Loudpixel: How A Founder Who’s Afraid Of Risk Built A Profitable Company

How does an entrepreneur who’s afraid of risk build a profitable business?

Allie Siarto is the co-founder of Loudpixel, a social media research company. I invited her here to talk about those times that she felt overpowered by fear, how she got over it, and how she went on to a phenomenal success story.

Allie Siarto

Allie Siarto


Allie Siarto is the co-founder of Loudpixel, a social media research company.



Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: This interview is sponsored by Walker Corporate Law. Do you need a lawyer? It’s not the local guy who doesn’t really get startups. Not the really expensive guy who just wants a piece of your business, but one who really understands the startup community and is there to help you? If you do, go to Scott Edward Walker of Walker Corporate Law.

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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, who admits that she was afraid at times to build a profitable business. Allie Siarto is the co-founder of Loudpixel, a social media research company. I’ve invited her here to talk about those times when she felt maybe a little over powered by fear. The different ways she tried to get over it. How she did get over it and how she built up this phenomenal success story along the way. Allie welcome.

Allie: Thank you so much for having me, Andrew. I am so excited to be here.

Andrew: Before we get into this fear thing, I’m curious how you got into entrepreneurship in the first place. It had something to do with your dentist appointment you had at your previous job. What happened?

Allie: Yeah, my very first job, when I was in college I worked for a PR agency in the Digital Group. I had this impression I will admit that I’m one of those entrepreneurs who never thought I will never by an entrepreneur. I thought maybe someday, maybe when I’m 40 or 45. I saw people who I was working with leave at age 40 once they were very established to start their own boutique consulting companies. I think it was drilled into me within the PR and advertising industry that you work your way up. You go through college. You take a specific curriculum. You get into this job and then you work your way up the ladder. I was always told you are underpaid the first half of your career and you are overpaid the second half.

Andrew: Yep.

Allie: So, basically, suck it up and deal with it. I was completely willing to do that. But, I got into my first job and it was hectic. I was billing my hours in 15 minute increments. I never knew whether to bill going to the bathroom. I had this timer on my computer. Someone would come up to talk to me for 5 minutes. I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do.’

One day I had moved to Chicago, I live in Michigan now, but I had moved to Chicago for the job. I had finally found a dentist and I had scheduled my first dentist appointment. It’s one of those things where if you don’t show up they charge it for you. You know how dentist appointments go. You wait quite a while to get in. I’m about to go. I tell my boss. They know what’s going on. I’m about to leave for it and my boss says, ‘no, you can’t go. You have to cancel that appointment. This, whatever client has such and such deadline’. It wasn’t even that important. “It is more important. You cannot go.”

That was the moment I remember so distinctly feeling like I have a chain and it is here and here and I am stuck to my desk and I am not to leave and my life is not my own. That was a terrible feeling. It felt like culture shock. All through college I had worked a job where I picked my own hours. My level of entrepreneurship was I use to clean an office building that my dad owned, on the weekends. But you know what I do it when I want. I was used to being very flexible with my time. It was just a terrible feeling knowing your time was not your own. You have to bill it. You have to think about all these things. It was just a culture for me that it didn’t work.

Andrew: It was one of those things about being in school. The teacher could decide when you went to the bathroom. The teacher could decide where you sat. If you had to sit down to watch the class to be a part of it. I always wanted to stand up and I couldn’t do it.

Allie: I teach a class at Michigan State now. I was just teaching on Saturday. Let me tell you those students will get up and go when they need to go. In college you have a lot of freedom. I think we get so used to that freedom that coming into your first job as a job they say its 40 hours a week but it’s not it’s more. I was getting paid $35,000 a year to be a slave. They gave me my first Blackberry and I was so excited to get that Blackberry. They gave it to me on Friday and on Sunday, I swear to you, at 7:00 a.m. they called me and were like “Hey! We have an emergency!” I was like “This is not cool. This is terrible.”

Andrew: So, this Blackberry which was going to be your toy, your fun device, became just another way for them to pop into your life.

Allie: It was the mobile chain, yes. It just kept me chained at all times. So, to me it was a culture and other people can understand that. I had friends who really enjoyed those experiences and who thrived in that culture but for me, and I’m sure many people in your audience, that culture was very difficult to live in. It was very difficult.

Andrew: And then you noticed something in Excel that helped you start this company and before I even ask you about that I’ve got to ask about the backdrop; this is one of the most interesting… can you describe for people who are listening to the MP3 version or reading the transcript what’s going on in the backdrop? What did you do here to prep for the interview?

Allie: I have a lovely Ikea map that I made. You can see it, it’s very tall. So, we’ll get into this, but I also do some photography and so we just moved into our new office and this is probably going way off track but we started the business in Chicago, we moved it to Michigan, and then Jeff my husband and I (my co-founder) we went to D.C. for eight months just because so that’s a different story. We just got back; he just got back on Sunday and we just moved back into our new office and the Wi-Fi is kind of… we haven’t gotten everything set up yet. So, I wanted to look cool and wanted to have a good background but I’m in my house right now. I’m in my dining room.

Andrew: But, you did. You’re minimizing it by saying it’s just an Ikea thing and you wanted to look cool but there’s effort that goes into it and awareness that goes into the way you set up for today. You thought about the Wi-Fi being spotty and you wanted to have a solid internet connection so you went home where you could get it. You thought about the backdrop. For some people the backdrop sometimes is just a bathroom. They happen to have a bathroom over their shoulder and half the time you just angle the camera away but people are going to be wondering what’s going on in that bathroom.

Allie: Yeah.

Andrew: It’s more than that. Anyone who’s watching can also see that you have a headset so that we don’t have an echo but also you’re not wearing cable earphones, which become distracting. For some people it hits their lapel or hits their hair, so it distracts the audience. I feel like this is a reflection of who you are and how you do things. What am I seeing here?

