How does a blog get sold for millions?
Nick O’Neill cofounded AllFacebook.com, a blog that covered the growing Facebook ecosystem. He sold it less than 2 years later to WebMediaBrands. I invited him here to tell the story of how he did it.
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Nick O'Neill (All Facebook), AllFacebook
O’Neill is the creator of AllFacebook.com, a blog that covered all issues pertaining to Facebook including new applications, general news, and analysis about the future of Facebook.
Andrew: Three questions before we get started.
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Here’s the program.
Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart and the place where you come to listen to successful entrepreneurs tell you how they left their mark on this world. They share their best tactics and ideas with you so you can go out there, build your own success story, and hopefully, do what Nick’s about to do here today, which is share it with other so you can teach them, too.
Big question for this interview is: How does a blog get sold for millions of dollars? Nick O’Neill co-founded AllFacebook.com, a blog that covered the growing Facebook ecosystem. He sold it less than two years later to WebMediaBrands. I invited him here to tell the story of how he did it. Nick, thanks for offering to do it.
Nick: Thanks for having me.
Andrew: I wasn’t sure you were going to say yes. When you and I first met months ago, I asked you and I sensed, “Nick’s not going to want to do it. He’s not ready to talk.” I appreciate you doing it.
Nick: I’m happy to discuss my life.
Andrew: All right. Let’s get right into the personal questions. What did you sell the business for?
Nick: I’m not discussing the exact number, I think the broad term of millions is enough in terms of what I walked away with at the end of the day.
Andrew: Any outside funding?
Nick: No, I funded it. I did get a loan from my uncle, a line of credit, that I paid back. So yes, I did. At one point I was up to $30,000 in debt.
Andrew: Okay. Who owned the business? Was it you or shareholders?
Nick: It was me, 100%.
Nick: Actually, no. My designer at the time, Jesse Thomas, or Jess3, had a fraction of the business.
Andrew: Jess3 was a co-owner of the business?
Nick: Yeah, he lived next door to me since first grade, so we’ve been good friends.
Andrew: Cool. How many paid views, or unique visitors a month, I guess?
Nick: Unique visitors, we grew it up to like 1.4 million a month.
Nick: By the time I left. I don’t know what it’s at now.
Andrew: You didn’t tell me before the interview started, so I’m going to ask you here, what was the revenue at the time of sale?
Nick: Around when I sold it, I think we were up to a quarter million dollars in revenue.
Andrew: A year?
Nick: When I say we, I mean it was mostly like me doing all the different components of the business.
Andrew: All right. Cool. All right. So, let’s go back in time and find out how you built it to get it to get it to that size. Where did the original idea come from?
Nick: I was actually talking with Frank Gruber of Tech Cocktail back in 2007. We were just having a drink. Facebook had launched their platform, and I was like, “You know what?” I had been writing a blog at the time called the Webpreneur where I was writing about internet entrepreneurs. I was kind of following in the footsteps of a TechCrunch sort of site.
I had already built a social network in the past, myself, and I knew that this was big. I quit once I saw Facebook, because they were executing so well on this. I had confidence that they were going to do pretty well. Once they launched their platform, I was like, “This is worth a blog unto itself.”
The next day, after talking with Frank, and telling him about that, I just stayed up all night built the blog, wrote a few posts, and launched it the next day.
Andrew: You know what? I saw that there are a couple of blogs dedicated to Facebook that launched at the time. I have to tell you, I didn’t understand why they would do it. You know, I love Dropbox. A lot of people use Dropbox. There’s no blog about Dropbox as far as I know. I do it for Evernote. There isn’t one about it, but for some reason you guys specifically saw that Facebook was going to be blog worthy. Why did you think that this would be blog worthy? Who would want to read a blog about it? Who would want to pay to reach an audience that read it? What was the business here?
Nick: So in terms of the business I actually had no idea. I only had one objective, which was to build a large blog, that was my own personal objective and then from there I would figure out what the business was.
Andrew: Why? Why a large blog as the big vision?
Nick: It just seemed like an incredible challenge for me at the time. I was a web developer at an agency. I’d been hopping around between jobs and I found half my time during the day I was distracted by these blogs and these other sites, which were actually pretty new in 2005 when I started getting distracted by these things and by watching these things I was like, what if I could get paid for following my own distractions? That’s what seemed so exciting about it and I guess internally I’m also motivated by recognition so that was also a motivating factor in building a popular blog, but I just wanted to see if I could do it to be honest.
Andrew: I love that you’re admitting that you’re motivated by recognition. Frankly, I am too. What’s the vision for you of the recognition that you wanted?
Nick: I can’t really tell. If you want to get into psychological aspects it was probably the attention that my father never provided me that motivated me.
Nick: Possibly. I wouldn’t be surprised. I’m still in contact, I don’t have a horrible relationship with him, but I always wonder that. I’ve actually wondered when I’ve spoken with entrepreneurs why go through all this pain and suffering. Who are you proving this to? Why are you out there to do it, because there really is a lot of pain and suffering that you go through. I can only imagine that there’s some deep-rooted psychological desire to prove to the world or prove to the parent that never loved you that you can do it or that you were worthy of their attention. I didn’t have that painful of a relationship with my own.
Andrew: Right. I don’t think it has to be that deathly scary or deeply scarring for it to influence you. I was actually wondering the same thing about myself. My dad was really social and he looked at me and said, this guy can’t talk to anybody, what a weirdo that he can’t even talk to people. Talking to people is the most fun ever. I thought well maybe the way that I thought I could prove to him that I was worthy of being in this world, if I can’t walk into a room and have a conversation with a stranger, maybe I could prove it to him on the battlefield that he respects, which is business. I see that he’s an entrepreneur. He tells stories of his business successes. Maybe psychologically that was one of the big motivations for me of jumping into business. What was yours?
Nick: I had a major turning point which was in college. I got in a bunch of trouble. I was just heading down a completely wrong path. My Freshman year in college I was at Northeastern. I don’t have a resume anymore, but that wasn’t even on my resume. I got in a bunch of trouble and literally on the day that I found out that I was effectively going to have to leave the school I went and talked to one with my friends and I said look man, I’m totally turning my life around. I started reading every self-help book.
I set these objectives with Think & Grow Rich, Never Eat Alone, sorry, not Never Eat Alone, that came later, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and other less standard classic motivational books. I read those and I had set a list of objectives that I was going to do, which was one was start a business, another was learn guitar and the third was become healthy and work out.
I just sequentially followed those objectives and executed on them and started with one business and it became a very addictive cycle I think where one business after the next, I had so many failures leading up to this one, none of the businesses worked out. That turning point was what kind of put me on this trajectory.
Andrew: What’s the biggest most impacting lesson that you learned when you went into the bunker so to speak and studied all these books to prepare yourself for the rest of the world and the rest of your life.
Nick: What was the biggest lesson?
Andrew: Yeah. For me it was How to Win Friends and Influence People, the idea that there’s a way for me to learn to have chit chat, to chit chat with people was mind blowing and the process for doing it was insanely helpful, it turned my life around. Was there something like that for you?
Nick: Think & Grow Rich was the first one and that one was incredible. There really was a formulaic approach to success and I started exploring this just like you’re exploring it on your show. It became sort of my life passion, and that is how the blog kind of grew out of that was I was simply exploring that for the purpose of these Facebook application developers, but this was something that I was studying on an ongoing basis throughout many of the failures that I had. I think in the back of my mind this sort of concept that it is not exactly a stepwise process, but that this sort of self-mind control over what content you consume, what actions you take, what thoughts you believe and things like that, could have such a dramatic impact on your future, I think that was the motivating point for me.
Andrew: I see, so you were going to study these application developers and the people who were mastering the ecosystem and saying to yourself, “What can I learn from them?” That in itself would be useful to you.
