HyperInk: How Profitable Can The E-Book Business Be? – with Kevin Gao

How profitable can the e-book business be for an entrepreneur?

Kevin Gao is the founder of HyperInk, a Y-Combinator backed digital publisher that published books by Brad Feld, Jeff Atwood, Alexis Ohanian and Mixergy.

But that’s not why I invited him here.

Years ago, he told me about an ebook he published before he even launched hyperink and how it did over $100,000 in sales. He never let me talk about it publically, until now.

Watch the FULL program

About Kevin Gao

Kevin Gao is the founder of HyperInk, a Y-Combinator backed digital publisher that published books by Brad Feld, Jeff Atwood, Alexis Ohanian and Mixergy.

Raw transcript


Mixergy’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

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Hey there freedom fighters, my name is Andrew Warner, I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart.

How profitable can the e-book business be for an entrepreneur? Kevin Gao is the founder of Hyperink, a Y Combinator backed digital publisher that published e-books by Brad Feld, Jeff Atwood, Alexis Ohanian, Mixergy, and many others. But that’s not why I invited him here. See, years ago, Kevin told me about an e-book that he published before he even launched Hyperink, and he told me about how it did over $100,000 in sales and about the business behind it. But Kevin never let me talk about it publicly until now. And so I invited him here to talk about that, and maybe we’ll talk a little bit about Hyperink. Kevin, welcome.

Kevin: Thank you, Andrew. It’s good to be here.

Andrew: Is that by the way – well, how much of an influence did this book that we’re about to talk about have on your application and eventual funding by Y Combinator?

Kevin: I think it had a lot to do with it, actually. You know, when I – I was actually working at Shopkick at the time, which does mobile commerce, and I saw this book just sort of grow organically without a whole lot of effort put into it on the side. And so when I left Shopkick, the book was doing well, I felt like I had this safety net, and I was like, well, I should apply to Y Combinator and see if I can turn this into something much bigger.

Andrew: I see.

Kevin: And I went up there for the interview, it was something that PG really honed in on was the fact that from this niche market we were able to make that much money through e-books. And when you think about how many niche markets that are out there, it’s a huge opportunity.

Andrew: I see. So he was thinking if you – that you could take this to other niche markets and grow it. But, well, how much money did the book do?

Kevin: So in its peak year, it was making over $100,000 in sales off of a $25 PDF.

Andrew: In one year?

Kevin: In one year, yeah.

Andrew: Okay.

Kevin: And in that year, and that was 2010, it did close to $200,000 in addition because of resume editing and interview prep. And so I think that the broader vision had always been look, an e-book is a great way to establish the relationship. At that point, you can also start adding services and additional products and so forth.

Andrew: And all-in, how much revenue did you earn off of both the e-book and the auxiliary products and services that the e-book spawned?

Kevin: So I’d been doing it since basically the end of 2008, and it took a while to grow to the levels that it did. One thing that I actually haven’t shared publicly but I will do on this show is that this year I actually sold the business. So I can’t share exactly how much I sold it for, but it was – let’s just say high six-figures.

Andrew: High six-figures, so over $0.5 million?

Kevin: Yes.

Andrew: Wow. Congratulations!

Kevin: Thank you. Yeah, I was really fortunate. I worked with a partner together on this, and when I realized as I was doing Hyperink that I could no longer have the time to really invest in it, my partner fortunately was very interested in sort of buying it and taking it over.

Andrew: Oh, you’re saying your partner bought you out?

Kevin: Yes.

Andrew: So your partner bought you out, and you still ended up with over $0.5 million in cash from the sale?

Kevin: So, it’s a little bit more complicated than that, but yes, that’s the gist of…

Andrew: The gist of earn-outs?

Kevin: Yes.

Andrew: I see.

Kevin: And also, I mean, it was, my partner in the sense that I’d first hired and started working with her, and then eventually she sort of took on a very big role. So…

Andrew: All right, I’ve got to find out about that, especially since this is now the basis of this whole new company that you’ve built and you’ve gotten great partners at this business, too. Actually, I’m talking about the people who publish through you guys like MG Siegler and Jeff Atwood who I’d mentioned. What was the book?

Kevin: The original book was called the consulting Bible.

Andrew: OK.

Kevin: And the idea behind it was essentially a more up to date, honest vault guide for consulting. As I was going through the whole recruiting cycle on campus, doing all the interviews and putting together the resumes, I was getting a lot of questions from people and I realized the Vault Guide was the guide that people were using. But there were a lot of, sort of short comings to it. And so after I spent some time within the industry I realized we could write something that was a lot better.

Andrew: What’s the Vault Guide?

Kevin: So the Vault Guide is, they do career guides for a bunch of different industries. Investment banking, management consulting, accounting and so forth. And they do these 20, 30 up to 100 page guides that just sort of help you compare for how to get a job in those spaces.

Andrew: I see.

Kevin: Yeah.

Andrew: So what were you going to do differently?

Kevin: Well, the idea there was, one the people who were writing the Vault Guide were those that didn’t have direct experience. So it wasn’t former management consultants that were writing it. It was professional journalists, professional writers. And so they were doing surveys, they were doing interviews, but it’s not the same as having experienced it first- hand. So from the start I felt like we had a leg up there. The second was that, having kind of been on the inside and seeing how things work, I feel like you get a different perspective and you’re able to share information that you kind of have to be careful where not to cross the line. But in general I thought it was just a more accurate portrayal.

Andrew: How did you know that someone beside you would be interested in this?

Kevin: So the indirect inspiration was actually a website called mergersandinquisitions.com. Which was started by a friend of mine. Which is probably one of the biggest investment banking advice sites. And so I talked to him quite a bit and he told me how he built his business. And how people were responding to it. And I realized, looking at that success, that it was just very clear that there would be a similar market in consulting. And when I left Kinsey there were people who were just, you know, emailing me non-stop asking questions and asking for advice. And being the lazy guy that I am I figured if I could write a book it would save me a lot of time and effort.

Andrew: Why were they contacting you for advice on this?

Kevin: Because I was pretty active with recruiting on campus back when I was at Stanford. And when I was at Kinsey I helped quite a bit with on campus recruiting. I built a lot of contacts. People knew that I was someone they could come to to talk and ask for advice.

Andrew: I see.

Kevin: So.

Andrew: All right, do you remember one of the things that people asked you that you were uniquely qualified to answer and that the Vault Guide could not answer?

Kevin: You know, I think a good example is when people actually go into interviews I think often times they, the Vault Guide, at least from what I remembered, it could have changed since then, really talked about how important it was to kind of nail the case study. And all the different frame works that you had to memorize in order to do well on it. But I think the thing is, once you have gone through the interviews yourself, once you’ve been on the other side and you’ve seen how people judge candidates you realize that it’s far beyond technical knowledge you have. By far the most important thing is the connection you can make with the interviewer. And some people forget about that when they go into the interview. They think, I just need to get this answer right. But even in if you get the answer right and the person doesn’t like you you’re still not going to get the offer. And so that was something I really tried to stress is, you know, it’s about building a connection.

Andrew: How do you build a connection with someone when you’re in that kind of environment with them where they’re judging you? Where they’re throwing questions at you that you’re supposed to answer right.

Kevin: It’s a great question. I think it differs for everyone. And it depends a lot on your personality and the interviewer’s personality. But I think the most important thing is to go in there and realize that you’re not talking to a wall. You’re talking to a person. So have a lot of positive energy. And to really sort of forget, not get too caught up in the question. And really to think about, what is it that the interviewer is looking for? I think Quick Sprout recently had an article about this. Something along the lines of you got to play the man not the cards.

