MJ DeMarco launched Limos.com and sold it in 2000. He then bought it back at a discount and resold it for a huge profit in 2007. Listen to the interview to hear how he bootstrapped the business and why he sold it. You’ll also hear why he decided to follow that up by writing The Millionaire Fastlane and why his ideas and community are influencing so many people.
Previously, he founded Limos.com, a lead generation business.
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Andrew: Hey everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart, and as you know, this is the website where entrepreneurs tell the stories of how they built their business and teach you what they learned along the way.
Joining me today is a founder who sold his company not once, but twice. He is MJ DeMarco, and he launched Limos.com and sold it in 2000. He then bought it back at a discount and resold it in 2007. We’ll hear the story about how he did it and how he followed that up by teaching others about business. MJ is the author of the “Millionaire Fastlane.” Here, let me hold up a copy of the book, which he sent and personally signed to me. I’m going to ask you about that. And he is the founder of the Fastlane Forum, where entrepreneurs discuss business.
MJ, welcome to Mixergy.
MJ: Hey Andrew, thanks for having me.
Andrew: So as I told you in our pre-interview, you are probably the most requested interviewee, and for years, people have said interview MJ, the founder of Limo, etc., and I went to your website once and I saw a big Lamborghini on there. And I saw the word millionaire somewhere and I said, this guy is probably a get-rich-quick guy. I got to stay away and I’ll pass on the interview, and I made a mistake by doing it. Now that I’ve read the book and gotten to know you, I can see I made a big mistake. I should have done the interview a long time ago. But why have the Lamborghini up on the website and the word millionaire up there? Those are two things that I can remember that kept me away. What’s the point of having them on there?
MJ: Well, the point is, and this is my biggest challenge in writing this book, was get rich quick is such a negative, abused phrase and I truly believe it exists. It really does exist. I mean, you look at your own website, Mixergy here. You have interviews with entrepreneurs who are making six figures a month. They have multi-million dollar valuations with their company, and they are getting rich, and they are doing it relatively quickly. I mean, I look at myself. I was 26 years old, living at home with my mother, and then by the time I was 31, I was at millionaire. 33, multimillionaire, so it happened quick for me. And, you know, a Lamborghini was always my dream car, so that’s what was important to me. It was actually that that put me on the path to entrepreneurship. I knew, if I wanted a Lamborghini, it wasn’t going to happen clipping coupons, living mindlessly frugal, investing in a great 401k. It wasn’t going to happen through the normal means. It was going to happen through entrepreneurship, and if you look at all these stories of get rich quick, I mean, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire on the planet. How did he, you know, obviously it happened quick for him.
We had a story I blogged about the other day about Amanda Hocking was making about $200,000 a month selling Kindle e-books. Obviously she’s getting rich quick. I mean, what people are missing out on is get rich easy. None of this stuff is easy. It took me years. I just listened to your interview about Rajeev who started in 1993. That was a billion dollar valuation. It took years, but the Lamborghini was just my dream and it kind of set me on this path to entrepreneurship and to become a millionaire young. I wanted to become a millionaire young. I didn’t want to be, you know, talking at 70 years old and be in a wheelchair. It just didn’t make sense to me.
Andrew: You know what I found is that there are code words that you are supposed to use if you want to signal that you’re helping people build their businesses quickly without actually using the word quick or millionaire. And if you use those code words, then you get a different kind of audience than if you don’t use the code words. And it seems like it takes away a lot of honesty, but it also signals, hey, I get it. What do you feel about that?
MJ: That’s true, and I was telling you in the pre-interview that’s been my biggest challenge on this book is the cover. Some people don’t like the cover too much, and they couldn’t believe the content and it didn’t match the cover. It didn’t match. It’s just a great book, so that tells me the marketplace is telling me something, so I’ll react to that. A great code word, I don’t call it code word, but the truth of it is exponential wealth. I mean, if you’re going to create exponential wealth in your life, the bottom line is that you create a company that creates exponential growth, and that’s pretty much what the fast lane is the summation about is about building a business that creates exponential growth because if you could attach yourself to that, you’re going to have exponential wealth. I mean, I believe your website is so popular because you propel these types of entrepreneurs, people who are making a huge difference in the lives of other people, and other people want to hear that story. They want to have hope. They want to know, you know what, I can perhaps make millions of dollars in a short period of time without having to say get rich quick.
Andrew: You know what’s interesting is that some of the most interesting stories are the ones that can’t come on and do interviews yet. They will talk to me about their companies. They will show me their financials. They will ask me for advice. They’ll tell me they’ll one day do the interview, but they can’t and they’re under the radar. And I feel that for you, your business, Limos.com, must have been under the radar for a while, because, not only didn’t I hear of it and I can’t really hear of everything, but I’ve done unbelievably searches trying to find information about you in the past. Of course I went back to Google and did the Google search 2007 or before and couldn’t come up with anything on your company. I did a search on New York Times, Wall Street Journal. Maybe I’m searching wrong, but you weren’t high profile story, which makes it interesting for me, because I think we can talk about a company my audience hasn’t heard about. So as we go through this story, how about we start off with what you did just before you launched your business. Maybe when you were working as a deli slicer?
MJ: Mom suggested I work as a deli slicer.
MJ: You know, my mom would constantly berate me because I was still living at home. I was in my young 20s and I was still living at home, and she would kind of say, get a job, baby. Get a damn job. And she’d say, I was at the grocery store and they’re hiring a deli manager. Why don’t you go down there and, you know, check it out? And I would be like, you know, I didn’t go to college for five years and struggle for the five years in business failures so I can go down to the deli and slice blocks of bologna and ladle potato salad to the little soccer moms. You know, I didn’t sign up for that.
But one of my bonehead jobs was driving a limousine, and I saw an opportunity while I did that in that company, and one of my customers asked me, hey, I need a limo in New York. Do you know any? And of course, I didn’t know any. But that put me on track to see a need, hey, you know, if you need something in another city, where’s he going to find it? The Internet was a perfect place, and so I started a company that would solve that problem. Basically, you could find ground transportation in any city around the world with that company, and it started out as just a directory kind of service, and then I morphed it into elite generation portal. It was doing lead generation, started it in ’99, which pretty much back then the model was unheard of, and I actually don’t know anyone else who was doing that back then. I kind of consider myself a pioneer in that particular space, and nowadays, lead generation is everywhere.