Nick: Yes, because I was an application developer myself. I was a web developer. Even the CEO of LivingSocial at the time, they were called HungryMachine, and I used to grab coffee with him in D.C., and he was saying, “Dude, why aren’t you building applications?” and I said, “Because I have no idea how you are going to make a business out of this,” and so I just started studying them, and eventually, they had a business they made out of it, but the business they ended up making was not Facebook applications. Some of them did, and so it was more of an educational experience, and I was able to at the same time make a business out of that study.
Andrew: I see. What about this? I remember telling my brother, “These guys are all going crazy for Facebook. What happens if Facebook goes under, or what happens if someone else subsumes their audience, and so on.”
Michael said to me, “Look, when Windows was the dominant platform, I learned how to program on Windows and sell Windows-based apps. Facebook is the new platform for software and may not live as long as Windows or may not go in the same direction, but that is where the market is going. That is the platform.”
Is that what you saw in it that I missed?
Nick: I cannot say that I saw that, because honestly, I was not really building for any platforms at that time. The code that I learned was all self-taught and it was on top of open-source platforms like Linux, and I was programming PHP effectively. That is what I learned how to code, so I had actually never learned until the company I started after AllFacebook. I did not learn how to build on a concrete platform like iOS, for example, and Facebook I do not even consider to be a traditional software platform because you are not actually executing the code on top of their platform, so I think that was more of a marketing stunt that they successfully executed, which sold these application developers that this is truly a platform, although it is not. It is not really. It is a Chrome in which your application resides, and that was what they were selling.
Andrew: I see.
Nick: There is a platform aspect of it, but it is nothing compared to a traditional software development platform like Windows or iOS, but I can see maybe they think that this is a new way that platforms function, and that would be a valid argument, I guess. I was not so foresighted as to see that. All that I knew was, these guys had executed better than me in the past. Now they are launching this other thing which is a huge opportunity for application developers, and I would want to take advantage of that, which I did. I built an application on it, so this is going to be huge.
Andrew: OK. I have one more thing before I continued with the narrative. You said something that I did not spend time on, but I think it is worth spending some time on. You had failed companies before. What made you think after failing more than once that this is going to be a hit that you should continue to be an entrepreneur as opposed to going and asking guys like Tim for a job or trying to figure things out while you go back to school? Why didn’t those setbacks keep you from launching?
Nick: I mean, ultimately, I was never able to keep a job longer than six months. I have had a lot of jobs, and I had a lot of jobs then, and the main thing was I just hated working for other people, because I thought I was always right. Now, I am not always right–in terms of, I always thought there was a logical way to approach things, and oftentimes in businesses, the way that the executives run it is not necessarily a logical approach to things.
They instead just say, “Hey, this is the way the world works according to us, and this is the way we are going to approach things,” and if I disagreed with that, it was a lot of internal conflict for me, and I was really demotivated by those sorts of things, versus, when I had full control, it was so much more empowering even during those failures that I think that was always one of the most motivating factors was that I could at least take control and I could be responsible for my own logic, if it was incorrect versus have these battles, whether I was verbally having the battles or just internalizing them with my employer, oftentimes I just disagreed with their approach to things.
Andrew: All right. So, you see this market. You say you want to be a part of it. What’s the first thing that you do to launch your blog?
Nick: I mean, just do it, to be honest.
Andrew: Just install WordPress and start.
Nick: Basically, so install WordPress. I had done this for companies actually at my job as one of the many things. I was doing Droopal, WordPress and whatever. They’re really weren’t many frameworks around at that time, like Rails, Coder or any of those other things. So, I now knew how to do it, and I just decided to go and do it. So, I got a (?), installed WordPress, configured it the way I wanted. I had my own design that I came up with, and just launched it.
That took me less than 12 hours to get the site up. It’s not very complex a thing, or 24 hours, whatever. So, I got it set up and just started writing. Writing is really the key. Well, after going through this process, I have a totally different approach to what the process is for launching a successful blog. That time around, I literally just started writing.
Andrew: I’m writing a note here to come back after we hear your story to what you think is the proper way to do it, to launch a blog is. What about this? What about the design of the blog? I see a lot of people install WordPress and say, OK, that was too easy. I need a nice design. I can’t use one of these free templates. I can’t use one of the templates from WooThemes (?). I’d better go . . .What was your feeling on that?
Nick: Actually, that time around I did. So, on my own personal blog I just used what was freely available name because it’s the cheapest in terms of time and money. My time is money. I just designed it actually in that case because I wanted a brand.
When I’m launching a business, I actually do care about the brand itself and the logo and things like that, so in that instance I did create a brand sort of on the fly and I think that logo is still being used today. Actually, I don’t know if they modified it, but I think it’s the same one. It was really simple, an A and an F with a circle, like this is not a complicated thing.
Andrew: I don’t see it on the site. Oh, I do kind of see it on the site.
Nick: It’s on the Facebook page actually. That’s where it’s located.
Andrew: I do see it on there.
Nick: It’s not on the site.
Andrew: Who did you have create the logo for you and the design?
Nick: I just did it.
Andrew: Oh, you sat down, and you designed the logo.
Nick: I did this in 12 hours. I just cranked out a really basic design. I just went and looked at other sites to have a compelling design. If you look back at the original one, it’s really basic.
Andrew: What about trademark issues? Facebook is Facebook, and here you are slapping a word in front of it and then reporting on it.
Nick: So, everyone said that, and actually I’ve had blogs over it. I’ve just avoided that topic altogether throughout the whole process. I just gambled on it. I was like, if we’re going to get noise, let’s go get some noise, but no one ever made a big deal about it. Facebook didn’t care because I was covering them so obsessively that I was helping their developer ecosystem and helping promote it.
They just kind of let it slide, I think. We didn’t have an agreement. They just never said anything, but I did have other blogs that reached out to me that said they were being shut down for trademark infringement. And I just never responded to it. I just ignored the topic altogether and I’m just very thankful that Facebook never approached it. I’ve also heard, and I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know.
I’ve also heard after you’ve used a word repetitively over a period of time that finally you can make claim over that trademark so that AllFacebook is actually different than Facebook itself even though they both contain the same word. I don’t know. Facebook has a ton of money so at the end of the day do you want to spend your time stuck in litigation as a lot of blogs have concluded, or do I just want to switch the name?
Andrew: I tell you this. When I got the trademark for Mixergy, my lawyers wanted me to go after fans who created websites with the name Mixergy and I said . . . Fans, or I assumed were fans. I said, “Look, I don’t want to go after these guys. C’mon. They probably care about it. If they don’t care about me, they care about this world, and that’s what they’re trying to cover”.
My lawyer said, “Look, if you don’t, and I understand what you’re trying to do, if you pussyfoot around this issue, they’re going to end up having the right to use Mixergy in some way, or we’re going to have a big battle trying to convince someone that they don’t have that.
Andrew: So, go in, man up; have a conversation with them; “Stop this right now and own your brand,” so I guess what you are saying has some logic to it.
Andrew: OK, so I understand the design, I understand the platform that you decided to build on, and I understand why you decided to cover Facebook. What was the next step? You said the writing. Tell me what you were going to write about with Facebook?
Nick: There is a story, and The Tipping Point, I think, was the book that it was in. I am pretty confident that is the book, and they end up interviewing this guy, this newspaper guy somewhere in Ohio. Akron, let’s say, or Cincinnati. I think it was Akron. It was not a huge city. He ended up getting a circulation of 120% of the city’s population, and people said, “Well, how did you get 120%?” Well, also the commuters that came into the city every day were reading this newspaper.” Well, how do you get such a huge percentage of the market?” and he said, “Names: I invest in names.
All I care about is names, names, names. People want to read about themselves. They share with their family. They show it to other people. All I care about is names,” so that was the lesson that I took from that, and I just started interviewing people. Interviews were probably–and I would take this approach for any publication–those interviews are huge, just like Mixergy.