Allie: I guess I don’t even think too much about it because it is just something I think so naturally and maybe part of it is because I do photography and I think about design and I think about how things look. Part of it is because I’ve done interviews where they have specifically requested. They say “Hey, make sure your background looks cool.” They want people to be drawn in by your background so I do think about it. I remember thinking “Oh! Maybe I should sit out on a screen porch because then it’s cool like, hey, I get to sit out on my screen porch!” Then I was like “No, it’s too loud out there.” So, maybe I just care about the details. It just kind of came naturally and I thought that seemed like a natural thing to do.

Allie: It comes across. Every time I think that maybe I shouldn’t sweat the details I have to remember how I feel when someone else sweats the details, when they do things like pay attention to the kinds of interviews I do. Those little details help me and make me feel like they care when they do what you just did, which is set the lighting up properly. That detail makes me feel like you care about the process and I know our audience appreciates it so I had to point it out because it’s going through my head the whole time we were talking. This woman clearly paid attention to things most people don’t even notice are there.

Andrew: Like I said, photography and noticing a lot of things; if I see things that are poorly lit or are really distracting it gets to me so I wanted to make sure it’s a nice, clean background for you today.

Allie: Alright. Like I said, it helps and later on when we get into the more personal stuff I think it will be good for us to get to know you a little bit before we go into the fear and the challenges of being an entrepreneur and some of the admissions that most people don’t like to make. It started with something that you guys were doing in Excel. What were you doing?

Andrew: It did. I worked for a large PR agency and then for another large PR agency thinking “Well, maybe if I work for a different one life will be better and this will be great for me” and for a little while it really was better and I liked it. It all came down to who your manager is; if you have a great manager you have a great experience and if you get bounced around it just gets out of your control. So, I was working for this large company in the digital group doing research and we were using Excel to do… basically what we were doing was looking at thousands of conversations taking place in social media, and we were looking at sample setup [??]. We created a representative sample set, and we would use that sample set to understand… we would tab it for context. We would use that to understand who was our audience, what does our audience care about, what do they talk about. And it’s actually really exciting stuff to me.

This is my nerd [??]. I get excited about that. So, we can take… if there are millions of posts being posted online every day, and we can take these millions of posts, and we can get context from them, and we can draw insights from them for a lot faster, and a lot cheaper than doing a huge focus group, or user interviews, and surveys, or whatever it is, it’s very powerful.

Andrew: How do you do that when there’s so much data online?

Allie: We use tools. Part of that was the problem though. We had tools to pull everything in, but then we were exporting it to Excel. Once we had it in Excel we were using Excel to go in line-by-line, and type in a word that represented what we were reading.

It was very difficult, and so we would do these big reports and it would take this team of, I don’t know, five people, an entire week. The last day I’d be there early, early in the morning trying to get things done and just completely stressed out.

Andrew: You’re talking about copying, some way you would get to export all the conversations that people had around the product that you guys were representing.

Allie: Yeah.

Andrew: Each sentence maybe, or each statement would be on its own line in Excel. To the right of it you would put a word that represented what was being said manually.

Allie: Yeah, like multiple words.

Andrew: So if the person said, I can’t believe that this company stinks so badly, you might say angry.

Allie: Or something like that, or we might just tag it as negative. So we would tag sentiment. There was value in having human analysts, and I saw that value, and I said, “That’s good. Using Excel was just a completely terrible experience, and I knew it could be better. It’s funny how with the stories, I feel like how many people have these really clear memories of when the ah-ha came, but I actually I don’t even remember it necessarily.

I don’t necessarily remember having the conversation, but apparently I did because our company exists, with my then fiance now husband, and a really good friend all from Michigan State, we all met at Michigan State. I think I went to them and said, “This is such a difficult process. I feel like it could be made simpler through technology. I think you could build a simple platform and this could be made easier.

It’s kind of one of those, oh, I have the problem. I know the problem is out there. I know there’s a market for it. There is a solution, let’s think about this, but, it was always still in this land of wouldn’t it be great if someone did that, if we did that. Not that I’m willing to do it, but wouldn’t it be great, because I do not have the capacity for risk taking and so I am the entrepreneur who doesn’t like risk, who had a lot of fear.

Part of it was the industry. I was told you will work your way up, and you are 24 years old. At the time I was 24. You are not qualified to do this. You are not old enough to do this, you should not even try, and so it was always a someday, because I just couldn’t do it. [??] then I went out to get some drinks with a friend I used to work with there.

She had started her own consulting company, and with her I think I through this idea by her. I said, I think this could be so much better. I have this great idea. It was totally one of those wine induced wouldn’t this be great conversations that I didn’t take too seriously. Then she called me a week later and she said, do you remember when you were talking about that wouldn’t it be great, your great idea. Well, I actually have I think I have your first client for you.

It was a global, very large well known client. And so from that point on we were kind of like, okay, let’s pursue it. I actually remember it still. I’m 24, and she, and the guy she was working with, they took a cab over at lunch. I was still working at this company, and I went down at lunch to grab lunch with them, and they took a cab over.

I remember thinking to myself, you did not just spend $15 to take a cab to have lunch with me, oh my gosh. I can’t believe you would spend $15 to come meet with me because I just felt like I didn’t have the value at my age. I really didn’t, but slowly my confidence built, and as I realized that they were taking me seriously and this could really happen. I went back with Ryan and Jeff and we put together a plan. We realized that this is really going to happen. And so what we did was we actually [??] this entire contract, it was multiple 60 year contract, and then once [??] we basically sold the entire concept, we said “Yeah, we’ll start January 1st, this is what we can do,” and we started building it on the new days, on the weekends.

