He has sold more things online than I can list, concert tickets, piggy banks, mouse pads, printer ink, etc. You get the idea, but wait till you hear the one thing he did to sell 10,000 bandanas.
Andrew: Three messages before we get started. If you’re a tech entrepreneur, don’t you have unique legal needs that the average lawyer can’t help you with. That’s why you need Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law. If you read his articles on Venture Beat, you know that he can help you with issues, like raising money or issuing stock options or even deciding whether to form a corporation. Scott Edward Walker is the entrepreneur’s lawyer. See him at WalkerCorporateLaw.com.
And do you remember when I interviewed Sara Sutton Fell about how thousands of people pay for her job site? Look at the biggest point that she made? She said that she has a phone number on every page of her site because, and here’s the stat, 95% of the people who call end up buying. Most people though don’t call her but seeing a real number increases their confidence in her and they buy. So, try this, go to grasshopper.com and get a phone number that will make your company sound professional, add it to your site, and see what happens, grasshopper.com.
And remember Patrick Buckley who I interviewed? He came up with an idea for an iPad case. He built a store to sell it, and in a few months he generated about $1 million in sales. Well, the platform he used is Shopify. If you have an idea to sell anything, set up your store in shopify.com because Shopify stores are designed to increase sales plus Shopify makes it easy to set up a beautiful store and manage it, Shopify.com. Here’s the program.
Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner, and I am the Founder of Mixergy, home of the ambitious upstart, the place where I take entrepreneurs’ stories very seriously. I love hearing them, and I want to hear as many details as possible because I don’t have an audience who are looking for entertainment, and frankly it they were, they wouldn’t be coming to me because I’m not entertaining. What I do have is an audience of real entrepreneurs who are looking for things that they can use in their business, ideas that will inspire them, and they are looking for stories that are meaningful and useful, not just entertaining.
All right. In this interview I’m going to be pushing for that with a guy who nearly went bankrupt and then went on to become a power seller online. John Lawson is the Founder of 3rd Power Outlet, an online retail site. He has sold more things online than I think we’ll get through, not just in this interview, but more than I could get to in the intro or even in the whole interview. He sold concert tickets – let me see the list here – piggy banks, mouse pads, printer ink, bandanas, et cetera. You get it, but wait until you hear, for example, how he sold 10,000 bandanas. We’re going to get into his whole story here and, John, welcome. Thanks for sharing it.
John: What’s up, Andrew? How have you been?
John: Good. Good. I’ll be the entertainment. That’s OK.
Andrew: You’re going to be so much more entertaining than me. I saw that video with the bandanas. Wait until I call you out on that. I’ve got to be honest with you, John. When I saw this potential interview come on, I said to Jeremy, “I don’t know that this really fits. What the hell does it even mean to be a power seller on Amazon and eBay? I don’t even know what it meant. Let’s start off this way. Give me not titles like power seller on eBay? Revenue. How much revenue have you generated from sales online?
John: Over $20 million, easy.
Andrew: Over how long?
John: Over, let’s say, the last eight years.
Andrew: The last eight years. And in the last 12 months?
John: Probably not even hat long, but go ahead.
Andrew: In the last 12 months, how much have you done?
John: Billions. [laughs] I can’t tell you that, brother. Somebody might be watching.
Andrew: All right. Over a million dollars the last 12 months?
John: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.
Andrew: Is it a jerky thing for me to do, to start off the interview, by asking you about money?
John: Well, not really, because I think everybody is really interested in money. Although one of the things I will tell people, and this is very important, because when you ask somebody, “Well, how much money did you sell?” And they tell you all these great numbers. Who gives a crap? Can I say the ‘s’ word?
Andrew: You can curse. You can be honest.
John: Who gives a s***? It’s not about how much you make, it’s about how much you keep. People can go out and spill all this nonsense about “I’ve done a hundred billion dollars” and they’re broke as hell, and I’m not really interested. So it’s really about how much of that money do you actually keep? Just keep that in mind, guys, when you’re buying and selling and absolutely sitting in a room talking to other people, spouting off how big their chests are. I could care less about how much your gross are. What’s your net?[laughs]
Andrew: Good question, John. What’s your net?
Andrew: Are you a millionaire, at this point, cash in the bank?
John: You know what, cash in the bank, I am not a millionaire. God, but I went through millions.
Andrew: All right, we’ll find out all about that story. It kind of happened while you were working for. I guess it was Coldwell Banker.
John: No. No. No, I was actually working for (?).
Andrew: (?), excuse me, I don’t know where I came up with Coldwell Banker. Oh, because I’m looking at your name, Colder Ice, Colder Ice Media is one of your properties, and your name online is Colder Ice. So, sorry, you were working for (?). What happened when you were working there that got you started on this path?
John: Well, basically you know, this was like early 2000s, late ’99s, somewhere right in there. You know, everybody was flipping a house and it just seemed like that was the easy thing to do. That’s what people wanted to do. That was a way to get into making supplemental income, growing rich, it was the it thing at that time.
So, I was like, “Yo, I could flip a house, too.” So, the problem really didn’t enter into the frame until I actually bought the house. I was able to buy the house. My problem was I wasn’t able to flip the house. So, we bought this piece of property in the middle of, you can see I’m Atlanta so, I’m in the middle of downtown Atlanta, the worst area of town, but there were some things that were (?) supposed to happen. I ended up getting this house, I’m working for (?). I’m on a budget basically, because most of us that work for a company we’re going to have a fixed income; we know what it’s going to be every month. I was able to handle it for the first three months, but then when it didn’t flip in the 90 days, like they do on TV, I was stuck with a second mortgage, and I had to do something. About six months in I was totally bankrupt. I was ready to do it, man.
Andrew: How close did you come? You didn’t fully file the paperwork. How close did you come?
John: I went to the lawyer and I got the paperwork. You know, it wasn’t short paperwork, it was like 24 pages of crap. But, at the time I had bought a vacation early in January, when things were better. So, I bought the vacation in January of that year, but by the middle of the year when I was supposed to take the vacation I was broke, but I had already paid for it. So, I figured, “Hey, I’ll take my paperwork with me, and I’m going to have a nice time at the beach, filling out my forms for bankruptcy, for when I come back home.” So, literally, it was that close, man, that close.