Andrew: Right. Right, using a poker analogy for interviewing and conversations.

Kevin: Exactly.

Andrew: All right, so now you saw an opportunity. You saw that it worked for a friend of yours. You were getting hit with questions which gave you a sense of the issues that people needed you to help address. What about writing the book? How long did it take you to do it?

Kevin: The first draft probably took a week. It was 70, 75 pages. I basically put in a good, you know, eight to ten hours a day. A lot of the knowledge and the information was kind of already in my head. So it was really just about putting it on paper. So I just cranked through it. I tend to think of myself as a writer who kind of just pours stuff down onto paper and then afterwards I will rework it and refine it. It took that week, and then it took probably about another week or two to edit it, to get feedback from people, to design it and lay it out. But I had the book out there probably within a month after I realized this was something that was worth it.

Andrew: Wow. That was fast. Today I’m actually looking at a picture of a notepad that I used to write notes from our last conversation, and I see – I don’t know if I should say this publicly, because it was a private conversation – but I see how much you pay per word, I see how much it costs you to get writers, I see the level of writers that you get. I can say that at Hyperink when you and I were talking, you told me that you had former Wall Street Journal writers working for you. Did you have any of this back then? Did you have anyone who was a professional editing your book? Did you have anyone who was professional guiding you in this? It was just you writing.

Kevin: Yeah. I think that’s part of what inspired Hyperink was me realizing that the self-publishing process is going to incredibly lucrative personally, can be really helpful for readers. Let’s just take an example. Let’s say it takes a thousand steps. You want someone to focus on the five steps necessary to create that great content, but all the others are areas where Hyperink can help them. Back then, I sort of did all of that myself – the copy editing, the proofreading, the cover design which is why the cover was not very attractive to say the least.

Andrew: I’m looking at it right now. It doesn’t look bad. It doesn’t look amateurish. It just looks like something that you might have done or a friend might have done. It doesn’t look like what Hyperink covers look like. By the way, if anyone wants to see what that original cover looks like, they can just go to managementconsulted.com. You launch it. You write the book. It’s time now to get sales. Where did you go to get your early sales?

Kevin: What I started doing was just blogging, and really thinking about what key words people were searching for and how I could drive search traffic to the site. It was something that happened a little serendipitously in the sense that I wrote a few blog posts, I noticed there was traffic coming through Google Analytics. I got really excited by that. It was probably on the order of tens of visitors, at most hundreds of visitors a week. But I thought, well, I enjoy the writing, it’s therapeutic for me, I was getting comments and engagement from readers, I noticed what they were searching for, let’s write a lot more. This is something that I knew Mergers and Inquisitions had done as well and had been really successful with, so I sort of stuck with that. It was blog posts for the most part.

Andrew: Later on we’ll talk about how you came up with this way to systemize all of this and how to take the book content and turn it into blog posts and vice versa. But when you were just writing this stuff, I never understand how people get past the writer’s block, the staring at the empty screen trying to fill it with content. It’s not easy. It’s not an easy thing to get past. How did you get past that?

Kevin: I absolutely agree. I think everyone plays their strengths. I love what you’re doing because what you do is you realize if I can have a conversation with someone, I can generate a lot of really valuable content. I’m guessing you really enjoy having conversations with people about this, so you’re playing to your strength.

Andrew: That’s true.

Kevin: I sort of really believe in that (?). It was Jay Somerset Mont who was asked, “Do you write only when inspiration strikes?” And he said, “Yes, I do. Fortunately, it strikes every day at 9 a.m. sharp.” I take that to heart. I think I can sit there and force myself to do it, and I find that outlining is a really good way to start that process. I usually think, ‘What’s the title of an article I want to write?’, and then I think, ‘What are the components of that article?’ in bullet points and then I build the sub-bullets. Once I have that, I can sort of just write the whole thing because I’ve got the structure.

Andrew: How do you know what the subject and topic will be?

Kevin: I did a lot of key word research. I would look at what chapters the (?) covered. I would look a lot at the queries that people typed when they came to the site by looking at Google Analytics. That was really invaluable. I noticed that a lot of people were searching for things like international resumes, international interviews. I notice there were a lot of people coming in from countries like India. I started to write articles that would cater towards them a bit as well.

Andrew: OK. How much of your traffic in the early days came from search engine optimization versus all the other things that you did?

Kevin: Even in the early days, and it stayed pretty consistent throughout the life of the site, I would say at least 50% and up to 70- or 80% was through search – primarily Google, a little bit of Microsoft and Yahoo, and primarily search. In the beginning days, I didn’t even what a CEO was. But once I realized I was getting all of that search traffic, I really started to learn more about a CEO, and how you can do things like optimize your title, add the right tags, hyperlink your post, and so forth. From the beginning, I would say that at least half of the traffic was from a site like Google.

Andrew: Honestly, right now, when I see on the very bottom of the site, something that I see on countless other WordPress base sites, which are powered by theses, one of the most popular themes out there. It could be adjusted in so many different ways, and yet you’re using a common theme and you haven’t really adjusted it much. How much thought went into the design of the site and why?

Kevin: Yeah, I would say that the design of the site was an iterative process over time. I kind of have to pick up PHP in order to be able to really work with theses’ hook and all the different files. But theses have been amazing for me. And I highly, highly recommended for anyone who wants to do a sort of a site that adds new content regularly, but it’s also easy to maintain and easy to customized look and feel. It was definitely an iterative process but the first version of site looks nowhere near like what it does today.

Andrew: And it was just these in the beginning?

Kevin: I think I might have started with a different template but pretty quickly into it. I was doing research on WordPress Themes, and theses just popped up as the best one to use. So, no regrets.

Andrew: But you didn’t feel like, well, I want my site to stand out a little bit, I don’t want to feel like a theme, I want it to feel more polished, I want this, I want that, I want a nice logo, I want a nice cover for the digital book. Why didn’t you spend time on all those things? You’re smiling even as I described these options, the things you could’ve done differently and better.

Kevin: I think you and I both know that as an entrepreneur, especially a bootstrap entrepreneur, who is doing almost all the work yourself, prioritization was so important. I realized later on that the most important things for the site were content and audience. And as long as I was putting out great content, and I was building my audience, some of the smaller things that I didn’t want to worry myself to death about, I didn’t want to distract myself on. So, if I look at the site to a…. I no longer own it, so I can’t speak for the current direction. But there are many things that probably could be done to make it better from an optical perspective. But I think the heart of it is building the content, and that’s why people come back, and that’s why they really engage in.

Andrew: OK. All right. So far everything you just described is a very slow progress. Imagining the person is listening to, saying: Wait a minute. A hundred thousand in book sale, 100,000 plus, and then 200,000 roughly in overall sales. Why the hell would he get into that so far for just writing for search engines? That’s doesn’t seem big. What’s the first big milestone that hits you with a lot of orders?

Kevin: The one thing is that I actually didn’t write the book when I built the site. So when I built the site, the first thing that I actually had on it was a resume editing service. And I think that was December, 2008 to January, 2009. It wasn’t until about 3 to 4 months and I finally decided to release the book. And so when I first released it, I had a decent amount of traffic. And that first day when I watched on the site, I guess maybe I got tens of orders. But tens of orders for someone that had never really made money online, to me, it was just like Christmas.

Andrew: Ten orders are just 250 bucks at the price you’re selling?

Kevin: Exactly. So it was that sort of boost made me realized: Look, I know exactly what it’s like to climb this hill. I have no misapprehensions about how hard it’s going to be to climb this hill, but I had a good start. So I’m just going to keep doing what I was doing.