We would go up to Wines [SP], sunroom in his apartment at the top, overlooking the city with our little laptops and we would put everything together. And we basically banged out, I think it was in six weeks or two months, we just banged out this really, very crude version to get us going, but it’s one of those cases where I think so many people think that, to start a business you have to be this big risk taker, and we glamorize going into debt, and living on your friend’s couch, and you know, . . .

Andrew: Ramen.

Allie: . . . whatever. [laughs] Right? Yeah, we really glamorize that, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And so in my case, I had an emergency fund. We each invested $1000, to hire a lawyer, which was, you know, maybe a good investment, I just thought we needed to have a professional contract. And we built our other jobs until we had that contract in place, and we knew we’d have enough money to survive. And that contract was year long, so, again, not a big risk taker here, I knew I had a year to sink or swim, but, people don’t realize there are different ways to start businesses. You don’t have to jump into the deep end with huge risk, you can actually, start your business, sell your contracts. They would totally understand. They would take meetings after my work hours, to sell that in, or lunch hours, to sell that in. I was able to make that work and go to these meetings and sell this, while also working in my other job. And then, when I had a sag I could quit.

Andrew: Why were they so understanding? They have their own hours, they’re paying you, what do you think it was about this need that made them so understanding?

Allie: I think it was a few things. One, the relationship, because I had [??] relationship, so never underestimate the power of being nice to people and having good relationships with people, and two, maybe, I don’t know, maybe they recognized that I was totally naive, and afraid, and they were just feeling bad for me, I don’t know. But I’d like to say the relationship for the most part because- , and, you know, it is the kind of industry where people will be flexible, we’ll work around – , it’s not like this meeting was at midnight, it’d be at 5:30 or 6:00, or at lunch, so people can work around schedules to make it work, and I had something they needed, we had what they needed.

Andrew: Do you feel like they had the same problem you had at the agency you were with where . . .

Allie: Yes.

Andrew: . . . maybe they didn’t spend as many days as you did about a week, maybe they didn’t have as many people on it as you did, but they were still trying to figure out sentiment and meaning out of all the conversations that were happening, yeah?

Allie: Yeah. They hadn’t even gotten that far yet. Here’s the other thing about business, that I don’t know if everyone realizes. It’s very common in business to sell something that you don’t yet have. And they had done the same thing. And so they had already sold this, and now they needed someone to do it.

Andrew: You mean they sold it to their clients . . .

A: [laughs] Yeah.

Andrew: . . . that we’ll pull meaning out of what is being said online, I see.

Allie: Yeah. So they’ll sell it very vaguely, so they’ll say ‘OK we can do that generally, we can come back to you with details, but just make sure the budget’s in line’. And they’ll get them very excited about the vague idea of it and they’ll go “Oh, we need to get someone to do this.” And so a lot of companies really thrive, especially working with agencies because agencies do this all the time, and so, what the vendors, the third party companies who specialize, who they know they can trust and call up and it will get done, they do really well. And so, we work with a lot of agencies and we’ve done really well, from agencies who sell things and then are ‘oh crap’ . . .

Andrew: Now we need to actually provide this thing that we sold.

Allie: And so we had done the same thing, and now of course it’s established, and it’s not a big deal, we know what we sell, we do one thing, and we do it well, but, that’s how we started. We sold something- , of course, don’t sell something that you can’t deliver, know that you can do it, be realistic. But we had enough time, we had two months to build it, we really sat down and said ‘can this be done, let’s not throw ourselves into an area where we are going to fail’, but, it’s knowing that you can get the contract and give yourself time to be successful at it, you can sell something based on an idea. And then the risk is gone, the only risk is if you can’t deliver.

Andrew: Let me say this to premium members: we have a course with Jordie Wardman [SP], the founder of [??] who did the exact same thing, he intentionally went out, pre-sold his software before he built it, used that money to build his software, but also, he said, to validate that his idea made sense. Jordie had an idea before, that he built, and that people weren’t using, and he said I never want to make that mistake again. The way I’m going to make sure that what I create is actually wanted is by preselling it. The way I can fund my business is by preselling my idea.” He launched Guest Retain that way.

If you’re a premium member, go to Mixergy Premium.com and check out his course. If not sign up to Mixergy Premium at Mixergy Premium.com. I guarantee it. What I’m wondering about, and I wrote this down as you were talking, is how big a sell was the first one? Was it enough that you could live on and take a salary off of? Are we just talking about a little bit of money to validate that the idea works?

Allie: I think it was about 250 thousand dollars, the first sell. I shouldn’t say that.

Andrew: We can’t edit it out, but we don’t know the exact amount. Roughly there. Why can’t you say what the actual number is?

Allie: Actually I can because I totally just don’t talk about it. Because you’ve just uncovered my other shame which is money. Which I know you always ask that. You always talk about money so I guess let’s just get right into that one.

Andrew: Let’s get into that. You said before we started, “Andrew, I have something about how you have an opinion about the way that I talk about money.” And I said, “Oh, good. Save it for the interview so that it is fresh. And launch in it and even rip into me if you want to.” So go ahead, be open. Tell me what you think.

Allie: You have just uncovered my greatest vulnerability. The fact that that contract was what it was. I don’t tell anybody that. I just said, “Oh, I can’t say that.” Then I was like, “Wait a minute. There’s no one who tells me I can’t say that except for myself.” Because I think originally in the early days I wouldn’t have wanted people to know. You don’t even know who the client is. I wouldn’t have wanted people to know, but…It’s totally money [??]. It goes a couple of different ways.