Andrew: You did something that kept you from having to file it. What was that?
John: Yeah, basically, back when Staples was starting up, the office supply store, they’ve got Staples, and Office Max, and Office Depot, and all these were coming to mature in the market place, and they were fighting each other. Every Sunday, they would have these sales circulars and they would always start off with free after rebate something. Remember, they used to have these things called CDs, that you would actually get stack of CDs like, “Free, after rebate.” So, we used to get the Sunday paper, and we would find the free after rebate stuff, and I would go purchase it all around the Atlanta area. So, that would be 10 to 20 stores, and I’d have my little map, and I would get this free after rebate stuff. My partner was good at filling out the rebate and waiting for the money, and I would start selling it on eBay. So, at this time, I got a little bit of income from that.
What happened was, I got an idea. They were doing free after rebate printers. All right, and so what I did, because you guys know, printers it’s not, they don’t make money on the printer, they make money on the ink. So what I started doing, they’d get the free after rebate printer, I would open the printer box, take the ink out, and separate it from the printers. So, I’d sell a printer with no ink at a low cost, and I’d sell the ink, which was the real money winner. We had bought a whole bunch of those the week before I went on vacation, and while I was on vacation those things sold, sold like crazy, enough to make my mortgage payment on my second property. From that day forward, I never had to look back and I never filled out the paper work for my bankruptcy.
Andrew: Do you think that, if not for that, you would have wanted to climb the ladder at your company, that you would have wanted to be a corporate guy, with his regular vacations, and his safer lifestyle?
Andrew: Why not?
John: Because, here’s the deal man, I really believe that entrepreneuralism is something that’s genetic. When I talk to a lot of people that are successful entrepreneurs, you’ll talk to them and they’ll be, like, well, I used to sell cars when I was a kid. That was me. I was always doing some kind of hustle. My friends always thought I was cheap because I had the car in high school so I wouldn’t take them anywhere unless they had gas money. But that was my hustle. You know what I’m saying’?
Andrew: Like making money on the drive because you get [inaudible]. Tell the audience about what you did with Turbo Tax.
John: Yeah, that’s one of the big things is that one year I had actually, and this is kind of pretty interesting, I actually got to go and see a Zig Ziglar thing. Right? So.
Andrew: The motivational speaker who passed away recently.
John: Right. He had inspired me to just look at ways, because one of the things he had said that the greatest thing as a tax shelter was to own a small business. Whether or not he made a profit or not, it’s a good tax shelter. It’s a good way to reduce your tax.
Andrew: Because the idea was if you buy a printer for yourself at home you can’t write it off, but if you have a business and you buy a printer for the business then you can write it off and, of course, you might want to print stuff for the family.
John: That’s exactly it. I was, oh, that’s pretty interesting. I bought my computer and I had all that. I was a computer geek. One day I bought Turbo Tax ‘because I wanted to write off some of these [inaudible] things that I had done for this new little business I had created. I learned Turbo Tax. That’s back when they were on these things called floppy drives. I’m sure your audience doesn’t even know. I’m dating myself. Yes, I’m that freaking old.
John: So I learned how to do this software, and once I did my taxes the first year, the next year my mom, my sister, and my family members wanted me to do their taxes. From that I had started a tax business. That was one of my first real businesses.
Andrew: You told [inaudible] when he pre-interviewed you that you made thousands of dollars doing this.
John: Only two months out of the year.
Andrew: Two months out of the year. How many years did you do it?
John: I did that for at least eight, nine years. I mean all the time while I was working I would make thousands of dollars January, February, part of March. But mostly because that’s when people, when we work we want to get our taxes as fast as possible. So once February rolled around, I was busy as Hell but I would do it on that Turbo Tax and it made it easy for me but nobody else learned it. So that was an opportunity to make some money.
Andrew: I see. So now I see why going to Accenture [sp] every day wasn’t really the life dream of yours.
John: Let me just tell you I was the worst worker ever. I would never hire an employee like me.
John: Never. Because I was always trying to do as little as possible to allow myself to do other things at a time. So some of the things would come to me pretty easily, especially a lot of the things I had to do at a computer. It was easy for me to do. I could get it done by noon. I’m working on my own business. Whether that be making the taxes, doing product listings. I would only do just enough not to get fired. [inaudible] sorry.
Andrew: You did this math in your head that you had an exit strategy that you can leave your job if you did what?
John: Well, I went through different iterations of business models. One day I saw this thing about what’s called sublimation. Who cares what it is. But what it is is that you can put an image onto something with heat. So it’s not like a heat press for t-shirts. This is something that would be very flat. It wasn’t an iron-on. All right? In order to do that, you’d have to have a heat press. So I bought the heat press. I bought these special inks and I started making mouse pads. All right? Just regular old mouse pads, the things we used to use when we didn’t have these lap-toppy things. Again, I’m old, old.
Andrew: I’ve got to tell you, whenever I fly I will inevitably see some guy on the plane with his Windows computer. Big computer, plugging in a mouse and sometimes even a mouse pad.
Andrew: Those things should die, those mice, especially for laptops.
John: The thing was I had found this kind of niche.
John: I had done all of these different kind of mouse pad designs but somewhere in there I realized and found out that teenage girls like teenage boys. I used to make these mouse pads with these teenage boys on it, whatever, whoever was the hot, like Teen Magazine kind of kid. Whoever is the wall poster kid, I’d make his image all over this pad and they would buy it like crazy. I came up with the idea, and I used to sell these for like a 5 dollar profit, alright? So five dollars every one that went out. I’m like, dude, now if I were not spending 8 hours a day working on Accenture stuff and spent that eight hours working on my mouse pad business, how many pads would I have to sell to accommodate a lesser lifestyle than I’m living here? And what I mean by lesser lifestyle is look, if I didn’t have to go into work I could eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day. If I didn’t have to come to work I wouldn’t have to buy clothes. I wouldn’t have to go into the cleaners. When I say buy clothes I mean work clothes, you know what I mean? I wouldn’t have to transport myself back and forth, no parking fees. All of these things that are auxiliary, is that the right word, anyway.