Andrew: Actually, I remember that story, and you are right. If I see a website mention my name or talk about me, I feel more connected to it. Especially back then, when there were not that many blogs like today, where it was not a Posterous world where you could just put together a blog in a second, so you model was to interview people?
Nick: Interview people and write about the applications. At the time, the Facebook applications said who had developed them, who were the application developers, so I would just click on their name and send them an email: “Hey, I would love to interview you for AllFacebook,” and I started having people call me all the time, because I had one competitor, and he was not executing at that point yet. He did not realize. No one had actually done what I was doing at the time, which was focusing on one company so obsessively, you know, five times plus a day and covering these applications. It was kind of carving a new sort of space, and so I was just interviewing all those people, and so I was building this network almost instantly, and that is also the power of internet right there is just to be able to click on their name, email them, and say, “Hey, let’s chat. I want to learn about what you are doing.”
Andrew: Nick, if you interview someone, you get that one person and maybe five or ten of his friends. That is fifteen people. Let’s assume one hundred people, which is high. That is not enough to build a multi-million dollar business.
Andrew: Were you also planting within the interviews questions about other people you could not get interviews with?
Nick: Well, number one, I disagree with the fact that it is not a multi-million dollar business, because there is a way to make that function, just like I think Mixergy can do the same thing. There is a way to execute on it just on initials, but the other thing I knew was Facebook is growing like this, or it is going to continue growing like this, and people are just going to be searching Google for this, so I am going to get all of the keywords related to this, and that was really the other fundamental aspect that I knew.
Search traffic is going to be ridiculous on a blog like this, and once we have developed that authority through the interviews, which is really where it is, the powerful dot-links, and those sorts of things. Those come from relationship-building. That was going to ultimately end up helping influence our page rank and get me a bunch of inbound traffic from keywords that I was targeting.
Andrew: What I was wondering, too, was–and I should know this–but, were you at the time doing things like lists of people, just excuses to write about people, because in the story in The Tipping Point essentially that is what he did. He did not just say, “High school football team wins.” He said, “High school football team wins, and here are the names of all the players and their moms,” essentially.
Nick: No, I was not going to that extent. I used that story as motivation, but I had learned the lesson and then moved on to try to integrate it with other lessons.
Nick: I think search engine optimization and audience-building really is the main focus, and I think reaching out to the influencers and the key players inside of that marketplace is the first step in audience-building, and then you can add additional content which they may or may not be interested in, but it is going to help expand your audience beyond just the people that you are interviewing
Andrew: I am writing a note here to come back about the additional content, but let’s stick with the interviews for a little bit. It takes me an hour to do this interview, and I’ve got people here who, now that there’s a team in place, someone is going to transcribe it, someone else is going to edit it. Someone else is going to post it with a little bit of a description of what’s included here and your photo, which I have here in front of me because Ari, I think it was, did the research on you. Some guests even have a pre-interview process which unfortunately we didn’t do with you.
What I mean is there is a lot that goes into putting together an interview here. How did you do it so that it wouldn’t take up all your time?
Nick: Congrats for being so committed to this. Mixergy is a great resource. I think that’s awesome. I’d never go through these one hour interviews. I started trying that actually with podcasts. The podcasting failed miserably. I have a video interview where I’m literally on the street walking up to people saying, “What do you think about Facebook?” I tried everything, so really it was more of an experimentation thing.
And so, I tried absolutely everything with AllFacebook. Ultimately, for me it was, whatever I could generate the most content out as fast as possible because each of those posts ended up generating additional traffic. At the time I had no idea why I was generating the traffic. Really, it was like a video game. We were just trying to see the thing on the scoreboard or beat your high score or whatever, and yes, I got a thousand people today, and yes I got . . .
Andrew: What format worked best for you?
Nick: For what?
Andrew: For the interviews.
Nick: E-mail. That’s the quickest, most efficient. Here’s ten questions. Respond back. Literally, copy, paste it in and their photo.
Andrew: You know what? That’s great. It doesn’t work for my mission here, in my work, but I keep telling people: find whatever easy system you can find and go with that.
Andrew: OK. So, you did that and you said that . . . Actually, here’s another question on that. What kind of interview got you the most traffic?
Nick: Interviews? Honestly, interviews didn’t get me much. Oh, you know which interview did? It was Mark Zuckerberg and Sarah Lacy at South by Southwest. I had the biggest video on Fiddler at the time, something like 250,000 views on that video.
Andrew: And you didn’t even do the interview. You just recorded them on stage.
Nick: Grabbing interviews of other people is way better and cheaper, right? You’re just sitting there with your camera and no cost, no planning. That also happened to be like a whole to-do over the most disastrous interview. I also started finding myself starting to sensationalize things sometimes for the sake of traffic.
Nick: I’ve tried everything.
Andrew: What worked for you for sensationalizing?
Nick: I mean, just making everything so dramatic, and that’s what I think TechCrunch and some of these other blogs . . . It’s like, why do I care. The headline, so and so raised $500,000. So and so raised $2 million. That’s the TechCrunch headline. That is the straightforward headline. I’ve seen another blog that does that and that’s all they do. They literally just write that headline, and they say, this company was funded by these investors. Done.
Why does TechCrunch have so much more traffic? It’s because they make this entertaining. They make people into celebrities, and then they sensationalize that market. And that’s really where all of the really massive inbound traffic comes from, and all of the buzz is through this sort of sensationalizing the story and making what’s ultimately a real dull experience sitting in front of a computer, hammering away at the keyboard into an extremely exciting world.
Andrew: So, how do you do that? I’m so curious about guys like Michael Arrington, how he does it. Jason Calacanis was phenomenal at that, but he’s scaling back. He’s a master. So, what did you do that worked for you?
Nick: For me, I think the main thing, it really ends up just me telling a story. What you do is you envision this in your head. At the end it’s sort of like . . . I was actually of this in the shower today. If I was to do interviews of private equity people doing investments, and what the really exciting story is so and so is going to do this aggressive takeover over this other company, right? And that’s like, a really exciting story, at least, for me. I studied business and those sorts of things are really exciting.
The average day is him or her, whoever is working at the private equity firm, looking at Excel spreadsheets and different financial statements. I guess at the end of the day what you picture is that really exciting life. That’s what you need to make the people into. And so, I just kind of dream it, the time where you try to escape from your boring life, that’s what the blogs were, were a way to escape. You need to some way provide that and since I was doing it all the time anyways, I just decided to live in the world as an escape and create it and that’s what you end up doing at the end of the day. It’s really some creativity and imagination.
Andrew: Even Forbes and the Wall Street Journal have done that for years. Henry Kravitz is never just Henry Kravitz, which frankly he’s a financier which is kind of boring who wants to get excited about that. He is buy-out king, Henry Kravitz who did whatever. It’s almost like George W. Bush giving everyone a nickname to get you to understand who they are.
Nick: Exactly. I think there really is an exciting story in a lot of these different people and I think you kind of extract, that’s your job as the interviewer, you do a really great job at that and going through these . . .
Andrew: You’re the multimillion dollar sensationalizer in the headline.
Nick: Exactly, but that’s what the people are sold on. For me to sit in front of my computer everyday and do something that’s really mundane well, it’s not mundane I actually find excitement in some of the scripts that I’m programming, but the pain that you suffer through when the script isn’t working for three days or whatever it is, in order to get through that is your telling yourself that story over and over again so you better be damn good at sensationalizing it in your head anyways.
As an entrepreneur I was just taking that same, sensationalizing the story, living the dream that was inside of my head on why I’m willing to stick through the pain and vocalizing it.
