How a Canadian transplant built and self-funded Examine.com in less than two years – with Sol Orwell

I’m a little embarrassed to say I almost rejected today’s guest. At first I thought this story was a little too small. And then he told me how much revenue his business was doing and I realized oh, it’s bigger even when I spent hours researching.

Then he told me about his past, and I said, “We’ve got to get you on here. “My guest’s name is Sol Orwell. He is the co-founder of Examine.com, an online independent research guide about supplements and nutrition.

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About Sol Orwell

Sol Orwell, co-founder Examine.com an online, independent research guide about? supplements and nutrition.

Raw transcript


Mixergy’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

Andrew: Hey there freedom fighters, my name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart, and I’m little embarrassed to say I almost rejected today’s guest. We actually got on about 20 minutes ago on Skype. I talked to him and I said, “It’s feels like this story is a little too small. And then he told me how much revenue his business was doing and I realized oh, it’s bigger. He told me about how this one business is part of a much bigger collection of businesses, and I realized, “Oh, there’s so much more than I realized, even when I spent hours researching,” and then he told me about his past, and I said, “Oh, we’ve got to get you on here.”

My guest’s name is Sol Orwell. He is the co-founder of Examine.com, an online independent research guide about supplements and nutrition. That is one business that is part of a bigger collection of businesses, and frankly I think to be honest the easiest way to talk about his business is to spend time today just talking Examine.com and maybe, definitely inviting him back to talk about how this fits in with the overall collection.

I don’t want to get confusing, talking about one business and another and another, we’ll keep it focused, but this will give you a sense of how Sol works. And I should say before we officially get into the conversation that this conversation is sponsored by Scott Edward Walker of WalkerCorporateLaw.com, he is the entrepreneur’s lawyer, and I’ll tell you more about him later. First, Saul, welcome.

Sol: Thank you for having me, Andrew.

Andrew: This site that I’m looking at, just looks like a nutrition research site. I don’t see where the revenue is coming from when I initially hit the site. Where is the revenue coming from?

Sol: Well, we’ve been at it now for over three years. Originally, it was my co-founder and I, my co-founder was going to pursue his PhD in nutrition. I said, “You can do your PhD whenever you want, that’s never going to go away, we have an opportunity to do something cool. And basically be an independent and neutral organization on supplementation and nutrition.” So for the past three years we’ve been basically accumulating research. Not me, I run the business side, he does the research side. We both have our strengths.

And we’ve been looking into stuff, simple stuff as Vitamin D, Vitamin E. We have pages on marijuana and whatnot. And what we try to discern is, there is a lot of marketing claims made on supplementation, you know. In the early ’90s basically it was deregulated, originally you had to prove to the FDA that it worked, now the FDA has to prove that you are lying to be able to shut you down. And you hear about these crazy stories, you take glutamine and you get 400% more muscle mass, which is insane. Let’s say you’re a hundred pounds already, you’re adding 400%, that’s absolutely ridiculous.

So what we’ve done is through our research guide, we sell a reference guide. And this reference guide is quite popular with nutritionists, with coaches, with professors even. And it is an easy-to-use reference guide and it tells you what a supplement does and what it doesn’t do. And inversely, you can look up health goals, such as blood pressure, or anxiety, or blood sugar or whatnot. There’s about 300-plus of them. And it’ll tell you which supplements have an impact on them . . .

Andrew: By supplement guide, you mean . . . First of all, I consider the site to be a research guide, even though it’s all online. But you’re talking about a book . . .

Sol: . . . Yes, yes. . .

Andrew: . . . Your revenue comes from selling this book that you just described.

Sol: Correct, we sell an e-book. I call it a reference guide because it’s not something you read front to back. It’s about 1000 pages long. For example, if you look up Vitamin D, it’ll say . . . what kind of research has been done on the wrist fracture? What kind of research has been done on Seasonal Mood Disorder? And they do research on everything. So they’ll say, Vitamin D, what kind of research is there on blood pressure, and we’ll find out that Vitamin D has no impact on blood pressure.

Andrew: Again, I see and it’s you guys putting this thing together, and it’s an online book that keeps getting updated, and people who buy it get for a lifetime. Let me see what the price is. And by the way, I’m seeing that your video is not as clear as it was before when it was just you and me talking, so we’ll hang up in a moment and reconnect, to clean it up for the audience, but . . . 49 bucks.

Sol: Yes.

Andrew: 49 bucks. And, you know what, I’m going to ask you in a moment what the revenue is overall from that.

Sol: So, we started selling this July 23rd, and we’ve hit almost half a million in revenue from selling this book. We’ve spend a lot of time building up our reputation. We’ve spent a lot of time proving to people that we know what we’re talking about. We’ve expanded now.

Originally, it was just Curtis, my co-founder. Now we have four other researchers, we have someone who has a doctorate in pharmacy, someone who has a PhD in bio-medical, another one is an MBA/MPH, which is a Masters in Public Health Administration. He’s doing a PhD in nutrition, and we have a medical doctor who specializes in bariatrics, which is obesity and weight loss. And our advisory board is just an interesting collection of people who are very pedantic, very snarky, and who don’t hesitate to put our feet to the fire, as we say it.

We spend a lot of time proving that we know what we’re talking about. Right? Because you just can’t come out of nowhere and say, “Hey, here’s this reference guide of ours. A, we’re charging whatever, and you should trust us because of no apparent reason. ”

Andrew: I’m going to get into how you got here. But even though we’re not going to go into the detail of every single one of these businesses that makes up this collection of properties that you have, can you just give me an overview here? What’s the one thing that ties all these different properties together in your mind?

Sol: Oh, it was my personal interest. Examine.com I’ve been living in Argentina and Manhattan. In Argentina you could order ice cream for delivery online. Every day I would send a liter of ice cream my way, dulce de leche brownie and whatnot, and chocolate, and I gained quite a lot of weight. Then in Manhattan I lived right above a cafe, literally you see the cafe out of the windows of our apartment. When these fresh baked cookies, chocolate cookies come in, you know who’s got the best chocolate chip cookies in the world.

Andrew: You say you got the dulce de leche brownies delivered to your place and that was your business? A delivery business-

Sol: No. No. It was the impetus where I gained so much weight that by the time I got back I was like holy shit. Right now I’m 150. I was about 200 pounds back then.

Andrew: I’m sorry. I’m going to get into that because this ties into how you ended up with examine.com as a business. All these businesses things you’re passionate about?

Sol: That I was passionate about at one time.

Andrew: Okay.

Sol: I’m not necessarily passionate about them right now.

Andrew: Give me an example of a business that’s part of this collection of companies.

Sol: One of them was, oh, I don’t want to get into it. One of them was Dealcatch. So I used to be into deals a lot. I loved taking classes. I have dance class tonight, in fact. I’m all about learning new stuff and whatnot. I was always on daily deal sites. I was always looking up hey what were the latest daily deals, and it gets very frustrating when you’re getting 50 or 60 emails a day. So we aggregated them. We got into affiliate programs, and at its peak maybe was making us I think about $20,000 a month and required no effort.

My business model per se of how I get into something is hey I find this interesting. Let me dabble in this. If there’s potential, if I see the potential, if people respond to it, if they say, hey, this is kind of interesting, or hey, how about you do this, that’s what you really want. From my perspective, I love it when people give me feedback and say, “I love it if you did this also, if you did that also.” When I get feedback, I then take it seriously. I sit down and I say, “Should I invest money into it? Should I build it out? Is there potential? Does it look like it’s a flash in the pan?