Andrew: Auxiliary? Ancillary, ancillary.
John: Yeah, that’s it. And I was like, dude, if I could literally sell 8 pads a day, 7 days a week, because I only work five, but I had seven days if I was working for myself, I could really make this happen. So, I actually just quit my job and started pressing mouse pads. It’s crazy.
Andrew: And then from mouse pads you moved on to what?
John: From mouse pads I moved onto everything else.
Andrew: I see a list for me too big to even name, Joe. But, at some point early on, you were selling refurbished dell computers?
John: Yes, yes.
Andrew: How do you even get Dell computers that are refurbished to sell online?
John: Well, you know what, if you go online right now, if you want a computer, go to delloutlet.com What that is is that, if someone gets a computer from Dell if they don’t like the color, the keyboard is broken, whatever it is, they take the whole thing and send it back to Dell. Dell will not resell that computer as new, even if it’s a small blimmage. They will call it, in fact, a refurbished computer. They will keep it brand new, keep the same warranty, and sell it at a cheaper price. So we found out about it and we started recognizing, I mean there was a whole lot of geeky stuff we used to do. We created a script that could actually go out there, because they would push them every hour on like the 45 and the 20. So 20 minutes after they pushed new ones out, 45 minutes after, push one out. We would figure out if we could get a screen refresher to refresh the screen, we’d get it and put it into a cart. Once it’s in the cart, you can buy it. I mean, we really killed it. It was used nailing it. We were buying these computers and flipping them right on eBay. So much, in fact, that Dell themselves told us to cease and desist using their Dell logos. I’m buying it from you guys and you don’t want me to sell them? Okay, fine. So they couldn’t make me not sell them on eBay, but they did have the right to say I couldn’t use their logo, at least in the eBay world. So I got kind of ticked off, because my whole living is filled with these boxes. These were desktop computers, not the laptop with the monitor and all that crap. My whole living room was filled with this stuff. So, I was really upset about it and I decided to do something just out of anger. I was really mad, so I said, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to take my own picture of the Dell computer, then I’m going to push this chick in a bathing suit next to it.
Andrew: A picture of your own computer with a chick in a bathing suit next to it. Now you get to show that it’s a Dell computer, but also have a chick with a bathing suit in your ad.
Andrew: Or a woman in a bathing suit.
John: I think the chick in the bathing suit was a bonus. I didn’t think it was a good thing. I was thinking about it being a bad thing. So to have all these Dells and all these half naked women sitting next them. Well, guess what, it sold twice as much in terms of how much the prices would go up.
Andrew: So the same exact product, but now you have a woman in a bathing suit and more people are buying it?
John: That’s right. That’s why you have women at car shows. Not because they’re buying the car, but because that makes people just look. I don’t know why, it actually worked. Now I have an even better business model, and I think it really kind of ticked Dell off. There’s nothing they could do after that point.
Andrew: Did they try to get you to stop at that point?
John: No, no.
Andrew: At that point, if you’re not using their logo, they’re fine.
John: No more problems out of those guys.
Andrew: So at that point, roughly, what size business do you have? How much revenue?
John: I mean, at that point we were doing, 10, 12, 15. I remember actually the December just before we stopped selling those a little bit, that we were doing about 10,000 and 15,000 a month in Dell Computer.
Andrew: All right. That’s pretty good. Now again, you’re not keeping all of it, of course, because you have to pay for the computers, but you’re still doing pretty well. What I’m wondering is, Dell has a store on eBay. People who buy on eBay have access to the outlet store. Why is this market so funky that people are paying you more money than they would pay on eBay, either on the outlet store or on eBay’s own store?
John: Is this just between us business people?
Andrew: What’s going on?
John: All right. Here’s the deal. Here’s the secret, guys. People are lazy and stupid. I’m not saying that in a bad way. I mean, I’m even lazy and stupid when it comes to some things. What really happens is it just becomes easier for somebody else to do the leg work and find the cheapest computer for the amount of money in your budget and then will pay for you to do that kind of information stuff.
I don’t want it to come off crazy when I say that, but you really do have to remember that 85% of us in this world are sheep and will follow anything. That’s why you’ve got people with, I don’t know, an earring in their tongue [??]. It doesn’t serve a whole lot of purpose. I remember, I was watching the NFL on Sunday and I was like, dang man. Probably 60% of the NFL players have tattoos down their arm now. Why do you have a tattoo? Because you saw somebody else [??]. Ten years ago, nobody had a tattoo.
People are sheep. If you can find something that will lead them and make them feel good, they will follow you. That’s the secret. That’s why people actually followed us on eBay. Simple.
Andrew: All right. That makes sense. Roasters. You’ve bought some roasters on Amazon. Tell me about that. What is a roaster?
John: It’s a big thing that you put a turkey in. Turkey roasters.
Andrew: You just put it on your kitchen counter?
John: No, no. It’s what you cook the turkey in. It’s a big turkey roaster. There’s this company called Le Creuset.
Andrew: Le Creuset, yeah, yeah.
John: You know these guys, right? At one point, when Amazon was getting started in the real retail space after they decided, hey, we’re not just going to just sell books, they started selling all these other products. They would buy it. They would house it. Then, when it was time to let it go, they would let it go at some crazy, ridiculous prices.
One day we happened to find some Le Creuset, and these are the biggest ones that they make, like 15 or 17 . . .
Andrew: Those things are heavy. Even a basic pan is heavy from them.
John: It’s heavy, heavy. It’s made out of cast iron, and then it’s covered with all this nice, pretty enamel. At any rate, again, knowing how to flip this stuff, we bought a whole living room full, you know? It was really interesting because the guy would come to my house, and I would be at work, and he’d leave it on the porch. I’d have all these Le Creuset boxes when I’d come home from work.
These things sell retail for, like, $350-$400. Unbelievable. I couldn’t believe people actually paid this amount. We were getting them from Amazon for, like, $150 a pop. So every one of those sold. We started at $0.99. They all sold over $200. Most of them sold over $250. So you just do the math. It was ridiculous.
Andrew: Were you still working back then? This was after the mouse pads.
John: This is actually before mouse pads.