Andrew: It’s everywhere, and still many people haven’t heard of it. So let’s go back then. In the beginning, did you call it Limos.com or did you have another name for it?
MJ: No, actually, I started on limo-search.com. This is when I had no knowledge on domains obviously, because of the hyphen. And then I morphed it to limousinesonline.com, and that was a problem because limousines was plural, and I had a person ciphering business off the non-proloyal, so I actually went and bought Limos.com in the secondary market, and mind you, this was in ’99 when, you know, huge domains are selling for multi-millions of dollars and I was able to pick up Limos.com in the secondary domain from a private party, a gentleman in Canada. I got a real good price on it, put it all on my credit cards, and that is when I had a branding property then that would make things a little bit easier. Although, I overestimated, you know, the impact that domain would have, but it was a great turning point.
Andrew: Going back to limos-search.com, was it plural or singular, by the way?
MJ: Singular. Singular.
Andrew: So limo-search.com. That was a search directory of limousine companies around the country?
MJ: Yes. Just for a short period of time before I morphed it into the other domain, Limousinesonline, and then I picked up the Limos.com in the secondary.
Andrew: And where did you get the content for this site and the advertising?
MJ: I originally went to the library and looked through the yellow pages.
Andrew: Get out. Okay.
MJ: Yeah, and I started adding companies. I figured. Here’s a great tip: I figured if I added companies on my own, when other companies came in and saw, hey, my competitor’s here, I’ve got to be here, then they would sign up and advertise.
MJ: I think that’s a big strategy for people who are like, you know, I need content, is to drop content in there, if you can, because competitors. Businesses are very competitive, so when they see their competitors on there, they’re going to say, well, I need to be there.
Andrew: Okay. so you started writing all this in there. Where did the advertisers come from? How did the competitors know that others were in your directory?
MJ: Well, I just did searches. I did a lot of Google advertising back then. Used Overture, Goto, but eventually my marketing budget for finding advertisers went to 0 because the advertisers were telling other people. They were telling their friends. They were telling other companies about it.
Andrew: There was no Google at the time, but you’re saying you were buying ads from Goto from Overture, right? Okay, so they would do a search, the limo companies, they see your ad, they’d click it, they’d come to your website. Your website would make the sale, and at the end of the sale, they’d be in your directory, and that’s where the revenue came from?
MJ: Yes, technically I was beak to beak because limousine companies were my revenue sources. Although my target … excuse me?
Andrew: I’m sorry. We have a little bit of a lag. That’s why it sounds like we’re talking on each other. Where did you get your audience?
MJ: You mean, the customers?
Andrew: The customers. The end users who came into the site?
MJ: That was just through simple Internet searches. I did a lot of FCO. I learned that all on my own. Advertising, marketing through … you know, it seems to go through a phase. Back then, it was Goto, then it was Overture, then it moved to Yahoo then it moved to Google, and nowadays it’s Facebook. So I believe, you know, you have to monetize the big property, otherwise you’ll never, you know, you’ll never grow.
Andrew: Okay, so that was the business model, and then you said you changed the name to limousinesonline, but you also, more importantly, changed the business model at that time. How did you decide to go to lead gen?
MJ: I had a friend come in from Chicago once, and I was showing him all the people using my site. It was an inbox, and I’d show him. There’d be 450 emails in there, and we’d talk for 10 minutes, and then I’d click refresh and there’d be 490 emails. Talk another 10 minutes, click refresh, 560 emails. He said, dude, you got to turn those into money somehow. I said, yeah, that would be nice, but how is that going to add value to the product and be worthwhile to someone who wants to pay for that? So that’s when I determined, you know what, let’s dump this advertising fee and let’s have companies join for free, and charge them a per lead basis. That way they can sign up with no risk whatsoever, and that was one of the main sticking points to a lot of my competitors. They were saying, you know, sign up $500. Well, there’s a big risk there. What is the site sucks? What if nothing happens? So I eliminated that risk. I’d say, hey, join for free. If I send you nothing, you pay nothing. And then I had a big, big inflow of new customers because the risk proposition was removed. And then I could start charging per lead, and once I did that, that’s when I started experiencing the more exponential growth. I mean, it was growing slowly, but then it became exponential because I tapped into a better equation. And then the leads, I did rigorous screening on them, and people think that you send leads you just charge for them all. We only charged for about 85% of them, so customer service on the back end was very important, making sure the product, the lead was quality was very important, so there was a lot of other stuff going on there.
Andrew: What does it take to pick? What’s a good lead and what’s a bad lead in this space?
MJ: The honest answer to that is my screening was to say, if I was a company, would I want to pay for this? And if I answered yes, then I’d charge for it. If it was no, I wouldn’t charge for it. A great example of a null is the name is Mickey Mouse or the phone number is 555-55, you know, no. I don’t want to pay for that, so I’m not going to charge my customer for that.
MJ: You can always tell the level of effort that is put into, you know, the input form. Is it specific, or is it just, you know, we want to have sex in the back. That’s crazy stuff. That’s the kind of stuff I wouldn’t even bother charging people for, and if you end up charging them, the clients would eventually leave because they’re not getting a good product.
Andrew: And these were customers. The original emails were, hey, I need a limo from here to there, can you help me out? And you then said, I’m going to find a way to monetize those requests, monetize them by legion, by selling those requests to limo companies around the country, and the requests coming in weren’t people saying, hey, I need a limo tonight. Or was it? It was even early as tonight, and you could turn those around to the limo company in time?
MJ: Actually, that was one of the benefits of the service is people that needed service immediately or within 24 hours, actually I think it was 48 hours, those were free leads. I gave those away for free.
MJ: That was one of the benefits of the service. But surprisingly, I started the company as a, you know, you need a company in another city. It wasn’t working out that way. Half of the users were local in the city looking, so they were dropping their local Yellowpages, and using the Internet. This was news to me, so it was a lot of partiers, people getting married, event people that just didn’t want to drink and drive, so that was shocking to me. And again, that’s another looking at the market, seeing what they’re telling you, as opposed to saying, you know, this is what I want to force the market.
Andrew: What size revenue did you get up to while you were a private company?