Andrew: So you saw an opportunity with the deals business, you said, “Let’s put it together, and you found the business model and the revenue that’s going to come from the affiliate programs. So that’s the way you do it and there’s one other element as I understand it from our conversation. You ask someone else to run it usually.

Sol: Yes. I’m not a big fan of– I’m good at getting it up to speed. I’m good at getting some processes into place. But eventually I like to put someone who has a deeper understanding, who can really dedicate the time, who’s motivated by money, let’s even say. I pay them more than I pay myself. I find that that does a lot for loyalty. It does for them knowing, hey, my boss is honestly making more money than me, but also he trusts me to run it.

It’s both the ability for them to be able to do what they need to do, and the ability that they’re financially rewarded to do it. I’m already in the process of that for examine.com. But for daily deals we had a program ready he was very interested in. He thought it was interesting. Hey, why don’t we do this, we do this, we do this. Eventually the daily deal catch did not pan out because the daily deal industry exploded.

Andrew: The other one that didn’t take off.

Sol: One of the original ones I had was, we talked about this, was OGaming which does not really exist by itself any more. I found a gamer who absolutely loved all my games. He loved doing beta tests. We used to get [??] all those games. I still have, they used to sell us collectibles, special editions, free beta tests, all that jazz, he used to love it. From his perspective he got to play video games all day long. He got to try out the newest games before anyone else could get to them. He was paid well to do it.

Andrew: You created a site, but you found him to run it. He was passionate about everything from the free games that he got, to running it, to making money from it. This is the model that we’re talking about here.

Sol: Yes.

Andrew: Okay.

Sol: I want to say that it’s a lot easier now because of Reddit. Examine.com was founded in Reddit. But Reddit lets you easily identify people who truly are passionate about any — slow cooking, you can find people who love it.

Andrew: You will find someone through Reddit who’s so passionate about the topic that you built a business about. You build a relationship with them, and then-

Sol: That’s the key.

Andrew: That’s the key, your cofounder is, was, actually is still, a moderator of the Reddit Fitness section.

Sol: Yeah, he was up for moderator of the year, like two years ago, and he lost to a modeling team, which is like a dozen individuals. He had no chance. But yeah, he was basically the head moderator of Reddit Fitness which has got like 400,000 members. [??] comes by sometimes, they absolutely love him, and this is what I was…the key is the relationship, right?

So you identify, okay, you kind of, let’s say, become part of the community, and you notice that there’s ten people commonly helping others, right? And you reach out to them and say, “Hey I have a few questions, I’m interested in this…”,

And you know you kind of get a gauge for what kind of person they are, if they’re helpful, if… sometimes too much detail right? Some people get too obsessive about everything. You build up relationships, and you’re honest “This is why I’m interested in it…”, for fitness was, I had a lot of weight in me.

I’m an engineering background. I wanted to know why, you know, things work. Is low carb the way to go? Is high fat the way to go? Whatever, right? You kind of get a sense of their interest, and you can find out their background. Hey I’m just curious, and this is legitimate curiosity right? This is not like…

Andrew: genuinely curious about Curtis?

Sol: Yeah.

Andrew: As the guy who runs the Reddit community?

Sol: Exactly.

Andrew: And as a person who is also interested in fitness the way you are, and that’s how you recruited him. You know what? I want to do a real service to your story by telling it in chronological order, so people can follow it better, but…

Sol: Okay.

Andrew: …we now have an overview of the way you think, you’re seeing an opportunity that you’re passionate about, that there’s a business around, and you create a business in partnership or collaboration with someone else who knows it, and is passionate and wants to run it, that person eventually takes on more and more control.

And one of the reasons why you said, and we’ll get into in more details about how you did this as the story unfolds, but one of the reasons you say that you are equipped to do this is because you have an immigrant mindset, you’ve told me this several times. what does it mean to have an immigrant mindset for you?

Sol: So I immigrated to Canada when I was 14 basically, for high school.

Andrew: From where?

Sol: I’m ethnically Kashmiri, which is what Pakistan and India keep fighting over, but I’ve lived in Pakistan, Japan and Saudi Arabia. And when I immigrated, I was basically in Saudi Arabia, and I mention this to you, you know Saudi Arabia, it’s almost so draconian, it’s a little bit better now, or so I hear, but, you know they edit time magazine? If there’s a woman with exposed arm, they would use permanent ink to cover that arm.

Andrew: You mean someone would walk around with an arm that was exposed, and…

Sol: Like if in the magazine you’re flipping through, and let say it’s someone just walking, nothing even sexual, or she’s waving, and her arm is exposed, they would literally black…

Andrew: Ah, not a human who’s walking down the street, but a picture of someone in a magazine…

Sol: Right.

Andrew: …would get blacked out so that you wouldn’t see the exposed arm in the magazine.

Sol: Yes, now if we’re talking about down in the street, I mean, everyone had to put the abaya on, which is like the black covering, now, you didn’t have to cover your face but everything else was basically covered. So, my upbringing was let’s say a bit different than most peoples, and I have family who are in Pakistan, who are in Kashmir.

There was a massive earthquake 5-10 years ago now, that my cousins or relatives, their houses just got left to dust, there was nothing that they left, right? And so when I came here, I’m thankful that I was old enough, and maybe young enough at the same time, that I was really thankful for the opportunity I got, you know? I have cousins, my sister got married last month, and I had cousins who couldn’t come to her wedding here because their visa was denied, because the government of Canada was not sure that they would go back to Pakistan, or go back to Kashmir or whatever, right?

So my mindset has always been that I’ve seen poverty, I’ve seen how bad things can get. And so I haven’t always been driven about making the most money necessarily, or the most power, or whatever. I’ve been very driven by my interests. I’ve been driven you know, if I can live a good life. If I can live a comfortable life, I don’t need more than that, like I don’t need a nice car. I love walking, I can bicycle, whatever, right?

Andrew: I see, so because you saw so much poverty, you feel like “well I’ve come so far from that, what else do I need” right?

Sol: Pretty much, you know? I have my hobbies.

Andrew: “I’ve come from poverty, and I’ve seen poverty, I have a mobile phone that’s a smart phone, what do I need, four smart phones now?” That’s your attitude?

Sol: Yeah, I mean, I’m still blown away by technology, I mean, I have a computing degree, but yeah, I was trying to send a video of my dog running around, and I uploaded to YouTube, and YouTube is blocked in Pakistan, so I couldn’t send it to my relatives there. And then I tried sending them the video, but it was like 4 megs, and I was like “this is going to take us forever to download”, and they finally got it, and they’re like “Oh, this is a .mov”.

It was just, there are all these gaps between what we can do here versus what that can do there, so, I already feel like I’m rich you know? People say “I’m high of life” and all that, but I feel like I don’t really need to, I’m very happy with what I have, is the best way to look at it.

Andrew: Your last name “Orwell”.

Sol: Yes.

Andrew: Why? You gave yourself that last name, why did you pick Orwell?

Sol: So I legally changed my complete name. I’m very independent and I didn’t get to choose my name, so I said, dammit, I should be able to choose my own name. And, all comes, all that helped, I’m a very pragmatic individual, and I believe the immigration part all that kind of plays into it, but all that kind of helped illustrate that picture for me.

You know, things change, but they stay the same at the same time, and stuff like that. And although, in my viewpoint, he kind of, there was a very clear focus about what he wrote and what he was trying to say, it kind of reminds me about myself or how I want to live life.

Andrew: How, because he wasn’t just clear about what he said and what he wanted to say, he made a big statement about people who are ordinary people who have control ending up wanting to dominate other people, and the domination that they possibly could have goes beyond just telling people what side of the road they have to drive on, it goes to what they think, what they do at home, you know how they feel, how they express themselves in words. So how does that impact you? Are you fighting against it, or do you feel like one day I would like to tell everyone else how to speak.