Andrew: Oh, really, OK. So you were just trying to hustle and sell and find your one thing to sell that would work.
John: See, that’s what it was. I realized that my job at that time for myself was sourcing product. I’d always find something that’s on sale and then re-sell it. At some point I was like, you know, if I could just figure out how to manufacture a product, it would change everything. I wouldn’t spend all my time trying to find something and then sell it. I’d already make it. That’s how I came to the mouse pad business.
Andrew: Gotcha. How long did that business go? How long was there enough of an interest in mouse pads to keep you going?
John: It was for, like, ever.
Andrew: Do you still sell mouse pads today?
John: No, I don’t, but it became the 80/20 rule once again where it’s like, OK, if I spent most of my time I was making the most money, I ended up having to give up the mouse pad business. But, you know, I actually still got the stuff sitting in the garage just in case. I’ll come back to making some stuff.
Andrew: Concert tickets even. I’m going through the list here of stuff you sold.
John: Concert tickets – now that one lasted about two years. All right, and I’ll tell you a good story about this one. We were supposed to go to an American Idol concert. I think this is American Idol 3, 3 years in. So my daughter wanted to go, she was a little kid back then, so we bought the tickets. I ended up buying four and then I looked again and found four that were closer. I bought the four there then I bought the other four. So I needed to re-sell one of the sets of tickets. I mean, this was American Idol, nobody was paying big bucks for it. I think they were $35 a ticket. So I was just like, let me get rid of these. They were on the floor, they were close, you know. Those tickets sold for over $300. I’m like, whoa, wait a minute, we’re on to something here. Again, I went around and bought American Idol tickets with every concert and every marketplace they went on sale with and we made a killing. That same year, Prince came back out of retirement went on a marina tour, and we sold those tickets. The cool thing is, the third tier tickets made more money than the floor tickets, because the markup was greater. So, I mean, it’s all these kind of things I actually ended up learning about the ticket secondary business. That was a big business for me.
Andrew: Aren’t customers such a varied group of products, who don’t know you, big pains in the butt? They are, right?
John: You know what, you probably solidified what it’s like to do business on eBay, because you’re not known to that buyer, and yes they ask a lot of questions. You have to do a lot of refunds and returns, but that was my job. I got good at it, so I learned how to reduce the risk of those customers to make sure that they felt good about purchasing from us.
Andrew: So what do you do to reduce the risk?
John: I mean today, how do you reduce risk on e-commerce? You just tell them that you can return it for six months, six weeks, I don’t care. Free returns. These kinds of things reduce a risk to a customer. So you have to sit there, and whatever industry you’re in, you have to think about what it is people are scared of. Let’s say you sell informational products. That’s why people buy the $1 30 day free trial. The reason why is because it reduces that risk in the customer’s mind, and you will ultimately make more money than you actually thought you would. You think you’re losing money, but you’re making money because more people are apt to push that buy button.
Andrew: What about the questions about is this the right kind of ink, is this the wrong kind of concert? Do you have a seat that’s four seats back because I want to save some money? How about we negotiate on the lib rate? Can I pick it up at your house? I still haven’t gotten it, what’s wrong with it? How do you deal with that?
John: Again, it’s an 80/20 rule. 80% of the questions asked are always asked. So what I ended up doing, whatever mail tool you use, once you answer something, you should save it. Answer it in a non-personal manner. Meaning, don’t say Mr. so and so such and such, keep it kind of generic, and I used that as the answer. Ultimately, when I got my customer support team, I said this is the answer to that question. That’s how you really deal with those kinds of things. It’s really about efficiency. The more you do it, the more you realize the patterns of things.
Andrew: I guess that’s how you ended up creating this bandana folding video. Tell the audience, what led to the bandana folding video? I’m watching it right here.
John: It’s the stupidest video ever, guys. The thing is, I used to sell these bandanas. I think we still got a few of them. We sold the bandanas, and this is the early part of this decade. Tupac was still really popular. He’s popular now but he was really popular then. The thing was, I would sell these bandanas to these hip hop wannabes. It wasn’t the east coast/west coast guys, it was everybody in the center. Then we would sell it to a lot of people in Germany and Italy. All around the world they wanted to look with the hip hop feel. We would get this question over and over again, ‘How do I fold my bandana to wear it like Tupac?’ I’m like, ‘This is the stupidest question I’ve ever heard.’ I’m used to people in my circles, they know how to fold a bandana. One day I got a wild hair out of my butt and said, ‘Let me record a video on how to fold a bandana.’ I got four different ways in this video on how to fold a bandana. I made this video. I didn’t put my head in the video. I had the worst video ever, worst video camera ever and the lighting sucked. However, the content is great.
Andrew: I’m seeing that your head is cut off, but your bare feet are in the video.
John: They’re ashy. They need lotion.
Andrew: I can’t see that, but the video is not very good, but the humming is still there in the background. I’ve got to tell you, people on YouTube are so hypercritical about everything. You got 248 thumbs up on this thing and only 31 people who thumbs it down. When I typed in ‘How do I fold a bandana like Tupac?,’ I didn’t want to follow any external link to here. I wanted to see how this naturally showed up. It was right there at the top. The only thing that’s up above it is Expert Village. This guy in Expert Village I don’t think I trust to teach me how to do anything. He looks like a nice guy, but he’s not going to teach me to be like Tupac.
John: We go back and forth as number one. Sometimes he’ll be one. Sometimes I’ll be one.
Andrew: What happened with that? Now, you have a video to give people who ask you the same question, but it led to sales.
John: It led to crazy sales. We have tracked over 10,000 transactions. You said 10,000 pieces. Not 10,000 pieces, 10,000 transactions. Probably 100,000 freaking actual [??].
Andrew: Meaning when someone buys a bandana they say, ‘I want one for my head but also one to cover my mouth so that only my eyes are visible.’ So they buy two.
John: That’s one of the examples. These are the things you get into and you don’t know. A lot of people use them for napkins. They have western themed parties. All this kind of stuff. We found these other markets that I never even knew. We started doing it because of the hip hop thing, but we found the biker community, we found a skater community, we found so many different ways to sell it. It’s been very lucrative. If you look at the video, it’s almost at a quarter of a million views.