MJ: I think I did between 2 and $4 million per year, but I was working at 60% margin.
MJ: So I pretty much was making half of everything was coming in. I mean, a good month was 4150,000 or $200,000 profit per month.
Andrew: Wow. So over a million dollars in profit a year. And you had. Wow. And when you bought Limos.com, how much did that cost you?
MJ: Mean the domain?
Andrew: The domain, yeah?
MJ: You sitting in your seat?
Andrew: Get out!
Andrew: That’s an unbelievable price.
MJ: And this was during the craziness. Before I bought it, I had it appraiser that appraised it, and said, it’s about worth $1.2 million, $1.4 million. I picked it up for $10,000.
Andrew: Wow. Why did you get such a good price? Why didn’t the seller charge more?
MJ: I don’t know, and I’m not going to ask.
Andrew: Okay. Wow.
MJ: I do not know. I didn’t know him or anything. It was just I saw he was selling it, and you know, sent some emails and went back and forth, and put $10,000 on my credit card, cash advances.
Andrew: Wow. Unreal. And you must have also been racking up miles because you were probably using your credit card to pay for the ads you were buying?
MJ: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah. Actually, yeah, it was miles. It was the other thing where they give you a refund at the end of the year.
MJ: So, yeah, we were doing, I think, $20,000 in Google ads a month. Spending $20,000, $30,000 a month, so it was a lot of miles.
Andrew: All right. So you sold the company. Why, if you have a cash cow like that that’s turning out profit regularly, why sell it?
MJ: Oh, I realize that lead generation, at least in this particular space, I had a feeling it was not going to be as successful as technology improved, so I had a couple choices here. You know, one of them was to hire more people and to move to a booking model. And a booking model is, you know, I need something now. Here are the prices, book it now. And for me to do that, I was going to have to hire several more people, and I knew I didn’t really want to do that because I had it on automatic pilot so to speak. I wasn’t working a lot. I mean, for the last three years I owned the company, I was just playing a lot of grab ass, just gambling, just you know, I was working the proverbial 40-hour work week. So I was like, do I want to step into this [??] or should I just sell it right now? So in 2005, I decided to sell it, and it took me two years to sell it. And I sold it to a company that would take it in that direction. I still own part of it, actually, so they are doing my vision of actually turning it into a booking company.
Andrew: I’m sorry. When you sold it in 2000, how much was that first iteration of the company doing in business and why did you sell it in the year 2000? And then we’ll come back to why you sold it in 2007.
MJ:Sure, the revenue in 2000 was probably $70,000 a month.
Andrew: Okay. So $70,000 a month revenue. Good profits, also? The same kind of profit margins?
MJ: Okay, it’s hard to remember. That’s a long time ago, but the margin was pretty much the same.
MJ: The margins have been pretty much the same. Why did I sell it in 2000? Stupidity.
Andrew: What were you thinking? Stupidity is simple, but you were a smart man. You built up a successful company at that point. You got there for a reason, and you made the decision, too, for a reason. Why do it?
MJ: Probably because I didn’t know, I mean, when someone throws that kind of money in your face and you’re living in a studio apartment, and you’re eating ramen noodles and someone throws that kind of money in your face and you’re not familiar with having that kind of money, you jump at it. I just didn’t know better. Now looking back, I look at it as a mistake but also as a learning experience. And again, that’s why I say with stupidity. I just didn’t know better.
Andrew: Why were you eating ramen noodles, considering how much revenue and profit you were generating?
MJ: Excuse me?
Andrew: Why were you eating ramen noodles if you were doing around $70,000 a month?
MJ: This was before I was making the money.
Andrew: Okay. So you built up this business. It wasn’t doing well. You sold it. What I’m getting at is you sold it because you said you made a mistake, but how big was the company just before you sold it? How much revenue were you making?
MJ: In the second time?
Andrew: The first time.
MJ: Oh, it wasn’t big at all.
Andrew: Okay, all right. So it wasn’t doing $70,000.
MJ: This was during the boom when companies were just buying stuff. They were buying, you know, domains for cheap. They were buying companies with no revenue whatsoever. They liked my company as kind of a cookie cutter. The first company that bought it is a cookie cutter that they could replicate in different industries. They saw I was doing it well in the limo industry, so they’re like, we could do this in maids, we could do this here, we could do this there. And after about a year after they bought it, they ended up going bankrupt and tried to turn it into an application enterprise developer. That failed, so they offered it back to me at $250,000.
Andrew: I see.
MJ: That’s when I bought it back.
Andrew: I see. Okay. All right. So you sold because you were living on ramen noodles. You said, I need out. These guys are offering me a lot of money. I think it was $1.2 million is what you sold it for. They gave it to you in cash and largely it seems like stock, if I understand this right?
MJ: It was a half million in cash, and then the rest was stock options, which obviously are worthless.
MJ: And then of that half million, I promptly blew pretty much half of it.
Andrew: Okay. Which is not bad. You ended up with, from what I read, $300,000 after that.
MJ: Yes, and I got caught up in the Internet implosion. I put a lot of money into tech stocks at the time, and again learning.
Andrew: Forgive me. One more question before we continue with the story. Before you sold it, was this when you were doing roughly $70,000 in revenue was before you sold it the first time in the late ’90s?
MJ: Was this what?
Andrew: When in the late ’90s, you were doing roughly $70,000 in revenue a month?
MJ: Late ’90s, I was probably not doing $70,000, no.
MJ: Not in the late ’90s, no. When I started, it was a directory, so a directory is, you know, hey, advertise here for $300 a month, you know, we’ll do it, you know, for a year basis, and then I switched to the lead generation model.
Andrew: And did they buy the lead gen model or they bought the directory model?
MJ: No, they bought the lead gen model.
Andrew: Lead gen model, okay. So I can see. They ended up with a great business. You ended up with a big potential for money. $1.2 million must have sounded great at that point. I understood why you took it. I understand also why they failed, and then they offered it back to you, and the way that you financed it I thought was interesting. Can you share with my audience how you financed that quarter million dollar repurchase of the site that you sold?
MJ: Sure. They actually came back to me, and said, hey, you know what. We’re filing bankruptcy. The venture capitalists do not want to put more money into it, and we cannot sell this property, so we’re either going to shut it down or give it away to someone cheap. Would you be want it back? And I said absolutely.