Andrew: Resume editing today cost 250 bucks, versus 25 bucks for the book. Why did you do resume editing? That doesn’t scale?

Kevin: I think at that point, I just wanted to make some money. And at the same time, I felt like it was something that would be interesting for me to do, because I’d learn more about my customer and about what they were looking for. And the idea has always been…and I’ve never got around to… but the idea has always been that we would have eventually created a product for resume editing. A book may be as a start, maybe a set of videos. And I know that is something my current partner, she is really interested in and thinking about, but I just ended up never getting around to it.

Andrew: OK. What else did you do to bring in traffic?

Kevin: One thing I did was I actually spent quite a bit of time with Wall Street Oasis. They have four or more people talked about consulting. So I was going there and answering tons of tons of questions. And at the end of the day, I did my signature. And I think that really helped build credibility, that helped generate content, and that also helped bring back qualified visitors. I also did things like real world things. I would go to schools, and I would talk to the consulting clubs. I don’t think those kind of things have a huge impact on the traffic, but it was a good experience to have.

Andrew: But sitting in Wall Street Oasis and the fundraising was on Mixergy about a year or two ago, to talk about how you built up that site. Sitting on his site? God! What percentage of your traffic came from that site?

Kevin: I honestly don’t remember it. It couldn’t have been higher than 10 to 20%. That thing I was really thinking a bit of a, kind of a multichannel approach. So I would do that, I would comment on related consulting blogs. But honestly, it really came down to writing a lot of content. And I really tried to structure that content in the right way.

Andrew: What year was it when you launched it?

Kevin: This was end of 2008, beginning of 2009.

Andrew: OK. All right. Blogging is a very slow process. It takes forever for anyone to even notice your there. It takes forever to build up a significant audience. It takes forever to get them to buy. Did you find that?

Kevin: I guess It depends on what do you mean by forever. I think for me, right when I started, I was able to get a few resume orders. I think it was through the strength of my background and Kinsey brand name and so forth. Even when I was making that early money, even if it was a hundred dollars a week, it was still something that I thought was just amazing. And so that little bit of progress just gave me more than enough motivation. And in the way I was thinking about it was as long as I can make enough money to live, I like the things I was doing, I like the lifestyle, I like building an asset that I feel like aeon, I like feeling that I was really helping people that were really in need of this information and this advice.

Andrew: A lot of the other people sounds like, that your friends who were buying or people who knew you indirectly who were buying that resume service. Is that right now?

Kevin: There were a few like that, and I think for the most part I sort of helped them pro bono. There were people who were just finding me through Google search.

Andrew: And say: Hey, this guy works for Kinsey. That’s the top firm. He obviously did it himself. Trust the firm, and I believe that if he did it himself, he has good information. I’ll pay him a few bucks.

Kevin: I think the articles helped a lot. Because if you look at the way that they interact with the site, they would come through some sorts of the searching engine[?], let’s say, Bang Resume, they would find ManagingConsult.com, they would read an article and then read another article, and then after that they would click on resume editing or interview prep. So I think the content really helps people build confidence that you know what you’re talking about.

Andrew: How did you know that resume editing would be the first product? I understand, by the way, the value of doing a survey-based product first. It really tells you what your audience wants, it helps you get to know them, it helps you figure out what to standardize a product they can work without you. But how did you know what that first one is? I wouldn’t know what it would be from my side.

Kevin: I wish I could tell you something that I was a bit more systematic. I think for me it was…. When I was looking [?] emergent positions, which is as close as to proxy, I realized that he started with a resume editing interview preparation and was doing well with it. I, too, realized that I wanted something asynchronous. So if I were doing interview prep, I would need to be available on specific days and specific times. And I really wanted flexibility, and so resume editing is far more asynchronous. And the third was that I was thinking a little bit long term, realizing that I could turn that into a product, because I could compile a library of full amount of resume, I could have even screen captured how I was editing the resume, and turned out that’s something that could be a product.

Andrew: Oh, I see. OK. Derek Halpern, by the way, who writes the blog SocialTriggers.com, says that the way you can come up with that first product that you create is by emailing the audiences you have and say: I’m going off for myself as a consultant. Go to this firm to apply, in the application, you asked the person to say what he wants to consulting on, and then you understand what your first product should be based on, how many people are asking for certain options. You don’t feel like that’s a good option for someone to start a new product?

Kevin: Absolutely. I think the one thing I did not actually do well was really listen to the demands of my readers. Because I think for the longest time I wanted a forum, but I was very hesitant to start one. They wanted a network guy, but I feel like that I couldn’t write something that I felt was really worth the value. It’s interesting because…. And I’ll definitely… I want to make this intro after this call but Brian from mergers and acquisitions, he always says, market what people want, but then offer and provide what they need. So I think it makes a lot of sense. But I think for me, once I had written the first book, I had done the resume and interview prep, I was making healthy money, I felt, hey, I’m pretty happy with this. Let’s just keep this going.

Andrew: What was healthy money for you at the time?

Kevin: Enough to pay rent and a little bit more than that.

Andrew: Okay.

Kevin: And the schedule flexibility to really be able to wake up when I wanted, work as many or as few hours as I wanted, to be able to travel. I think it was a period where I felt a little bit burned out from my first kind of real-world corporate experience, and I wasn’t sure what was coming next.

Andrew: So were you still working at Kinsey?

Kevin: Oh, no, I was – I had left in May of [2000]. So it was basically five to six months after I had left that I really started this.

Andrew: Ah, I see. Okay. And so you were thinking this has to be a business that has to pay the rent for me?

Kevin: I was thinking it had to pay the rent. When I first left Kinsey – a bit of a side note – I actually started a multi-merchant loyalty card. So I basically walked around Berkeley and Stanford and signed up a bunch of businesses to this paper card where every time you go to one of the businesses you get a stamp, and once you collect enough stamps, we pay you cash back. And that business, it was fun, and I think it was forward- looking, but I don’t think I did it in the right way. Certainly not kind of a – I just didn’t do it in the right way.

Andrew: Why? What didn’t you do right about it?

Kevin: Well, I think probably the biggest mistake was I was looking too short-term and I wasn’t thinking long-term enough. And I think that’s been something that’s been a little bit of a pattern of mine in the past that I’ve been really trying to be more cognizant of. But I thought, look, there are all these businesses around the college campus. They want more customers, students go into these businesses all the time, they definitely want aspects of loyalty and they want to be rewarded for it. But I didn’t think about the logistics and pain of handling paper cards. I could have thought of an iPhone app or something that was more scalable. I also didn’t realize that when you bootstrap something, you have to basically prepare yourself to spend years of your life really building this out. I think you can get lucky and hit upon something that will make it easy to get funding or make so much money that you can build a team around you, but even for the first at least year if not multiple years, you’re in the wilderness by yourself. And you have to think, is this the kind of wilderness I want to be in? And I realized I really didn’t want to be in that sort of wilderness where I was managing all these small businesses, pounding pavement every day doing sales. It just really burned me out a little bit.

Andrew: I see.

Kevin: That’s the mistake.

Andrew: And did you have the same kind of wilderness experience when you were building out this digital product, essentially a website with an e- book and services attached?

Kevin: I think a bit less so, and I think that’s because I started with some unfair advantages, namely, that the Kinsey brand, and I think the second was that I really enjoyed writing. I actually found it was therapeutic almost to help me sort of experience, look back on the experience, codify what I learned, and so I think it was much easier. And because I had resume editing from day one, I was making money sort of right at the beginning. And that helps you because it helps you realize why you’re doing this.