Sol: I liken myself to the donkey or the ass in animal farm, where he basically removed himself. Like, there’s an appreciation that you know people who always be trying to get power, and always trying to influence you in this way, and they’ll try to influence you in that way, but if you kind of remove yourself from the equation, you don’t have to worry about that stuff that much.

Andrew: So it’s not like you’re saying I’m going to be Israelian on your asses, you’re saying, I understand the way this game is played, you want to dominate me and everyone else, I’m going to make like the donkey, and get out of this process, and you can dominate whoever you want, but I opt out. I opt out of this system that says you can tell me to cover my arm or my wife to cover my arm, I opt out of the system that tells me that I have to make a million dollars in order to be a human being on this earth. I’m happy where I am and I am going to continue with that, that’s the system, that’s what you’re saying.

Sol: Yeah, exactly. In (unknown word), there’s a lot of smart people who are full of angst and angst, and they’re like, why is this person saying this stuff when they know its bullshit, and that kind of stuff. And that’s kind of where the willing mindset to me is not hey, I should tell them what to do, or I should become the message.

I’m kind of like, you know, they’re going to do what they’re going to do, you spend so much energy worrying about others or trying to control what they do, you build out your own niche, right. We build out our own niche, we get 20,000 plus visitors a day, we didn’t worry too much about what other people were doing, we did our own thing, and that kind of mindset is what I’m trying to bring into my life.

Andrew: So you had this mindset. And as we said earlier, you created a video game site, a site for gamers. The money came in from selling gold or allowing them to buy gold from other sites, actually a combination of the two of them. You eventually sold that business, right?

Sol: Yes.

Andrew: And that’s where you made the money that allowed you to go travel to New York, Argentina, etc. You get to Argentina, you get to New York, you have some money and free time, you end up eating a lot of ice cream, enjoying a lot of cookies, and you become the guy who I saw in the photo that is, well, would somebody please in the comments, if you’re interested, ask for it, and I’ll, Ari will be able to post a photo of what Sol used to look like. It’s not sloppy, I wouldn’t even say it’s necessarily gigantic or fat, it’s just looks like you don’t care.

You’re big, and it looks like you don’t care. Alright, so that’s where you were, and that’s what made you say I am going to learn about a fitness, I’m going to learn how to improve myself, this is not the life I want, and did that lead you, actually, did that lead you to Reddit? Is that where you started to do research?

Sol: Oh, no, no. I’m (unknown) by degree, so I’m a big nerd. I’ve had a Reddit account for 7 years now, so I’m an old hand at Reddit, like, I know some of the admins, I have an open invite to go visit the HQ in New York. Reddit was happenstance, and I think part of it is, if someone looks up my history, and read it, they know I’m an authentic user. Like I contribute to Reddit slow cooking, and I contribute to Reddit tourano, and Reddit Fitness, and these are just separate audiences that have nothing to do with each other, but I’m a legitimate Reddit fan and Reddit user, and all that.

And I think it’s because I was in it that I was able to say, hey, you know there is a lot of smart, and that was probably (unknown words), to be honest, for example, they’re these smart people. And someone would say hey do I need to cycle Creatine, or hey will Creatine cause me to lose my hair, and they give these long answers, and they give citations and studies, and they give these nice views, but then its lost, right. One week later someone else will come and hey will Creatine make me lose my hair. And then it happens again and again and again. And it’s frustrating, right. There’s these smart people, and the knowledge is being lost.

And that’s when I went to Curtis, and I (unknown word) on Reddit. I said hey, you know, why don’t we build something that holds this information, you why don’t we build a repository. That’s the original words that I used, was repository and compendium. And I said, you know, you don’t have to answer every time, next time someone asks, hey will taking Creatine cause me to lose my hair, just drop them a link, and say you know, here’s the evidence, here’s why it might or might not or whatnot, and then you’re done.

Like it’ll save you time, that was kind of also the other thing I pitched. Having to answer these simple questions over and over again, you could then research and see if you find anything more interesting. And that’s a win- win for both of us.

Andrew: Okay, so before you even did anything, you went to Curtis and said, “Do you want to do this idea with me?”

Sol: Yeah, I was not doing it on my own. I said, “Curtis, I think this is a great idea. He also knew who I was. It wasn’t like, “Hey, like, there’s a random stranger who said, ‘Hey, come work with me, right?’ You know my story. You know I do this, this, and this. I can take care of the programming. I can take care of the design. I can take care of social media, whatever, all that jazz. You can focus on what you’re best at which is research. ”

I love Curtis, but I’ve been trying to convince him for the past two years to write people instead of persons. You don’t even have to worry about that. We’ll bring in a copy editor. I’ll rewrite your words, and I’ll make sure you approve them so you’re happy with them. You can focus on what you do best which is what you’re really good at and so it was a win-win. So he got to do that and I worked on everything else.

I put my own money in. I paid him. I didn’t pay him well in the beginning, I’ll be honest, but he knew that we were leading, we were working towards something bigger. He saw that I worked hard. He saw that I wasn’t making a dime out of this.

Andrew: What did you pay for Examine.com, the domain name?

Sol: It was $41,000.

Andrew: Forty-one thousand.

Sol: Yes.

Andrew: That figure came out of your pocket, no outside funding.

Sol: Yes. One hundred percent. Well [??] the domain industry too. I had a lawyer [??] in the Philippines and New Zealand. And I believe in the value of a domain, but worse case if I had to resell it immediately I could sell it for $25,000 so I would take a loss. But a $16,000 loss is much smaller than a $41,000 loss.

Andrew: Okay. You knew that there was some value in here. It made sense for you to go with it, do you bought it from Amazon.com, you partnered up with Curtis.

Sol: Yes.

Andrew: You said he could write and you’d have a copy editor to make sure that his writing would be clean, but the original content, did it come from Curtis or did it come from Reddit?

Sol: The original content was all Curt. Curtis was contributing to Reddit, but everything he wrote he wrote on his own focused toward Examine. Now part of it was also — someone on Reddit may ask a question and Curtis would say, “This is really interesting. I’m going to research on this. Give me a day. I want to know the answer myself.

Andrew: He would research it, post it on Examine.com and then link to it from Reddit so that it’s always there.

Sol: Exactly. He would put it on Reddit, then they’d ask questions, and it’s a very nice symbiotic relation. Even now we still get thousands and thousands of visitors from Reddit every day from Reddit saying because people — you know how forums are, people ask the same questions over and over and over again. We made their life easier and it’s been a win-win again.

Andrew: Okay, so you get in there and you actually have said that – you told April in the pre-interview that you are a shameless self-promoter. You’re visible on Reddit, but you’re also seen as shameless self-promoters.

Sol. Yeah, well the thing is we are part of the community so as part of the community there have become inside jokes, right? So, for example, they don’t say protein, they say protons. Right? They don’t say [??] they say [??] because someone made a mistake. So one, when we once link to something, someone accused us of being a shill when everyone else came in and said — some newbie to that section of that post came in and said, “Hey, you can see the answer there.” Hey, I’m not asking the Reddit community. I’m not asking you. Shameless self-promoters like you should stay away.

But I was like, “What is this guy talking about? We are part of the community far more than you are.” So that’s kind of, it was an inside joke.

