How does a founder build a business by inspiring young people to build businesses too?
I invited him here today to talk about how he built those businesses.
Andrew: Coming up. Do you know how to sell to tough customers? Well,
today’s guest sold to some of the toughest organizations. I’m going to ask
him to teach you how he did it and how you can too. Also, do you want to
see how speaking can you help you build both, credibility and increase your
sales? Well today’s guest has some advice on how you can do it. I’m going
to ask him about that. Anyway, all that and so much more. Coming up.
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Edward Walker for years, so tell him you’re a friend of mine and he’ll take
good care of you. Here’s the program.
Hey there, Freedom Fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of
Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. How does a founder build a
business by inspiring young people to build businesses too? Michael Simmons
is the co-founder of Empact, which runs the Extreme Entrepreneurship Tour,
a tour that brings the country’s top founders to college campuses. He also
created the Empact100, which is like the Inc500, but for young
entrepreneurs. And he’s the author of “The Student Success Manifesto”. I
invited him here today to talk about how he built those businesses.
Michael: Thank you very much for having me, Andrew.
Andrew: You know, I was tripping over my words as I gave that intro. I’ve
got to go to a live show of David Letterman or even Oprah. I want to see if
they also screw up their intro and have to do retakes a couple of times.
Michael: Well, we have like three different parts to our company so that
makes it even extra complicated.
Andrew: And I wanted to make sure that I emphasized Empact, so that people
knew that it was with an “E”.
Andrew: All right. You saw me screw up, so I’ve got to recover by asking
you a tough question. Actually, I don’t know why connects to the other, but
screw it. What kind of revenue can you generate from touring college
campuses with entrepreneurs?
Michael: Well, for our organization last year, total, everything we do, we
earned over a million dollars and reached over 10,000 college students, and
also, many of the top leaders in the entrepreneurship field.
Andrew: Over a million dollars in sales?
Michael: In revenue, yeah.
Andrew: Wow. I wouldn’t have expected you to actually give me that number
Michael: I’ve listened to probably over a hundred of your interviews. So, I
took the chase.
Andrew: Let me see if I understand this. So, I understand the college tour.
You charge colleges to bring entrepreneurs in, right? That’s one revenue
Andrew: You also have the Empact Summit, which was held here in D.C. You
and I got together, I think it was for dinner or drinks, when you were in
town to talk about that. What kind of revenue do you get from that, and
what is the Empact Summit?
Michael: A few hundred thousand dollars. The Summit is, basically, with the
entrepreneurship education field, to do our college tours, we go to all
these different industry conferences. One would be for community colleges.
One would be for four-year colleges. One would be for another niche. You
realize that there are all these different niches out there, and that there
wasn’t an industry conference that connected them all together and did it
on an invite-only basis with all the leaders. That’s what we did last year.
I had over 300 people at the UF Chamber of Commerce for top leaders.
Andrew: Then the other big revenue source, I’m guessing, is Empact100?
Michael: Yes, kind of. Last year was our first year with that. It was a
recognition of the country’s top young entrepreneurs, by revenue. We had
100 companies. The average revenue was, I think around $3.74 million
revenue. They were responsible for almost 5,000 jobs in the economy. We
wanted to highlight that. We had an event last year, connected to the
Summit, where there was a fee for people who wanted to attend.
Andrew: OK. So the event, I understand, they charge. I heard that the
Inc500 charges companies that want to apply to be on the list. Right?
Andrew: So that’s one revenue source for them and then they also have an
event (?), which also is a revenue source, and the have the magazine, of
course is a revenue source. Do you charge people to apply to be in Impact
Michael: We do not.
Andrew: You don’t. Where’s the revenue come from for that?
Michael: At this point, it’s just for the event around it. Then we’re
talking to a few potential sponsors. We’re aggregating the largest ever
group of young, top growth-oriented entrepreneurs in the country. So it’s a
desirable group of people. I’m hopeful that we’ll have some good sponsors
in a few months.
Andrew: So the biggest revenue seems to come from the tour, from the
extreme entrepreneurship tour?
Andrew: OK. By the way, you and I are friends, we’ve known each other for a
long time. I never ask you probing questions like this, when we have drinks
or when we get together, casually. What’s it like to suddenly have me pound
you with questions about revenue, right off the bat?
Michael: You know what, Andrew, I was ready for it. I’ve spoken a huge
amount on college campuses and been a mentor, and I think it’s good to be
honest about it so people have an idea about the challenges and the upsides
so people can learn better. I appreciate asking the questions.
Andrew: Well, thanks for answering them. Let’s go back in time and see how
you built this up. In fact, there was a period there actually where things
weren’t going so well. You were in debt and when you went to the grocery
store to buy a cup of fruit, what was that like?
Michael: Well, I think for any entrepreneur, or for most entrepreneurs,
they’ve probably gone through difficult times. I had a few of those, but,
just at the worst time. $40,000 in credit card debt plus student loans and
had seven different credit cards. I just remember it got to the point
where, every time I’d go to the store, I was always just worried that, the
credit card would bounce buying fruit. I moved an hour away, off campus, or
away from the heart of New York City, just to have lower rent in a rat-
infested neighborhood, all those type of things.
Andrew: So, you’re going to buy a $3 cup of fruit at the store, and you’re
worried that your credit card is going to be rejected. You’re living life
just scraping by. Why don’t you, at that point, say, “You know what? I have
got to get a job. I’ll get myself on solid footing. I’ll pay off my student
debt. And then maybe after I have so money, I’ll go out and I’ll start my
company.” Why did you have to keep going at that point?
Michael: To me, I think the biggest reason for failure of entrepreneurs
that isn’t talked about as much, isn’t as much the technical skill. It’s
having that burning fire inside that, in the back of your mind, you know
that you’re never going to stop. You know that you’re going to see the
result at the end of the day. I feel like I’ve had that for a long time. It
never really crossed my mind of giving up.
Andrew: Where does that need come from? Be vulnerable. Express something
that, at night, you’re going to regret, almost, saying, because it’s so
open. But honestly, where does that need come from? Why would you have to
Michael: Yeah. That’s a really good question. I’ve actually spent a lot of
time thinking about it for myself and other entrepreneurs that think it’s
so important to entrepreneurial success. One thing, I think, it’s
definitely upbringing. My mom came from Poland when she was 17, and she’s
the kind of person who doesn’t say, “I love you.” She expects you to just
understand it. Every time I see her now, she’ll have like three or four
things that could be doing better. So, I feel like that’s a blessing and a
curse, because you’re always pushing forward to be better.