MJ: So I believe the terms of the deal were $70,000 down, which I still had, and the rest was a note. And I think the note was $70,000 a month, and since I was still running the property, I could see what it was taking in, so I knew I could finance the property taking it back with the money that it was making, and that’s what I did. You know, within two years, I had it paid off.
Andrew: All right, and that’s when it was bringing in, you said, you earned $100,000 to $200,000 a month on the biography on your website. Incredible. You know, I did fairly well for a while there in business, and I lived like a monk’s life. I would come home at the end of the day, go to sleep, wake up and go to the office like a monk and just work. It sounds like you were living better. Can you take me through for just a moment – this is a diversion from the main interview – but can you tell me a little bit about how your life was impacted when you were doing that well?
MJ: Oh, it didn’t happen over night. I mean, just like a lot of your interviews, you hear about stories of people putting in the 80-hour work weeks, they’re giving up the things they enjoy to regurgitate code in an apartment. I lived that life for many years. But at some point, the company became automated where the people that I had in it were running it, and I could go off and do whatever I wanted to do. And how your life changes there is when you realize, oh my God, this is incredible. I can go off and do something, and then I come home and you see you made $5,000 in one day. And that’s the essence of the fast lane. The fast lane is creating a business that you can actually separate yourself from and be able to create income while you’re out doing whatever else you want to do. And granted, that’s not easy, and that’s coming back to the get rich easy thing. This isn’t easy. I’m not saying it is easy, and a lot of people won’t do a lot of the things you have to do to make it happen, and that means sometimes you have to make sacrifices, like sitting at home on a Friday night and sticking your face in front of a computer for a few hours as opposed to going out and drinking or, you know, playing a few hours of Xbox or whatever. I gave up a lot of that stuff to create what I call a money tree. A lot of businesses on the Internet, they have the potential of becoming money trees just because they’re automated, and they work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and they don’t care about what kind of car you drive or what, you know, what kind of house you live in or whatever you’re doing. So go ahead.
Andrew: I wrote down a couple notes as you were talking about money tree, about automation. I want to come back to that in a moment about how you did it. Let’s just close this off. I know how much you sold the company for, but can you tell the audience in your words how much you sold the company for in 2007?
MJ: 4 and a half.
Andrew: $4.5 million. Wow. All right. Okay. So you’ve done it. Here’s what I admire about you. You’re not a guy whose a guru who says I know how to build companies and you haven’t done it. You’ve actually done it, which is why I am excited to talk to you today and also why I’m curious about, well, can you tell my audience about the guru teachers? Like you gave an example in your book of a teacher who teaches health and nutrition. Can you talk about that? This is the guy. Do you remember the story I’m talking about?
MJ: A guru who teaches health and nutrition?
Andrew: Health and nutrition, yes. I’ll jump in there, because I read the book more recently than you wrote it, so I got a question on it.
MJ: I wrote it three years ago.
Andrew: Okay, here’s the story that got me interested. You talk about walking into a room.
MJ: Oh yeah. Now I remember!
Andrew: Oh, go ahead. Do you want to tell it?
MJ: About the professor that will teach you how to earn the body of your dreams, to live a life of health and fitness. He walks into class, and the guy’s 300 pounds. So you look at him and you say, well, how can he teach me to have a body of my dreams when obviously he is not a model of what he’s teaching? So that, to me, is a guru hypocrisy where, and I see this with a lot of financial experts. They’re teaching you one thing, meaning a wealth equation. They’re attaching themselves to a wealth equation. They’re teaching it, yet they’re getting rich in a different equation. So that, to me, is kind of a hypocrisy. And, you know, with the company that I built and sold, and even with this book, it’s the same thing that I’m teaching, the same thing I’m showing people, that this is what works and I’m not saying something else that I’ve never done before or I don’t believe in. I mean, a great example is the gurus. Have you ever met a 22-year-old millionaire who got rich because he clipped coupons? But the gurus are selling this stuff, and they’re not rich because they’re clipping coupons. They’re getting rich because they have built brands. They’ve built companies. They’ve built products that scale to millions, and that’s the essence of the fast lane.
Andrew: I think we’re talking about people like Susie. I won’t even bring up her last name since you didn’t in the book. Susie’s on television talking to people about 401k, about dollar cost averaging and to stock market, about this and about that. You’re saying that’s not how she got rich. How does Susie and financial gurus like her actually get rich if they’re not following their own advice to collect the good salary, to earn money on a 401k, to pocket money in the market every year?
MJ: Well, they teach the slow lane, and they get rich in the fast lane. In other words, they teach one financial road map, but then they leverage another financial road map. And that’s the essence of the hypocrisy. These people get rich because they create brands that scale to a multi-million audience. They impact millions, therefore they make millions. But they’re not practicing what they’re preaching. I mean, do people seriously believe that Susie or any of these other authors are rich because of their 401k or because of their IRA? I looked at the back of one of the guys’ books. It said he’s the best selling author of 10 books, and has a half billion dollars under management. Well, there. That’s why he’s rich. You opened his book and it says something about stop drinking coffee. Really? Are you rich because you stopped drinking coffee? No. You’re rich because look at the back of the book. You have a half billion dollars under management. And you wrote 10 books. That’s why you’re rich. So that’s the hypocrisy I try to expose in the book, and I even come clean on that. Say, you know what, this book, you know, if it becomes a best seller, has the potential to make me much more wealthier than I am now because it leverages the same equation.
Andrew: How, by the way, could the fast lane make you rich? I don’t see on the website seminars and DVDs that people can buy and all the usual stuff.
MJ:Well, it leverages the same question. I mean, how many people in the world are interested in financial independence or entrepreneurship or, you know, attracting wealth in a short period. Millions and millions and millions of people, and I see that when I see orders from New Zealand and Australia. It’s like, wow, that marketplace is my whole world, so in other words, I like to say when we step into any kind of business, we attach ourselves to a wealth equation, and the wealth equation says how much money can you make in a certain period of time. Well, my upper limit on a book that people actually find useful and not one I have push mercifully, but the upper limit is virtually millions, if not billions of people, so yeah, I can print 10 million of these books without much issue. I can’t work more than 24 hours in a day. There’s only 40, 50, 60 life years in my lifespan. See, there’s leverage there with a book, and there’s leverage with an Internet company. There’s leverage with inventing. There’s leverage in various business roads. There’s no leverage in what Susie and all these other people are teaching us. They’re indoctrinating us is what I like to say.
