’t a problem, it was the answer to a question that nobody was asking yet.
Jay: So, I was there, and I was getting paid very well. It was the, go, go days, right? It was late 90s, you know, when venture capital was falling out of the sky, but I wanted to do my own thing, and, again, I was afraid to do it, and my best friend, he and I grew up together since second grade. He actually married my wife’s sister. So my friend and i were brother’s-in- law, which is awesome. I totally recommend it if you can pull that off.
Jay: Because you’re at family gatherings, and the family’s doing their thing, and he and I are in the back, smoking cigarettes, talking football, it’s great. It’s a great gig, but at that exact moment, he was diagnosed with brain cancer, and I walked into my cushy corporate job, and I quit the next day and started my own company, because I said, you know what, what am I scared of? Like, what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen?
If I start my own company and it doesn’t work out, I can go get another job as somebody’s well compensated internet guy. What’s the big deal, right? It’s not like I’m sick. I have my health. Go do it. So I walked in and quit and started the next day, and I’ve worked for myself every day since.
Andrew: And this was Mighty Interactive?
Jay: That’s right, yeah.
Andrew: What was Mighty Interactive, the company you started in 2000?
Jay: It started out with just me, working out to of the house. And then I grew it and, ultimately, sold it. It started off doing website, strategic consulting, so back in those days, back in those days, it was, like, 13 years ago, but in internet time, that’s a while, right? So a lot of companies were really getting serious about building new sites, or websites, for the first time. And there were, of course, a lot of website design companies in the market place, but these companies had no idea who to hire or what to pay. Like should we pay $10,000 for a new website or $200,000? I mean, they had no idea.
So what I did, because I had experience in that space. Well, I was almost a general contractor, so companies would hire me to write the RFP, pick the winner, manage the process, make sure they were getting what they paid for, and I would, sort of, oversee the website design process. So I started off doing that and did it for a while, and then grew it and added some staff, grew it, added some staff. You know, and got to the point where we were the preeminent internet marketing firm in the Arizona region for a while, and then I sold the company after five years.
Andrew: What did you sell it for?
Jay: I got to the point where I realized that I am better starting companies than I am managing companies. I’m better now than I was then, but still, I tend to manage by post-it note. Like, here’s something we should do. Here’s something we should do. And that’s very inspirational type leadership or intuition driven leadership.
It doesn’t scale well, and so I got the point where it was, alright, I either need help operating this business or this business is going to start to fray, because I can’t do that. And so I sold, because they made me a good offer, and then the folks who we merged with, they really took over the operation side of the business, so I could do what I do, which is go out there and make things happen.
Andrew: What was the offer that they made you? How much?
Jay: We sold that company for 2.1 million, I think, something like that.
Andrew: Wow, and you said, we, but you were the only owner, right?
Jay: Just my wife and I, yeah.
Andrew: Wow. And is this the company that you started out getting customers for with postcards?
Jay: I did. It’s actually before that. I always did that. Every time I changed jobs I would send post cards to everybody that I knew. How funny is that? Like old school. But when I started this company, I did send a post card to everybody that I knew in business, and I was fortunate enough to know a lot of people in Phoenix, but then I also called everybody that I knew. I literally made, no joke, in three weeks, I probably made 300 phone calls.
I called every single person I knew and said, “You know what? I’m putting out my shingle. I’m doing it on my own. If you know anybody or need anything, let me know.” I signed two or three clients in the first week. I’ve had profitable months, every month, for the last 13 years, since the first one. [recording goes to mute]
Andrew: Sorry, there we go.
Jay: There we go.
Andrew: [laughs] I hit the mute button for a moment. I want to do a quick spot here, if you don’t mind, with you on camera.