Andrew: It’s over a quarter million views and I see it’s uploaded July 15th, 2007. We’re talking about the early days of YouTube.
John: That’s right. That’s why I tell people today, it is one of the best channels. People are like, ‘I want to get into YouTube. What should I do?’ ‘What should you do?’ I said, ‘You should take the top ten FAQs that you have, the top ten frequently asked questions, or five frequently asked questions and make each one of them a video.’ That’s one of the best ways to get traffic to your sites.
Andrew: At the top of the description here, there’s a URL that links directly to the buy page where you still sell bandanas. I clicked over to see. The description is, ‘Buy bandanas here.’
Andrew: Here. One of the issues, we talked about eBay, one of the issues that other people who started their business on eBay have told me they had is your business stays on eBay and people are constantly going back to eBay, and they’re going to see your competitors. What you need to do is find a way to get them to come back to you, to feel a need, a value and come back to you. You did that with these 3×5 cards that you included with your orders. What was on these 3×5 cards?
John: On the front it said, ‘Thank you for your order.’ On the back, it had a five percent off coupon and it went directly to our website.
Andrew: Now they have an incentive to go to your website?
John: Yes. Now, like you say though, some people don’t want to go to your website. They’re more comfortable shopping on eBay. You have to make amends for that. We made the coupon available both on eBay and off of eBay, however, we saw a huge amount of people coming back and buying from us. Whether they bought on eBay or off eBay, brand affinity was now becoming an issue for them because they were coming back to us once again.
Andrew: Before we move on with your story, what does the name Colder Ice mean?
Man: [laughter] It has no real meaning. My name is John Lawson. I think at one point there were over six million John Lawson’s when you did a Google search. I wanted to rank, and I one day remembered an old story. Do you want to know the story?
Man: Yeah, it’s historical, You should know this story. Like before there was integration there was a separate but equal culture in America. Especially, in the South. What would happen is the African American’s could not shop downtown at Macy’s. They had their own department stores. Their own dentist. Their own everything. Even their own busing system. Everything had to be separate. What happened when integration came is a lot of these shop owners would see their sales decline rapidly. The reason is because people would walk by their store to get downtown to shop at the place they never could shop before. Out of that came this one saying, “Oh, the white man’s ice is colder.”
I remember that story, and I was like colder ice. Ice cold. I did these little iterations of it, and I put in colder ice one word one time, and I saw there were over 300 references. You know what? I could rank number 1 out of 300. That is how it started. If you do Colder Ice now you get over 30,000 results. Literally, all of those are pretty much mine.
Andrew: I was wondering about that. As I was researching you, I kept coming up with Colder Ice. As I looked at my notes on you, Colder Ice kept coming up. You are building up a personal brand name for what? Why do you want people to be able to search you?
John: The deal was I have a site that is Colder Ice, and it’s about the Ice. I have an acronym for internet commerce education. That’s been one of my big internet passions. I have been able to go around and teach and speak about E-Commerce, and course social media when it blew up. I had to use a monitor, and I used colder ice. That thing is me, it’s my brand now. It’s a personal brand feel.
Andrew: As far as I can see, you are not selling anything on here, except people can have you be a key note speaker at an event.
John: Yeah. I don’t sell anything.
Andrew: It’s not your personal blog in the sense, but you are showing family photos, but in a sense you have your passions. Like marketing quotes from Zig Zigler on here. A hilarious example is a truly awful stock photography. I have to click on that.
Andrew: You are just linking to stuff that you think is interesting.
John: Yeah. Absolutely man. Sometimes we get to interviewing someone in the e-commerce space. Those kind of things that I enjoy doing. I have been pretty successful at doing that now. Reinventing always reinventing.
Andrew: By the way that 13 hilarious examples of awful stock photography is on Hubspot.com. That thing has been tweeted out 11 hundred times on Facebook, 827 shares on LinkedIn, and all it is, is dopey stock photography that we see everywhere.
Andrew: But it’s funny.
John: Don’t you hate that. You see that every time. We are customer service, and the lady with the stupid thing…
John: Yeah, right? She doesn’t work there, I know that.
Andrew: It should be you with an earphone. People feel more connected with that.
John: That is true. Very good. I am going to make one today!
Andrew: Let's see what else we want to talk about? Here is where social media did help you. I saw when I was looking up you, I guess this came from you to be honest, you won Startup Nation's Social Media Comcast. What was that and how did you win it?
John: That is a good question, I like that one. Start-up Nation is a blog for small start-ups. E commerce mostly, online and web start-ups. Teach you a little stuff like that. I was out there one day reading. They said they had a contest coming up. They were adding a social category, and it was based on who voted most. I came up with this strategy in early Twitter day. I think it was 2009 we did this. It was all about me sharing stuff. I came up with this morning coffee article. I would find five good articles that I would read and I would post them every morning and I think it would be around 11 o'clock or 10. I don't remember. But every- I would train my viewers to come and see what I was going to tweet on that day at 5 o'clock. And at the end, my sixth post, so I'd do 5 posts. My sixth post was if you like what I just shared with you, please vote for me in this contest. And I won the contest. Simple and plain.
Andrew: And what do you get from winning that contest?
John: I got this Coca-Cola can that says 7 Up on it. I'd got nothing.
John: I got a great link, which is important. I got a great link. I got recognized by MSN. And that was probably almost the beginning of OK, I actually think I like sharing and doing this whole thing that is called [???]. And I think that was probably really like the validation that, my ice is cold.
John: You know, and it’s, it was really just about sharing other, you know, nuggets of wisdom. Again, people kind of being, you know, sheep. They want to find out what this person says. That’s why when you go into the market, when you go into the, like you go into Macys or any department store, they always got somebody there, how can I help you? Right? And then they’re going to tell you what the best thing is or this cologne is the best smelling. You go into a restaurant, and they’ll always give you the specials of that [???] so you don’t have to think. So you can really just say, OK, I’ll take that. So, make, this is a good one guys. Whatever you’re doing in your business, you’re the expert in that business. So make recommendations. If you make recommendations, you will increase your conversion simply because people want to know what you think is the best. Because you are the expert. And you are the guy that they follow.