Andrew: All right. So they’re indoctrinating us. What’s the belief we end up with beyond the 401k? We’re ending up with this belief that we need to work for a long time and save money for retirement. We’re ended up if we believe the common wisdom with an understanding that if we don’t buy lattes every day that when we’re 50 or 60 or 70 or 80, we’ll be millionaires or some nonsense like that. Right? That’s the essence of the slow lane?
MJ: In the slow lane is basically go to school, get a job, save 10% of your paycheck, live mindlessly frugal for 40, 50 years, you know, trust your life savings to the stock market, and then one day when you’re 65, 70 years old, you’re going to be rich. And, to me, that’s an insane financial plan because, you know what, I didn’t want to be rich. I didn’t want to have all kinds of freedom. When I say rich, I don’t necessarily mean money. I’m talking about freedom – the ability to do what you want when you want where you want. I didn’t want to have that when I was 65, 70 years old. I wanted it when I was in my 30s. I wanted when, you know, I was still young enough to enjoy it. But we’re being indoctrinated to follow that type of advice, meaning trust your financial plan to hope, meaning hope you have a job, hope the stock market is kind, hope you can, you know, the economy rebounds in time. The crux of that whole plan is time. Put your life savings into the stock market, wait 50 years. That’s based on time. A job is based on time, because we’re paid hourly or we’re paid annually. Those are time metrics, so that’s why that plan is unleveragable because you can’t leverage time. So it always requires a heaping load of time, and by the time you get to enjoy it, you’re going to be near death or too old to enjoy it.
Andrew: What’s a quote from your book? To trade time is to trade life. If that’s what you’re doing, if you’re working for someone on an hourly basis, you’re trading your life away. What else? Mutual funds won’t make you rich. Oh, here’s a great quote from the book. Help me understand this one. You said, I spent 5 years in college. Wait – let me read it right. I spent 5 years in college for a phone book. What do you mean by that?
MJ: Well, one of the interviews I went in after college graduation, and I went on the interview just to humor myself. And the recruiter’s like, we’ll put you over in that cubicle and we’ll give you a phone book, and you have to cold call to build your insurance portfolio. It was an insurance company. And I just remember that moment, looking at that cubicle, and thinking to myself, I spent 5 years in college to sit in a cubicle with a telephone book? No way. I mean, I’ve got no problem with a telephone book as long as it’s for me. And to back up the thing about time, I don’t have a problem spending time in pursuits that might give me more time, if that makes sense. That’s why I stress building a leveragable business asset that not only can make you money but also can make you time, make you free time.
Andrew: I was kind of thinking you meant something different, and of course, now that I think of it, the paragraphs underneath that heading – I spent 5 years in college for a phone book – explain just what you did. In my mind, I was thinking of the one reason that people say they went to college. There’s one benefit. They say it’s because of all the contacts. And when I think of it in light of this sentence, really you spend 4, 5 years in your case, in college just so you can have some contacts? I can go to 2 conferences this year and end up with more contacts than I did in 4 years of college and I don’t know how many thousands of dollars I paid, my dad paid, and I ended up paying years later. And for what? For nothing.
MJ: Yeah, and not to slight college or anything, but I learned more in my first year of failing, you know, just trying different things with business than I did in 4 or 5 years of college. I think application and just going out and doing and not being afraid of the failure, that is the best education there is. And I have failed many times, and I’m still failing, so I don’t have any problems admitting that.
Andrew: Okay, all right, and I want to say I’m not here to knock college. I know a lot of people who have gotten a lot out of it, and I also believe my mission here is not to knock anyone. It is to suck as much information out of everyone as I can, so let me learn directly from you, MJ. You have five commandments that you condense down to something called NECST. We’re talking about Need, Entry, Control, Scale, and Time. What are these five commandments for? What do we get if we follow them?
MJ:The NECST commandments are the framework is what I call them. And it’s a, I believe, a path or a litmus test to determine if a business venture that you possibly are in or want to go in is fast lane, meaning. When I say fast lane, I mean can this business grow exponentially and possibly create exponential wealth in my life? And the first one. Do you want me to go through the first?
Andrew: Yeah, actually. Need. What is need?
MJ: Need. The commandment of need, I believe, is basically you want to start a business that solves a fundamental need in the marketplace. And when I say need, I don’t mean it’s never being done before. I think a lot of entrepreneurs, they think, I have to go find something that’s never been done. It’s rarely usually about that. It’s usually about just doing something a lot better or putting a spin on something different. I mean, when I started my company, there was 12 other companies already doing a similar thing. I just did it better, so sometimes the need is just about being a better executor and not necessarily finding or inventing the new segway or something groundbreaking. The other thing about need that’s very important I think is I think a lot of entrepreneurs have been perverse, meaning they’re starting businesses for the wrong reason. You know, they hear, I want to make millions so I’m going to start a business. Or I’m an expert in blank, so I’m going to go do that, or I love doing this so some guru said do what you love, so I’m going to go do that. I think these are foundations for failure, because the market doesn’t care about what you love, what your passion is, or if you want to work a few hours a week or if you want to travel. The marketplace doesn’t give a crap about any of that stuff. It just wants to know what’s in it for me. What can your business do for me? Why should I give you money? That’s what people want to know. A great example that I have is people that have read my book and have absolutely loved it. Do they care that I hated writing it? What if I told you I hated writing it? Does it matter to you? No. You just want to know what can it do for me? What problem can it solve to make my life easier? So that’s need.
Andrew: Okay. One of the lines in there was about American Idol. You say that you shouldn’t do what you love. That’s not the road to wealth, because if it was, everyone standing in line at the American Idol auditions would be wealthy. It’s about what others need, not what you want and not what makes you happy.
MJ: Correct. Correct.
Andrew: Number two. The second thing we need to look for is Entry. Can you describe that? What does that mean and what are we looking for?