We were called shillers, but I post a link to Examine.com maybe once a month. Curtis posts maybe once every other week, and that’s more for Reddit’s supplement. You know, Reddit has sub writers and so we run the supplement section. We created it. And so he’ll post maybe once a week, but it’s the other moderators, it’s the other fans that post. I don’t know most of the people that link to Examine. Most people don’t know that I’m part of Examine.com.

My tagline at Reddit Fitness is actually the sexiest body in 2012 and supplement sultan. I could actually send you a discussion that just happened yesterday. It was like, “Who are you and why are you the sexiest body and why are you a sultan?” So there’s these people, it’s organically grown and people promote us in Reddit, so that’s how we kind of walked into that.

Andrew: Is your family from back home, are they embarrassed a little bit that you call yourself the sexiest body, or how do they feel about that?

Sol: [laughs] It wasn’t even me, it was I posted a picture of my fat loss. Someone said, “Oh, wow, you’re so good looking” and one of the moderators — I met most of the moderators in real life. We met up in real life, Reddit Fitness meet-ups and all that. So they were like, “Hey, sexiest body” and it stuck and it hasn’t gone away. And I can’t remove it so you just go like [??} whatever. You just got roll with the punches kind of thing. It's a terrible thing to be called that, but I try to deal with it the best I can.

Andrew: I see a post here that I feel is similar to some of the others that I see on Reddit. Reddit Health. It's just a link to your Truth about Vitamin D post on examine.com with someone saying, pro-supplement article on Reddit. OP prepare for download into hell.

Sol: Yes.

Andrew: It didn't get downloaded into hell.

Sol: Nope.

Andrew: And then you end up with questions about, is this real. Is it not? This is the kind of post that seems to go up a lot. Where you do an article about some aspect of health, it gets posted here and then people come over to your site.

Sol: Yeah. If you look at Silverhydra's posting history, you'll see that he posts constantly. He answers questions constantly. I am more of a contributor. That's kind of how I got into it. I submit slow cooking recipes and whatever, like I said. I'm in a lot of places.

But we'll write something, someone will see it on our Facebook page or on our Twitter, whatever. They'll post it to Reddit. As you said, OP, prepare for download hell doesn't know that examine.com is respected in fitness or Reddit fitness. So they say, hey, it must be pro-supplements or a shill or something.

And then other people come in and vote it up or they correct them, and that's kind of where, you know, or the time where's someone's like, who are you. And they found out that I was part of examine.com. Reddit was our birthplace.

That's what I tell everything. But in some ways, we've outgrown it. And in many ways Reddit's outgrown us at the same time. Like, we've become bigger than Reddit, than just our page.

Andrew: What year was it that you launched?

Sol: We launched three years ago, I think it was March 11. But we'll just say March 15, 2011. Some nice round. It's confusing because I was actually on vacation in Colombia when I was talking to Curtis about making this happen. And I was in Panama and my buddy on examine.com who I bought it from. So it was just a very amorphous time. But it was the middle of March, 2011.

Andrew: I asked you before the interview, how did it start? And you said originally just started it by writing notes. What kind of notes?

Sol: Yeah. If you go to archive.org and you see the original site, it was, oh, so from two different perspectives. So I'm a computer engineer and I'm very analytical oriented. So I started writing notes about how does this work. And I would put notes on my personal blog and people would respond to it. They'd say, hey, this is very interesting.

You know, Tim Ferriss did his four hour body and I wrote notes, kind of like a close notes for his book about interesting things and things worth investigating. I wrote it for myself. I do this for myself for a lot of . .

Andrew: What do you mean? You take notes on the book and then you publish it on your site?

Sol: So in this case, I took notes on the book and I published it on the website. In another case, for example, I was looking into the hormones leptin and ghrelin and what not, and how they interact and what effects they have on obesity and all that.

So I did my research. I posted my citations. I put my notes up. I showed it to Kurtis, I think and he showed it to someone else in IRC. I'm very imbedded. I'm part of the community. Showed it on IRC, someone submitted on Reddit, people critiqued this, I have responded. I was, like, okay, you know, I have to update this and update this.

And that was kind of also the impetus that I was talking about. We had this awesome conversation about what does ghrelin do. What does leptin do? And then a week later, no one else knows that it ever existed. Right? So the notes were our foundation to start up examine.com.

Andrew: And I am looking now at an early version of the site, August 15th, 2011. It says, welcome to examine.com examining supplements. And you liken the site to Wikipedia.

Sol: Yes.

Andrew: Except, unlike Wikipedia, we have editors that oversee all the content and you invite people to contribute.

Sol: Yes.

Andrew: How did that contribution part work out for you in the beginning?

Sol: It still is not something that's a big part, because the reality is that the topics and the depth we get into is too advanced for most people. Our scientific research section, for example, if you go to Creatine or fish oil, we have 700 plus citations on both.

And it's an overwhelming amount of citations. And, of course, it's per section. Right. So there's, like, cardiovascular disease and what is Creatine acts. There's, like, five citations there. It just adds up. And for most people it's overwhelming.

So we get a lot of grammatical corrections or, hey, you know, your beta is a b and it should be a beta symbol instead. We get a lot of pedantic corrections. When it comes to actual research paper, we're not selfish enough and we know enough people that they just aren't interested to contact us.

They don't even update. They say, hey, you know, I was reading this study. This might be of interest to you or, hey, you might want to add this for your section on, let's say, Creatine and balding again. Or when should I take Creatine? Before or after a workout. Stuff like that.

Even though we were based originally on Wikipedia and we let people edit it without, of course, with our approval, the reason we've kept it around is that there's a historical reference on every single update we've ever done. So you can go into our history and see every single update we've done for every sovereign page and you can see how it's evolved over time.

And part of this is, you know, there's a lot of hucksters, a lot of charlatans in the supplement industry. And so this is part of our defense, where we can say, hey, look at our history. You can see how we've evolved. You can see who's contributed. You can see who's edited. You can look at archive.org and see how it's edited and how it's changed over time. And you can see that we really don't have an agenda.

Andrew: But everything that goes on the site has to be approved.

Sol: Yes. So, our editors--

Andrew: Do you think that took you a while to accept?

Sol: What do you mean by "took [me] a while to accept?”

Andrew: Did you try allowing people to edit in real-time the way that–

Sol: Un-uh. No, no, no. (laughter)

Andrew: You never did?

Sol: No, because from day one, some of the companies were like ‘hey we would like to advertise with you guys’ or ‘hey, maybe you should say [??].’ So from day one, we never allowed unverified claims to go up on our website.

Andrew: Okay.

Sol: I mean, Wikipedia was originally supposed to be a [??]-party base and was supposed to be approved, right? It just didn’t pan out. For us, there’s just too much spam. There’s too much money. I just put a link up on Facebook today where a [??] study said it’s about a 70-billion dollar industry a year, right? And we’re cutting into their profits in some way, so they’d love to be able to get some of that traffic and make money off of it.

Andrew: Okay. One of the things that I see… I actually can’t get to the history here. I’ll show you what I’m seeing when I try to go to the history of Creatine. The other thing that I notice when I go there is–yeah I do notice the history and I do notice that I can contribute to it– I also notice that you ask me for my email address.

Sol: Yes.

Andrew: With a pop-up.

Sol: Yes. So we are… Email is our best way of staying connected with the user. You know, I don’t think I have to tell your audience that Facebook and Twitter are nice, but every single metric we’ve ever measured–we’ve measured sales and all that– they just kept blowing away. And we are a bit of a dry site. We are not [??], we don’t use hooks. We don’t say “hey, we [??] or you’ll lose your liver.” We don’t have that. And so we appeal to, let’s say, ‘highbrow.’ And part of that is, you know, to be able to grow.