On the one hand, and that was with three people. So we just basically picked our arbitrary salary. We knew that we could get by. Pay our basic expenses which were essentially nothing, like server expenses, and that would be that. Actually I pulled up a quote for you on the on this one. I was just reading this newsletter the other day and I thought this kind of made sense. So it says, “I once heard a great piece of advice concerning whether to tell people how much money you make. The advice was don’t. The reason is if you make less money than they do, they’ll look down on you. If you make more money than they do, they will resent you.” I actually do feel this.

And I don’t know if it’s because I live in the Midwest or if it’s because I am a woman or if it’s because I’m Allie and that’s how I am. But I have this kind of certain level of money shame where I don’t want my friends to know how much money we make because I feel that they’ll look at me differently. Most of my friends in Michigan are not entrepreneurs. They are teachers or stay at home moms or they work for the government or they have whatever jobs. Most of them don’t run companies. I made a comment once to a friend about having a housekeeper, not thinking much of it, and she was like, “Oh my gosh, you pay for a housekeeper. That’s so frivolous. Why would you do that?”

It just kind of made me realize that if people value you by the money you make, they’ll look at you differently. And they’ll have different expectations of you and I don’t want them to think of me any differently. Now my phone’s ringing. Then on the other end, in terms of growth, over the years we’ve grown by a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, but nothing huge. And so I’m totally content with where we are and I’m much more focused these days on balance. Especially since I’m pregnant and A, I’ve realized that I have to take myself out of this business at some point and not be working whilst having a new born child.

I’ve realized the economy of energy because I suddenly found myself completely exhausted and unable to get through the day without taking a nap. And just kind of realizing that, for me, I don’t want to feel chained. I started my career feeling chained to a desk and I don’t want to feel that anymore. But there’s this expectation of, within the entrepreneur community, I have these friends who work in normal jobs in Michigan and then I have these friends around the country who run incredibly successful companies.

And I do feel this kind of comparison is the thief of joy. Where if I compare myself to others, I kind of feel this shame. I never strive to be on the cover of “Fortune Magazine” or I probably won’t be featured as the next Mark Zuckerberg billionaire, but nobody asks, “Are you happy? Do you enjoy the balance that you have? Do you enjoy your business?” And I’m content with two and a half employees, running a company that I can if I need to take a nap in the middle of the day, gosh darn it, I’m going to take a nap in the middle of the day. And that’s okay.

Andrew: I want to come back to that, but first let me ask you about the thing that is most painful for you. How much money are you guys bringing in right now? What’s the revenue at Loud Pixel?

Allie: I can’t tell you, because it’s just like one of those things. It goes back to my question.

Andrew: Roughly.

Allie: Roughly? Less than a million dollars.

Andrew: I guess I have a sense of it from my notes.

Allie: Yeah. So, take the base, and then we got some new clients that year, and then we build it from there each year.

Andrew: There’s so much that you said that I want to unpack. I want to unpack the balance. I want to unpack something about your belief that taking yourself out of the business, and why that’s important.

Allie: Yeah.

Andrew: First, let me go back to the question I asked you in the beginning about, how much you earn. And, you said a quarter of a million dollars; but, I’m uncomfortable, to this day, talking about that kind of money. So, I want to know how someone who is so uncomfortable with money, who is so uncomfortable asking for money, and talking about it, how do you ask for a quarter of a million dollars? I don’t know that I would have the nerve to do that, or I’d have to work my way up to it. How did you do that?

Allie: Yeah. That is quite the paradox to me. I think part of the confidence came from knowing. I had been doing billings and writing proposals for the company I worked for, and so I knew what it was worth. And, so, I was confident in asking for what it was worth. I knew that there was value to it. I knew that having the company behind it and the technology behind it did make it worth more. And, so that was completely comfortable.

However, I have run into issues, and let me tell you a story. I learn more every year, talking about money, and my vulnerabilities and dealing from, basically, lessons learned the hard way. And, so we have another client, another global [??] client, that we had started working with about three or four months after we got the first contract. It was like everything from here is icing. So, we got another contract and we kept going from there. And, it was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing’. And, going back to that. I’m going to [??] change it for a second. Also, early on I was 24, 25. The next client that we earned, I never met them in person. Because, again, I still had this age, ageism [??]. So this is all about, here are my vulnerabilities as a business owner.

Andrew: Good. That’s what this is about. That’s what [??] is about.

Allie: And, I want to share it because I love it. And, people are vulnerable and want to share those things. I know you were at the World Domination Summit, and the people who shared the stories, that were the most vulnerable, were absolutely my favorite. I love hearing those stories, because so often we feel this need to only show the shining side of everything. And, we kind of cover up the behind the scene, what’s going on.

Andrew: That’s what people connect with. The best example I have for my guests, who don’t feel comfortable sharing, is before we start I remind them. Steve Jobs took every edge he could off his devices. He made them so perfect, because that’s what we fall in love with. Devices that have as few imperfections as possible. But, when it came to telling his story, he picked the Biographer who was going to reveal the craziness. Like, the seven glasses of orange juice that Steve Jobs would have trying to find the right one. The fact that he would park in a handicapped spot and the jerky things that he would say. Because, that’s what we connect with as human beings. Human beings aren’t like objects. You want those vulnerabilities. You want those rough spots.

Allie: Yeah. And I think part of it comes from my own frustration with reading too many success stories. And that’s why I stopped even applying for awards and lists, and things like that. Because I do really become [??] by those things, and if I read too many entrepreneur success stories, then I’m, like, all these people are, ‘Oh, I have this idea.’ And, it’s just like, you have to hear what’s going on behind the scenes, because there are ups’ and downs’, and so I feel like I fall [??].

Andrew: Too many people now are scripted. They know how to tell their story just right. Even at dinner, I feel like they’re reading a script to me about how great they are. And, that’s not what I’m here for.

Allie: And, believe me, I have that script, and I’ll pull it out when I need to. But, I think there’s a time and a place for that script, and I feel like this is a good . . .[??]