Andrew: That’s interesting. You’re saying the dream that got you excited about their story, people from nowhere who build these successful apps, people from nowhere that build on this platform that didn’t exist a few years ago you just have to keep getting reconnected to that and broadcast that message out in your headlines and your stories.
Andrew: I see.
Nick: Live their dream and then rebroadcast that back to them and the world because other people want to be a part of that dream.
Andrew: What about this, you said a moment ago, “When my script didn’t work, I had to go back to this.” What do you mean by script? Did you script out what your life was going to be?
Nick: Oh no. Sorry. A programming script. I’m a programmer also, right? Every start-up has some sort of pain that you suffer through whether you’re a web developer, I mean there’s many more pains beyond your script failing like running out of money is the biggest thing and that happened six times to me while I was doing Facebook. Every time I ran out was where I suddenly devised a business model. I think having those pains that you suffer through, the script failing that was only one of many pains that you experience.
Andrew: What other content did you have on the site that worked for you in the early days?
Nick: I’ve told this to everybody, lists and guides that’s what blew it through the roof. I didn’t have that early on.
Andrew: What was it?
Nick: Lists and guides.
Andrew: Lists and guides, okay.
Nick: Those were the two things and Mashables become a generation machine of the system, cranking it out. I actually didn’t get to that until I’d say six months into it or four to six months in I started reading sites like Copy Blogger aggressively, every single day. I was buying books. I bought every single book on copy writing for sales and all these other different things and I bought every other book and some of them just sucked, but you pick out those little [??]. Once I read those books, I got one article, I wrote one article that got me five million people. One article got me five million people and that — I suddenly said, “Damn, this works.”
Andrew: What was the book and what did you learn from that? We’re talking about the equivalent of four months of traffic at your height came from one article.
Nick: Yeah and got me on MSNBC, got me on FOX news, got me on CNN one article . . .
Andrew: What was the article?
Nick: Ten Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know.
Andrew: I remember that. That got you that many hits?
Nick: Millions. It got me millions. To this day I still get, like 5,000 people a day would be my guess. That article itself it just took off. The content was valuable and the market was at a need for, there was this buzz over Facebook privacy they had been changing their settings, the timing could not of been better, but that title, that copy writing title, I literally took that title out of a book . . .
Andrew: What was the book?
Nick: It’s something like A Hundred Headlines That Will Make You Rich or something. I’ll have to go look it up, but the title is the headline itself and that was written about on Copy Blogger. I literally took that book and literally went through and picked thing out. Now if you look at some of my headlines, I reuse a lot of those keywords that convert people really well and it works again and again, it’s crazy. You don’t want to dilute that. That’s the problem with a lot of people you learn the trick and then you have diminishing returns if you eat too many chocolates or give too many of the same headlines.
Andrew: So you’ve got Ten Privacy Settings That Every Twitter User Must Know, Ten Privacy Settings That Every Goggle User Must Now, why is this not working like the first one?
Nick: Yeah. I was never able to reproduce the success of that one article. I was able to modify some of these headlines and reproduce some of this stuff to where I got articles that really work well and I’ve taught a lot of other people on it. Most people don’t stick through because it really takes a long time to see your content in the early days — I guess for any business, right six to 12 months, you’re growing but the numbers, it’s very difficult to tell. Every day it’s up and down you can’t really tell, but two years out you’re suddenly seeing that oh wow, that was an upward curve, that was an upward trajectory, it’s just I couldn’t tell because for six months straight I was getting somewhere around 500 people everyday, so I’m like is this ever going to get bigger and you just believe it and you just keep doing the same thing and eventually you crack that nut.
Andrew: We got how you got your content. We got how you got the original users. What about the first revenue now that you’re really starting to build things?
Nick: When I started this I was an employee at a company called, Fleishman-Hillard. They are like a global PR firm, they’re huge. I was a web developer and their new up and coming digital group that at the time all these PR firms were realizing is important and what I did was start this blog and literally the first day I think Robert [??] linked to it and I got a 1,000 people cause Frank linked to it. I was like this is crazy, this is going to be a success.
I did start writing everyday but I was still employed. I quit eventually because I went to the people at Fleishman-Hilliard and I said, “Guy’s, you need to start building Facebook applications.” I have MTV, US Weekly, New York Times all these people were calling me, I was also using Google Ads, which no one else at the time was doing for Facebook application development, nobody was doing it so I was owning the market.
I had people calling me, “Where are you getting all these leads from?” I was, “I don’t know, it’s just my blog,” but I was also advertising at the same time trying to see how can I convert what’s effectively $50 – $250,000 leads into some sort of cash. I started off doing, Weather Channel hired me to go build an application, two application and they paid me like $30,000. I ended up quitting. I actually quit Fleishman-Hilliard because they said they wouldn’t build the Facebook apps because at the time another guy offered to double my salary effectively to do some marketing stuff. I did that for a couple of months and then I just quit and decided to do this contracting stuff because I thought it was huge. I thought I was going to build an agency to be honest. That’s where I started.
Andrew: Then you were buying ads, you were buying ads not to get more hits to the blog but to get potential customers for your [??] to build apps.
Nick: Because I thought that content, Nick O’Neil the expert on Facebook applications is going to build you an application. At that time [??] there was no expert that was as big of an expert and so that’s what I ended up doing was just selling those. I had one contract that I got into with someone where I was going to forward them leads. They were actually just paying me residual income every month to just have their ad unit on there and effectively get all these leads and give me a percentage of all the leads.
Andrew: Leads for what? What were they doing?
Nick: Facebook application development. They just wanted leads, they wanted to build an agency.
Andrew: That was big. Why weren’t people going to Guru or Rent-A-Code or all those outsourcing sites to hire developers? Why did they come to your site?
Nick: The New York Times doesn’t want to go on Rent Decoder, they want a brand. They want someone who they can know for a fact is going to deliver the hot fire to them at the end of the day you know the sexiest thing. I found that media companies were the biggest, early adopters of a lot of these applications. It is pretty much, by-and-large media companies that were paying for these things.
It was like another ad buy for them. A lot of these were experimental budgets. Often times, you’d get someone saying $10,000 for an app, $20,000 for an app. For them, it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was like some group in the company was testing out, trying to end their fourth quarter budget and spend all their money.
They were spending it on Facebook applications. Like, I was doing snowball fights for the weather channel. It was dumb. [laughter]
Andrew: Snowball fights seem to come up a lot in new technology. When the web was evolving, people came up with snowball fights, with Facebook snowball fights. I’m surprised I don’t see more snowball fight iPhone apps.
Nick: Yes. It was not good. I’m not really proud about the applications I was doing–
Andrew: Why not? I’m proud of the applications that you were building. Absolutely! You know what? You have to introduce people to this new platform, to this new way of thinking?
Nick: That’s true.
Andrew: What are you going to do? Create salesforce.com on it automatically?
Nick: Ultimately, what it is, is that they’re paying me for a joint education. The education of themselves in this new space and the education of yourself, in terms of your expertise and optimizing applications and things like that.
It’s not really a bad investment on their part. They never actually complained. They were more than happy to forward me to other clients and things like that. What I realized during that contracting period was I just loved blogging so much.
I hated dealing with these clients that were complaining about every little finite detail. All I wanted to do was blog, how can I just blog? That’s what I ended up trying to figure out a way to do.
Andrew: You what you said earlier about getting your lead from Google but if anyone would have asked you where you’re getting these customers that are paying tens of thousands of dollars, you would have said, “They’re just finding me on my website.”
That’s exactly why, I think, start-ups aren’t right fit for these kind of Mixergy interviews. It breaks my heart to tell people who are fans of the site. Who have good funding, good funding. Who want to come on here and introduce themselves to the tech community by doing an interview.
It breaks my heart to say, “No.” I know I’m going to want to do an interview with them in the future and I want to support their businesses. But really, it makes no sense for them to give away their secret sauce at this stage. It makes no sense for them to be open with me.