And a big function of our growth and of our sales is we build that trust over time with their email address. We send an email once a month. Most guys send, you know, two times a week or whatever. We send once a month. We sum up our research, we build up authority so when we eventually sold our guide or when we do a sale and we say “hey, you know, we’re selling this guide,” and you know we are straight-shooters about it, people respond.

Andrew: So how many people do you have in the newsletter?

Sol: Right now we’re at I think, like, 30,000.

Andrew: 30,000?

Sol: Yeah.

Andrew: And when you started selling, how many did you have?

Sol: Oh, like zero. (laughter)

Andrew: No. When you started selling the guide, you had zero? You had some money you could go to.

Sol: We had maybe, like, a couple thousand.

Andrew: That’s it?

Sol: Yes. When we started to sell.

Andrew: So a year ago you had a couple thousand, that’s it?

Sol: Yeah. So, that’s where the distinct line comes, where I treat it as a professional business versus something that’s making me money. I have three tiers internally. So, I have the “I’m doing this for myself, it’s a hobby, it’s cool.” There’s the second tier which is like “You know, we’re making some money. I’m going to put effort into it. I’m going to see where it takes me.” And third is “Okay now it’s time to treat it seriously.

Now it’s time to have metrics. Now it’s time to track what we’re doing.” And part of that seriousness is we are re-doing the HR website from scratch. Internally, this is version 5.5. There are a lot of little things that are broken or aren’t as good as they are. So coming back to it, when we started selling our guide in July last year, which is not that long ago right? We were at maybe 12,000 visitors a day, which is a decent chunk. But because we weren’t selling supplements there wasn’t a lot of money, per se, in it.

So we were like “hey, we’re going to sell this reference guide.” And I remember telling my friends “if we have a thousand sales, I’ll be beyond excited. I’m going to take you guys all out to dinner.” And, you know, we cracked a thousand the first 24 hours. And I had to take them all out to dinner.

Andrew: Just for emailing your list of two-thousand people?

Sol: Well it wasn’t just our email list. But our email list, from the… I’ll be able to dig up the numbers, but I think from our conversions our opening rates are about 60%, which are very high.

Andrew: But still, if you have a couple of thousand you’re not going to get- -

Sol: Yeah, so even right now, our opening rate is still about 60%. It’s always above 50%. Our click-through rate is about 35%.

Andrew: Okay.

Sol: So, our click-through rate is very high. And if you ever looked at Twitter when we’re selling, when have a sale or whatever, it’s just… Okay, so when we go back into it, email is important. But you also have to give people avenues of promoting your stuff for you. If they believe in it, they will promote it, right?

Andrew: Right.

Sol: So we built a nice little referral system and a Facebook and a Twitter and whatever. So our original launch was on Facebook, and our email, and our Twitter. But our Twitter didn’t generate much sales. And that combined for roughly a thousand. So our email list directly generated I think about 300 sales.

Andrew: Okay.

Sol: Just because, these were people… So, at that time, it was very hard to get on our email list. Right? And they had to dig through our website. And you mentioned this to me, that is wasn’t very easy to find the email list itself without the popup, originally. They had to dig into it. So they were very, very much… they had a very high affinity for what we were doing. So when we pitched it, they bought it. And then we said, “Hey! Spread the word. We need your help.”

Andrew: After they bought it?

Sol: Yes, after they bought it.

Andrew: So after they bought it, they were encouraged to spread the word, and they were incentivized. What’s the incentive?

Sol: So, at that time, we actually did no incentive. Now we’ve become more sophisticated. You know, we’ll give you a free guide, we’ll give you 10% off, or whatever. But at that time…

Andrew: You mean if I get my friend to buy, then I get 10% off?

Sol: Yes.

Andrew: After I pay, you give me 10% back?

Sol: Yeah, like we’ll do a refund 10%. And eventually it’s like if you get 10 people to buy basically you get it for free. Right?

Andrew: Got it, okay.

Sol: But at that time, when we originally launched, we had so much good will built up. Which I think sometimes undersold in business. When they’re all like, “You got to market, you got to do this.” Which is very important, but we, at the time, to build up our good will–and we had so much good will built up–that all of these people–You know, if you look at our testimonials these are professionals.

They’re not just people who are just throwing out their testimonials for money–and of course we didn’t pay anybody. But, there was so much good will that they bought it. And then we said, “Hey! Maybe you should share it on Facebook. Maybe you should share it on Twitter. I’m sure your friends would love to know about an intelligent resource like Examine.com.

Andrew: Gotcha.

Sol: So, language also becomes important, right? We appeal to the fact that we’re not Buzzfeed. You know? We don’t have hooks. We are high-brow. We are very resource-oriented. We are very evidence-oriented. We’re like, “You know, wouldn’t you like to tell your friend about an evidence-based approach that they’d be interested in?” And then they’d spread the word. And so, on Twitter and Facebook, it literally exploded. It exploded! It was an awesome sensation.

Like, I have a lot of people in fitness on my Facebook. And I think at the peak…You know how Facebook collates shares? I think at the peak we had 87 friends that have shared a link. Which doesn’t happen very often, right? So, just by building up this goodwill, building up something that was very legitimate and useful, kind of…my viewpoint was the world…

Andrew: Look at the shopping cart though! It’s so basic! You’re using just a PayPal button that anyone could create, where you go in and you say, “Charge this price. Give me the image.” You even got the image from PayPal. And then just a Stripe button.

Sol: Yes.

Andrew: With the overlay of their stuff. Collecting credit card information for people.

Sol: So we actually did–

Andrew: So when you say that people get 10% back, what software do you use to offer that?

Sol: Oh, we just use the API and use 10% refund. You know, until you hit 10 refunds, and then–

Andrew: So, then, a human being has to go in and give you a refund?

Sol: No, you can use Stripe or PayPal’s API to do a 10% refund. They let you do–

Andrew: Then how do you tie it back to referral?

Sol: So, we give them a referral link, right? So your link might be “examine.com/referafriend/andrew”. Someone buys it, we know they bought it through you.

Andrew: How do you create that? That “/andrew”?

Sol: Sorry?

Andrew: How do you create that? What software do you use?

Sol: It’s all automated. So, we’re–my success for business, especially Examine.com, for all of that, is I’m very obsessed with processes and systems.

Andrew: So what is the process and system that uses? If I wanted to use that for Mixergy, or someone in my audience wants to do the same thing, how do they do it? What software do they go and get that?

Sol: Oh, we just wrote it ourselves.

Andrew: That part you wrote yourselves. So you didn’t write the shopping cart yourself, you didn’t write PayPal yourself, you’re not using Authorize.net. The one thing you wrote yourself is the referral?

Sol: Yes. We–

Andrew: Got it, okay.

Sol: The thing is, Stripe is brilliant. Right? Stripe, you click on a link, there’s a little mobile popup with like 3 fields: email–

Andrew: Super simple.

Sol: They don’t even ask you for your name. And we tested it, right? We tested it without the PayPal logo. We tested building an embedded form. We tested asking for a name. We didn’t even originally–originally when we used Stripe, Stripe did not ask for an email, but they asked for a name.

Andrew: Yeah, so, I believe that the form doesn’t even ask for a name?

Sol: Yeah. There’s no need for it, right? Like, what do we care? You’re buying our product–

Andrew: Well, they keep it that simple. I do love Stripe.

Sol: Yes! Yes, and we test–so, we did test this out, and, not having a price–I make it sound maybe a little more haphazard than it was. But we did test out: should we have price on the buy button or not? And we found out that not having it was better. Should we use the PayPal logo, or should we say “Buy it with PayPal”. Or should we use the blue button that looks like it’s part of the design?