Andrew: So, with those feelings, you asked for a quarter of a million dollars, because you knew what it was worth. But, how did you do it? Were you able to bite your lip and ask for it. Do you at those moments think, ‘No, intellectually, this just makes sense. I have to ask for this much, and I will’.

Allie: Really, the best way to do it, was not in person, for me. I would do it on the phone. And, that’s what I was going to say, with this next client we sold in. And, again, because of the age, I really thought about that. Like, Oh my gosh, I can’t walk into this room looking like a 24 year- old and ask for this money. They’ll never take me seriously. Because, it was even known, if you put your signature, , even if it was company, it was known you wouldn’t be taking us seriously. It was known your age equated to how seriously you would be taken. It just makes sense, but that’s not always true.

There were definitely cases I felt like I had plenty of respect there. I still do. I actually adore the company and I adore the people there. I just didn’t think it was for me. It wasn’t the culture that I thrived in. I would sell on the phones. I would do demos on the phone. Basically, everything was based on numbers from the company that we worked with. So, I was like okay, roughly, this about, and then we kind of went from there.

What happened was we were doing social media research and also monitoring. So, we have people day to day looking at what’s going on about the company. We are looking for issues and opportunities to risk onto. What happened was social media grew by 1500% in total volume. It wasn’t a problem the first year but what happened was we had this one particular client. In general everything was growing. We would go back and we did ask for more money in some cases. They would be, “well why?” Then you would have to justify the why.

The other one, they would say, “Hey this is great. I really love what you do, but can you add one more thing?” I would get so excited, oh they like us. I would be, “Oh what’s one more thing that’s not a big deal that’s fine.” So, we would add that one more thing and the next month one more thing and one more thing until we were doing so may one more things that we were doing basically twice as much work for the same price.

Andrew: I see.

Allie: Then I went back to them and I said, “Hey, hold up. We can’t do this anymore. We need to get more budget.” First of all they were like, “Why didn’t you just come to us? We asked for one more thing. If it wasn’t in the budget why didn’t you ask for more money?” I was like, “Oh that would have been easier. I should have done that.” It was a hard lesson learned. Part of that was driven by fear. I was so afraid to lose those clients as clients that I just wanted to please them. It took until I got over the fear to ask for more money and have that confidence. A couple of years in the business and maybe feeling old enough to justify walking into the room but also just getting rid of that fear. I can talk about the right and wrong ways that I went about that.

Andrew: You told me before we started recording that there was a wrong way you went about getting over the fear and then you finally got the right way and that’s what helped your company grow. What was the wrong way overcoming fear?

Allie: The wrong way was the lack of focus. I still kind of go back and forth on my opinion about this. Originally within the company we had this lack of focus where we started adding web design because Ryan and Jeff could do web design. They had, I don’t know, whatever a couple of thousand dollars here and there of web design clients, so they would build websites. But, that would totally distract from the building of the new tools we desperately needed.

Andrew: You were so worried about losing money and I don’t know you were so worried about damaging the company that you said let’s take side projects. And the side projects were web design, completely different from the main mission of the business.

Allie: Yeah. So then try marketing that. What do you guys do? I don’t understand. So, that was on one side. We were taking web design which was distracting. Then we tried to launch these other little projects. The nice thing was we were always profitable from the beginning because we have this contract. We were like let’s take this extra money and play around with it. We were playing around with it in a really distracted way.

The biggest mistake, I went about it in a wrong way but I still have an attachment to it, was I started doing photography professionally. The weekends, my first year, I was apprenticing with a photographer in Chicago. I started then shooting with him every weekend paying me like nothing. It was fun. I don’t give it ‘no’ credit because I enjoyed doing it and I still enjoy doing it, but I took it too far. What happened was, once I started getting paid for weddings, I was like, ‘okay.’ A lot of our clients renew at the end of the year, if they don’t renew, I’ll just focus on weddings. I’ll have enough money to pay the bills.

I thought here’s my problem. I’m driven and I pay attention to details. I really cared about this stuff so I wasn’t just going to shoot weddings. I was going to be the best wedding photographer you’ve ever seen. I got really distracted by it and ended up booking 17 weddings. I booked them the year before because everybody books their wedding a year out. I booked 17 weddings until finally I was like, “Oh I shouldn’t book any more weddings. That’s going to be crazy.”

Also, I started teaching a class at Michigan State which I still do and really enjoy, but that’s online most of the time. That was a couple of weekends plus the weddings. I did that thinking, “Well, if this business goes away, hey, I’ll have these weddings to hold on to.” But the business continued to grow and then the weddings were still there. I was a crazed woman who was shooting weddings almost every single weekend and then running this business during the week. I was so off-balance that I didn’t know which way was up and I didn’t have much of a focus.

That became really difficult, so I retired from wedding photography realizing that I needed focus. I made focus my word of the year for this year. I realize that I really love it if it can be a hobby and I’ll be making 2-4 weddings a year. That’s fun because then it’s a hobby and not a business. But when you try to do these two different things that are so distracting, it’s very difficult.

And I still struggle with that because I do think I’ve gotten into the entrepreneur mindset, where I always say, “Oh, wouldn’t this be fun?” or I do side projects with friends. I’ve still considered, now that we have some money and profit, where I could actually invest in little side projects and have friends fully run them. It’s still on my mind. So I’m not saying that I’ve learned my lesson and that I’m not going to do it again, but I do think that it’s a personal decision and it can hinder if you take it too far. It’s a really bad [??]

Andrew: So, that’s the fear being expressed, Abby. You’re afraid of not having enough money and so you take these side projects that become distractions. Photography is one and I understand why you didn’t include teaching. You teach Social Analytics at Michigan State University. That’s, at least, related to your business and it doesn’t take as much time.