Andrew: And I’ve got to admit to you and the audience, this is a first time for me. Jay, what I’m trying to do is, up until now, I’ve been doing ads at the start of the interviews, and I feel like, maybe, it’s not the best introduction to a conversation, to first hit people with ads. So I talked to my sponsor, Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. This is the ad. And I said, “Do you mind if I experiment with talking about your firm in the middle of the interview?” And he said, “Let’s try it and see what happens.” And so, that’s what I’m trying right now. This is an experiment. I want to see if it makes more sense to have the ad in the center.
And in this ad, like I always say for Scott’s ad, I’m just going to tell you that Scott is the lawyer for entrepreneurs. And what that means is not just that he sits in his office waiting for entrepreneurs to come in with their problems, but it means that he is out there using the software that we use, like CORA, like writing on the blogs that we read, like VentureBeat. He is out there in the community, at the events.
And it also means that when you have a problem, the average lawyer is not going to understand because he doesn’t get the way things work. In the start-up world, Scott Edward Walker understands it because he’s done this so many times. Anyway, he is my sponsor. Go to walkercorporatelaw.com if you guys are looking for an ad. Excuse me guys, if you guys are looking for a lawyer.
Jay: (??) looking for a lawyer. Scott Walker.
Andrew: Thank you very much. You know what, actually? That felt OK, but it also feels like, is it interrupting the conversation? I’ll get better at it. Thank you for letting me experiment in here. I figure I’ll put it out there and I’ll just keep improving until it’s so good that other lawyers . . .
Jay: You said . . . you’ve got to drop it in when it’s in context. So, speaking of juvenile corrections, let me talk to you about Scott Walker. Right? You’ve got to [laughs]
Andrew: I see. Let me tell you about a lawyer who has never been in the corrections industry. He’s never been behind bars, and he’s a good man.
Jay: There you go.
Andrew: Actually, you’re right. I was trying to fit it in, and then I said, “Maybe that’s going to be disingenuous with Jay. I’m going to try it with the next interview, which I will be recording soon.”
Jay: You know what? I do a podcast every week, and we have four sponsors. I have to do four reads every show. And it’s the same thing. Figuring out when to do it and how to do it without it being . . .
Andrew: And you do it in the middle of the conversation.
Jay: I do. Well, we actually have a couple of segments in the show, so that makes it a little easier, so you can break before the next segment. And that’s a little bit easier. But it’s still a challenge, and I always mix it up to see how it feels.
Andrew: You know what I’m going to try is, at the next interview I do, I will in the intro say, “And by the way, this interview is sponsored by Scott Edward Walker, I will talk about that later on.” Set it up. Maybe that will work.
Jay: Yeah. That sounds nice.
Andrew: An experiment. Did you ever feel a little bit intimidated of sales? I mean, here you were, a guy at this point in the story who was working for other people for a long time. So, not only to start off your own business where sales determine whether you can feed your family or not, and where you’re not selling someone else’s product. You’re selling a piece of yourself, something you created. Was it intimidating?
Jay: No, not really, but I never really thought of it as sales. I thought of it as relationships that generate opportunities. And I still think of it that way, for the most part. And I knew that I was connected enough because people say, “Geez, it’s easy for you now to create business, because you’ve got this big following on Twitter, and this blog, and the podcast, and the book and all that.” And I said, “Look, what you don’t understand is all of that only happened because of how I built my first network of contacts.”
And this is a true story. For ten years, I went to four networking events a week, every week for ten years. I built my network and my business and my career on the back of chicken fingers and Bud Light. I was president of every organization that I could be president of in Arizona. And three organizations I created out of thin air so I could be president of those. I cultivated a network to the degree that I was the most connected person in my industry, in my market. And that’s what allowed me to not be fearful when I said I’m finally going to do it. So I just got past that mental hurdle.
Andrew: Did it work because, we’re talking about a different time, because I’ve seen people in my audience go out to local networking events, the chambers of commerce, etc., and what they find is that people are clueless, and that they’re not good prospects. But you were going out to those events. It seemed to work for you.