Andrew: What do you use to make these tests? What software?

Sol: Okay, so we use a combination of Optimizely, and Mixpanel. And those two are our basis for testing. And then for serving, we do Qualaroo. And we also do–we use a Google survey to survey our audience. And, a big part of that–we’re getting into the business details–a big part of that is that you have to use your audience’s language. We found out that was the big one.

So even though we were high brow [???], when we surveyed them and said, you know, “Why do you like Examine.com? What do you like about us?” And, you know, they used the word “neutral” a lot. They used the word “independent” a lot. So, on our sales page, on our website, we use the word “independent” and “neutral” because that’s how we connect with our audience. Because that’s what they respond to. Right? So, I apologize. I did make it sound like it was a little more haphazard than it was. But there was some thought. There was–

Andrew: I do see that actually, I see that there’s a Qualaroo, not popup, but a Qualaroo survey on the bottom right of the screen.

Sol: Scroller side or whatever, I don’t even know.

Andrew: And that’s how you know what my language is. That’s how you know the kind of questions that I’m going to have so that you change your content based on the way that I express myself.

Sol: Absolutely. And we survey our buyers, too. After they buy, we go, what did you like about the process? Or what could we have done better? What did you wish you knew about it? And then a month later we say, hey, you seem to still be using it. What do you like about it? What could we do better?

We’re very obsessed about accumulating data. And we’re very obsessive about not immediately pigeonholing the data. We don’t go, here’s an A-B-C-D. We always do very open form questions. We want to hear from them. We want them to use their language. I think that’s the most important part that people forget. You see these buzzwords about synergy, and this and this. And you’re like, what the hell are they talking about? I can’t empathize with this. There was a lot of effort done in outreach to figure out what-

Andrew: How do you keep this interesting? Actually, let me hold off on that question for a moment. I have to do my spot for my sponsor. I get paid to have conversations like this. That’s a phenomenal feeling.

Sol: Brilliance.

Andrew: And the person who pays me is Scott Edward Walker. He is my sponsor, and this is his sponsorship message. Officially, we start right here, right now. All I’m going to say is, if you’re an entrepreneur, you have different needs from other business owners.

You have needs like raising money; dealing with co-founders who could potentially leave down the road; dealing with a potential acquisition in the future; dealing with acquiring someone else in the future. All those kinds of things the average mom and pop store doesn’t have to deal with, or the average Fortune 5000 company doesn’t have to deal with in the same way that you and I as entrepreneurs do.

If you’re going to deal with it, you want to talk to a lawyer who has dealt with it many times before, so that he doesn’t learn on you. He’s prepared for the issues that are going to face you. If that’s the lawyer you’re looking for, I recommend you talk with Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law.

Yes, I live in San Francisco. I live in the heart of the tech industry where there are huge law firms that are designed to help start-ups. The problem with those guys is they end up asking for way too much money, or a piece of your business in return for just even helping you get started. You don’t want to do that. You don’t want to blow your money early on, on one of these big lawyers who frankly don’t care about how much they’re charging you. They assume you’re going to have an investor who you go get the money from, give it to us, and who cares? None of us really has to pay for it.

If that’s the kind of company you want to run, Scott’s probably not the guy for you. But if you’re someone who really thinks about his business, and really cares about his income statement, and really cares about making a decision to find a lawyer who has the experience and also has the concern for financial responsibility the way you and I do, then I recommend you talk to Scott Edward Walker. His site is Walker corporate law dot com.

The question I was going to ask you now just disappeared from my head, and someone who’s listening probably remembers it and they’re upset. You happen to remember what it is?

Sol: I was too busy listening to your-

Andrew: The spot, right?

Sol: Yeah, I’m sorry. I was actually empathizing a lot with it, so-

Andrew: With what? Why? Did you have a legal issue?

Sol: Like our demands are different. Exit strategy, all that kind of stuff is very important to people that I know have businesses, like mom and pop shops that you’re talking about. They can’t really empathize with it. I was just kind of listening and agreeing and all that.

Andrew: Well, good. The part I was going to ask you about is this. I was interviewing entrepreneurs in the fitness base. They have personalities. They have before and after pictures all over their sites. They have hero shots of people who are really ripped. You don’t have any of that. How much of an issue is that for you?

Sol: My approach is always very long-term. The nice thing about having the base that I do is that I don’t have to worry about making money tomorrow, or today, or in the next month, or even in the year.

They build their brand, but what happens is then they are tied to their brand. You talk to John Romaniello. He is his brand. It’s hard for him to cede control because you can’t cede your fate, or remove yourself from that equation. And I’ve always wanted to keep a focus for examine dot com on the research.

There’s a lot in the field of authority in everything, but especially in fitness and health. Oh, I have a PhD, or I’m an MD, therefore I must know better than you; therefore, I must be smarter than you. When you go to our about page, you can see who we are. We don’t have to hide who we are. We want examine dot com to be much bigger than me or Ben Curtis or anyone else who’s part of the team. It’s a team effort.

Andrew: You give up the early flash that brings people in and makes them passionate users of the site. In return for that, you get a business that stands on its own and doesn’t depend on a flashy owner who’s always there.

Sol: Yeah. I went on vacation to South America for a month in December. There was no problem. Everything hummed along. Curtis goes on vacation, the other editors come in and they edit and they contribute. Nobody will also say, “Hey, where’s Sol?” or “Hey, where’ Curtis? We haven’t heard from them,” or “Why aren’t they posting?”

Andrew: That’s one of the problems that I have with Mixergy, that if I needed to take off for too long, it would be an issue.

Sol: [laughs] You [??] Mixergy, right?

Andrew: I’m actually planning on taking paternity leave, when my baby comes. I’m going to be a dad soon. And so for me to be able to do that, yes, I have a team in place, that helps out. And they’re going to run the show, here. And so customer service will be answered. People will be supported, and so much else will go on. But the interviews, I have to stack them, before we leave. We’re recording, before I go away.

Sol: Ah.

Andrew: So that I have a bank of them. But that part, I don’t think I can get rid of, at least, not for now. And I don’t want to. The part where you automate, that allows you to build a business, that runs without you. Even though you’re running a small operation, even though you’re an entrepreneur, in the growth phase of your business, that’s pretty impressive.

And I know you’re especially good at that. How do you automate and systemize what you’re doing, so that you can take that kind of break? So the business grows without you?

Sol: Well, part of it is that you have to be brutal with yourself. You have to be honest, that you’re not as amazing as you think you are. And a lot of people have problems seeding control. They think, “Oh, someone can’t edit this.” Or “Oh, someone can do this,” or “Someone can’t do that.” At the end of the day, I feel like I’m pretty smart, but I feel like everyone else who I work with, is pretty damn smart too.

Andrew: Mm-hmm.

Sol: Maybe smarter than I. And it would be stupid, literally stupid of me, not to give these people, who are better than me at something, the control and the authority to do better than I could do. That’s that human element, right? It makes no sense . . . so we’re getting some videos done right now. We have a video editor, she’s doing it. I’m not armchair directing her. I’m not telling, “Hey, maybe you should do that. Maybe you should do that.”

I trust her judgment. I’ve seen her work before. And I trust her to do things well. So I think a big part of entrepreneurship is to realize that you can trust other people. You can be rewarded for trusting other people. You don’t have to necessarily look over their shoulder.

Andrew: Okay.