I think, as a young entrepreneur, I started business with a friend when I
was 16-years old. We got into our local newspaper, things like that. I
think another part people don’t talk about as much, is you have your (?).
If you get the kind of recognition, you win awards, we wrote a book, you
have your identity around it. So, once you have your identity around it,
it’s really hard to give up that identity of being an entrepreneur. Whether
that’s a good thing or a bad thing. But, I think, once you have that
identity, it’s hard to stop.
Andrew: I see what you mean. Once I said to myself and to the world, “I’m
an entrepreneur,” to give up and go work somewhere or to give up and just
go sit on a beach somewhere, would have felt embarrassing. I couldn’t face
anyone else and it would have been tough, for me also, to live that way.
Michael: Yeah. Especially doing what we do with helping people start
businesses. “All right. I’m packing it in. I’m going to get a job.” It’s
Andrew: So, it’s good that it propels you forward, but doesn’t it also add
extra pressure to you?
Michael: Yeah, it does. It fees like when you’re 18 you kind of have this
idea of once I accomplish these things, then you might be a little bit
different. Or like, you might be settling down a little bit. And I find
that even as we get more successes, I really have to force myself to be
appreciative and I have to block time aside to write down what I’m
appreciative for. It’s just my personality. I talked to someone else the
other day, and they just naturally think about everything they’re
appreciative for, and I more think about what I could be doing better.
Andrew: I see. So you have to force yourself to notice what you’re doing
well, so that you can appreciate it. All right, let’s go back and see how
you built up this business and accumulated some debt along the way, and how
you got past that. So you were an entrepreneur even going back to high
school. You co-founded a company, a web development company, called
Princeton Web Solutions, what was that?
Michael: It was [??] business. I feel like many people’s first business is
a web development company, and it was a great first business because, being
16 years old, people looked at us as experts, even though we knew nothing
about business or web development, just because we were young and they
associated tech with us. So, we put up a website to say we had a web
development firm, so literally the first website I ever created was
promoting that we could create websites for other people. It was during the
times when I feel like it was a lot easier to get clients. This was 1998,
I’m 30 now. People searched ‘Princeton web development’, and that’s how we
got our first client. Somebody reached out to us, and we got $1000 client.
Once we got that client, you know $1000 at 16 years old, when you’ve never
had any income besides an allowance of $1.00 a week or something like that,
that feels like, ‘All right, how do I do this again?’
Andrew: [laughs] What kind of site did you build for them?
Michael: I remember the name of the company was ABS Solutions, and it was
based in Trenton, New Jersey, but that’s about all I remember. It was
basically a brochure website.
Andrew: OK. And they were searching for Princeton Web Solutions because
they wanted a web development company in Princeton?
Andrew: All right, so you got that client, it was time to get even more.
What did you do to get more clients back then in high school?
Michael: I partnered with a company, I can’t remember the name of it.
Princeton Internet Group, maybe not. Something like that. And they actually
were a website creator as well. They charged their clients $50 an hour, and
they basically outsourced a lot of their work to us for $25 an hour. And so
we were basically doing contract work, but that allowed us to get great
clients, like the Princeton Holiday Inn, and Princeton YMCA, and all these
brand name clients in our local area. That eventually allowed us to go off
on our own and charge $100 an hour, or $75 an hour.
Andrew: How did you get this company that was outsourcing work to you? How
did you even think that you should partner with them?
Michael: I don’t remember how we thought it, but we just emailed them.
Andrew: You just said, “Hey, do you guys have any extra clients that you
can send our way?”
Michael: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: That’s pretty creative, for a 16-year old, especially.
Michael: Yeah. None of our parents were entrepreneurs, but I guess it just
seemed like a logical thing at the time.
Andrew: You know what, I’ve mentioned in past interviews that, as a kid I
got a lot of entrepreneurial ideas because I’d read biographies of other
entrepreneurs and then I’d find a way to adapt or adopt what they did and
bring it to my world. Did you do any of that? Where did your ideas come
Michael: I never really read any books before that first business, but as
soon as we got that contract, we spent a few hundred dollars on web
development books, and then sometime around there I started getting
interested in biographies, Napoleon Hill, of course. In high school I
probably read over a hundred books on personal development and growth. It
was just so fascinating to me, because my mom had always worked for the
government, and I understood that if you go up two or three percent per
year, and you start at the bottom, it just wasn’t an exciting path. So I’m
seeing this path that was so exciting, and finding these other role models
that maybe I didn’t have locally, books were an incredible source of
Andrew: I hope I’m doing that here with these interviews. That there’s
somebody who’s not sitting in an entrepreneurial community, not talking to
entrepreneurs on a daily basis, but listening to these interviews is
filling that gap for them. What was it like to go from selling $1,000 sites
to going back to school and doing regular, everyday stuff like gym and
science and everything else?
Michael: Well, one of my memories is we had to have meetings during the
day, and you could only miss, like, 21 of any certain class before you had
to retake that class. And always a running tally of how many classes you
could miss of a certain thing before you had to retake it. So I just
remember dressing up in a business suit and then one day coming back in gym
class, going into the locker room, changing into gym clothes and, like
somebody was selling weed in the locker room. So, you know, just going
completely between, you know, school and then this world that none of our
other peers could relate to was just a funny process. [??]
Andrew: [??] It’s what?
Michael: [??] with.
Andrew: I thought you had a [??].
Michael: [??] . . . to do it with. My co-founder was Kyle Newport and so we
could talk about it.
Andrew: I see that by having a cofounder you can talk to someone and not
feel like such a weirdo in a world where everyone is selling drugs or
talking about how they’re going to drink tonight.
Andrew: All that other B.S. Meanwhile, by the way, all those people . . . I
remember going to school loving business, couldn’t wait to get into
business, couldn’t wait to have a conversation with someone about business.
And all my friends wanted to do was talk about going out on Friday night
and drinking. Whenever I did it, I could see it was the most boring thing
ever. They were always waiting for something fun to happen or feeling like
because they were doing it, it should be fun, and they couldn’t let their
guard down and admit that it was fricking boring to sit and just nurse a
Michael: A specific memory was, like, we were at a party and, like, you
know, really bored, and, like, just talking about the next party and I’m,
like . . . That was, I think, my last party because it was just . . .