MJ: Entry basically states that as the lower the barrier entries are to any particular business, the worse the opportunity becomes. Meaning, if you can just go to a website, fill out a form, and then wham you’re in business, it’s probably something you don’t want to be doing. But if you fill out a distributor kit, and then wham, you’re in business, that’s probably something you don’t want to be doing. Because as a marketplace becomes more saturated, obviously the profitability or the margins of that particular space go down. So we want to have businesses that have to be started or created as a process, not as an event. And by process, I mean it usually takes weeks, sometimes months. The example I like to give is I have a friend that has a bed and breakfast in Napa Valley. I can’t just start. I can’t compete with him immediately. I have to go find a place. I’d have to renovate it. I’d have to hire staff. I’d have to get licensed. The whole process of competing becomes a process, and that keeps people out and keeps the market, you know, not air tight but secure. So beware of things where, wow, I just fill this out and I’m in business. Those are the kind of things you want to avoid.
MJ: Downloading WordPress and just throwing up. That doesn’t create a business.
Andrew: Right. Or the $10 eBook on how to make millions in eBay. If all it takes is one eBook, then everyone’s going to have it and there’s no way they’re all going to do well. So you need to be the high barrier to entry for the business to have the right possibility for you. The other commandment is you need control, and you gave this great example of ad sense and what happened with your forums. Can you describe what control is? What are we looking for and tell the story about ad sense.
MJ: Control is having complete control of everything in your business that is humanly possible, meaning you don’t want to be outsourcing something where somebody can slip out the rug from under you and instantly kill your business or instantly kill your revenue stream. The example I give in my book is I used Google Ad Sense on my forum, and someone made a post on there about, I don’t remember what it was, but Google looked at that post and said, that violates our terms. And they immediately canceled the ads. Now I wasn’t making a lot of money on it. That wasn’t my breadwinner, but in a moment, that revenue stream disappeared. So I was thinking, God, what if I was making 10, 20, $30,000 a month off this revenue and then wham, instantly someone can slip out the rug from under you and take it away. That’s a violation of control. I mean, we want to be in a position where we control our financial plan, and we don’t want to be putting ourselves in a position where somebody or some board of governors or some board of directors or some hierarchal entity can slip out the rug.
Another example is I had an affiliate program at my company. My best affiliate was doing 20, $30,000 a month. Pretty good money. But at any moment, I could have said to him, you know what, I’m going to change things around. I’m going to pay you 10% now instead of 40% while I could have disrupted his income. I could have canceled it. I could have said, eh, I don’t want to do this anymore. When I sold the company, I don’t know what happened to him. Maybe they changed something. You see, that’s when you give someone else control, and I want the control, meaning, you know, you don’t want to be joining affiliate programs. You want to be offering them. You don’t want to be buying franchises; you want to be selling them. You don’t want to be drop shipping. You want to offer drop shipping. You don’t want to be buying IPO shares. You want to be selling them. You know, you want to be the top of the pyramid. Think, you know. Stop being a swap of paint in someone else’s big picture.
Andrew: Next is scale.
MJ: Scale is, again, that wealth equation I talked about earlier. You want to be involved in a business you can scale to the masses. And I don’t mean it has to be that everyone can use it. It can be a niche. The little business is a $6 billion industry. Pretty big but still a small niche, but everyone can use it around the world. So scale is about having a business you can scale the the masses, meaning if you have an apartment building or a single-family house at Main and Elm, that’s not very scalable. I can tell you unequippably[SP] that business will not scale to $20 million dollar evaluation or $5 million or whatever. If you own a deli franchise at the corner, again that’s a business that isn’t going to scale to a huge evaluation. You’re not going to sell a thousand sandwiches in one day. So scale is about having a business that has the potential, meaning a wealth equation or a speed limit, that can reach the masses.
Andrew: All right and finally time. And you say this over and over. Detach your business from your time.
MJ: Time basically says, are you building a company that can turn into a money tree? Can it turn into an autonomous system that will work while you’re away? And time is probably the least important but is also the hardest as well. I mean, it took me years to get my company automated. Selling a book certainly isn’t automated, but at some point, we want to detach from our time, because time is the most important. Can we have a business that is going to work for us while we’re not working? And I think a lot of business have an implicit time component. I mean, the Internet is number 1 because Internet is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I’ll come home from playing softball and I’ll see people ordering my book. When I used to have my company, I’d wake up in the morning and it’d be 300 emails, which was making me money, so that detaches you from time is when we have an entity – an autonomous system that is working for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And that is what the fast lane is also about, because it’s about time. So it’s not necessarily about money. It’s also about time.
Andrew: All right. I don’t want to oversimplify your ideas and say they’re bad. He has these five commandments. You do this. Everything’s perfect. I just pulled out 1 framework from 1 chapter in the book, and I thought it’d be interesting to discuss. I want to make sure I’m being clear about the ideas here, and not pretending there’s an easy solution that the book just hands you, and if you go with these five commandments that – tada – life will be good. Here’s another thing I circled and want to talk to you about. Under the Internet section, you talk about the importance of building subscriptions. Can you talk about the power of a subscription-based business? I’ve been really interested in that as I’ve been doing these interviews.
MJ: I think the subscription-based business is probably the most potent fast lane there is. Based on or predicated on the fact that you have a valued product. A great example is and I used to have my book, I used to have a website monitoring solution that I had to subscribe to, and they were charging 40, $50 a month, and they had on the top of their website in the corner, it said, 600,000 subscribers. Well, you can do the math there. 600,000 times 50. God, they’re making seven figures a month easily, and the reason why subscription sites are the best is because they implicitly have scale. You immediately can scale it to a multi-million dollar audience via the Internet. It’s recurring. And once you have, the biggest challenge of that, obviously, is getting it started, and I think a lot of people will start it, but not really have a value product there. Meaning they’re starting it because, hey, I want to run a subscription site, and I can make a lot of money doing this, but their pride isn’t really solving any particular need or function. I get that a lot. Why don’t you make this fast lane form a subscription site? I’m like, no, it’s not that much of a value product where I can be charging $19.95 a month for it. It needs to be free, so people can consume it.
Andrew: So how then do we find the product? How do we find this one product that lives up to the need, has the right entry level, that gets us control, and that we can maybe attach a subscription to if it’s an Internet business. How do we find it?