Jay: Yes and no. I didn’t do a lot of those kind of events. Like I said, a lot of times I would pick organizations that were more aligned around my interests, whether it was technology, or marketing, or things along those lines. And I would also say that it worked for me in those days because we were trying to attract a local, regional audience. What a lot of entrepreneurs today don’t realize is that their audience isn’t necessarily local or regional. So to go to a local networking event doesn’t make any sense, right? You should be doing more things online. And certainly, I don’t do that now.
Now I live in a college town and I do no networking, or very little, because it’s not part of my business. But back then, it very much was a success path, because there wasn’t any of this. There wasn’t any Twitter. There was no LinkedIn. There was none of this, right? There was very few blogs, so it was, you do it face to face, or you don’t do it.
Andrew: Do you remember the first customer that you got for your business?
Jay: So the very first customer, let me think about that. I probably mentioned it before, but I don’t remember what it was. Yes, I do. The very first customer I got, because I remember the timing, it was in the early fall when I started [My ID Interactive]. The first customer I got was an election. It helped having political experience.
It was the county-wide initiative to vote on whether the Arizona Cardinals, the NFL football team, should get a new stadium. It was very controversial so I was hired to handle the digital marketing of that effort, to work on the website, online ads, email strategy, et cetera. We actually won that election 50.1 to 49.9.
Andrew: Wow. Wow.
Jay: It was like 500 votes out of 600,000 cast. It was very close, very close. Then I ended up getting season tickets, not because of that but I had season tickets anyway. The team and stadium is amazing, if anyone’s ever been to that stadium. It’s one of the finer stadiums in the country, so it was fun to be a part of it.
Andrew: It was one of the best jobs that you had. Why?
Jay: It was nice because I was able to combine my previous experiences in politics with my newer career in online marketing. It was a fun hybrid kind of project. I did some other things in politics. Before I started my own company, I worked with John McCain and helped build his digital presence when he ran for President the first time, which was a really fun project to be a part of. It was nice to have one foot in the politics camp, but not have to make your living doing politics alone.
Andrew: Jeremy Weisz in the pre-interview asked you about the big milestones in your business. Obviously, the first milestone was the first customer which we just talked about, but the second milestone I was surprised by. You told him it was moving out of the house. Why was moving the business out of the house so important?
Jay: Most people have problems working from home because they can’t focus and there’s too many distractions, whether it’s setting or noise or people or what have you. I have the opposite problem. When I worked out of the house I never stopped working, because you’re always just that close to things you need to do.
So when I moved out and got a real office, number one that’s sort of like now you’re a real business and you can actually have people at your place of business. You can see clients at work instead of seeing clients at Starbucks. It was an important milestone for me, not necessarily in the trajectory of the growth of that business, but just in the “Hey, you need to set some limits between what you’re doing professionally and what you’re doing in your actual life.”
Andrew: Did it help?
Jay: Absolutely. When you have to physically leave something behind and get in a car and go back and forth, it just changes the way you think about it. Although, today I worked from home so I didn’t really learn that lesson very well.
Andrew: You said earlier when I asked you who is “we”, you said it was you and your wife. What does your wife do?
Jay: During that time and in that company, [My ID Interactive], for three years she was a paralegal and worked for a big law firm in Arizona. She would come home after doing the whole legal dressed in pantyhose and high heels routine, make dinner (we had a small daughter at that point), and then from nine o’clock to midnight every night for three years, she would manage our search marketing for our clients.
She would do pay per click and organic SEO. She did that from nine to midnight every year for three years. Eventually I was able to get her out of the business and then she just did some back office stuff.
Andrew: What about the closeness in a relationship? I find that with my wife, going to bed at the same time, even if I’m on my iPad and she’s reading a book, or if she falls asleep before I do, there’s a closeness to that. Did you feel like you lost that in the relationship because of it? Because she was working when you went to bed?
Jay: No, I didn’t go to bed. I wouldn’t go to bed until she was done. Actually the opposite is true. When she stopped working for the company in that sort of day-to-day operational capacity, it was a little different because then we didn’t have that commonality. We couldn’t talk about individual clients or individual client problems, because she wasn’t involved in the business in that degree of granularity.