Andrew: It’s makes a lot more sense for them to come on, glom a bunch of attention and give me answers like you would have given me which is, “I don’t know. You know, people are just finding me because the site’s there. ”
Nick: Yes. No one was doing it. It was literally, like, I had months, at least two months of lead time. I was like, “Oh, crap. I have to make some money out of this thing somehow. I have huge names.” There were people who wanted to give me, like, $30,000 or $50,000 to go build an app.
I was like, “How am I going to do this? I was like, what happens if I fail?” Actually, that fear was a huge problem for me. It sounds ridiculous now. I’m, like, [??] in the night, I go after that. Really, what I didn’t want to do was be building an agency.
What I wanted to figure out a way to pawn off this lead onto someone who could execute but at that time there was no one else that could go even execute on it. No one was really doing it. Eventually, I meet the HungryMachine guys, they’re doing it. The guys that built LivingSocial.
That’s how they started. They were doing an agency model. There were a lot of other people that started moving into this and at that point, I could filter it. Literally, for the first two months, there was nobody. At least two months, there was nobody and there was nobody there to develop it.
It was like, I could do it but I can only scale myself so much. I have to figure out some way to scale this.
Andrew: I see. The way to get out of this business that you’re not passionate about, but still keep some of the revenue involved with it, is to just sell the leads to other agencies. That’s what you figured.
Nick: There are some people that wanted to buy me right away, actually, for that purpose. Some people that now have huge agencies today. I became good friends with Buddy Media and Mike Lazerow. We had had conversations at some point about merging.
Originally, he was like, “Do you have a business idea? Maybe I’ll just fund it.” Then he got one of the developers I had been writing about. He was like, “OK. We’re going to go build a business. He ended up coming up with this business model. They started as an agency, as well.
They have slightly pivoted to being a platform sort of play. I’ve seen a lot of very successful start-ups. Everyone has this consistent story of ‘I started as an agency.’ Then, moved on to building these other things, which were higher risk, I guess.
Andrew: Right. And I could see how you learn by building for other people. You get credibility. You bring in consistent revenue and then you use all that to build your own product order, which scales better. All right so, got some ads up on the site, got some leads coming in that you’re selling, got a little bit of your own work that you’re doing which you don’t love but brings in a lot of money. You said six times you had failure and nearly went broke. Was any of those times around this period? Because it looks like you’re doing well so far.
Nick: So, I mean doing well is like very subjective. I guess it depends on like what your lifestyle is. Right? Like you set a bar for how you’re doing. If you’re making, let’s say at that point, as a developer I was probably making 60 grand a year, or 50 grand. OK. That’s like pretty good, although it was contract hours so there was actually some varied ability, although I learned how to work that model at the agency’s, but yeah, I mean around 50 grand, and so I was trying to get that to work as well. The 30 grand though, so that was before taxes, right?
And so I had actually like, I was even leveraging that money that was going to have to go towards taxes to say, OK, let me go pay to go down to this conference. I mean those are like expensive trips. Those things add up to thousands, each one’s thousands of dollars. You go pay for a conference ticket, well no, I wasn’t paying for tickets because I had the blog. But that’s actually what helped launch my blog also was I went to a conference out in San Francisco, but I had to pay for a hotel. I was smoozing with other people that were making money, were supported by venture capital, and in order to be in that environment, you’re spending money on drinks.
You’re painting this picture of success while also trying to simultaneously like boot strap your start-up and the cost is pretty high when you’re smoozing with people that are succeeding. And so, (?) the biggest thing and flying across the country and staying in these hotels. I mean, I was here for a week and a half, or a week, and that was like, whatever, you know 300 times, 2100 plus food and, there’s three grand right there, just on that one week. And so yeah, I mean you can spend money on a lot of stuff. It was always reinvested back in the business, or what I consider to be investments back in the business, but I’d just end up back at, to be honest I was bad at invoicing.
That was like one of the biggest things. Cash flow management, I was horrible at it. I’d let the ad sit on my site for three months and then invoice them at the end and then they’d wait a month to pay me and there was all sorts of things so I’ve learned from that and now my girlfriend actually, who also helped co-founded the last business and is now trying to effectively co-finding terms for the new project I’m working on, but she now helps with a lot of those things and having someone for accounting bookkeeping, things like that, I mean that’s like, that stuff is very important.
Andrew: You know what? It’s so little it doesn’t take up a lot of time to put together but there’s some kind of barrier there. I’ve done that too, now that you’ve mentioned it I realized, whew, we’re at the end of the year now I’m recording this and there’s a couple of sponsors who I forgot to invoice and I’m kicking myself for doing it. One of the things that I love about Scott Edward Walker, the lawyer who sponsors me, is …
Nick: Is my lawyer also.
Andrew: … he is your lawyer?
Nick: Yes. I think I got him from your blog, possibly.
Andrew: Oh get out. Oh, that’s awesome. I love that. Now I’m suddenly stunned. Not stunned. I’m just so proud. But I said yes to him to just sell him an ad in every single interview and that means I can just go to Fresh Books and auto bill him the ads and he automatically pays within seconds of getting the invoice. I don’t know how he does it but it’s one less thing. You wouldn’t think that that’s an issue. Why is invoicing an issue for entrepreneurs?
Nick: Because all you want to be doing is building your business and you don’t think that invoicing is like a major part. I read these stories where it’s like some guy with his shoebox filled with receipts. That’s like the standard sort of story. Expensing things, writing all these things down. I’d wait till the end of the quarter or the year actually. I didn’t even realize I had to be paying quarterly taxes, penalties.
There were all sorts of mistakes. Having these like periodic things where I’d go through all my bank accounts statements and write down why I had spent money on each of these different things or you don’t know and now you’re searching around to find your receipt and figure out why you spent that money. I have no idea. It’s because you’re passion was building the business. And the building the business part and your mind had nothing to do with invoicing and these more mundane legal expenses, the emails you’re sending back and forth with your lawyer over some trademark stuff or whatever it is. You’re like, why the hell am I spending all this time on this, this is starting to piss me off, so let me not focus on this.
Andrew: I’m so glad that you’re being open about this. I think a lot of other entrepreneurs have to put up a front and so they don’t have any openness about this stuff. I think about Jason [??] is a good friend who I admire a lot, I saw him talk to entrepreneurs about the need to get contract with their co-founders, how they have to let the equity vest and he says, “Of course, this is what you have to do” meanwhile when he and Michael [??] had a falling out with their conference, the Tech Crunch 50 conference, they didn’t have an agreement written down let alone vesting and all that.
Nick: Nothing and you know what also blows my mind is that he didn’t have an agreement for Crunch Pad and now he’s writing this whole thing complaining about why he got screwed. Dude, you just got screwed on your own like what you’re supposed to be a master at and you’re a lawyer. This doesn’t make any sense that people don’t even follow their own advices is the craziest thing sometimes, but it doesn’t mean that they haven’t learned that lesson. We’ve all been burned on our failures and so figuring out a way to get yourself — I mean the most successful people that can even build a $1 million a year business, they end up learning the step-wise, we got to get the invoicing, we got to get this legal stuff taken care of, maybe we get an administrative person in place for handling that.
Getting to the $1 million or $2 million point and learning those little rules — if you’re going on a bigger bet, you should differently have those legal agreements in place. Those sorts of expenses are expenses that are worthwhile. I’ve learned from that from having bad contracts and things like that, the lawyers then scare you and they want to bill you, say, “We got to rewrite this agreement” and it’s also difficult to determine who to trust in all these different things.
Andrew: Right. They do have an incentive. I learned this right from the start of business the lawyers you go to to solve your problem has an incentive to freak you out and keep you up at night.
Andrew: Because he of course, wants to be the hero that charges you a lot of money to solve your problems.