Allie: Yeah, and that was something that actually led into writing a book that will be published next month. It is related. It gives me credibility. If I go into a meeting and I say, “I teach this at Michigan State.” Obviously, that means that I have some credibility there.

Andrew: What about Entretrip?

Allie: That was more of a passion project. Entretrip was a project that I put together to take – it’s always been women, but I don’t know why. Basically, I rented a house in Costa Rica and thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we get a bunch of women entrepreneurs to just join me in this house. That would be fun.” It was never a business. It was always just a fun idea that I thought would be neat. And so I have no regrets on that one.

Andrew: What’s the value of being in a house with a bunch of other female entrepreneurs?

Allie: The most amazing relationships. It felt like that kind of summer camp bonding where you bring people together under one roof who didn’t know each other at the beginning and you feel like best friends at the end. Talk about vulnerability and the openness of those conversations. It was unmatched.

Andrew: How did it help your business to be with them?

Allie: Basically, we were mentors for each other. Co-mentors.

Andrew: Give a specific example.

Abby: Yeah, I still talk to the women from that trip. We’ll get on Skype. It’s one of those things were when you work for yourself, sometimes you just want to bounce things off of people who have been there. And so, in cases with partnership problems or just trying to figure out the best way to go about something, I can get on the phone with them and say, “Has this ever happened to you?” Or sometimes it’s just that mental boost of hearing “Oh yeah, I’ve been there. I’ve experienced that. I hear you. I feel you.” I love surrounding myself with entrepreneurs, but I do make a point to make friends who don’t talk about business. Some people think that’s crazy. I’ve told people that I go to a book club and they don’t even know what I do.

Andrew: What a waste of time, you could be working in that time.

Abby: I know. They don’t even know what I do. Isn’t that crazy?

Andrew: But its [??] book club, right?

Abby: No. And they’ve said, “What are you talking about?” I love it.

Andrew: Let me actually go back to business. I totally get the balance and I’ve got a box waiting for a check mark next to it here with the word “balance” next to it. But let me continue with the story because you’re someone who wants to get everything right. You have a contract with a client who wants to pay you a lot of money and who you want to make happy. And so you started throwing your ideas out at Jeff, your fiance, and Ryan, your business partner, and they pushed back and said “No.” They didn’t want to overload the first version of the product. How did you figure out what you guys were going to say “yes” to and what you were going to say “no” to when there are so many potential features that you can build in?

Abby: Yeah, that’s been a problem over the years. At the time, it’s necessity. It’s amazing what necessity will do. When you have a time limit and you have to get something built, it’s just sitting down and saying, “This is what is physically possible.” We know that this is the first version. Maybe this is the trap many people fall into when you don’t have a deadline. We knew we had to launch a specific date. For people who are starting products, building technologies, and they don’t have a deadline you can get so trapped in well let’s just add this one more thing and one more thing. But, we had no choice. We had to build this thing. It was rough. It was enough that the client, at the end of the day, didn’t know how rough it was because it looked good. Design was the focus. It looked really nice. It got the job done.

It’s gotten faster on the back end over the years as we’ve built new features into it. We’ve been able to do new things with it that we certainly couldn’t do then. But, you have to give yourself a deadline. That is the hardest thing to do until someone tells you, no, this is the deadline or you’re not doing it. It’s just a necessity.

Andrew: I can see the power of that deadline. Was there some kind of criteria that you used to figure out what to include and what not to? Would you say no reports because I could do that manually?

Allie: I think that was probably me saying I want the world and them pushing back saying here’s what’s possible. I’m more the front person and was running a lot on suicide. Knowing the business having coming from that background, but they came at it from a technology standpoint. I think its cooperation and compromise and them saying no. Basically being okay with them coming and saying you can have this or this. And you’re like, “I can’t have both?” They are like, “You can have this or you can have this.” You will be like, okay, “I want this.”

Andrew: What criteria do you use to decide what to put in and what not to?

Allie: Well, we had a contract, and we knew what we had to deliver. We had to have the bare minimum of what we would deliver. I think the big question was how much work would it be on the backend? In terms of specific criteria was does it deliver on what the client absolutely needs right now.

Andrew: Was it partially, if I can do it myself for this one client I will do it myself at first. If I can’t then we absolutely needed it coded.

Allie: Yeah. If I can do it manually okay, but that’s not the best but we can make it work.

Andrew: Do you have an example of something that you did manually?

Allie: Basically, we are creating these reports for these clients. A lot of that stuff is now done automatically where we click a button. We pull the data into our system and we do still have analysts tag it. It integrates directly, so you can get just create a report and all that data will automatically create a report. In those days they were not connected. They were two separate pieces, so I was manually copying. It’s almost like copying numbers into Excel, but not quite. You are putting the numbers in and the chart will generate. They said it’s not going to do it automatically, but if you can put it in for now, that will work.

I worked a lot. So, talk about balance, I didn’t have the best balance the first year. I remember going to bed certain nights and being like, “Oh God. What have I gotten myself into? Can I really do this? Is it going to get better?” It’s gotten so much better. Finally, then it’s like hurdles those baby steps of getting over fear. The first step was hiring our first part time employee, who we hired April to help out. That was amazing.

Letting go is the other big thing. It took me until this year where I’ve still been more involved than I should be off and on. We brought people in. I tend to get really hands on and have control over things. Part knowing that I have to prepare to be completely removed from the company I’ve let go and said it’s okay to hire more people. Why not? If you say is it worth it to you to pay yourself whatever extra versus paying somebody this hourly rate or salary then it can be much lower than the value that you value your time at.

Andrew: Allie, it’s not as easy saying I’m not going to do it, I’m going to hire someone to do it.

Allie: It’s control.