Andrew: I see.

Kevin: People were really responding to the content, they were e-mailing me with questions, and it just felt great.

Andrew: That is a good thing about publishing. It could be painful, but the rewards are so powerful. I remember before I even had revenue on this site that people would e-mail me and say thanks for doing this interview, or thanks for being there, I really like it. And then they would tell me something specific that they got out of an interview that I did, and that really would carry me forward. Even the founder of FreshBooks, when I asked him what kept him going when there wasn’t a profit in their software program, he told me the same thing, that it was e-mails. But I don’t believe that he would have gotten has much e-mail and as much support as you and I as publishers would get because people connect with this product more than they do with software.

Kevin: Oh, they do, yeah. No, it’s really amazing. And I think to be honest, I think there is a pro and a con to it. I think early on, it was amazing. I think at a certain point, you realize that there are people out there that are just sort of – it’s a bell curve, and in the middle of the bell curve you have people who are very appreciative of it. On one side of the bell curve you might have people who are just passive, they read it, they don’t say anything. On the other end of the bell curve, you might have people that are so intense and so, almost crazy about it, that they can frustrate you. And I think it’s about learning how to understand and interact with them but not let them affect the majority of the people that you’re helping. I think that’s actually really important.

Andrew: Can you give me an example of someone who could have been distracting to you and how you stayed focused?

Kevin: Yeah, there would be people who . . . I would write an article and they would read it and they would ask 10 questions in an email and I’d say, ‘Well, these are great,’ and I would actually answer every single question. Send it back. Twenty-four hours later, they would have another 10 or 12 questions. At a certain point I would say, “Look, I can’t answer all these questions. I really need to focus on kind of helping everyone else.” And some of them would just get upset and they would say, ‘Well, why can’t you do this. I really need the help.’ There would be people who would ask for discounts that just would sort of go beyond the range of normal and if you say no, I think they get upset at you. There’re people out there I think that just try to take advantage of it maybe a little bit. So what I would do is really try to be as polite as possible when I said no and then really just try to shift my attention elsewhere.

Andrew: I had something like that early on for me where someone asked to talk to me and I said, “Fine,” then he didn’t show up and then he asked for another time. So I said, “OK. Fine.” And by the way, I’m just talking to a stranger who happens to need some help and I have no idea what kind of help he needs or who he is, but I’m saying fine a second time, and third time. And then a fourth time I got frustrated and said, “No, I’m sorry, I can’t make that,” and he just ripped into me about how much of a jerk I was and I wish I could remember the exact words, but I’m glad, actually, that I let that just pass out of mind instead of stewing over it. I just had to say to myself, “If he’s contacting me like this, he probably is in a desperate situation,” and when you’re in a desperate situation, of course, you can’t make every phone call and, of course, you let it out on strangers when you shouldn’t. It can be painful though.

Kevin: Absolutely. I think that’s, yeah, you’ve experienced this first hand. I think any entrepreneur has really experienced this first hand, which is, what I’ve noticed are the most successful ones. People who build really successful businesses, whether that’s a big one, whether that’s a small one with high impact, they have an incredible ability to be able to take all the bad stuff that comes at them and not internalize it and, instead, focus on the things that are important. It’s really pain endurance.

Andrew: [laughs]

Kevin: It’s something that the best entrepreneurs are just incredible at. Because you can go through a day where you come in in the morning, someone wants to quit and you have to convince them out of that. Then you’ve got an investor meeting where they have some tough questions for you. Then you have a partnership where you need to convince someone that they really should work with you when you have very little to offer sometimes. It’s really that ability to deal with that pain, I think, that separates the best entrepreneurs that I’ve seen from everybody else.

Andrew: As you were talking about investors I looked over to the right side of my screen to see who your investors are and you’ve got impressive investors. Andreesson, Horowitz, Lara [sp] Ventures, $1.2 million invested in Hyperink.

Kevin: We very got lucky. We got very lucky. It was a great time in the market. We found some people that, I think, who really believe in the future of content, of eBooks and of publishing. They’ve been amazing.

Andrew: All right. I’m thinking about the person who’s at the stage where you are. One that you said would probably be helpful for them to understand a little bit more of which is, “You have to understand what wilderness you’re willing to live in. Now the wilderness of writing and only earning a little bit of a salary, I know you’re proud of it and you’re happy with it because you paid the bills, but for many people it would feel like [intakes air], compared to McKenzie, compared to what your friends were making, it’s still a little painful. But at least you found that wilderness that made the pain feel less severe because you enjoyed writing.”

I know for me, interviewing was the wilderness I loved being in for a long time, but I didn’t just happen on it. I didn’t just happen on my format. I tried writing and then I tried reacting to other people’s writing, then I tried interviews, then I tried ranting. All kinds of stuff and then interviews became the thing that I just kept going back to.

Kevin: Right.

Andrew: How did you find that one approach that, to you, felt like so much fun that it wasn’t wilderness, and I want to understand if, for the audience, who are trying to figure out what their approach should be.

Kevin: I assume you’re asking for management consultants, right?

Andrew: Yeah, exactly.

Kevin: Right. The way that you put it, actually, is perfect. Which is, you tried all these different things and then you hit upon one that, for some reason or another, just stuck. That worked well for you. You got great feedback on it and you enjoyed doing it day after day, after day. I think that’s the most important thing is, when I was writing, I realized I enjoyed writing day after day after day. There was a limit. I couldn’t do it for more than maybe three hours, maybe four hours a day and I definitely needed to take weekends and breaks. But as I was sort of sharing these experiences I had and putting them on paper, and giving them responses from reader[??] customers that I did it was just obvious to me that this was something that I could continue for a while.

Andrew: Do you remember one thing that you tried or one approach to writing that you tried that just didn’t work out that told you this is not mine…this would be painful.

Kevin: Well, I think the biggest thing was probably I learned how to write in a way that was most impactful. I think at first it was very, it was stream-of-thought, it was rambling. It was…you know I think “Quicksprouts” is a great example, I hate coming back to this but I love that blog.

Andrew: Neil Patel’s blog, Quicksprout.com, uh-huh.

Kevin: Every article just is so powerful, he knows the way to write to capture an audience but also to share the right amount of information. And I think that was something that I had to learn irritatedly[SP] over time and you notice what people respond to and what they don’t. So I think it was a learning process I can’t remember specifically if there were any tactics that didn’t work early on but it was, I definitely had to evolve.

Andrew: I see, and it was just putting it out there and seeing how do I feel about this, how does the audience feel about this and then adjusting and adjusting and adjusting and adjusting.

Kevin: Exactly.

Andrew: You publish every day?

Kevin: Oh, I was probably doing an article every few days early on. And then I got to a little bit less frequently than that, it was maybe once a week and then every couple of weeks. I eventually, I think the thing is this and this comes back to my earlier point about needing to think long term about the commitments that you make because when you undertake a start- up commitment it really is a long-term one. It got to a point where I was doing well [??] consultant I was enjoying it but it started to feel repetitive and at the same time I wasn’t really confident I could build a really big business out of it. I mean as big as it could get it wasn’t something that I thought could be world changing. And so that was a point where I actually started to look for other opportunities, I’ve actually ended up starting at Shopkick. You know part of the kind of lesson that’s needing to think not just what the next month looks like but what the next few years look like.

Andrew: You had services, you had a book, you had generating revenue. Why go and work at Shopkick?