Andrew: And they just want you to keep making recommendations.
Andrew: Tell them what to do because they’re sheep.
John: Pretty much, you know, and they’re happy that way. They’re happy. You know, keep a sheep happy. Keep them happy.
John: I’ll never forget one day my sister told me, she’s like, you know, she’s like, you got a lot of fans. I was like, really, you think so? She’s like, yeah ’cause I hear people talking about you, ya know. She’s like, you need to feed your fans more though. And I took that from her and it changed the way I interacted with my followers. So, I mean, always remember that. People are looking for you to guide them in some sort of way.
Andrew: She said lead your fans more?
John: Lead your fans more. Feed, I actually said, no, feed.
Andrew: Oh, feed. Feed your fans more.
John: See, because that’s what we talk about in social media. We talk about consumption. Right? So it’s like, oh, I’m consuming. Make it so, make sure it’s something that they can consume. So, feed your sheep.
Andrew: You know what? I had an entrepreneur on, Tim, Tim Sykes, and he called his, you know him. He called his customers stupid and lazy, and I forget what it was, but he said that’s what they were. And my sense was, that day he was like on fire because he was looking maybe at his-. He tends to do an interview with me after he gets his numbers for the previous year. And he comes on to share those. And so maybe he was especially excited about that and started calling his people stupid. I asked him afterwards how that went over. He ended up making more sales because of that. Because your customers, your audience, ended up buying from me. They love that attitude!
John: They do- wow, OK, well I’m going to have to just work on that one, thanks.
Andrew: Go figure.
John: But it’s, you know, it’s just they need to understand who they are relating to.
Andrew: So, how does that play out on your site? When you are selling me something. How does that recommendation leading to sales play out?
John: I mean, definitely on your landing page. You want to make those kind of recommendations. Don’t put it too far away. And another thing, don’t make them have to click too much. You know? And I see people do this all the time. They’ll put a link on a Twitter or Facebook. And they don’t actually link all the way to the actual store. They’ll just link to the homepage. People hate the home page. They’re hating it more and more and more. So don’t make them do any of the work. If you can get them as close, as close to done, they’ll pay you extra for it.
Andrew: Are you selling shoelaces?
John: I love shoelaces, yeah.
Andrew: Shoelaces sell $3.95. You can make money off $3.95 shoelaces?
John: Absolutely! You got to make money off of $3.95, yes. You can make money on pretty much anything if you got the right volume. So, one of those things, that’s a volume sale.
Andrew: This isn’t directly related to business but I think it’s a fun story that we should talk about, American Express. Did you get into an American Express commercial? I didn’t see it, but I heard about it.
John: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll have to send you the link. I did do an American Express commercial. It was like ‘Fantasy Island’ if you’ve ever seen that show. I literally got on a plane, landed, I was treated like a star for a weekend, and then I was a nobody for a while.
Andrew: So how did you get treated like a star for a weekend for American Express?
John: Well, at first, I think I went to an American Express event here, locally in town. They were taking interviews from people at the event that were card members. You had to be a card member, and I was a card member. I was . . . you were going to put me on TV because I’m standing there and making sure I’m going to stay. Right.
So anyway, I made this little commercial and it wasn’t really a commercial, it was just a little spot for American Express. Then about, it had to be like a year or two later, I got an e-mail and it said, “Do you want to do a marketing opportunity with American Express?” I thought it was junk mail, so I didn’t open it for like a week. Then I opened the thing and I was like, “Whoa!” And it had an agency in there and they wanted me to contact the agency.
Long story short, anyway, I contacted the agency and she’s like, “Well, can you . . . we’d like you to be, possibly, in a commercial.”
I was like, “Really? Wow!” She’s like, “Well, we want to get a feel for how you’d be on camera,” and this kind of stuff, right. So she was like, “We’re going to send you something and would you record it on your computer, send it back to me.” I’m like, “Well, I can do that, but you know I’ve got like 200 videos on YouTube if you wanted to watch me talking to the camera like this.” And literally, man, she went away for 30 minutes, came back and is like, “When can you come to California?”
Andrew: So it was that beyond like wow, right. So you get to California, you know there’s some driver standing there with your name on the board, you get into a limo, you go and check into the hotel, the whole rigmarole, you know?
John: The next day, you get on set, you get your makeup on, it was like, ‘Wow! I can’t believe this!’ Right. But the whole time I’m there, the guy’s like . . . he won’t answer me. I’m like, “Well, how much time would I be on the camera and duh, duh, duh.”
He’s like, “Well, you know it’s not definitive,” and he was very nonchalant about it. I realize now, because people can be left on the cutting room floor. Several of the people that were in that commercial were just in it for a half a second, whatever.
I talked to this one guy. He was on the set and I’m like, “Man, I hope I make it in this commercial.” And he was like, “Let me just tell you, bro. You’re the only black guy here. You’re going to make it in the commercial.”
Because they’re typecasting, you know. They have to have a female, a young person, so I was shocked about . . . you know, this was in December. By the time the playoffs rolled around, so this was, as a matter of fact, it was the first weekend in December. You know, this same time in that year. By the time the playoffs rolled around, all of the sudden, people are calling, my friends are calling me, “I just seen your ass on TV!”
I’m like, “What! Are you kidding me?” I mean that was a national commercial that played a lot of places. I even had a friend call me and he was like, and I think he was incarcerated.
Andrew: He called you from jail!
John: “I’m in the commissary and I hear your voice!” I’m like, wow, that’s pretty interesting.
Andrew: We’ve been talking about a lot of the fun parts of business and a lot of the successes, but you told Jeremy that you had some issues. We talked about the bankruptcy issue. What we didn’t yet talk about is the issue of just creating your own site, which for many people today would be a snap. A site that you can use to sell that has a smooth transaction. What was the trouble you had in creating that?
John: It was almost impossible, you know, and it was costly. One of the things was that we tried. We had a site, it was a nice site and I never really took into account how hard it was to drive traffic. You know?
Andrew: Because on eBay and Amazon, you get your traffic.