Andrew: And they’re all hoping for the cops to come bust down the party
because it’s too loud, because then they don’t have to continue with the
party but they can feel like they did something crazy that weekend.
Michael: Yeah, something to talk about on Monday.
Andrew: Right. Meanwhile, if you loved business, then it’s a problem, then
you were a dork so you can’t talk about it much. I feel so scarred by my
high school experience. All right, so I see how this business developed.
What happened to it?
Michael: So, you know, after that, we were able to get a model where we
were able to charge clients $100 an hour and outsource it to, basically,
India for $25 an hour. What had happened was a firm just emailed us and
said . . . and this was before outsourcing was popular or there was Elance
. . . but there was this firm that said they were from India. They had
showed all their programmers and all their client websites and they could
do all the work for us for a really cheap rate. The first project was free.
So for us, it was no risk and we tried it and they could just do much
better work than we were. And now instead of saying we’re just two high
school kids, we could show we have a whole team of people, you know, that
we work with. So a little smoke and mirrors, but it was great high school
business. You worked out, like, 10 hours a week, each of us, probably, and
we made $40,000 our senior year. Ultimately after college . . . this is the
end of . . . . or after high school, this is the end of 2000, that business
kind of fizzled out because my friend and I went to a different college,
the dot com bust, and also our passions were starting to go different
Andrew: What did you do with the money that you earned from it?
Michael: Basically, reinvested it all back in the company.
Andrew: So you didn’t get to take any cash out at the end.
Michael: No, we never took any cash out.
Andrew: Didn’t buy a car, didn’t do anything fun with it.
Andrew: No? Wow, so what you’re saying is it did $40,000 in sales but very
little in profits.
Michael: Yeah, basically. I think I was at the mindset of just spending,
like, the point of money is just to spend money. I think that was . . .
Andrew: Spend that money on the business, though.
Michael: I was, like, you know, if we have this money, we should spend it
to grow the business. So, you know, I don’t think necessarily that way
anymore, but I was always . . . I had the money spent before it came in.
Andrew: And around then is when you wrote The Student Success Manifesto
Michael: Yeah, it was just so weird in high school to have this
transformative experience in so many different ways and no one else in our
entire high school was aware of it. My parents weren’t, the teachers
weren’t aware of this career option and it was something that was totally
doable for somebody that was in high school or college. I thought it would
be different when I went to NYU Business School and it really wasn’t. There
were very few entrepreneurs or even entrepreneurial-minded people, so I
started writing articles about it and eventually codified that into a book.
It was really just more of a passion project, because I had this thing I
wanted people to know about.
Andrew: I had the same experience. I went to NYU. I thought that because
I’m going to business school in the heart of New York that everyone would
want to be an entrepreneur, that everyone would want earn tons of money,
and have big impact on the world. Maybe, in the beginning of college they
felt that way, but by the time they finished, they were all ready to go and
get a job. They were walking around with these little tape recorders so
they could, I guess, tape record their practice answers to interview
questions. I was so let down by that. You saw that, and you said, “I’m
going to show people that there’s another way. I’m going to create this
manifesto. I’ll publish it and the world will be packed to my door to buy
the book.” [laughs] What happened, actually, with sales?
Michael: This was 2003, so I think we sold 1,000 copies within the first
few weeks. That was just from the rush of going to every organization I’ve
ever been a part of, and everyone I ever talked to, and getting purchases
that way. After that, it kind of flatlined for a while, getting occasional
purchases. Got really, really good feedback from people who read it. I’m
not sure what percentage actually read it. That was fulfilling, but it
never really took off like we thought it would. At some level, it’s just
learning the number of college students that read books on personal growth
outside of class. That’s a very small number.
Andrew: That’s too bad. All right, but then it made you discover something.
You looked for a better way to do it, right?
Andrew: What was that?
Michael: I started to get invited to speak from the book, and was doing
that. I never considered myself a speaker. I was just really, really shy.
Even though I’ve spoken a lot now, my identity isn’t as a speaker.
I realized that being a young entrepreneur, talking to somebody else in
college, you’re really well positioned to explain the idea to people. Help
people see that as an opportunity, rather than somebody who is 60 years old
and maybe ten times or a hundred times more successful, but just looks at
looks at things completely differently because of their stage of life, what
generation they’re from.
In 2006, we created the Extreme Entrepreneurship tour, because there was
all these young entrepreneurs out there that we were seeing, that people
didn’t know about. We wanted to create an event, rather than just me
speaking or partners speaking, we created an event series. I co-founded
that with my girlfriend at the time, and now wife, Sheena Lindahl. We were
basically seeing the same things and speaking together.
Andrew: The first speaking engagements that you had were just you in front
of an audience of students. You were giving them the message of
entrepreneurship. You were telling them about the possibilities, and you
were also letting them know that if they wanted to buy the book, that was
available, right? It was just you.
Michael: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: You were nervous, but you did it anyway. Did it sell books when you
were nervous like that?
Michael: I think people like authenticity, so I don’t think people need to
have the perfect person out there who doesn’t have any flaws, so I talked
about the failures. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a big book seller. I
really realized that it’s hard to build a business around a book unless
you’re a very successful author. We saw this opportunity in speaking
engagements is that there’s already a high price point set in with it.
Andrew: Why can you charge more when it’s a collection of speakers?
Michael: Just speaking in general, I think people are used to paying more.
People were used to paying $15 per book. In the college market, we’re used
to paying $2,500 to speak.
Andrew: I see. You’re saying, you discovered that you can charge more to
have people come in and listen to a speaker than you could earn by speaking
for free and selling the books. Do I understand that right?
Michael: Selling books is pretty hard one-on-one, unless you have a large
marketing budget, or it’s one of those books that takes off word of mouth.
To get a speaking engagement, you have to sell a large amount of books.
Andrew: I see. By the way, before we move on and see how you brought in a
team of entrepreneurs to speak and how you got schools to let you in, that
first place that you spoke. Can you tell the audience about where that was,
what that was like?