Andrew: So you’re saying working together brought you closer together.
Andrew: So then you sell your first company, [My ID Interactive], how does life change after that? On a personal level what happens when you’ve got some money in the bank and some safety?
Jay: In those kind of programs, when you’re in professional services it’s not like they write you a check and say, “Thanks.” There’s a burnout period, mine was three years. I helped manage the combined company for those three years and worked very closely day to day to…I still had my same team plus a bunch of other people. The difference is that now you’ve got a much bigger…in my case, we went from 10 people to 65 people, a lot more clients, personnel, a much bigger office, and I wasn’t in charge. I was only partially in charge. It definitely changes your life a lot because you can’t make decisions laterally.
You have to provide your best advice to the people who have bought your company, but at the end of the day it’s their money now not yours, so you’ve got to get good at that part of it. It worked out well, but there were certainly times where I’m like “This is not how I would do it,” but it’s not my call now. The reason I sold my company to the people that I sold it to off Madison Ave, which is still a terrific integrated agency in Phoenix…they’re still a client to this day actually. They still work with us every day.
I had ultimate trust in their two owners. We were about the same age, similar life stage, the same age of kids. There’s a lot of other agencies that tried to buy my company. We had several people bidding for it, but I sold it to the guys that I did because I trusted them the most.
Andrew: How did you find them? How did you find so many bidders?
Jay: Like I said, I knew a lot of people in Phoenix. My firm was doing digital marketing on behalf of a bunch of other agencies. They were subbing out a lot of work to us because they just didn’t have it. Back in those days, a lot of agencies just didn’t have that digital skill set on staff, so we were that outsourced digital skill set. A lot of them wanted to buy us to make us part of their infrastructure.
Andrew: What I did when I was trying to sell different parts of my business was I always had someone who was interested who would keep asking…I went and I got some…I said, “I’m now interested in having this conversation, what do you have in mind?” Then I took that, talked to other people, and said, “Hey, this other guys is interested. Are you interested too?” That way it’s not me saying, “I’d like to sell my company,” but “This guy has been talking to me for a long time. What do you think?” Is that the way you did it? What was your approach?
Jay: Yes, absolutely. The exact same. The exact same approach.
Andrew: You can’t just walk around saying, “I think I’m done. I’ve got to sell this thing.”
Jay: No, and I didn’t really want to. Me and [sp] Lapiz talked about it. I got to the point where I realized, “Maybe I need to get some help here to continue to scale this,” but I wasn’t desperate to sell. I didn’t necessarily want to sell, but I got to the point where I’m like “This makes sense,” so we did.
Andrew: Does life get any better? After you sold, after you had some money in the bank, did you feel like you had the safety that you wanted when you started? Did you feel more comfortable? Could you sleep better at night?
Jay: No, I think that’s a myth. If you’re wired to be an entrepreneur, you’re wired to be an entrepreneur and you’re never fully satisfied. Obviously, it’s gratifying. You’re like, “That’s pretty cool.” I know I can pay my mortgage and those kind of things, but it wasn’t like this tremendous sense of relief. You’re still trying to do a good job for the combined company and now you’ve got all of these other mouths to feed. It’s not like you’re going to go play golf. It was different, but it wasn’t necessarily this huge relaxation moment.
Andrew: I was always hoping that for everyone it would be this great moment of freedom.
Jay: Maybe it is. Maybe I just have a sickness. Maybe that’s why I keep starting companies.
Andrew: “Hey, Andrew, I went out and got my first Lamborghini and then after that life was cake.”
Jay: Then I put gas in it and I was like, “Holy crap.”
Andrew: One of the issues that you had that moved you to sell was that you managed by Post-it notes. Now, you had a company that was more about systems and processes. What did you learn about how they organized a company, how they brought orders and systems?