John: Yeah. You’re piggybacking on the Amazon traffic, you know. It’s pretty much a 50/50, guys. I mean, you can have a great idea, but the other 50% of that equation is how you’re going to get traffic, you know. Either you’re going to buy it, or you’re going to generate it. I will just tell you one thing, it is better to buy traffic than it is to generate traffic.
Andrew: So you started buying traffic for your site.
John: Yeah, you buy traffic.
Andrew: And it’s all profitable even when you’re selling shoe laces for under $4 bucks?
John: No, it’s not! That’s, you know, those kinds of things are when we have to build or when we have to . . . You know, that’s an ancillary again, I use that word, product. You’re already on the site, you bought a hat, you bought your sweatpants and your bandanas. How about your shoes?
Andrew: Got you.
John: You want to go all the way. You want to get all the way fresh. You can’t be halfway fresh.
Andrew: I would never be halfway fresh. People who know me know that about me.
John: I got the hat and the shirt.
Andrew: I do see that. You and I are alike that way. We would never go halfway fresh.
John: That’s one of the things. Let me tell people why I say traffic that you buy is better than traffic that you generate. This is coming from an eCommerce guy. Could be different in other areas. The reason why it’s better is because you can scale it. Once you find that you’re making money off of this traffic, for every $5 that’s spent, I make six, or every $5 I spend I make five even. How much of that $5 are you going to spend? Over and over again until it stops paying off. You can’t do that with your social presence and all that good stuff. Social has its place and it accounts for a lot, but don’t discount that paid traffic because that paid traffic can scale you up rapidly.
Andrew: PayPal. [??] a lot of negative stuff. What happened with PayPal?
John: This is a good story because here’s what happened. We had touched on it. That’s why when we were talking about the Dell computers, I went from selling small things that were very low cost to selling these Dell computers and selling them very rapidly. I talked about how fast it actually grew. At some point PayPal started looking at us and saying, “Why are these guys taking these tens of thousands of dollars so quickly?’ They thought we were a scam and they shut our PayPal account down on, I’ll never forget the day, December 15th. It was the busiest Christmas shopping day. I had sold so many of the computers, and nobody could get payment, so my inbox was getting flooded with people saying, “I can’t pay.” Luckily I had a friend. I called him up, said, “Let me roll this over to your account.” Literally PayPal froze our income. Every dime of it was frozen for six months, and we couldn’t get it unfrozen. For no reason other than they thought we looked suspicious. This [??] long time ago.
Andrew: I have heard this so much on Hacker News. I used to be so worried this would happen to me. I even called up PayPal just to check in when I started with them and when we started to grow. ‘Is everything OK?’ You could never tell because you’re just talking to some stranger on the phone. It’s not like you’re talking to the president of PayPal whose word is his bond. Did you ever get it reopened?
John: I finally did [??] many years later.
Andrew: Can you accept PayPal now?
John: I do accept PayPal. I sell on eBay. You have to. Here’s what I do. I don’t let more than $500 sit in PayPal ever. I will never ever leave my money in PayPal. Ever.
Andrew: Soon as you get the 500, you can actually create a rule that would have it auto swept into your bank account. Do you do that?
John: I definitely do that. The difference now is back in the day PayPal used to have this money market fund. If you left it in there, they’d pay you two, three percent. They don’t have that anymore after the economy went in the toilet. There’s not a whole lot of incentive. I tell people, “I don’t know why anybody leaves money in a PayPal.” I’ve got a friend, he swears by it. “I can use my charge card, save one percent.” I’m like, “Whatever, dude. I’m never, ever getting caught in that game again.”
Andrew: What do you do to have the redundancy there? Do you have a friend who has a PayPal and you guys keep switching it over, a relative?
John: For us, I always keep a redundancy. I’m not going to say I got a secondary PayPal account. “I don’t have a secondary PayPal account.” One of the things, I definitely have a merchant account. I have other payment accounts that we can use. I do keep redundancy, and I think for a lot of businesses, you should always have some sort of redundant payment processing system because PayPal has gone down before. My credit card processing company has gone down before. I learned from that a good practice is to have some redundancy on payment because that’s how we make our money.
Andrew: Just so I get you straight, you don’t have a PayPal account.
John: I don’t have a PayPal account.
Andrew: Someone else that you know, a friend of yours has a redundant account?
John: Other people that have PayPal [??].
Andrew: Fair enough. What else? I think I’ve got just about everything except for your sleeping habits, which apparently there isn’t much sleep going on. Why not? Do you have a lot of worries?
John: No. It’s not that. I’m just a night owl. I’ve always been like this. One of the things is when everybody in the house goes to sleep, my brain turns on. And until I get it out, if I try to sleep, I keep going over and over. And that could be a plan. It could be a, it could be almost anything sometimes. I don’t know what it is, but, you know, and a lot of my great ideas come up at that time. And, like right now, as we’re speaking, I got this song playing over and over in my head from Demi Lovato. Ew! Gross! But it’s like- you know.
Andrew: But there’s always something else.
John: Yeah. That’s one of the things, man. You got to, you know, so and late at night is when I, and that’s when, the, you know, the chat stops popping, the emails are done. You know, and I get some downtime and that’s when I really think.
Andrew: So, what’s been the most profitable product over the last 12 months?
John: Over the last 12 months, to be honest with you, me.
John: Yeah, I mean, because, I think people will pay really good money for good information.
Andrew: So, you’re getting speaker’s fees?
John: Yeah. Yeah. I speak now.
Andrew: How much money do you get to speak at an event?
John: You know, you know, I’ll give you my rack rate. Five thousand.
Andrew: Five thousand is what, that’s the rack rate.
John: That’s the rack rate.
John: Now you know what the rack rate is. That’s the thing on the back of the door at the hotel. It’s like, wow, people pay for that room? You know? But I have gotten the rack rate on many occasions. You know?
Andrew: So, they paid? So you get paid more for speaking than you do for all the other products? Or you’re saying it’s the most profitable product, not necessarily that all the others combined do less.
John: And it’s a product that I’m now in the 80 20 mode again. You know? It’s like OK 80 percent of your money can come from this speaking thing but you’re only giving it 20 percent of your time. How can you flip that? But the thing is, and this is important because for me to even talk to you right now as long as I’m actually in the business of doing the business, I can’t tell you everything about the business. So, part of that has to be that I’m going to have to separate myself from the day to day so that I’m not training up my own competition. You know? So that’s one-
Andrew: What do you mean, so you’re not training up your own competition?