MJ: I think it’s opportunities are in our language. I mean, every day if you’re complaining about something, that’s an opportunity. If you say, this sucks, and if you solve this sucks, then there’s a problem. Just the other day, someone was on my forum, and said, hey, is there a mixer juice[SP] site that does brick and mortar? And bud, no, we don’t know of any, no, no, no, and I said, there’s an opportunity because you’re looking for something and no one knows anything about it. So I believe all these opportunities are always exposed in our environment, in our everyday activities. I mean, every time I go into a customer service situation, I see an opportunity. You want to know why? Because customer service sucks. And I mean, if customer service sucks in any particular business, then there’s also an opportunity there. See, again, it’s sometimes not about reinventing the wheel. It’s just about making the wheel a little more greasier, making it easier to use. So again, look in your language. My fast lane forum started by a problem. People were complaining on another forum that it was just full of scams and network marketing stuff and just a bunch of crap, so I went and started that based on that need exposed in another forum.
Andrew: Okay, so that brings me to the community. Your community is incredibly powerful. I wouldn’t, I don’t think I’m overestimating to say every week since a couple months after I launched Mixergy, I got an email about you and the need to interview you. And these guys are persistent and caring and I would even email them back and say, why, what did you get, what did you learn from MJ? thinking that they’re not going to respond. This is my way of saying go away, they’re not going to come back, and they responded with these in-depth stories of what happened to them and then pretty quickly I caught up to it. So the question I’m asking with all that is how do you build a community that is that strong today?
MJ: Customer discipleship, and that involves having a product that people genuinely love. If they genuinely love your product and you back it up with customer service, they will talk about it. And I believe that’s another component or ingredient to an exponential wealth situation is if you have a product based on a need, not based on what you love or what this passion is, based on something that needs to be written, needs to be talked about, people will talk about it and they’ll tell other people. I wouldn’t have written my book if I thought it was already spoken. If it was already out there and somebody did it and they did it well, I probably wouldn’t have written it.
Andrew: I see authors, though, who have good books who have said things that are interesting and other sites talk about them, and they even get blogs that are well read. But their comments aren’t really active, and if they were ever to start a bulletin board, it would be, it would just be tumbleweed. And many of them have, and it is tumbleweed. It’s sad to go in there and see it. There’s more to it. For example, I think today to just check up on you before this interview started, I checked your Twitter feed and I also checked your message boards, and I think today you posted a few comments. You responded to one guy who had a question about email newsletters. Dad, should I get into it, and you said, no you shouldn’t charge for it. You should offer it for free and gave him a whole explanation, so you are very active in those boards. So that’s one way that you keep them engaged. What else do you do to keep your community engaged and to get it to grow?
MJ: Well, engagement, you know. I was at a forum before where the guru of that forum never showed up. He wasn’t a participant. He had his arrogant, ego, I’m just too good for that. Well, I don’t claim to be too good for any of that. I mean, I get emails from people all the time, and I try to respond to them within 48 hours, and I know through my own experiences, any time I’d email someone who wrote a book or someone I respected, I would never hear from them. See, that’s something I looked at as, you know what, that’s got to change, not that I’m, I hate calling myself a guru. I’m not no guru, but when you engage someone and treat them like a human being as opposed to a customer or opposed to a number or an entity, that’s how you can engage people, that’s you make them care. I mean, I will sign books just to sign them, because when they open them up, their expectations are immediately violated like, wow, well I didn’t expect this. And that’s how you create disciples. You create people, you know, that will tell somebody about you. They’ll post on your Facebook about something or about your book and then, I mean, my ego was bruised. I’ll be honest with you. My marketing on my book, it sucked. I just haven’t been as effective as I thought I would, but you know what’s been more effective and has totally exceeded my expectation is the discipleship. The people who have read my book and told other people, and that is what is driving my sales right now, not some master marketing guru skills that I have done. It’s people who have read it and go, oh my God, I got to tell my, so and so, so that’s been driving it, and that’s being product-centric, having a product that really speaks to somebody or solves a problem or fills a need.
Andrew: What are you generating in sales from the book?
MJ: Doing about $1,000 a month right now.
Andrew: $1,000 a month?
MJ: It’s only through Amazon.
Andrew: So, go ahead.
MJ: And actually, Kindle, I’m not sure. It’s always up to number 1, number 2 in the categories on Kindle, but I haven’t logged into that account in a couple months, so I don’t know what it’s doing there, so it might be a little bit more.
Andrew: So why for $1,000 a month, why spend?
MJ: No, no, no. 1,000 units a month.
Andrew: Oh, 1,000 units a month.
MJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Andrew: A cover price of $24, $22. I see, okay. And is there anything else you’re selling?
Andrew: This is it? This is it?
MJ :No, no seminars, no upscales, no ADD, ACD, DVD program. None of that.
Andrew: And that’s just for now. At some point, you do plan to offer more, don’t you?
MJ: I have no idea.
MJ: Honest to God, I don’t know. I’m going to see where the market takes me on this. This is again, I talk about being market-pulled as opposed to me pushing market. If the market wants me to write another book, I will. I might started another Internet co. I might retire for another 5 years. I don’t, I have no idea. I told myself I’d give my book a year, see what happens, see where the market wants to take me, and then I would go from there. So that’s, so I think that’s another thing people really like. They read the book and they’re like, oh my God, he’s not selling some program or some expensive seminar or his membership site. I’m not selling anything. This is just what I’d tell my son or daughter if I had an opportunity to tell them.
Andrew: Is this the way to build a business only after you’ve had a hit in the past or would you say to someone who’s brand new, look, follow this lead, put something out there, let the market decide whether you can expand it or go away? Is this the same? What do you think?
MJ: Absolutely. Quit waiting around for people to make decisions for you, and make decisions yourself. Had I sent out my book synopsis to a literary agent or publishing house, it wouldn’t be out there right now, because I’d be sitting around waiting. Yet today technology makes it easy, makes it easy for me to put something out there to see what happens. Another example is when I started my company, I could have tried to get venture funding. Never would have happened, but you know what, when I built a business that suddenly people could use and consume, I had a bunch of capitalists calling me. That was like a huge light bulb moment. Oh my God, create something – a prototype – something that people can touch, something people can use and interact with, then they will come to you.