Andrew: The thing is when we teach business, it has to be clean and organized and we have to teach best practices and ideals. When we live business we have to accept that there are going to be some messy parts. That’s the difference I think between the courses we do even on Mixergy where we have to teach you step-by-step what the right way to do it is and the case studies and why they’re important because when you listen to somebody tell the story like you just told you’re story you hear, hey there’s some rough edges, there are some places where you do things that aren’t the right way, where you make a lot of mistakes and things still work out. You have to balance both.
So now I’m getting a sense of the issues in the business, I’m getting a sense of the revenue. When I asked you before the interview started where was your revenue coming from you said, “Andrew, I think I have . . .” let me see, did I write this down, six revenue streams?
Andrew: We found out about ads, about leads, about consulting what are the other revenue streams that you were using?
Nick: The ads, the leads I eventually got into eBooks, which I should of done earlier on, should of done it earlier on because that is residual income for one month of work that pays you a lifetime effectively.
Andrew: Tell me about this.
Nick: I made a Facebook page as eBook and that was making — I don’t know if I’m even allowed to talk about this, like something around $50,000 a year or something. That eBook was huge and I started converting that, I learned that way too late, I got into that way too late. I did a conference, conferences was another thing.
Andrew: Hold off on the conference please, I got to dig into the eBooks. You’re basically in a book teaching people what you know how to do fairly easily, which is how you create a Facebook page.
Nick: I called it 30 Days to 3,000 Fans, which was . . .
Andrew: Brilliant headline, yes.
Nick: Here’s how you’re going to blow this up. Literally, I stand by that, I stand by it and a lot of it has to do with paying for ads I mean, where are these coming from. Writing a blog. I just had 30 days sort of like the 30 days – the blogging in 30 days or whatever it was . . .
Andrew: Pro Blogger did that. What he did was he created a blog post everyday for 30 days telling you how to — 30 days to being a blogger [??] and I forget what the headline was, it was clever than what I just came up with. Where you blogging your 30 days publicly?
Nick: Yeah. I gave all 30 days away for free also.
Andrew: Then you assembled it into a book and you said, “Here it is. Pay for it with a little bit extra content.”
Nick: I already started in the book, so I sold it on the first day and throughout the 30 days I was also selling the eBook the whole time. So I think that was a really good model that says hey do you want, like you already have it to be sold? Then also the other thing is I also focus on landing pages that I can convert eBooks through. So I would find one really sexy headline and really comprehensive post that was for link bait, and, get a bunch of inbound links.
Show up number one for Facebook pages, or whatever it is, and then have a big ad at the top and at the middle and at the end of the article that would then convert back into that. And then, also what I would say, is download this free e-book, the free version of this article or the .pdf version. Probably 10,000 people have downloaded just that free version, then I’d e-mail them and say, ‘Get the 80 page version of this for $9.95′. I was selling it for $20 at one point, but then the volume went down, so I decreased the price on it, and that actually did, effectively, spike the volume. That was a great model, and it really did make residual income.
Andrew: What other books did you come up with?
Nick: I did a privacy one. That was the only other one that I did. Because I thought, this Facebook privacy article is getting so much traffice, that I’ve got to make money off of this, so I made a guide. I sold it for $2, the Faceboook privacy book.
Andrew: I’m guessing that one didn’t do as well.
Nick: It actually did really well. That probably made $10,000 or $15,000.
Andrew: At 2 bucks a pop?
Nick: Yes, it was volume. I told you I was having 5,000 people a day, so you’re converting a small percentage. The one thing I also learned from this, which I learned from watching my competitor is when you execute on each of these things, you need to make sure that you’ve put in a sustainable business model to support it on an ongoing basis, and I never did that with a lot of different things that I went and executed on. I didn’t go and update that book on a regular basis.
My competitor was selling the Facebook marketing bible, and he was updating it on a quarterly basis, and also selling that, so you could buy the yearly subscription. And, he was consistently doing it, and he got a tenth of the traffic and ten times the revenue. So, I learned my lesson from watching him.
Andrew: And you had to keep writing your own. You didn’t have anyone else do that, did you?
A: I was writing everything. I think he was writing it also to begin with. We were both hustling, but he eventually was able to hire other people to write some of his content. He started building a sustainable business model, whereas I was just, “I’ll do it all!”.
Andrew: Are we talking about Rodney?
Nick: No. Inside Facebook, Justin Smith. He actually got acquired by the same company.
Andrew: Do you know if his acquisition was bigger than yours?
Nick: Yes, it was.
Andrew: It was.
Nick: It was acquired for $15,000,000.
Andrew: You know his was $15,000,000.
Nick: Yes, they publicly announced it.
Andrew: I didn’t know that.
Nick: It was half cash, half stock.
Andrew: Why did he do so well?
Nick: Now that the revenue numbers are public, they’re making half a million a quarter.
Andrew: Don’t say anything that you want edited out, because we can’t edit.
Nick: I’m not editing it. It’s public.
Andrew: Good. I just know we’re getting into a dangerous area, and I want to make sure to let you know on the record, that there is no off the record once we start recording.
Nick: You can go look at their financial statements.
Andrew: So, he was doing that much. Why was he doing that much? How?
Nick: Well, he launched his research business, which exploded. We were actually discussing it, and we were trying to figure out the best way to sell online. I went the route of the education course. I launched another thing, a new media school. That’s one of the other revenue models. He launched a research model at the same time of his conference, and between his conference, which my guess was making about a quarter of a million dollars, and his research which was, at an estimate, making many tens of thousands of dollars a month on their research model.
They were probably up to 20 grand a month, and so they were selling a subscription research plan at $300 a month. I don’t think they knew that it was going to succeed the way that it did, and suddenly you saw all of their content move to their locked in research side, and a smaller volume of free content. It worked insanely well. When I see their revenue numbers, which are public, I think that this model definitely converts. Huffington Post’s’ model is the alternative model, which is to get a ton of traffic. Business Insider. Tech Crunch is bordering. I’m always questioning which way they’re going to go but Business Insider and Huffington Post, they’re definitely the mass traffic. The Niche Model is also a huge revenue maker as long as it’s well executed.
Andrew: Conferences, you were starting to tell me about that, how effective, how profitable our conferences? Some people tell me they’re incredibly profitable that’s the only way to make money with the website and then I talk to guys like Ryan Carson who say, “I was running one of the top conferences in the space, there’s not much money in it.” What do you think?
Nick: He also went out with expenses. Ryan Carson has the nicest conferences, his future web apps, his first conference the one in London in 2007 was what — I was talking with Mike Arrington like you’re going to hear from me, I’m going to go build one of these blogs and you’re going to want it.
Andrew: I love that.
Nick: I actually did, but I think he was really spending high expense. That was branding and he was focused on that and he said that in his own interview that he was focused on building these relationships and being on stage with these high-end people or these great brands, really successful people that’s definitely one model, it depends on your approach, but revenue the first one I blew it out of the water actually. What I imagine to be blowing it out of the water was my most profitable part of my business at that time.
The first one did huge and on the same day that I hosted my conference Bear Stearns went under in New York and I was in New York and we were literally watching over the water at this disaster, metaphorically. The next year it did not do as well but that first year was . . .
Andrew: Ryan does spend a lot on design as I understand it. He has a beautiful look to everything he does. What did you do differently?
Nick: At that time, Facebook apps were printing money. There were specific people that were printing money and so I targeted them and got them to help me print some money. That was all that I . . .
Andrew: What do you mean? You invited them to a conference?
Nick: I asked them to sponsor. I got one sponsor to give me $30,000 for a conference. That was like a [??] for me. I had never talked someone into $30,000 in my life at that point except for my relative who had given me this line of credit, which I was drawing on to fund that, to power that conference. They ended up paying for it and most of the rest were $10,000 – $15,000 sponsorships and I was hustling. At the end of it I was calling people, “You need to go to this conference, I need to sell tickets, I need people to be there.” It was hard.