Michael: I grew up in Princeton, New Jersey area – Hopewell, New Jersey
specifically – which is an hour outside of New York City. It’s a suburb of
a major metropolitan area. I knew there was a middle part to the country,
but I’d never really been there, and didn’t really know what rural meant,
but this was a definitely a rural area. Elko, Nevada. Flying over it to get
there, you just see, you look out and you see planes for as far as the eye
could see. I just remember the night before being so scared [??] get there,
started reading about who’s there and it’s like, 80% of the students go on
to mining once they graduate, because that’s the main industry in that
area. So I just felt like there’s going to be no way I can relate to that
audience and stayed up all night, preparing for it.
Andrew: Wow. How’d you do?
Michael: I felt like it went well. I feel like it went well. By today’s
standards I probably wouldn’t think as well, but the advantage you have
when you’re younger is that people give you more lenience.
Andrew: All right, so you decide that you’re going to put together this
speaker tour. What’d you do first? Did you get the speakers or did you get
the schools to pay to bring you in.
Michael: So, basically I created a PowerPoint in a website where we ask
speakers if they, if we had this event, would you speak. And then if they
said yes, then we got their bio, headshots, so we had a website full of
everyone’s headshots and bios. We went online and found a picture of the
RV, tour bus that we wanted, and we used photoshop to look like we pictured
it looking like in the future, and we got a map. I don’t know if we used
Google Maps. I think we just used other maps at the time. And we created a
chart and we just put dots on it to say where we were going, to be going
that year, so we made something that didn’t exist at all look as real as
possible, and started selling it and started telling people that they’ll
get a discount if they were the first school to get it. Didn’t start until
we got ten schools confirm basically.
Andrew: How did you get the entrepreneurs to come to your side and fill out
that form and say that, yes, they’d be interested in coming in to speak?
Michael: Well, one thing, I had always been inspired by other young
entrepreneurs, so I already had a network at that point, and same thing
with my wife, Sheena. So we already had a network that we can pull from.
Andrew: Who’s on there?
Michael: Some of your past interviewees. Ryan Alice [SP] is one of first
speaker for the first year or two. He spoke about 20 times.
Andrew: Founder of Eye Contact.
Michael: Adam Witty. He’d be a great person for you to interview if you
haven’t already, started Advantage Media Group, and he actually helped
found that company during that first year. And Ephren Taylor. I think you
might have interviewed him as well. And Doug Faith, a good friend and a
real estate entrepreneur, so people like who has really set the bar over a
million dollars in revenue.
Andrew: So, how’d you meet these guys? How’d you meet Ryan Alice?
Michael: We met at a collegiate entrepreneur organization conference when I
think I was 20 and he was 18, so he had just . . .
Andrew: And by then, he already did a million dollars in sales.
Michael: Well, I remember a very funny thing. So I met him, like, November
of his freshman year, and he was saying he was a contractor for this other
company. He’s going to start email marketing company that’s going to be a
million dollars in revenue by this time next year. I just remember thinking
he was really cocky because how he said it was like it had already happened
and he was acting as if and basically, literally within a year to a few
days, he made that happened.
Andrew: Wow. Right, right. He did talked about that in the interview.
People have got to see that interview. That guy is so good at saying: this
is what I want to be at that time, and then making it happen. He said in
his interview, that first interview that I did with him. He told that story
that you just said, but he also said, here’s what I’m going to be in the
future, and he gave a deadline, how much revenue he’s going to earn, and
check out the interview and see what happened. Unbelievable story. So you
basically go on events, you’re meeting these entrepreneurs, and they’re
becoming friends of yours, and at the time they’re just getting started, so
you’re able to connect with them and bring them on board. Then you have to
call up the schools and get them to pay. That’s a tough customer. A school
with limited budget. How are you getting them to say yes?
Michael: Well, one thing is we had 1/4 price we do now, so that helped a
little bit. And . . .
Andrew: What did you charge the school?
Andrew: They paid 2500 and you bring an RV full of entrepreneurs in to give
Michael: Exactly. So, we had three speakers and two event staff. So,
basically it’s just a really good deal. We were losing money in those
first, although we didn’t really value our time at the time, so we thought
we were breaking even, but really we weren’t. So, we were losing money, but
it helped us get reference clients and go forward.
Andrew: Did you have to pay the speakers?
Michael: I think some of them, and then some of them were just, had been
Andrew: And they sleep on the RV?
Michael: No, we stop at hotels. Sometimes, if we’re driving from one part
of the country to another. Some entrepreneurs just come for one event then
leave and some will go on a string of events and be with the R.V. as it
goes across the country. [??] able to get that bus though. We just weren’t
able to get enough schools to get it. That actually was really difficult.
We had to call everyone up and say we weren’t going to get the bus. It was
after that first year we got the bus.
Andrew: I see. Were there any entrepreneurs who started dating women in
college, that they were going to go and date the students. You don’t have
to give me their names, but there were. I can see it in your eyes.
Michael. One speaker who hooked up with a student.
Andrew: Just once.
Michael: Nothing else.
Andrew: I see, OK. I imagine also coming off stage they feel like rock
stars, the audience wants be them, they want to date them, is that
Michael: Yeah, not that I know of.
Andrew: Not that you’re willing to say or not that you know of?
Michael: What was that?
Andrew: Not that you’re willing to say or not that you know of?
Michael: None that I know of.
Andrew: Maybe, that was just my fantasy. I remember being a dork in college
and thinking, why is everyone really admiring these musicians who’d come
into school to sing, or these chumps who would come in to teach us about
storytelling? They should all be admiring entrepreneurs. One day, I’m going
to be the entrepreneur up on stage here, then all these girls who are
ignoring me are going to want to see me afterwards. They’re going to want
to date me. All these guys who are ignoring me are going to want to be me
or go into business with me. All those people who have nothing to say to me
are finally going to have some conversation that they could have with me.
All right, maybe I’m imposing my background on your story here, so let’s go
back to your story.
Michael: I had a girlfriend the entire time, so I’ve never had any
attention my way.
Andrew: You were what the entire time, sorry?
Michael: I had a girlfriend the entire time I included that in my speech.
Andrew: I see.
Michael: My partner Arel has had people make approaches on him, but he has
Andrew: OK. All right, but still, you’re cold calling schools and you’re
trying to get them to pay you 2500 bucks to bring in these entrepreneurs.
What was that like?
Michael: It’s really difficult. I think part of the challenge is we didn’t
really know how to do sales. I grew up during the dotcom boom so everyone
was coming to us as clients hadn’t fully accepted that sales is a really
important part of getting started. It shouldn’t just be that you make a few
sales calls, you should be spending over 80 or 90% of your time making
sales calls. I think that was the hardest transition, is getting to be
someone whose afraid of sales and contacting people to going to really
enjoying it and building relationships with people. At some level there’s
nothing beyond just doing it, and getting better, that made it enjoyable.