Kevin: I realized that one management consultant[SP] while it was going to be a very valuable quote and quote “lifestyle business”, I think it’s a missed number that’s thrown around but we’ll call it a lifestyle business, was never going to be really, really big. And at the same time I realized I wanted to start a big company but I didn’t feel like I had the skills. And luckily I met Cyriac who is the CEO and founder of Shopkick he was at [??] Perkins at the time and we had a shared a Kinsey background. He said this one thing that I remember to this day which is: my heart will always beat at the intersection of technology and consumers. And at that point I realized that was exactly how I felt and so I reached out to him one conversation led to a next and it ended up working out and stuff.

Andrew: Just reached out to a stranger and that’s how it all worked out.

Kevin: Yeah I think that we had sort of shared Kinsey background. He was looking at royalty and commerce programs I’d and started that sort of local multi-merchant royalty program. And so I think there serendipity that was interwoven into it as well so.

Andrew: All right, the bulk of your revenue came from the book but you also had other revenue. What’s the first side revenue that you found for the site?

Kevin: So, I started with resume editing once that started to do fairly well I added interview preparation, then I launched the e-book, and so I had those three, those were the three main ones. And then as my site started to get more and more traffic and rank really highly, I think for the longest time it was number one for consulting resumes, number one for consulting interviews I’m not sure if is still is today but it was doing really well people started to reach out to me to advertise text links and banner ads. And so I was doing that on an Ad-hoc basis, I added a little bit of Amazon affiliates which is generating at its peak maybe 100-120 dollars a month. But you know a nice kind of passive, passive income. But those were the main sources of revenue.

Andrew: There was nothing bigger than Amazon at 100 bucks a month? Was there an affiliate deal with somebody that brought in a lot of money?

Kevin: Not that I remember, no.

Andrew: Really?

Kevin: Yeah, I was also in direct.

Andrew: OK.

Kevin: Yeah.

Andrew: All right, so based on this is there any other piece of advice you’d give someone who says: Hey I want to duplicate Kevin’s success to date. I want to build a site that generates money from an e-book and side businesses that come from it that sell products.

Kevin: Yes. I think one, you need to find a topic that you really care enough about, dedicate all of your time for at least a year if not two. You got to think about that. But you got to think for the next year I’m going to spend six to ten hours a day thinking about developing this topic. And if it’s not something you really feel like you can think do that with, then I would say try to find one that you can. Once you do that, I think really you have to think about what sort of business you want to go. If you want one that’s based on e-books, then you got to think do I want to create that content. And if you like creating that content, go for it. If you don’t, then you really need to figure out how you’re going to generate that content on a consistent basis that’s high quality.

One of the biggest lessons we learn at Hyperink is that, and it shouldn’t surprise anybody is that once people pay for something, their expectations are far higher and in the e-book business, there’s a lot of [span] out there so it’s getting harder and harder to really carve out a clear niche for yourself if you’re not either affiliated with a big brand, if you’re not a big brand yourself like [??] or if you’re a clear expert based on past credentials, it’s hard to go from nothing to something. And so that just increases the amount of time you will have to spend on the wilderness, if that’s what you want to do.

Andrew: I see. Do you think it’s still possible today to get to that level of name recognition of Chris [??] or Tim Ferris even when the market feels so crowded, when it feels…?

Kevin: I do. There’s always opportunity.

Andrew: What would someone who’s on their path to doing this, what would they need to do today that they might not have to do back then?

Kevin: Give me a specific example of someone and maybe we can brainstorm it, make it up on the fly.

Andrew: Make it up on the fly? All right. How about someone who says this jerk, Andrew, is only interviewing people about the past. Kevin Gao has a successful business that would be a huge company, and Andrew is such a jerk that he’s missing out on this startup interview because he wants to focus on the past, not the future. I’m going to do a site that talks about what startups are going to do and their vision of the future. What would you say to someone like that who wants to make himself into a big name and sell books and generate revenue?

Kevin: So my first question is, and this is something that might repeat [??], is that something that people really want.

Andrew: I see, from Paul Graham. Do people really want to listen to startups preach the future. So how would they know if that’s something people want?

Kevin: I think they got to go out there and, I mean, the way that I would do it, I would probably interview a few startups about their future, about their vision, try to get as big a name as I can, put that content out there on Hacker News, on your blog, share with friends. Do people respond to it? Do they spread on Facebook and Twitter? Do they engage with it? Is that something that people really care about?

If that’s something people really care about, that’s a great start. Then, at some point you want to think about how you make money. I’m always actually a big believer in that is that if you start a business, you should think about revenue models and business models from day one. Hyperink’s business model from day one was selling e-books and stayed true to that vision.

There are people who are very comfortable with focusing on building an audience first and then figure out how to monetize it. That’s just not my personality. I think if you want to do that business on what the future of startups is and their vision, you have to think Well, one, is this something that people want and two, are they willing to pay for it. And I think you can learn that by asking people what you find useful about it and thinking about the products and services that you can offer to help kind of take advantage of that.

Andrew: All right. What else, what else do I want to know about before I move on from the book and the business? Is there any part that I missed that someone else is looking to duplicate this if they’re looking to understand how you build this so much? We talked about traffic. We talked, well, what did I miss? You were nodding your head as I said that.

Kevin: Well, the one thing I would say is I actually think the environment has changed quite a bit. Google is much harder to take a new domain, I think, and build something that gets a substantial audience. And that’s one thing that I noticed when we started Hyperink because initially they were satellite, every book was its own website. But it was very difficult to sort of build audience to all of these different individual websites. I think Google has changed this, really started to prioritize high [??] sites, branded sites, older sites, and so if you really want to do something like management consulted I would consider either buying a domain that has good page rank or has been around for a while or even thinking about ways that you could do it based on partnering with an existing site and carving out some piece of that for yourself.

Andrew: Like Mixergy.com/startups would be your thing instead of a brand new site.

Kevin: Exactly. I’d really think about those ways to leverage. It’s just much harder on people these days to build your traffic from scratch.

Andrew: OK. And I’m still going to focus just on companies that are established and the start-ups will have to- someone wants that start-up idea will have to find another site to work with. I like this focus. And what I want to go on to next is, you had this thing that worked and when we first talked you were taking it out as a system and launching other sites. The first site that you launched was for a friend of yours, right? And it worked.

Kevin: So, it worked OK. And back then we thought, look, if we can do this, we can do this ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times. I think the one thing that we didn’t take into account was exactly how many steps it took with Management Consulting, and how it’s really hard to automate all those steps. You need to build a lot of technology and it takes a lot of time.

Andrew: What? Like, for example, because I remember when we first talked, I don’t think I am revealing anything that’s private, but the idea was, put together a book based on a topic. Take sections of the book and make them into blog posts, you’ve got your WordPress, you’ve got your theme, you’ve got the book, you’ve got the content essentially written. All you have to do is just rank high; boom, you’re done. Ranking high is not so hard- I mean not so easy, true, but it can be done. Writing a book, not so easy, but that’s possible. What parts did I miss as I looked at that?

Kevin: I think the biggest part- and this is one of those situations where hindsight is 20/20, is . . . the biggest reason, I think, why Management Consulting did well and grew was because I was actively involved. And so, when we started these satellite sites that were similar, the author wasn’t heavily involved with their community. So, they weren’t responding to reader questions. They weren’t continually posting new content. I think the content to begin with could have been a bit better, because what we did was we interviewed them and we had a writer sort of transcribe and create these articles, which is different than when you write the articles yourself. And so, it was these little things that really made it difficult to engage an audience and keep them around. And at the same time Google’s formula for traffic was shifting, so even if you write an article like, “The Three Things You Must Know About Corporate Law Jobs,” It wasn’t as easy to get traffic.