I tried doing this invite only model and it was really a gamble. The hardest thing with conferences is you sell all your tickets in the last few days and you’ll know within a week before or a week or two weeks running up how it’s going to perform, but you’re waiting till the last minute and I’m like, am I on the line for tens of thousands of dollars here, what’s going to happen?
Andrew: Why do you think the app makers who are printing money at the time, it’s true, why do you think they wanted to sponsor this event? What was in it for them?
Nick: It was ad networks that wanted to. They knew I had access to the developers.
Nick: That’s why Facebook also liked me at the time, I got to interview Mark Zuckerberg and the only one thing he wanted to know at the time was what developers were telling me. He is seriously passionate about developers. I’ve watched it during interviews when a developer gets really frustrated about the fact that they’ve taken away a communication channel and effectively cut their business by a third and I’ve watched him as though his heart had sunk for a split second because he sees the pain of the developers, at the same time it’s a totally different world for him, but I do know at that moment he did genuinely care about the developers and that’s something he always cared about. That’s why people came to me because I had access to them.
Andrew: Michael Arrington you said, wanted to buy you out?
Nick: He didn’t make an offer or anything like that, but he had approached me and said, “Why don’t you come to our, this even that we’re hosting and whatever and start” I was like I have to go back to DC and that just ended the conversation . . . [?] . . .
Andrew: What were the revenues and the expenses of the first conference?
Nick: I think total revenue was $140,000 these are all ball-park here and profit was $80,000.
Andrew: Wow, wow.
Nick: Actually, no, no, no sorry profit was $60,000 or $80,000 on top of whatever the cost was. It could’ve been upward of $60,000, so just the venue and food itself was like $40,000-45,000. We got the nicest venue and the nicest food. We were having sushi during the cocktail hour on this roof afterward. It was awesome. I actually didn’t even expect it. It was like a wedding venue, so now I know why people complain about their weddings.
It was pretty expensive just the venue, that was the biggest expense. Jesse from JESS3 loves tangible marketing goods. He loves all these different things like brochures and print guides and all these other things, so we spend another $40,000 on printing things. I will never go through that.
Andrew: Why did you give him equity? Why him? What was he doing?
Nick: I’ve always valued design. I’ve learned a lot from my deals. He was a good friend also. We were sharing these dreams. We were talking about shared dreams and we were selling these dreams, we were selling each other on those dreams at the time. Me, him and my Erik who now works at Google Ventures, we were really passionate about this Internet stuff, so we were trying to live the dream all together in our own different way.
Andrew: I see.
Nick: In addition to that, he was a great designer. He was doing great web design and I really valued it. I’ve also learned at the end of the day and through my last business I’ve worked on you want to vest your equity is a key thing and vest it just based on this ongoing commitment to your business, not on just a deliverable because I’ve gone that route as well and deliverable doesn’t work out in terms of the number of hours. What you really want to see is how much time that each person put into this. It’s also difficult to determine the value.
Andrew: You’re saying pay per hour not per deliverable?
Nick: It’s not per hour, it’s just let it vest over time and also agree to the deliverable, but also see if they go above and beyond and be able to fire them and what they’re vesting. Yeah you can offer them 25% of the business, but if they just get it 3 months into the business then you’re like oh crap and now you’re left [??] that business and they have that big chunk. It actually worked out with Jess in terms of the terms of our agreement, in terms of what we sold for and how the payout worked and everything else. I don’t regret anything from that experience to be honest.
Nick: The way that I’ve learned from that process was you do need a way where all the partners are vested in the business and can grow together and are truly invested, because early on you only see 6 months down the road and a lot of things happen beyond that 6 months, so don’t make any deals based on the first 6 months.
Andrew: OK. I’ve heard really good things about him. As soon as I got to Washington, D.C. he’s one of the first people who everyone in the tech community said you’ve got to get to know his agency, you’ve got to get to know what he’s working on.
Nick: Oh yeah. He’s a branding master. Since high school. He used to draw on desks and stuff. He can tell his own story though.
Andrew: What else? Quickly through a list of things that I have here including what’s the process to launch a blog today properly?
Nick: The main thing is, and this is what I’ve learned and it’s more around content marketing, it’s not just thinking of a blog as a business in any form of content marketing, is clearly defining your audience and defining the niche that you’re going after. If you don’t have that then you end up scatterbrained. You end up all over the place and you find yourself creating content that’s going after an audience that you want.
I even did that with AllFacebook and ended up with all Facebook users. It became sort of the target market versus Facebook application developers and maybe marketers and that’s actually what InsideFacebook ended up going after. Clearly defining that and sticking to that defined audience, that’s the key. Don’t go in and just start writing. Define that audience and know that you want to spend the next however many years focused on that one audience.
Andrew: I see. So whether you’re going to build a business that is the blog or build a blog to support the business you want to sit down and decide who you’re going after. So if you were to create an IOS app or mobile app and say we need to start blogging. You’d say, who are the customers who are going to end up using this thing? How do I cater to them? Or who are the partners we want to have for this product? Or the developers we want to track and just narrow target to them.
Nick: Honestly, that’s the case with any business, it’s not just content marketing.
Andrew: What else would you say that’s different for content marketing? What other advice would you give other people who want to do this?
Nick: Clearly define your objectives, that’s the most important thing and only focus on those objectives. I see people with this sidebar of their blog where they’re posting categories and things like that. Then I go to Google Analytics and I did that with AllFacebook and I said, well how many people are clicking on the categories? We found out none. There were 5 people here, 5 people there, they would click on the categories, but no one was clicking on them.
They weren’t clicking on the tags, they weren’t clicking on any of them so I just pulled them. You’ve got to focus on your conversion funnel and clearly define why am I writing this in the first place and let’s just focus on that. You don’t want to do it in a way that comes across as sleazy or in your face. That’s oftentimes what I think. I think there’s a delicate balance and I see a lot of people that get to the point where it’s like this is in-your-face marketing. People are often turned off by that and I think what people forget oftentimes is you’re also building a relationship with your audience and that’s the bigger question.
What relationship do I want to have with that audience? That’s another thing, giving away free content is the beginning of the commitment to that audience where you say, here I’m doing this for free because I truly care about these people and then I also have this funnel. At the end of the day the short-term numbers may not actually be the long-term indicator is the other thing to recognize, which is you value the relationship more than conversion just for the sake of conversion. Where affiliate marketing you don’t really care about the relationship at the end of the day.
You do all sorts of junk that ends up getting it. Like they say and I’ve seen some of the videos that they have, but I also know some of the people personally, you just do whatever converts and if you’re building a brand that’s not the best way to approach things.
Andrew: Fair point. What else did I have here on my list? There’s so much that I want to ask you, but time is running short. We’ve already went overtime by at least 12 minutes. Guides you said, you said earlier lists and guides is what you learned late?
Nick: Yeah. How to blank.
Andrew: That’s what a guide is, it’s just a blog post, it’s a how-to something?
Nick: Yeah. How to take your blog from zero to a billion people. I’m just giving you sensational titles, but how to change your life in 60 minutes.
Andrew: And [??] to use with that. They’re so good.
Andrew: All right. I’m going to do a quick plug for myself, speaking of funnels, get people to the right portion of the funnel, and then I’m going to ask you one last question, that I haven’t been sure if I should ask or not, but I think it’s appropriate. So here it is. Let’s go to an email that I got from someone here. I got an email from a premium member who took our PR course and he was recently written up in Fortune Magazine. I’m doing a terrible job already of reading this. Let me read it clearly. For Nick and for Gaurav. I can’t even pronounce his name right.