Jay: Certainly, it’s a blessing and a curse. The good news is that when you’ve got those kind of systems things are scaleable and you sort of legislate out mistakes because the system prevents those mistakes from occurring sometimes. That is very useful. It’s also easier to swap staff in and out. If somebody leaves or you get somebody new because you’ve got systems they kind of show them how things are done. It isn’t sort of word of mouth driven process.
There actually is a documented process. The downside of that is of course you give it back a little bit in terms of how fast you can move and how nimble you can be because there’s a specific way to do it. Then this person has to check this box and this person has to check this box, so it’s a blessing and a curse.
Andrew: You said you “Legislate out mistakes.” Help me understand that. Do you have an example of a mistake that was legislated out?
Jay: It happens every single day in marketing services, right? Somebody writes copy and somebody has got to check that copy. Then somebody has to check the person who checked the copy, and hopefully what you’re doing is fixing something that needs to be fixed or even if it doesn’t need to be fixed just making it better. And that is why agencies sometimes get expensive on work because multiply people have to be involved in that particular execution because they’re plussing up each other’s work, right.
It’s like making a sandwich you know one person is turkey but then the lettuce guy is involved and the tomato guy is involved and the mayonnaise guys is involved and then the top piece of bread guy is involved. And all of the sudden five people are part of that, now good agencies are setup so that each of those layers makes the sandwich better. Bad agencies are setup where each of those layers is just expense. And that’s the difference.
Andrew: What about documentation? You’re clearly not a person who is drawn to business to create a manual. Once you sold and you guys where documenting what did that look like? Are we talking about just a bunch of word documents about how to do everything? Like how to approach a client, how to sell them and so on?
Jay: In some case, yeah, we definitely, my partners and I spent quite a bit of time working on the e-meth, bug in the e-meth principal. Which is all about sort of creating process, so we definitely did some of that. But fortunately in marketing services are a number of software packages that are purpose built to run your business. To help run your agency so a lot of times what you can do is set the software up so that the process is inherent in the software package.
So when somebody opens a job or adds a new document or approves a job or give it to a client. Or, whatever the different steps are you can modify that to fit your own process needs and that’s kind of nice. Because there are so many agencies and marketing service companies there is a whole ecosystem of businesses that support that kind of process with software.
Andrew: Your say that the software makes sure that if one person is done the next person knows that it’s his turn and the third person knows she has to take over and then you can see where a mistake was made?
Andrew: So it’s not the document in so much that manages what people do but the software that ensures that they do it.
Jay: That’s right.
Andrew: Got it. Okay. Alright and then at some point, not at some point but I’ve got the actual date here so I might as well give it. 2008.
Andrew: You launch Convince and Convert with a vision. What was the original vision first [??] with Convince and Convert?
Jay: So I had sold Mighty Interactive [SP] in 2005. Spent three years managing the combined company per my contract. And the original plan, right, was to take my money and some other money that I had and go teach. So my plan was to go teach at university. And be a digital marketing guy, digital marketing professor. But in 2008 as when we had the sort of the simultaneously collapse of the stock market and the real estate market.
So all of the sudden a lot of the money I had from that company sell I temporarily didn’t have. So I though well, Okay. How do you get back on the merry go round? So I started another consulting company, Convince and Convert. And the reason it’s called Convince and Convert is that the original premise for this business was that where we’re going to do conversion rate optimization, and landing page testing, and email optimization which was a lot of the kind of work I was doing towards the end of my tenure at Mighty Interactive, right.
So kind of things you would see KISSmetrics doing or Optimize Layer [SP], that kind of company. And so I was doing a lot of that very early on. And so that was the original premise was to do conversion rate optimization company. Which is why there is convert in the name. But I started off working on that and then realized well, geez, people don’t, not a lot of people want to do that just now.