Andrew: I see. OK. And this was after you had gone through Y Combinator that you were discovering this.

Kevin: Exactly.

Andrew: Before we get to that state of your business. I’m wondering, you had so much of it together before you came into Y Combinator. What did you learn from PG, from Paul Graham [SP], and the team there and the other start-ups that you were with that you couldn’t have learned otherwise. Do you have one example of a big eye opener?

Kevin: I have one. I don’t know if it’s one that people would necessarily expect. And this is one that you can learn any time but- The one thing that he really said- I don’t really even remember if he said this, but I read it in an article and when you actually interact with him, you start to realize the power of some of his insights. Is he said, ‘When you have two choices, always choose the harder. Always, always, choose the harder of the two choices.’ And he says, ‘The reason why this works out so well is because, for the vast majority of situations, the only reason why you would choose the easier is out of sheer laziness.’ So, if you are deciding whether to sit at home on your sofa, or if you’re deciding between that and going for a run, always go for a run. And those hacks of his, and he is so consistent in not only what he writes, but what he preaches, that it really helps make you into, I think, a more effective person.

Andrew: And he has lots of hacks like that. Just pick the harder of the two. Don’t spend forever trying to decide.

Kevin: Exactly.

Andrew: So, do you have an example of a hard decision that you made and how it paid off?

Kevin: A hard decision that me made that really paid off . . . You know, nothing specific comes to mind. I mean, we’ve had to make a lot of hard decisions I think. And if we talk about HyperInk, there are, there’s . . . [??] . . .

Andrew: Yeah. That’s what I mean. Give me a hard decision that you had to make at Hyperink that you were glad you did. That you didn’t turn back and say, ooh, I should have taken the easy way out, but if only Paul Graham didn’t, you know, open my eyes to this other philosophy, I would have been more comfortable and . . .

Kevin: Yeah. Well, I think one thing, and I am actually writing an article about this is premature scaling and how that can be really dangerous for small companies and start-ups, and how it almost killed Hyperink. I think . . .

Andrew: How?

Kevin: . . . the lesson there was, we raised 1.2, 1.3 million dollars and we felt, that is so much money. It’s funny how everything is relative. But back then we thought it was so much money. So we started to hire people. And hiring people helps you [?] your metrics and do more, but that was when we realized revenues were not growing commensurate with our expenses. And that if we kept going this way, not only were we going out of money at some point in the future, unless we raised more, but we also were not focusing on automating things and building technology and building the right product for the long-term. And so, we had to make a really hard decision to let some people go. I think that was probably the toughest decision we made, especially because it was a third of the company, and it was people who had really poured their heart into it. And it was something we had to do, not only do that, but also make sure that the people who stayed were motivated and had a clear sense of purpose and direction. That was probably the hardest decision we made, but it was directly impacting us prematurely still.

Andrew: OK. What else did you learn from going through? Well, actually, I’m finding myself taking the easier way out instead of probing a little bit more. Well, aren’t you supposed to raise a lot of money, build a product, scale it quickly, and then raise more money and scale it even more? What was the problem with scaling? Was it just that you were going in the wrong direction?

Kevin: Chris Dickson has a great post about this, actually, where he says… I think it’s called something like shoe horning startups into the VC model where he basically says there’s a very, very small percentage of companies that are created that really fit the VC model. He says, for the vast majority of companies that actually doesn’t make the most sense for whatever reason. 37Signals talks about this at length. I think it really depends on you as an entrepreneur and what your long-term vision is. Definitely for us, we think that the e-book market, the publishing market, is massive and there’s incredible opportunity for disruption. We also think it’s time sensitive. It made a lot of sense for us to raise a lot of money, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense for you to immediately go and spend it. I think that was the biggest difference.

Andrew: Was there something that you speculated on that you were wrong?

Kevin: It was less a speculation. It was more the using money in ways that did not build the right long-term focus, so what would be an example of this? An example would be something like this, and it’s not a great example, but we early on had some issues with plagiarism, right? We actually hired someone to basically go and literally use plagiarism tools to manually see if our manuscripts and our books had plagiarism errors. What we should have done was automated the process by looking at the best plagiarism APIs, but our engineers were pretty overstretched.

What we did was we hired someone to do something that should have been automated. We should have focused on building the right technology. Instead, we spent more money and added some more to the team. That kind of thing can become really easier for you to do for a lot of things. It’s not smart. I think it’s just not smart.

Andrew: OK. All right. So the original model, bring in experts, interview them, create websites for them the way that your site existed. Create books for them. Have them promote it a little bit, but basically you guys SEO’d it. That didn’t work because Google changed, because the world changed, because they weren’t as active as you were, because you didn’t notice some of the things that you’d done that management consulted. Then you switched to another model which was…

Kevin: So we this huge and great pool of writers, writing talent people, all across the board. Big names, the Wall Street Journal and so forth. They were writing some pretty good content on their own, so we thought, “Well, why not have them just write the books and we’ll sell it, and it will go through all these different distribution channels? It’ll be targeted. We won’t have to worry about interaction with the experts. We’ll just have the journalists write the books. So, we did that and we did – oh, it must have been more than 500 books like that and we were publishing to Hyperlink.com because then we had launched our own marketplace, to Kindle, to Nook, to iBooks and so forth.

And so we were very focused on that for probably the next six months. From anywhere around May, 2011, until the end of 2011.

Andrew: What happened after that?

Kevin: I think a few things. One is it was generating substantial cash, and that’s something we’re still doing a little bit today, but that’s hard to scale. If you look at a company like DemandMedia where you have other properties, I think once you start to create content on scale, it’s really difficult to do even for the best companies. I think the especially difficult problem is a journalist, any journalist, can probably write a decent 400-word article but, when you’re trying to write a 20 page or 50 page book, you really have to know something about it or you need someone who is exceptional at interview, research and writing.

Andrew: I see.

Kevin: . . . so that was much harder for us to do in large quantities. At the same time, I think we realized that the non-fiction, e-book market was smaller than we had anticipated

Andrew: Really?

Kevin: I think it is massive on the internet if you can find your own distribution channel, which Management Consultants managed to do, but [??] I-books, the market just wasn’t as big as we expected it to be.

Andrew: I see. You were going to do demand media within the bookstores that already existed.

Kevin: Exactly.

Andrew: I see, so if someone searched for a specific non-fiction book or non-fiction topic, they should find a well written piece by one of your journalists and I can see how if they are not in the industry, they wouldn’t be great at it. They’d be really good but they wouldn’t have that extra level of knowledge that it would take and I can see also how they’d be drowned out by the other books in that marketplace . . .

Kevin: All right.

Andrew: So, then what did you do? Sorry, you were going to say something. What did I miss?

Kevin: I think you’re spot on. The market wasn’t as big as we thought it was. There was a proliferation of . . . I don’t want to say exactly spam, but it was close to spam in these e-book marketplaces. I mean other people, individual entrepreneurs were seeing the same opportunity. We were trying to do it at scale but it was definitely competing with us. Then, I think the very bottom line is what you talked about which is the quality was not what it should have been and it could have been. So, then what we did was, and I forget exactly when we made this leap. I think what might have happened is that we had some bloggers reach out to us saying, “Hey, you know I’d be very interested in publishing a book with you guys.” We realized that, if content quality is the biggest problem . . . what is the biggest pool of high quality content out there? It is blogs, right? It is far and away blogs.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Kevin: Management Consultants itself was a blog. I am an incessant reader of blogs. They have so much great content. What if we could just curate that content into a targeted e-book and then we could publish that book, right?