Andrew: All right. Here it is. So basically here’s the thing. He took the PR course. Instead of reading I’ll just say it. He took the PR course, he applied it, he got into Fortune Magazine. If you read an article on Fortune’s website titled When You Work for Yourself Can You Take Time Off? You’re going to see him mentioned, his website and URL, the whole domain mentioned in the article and you’ll see him talk about how he handed off some client obligations so that he could take off.
Bottom line is this is the guy who I know how to pronounce his business, it’s rightbuy.com. He took a course, saw results. That’s the whole idea behind Mixergy Premium. We bring in someone who does something especially well that other entrepreneurs need to learn from. In this case we brought in Stella from feefighters.com.
She’s phenomenal at getting press for FeeFighters. I invited her in. I said, show your computer, walk us step-by-step through the process that you take, an amateur getting PR, show us the process you take to get so many mentions for FeeFighters and tell us how we can do it. She said, absolutely. She walked us through it, she even gave us copies of the emails that she sends out and I’m so sorry to you, Gaurav Sharma, for mispronouncing your name.
Nick: I’m friends with him. I’m friends with Gaurav.
Andrew: You know him?
Nick: And Stella went to college with my girlfriend.
Andrew: But they don’t know each other except through this. So Stella from FeeFighters, you know her.
Andrew: And Gaurav, you know him.
Nick: Gaurav Sharma. We had dinner the other night.
Andrew: I’m proud that I’ve got you here. That you can help me fix this. That even helps make my point. These are real people who are giving testimonials. I’m not saying Alex B. from Wisconsin likes the courses. I’m giving real people’s names and I sometimes flub over them.
Nick: Gaurav is awesome.
Andrew: Gaurav is freaking awesome. He and I have been emailing forever and until this moment I didn’t realize I know his name on sight, but I’m not sure how to pronounce it. Anyway, so Gaurav, thank you for doing that. I’m sorry for mangling the name. I should probably just reread this another time, but the main message is, real people getting real freaking results. You can go look it up yourself or you can talk over here to Nick and he’ll tell you about it. Mixergy Premium, that’s what it’s all about. Go to mixergy.com and select that premium button and I hope you join us. Boy Nick, that was a terrible plug. Sometimes it works so flawlessly to people and the audience will email me and say, Andrew you’re getting this. It’s on the fly and you’re learning how to sell properly and other times I’m embarrassed on behalf of my audience that they have to listen to it.
Nick: I think your ads are great though. The leader ads that you have. You sold me. I got one of the lawyers right? Scott Walker and these other people that you have. They’re genuine people. I didn’t know you before this. I got him because if this guy knows to be marketing on Mixergy he’s got to be good at this stuff. He’s got to know this stuff. Maybe I’m wrong, but he’s done great so far.
Andrew: Good. I’m glad to hear it. I think that’s a valid way to look for a lawyer. If he understands the space enough to be on Mixergy or, as I say in some of the ads, on CORA. If he gets it he’s going to understand some of the things we go through as entrepreneurs.
Andrew: Here’s the thing. The last question is this. What was it like to earn that first million? You’ve told us all about the down sides of entrepreneurship and the dangerous parts, tell me about that first million if you would.
Nick: It’s awesome.
Andrew: Do you remember where you were?
Nick: I saw it. It was in multiple side earn outs so it actually came in segments.
Nick: Number one, to get right of all of your debt, I went and paid off my car, I paid off all my debt. This has been such a weight on my shoulder. That was like the first thing. It was incredible. I also had a dinner for all my friends, for 15 of them. My roommates that lived with me and my close friends. I went and did a cooking class at the recommendation of my roommate. It was awesome. It was incredible. I just recently started dating and still am. We started skiing and it was just like I had flexibility in life. That was the main thing. I felt always constrained. I guess I always have that fear because that’s something my family always experienced. I still have that fear of going broke, that that bet I’m going to make on that business is just going to fail miserably and I’m going to spend all my money and where am I going to be.
Andrew: First of all, I still have that fear. But that new flexibility, I call that freedom. I’ve been asking other entrepreneurs what’s the best part of having done it and it’s freedom that comes up over and over again, which is why at the beginning of the interview I addressed the audience as freedom fighters. They’re like fighting for freedom for ourselves and fighting for freedom for the universe here. Do you feel that too?
Nick: Hell yeah. I’m also fearful because I’m spending my money. All my money is doing is going down right now.
Andrew: Why? Here’s what I did and people laugh at me all the time, they act like I’m an idiot or ridiculous for doing this, but here’s what I do. I invest like a widow and orphan. I got my money. I put it away in a place where I can’t even touch it. It’s not earning a ton of money for me, but screw that. I don’t need to earn a ton of money with it, I just need to be able to go to sleep at night properly. Meanwhile though, I still don’t go to sleep at night properly. I still think somehow I’m going to screw up.
The fact that I even said that in the interview here, in my head I’m thinking someone is going to now screw me out of it. Now they figured the combination to my secret safe and I’m screwed. In the middle of the night that will have a big weight on my head and will freak me out. But other things I’m worried will happen. First of all, why are you spending your money then? You should be getting other people to fund your business.
Nick: Totally. Totally.
Andrew: Get the guy from [??].
Nick: So that is a lesson I’ve learned but I never call it a failure, actually.
Andrew: You are talking about Holler.com.
Andrew: We are going to do a whole other program on that.
Andrew: You learned from that not to use your own money?
Nick: Well, no. Yes, because I did. I used all–well, not all of my money. It was all my money that was funding it, and yes, I did learn from that, and I have spoken with other people since, but I have a counterpoint to that which is I do not want to get an investor’s money until I know that I can go make them money back. I want to be confident in my ability to execute, or that I know that I am going to be able to give it my all and that I have the working knowledge or at least the ability or the network of people–I am confident in my ability to execute on it. If I have any question of my confidence, I do not want to go take a million dollars from somebody, because that is too big of a gamble.
Andrew: Too big of a gamble with their money?
Nick: I feel like I am damaging the relationships. I mean, they may not see it that way, but I also feel like, when I go take someone’s million dollars, I want to go make them money back, because that is what I do. That is what Nick O’Neill does and says, and so they know in the future, Nick
O’Neill will always bring you your money back. That is the thing that I want them to know.
Andrew: I am not even sure that is a big fear of theirs. I am sure that they would be happy to fund you, but I do not know the space that well. I mean, I do not know what is in their heads as well as other people do.
Nick: I do not, either. I guess it is not a fear. I mean, I guess what they are just hoping for is the hit, versus my fear. You know, I am just telling you my intrinsic fear of missing things.
Andrew: I see. Right. I do not want to do that for other people’s money, either. That is why I have not taken it, but I have also used–since Bradford & Reed–I have used my own money on stuff. It is painful. I wish I had not done that.
Nick: Yes. It is not necessary.
Andrew: It is not necessary, it is dangerous, and it keeps me from sleeping well at night.
Nick: Screw it.
Andrew: Right. I want to live as financially peacefully as a widow or an orphan.
Andrew: I guess they do not really live that peacefully, but the idea is that you call it widow-and-orphan investments because you do not want to put their money at risk, and screw it.
Andrew: I do not need a big hit. I am happy.
Andrew: All right, we did a whole other interview after we finished this interview. I did my plug. I was going to ask you one question. Instead, I went off on others. I could talk to you, Nick, for hours more, but I appreciate that you did this. I appreciate the time that you gave me here, and I keep telling my audience, if you get any value out of these interviews, you should find a way to connect with my guest. Find a way to say thank you to Nick. Nick, what is a good way for people to say hi to you?
Nick: You just email me, Nick@Holler.com.
Andrew: Nick@Holler.com, and I urge you guys, if you got any value, and I know you must have, just send a quick thank-you note. It will be good for you in the future to start the conversation with Nick right now. Nick, thanks for doing this interview.
Nick: Thanks for having me.
Andrew: Well, thank you all for watching.
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