Andrew: There is a mindset that needs to change. There is a process that needs to be implemented. It’s work to find the right person and pass the work over to them. How did you make that shift? I know even at Mixergy it was really tough.

Allie: Do you find that it’s always out of necessity.

Andrew: Yeah. It’s always out of I can’t handle it anymore. Then somebody says why don’t you have somebody else do a pre-interview for you and I go no way it’s impossible. Who can do a pre-interview for me?

Allie: Right.

Andrew: And then I move on and realize I can’t handle it anymore and suddenly I’m more aware. Well you know what maybe I can write down the questions that I can ask in a pre-interview, maybe I can find someone who’s smart at this. I ended up finding Jeremy Weis who is way smarter and better at putting together the pre interviews than I ever was, as you experienced, but I still had to go through that mindset and I then had to create the process, and you’re saying you had necessity.

Allie: Always.

Andrew: But that’s one element, what was the rest of it?

Allie: Well, it really started with necessity until I realized, until you let yourself step back and say well what do I want my life to be, if this for me is a business that I want to be in for a long time, okay so there’s also this kind of mentality of if people are all in it for growth and growth alone, and they want to sell their company, and that’s the end game, then they’re much more willing to go, go, go, work craziness. Once you realize that maybe you do worry more about lifestyle and this was a business that I want to keep flowing and that I want to love, I kind of realize I’m not going to love it if I’m torturing myself by working these crazy hours, and I’d much rather work normal hours and have flexibility.

But it’s also out of necessity stupid things like my mom came to visit me and she booked this plane ticket, didn’t tell me when she was coming, she booked a plane ticket during this week that was really busy because we had a bunch of things to do. So she booked this plane ticker and I was like wow, I can’t hang out with you that week, what am I going to do? I actually hired somebody, I was like I’m just going to hire somebody, so I hired somebody to help out, knowing that I just don’t want to live that way. I don’t want to live where I feel trapped and I can’t take a step back.

Andrew: You’re putting mind in yourself.

Allie: Yeah.

Andrew: How did that first person work out?

Allie: It’s always works out. There are ups and downs. The very first person, the most amazing person, the luckiest hire. I still can’t believe how amazing it’s been. She’s still with us and now full time. And then we’ve hired contractors and other part time people, and for the most time it’s gone very well. The hard thing, and you’ve probably experienced this too, on a today basis it might seem easier to just do it yourself then to have to train someone for a week or for two weeks or a month or whatever it takes.

Andrew: In addition to doing the work you’re already overwhelmed by, you have to do this training and setting up, yes.

Allie: Right, to make them as good as you are at it, and so it’s a painful step to get there because you have to do your work, you have to train them, you have to check their work, you have to make sure it’s going well, there’s some risk that it couldn’t work. And so it’s easy sometime to just say I’ll do it myself, no problem, I just don’t want to have to deal with that. It’s easy to kind of become this object in motion and say it’s fine, I’ll just keep doing it. When you actually step back and look at what are my goals, what are my values, what’s going on here, and then I finally go through and I’m hiring somebody.

Actually I’m in the process, we have someone else starting in about a week and a half because I said okay, I’m doing better, but I’m still too attached and I legitimately have no choice but to step out coming this November. So once I do it I’m always like why didn’t I do that earlier, that was stupid. So it’s just one of those things that’s very hard to do of logic alone, and by the time most of us do it I think it becomes a little more painful.

Andrew: How do you make it easy for the next person to pick up what you do? For me it was taking screenshots of what I did and then creating a how-to manual page out of it. Or, in the case of pre interviews, writing a set of pre interview questions, maybe trying them out myself, and then correcting them and so on, but how do you do it?

Allie: I’m so glad you asked this question, because early on I had no method or process around it and I would just sit down and be like here’s what I do, and then they’d come back with questions and I’d be like I don’t know.

Andrew: Why don’t they know it?

Allie: And then I realized that’s not smart, that’s not working. Given that, here’s where teaching comes in handy. Jeff, my husband, and I, both teach at Michigan State. As part of that, we teach online, so we know how to teach online. He set up a website for his class called Course Routes. He had freed in his own online learning, just basic platform, and we just used it. We do screen recordings with Camtasia where first it was a brain dump, what do we do, write it all down, and we created a curriculum.

We basically like this person who just started. She doesn’t officially start until the end of the month, but most of our team is virtual so she’ll just go online on her own time. She’ll go in and she’ll take our courses. There’s a video and there’s a PDF guide that goes with it. By getting that out of our heads, first of all I don’t have to sit there. I’ll still do things in person, but I do think that it’s still important to go over it and make sure she understands it, but it’s really nice to just– Why spend all those hours again and again when I can put it together in a really nice way the first time?

Andrew: Fantasia and the PDF.

Allie: What?

Andrew: Interesting, and the PDF breaks it down in a way that she can go through step-by-step without having to watch the whole video.

Allie: Yeah. We still tell them to watch the video; it’s a compliment. It’s things like passwords that they need to know, basic guides, basic how- tos that go along with it that they would need that they can print out and have at their side while they’re doing it. I love it so much that I don’t know why every company doesn’t do that. I think it’s so necessary to get. I mean, you have to do the brain dump, and you have to think it all the way through because I don’t know if you participate the same way I did, but the first time I literally had the first employee comment, I just sat there and I was like, “Oh gosh. Where do I even begin? This is so overwhelming.”

Andrew: I do the mistake that Michael Gerber describes, which is saying, “This guys’ smart. I did my best to hire this smart guy. He’s smart. Take it.” Then he comes back, he can’t get it right, and I go, “What is wrong with you?”

Allie: Yeah? Like, “Oh, it’s me.”

Andrew: Then you realize it’s not them, it’s me. If you’re right, you realize it’s not them, it’s me. If you’re wrong, you do what Michael Gerber says most entrepreneurs do, which is take the work right back on themselves.