Andrew: I see, so you just take the top blog post, make them into individual sections within the book, let the . . . Who promotes it?

Kevin: Yeah. So, to elaborate on that point, what we do is, we’ll take a site and we’ll actually scrape all of the content. We’ll index it and we’ll look at what some of the most commonly available metrics are from engagement, so Facebook shares and the number of comments. We can’t get views, unfortunately, but once we work with the blogger, sometimes we’ll ask for that traffic and depending on the blog, we either get very into the curation and editing of the contents . . . We actually take out specific paragraphs from articles and actually work them feel more like a narrative structure for a book or we may do something that is more of a compilation of existing posts.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Kevin: Then, the blogger helps us promote it and then we publish it to all the different channels and that has made all of the difference because one of our biggest challenges was distribution but, with a blogger, you’re getting 500, 1,000, several thousand uniques a day and they can help us really drive this. So …

Andrew: So, how effective can a book like the ones I brought up at the beginning of this interview

be where it’s accomplished in a blog post by a well-known blogger who is also helping to promote it.

Kevin: Yeah, so, a few data points, I think we did a book with Brad Feld [SP] which, this year, is going to make somewhere between . . . or, yeah, since we launched the book until the end of this year is going to make somewhere between $30,000 to $40,000. We have a book with Jeff Atwood, which you mentioned, which is going to be making probably a decent amount more than that. The really great thing for us is that blogs are continually adding new content so we really see this, we’ll be able to update these books over time. They’re going to be . . . They’re going to start becoming more like blogs in a sense. It’s kind of a convergence. But, for someone who wants read it on their device, for someone who wants the curation eye that we bring to it and just the best content for someone who wants [??] very logically structured and easy to access, it is a good three dollar investment.

Andrew: I see and that is the blog-to-book category of e-books that you guys have. Another one that I noticed that you have is “I Voted Down Quickly,” [SP] where someone says, “I can’t read the full Steve Jobs book by Walter Isaacson. I just need, not a cliff-notes version of it, but a simpler version of it. How does that work for you guys?

Kevin: I think you can absolutely call it a cliff-notes version. I mean, that was something that we were actually marketing as a concept. So that was something that we were doing with the sort of journalist pool that we had. And it was something that we were very interested in because we felt like there was just a huge opportunity. Cliff-notes and Spark-notes in general have kind of focused in general on more classic books. But there’s so many books coming out today that people want to read. They want to understand the insights, but they don’t have the time to get through it. So we thought this would be a great opportunity to not only help them discover that original book, but also to serve kind of as a companion for the book itself. So we did that quite a bit. It’s not our current focus. I think it also comes back to the distribution challenges that we’ve had in some of these market places… And the blog to books has worked so well that it’s basically a hundred percent of our focus these days.

Andrew: Why hasn’t Neil Patel done one? You’ve talked about Quicksprouts. It feels like his content is a perfect fit. Have you talked to Neil?

Kevin: I haven’t. I’d love an intro if you can…

Andrew: Oh, absolutely. I think Neil should do it. And it feels like he would do it…

Kevin: Yes. I would love to do that.

Andrew: I’ll write a note here for Neil Patel. In fact, if there’s anyone who I’ve interviewed or you who want an intro for so that you can do this, I’m happy to do it. OK. Yes. Is there anyone in mind?

Kevin: …There are probably a lot.

Andrew: Alright. Hit me. I’d be happy to do it… Is there anything else that I missed here? Yes. There is one thing. It’s kind of a thing that I probably shouldn’t be talking about publicly, but I want to. So, before I even say that…I’ve got to do a quick plug for Mixergy Premium. And I have to do it because Rob…No, I won’t say his last name because it was a private phone call. But a past interviewee was on the phone with me and said, “Andrew, I really love being a Mixergy Premium member, but I don’t like the way you’re promoting it. You’re always asking for feedback, and I’m going to give you feedback right now.” And he said, “You need to be more forceful. You need to say clearly that people should sign up for it. And it’s true. I’m a little bit of a wuss when it comes to selling my own stuff. I guess. So let me say really clearly guys, go to mixergypremium.com. Sign up for Mixergy Premium. And if you do, you’re going to get courses taught by real entrepreneurs on the topics that real entrepreneurs need.

We’re talking about them breaking down what they do well, whether it’s how to get publicity, or how to get traffic, or how to build a reputation for themselves. They take it. They break it down really clearly. And we make sure that they break it down the way that other people can use. And then they teach it using those clear steps, and using… the clear outline that we helped them put together. And they bring the visuals on. So they don’t just say, “You should do this,” but they say it, and then they show how they did it. And I think that is clear. That is critical. And so, I urge everyone to go to mixergypremium.com. If you do, my bet is that it will pay off within days of signing up.

Kevin: So completely unsolicited testimonial here, but…

Andrew: Thank you.

Kevin: I listened to a lot of your early interviews, and it was probably the single most valuable source of specific start-up advice that I found online.

Andrew: Wow.

Kevin: And just to let the audience know, Andrew did not ask me to say that, but I listened to, cumulatively, probably thirty -plus. And I found them helpful, specifically for the level of detail. And also helpful because you don’t just focus on the winners. You focus on people who have had challenges. You focus on people in different industries. And that diversity, I think is great, and really helps broaden people’s skills and knowledge.

Andrew: Wow. Thanks Kevin. Mixergypremium.com. I guarantee it, 100% money back guarantee. But I’m sure that you’re going to get value out of it really quickly and you won’t want a guarantee. You’ll be one of the thousands of people who have continued to subscribe. All right. So, here’s the thing. You and I did a book together. And the reason I tried to do it is because…I tried to…anyone who… is an entrepreneur who needs my help, or needs the Mixergy brand in any way, or needs the people who I’ve interviewed in any way that I can help out, I want to be there. Especially for anyone who has a [??] because I feel like the [??] community has been especially helpful to me, especially Paul Graham. And then there was some feedback from people who didn’t like the design of the book, or the formatting issues. Anyway, what I want is, since it’s me, and I have a thick skin, and I am much more curious about learning than I am potential hurt…potentially hurt by criticism. I’m hoping you could be open about what wasn’t done right about that book, and what you learned from it as a guy who took an interview basically, and turned it into a book.

Kevin: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that actually, I’m glad you brought that up. So, our biggest mistake when we launched that book was we did not check the e-pub version and we did not check the movie version. We optimize it to make it look really good on PDF, we converted it to the other formats, we published it to Kindle and Nook, and I would say that the vast majority of people who got the PDF were very happy and satisfied with it. But, completely understandable, the people who bought it on Amazon saw it on their Kindle, and the formatting was horrendous. I think that’s what they were complaining about, and I think that’s one thing that once we did it, we realized, “Oops! We need to fix this.” It’s something that we do a lot better these days. We make sure that we have optimized e-pub, Moby formats for Kindle, for Nook, for iPad. But when we did that first book with you, that was definitely the biggest mistake that we made, and to your credit, you were very calm and supportive throughout that whole process, and I felt terrible.

Andrew: I actually want to be the person who you could experiment with like that. I want to be the person who you can say, “Hey, it’s Andrew. He’s building this thing for a reason to help me out. I need help right now.” I want to be that person, and I’m glad that if you were going to make a mistake that it would be with me, and that it could be something that you can use to improve the product. The only hesitation I ever have about saying yes to stuff that the people in the audience want is that I feel so stretched because I seem to say yes to everything, that maybe at some point in the future I need to have somebody who’s on board to just to be like a help entrepreneur liaison. That whatever it is you need, we’ll say yes to, you know, within reason, but Andrew won’t have to be the person who has to do any of the work. It’s just the liaison who does it.