Andrew: So, it was just over and over picking up the phone and practicing
by calling another prospect?
Michael: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: How did you even know who to call?
Michael: A big part was going to industry conferences as well as being a
speaker or being an exhibitor. That’s how we could get a lot of warm leads,
people interested in the tour.
Andrew: I see and that’s something that you told me about before the
interview, that people need to understand that by speaking they can build
credibility which leads to sales which leads to partnerships. Tell me a
little but about this. Give me some advice on how I can do it or our
audience can do it.
Michael: Let me think of a few specific examples. Two things; first
whatever type of business you are, there’s stakeholders you want to get the
attention of, whether it’s investors, customers, potential partners.
Chances are there’s an industry association where all of them get together.
In the tech industry people know, obviously, TechCrunch and other ones.
Your customers get together. As a young entrepreneur it’s really, I think,
easy to become a keynote speaker. Not that it doesn’t take time and effort,
but if you present yourself as a credible speaker that can be engaging to
the audience, Instead of being an exhibitor, where you’re trying to sell to
everyone on a level below, you can be a speaker where everyone in the room
is going to know who you are. If you have a product, an enterprise company,
where you’re charging $50,000 per product, and you’re speaking to 400
people as the expert, that can be really game changing.
Andrew: What did you do to get to speak at these events? Did you just call
them up and say that you wanted to speak?
Michael: One, I would say, is building relationships with them over time,
so going to them. When I go to conferences, I’m always looking at the event
organizers, to build a relationship with them, and all the event staff as
well. So that when it’s time to make a decision about who the speaker is,
they know us and we’re going to be in the mix. I’d say that’s one element.
I think another thing is having the basics of a credible speaker:
professional headshots, a website with a bio that reads the right way.
We’re an expert on the topic that the conference is about, we have a book
which helps build your credibility. We have testimonials of other speakers,
references of other students who’ve attended our events, and hosted or
brought us in, and a list of the number of engagements we’ve been to.
Andrew: I see. All right. By the way, are you still nervous to get in front
of an audience?
Michael: Yeah, I still have the anxiousness.
Andrew: To this day.
Michael: Yeah, definitely. But it’s a lot less that it was before.
Andrew: So, how do you give a good presentation if you’re a person who’s
not a natural at it, who can’t wait to get up on stage, who feels alive on
stage and that feels like your element?
Michael: That’s a really good question. One thing that I do, is before my
talks, I get in the ‘state.’ Have you been to Anthony Robbin’s conference
Michael: So you know all about the ‘state.’
Andrew: So you get in the right state, what do you do, what’s your trigger
to get in state?
Michael: For the tour events, we get in the back room and we basically jump
up. We have a trigger, an action we do to get ourselves in that state. We
make a lot of noise, and just get in the state. In my experience, and I’m
curious if you have this too, once you get on stage, you feel a lot more
comfortable. So it’s the beginning part where there’s the most anxiety.
Having that beginning part planned and starting strong really sets you up.
You can have where the audience likes you, they’re responding to you and
you’re unique, then it’s so much easier than if you give a slow start, you
stutter, the audience is saying in the back of their mind, “This is going
to be boring,” they’re already pulling out their cell phones, then you have
to fight against momentum.
Andrew: What’s the trigger for you? What’s your thing? What does Tony Robin
say, that’s you’re supposed to hit your chest, or do a slap, what’s your
Michael: So, at the conference, Tony Robbin’s conference, you set up a
trigger. You imagine you see an ambulance in the background, like the
lighting when you’re driving, all of the sudden your heart changes and you
get in a whole different state. And that is just purely done by seeing
something. So you want to create a similar trigger in your body. I’d have
to stand up to do it, but basically jumping up and down, say ‘Yes!’, do
your move, when it’s at the conference.
Andrew: All right, so you call up these schools. What did you learn about
sales that helped you close all these sales?
Michael: Just overall, some basically principles I learned? One I remember,
Adam Witty’s original partner said, “80% of sales are closed after the
fifth attempt.” So, always just assumed that you contact people once or
twice and then you’re done, and I didn’t want to offend people. And now I’m
relentless in following up with people. You just follow up really nicely
and people really don’t mind. Another basic rule that I feel like
transformed things is you spend 80% of your time listening, so asking
questions. I think those two things alone, and making the sales calls, had
a really, really big impact.
Andrew: And still there was a time when you called up a high school lady,
let me see what you said to Jeremy, our producer. You were asking questions
and it came across awkward, and you didn’t want to stop asking questions
and start promoting because you didn’t want to sound like a used car
salesman. What happened there?
Michael: I just remember one particular call when I was just learning how
to do this. I was just asking questions about their organization, and I
don’t think I set the context right. I think they seemed random to her, so
she said, “Why are you asking me these questions? What are you trying to
get at?” And I remember feeling really bad and awkward, and stuttering, and
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to seem like I was selling them
something, basically. I think now I feel very comfortable selling, because
that’s why we’re on the call. Not trying to hide that. I phrase it now as
seeing if there’s a good fit. If there’s not, that’s fine, but that’s what
Andrew: I see. So, before you even get into the questions, you say, “Look.
This is what I put together. I wanted to call you up to see if it’s a good
fit for your school.” Then you start asking questions that will help you
both determine whether it’s a good fit.
Michael: Yeah. If it’s not a good fit, I completely understand. I’m thick-
skinned, just tell me at any time. That makes them feel comfortable as
well, that I’m not going to go through this huge [??] they’re going to have
to listen to it.
Andrew: What kind of questions help you get someone to a yes?
Michael: My favorite system is the Sandler Sales System. Have you ever
heard of that system?
Andrew: No, tell me.
Michael: I love it because it’s a system that works, and it’s not a hard
sell. Basically, the upfront is you establish an upfront commitment of
saying how long the call is going to be, that they can say no, and that’s
fine. That’s part of the system. The next part is establishing the pain,
and just trying to understand what makes people buy is emotion, not
intellectually knowing something. Trying to understand why they would buy
something. What pain are you solving, and really trying to dig down.