And so what I realized pretty early on is that what people wanted to talk about was this new emerging things called social media and every time I wrote a blog post about social media it went crazy and every time I wrote a blog post about anything else it didn’t. So I said, well, that seems like a trend so sort of just shift my attention that way and built this company around social media consulting.
Andrew: Why, I understand that social media is, was something that people were especially excited about
Andrew: But I would feel like the money would be in convincing and converting. Conversion rate optimization means that first of all it’s appealing to people who have money.
Andrew: And second it means you can prove your of value to a company.
Jay: Absolutely true.
Andrew: So why didn’t that they, why didn’t that work? Why weren’t people excited, why weren’t enough people excited about that for that business, for that business to take off?
Jay: I just think it’s too early. You think about what’s happened in the last five or six years around conversion rate optimization the software getting easier to use. And becoming the thing that most business at least pay some attention to. Back then there just wasn’t, there just wasn’t, it was just too early.
Just like when I was at VisiTalk it was too early versus Skype same thing. It wasn’t a bad idea it was just timing is everything. And it was too early. And I also decided to focus pretty early on agencies, on helping other agencies like the one I just left, understand things. And there was a tremendous appetite and still is for agencies to be better at social media because their clients were asking them about social. I said alright, I can definitely do that, I’ve done a lot of social in the past for clients that helped agencies build a digital practice.
I’ve got all these companies and marketing services companies that want to do better about digital and social so we really focused and convinced and convert initially and still do to some degree at helping agencies get better at digital marketing. How they package it, how they price it, how they staff it, and how they sell it. That’s what we help agencies with. And we still have a lot of agency clients all across North America.
Andrew: How did you get your first customer there at Convince and Convert?
Jay: It was an agency out of San Diego that we actually almost bought when I was off Madison Ave ? bought by Interactive. We talked to them about emerging so I met them there, great group, and then when I started Convince and Convert I mentioned to some people that I knew that I was going to do some consulting for agencies and they hired me right away to help them grow their digital presence and they grew it 300 percent in a couple of the years. So it worked out great.
Andrew: Do you remember the first customer, the first social media customer that made you say, this is the direction of our business? This is what we need to do more of?
Jay: That’s a good question. ? would be the first one that we really did that when I get this , this has legs. Probably the first one that really had an impact is still a client today, is Exact Target. I worked with Exact Target for a long, long time. Of course, they’re a big software company now owned by SalesForce.com and when I started working with them they just had sort of one person doing Twitter and we kind of came in and helped them with a social media strategy to make social kind of part of the organization overall, not just one person.
And it’s succeeded very, very well and kind of seen how that deployed really gave me assurances that it could be a real business. That helping companies make better and more nuanced social media decisions was really a true company. And obviously writing a book about it and the book doing well and those things. ? double down.
Andrew: I’ve got to make sure to ask about the book because I want to see how that fits in with the business. But, what did you do for Exact Target that felt so right?
Jay: It was really the first time that myself and at that point a very small team; there’s seven of us now but then only two or three of us really helped a company take social media from what we call, from a job to a skill. The way it starts out is there’s a social media person in the company but ultimately what you’ve got to do is make social media a layer in the company so that many, many people are participating. Either on their own behalf or as part of a decentralized marketing program. So, that was the first time we really did that and we’ve done it many, many times since.
Andrew: Guess I’m not following. What specifically did you do for them? Were you just getting them all on Twitter and because so many people at the company were on Twitter…
Jay: Nobody on the company was on Twitter. That’s what you’re saying.
Andrew: Because of you, did you get them all on Twitter? Is that what it was? Was it something else?
Jay: There’s a lot more to it. You’ve got to set up social media guidelines for the organization for what people can and cannot do. You have to find people who are not already using social media and determine which people in the organization are right for social media; either because they want to do it or part of their job function.
You have to have an enormous number of ongoing training opportunities to get those people up to speed. You have to have some sort of command and control structure. You have to have some sort of reporting structure. You have to have legal involved. You have to have HR involved because it impacts your hiring. Those kind of corporate social media programs take years, it some cases, to do right.