Sol: And that’s a big part of it, is figuring out, “What parts of me, of my daily, can I get rid of?” So customer service tends to be an easy one. So if someone contacts us, through our Contact form, it goes to a very, very simple Help Desk I built. And we’ve got our eight most common templated answers. And then we’ve got four to Sol, four to Curtis, if it needs to be dealt with. So there’s no reason for me to deal with customer service, because 90 percent of it can be given to someone else.

Andrew: Okay.

Sol: When you get stuff, like . . . this may segue into the thing I’m building right now, is, we wanted to reach out to editors. We wanted to reach out to people who like what we’re doing, and whatnot. So about two years ago, we’ve got Twitter followers. Facebook makes it very difficult, so we’ll leave that for a moment, right now. We had all these Twitter followers, and we had a few e-mails and all that.

And they had to dig to get into it. And I said, “Why can’t I figure out, who, on my e-mail list, is already influential? Who is already important, and why don’t I contact them?”

So the basic currency we would’ve done normally, is you start [??] editors. You start pitching them ideas, out of the blue. They have no idea who the hell you are. Whatever. So I build software, to read through our email list, to download all my Twitter followers. To run them against half a dozen APIs. To fill out their Cloud Score, their bios, all that kind of stuff.

And within moments, I knew that the editor of menshealth.co.uk was a follower. Within moments, I knew that the . . . I forget his exact title, but he’s an editor of Men’s Health. I knew that a freelance writer, who’s written Muscle & Fitness, and Men’s Fitness, was following us.

Andrew: So you see that these guys are following you. That they’re on your mailing list, and that they’re the kind of influencers, and writers, and editors that you’d want to reach, to promote your work to?

Sol: Right. It’s a bit of a segue, but my point was that you automate these tasks that, you might be normally checking your e-mail lists, by hand. You might be saying, “Hey, Andrew just subscribed. Hey, this guy sounds familiar, let me dig into it.” Instead, I said, “Why don’t I build a tool, to do the stuff for me?”

Andrew: I see.

Sol: And then it would notify me.

Andrew: Right. And so what you’re trying to do is think of . . . tell me if this is your process.

Sol: Right.

Andrew: Because I don’t want to impose my understanding of it . . .

Sol: Okay.

Andrew: . . . on you. But I think what you’re saying is, you see what you want to do or what you do already, on a regular basis. And instead of continuing to do it or even starting to do it, you just say, “How do I systemize it? How do I automate it? How do I create code to do it for me?”

Sol: Absolutely. “How can I make it as optimized as possible?” And the optimized possibility is not my eyeballs reading through it. The optimized way to do it, is to have some kind of system of process in place. So any task, that I find myself doing regularly, I try to automate or I try to find . . .

Andrew: Give me another one, that’s more mundane, than looking through your mailing list, and trying to find out who the influencers are. That’s a pretty big project. Is there something smaller, more mundane, that you would do?

Sol: Oh, so finding potential affiliates for our . . . what we do . . . for our reference guide. So instead of going, “Hey I’m going to find top nutritionists and all that.” You can have someone else go through who the top nutritionists are, read their stuff too, because there are some crazy quacks and you don’t want to be associating with them and you can point out buzzwords to them.

If they think that carbs are the devil, we’ll leave them aside and let’s not worry about them. So anything that’s research oriented. Anything that requires you to… We were talking about the emails. Why am I doing customer service? Even when I was doing it, I wasn’t writing out the responses. I had a literally one click button thing that I’d click. The email would disappear and it was done with and I never had to look at it again.

Andrew: A [??] that would respond with some canned response.

Sol: Exactly. Right. So I’ve used Helpdesk and you have to choose a template or whatever. I just want something super simple. On your screen you see the e-mail, you see the list of templates, you click it, it disappears, you never have to deal with it again. Done. Right. So stuff like this where…

Andrew: I wish someone would create that sort of a simple Helpdesk system.

Sol: Maybe there’s an opportunity. That’s kind of how I work. I find…

Andrew: Because most of them will bury all the canned responses and it’s too hard to find. I just want to be able to see it and for the most part just show me one e-mail at a time, I handle it one at a time and that’s it. Just…

Sol: And done.

Andrew: I know I could have 50 billion different responses, but I really probably use only one of seven responses…

Sol: Exactly.

Andrew: And then I might respond with a personalized message or I just want to forward it to someone else. I see what you’re talking about.

Sol: Yeah. So, even when we’re talking about the most common ones, so if we have 15 different templates, the most common are bigger than the others and they’re right at the top. So they’re bigger and there’s four of them and they’re right at the top and I deal with them instantly.

Right, so it’s an inexact science. It’s almost an art, but I’ve found myself thinking… I’m very retrospective, I’m very analytical, so I think at the end of the day, “What did I do that was cumbersome? What did I do that I could do better? What did I do that I could hire someone else to do?” I also like my life. I like not doing much. I like taking classes like I was mentioning and so why am I doing these mundane tasks when I can have someone else do it and I can have them do it better than I can. So it all comes together.

Andrew: What’s one thing you see other people do, other entrepreneurs do, that you want to just shake them and say you can automate this, you can outsource this?

Sol: I’ve got to be honest, it’s the thing I was just mentioning. It will sound very self-emotional, but it’ll astound me that people don’t realize that smart people in the industry follow other smart people too and you may be one of those smart people. They may think you’re smart. You know, you think, “I wish I had a contact with this person.” If they’re on your e- mail list you should look at who is on your email list.

Andrew: I see. Don’t go out and say who’s a stranger out there who could potentially be a good author about me. Look at my own email list and say, “Who here is a writer who has a lot of influence and I can contact them because they have been in my world for so long.”

Sol: Right. It’s so much easier to get an introduction to somebody and network with them, then to do a cold email. So your email list is essentially them saying, “I like what this person is saying. I want to know what they are up to.” And if they want to know what they’re up… if they want to know what you’re up to and you send them an email saying, “Hey, I saw you on my email list I just want to reach out. I’m a big fan. I thought this was interesting or whatever.”

They won’t be like, “Who is this crazy person? Let me delete this email.” They’re going to think, “This person is reaching out. I can now build a relationship with them.”

Andrew: See, you’re writing software for yourself to do this, but you’re also making it available to other people.

Sol: Yeah. So… We’re talking about business. Exam.com started because I was fat. I was getting fit. I was writing notes. I wanted to collate, boom it expanded. Now you know we’re big. So the same thing with this. Two years ago I was like, “I want to know who’s following us on Twitter.”

So I was more focused on Twitter at that time. And I want to download who they are and I want to know who’s following us so I can network with them. That’s just a smart thing to do.

And so it’s evolved over time and we were involved with some fitness launches, fitness product launches. These guys hammer their email list. There’s the golden like… a dollar per email per month and all that jazz. That’s very nice, but they were completely ignoring the networking opportunities, the exposure that could be gained from their own email list.

So we built a tool that our client, someone’s got 70,000 emails, another one… I think the biggest we did was like 180,000 emails… yah, 180, it was almost 200. And we ran their e-mails through our system and we said, “Here is like 200 people that you may consider contacting. You may not want to contact them, but here’s their Twitter, here’s their Facebook… it’s… a little detour.

It’s a kind of scary how much information is out there about us, when you actually look into it, and how everything’s connected. It’s kind of freaky, but you know here’s their picture from Gravatar or their picture from Facebook, and here’s their bio from LinkedIn, Gravatar, and Twitter. Now look through this list and reach out to them. You can even get interest about what kind of things they like and who influences them and really, really get into it.

Andrew: Can I easily see who are the writers in my list?