Andrew: And the outcome, would you also leave that up to the market to decide? If you were an entrepreneur who hadn’t had a hit before, would you still say, I’m going to put my first effort out there, I’m not going to wait for a permission slip from a venture capitalist or publishing company or anyone else. I’ll put my first idea out there, and then I’ll let the market decide where it goes, or would you be more clear on what the outcome is that you’re trying to aim for?
MJ: This is my opinion. I believe letting the market taking you where it wants to go.
Andrew: When you get on a rollercoaster, it takes you where you go, and you just don’t fight the rollercoaster.
MJ: Yes, I believe that. I get that question a lot. What are you going to do next? Again, I don’t know. I’m going to see where the market wants to take me. And I will adjust to that. I mean, I’ve been getting speaking engagements recently, and I don’t like public speaking very much, but I’ll do it because that’s where the market is taking me, so I’ve been brushing up on that skill, trying to get better at it. So, yes, I believe the market will tell you. You can ask any entrepreneur who started a company. Most of them will say, we started off on this and then they tangented to something else because the market is steering them in that direction. That’s another reason I think business plans are kind of worthless, because as soon as you throw that out there in the market, thousands of people interact with it, the market says, eh, you know, we want this or we want that. So you go that direction.
Andrew: The gurus, though, do say have a very clear direction. Write it down. Have pictures of it. Know exactly where you’re going. Adjust your road map a little bit, but always know the final destination. You disagree with that?
MJ: No, I actually agree with that. But I believe there’s going to be street signs along the way. You know, the way to get to California to New York. There’s million different permutations, and I believe when the sign says expressway, that’s where you want to go versus a side road, which might be a little bit slower. So you might get there, you know, the same destination, but it just might be a little quicker the other way.
Andrew: So what’s the California for fast lane? What’s the destination there?
MJ: Financial freedom.
Andrew: Financial freedom for the audience?
MJ: Correct, meaning . . .
Andrew: For the reader?
MJ: I mean, give you an example. As I get up whenever I want to get up, I travel wherever I want to travel. Now, I don’t have a stable full of exotic cars or five houses across the country. I mean, I don’t live very extravagantly, but I own my time and I own my freedom, and that, to me, is financial freedom. I also don’t have to worry about paying the electric bill or paying the car payment. That to me is financial freedom. I mean, $10 million a year, $10 million and you make 5% interest on $10 million. That’s $40,000 a month. I know a lot of people that could live on $40,000 a month. I know I can, and it’s because I haven’t gone nutso. I haven’t went out and just blew everything. I’ve pretty much saved the big income when I was making it, and when I sold my company, I saved most of that. I wasn’t going nutso and just buying gadgets and, you know, I didn’t gamble it away, contrary to what some people might say.
Andrew: I didn’t hear any of that. So what is the one, besides the Lamborghini, what’s the one thing that you got for yourself after the hit?
MJ: It was my first Lamborghini.
Andrew: That’s the one thing?
Andrew: Tell me about buying it.
Andrew: Tell me about buying it. I know that was something that you saw when you were younger and that you said, wow, this is amazing. I can’t believe someone could own this. You were curious about how that person owned that, how he earned the money to do it, you talked to him for a second, and that moment lasted in your mind.
Andrew: You finally got it. Can you talk about that trip to the store, to the dealership and what happened?
MJ: It was a Lamborghini Diablo, and it was actually on sale in the Scottsdale airport. It was profiled there, so it really wasn’t at the dealership. I saw it, I was like, wow. It was $179,000. It was used, so it was relatively cheap. But I talked to the guy, and he said Britney Spears sat in this car, so that was exciting, not that I’m a Britney Spears fan, but it was just the most incredible thing. And then to be able to know that you can buy it, and it’s actually become a point where, the point where you know you can buy it is almost as satisfying as actually buying it. So that really is something that was a lightbulb moment for me. But that was always my dream when I first saw a Lamborghini Coupe Tash[SP] a long time ago, young guy driving it. I said, one day I am going to own one of those cars, and you know, fast forward to 2004, I think, 2005 was when I first bought my first one and it was just a dream come true. And you really have to be in the mood to drive one of them, because they’re kind of a pain in the ass, but.
Andrew: But in the right mood, I imagine that they’re fun?
MJ: Yeah.Yeah, I’m kind of shy, believe it or not, and people will talk to you and everyone wants to race and go crazy, so you really have to be in the mood for it.
Andrew: All right. Actually, I should end it there if I was a great storyteller, I would end it right here. But instead, I’m going to let my curiosity take me one step further, and you tell me if you don’t want to do this. I’m looking at your office and I know that the New York Times sometimes does these pieces where they send a photographer to look at someone’s office and photograph it, and it’s so interesting for some reason. Can you show us what’s in your office? How do you feel about doing that since we’re looking over your shoulder?
MJ: Well, what do you want to see?
Andrew: What is that right behind you? I guess that’s a coffee maker?
MJ: Behind me is a coffee maker.
Andrew: And that’s intentional?
MJ: A microwave.
MJ: A stack of books in the right side there, some vitamins.
MJ: There’s some envelopes because sometimes I have to send out books, the bulletin board you can’t see is to the right, there’s a bunch of children on there. I sponsor kids and stuff and things[SP]. There’s a Seinfeld picture.
Andrew: What’s the Seinfeld picture?
MJ:I don’t know if you can see if it back there. It’s Seinfeld.
Andrew: Is that Seinfeld or is that what’s his name?
Andrew: Cramer. Yeah, I see it.
MJ: Picture of Cramer. I don’t know if you’re a Seinfeld fan or not.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I remember that from the episode where he done a painting of himself. And the coffee’s behind you and the microwave for a reason and maybe the fridge?
MJ: Yeah, because I like to eat in my office. [laughs]
Andrew: You just want to have quick access to the stuff you need.
MJ: Yup, I’m all about saving time.
Andrew: All right. One more thing. I keep saying one more thing, and then I promise after this, because I said to my audience that I’d bring this up. Here’s what you wrote in the book that you sent me. Andrew, thanks for kicking ass and spreading the entrepreneur gospel. My best wishes. I see. There’s nothing we need to explain here. I’m just going to say now that I’ve re-read this, I think it’s all very clear. Thanks for kicking ass and spreading entrepreneurial gospel yourself, MJ. It’s great to meet you in person.
MJ: Thanks for having me, Andrew.
Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for watching. Bye.