Andrew: That’s what you were putting together for them?
Jay: Yeah, we do that for a lot of companies now.
Andrew: Which other companies do you work with?
Jay: Today we work with some organizations in tourism. We work with California tourism, Wyoming tourism, we do things for Arizona tourism, we’ve done work with Atlantic City, some major electronics retailers, with WalMart, Realty, with Exact Target still as mentioned, some home builders. We probably have some software companies. We probably work with on the corporate side, 10-12 businesses at a time and then about the same number of agencies that we consult with.
Andrew: One of the things that makes talking to authors so pleasurable for me is you’ve thought your ideas through. And you’re beyond that. You’re also a podcaster. You’re also a blogger. Was the way that you communicate now, was it something that came natural to you, or was it blogging and writing the book and talking, et cetera that got you to be this comfortable? Much more, apparently, than I am as I ask this question. But you know what I mean.
Jay: Yeah. I think at the core level, I’ve always comfortable. Right? I was a journalist in high school and, for a brief time, in college. I was voted Most Likely to be a Game Show Host in high school. I was the guy who emceed all the assemblies. I’ve been doing public speaking for more than 25 years. So, at some level, the communication part of it comes naturally.
In terms of codifying your own ideas about marketing or business, that is always evolving, right? So, certainly, having a blog and writing a blog, you know, one to three times a week for many, many years helps you really understand what it is you think. Then, having a lot of clients that you’re talking to everyday helps you codify how you think and why, then writing a book, and then doing a book tour, then writing another book and doing a book tour.
So you’re always refining your thinking and sharpening your thinking, but one of the things that’s particularly important in my business is you’ve got [??] shift your thinking. I mean, the things that we believe to be true about social media today are not necessarily the things that we believed to be true five years ago, and, in fact, many of the things that people do in social media today didn’t exist five years ago. There was no Pinterest. There was no Instagram. There was no a lot other things that people treat as gospel today.
It’s always changing, which is why you have to be hype free. You can’t be like, “This is the greatest thing ever,” because tomorrow a greater thing comes along. Right? So you have to be dispassionate about it. What I always tell people is the goal is not to be good at social media, the goal is to be good at business because of social media. Those are not necessarily the same things.
One of the other ways that I try to stay sharp is I do a lot of angel investing. I don’t have time now to start a bunch more companies on my own, which is why I’m so active in the angel community. I’ve got 12 companies that I’m either invested in or on the board of or an advisor to. That really helps me keep in touch with what’s going on in the emerging entrepreneurial community.
Andrew: Why did you start writing books? The first book is “The Now Revolution.” You wrote it in, let me see, 2011.
Andrew: The current book, “Youtility”, you published earlier this year, 2013. Why start writing books?
Jay: Part of it is just to organize your thinking, as you mentioned. Certainly as a consultant, you know that the old saw holds true, right? It’s the $25 business card, there’s definitely some truth to that, as a consultant. But actually, the real reason I write books is because I’m a speaker.
Of all of the things that I do, and I’m involved in a lot of different businesses and a lot of different things, the one that I like the best is speaking. I do 50 to 60 live speeches a year, 20 to 30 webinars on top of that. Having books that people enjoy and books that people have read very much assists you in the public speaking business because meeting planners pay attention to those kind of things.
So obviously, everyone wants to convey what they know and teach and educate, but the speaking part of it really helps. The blog is very popular and the podcast is popular and the [??] is popular, and a lot of things that I do reach a fairly sizable audience, but books are a different scope and scale of education.
As I mentioned, I always wanted to be a college professor and I didn’t. About a year ago I woke up and said, “You know what? You are a teacher. You’re just doing it in a different way.” Right? “You’re just educating through a blog and through speeches and through books. Why would you want to go be a professor and reach a far smaller number of people?” So I finally got my head around that, said, “Oh, I am doing what I started out to do, I just kind of did it accidentally.”
