How “Must Marketing” Helped Me Bootstrap A Profitable Startup – Andrew Warner Interview by Lisa Bruckner
Mixergy fan, Lisa Bruckner saw me interview other entrepreneurs here and asked, “Where’s YOUR interview Andrew?” She wanted to know how I bootstrapped that $30+ MM/year business and a few other things about me.
So I invited her to interview me. In the interview we talked about business concepts like “must marketing,” which takes viral marketing and adds urgency to it, but Lisa also asked some personal questions about my fiance, childhood and clothing.
The FULL program
About this program
Lisa Bruckner asked the questions. She is a men’s style consultant for the Trunk Club. She’s also a guest writer for BIG Blog and the Trunk Club Blog, in addition to writing for her own blog Wasabi Nights.
Andrew Warner answered the questions. He’s the founder of Mixergy.com.
Excerpts from this interview
Discovering a passion for business
Lisa: Can you tell us about your childhood and how you grew up?
Andrew: Business and reading were very important to me growing up.
When I discovered reading, my life changed. I was exposed to worlds of new ideas that I never knew before. One of those worlds just happened to be business. I think it’s because the library near my house had a great business section, full of stories of entrepreneurs.
Many of the books at the library were about young entrepreneurs who built mega-successful companies from their homes or college dorm rooms. So I started fantasizing about doing the same thing.
I also come from a family of entrepreneurs and I grew up in a neighborhood where entrepreneurship was encouraged.
In my neighborhood, when it snowed hard, a lot of us kids would go out and shovel snow for their neighbors and we had to negotiate our prices. I don’t think I was very good at first because I heard other kids talk about how much more they got paid. That made me more curious about business skills because they became practical. So I went to the library and read as much as I could about business.
Getting the first big sale
Lisa: Where did you learn the most about entrepreneurship, school or life out of school?
Andrew: My most useful lessons came from books and stories about entrepreneurs who did well.
When I launched Bradford & Reed, my previous company, I needed to sell ads but I couldn’t reach the big advertisers. I heard about a company that represented the big guys, so I called them up and asked, “Could you please sell ads on my site? I think you can earn good commissions from the ads you sell on my site.” They rejected me. They said my audience was too small for them. For weeks I kept calling back, but they just wouldn’t budge.
So I wrote out a check for all the money we had at the time–about $2,000–and made a surprise visit to their office. I told the head of the company, Rosalind Resnick (who I’ve interviewed on Mixergy), that if she couldn’t make money off selling ads on my site, she could keep my check.
Rosalind said, “You’re too small of us. You’re pretending to have a bigger audience than you really do. And even that made up number is too small. But I like your determination so I’m going to sell ads for you.”
That was my first dependable source of revenue, and because I kept reinvesting it in the business, it helped my company take off.
Now I didn’t read a book that told me explicitly how to do that. But after reading hundreds of stories of ambitious entrepreneurs who took initiative, I was able to come up with my own approach.
Building an audience through “must marketing”
Lisa: How specifically did you build your audience?
Andrew: For Bradford & Reed we used a method I call “must-marketing.” Must marketing means that if people want to use your product, they must market it too. In our online greeting card business, a user came to our site, picked out a card and sent it out. Only they really didn’t send the card. They sent a *link* to the card. The greeting card was on our site. So every time someone sent out a card, what they were really doing was sending a link to our site — they were marketing our business for us.
Lisa: Should entrepreneurs focus on one project or many?
Andrew: *For me,* focusing on one — with lots of variations and experiments — thing is better. I didn’t get involved in any other business when I ran Bradford & Reed, but the company experimented a lot. We started out thinking that email newsletters would be our main product, but one of our experiments was online greeting cards and it ended up being the company’s growth engine.
Spending too much time at work
Lisa: Bradford & Reed took up 100% of your time, do you feel you have a personal life now with Mixergy?
Andrew: I’m trying not to repeat the mistakes that I made before.
When I built up Bradford & Reed it was nonstop work. Even when I took time off, I read books and magazines in search of ideas or next steps.
Then I ran into financial trouble and I thought, if I go bankrupt I won’t get to do all the things that I put off. I won’t be able to date, go on vacation, or any of the normal things people do. I decided that when I got my business straightened out I’d get a life.
Eventually, with the help of great people, I was able to fix the company, make it profitable, and sell it. After the sale, I committed myself to dating, talking to people, and just getting out there.
Relaxing is still a challenge for me, but I’m engaged to a great woman who’s helping me learn how to do that.
Lisa: How did Mixergy get started?
Andrew: It started from my frustration with the “happy-clappy” self-help movement and my determination to replace it with something that’s more in touch with the real business world.
At one of my toughest times running Bradford & Reed, I went to a self-improvement seminar. It was run by a guy who said, “I’m going to take the old business rules and crush them. Then I’ll teach you new lessons and new habits. And I’ll get you pumped up.”
Seemed strange to me, but I committed to doing it. So when he got everyone pumped up and dancing around, I did it too. At the end of the seminar, I said to myself, “This was fun, but my business isn’t going to be fixed from this. I still didn’t know how to grow my sales or keep paying my bills. All my issues are still there.”
But he offered a one-on-one coaching plan with certified coaches. So I signed up. I tried a couple of the coaches, but neither one had any real business experience. They were parroting back what they heard in the seminars, but none of it was based on any real business experience.
That got me fired up. I was determined to someday find away to have real business people help each other. After I turned things around and sold my business, I realized I had the time to finally do it.
I built Mixergy to replace the “all-knowing” seminar gurus with a mix of businesspeople who have real-world experience.
Lisa: Is Mixergy your ultimate plan?
Andrew: I hope Mixergy ends up making me my billions of dollars. But my first goal isn’t revenue. It’s to leave a legacy.
Full program includes
The marketing concept that helped Bradford & Reed become one of the 20 most visited web properties.
Why all those self-improvement gurus are ineffective and who you should learn from instead.
Why school might have hurt your chances of success in business and what you can do to reverse the damage.
The video of this interview is awful. Should I have only posted the audio and ditched the bad video?
What did you think of the “must marketing” ideas I talked about in the interview?
Was this interview helpful? What would have made it more helpful?