Kevin: That would be the human API right there.

Andrew: Yeah, like the guy who says, “Hey, Grub With Us, you want to do dinners around the country? Absolutely! We’ll do Mixergy dinners around the country. Andrew can’t introduce you, but there’s a guy here who if you need an e-mail address, he’ll get those e-mail addresses. If you need a blog post to promote it, because the one that you did with an entrepreneur in Chicago didn’t do so well, or Boise, Idaho didn’t do so well because the audience is pretty small there, this guy will write the blog post and get the audience there.” Maybe that’s something we can do in the near future. As I said it out loud, I realized, hey, that could really work.

Kevin: It makes a lot of sense. I think you’re doing it the right way, which is, you’re getting overwhelmed, so you’re trying to find people to help, as opposed to trying to hire people and then…

Andrew: Right.

Kevin: So…-

Andrew: I feel, for the most part, my audience is understanding. That if we send them to a Grub With Us dinner, when Grub With Us just started, and for some reason the dinner was supposed to be with 15 people, but there were only 3 people, they’d be OK with it. You know?

Kevin: Yeah.

Andrew: Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but you never know. All right. Oh, one more thing I’ve got to say, too. From people in the audience who have helped me out. Alex Champagne has sent me, people might have seen this cup, he’s a guy who’s helped me with different projects at Mixergy when I was overwhelmed, and I guess he wanted to say thanks because I’ve mentioned him in the past and mentioned his website and as a result he got some business from it, so he sent me this, and I’ve going to say back again, thanks to him.

Kevin: It’s a nice cup. It’s got a nice black rim to it, too.

Andrew. Yeah, right. It’s really well done.

Kevin: That’s really cool.

Andrew: So, actually, what the hell, why am I not thinking of his, there it is, it’s Launch Tower, launchtower.com. Thank you, Alex. All right, if people want to check this out, if there are, especially bloggers, I’m going to say this, if there are bloggers at the caliber of Neil Patel, they should absolutely contact you guys and, I believe, work with you. There’s no reason why Neil Patel should say to his audience, “Hey, you love my stuff? Keep clicking next, next, next, next, next.” Because, frankly, he doesn’t even make money off of page views. A better system is to say, “Hey, Kevin. Take my content, make it look good in books, and let people click next page, next page, next page,” and really enjoy the experience, instead of having to suffer through trying to access all of his content. So I’m going to say that. If you’re in my audience, and you have a big audience yourself, you should find a way to connect with Hyperink. Apart from my little message, anything else you want to add to this interview?

Kevin: It’s been a pleasure, and my apologies for taking a while to kind of be able to schedule this. It’s great to chat with you, as always.

Andrew: No, I always say to entrepreneurs, that if you’re going through funding, and I think you were going through funding the first time we talked about interviews, this should not be top priority. I want you later on, if you’re going through whatever else you’re going through, this isn’t top priority. I’m glad we had you on here, and it’s been –

Kevin: One more thing, actually, I would just say to anybody out there, if you are looking for advice of any sort on the startup process, the entrepreneurial journey, publishing, feel free to reach out to me, you can find my e-mail. Well, it’s just kevin@hyperink.com, and-

Andrew: You’re going to let any stranger e-mail you and ask you for advice? (pause) All right.

Kevin: What’s that?

Andrew: You’re going to let any stranger in the audience e-mail you and ask you for help?

Kevin: I think that’s a great thing about the Internet. It’s completely open, you know, and I think it really breaks down borders for the better.

Andrew: All right, so for the transcribers, it’s Kevin@hyperink.com. All right, Kevin. Thanks for doing this interview.

Kevin: Thanks a lot, Andrew.

Andrew: Cool. Thank you all for watching.

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  • Mitesh

    I started a blog called The Happy Monk as I was so passionate about inspiring and teaching my audience about the path of personal development and spirituality. I have found blogging to be a lot more harder than I thought. It is intense, but is it really possible to write e-books on this topic as a quick search on Amazon.com shows that spirituality is a very popular topic. How do I even start?

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    What’s your biggest challenge with blogging?

  • http://twitter.com/peterrknight Peter Knight

    Great interview again. I have to say the publishing business boggles my mind. I’m weighing up what’s the better option, self publishing or attempting to get a publisher. Traditional publishing houses make it incredibly unattractive to pitch your book to them, especially when you have agents as middlemen. When I see so many people talking about how their ebook has brought in thousands of dollars, it pushes me toward self publishing. But I also can see how a publishing company could add value just by improving the quality of the material alone.

    When I look at hyperink, I have to admit I don’t see a huge value proposition for the author. From a reader perspective, I see value in terms of the time it saves me to find and read good material. But as an author, why introduce another middleman when digital publishing is so easy?

    In the interview it’s mentioned that for one, it’s harder to get ranked with a new site. I think that makes for a terrible reason to then rely on some established website that you don’t own. It’s always going to be in the author’s interest to build a platform that they own. I think most authors should have a long term view and build up their own site brick by brick. That also means you can’t just dump out a book and be disengaged from your audience.

    This was great stuff though. Would love to see more interviews about book publishing.

  • Mitesh

    For instance I have a blog title called ‘How to stop mental chatter?’ and then I have to turn it into a blog post. I think that is the most challenging plus the fact you are staring at a blank page.

  • http://twitter.com/EricWorral Eric Worral

    Really enjoyed this interview.. I have a friend that raves about mixergy and sent this to me because he said this is very similar to what I have been working on.

    Just finished an eBook called “Career Search Advice” which is a resource to help people find employment and potentially switch careers to do so. I literally just finished and launched the eBook three days ago and I went back and forth on how to distribute it, you can check it out at careersearchadvice.com .

    I decided to currently offer the eBook for free to help build a new blog. You touched upon the idea of providing free content and how it cheapens the product. I feel my product is worthy of charging for but not sure how to really do that. I did reach out hyperink for this.

    I enjoy your noticeable curiosity in this interview and appreciate the content sparked because of that. Hopefully I can figure out a way to either leverage my eBook for sales or more traffic for the website. Looking forward to checking out more interviews.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Yeah. There are a lot alternatives let you cut out the middleman when you’re publishing digitally.

    The advantage of using Hyperink is that they do a lot of the work. Look at their cover designs, for example, and compare them to the typical self-published book’s design. They also edit, submit it to Amazon, etc.

    In some cases, like the experiment they ran with me, they even hire a ghostwriter. (I did the interview and wrote the intro, but they did the rest.)

  • http://mixergy.com Andrew Warner

    Oh, you’re having trouble just writing it. Okay.

    Maybe this will help: http://youtu.be/BI23U7U2aUY

  • http://twitter.com/peterrknight Peter Knight

    Thanks Andrew, I’m finally ‘getting’ what they do now. Makes a lot of sense.

  • http://twitter.com/peterrknight Peter Knight

    Andrew, did you see Ira’s ama on Reddit today? He says this…http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1197d7/iam_ira_glass_creator_of_this_american_life_ama/c6kg82g I think he’d love to be on mixergy

  • Jonathan VanHorn

    Andrew and Kevin, this interview was great. I never thought something as niche as management consulting hiring advise could generate a half a million dollar sale. Thanks for sharing.

  • RaminAssemi

    Awesome interview, so many valuable insights. Thanks!

  • Pingback: What Kevin Gao taught us about publishing an ebook | Kickpreneur - Kickstarter Success Interviews & Tips