Part of the system is calling people on it, so if they say, “I was
interested in your product because I think it could do xyz.” I might say,
“Well, it seems like you already have xyz. It sounds like you don’t really
even need anything. What makes us valuable?” or something like that.
Another thing is just seeing who the decision makers are, seeing what their
budget is. One thing I really like at the end of it is the thermometer. I
should also say, I don’t always follow it 100 percent, but I mainly hit on
all the areas. “Based on our conversation, on a scale from one to ten, how
interested are you in moving forward? One being not interested at all,
we’ll never talk again, to ten being, you’re ready go forward right away.”
You can see where somebody is because a lot of times, basically, people
have difficulty saying no or breaking rapport. I always do this. I hate
breaking rapport, so I’m just going to say, “It sounds good. Let me get
back to you.” You just want to see where they are. If they’re below five,
then it’s probably not worth following up with them. If there’s a six or a
seven, you might ask, “OK, great. What would make you a ten? What would
make you really excited?” Then they’ll basically tell you the thing that
you need to do in order for it to be a good fit.
Andrew: You mentioned earlier that part of the Sandler method for doing
sales is finding out what people’s pain is. What pain do people have that
the Extreme Entrepreneurship tour solved?
Michael: That’s a really good question. Took a few years to realize that.
We’re really good with working with rural schools who are just launching an
entrepreneurship program, or who want to grow it.
We go in with a national program into this area, and we’re able to get lots
of campus media, local CBS or NBC affiliates. We’re able to get a buzz
across campus, so people in the community know the event’s going to be
happening. We come in with a bus. People in the community have already seen
the bus go through the community. They don’t have the local network of
young entrepreneurs who they can pull from.
To give you an example, I mentioned that first event in Elko, Nevada. I
think it was about seven hours driving distance to the nearest Wal-Mart.
It’s literally like you pack everyone up, and you go for a day of shopping.
That’s a very rural community, but you think about those type of
communities. It’s hard to get big name speakers, or even local young
entrepreneurs to speak, because they’re in major cities generally.
Andrew: I see. So the pain is that they want to bring entrepreneurship to
their schools, but they don’t have entrepreneurs to actually talk and to
give presentations, to talk to the students, and get to know them. You
bring that in.
Michael: I realize I didn’t even answer directly to the pain, so I think
the pain result specifically, is we help them promote their
entrepreneurship offering. You’re just being programmed. You’re creating a
corpse or a major, and you want people to sign up for that. You want people
from across campus to sign up for that. How do you get people excited about
We’re really good at getting attendees, and then once we have the room,
people will get really excited about entrepreneurship. The niche we’re
filling overall in the entrepreneurship ecosystem is, how do you get the
98% of people on most college campuses, outside of Stanford and Babson
[SP], who don’t really even realize that entrepreneurship is possibility?
They’ve only been told about getting a job. How do you expose those people
to entrepreneurship, and have a paradigm shift?
Most of the resources in the field are towards taking somebody who’s
already interested, and helping them be more successful, and giving them
the technical skills. That’s how we see ourselves fitting in.
Andrew: What kind of questions do you ask that get your prospect to tell
you about that pain? You can’t just come out and say, “Do you need us to
come into town and bring entrepreneurs in?” or “Do you need us to help
promote your entrepreneurship courses?” Do you?
Michael: Well, I feel like now is a little bit different because we’ve done
over 300 of these half-day events, and hundreds of other keynotes.
Generally, we can understand their pain pretty quickly. I feel like it’s
more in the beginning stages where we really have to go deeper into the
Andrew: What kind of questions, back then, would you ask that would uncover
Michael: That’s a really good question. One question I ask, I’m thinking
more recently, was in our Impact Summit. I try to understand. The most
obvious question you probably hear all the time is, “What keeps you up at
night? What’s your biggest challenge day to day?” I think that’s the
question I use to at least start the conversation. Once everybody starts
talking about it, try and understand it. Is it something that just a little
bit bothers them, or is this the thing that keeps them up at night and
Andrew: I see. That’s a good question. I’m seeing entrepreneurs ask that a
lot. “Andrew, what keeps you up at night?” is something from people a lot.
You’re saying as a follow-up, find out how important that is, how painful
that really is to them.
Michael: Yeah, how important would that be for you to solve?
Andrew: All right, so you bring this bus of entrepreneurs in. You start
doing the first ones. How do they go?
Michael: They went really well. What was our first one? It was Belmont
University in Nashville, Tennessee. We had Ephren Taylor and Doug Faith.
Andrew: You had Tom Szaky of Terracycle?
Michael: I think he was definitely there that first season, I think number
ten of that season. We had some great entrepreneurs there. It was a ton of
fun. On a personal level, I felt like the biggest way, personally, that
could make a difference is inspiring other entrepreneurs. I felt like it
was really purposeful. I got to spend time with entrepreneurs that were the
same age, and I really respected. It was awesome.
Andrew: You mentioned the RV that you got for the first tour that you did,
which was 2006 I think. Do I have that right?
Michael: Yep, end of 2006.
Andrew: 2006. Then in 2007, you decide to buy an RV. Why’d you buy an RV?
Michael: Basically, we wanted to be more than just a speaker or an event
you bring, but we felt like the story, the image of a bus, told more about
this tour or going across the country.
Actually, it was extremely powerful. I learned a lot from it because when
people were thinking about bringing us in, they were like, “Oh, we want to
bring in the bus.” That’s what a lot of people said, and still say. It’s
not even about the young entrepreneurs or the content. I think it’s what
the bus represents.
We put that bus in the emails when we started. You’d put the bus in the
email, and you’d get a huge response from it. We sent out an email to
people, and get 24 leads from it of people who were interested.
Andrew: I see. Wow, it’s amazing how something so simple and so indirectly
connected to the product, becomes the representation of the product.
Andrew: But you had an issue where you – I don’t know how to trigger this
conversation. Why don’t we talk about how you purchased it. Maybe that’s a
good way to do it. Why you had to put it on your credit cards.
Michael: Well, that was a time when we had bad credit.
Andrew: Why’d you have bad credit, by the way?
Michael: I don’t think I realized the importance of credit in college, so I
just wasn’t always good at paying bills on time. Just the amount of credit
cards we had, the amount of the credit cards we were using, the percentage
of the available balance we were using; we just weren’t able to qualify for
an RV loan. It would have made it a lot easier to put down ten percent, and
pay it over 15 years if you want to.
Andrew: Instead, you had to pay it all at once.