Sol: It’s not necessarily who the writers are. It’s who are the influential people, who are the informed people. They could be writers. They could be people who have a lot of Twitter followers. They could be Internet celebrities, whatnot. They could even be someone really smart, someone that has a PhD in, let’s say for us, in creative research. We want to have a relationship with this person. They might not be gain us more exposure…

Andrew: How do I find… In a list of 70,000 people, how do I find the people who matter the most?

Sol: That’s where it becomes more and more inexact. You calculate their number of Twitter followers. You try to see how many re-tweets they’re getting. You get their Cloud score. You see how many Facebook followers there are.

We try to automate as much as we can. We try to, let’s say, guesstimate using Cloud and Twitter and all those how best we can. That gives you a general idea.

The other thing also is you have to see your time. Do I want to look over a thousand emails and get, let’s say, 50 great contacts? Or, do I want to or not, and maybe miss ten of those great contacts but still get 40?

Right now people are getting zero. It boggles my mind how people sell to their email list, but they don’t survey them. They don’t use their language. They don’t ask them what they want. They don’t know what their demographic is. They don’t know their gender, their age, how much money, what their occupation is, what their occupation are. And, they don’t know anything about who is on their email list, which is at the same time…

You know, you listen to all these marketing things and all of them say the email list is important. Get that email, get that email. But, then what? Nobody ever talks about what do you do once you get that email.

Andrew: You know what? I see the site now. I just found it in your Skype chat with me and then I figured out what the domain was. It’s audienceowl.com.

Sol: Yes.

Andrew: Audience O-W-L dot com. It says when it comes to your online business email marketing is still king. But, what do you know about your email list? That’s your mission here.

Sol: Yeah.

Andrew: The site isn’t up as of today. By the time this interview is posted it might be up and running, right?

Sol: Yeah. It should be. Well, actually, we should be live in about a week…

Andrew: Okay.

Sol: …from this interview. So, I’m going to assume it should be up. I can even say, you know, if your audience wants to go to audienceowl.com/coupon/mixergy/coupon/mixergy we can give them a 15% discount. But, this kind of ties into examine.com again. The first time was like…

Andrew: Can they test it out just by…

Sol: Sorry?

Andrew: If they want to test it out, what do they do? Do they have to pay?

Sol: The way it works is we’ll analyze your first hundred emails for free. You basically use the API It downloads the… Like, we’ll have a privacy policy. We’re not reusing the emails for anything.

But, yeah, we download your emails. We say okay, this is the one-time fee because email lists are much bigger and they’re growing. This is your estimated monthly fee. Here’s the first hundred that we’ve processed. You look up that information. Find out some of the demographic information. If it’s useful to you then you go ahead.

Andrew: Could continue to subscribe.

Sol: Yeah.

Andrew: Boy, you really are getting started here. The page is not up and running yet, but it’s audienceowl.com/coupon/mixergy…

Sol: The software works. The thing is, yeah…

Andrew: It will work. It still works…

Sol: The software works. We’ve been using it.

Andrew: But, it will offer that discount once it’s up and running. Oh, look at this.

Sol: Yeah.

Andrew: Actually, hang on a second. Oh no, it does work. You set it up right now.

Sol: My co-founder set it up. That’s how I work.

Andrew: I’m testing to see if it… Oh no, it works for anything.

Sol: Well, there we go then. We made it work at least for you right now.

Andrew: Oh, way to go. It does work, and it is up there, and I just see welcome Mixergy members in there. Mixergy members, sign up and get notified when we launch. Get 10% lifetime discount. Cool.

Sol: I’ll make it 15. I said 15. We’re sticking with 15.

Andrew: Please, Curtis. All right, cool.

Sol: Again, this is an example where my cofounder is a big fan of conversion optimization. He’s a big fan of email marketing. He reads everything. He’s very obsessive about it. Eventually, he will take over. He’d become the point man.

But I have a lot of knowledge and experience setting it up, getting the first year going, getting revenue so that it’s actually profitable. Then, I trust to find smart people who can actually roll with it to much bigger things.

Andrew: All right. Congratulations on all the success.

Sol: Thank you.

Andrew: And I appreciate you not being insulted when I said this may not be a good fit at the start of the interview.

Sol: I was crying inside, but I kept a brave face.

Andrew: You know, there are a handful of times when I’ve had to say that before recording. Because I don’t want to waste a guest’s time only to have the interview go up and then have people say this just doesn’t fit. So I’m always open, and I was open with you.

As we talked we realized wait, there’s this whole other thing going on under the surface. I’m glad that we did have that conversation. I’m glad I had you on here. I’m looking forward to having you back.

I was going to tell people they should go check out examine.com, but now screw that. Examine is not giving anyone a discount. So check out audienceowl.com/coupon/mixergy.

Sol: Ouch.

Andrew: That’s a long URL.

Sol: [??] Thank you for having me. It was a blast. I love talking shop.

Andrew: Thank you. I like the way you talk about it. I like the systems that you’ve got in place. Congratulations on all the success.

Guys, thank you all for being a part of Mixergy. Bye.

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  • Jack Ellis

    I had no idea you’d done .5M on the guide, that’s incredible. Great to see you pop up on Mixergy, Sol, it was definitely a big surprise! Great shout on Optimizely, it looks amazing. I’ve signed up for Audience Owl.

  • SoloX

    Only getting started. We have 3 new products coming out in the next 6 months that will help blow that # completely away.

  • WIlliam Santos-Powell

    @AndrewWarner:disqus I would love to see the picture. Also I like the interview. I liked the mind set sol orwell have. Thanks for sharing it. I love to hear how other people think. I will check out audience owl. Thanks

  • Pingback: How a Canadian transplant built and self-funded Examine.com in less than two years – with Sol Orwell | The Last Point

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  • SoloX

    Here’s the one I showed Andrew: http://i.imgur.com/RF9w7.jpg

  • Robert Bradford

    a New York sized ego

  • WIlliam Santos-Powell

    Wow that is AMAZING. Congrats. My mouth literally dropped at your transformation. Just goes to show you can do anything if you put your mind to it! Thanks for sharing!

  • Aiko

    Really… is this the smartest reply you can come up with?

    The only thing I’m sensing here is jealousy.
    Sol, great job. Keep it up and keep on inspiring us!

  • Aiko

    Andrew & Sol: congrats to both on the great interview & Sol, it was much appreciated to get a breakdown of your way of thinking. I’m seeing much value in your thought process, on top of being refreshing in its uniqueness.

    Andrew, you did a terrific job at navigating the conversation and summarizing the important points. Thank you!

  • http://rabe.io Felix Rabe

    Thanks Sol for inspiring me to (consider to):

    - delegate work

    - analyze my existing audience better

    And I hope you come back!

    (And Re: Guest – if I managed to pull that weight-reduction feat off, I’d certainly be full of myself – but Sol instead provided tons of great information in this interview.)

  • dean_l

    Great story, Sol. Did you ever use this photo for some before/after transformation? If not, you should… :)

  • dean_l

    Great interview, Sol have great ideas and what sounds like very methodical process to make them work. I think that’s really key. Also I think great personality, great attitude toward life. Andrew, it would be great to have course with Sol, understanding his process of building product/website. Best wishes with new products, Sol!

  • StefanaRapsondeu

    just before I looked at the draft which was of $6365 ,
    I did not believe that my friends brother actualey receiving money parttime on
    their apple laptop. . there best friend has done this for less than six months
    and recently took care of the morgage on their place and bourt a new Ariel Atom
    . find more info M­o­n­e­y­d­u­t­i­e­s­.­C­O­M­

  • SoloX

    Heh thanks. I actually prefer to let my team get the glory… I only show up for business-related stuff.