Andrew: Yep. All right. I guess that’s all my questions here. The only thing that I didn’t ask you yet about is this. . .
Jay: Let’s do another commercial. Do another commercial. Let’s talk about Scott again.
Andrew: All right. Actually, Scott only has one commercial per show, but we should. We might as well tell the audience Scott Edward Walker is the startups’ lawyer.
Jay: Startups’ lawyer. Let’s give him a second. . . Let’s bonus him up. Right? That’s how we do it.
Jay: I worked in radio for a while. Let’s give him a bonus spot. I love it.
Andrew: You know what? One of the good things about Scott is that I told him, “I don’t yet know how I’m going to do this, but would you just try it with me?” He said, “Yeah, that’s startup world. Let’s try it. Let’s see what happens.”
Andrew: I have a couple of ideas that I told him I’ll try and I haven’t been able to make them work yet. But we’ll get on it and the audience will get to see it as I develop it. I did say that the audience and I are going to all see as I figure it out. I’m watching myself figure it out. They’re watching, and eventually we’ll find, I think, a good process for having an ad in the interview.
Andrew: The only thing I didn’t ask you yet is about how you’re a certified barbecue judge and I didn’t know that they certified those things.
Jay: Oh hell’s yes. It’s not a joke, man. The Kansas City Barbecue Society is the- there’s two governing bodies of barbecue in the United States. That’s the largest one. There are tens of thousands of members. They have hundreds of competitions all around the country every year, for real prize money. I mean first place prize money is like 10 grand for best chicken, best ribs. . .
Andrew: I had no idea.
Jay: Yea, it”es a whole subculture, and you can’t just get Larry from down town to be the judge. You have to actually go through barbecue judging school, pass a test, and take continuing education like a lawyer. And you get a membership tag, and a number, and they actually have a database of scoring. If your score is way out of line compared to the other judges in a competition they will say you cannot judge anymore because your . . .
Jay: . . . standards are different from everybody else’s. It’s a pretty serious deal. It’s fun.
Andrew: I had no idea about any of this stuff. I was going to tell people to go and check out ConvinceAndConvert.com, and then I started clicking on the angel investing tab, and I see on the left of it, that there is an image here, with Ashton Kutcher, Guy Kawasaki, Biz Stone, Jason Calacanis, Tim Ferriss, and you, Jay. What is this list?
Jay: That list, i believe was the top angel investors on twitter based on number of twitter followers or something like that.
Andrew: Oh I see and your 1 of 20.
Andrew: All right. And we can see your portfolio on there. We can see so much including the podcast’s, [??], and, what else? Is there contact information? If someone liked this interview and wanted to say hi, what is a good way for them to do it?
Jay: Twitter is probably the easiest @Jaybaer B-A-E-R or there is a contact button there on the website.
Andrew: All right. Oh, one more question. What kind of revenue are you doing with convince and convert?
Jay: This year we will do 1.7.
Andrew: Wow. Do you ever feel like “Hey, I’ve got to get out of this consulting business. Its doing really well, but it’s all about me, I have to speak, I have to do this interview with Andrew, I have to teach Andrew how to do ads?”
Jay: [laugh] No. because it’s really not. There are so many of us now. We are totally virtual all over the country. I have a very brilliant staff of all super outstanding people. We have managed the company totally through Skype, BaseCamp, and GoToMeeting. It’s very set up to succeed in this loose structure now, so I don’t feel the need to change it the way i did before. I’ve learned a lot too. I’ve outsourced a lot more things earlier in the life cycle of the company. We are in a good place. I’m not looking to get out of this one. This is one I’m going to keep.
Andrew: Congratulations on the success, and thank you all for being a part of it. Check out ConvinceAndConvert.com. Bye, everyone.
Walker Corporate Law – Scott Edward Walker is the lawyer entrepreneurs turn to when they want to raise money or sell their companies, but if you’re just getting started, his firm will help you launch properly. Watch this video to learn about him.