Michael: We had to pay it all at once.
Andrew: How much was it?
Michael: I think it was $65,000 or something like that. $65,000, but then
you have to pay for the wrapping of it, stuff like that. So, if you’re just
starting in business…
Andrew: How did you get that money?
Michael: One was through credit cards, a little bit of it. We found out
there’s a lending category called ‘micro-loans’, because the banks weren’t
lending to us. A lot of non-profit organizations that will give you, let’s
say 10% interest, so a little bit higher than the bank, and I think we got
$25,000 that way. One organization that we got that from was CAMBA, which
is just a micro-loan organization in Brooklyn, so that was helpful. We
asked my mom, of course she said no.
Michael: We just asked all of our friends. So, the day before, we had to
get it in order to have the season, I just remember being really stressed.
We were still down $20,000, and we were just like, “This isn’t going to
happen.” We have to have this bus somewhere next week, but some people came
through last minute. They were people who were willing to support, but they
wanted to see that we exhausted every other option before going to them, so
they came through.
Andrew: What kind of people?
Michael: One was a mentor, and the other one was just a friend who’s an
entrepreneur has extra money. And that’s how we got started.
Andrew: What other organizations give micro-loans to entrepreneurs?
Michael: The best way to find that out is the industry association for
micro-lending, and it’s called the Association of Enterprise Opportunity,
and their website is microenterpriseworks.org. They have a searcher where
you can search for ones in your area. So it’s a really good source if you
need like ten to fifteen thousand dollars, and you don’t have collateral
and you don’t have good credit history, it’s a good way to get income if
you’re an entrepreneur.
Andrew: One of the things I’ve always admired about you, Michael, is that
you know resources like this, that the rest of us wouldn’t even be aware
that this was an option. You not only know it’s an option, but you know the
industry association, and you know a few organizations within it that you
should talk to, always amazes me.
Michael: Well it’s one of my favorite things is trying to get the big
picture on things, and find the resources, and connect them, and meet
Andrew: I don’t know how you do that stuff. Let me ask you this, I’m
skipping ahead a little bit. How did you even get to the White House? How
do you end up putting together an organization to get into the White House?
It’s not like renting the Ritz. I mean, you have to work some kind of
network, in order to put together an event that the White House partners up
Michael: Well, it was kind of the perfect timing, the perfect storm. It was
a combination of introductions, and building relationships, just like any
other relationship. One thing I love doing is making introductions wherever
I can, just being helpful, basic relationship building. We hosted our event
at the White House, we partnered with their department of youth engagement,
as part of their Champions of Change series, celebrating young change-
makers. So this is something that happened to fit right into that, and it’s
a great partnership.
Andrew: So they had an initiative where they wanted to encourage
entrepreneurs to be more entrepreneurial, and they said, “Here’s an
organization that’s doing it, we’re going to give them our space and our
credibility to encourage them to grow.” And the reason you found out about
it was that you had a friend who knew about it.
Michael: Yeah, basically. We got multiple introductions, through a friend,
through somebody else in the government as well.
Andrew: Who else?
Michael: What do you mean who else?
Andrew: Give me more details on this. So, last night I was at this dinner
that was put on by a friend of mine who earlier in the day took some
entrepreneurs to the White House for some event that he put together, and
then they were celebrating with drinks at a friend’s house. I said, how the
hell do you get into the White House? How many people who are listening to
me would benefit from putting together organizations that then had access
to the White House? The credibility that comes from that is stunning, it’s
on your home page for a reason.
Michael: [??] credibility. It’s also really difficult, because basically
it’s not an equal relationship, because it’s much higher on the totem pole,
and they’re also extremely busy, so I’m aware that we’re not the highest
item. But I think it worked because it fit in. I think the better you
understand all the initiatives that the government is doing, [??] is doing,
whether it’s around young people or whether it’s around veterans, if you
could help with that process, then I think you’re in good shape. If you
just want to host an event at the White House, unrelated to anything, then
it’s probably impossible.
Andrew: Here’s what I’m getting from this. It’s a lot more complicated than
we can get into with the few more minutes left in this interview, but if I
want to do this, like a Mixergy White House event, I’m just going to reach
out to you and I’ll ask you and we’ll sit down and strategize. If anyone
else wants to do something like that, they need to find a reason to make it
worth your while to sit down with them and strategize with them directly
and have the conversation that leads to it. Does that sound about right?
Michael: That sounds right.
Andrew: All right. I have no interest in doing the White House event now,
but it’s impressive that you were able to do it. Maybe, we should do it,
Mixergy at the White House. Let’s stay focused, I guess. So, you do the
first one. You get your boss, you get your (?) for the second one. What’s
the next big milestone for you guys?
Andrew: Was it increasing rates?
Michael: To expand, so we started doing lots of events and growing the
company. I feel like we hit on something that hit a nerve and have now been
in over 45 different states. Lots of war stories, from the bus breaking
down to 60 mile per hour winds and great experiences. I feel like, to be
honest, no other really big changes were made in the tour after that.
Andrew: And it’s ongoing. Still, this year, you guys, did you do it
Michael: Yeah. We had another(?) tour event on Saturday.
Andrew: And you’re still going to every event?
Michael: I haven’t. Well, one of our things is it has to be under 30. I’m
30 now, turned last November, so I’ve probably been to just a handful of
events in the past two years, but our partner, Arel Moodie, is literally
one of the best speakers I ever met. He can take an audience that has never
heard of entrepreneurship, they’ve got three hours of sleep, and do a high
energy event. That’s his number one passion in the world, so it’s a good
Andrew: The $40,000 in debt that we talked about in the beginning of this
interview, that came from basically the RV and other expenses around your
Michael: Yeah, and living expenses, too. We basically. . . In retrospect,
maybe, we should have had a part-time consulting engagement, or something,
but wanted to go full into the business, and maybe thought that we’d get
clients sooner than we did.
Michael: We were using credit card debts to live, as well.
Andrew: All right. Did you pay it off yet?
Michael: Yeah, it’s paid off.
Andrew: You did.
Michael: Probably a few years ago.
Andrew: How many?
Michael: A few years ago.
Andrew: A few years ago. Are you fully debt free?
Michael: No, definitely not.
Michael: It’s a long story. We purchased a condo, and then it didn’t make
sense to sell it because we wouldn’t have made money on it. So, have the
condo now and in the process of purchasing a house, so have more debt than
ever, but it’s for a house.