John: So if I tell you where I get my products. How do I source is one of the number one questions that people always ask me. And my answer is always the same. None of your damn business! Because that’s my business. You know? That’s everybody’s business of course that’s the number one. Now, now, I have ways to teach you how to source but I’m not going to tell you who I’m buying the shoelaces from. Heck no! You know? How do I manufacture those? If I tell you that, then I create my own competition. So you can’t actually do that to a degree that you want to do that while you’re still doing it.
Andrew: And so, can your business yet run without you?
John: Yeah, you know what, the thing is, it’s all about automation. It’s all about training up the right people. I don’t think it will have the directional overhead that I bring to it. You know, because I’m, I’m an entrepreneur and it was started by an entrepreneur. And unless I find somebody that’s in that mode, I don’t know if it’s going to do that. But until said time, you know, I’ve got to make a bridge, just like I did when I was still working at [???] and doing my e-commerce business. I’ve got to also make this bridge from the e-commerce to the speaking and training and teaching. You know? So, it’s 2013, bro. That’s what’s up!
Andrew: All right. I got to ask you one last question. We’ve talked about some of the way that you got here. I want to ask you one question about now where you are, but first, I got to tell the audience, the most important thing I’ll ever tell them. Go to mixergypremium.com guys. If you do, what you’ll find there is proven entrepreneurs teaching things, right, since we’re talking about systemizing. How to systemize your business. How to make sure that you’re not driven to insanity by doing every single thing in your business the way I was. In fact, John, you know that we’re so systemized that there was an email sent to you requesting an interview. I didn’t find you. We found you. Someone internally sent you an email. Then the next part of the process is systemized so that you can book your own time. And then the next part of the process is someone makes sure that we extract the best stories from you. So, we’re not hoping to end up with a good interview. Then the next part of the process is I, you book, then I sit here with you. We do the interview, then someone else has a systemized way of editing it. And the whole thing. I used to do all that every single day. Now I don’t have to. I get to focus on other things. And the reason I was able to do it is because I put out a cry a few months ago, and I said on Twitter, guys I am exhausted, help me out. How do I systemize this thing? And I had a few entrepreneurs come on and teach systems. How to figure out what you can systemize. How to systemize it so it makes sense, how to pass it on to other people in a way they can get it done, how to then monitor it so it’s all getting better and better, and I learned it, I absorbed it, I’ve done it.
Now, thanks to that, Jhonny and I never would have met otherwise, this interview never would have happened otherwise, and if we even had a chance in hell of making this happen, it would have taken way more work from me than it did. Instead, I had this whole team of people who helped, including Jeremy who I keep referencing because he put together the pre-interview here. Anyway, that is just one idea of so many others that if you’re a premium member you get access to and see the results in your own life and you’ll be smiling like I am right now if you go to mixergcramium.com and sign up today. If you’re not happy with it, I will give you 100% of your money back. I am learning from John Larson, if you’re not happy of course the risk by saying of course I take away the risk by saying, of course you get a refund. But really, frankly guys, thousands of people are happy and if you look at Twitter, many of them are telling me to charge more and I will, but for now, anyone who signs up will keep this rate. So go to mixergpremium.com.
Andrew: I’m getting better at promoting, by the way. I used to be very shy about self-promotion in these things, because I wanted it to be about the conversation, and I got you looking at me waiting for your turn. It’s not an easy environment. I’m getting better at it.
John: You never get the sale if you don’t ask for it. Ever, right? That’s what you got to do.
Andrew: I got to do it. I felt bad before, but I’m getting better at it. Every single day I keep practicing.
John: I’m joining up, yay.
Andrew: Right on. We talked in the beginning of this interview about how you were nearly bankrupt. You got on a plane, because you already bought the ticket, and while you were away sweating it, really not able to focus on your vacation from what I understand, these printers you sold and the ink you took out of it and sold separately, this whole thing started to generate some revenue and you were on your way. Even while you were stressed, things started to clear up. Today you still travel, and you had an interesting experience I want to talk about where you showed your passport to the agent at the airport. Is this not true
John: Tell me what happened.
Andrew: I will tell you exactly what happened. I am prepared. I come to these interviews prepared with a guest’s life story. You went in there, you had so many stamps on your passport that the guy didn’t even know where to stamp it.
John: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Andrew: And you’re looking back and seeing all these different places you traveled to.
John: Belize, Australia. I’ve been there five times now. France, Sweden, Holland, yeah they have great coffee shops in Holland. I don’t know if they still do but they did. I just came back the Gangnam style guy.
Andrew: Oh, Korea.
John: Yeah, I was just in Korea. I’ve traveled a lot, and that’s in the last two years; ten different countries.
Andrew: Life is good. it’s so much better than when you were working a job you didn’t like. When you were near bankruptcy filing out the paperwork. In fact, you had a better shot of your house than I gave you. Can you swing things around, or swing your camera around and show people what it was? What is that outside the river?
John: There’s a river back there?
Andrew: Is there a vacuum there?
John: It’s a river.
Andrew: Yeah I know, but now I’m seeing a vacuum behind it. We should have made you take the vacuum away.
John: Yeah, I’m putting it on eBay next week.
Andrew: Perfect place to leave it.
John: Hey, look at this. Christmas cactus is doing its thing. Look at that.
Andrew: Way to go. I got to tell you, I’m looking forward to meeting you in person, but if I’m ever at your house I’m not going to leave my jacket behind because I may need to buy it back on eBay.
John: That’s right, dude. I will sell it.
Andrew: And if I drive somewhere, I will need a few singles in my pocket just in case.
John: You got it, bro.
Andrew: All kidding aside really, you’ve come a long way. Thank you for coming here and sharing this story with us and telling us how you did it and telling us about some of the adventures along the way.
John: Hey man, thanks a lot. It was a fun time and I really appreciate it.
Andrew: Thank you for doing it. Thank you all in the audience for being a part of it. Bye, guys.