Andrew: That’s a different kind of debt than credit card debt from buying
an RV. All right. Well, let me see this. Let me see if there’s anything
else here in my notes. Did I miss anything that we needed to bring up,
anything that you think is important to tell entrepreneurs who want to
either. . .
Well, here’s a question, actually. A friend of mine told me that when he
watches speakers, he takes notes on their presentation skills and little
tactics that they use to win over the audience or communicate their ideas
in an interesting way. I’ve started doing that, too, in a note here, in
Evernote. Do you have a couple of tips that you’ve noticed? Do you do
something like that, too?
Michael: Yeah. I would say starting out with a really strong beginning. It
depends on the kind of talk. . .
Andrew: Well, what do you do to start off with a strong beginning?
Michael: The thing I do is, “Who here wants to make $1 million? Raise your
hands.” Everyone’s raising their hands, they’re already moving. “Who here
wants to do something you’re extremely passionate about everyday?” Everyone
raises their hands. “Who here wants to make a difference? All right. Well,
today I’m going to talk about how you can do all of those things, not in 10
years, not in 5 years, but right away through starting a business.” That’s
the very beginning, and then (?), “Who here wants this $10 bill?”
Andrew: So, first of all, telling students that they could earn $1 million
quickly, that gets them excited.
Andrew: Of course.
Michael: “Who here would like to be a millionaire.”
Michael: So, showing how entrepreneurship is arguably the most powerful
vehicle for doing those things. You’ve gotten them to raise their hands, so
it’s a call and a response. I think if you can have some sort of call and
response, to get people to raise their hand, and things like that, that way
you develop a rapport right away and you’re different. You’re not just
knocking on the microphone and be like, “Is this thing on? How are you
Andrew: What’s the ten dollar thing that you do?
Michael: What’s that?
Andrew: What’s the ten dollar thing?
Michael: So, we do, “Who here wants this ten dollar bill?” And we see,
everyone raises their hand, and say, “Who here wants this ten dollar bill?”
And everyone raises their hand again, and then you keep on saying it until
somebody comes up and then sometimes two people run and grab it and you
say, you give it to them and you do a round of applause and say, “So many
people say they want something, they want the ten dollar bill, you want
this goal, but so few people actually take action and follow it. And if
there’s one thing that we want to leave with you today is that everything
we tell you, these entrepreneurs you see, it’s not valuable unless you take
action. So, that’s one way we’re already the audience is moving around and
Andrew: All right, what about Arel? What does he do? What’s one tactic that
you’ve seen him do, that you say, “Boy that’s really good. I’ve got to
either find a way to do it, if it’s not awkward that I’m stealing from him,
or I’ve got to file that away to come up with my own version.”
Michael: I believe those things Aral helped develop. You have to develop it
around your personality. Arel is somebody who is the kind of person if
you’re at a party and somebody’s like, “Who wants to sing a song or do
something?” He loves doing it. He starts off by standing on a chair in the
back of the room. So, instead of coming from the front of the room and just
going on in front of the podium, he starts talking on top of a chair. So,
right away, everyone looks behind them and they’re like, “Where’s that
sound coming from?” And you already have everyone’s attention and he runs
up. But, I think if you can give away little things, if you can give away
prizes, and one rule that I’ve always had in the back of my mind which I
liked, is, let me see if I remember it. One is try to limit your talk to
one to three main points, instead of jumping all over and having like, here
are the 20 bullet points to do this. Even three is probably too much.
People will really just remember a little bit. And for every point you want
to get across, have a story that explains that point. And then, have an
activity that gets that point across.
Andrew: So, a point, story, activity. Give me an example of a point, and a
story that you tell with it along with an activity.
Michael: Take action. I know this isn’t important without taking action,
and activity is the ten dollar bill. You get people to move around, and
then a story. Actually, I just spoke at my high school. I was there for the
first time after 12 years last week, and I was thinking about, what is the
one story I can tell and one thing that I can leave. So, I told a personal
story about how in high school I never had a girlfriend. I never asked
anyone out, and I thought my way to be successful like getting a girlfriend
was learning how to dance. I just pictured myself going on the dance floor,
going in the center, I’d be the center of attention. I bought a lot of
amazon.com videos from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, literally did all of this
and just tried to practice, and it never worked.
In high school, I never even had he confidence to try out the moves because
I was so nervous, and then finally when I got to college I was just
frustrating myself. Is there ever something that you really want to do and
you know you should do it, but you just don’t have the confidence. That
kind of eats away at you. So, for the first time ever I asked somebody out.
It was during Orientation Week at NYU. You’re meeting lots of people, but
also this person is very attractive, great conversation, I’m going to ask
them out. I’m going to try something new. She said, yes, and now 12 years
later Sheena is my business partner and wife. And so, it’s important to
take action because you never know where else it will take you.
Andrew: Good point. It’s a great place to leave it to. All right. Before I
tell the audience where they can follow up and see more about you and what
you’ve been working on, I should say that if you want to go to the next
level with us here at Mixergy, go to MixergyPremium.com. That’s where I
bring in entrepreneurs to teach one topic that they’re especially good at,
that you as an entrepreneur need to learn. We focus on it by having them
turn on their computer screen or having them walk us through step by step
how they do it.
So, if you watch this interview and you want to learn more about sales, for
example, we’ve got a course on sales where we walk you through step by step
on how to do it. If there’s something that we didn’t cover that’s a
challenge for you, like how to increase conversions, I’ve got the founder
of Optimizely most recently teaching specifically how you can take a
landing page that you’ve got on your site right now that’s designed to get
more leads, and if it’s not working, what to do to actually make it work to
increase conversions on that. Or if you have a landing page that’s designed
to sell, and it’s not selling enough, listen to Dan teach you how you can
increase sales there.
Those two courses and dozens, literally dozens of other courses taught by
proven entrepreneurs are available at MixergyPremium.com. If you’re already
a member, you get access to them all for free as part of your membership.
If you’re not, I hope you join us by going to MixergyPremium.com.
Michael, if people want to find out more about what you’re working on, is
the best site to send them to iEmpact.com?
Michael: Yep. That’s exactly right. It’s I-E-M as in man-P-A-C-T.com,
Andrew: Cool. And thank you for doing this interview.
Michael: Thank you very much.
Andrew: Cool. Thank you all for watching.