Allie: Ah! That’s the other thing. Yup. That totally makes sense.

Andrew: You did that.

Allie: Sometimes. Yeah, I have done that sometimes, but I’m getting better. Again, you have to always readdress what you want out of your business, and it’s like I said, baby steps. It’s a constant battle up there.

Andrew: In the pre-interview, you said that there was a period where you played cheesy breakup songs, but it wasn’t because of a romantic relationship that broke up or a divorce. What happened?

Allie: Yeah, again, talk about vulnerabilities. Jeff and I got married the first year of our business, and our third partner ended up having an opportunity to start another company. We got really in through an incubator, so it was a really good opportunity and we kind of said, “Okay, go for it. See what happens as long as we can balance this out.” Then I think it just got really difficult to balance, and I think his passion wasn’t there anymore, and he was more passionate about the other business, and it caused a lot of issues. I felt like I had really failed in terms of relationship and in terms of this dream that we’d had.

There were a couple things that we did wrong there: one, when you start with a new partner or any number of partners, we never–well, we never did– we never talked about what we wanted out of the business long term. We were just like, “Oh my gosh! We have this many weeks to do this thing,” and we were like, “Sink or swim, whatever.”

A lot of people don’t think about what are you going to do … We might think about, “Okay, what if the business fails? That’s a bummer.” You don’t think about what if the business succeeds? What do you want long term? Are you building this business to grow? Are you building it to sell? Is it lifestyle, is it fast growth?

He had in mind this faster growth, different mentality and got us– again, it was a distraction, he really was more passionate about the other thing– and we got to the point where being in Michigan, slower-paced, I don’t know, I kind of want to take my evenings and weekends off. That’s nice, anyway. We just had some disagreements, and I think it got ugly at times just because he was really like a brother, one of our best friends from that time.

When you work with somebody professionally, when you have colleagues, you filter yourself. You are polite and you are very professional at all times. When you’re working with your husband and somebody who is a very good friend, whom you have all these experiences with as friends, the filter is gone, and it’s hard to remember to be a professional. I think that at times we were just like, “Oh yeah, well I think it should be this way!” You just get a little bit over-heated. It caused some issues, and so he ended up deciding to go with the other company full time. That was tough, and it ended.

Everything’s good, everything’s very good now, but it did have a rough spot where I was definitely feeling really down about the way things had gone and wondering if we could have done it any other way.

Andrew: Did you have an agreement in place for how to break up if you needed to?

Allie: Heck, no!

Andrew: No?

Allie: No.

Andrew: So the lawyer who you went to, your first expense didn’t cover this? Didn’t solve it?

Allie: No. We paid this lawyer whatever couple of grand for some basic contracts and came to realize contracts are, they’ll protect you to some extent, but they’re not that powerful. When it comes to paying invoices, it’s not a question of if a client will pay late, it’s a question of when. That’s another thing that you need to think about in your businesses. Clients will at some point pay late. That’ll happen. The contract is there but it’s also all about relationships at the end of the day. So we didn’t have a breakup agreement because that wasn’t an option. That wasn’t something that I even considered. It was never on my mind. It was never something that I thought could happen. So no, we never thought about it at all.

Andrew: So how did you break up when you don’t have an agreement in place?

Allie: Arbitrarily. We basically just had to, it becomes very difficult at that point because as tensions are higher and you’re now in the moment. Thinking about it before hand, you just have to kind of, and the friendship is at play. This isn’t just some business partner that we met and started a business with. This is a friend. It was difficult. There was no set process around it. It was just this arbitrary, very difficult…

Andrew: But you made it work and now it’s you and Jeff who own the company.

Allie: Yes and so we’re still good friends. We’ll see him, I think, this week. We’ll hang out. It ended up going very well in the end once we got over that hurdle. But yeah, it’s just Jeff and I now.

Andrew: Alright. That sounds something that I want to pry too deeply in. When it comes to money, by the way, I meant to say, there’s a reason why I think it’s important for us to talk about the fact that you charged as much as you did. I think the person who’s listening to us who’s about to start a business or go out there and pitch a client. If all they think about is, “Well, yeah, I can get five thousand dollars from a client to get started. I don’t have anything anyway, so why not. Five thousand is a lot of money.”

If they don’t realize that there are going to costs down the road that this five thousand dollars may not cover, they’re going to undervalue themselves. If they don’t see the potential for what’s out there, they’re going to under develop their product or worse maybe they just won’t be able to fulfill it and then they’ll close their business.

Allie: Yeah.

Andrew: And so I want to show people the potential here. What do you think about that? Because I’m very sensitive to the fact that this can’t be a show about money. This has to be a show about pioneers, people who are starting new kinds of businesses, who are changing the world. Maybe that’s too dramatic to say. I would say at least changing their world and almost definitely changing the world of the people who they work with and come into contact with them. I would even suggest that on the whole we are changing the world. The entrepreneurs like you. So what do you think about this idea that I’m talking a lot about money in the interviews?

Allie: Money is important because you don’t have a business without money. And it’s important because if you run a business even with great revenue, you can have a million dollar business and still not have any profit at the end of the day. So you have to be good about money. That’s important. So money is not everything, but it is important. And I think that, in terms of knowing your value, it’s a matter of educating yourself.

The biggest and best thing for me has been, in that case, connecting with other entrepreneurs around the country, who maybe I don’t see every day, so we can be a bit more vulnerable and actually say, “This is what I make. This is what we charge.” And they can say, “You could charge more.” And they’ve said that to me and said, “You can charge more.” And give you that confidence to do that. Just having those relationships is huge. But again don’t just make it about the money because it’s so easy when you open this entrepreneur magazine on an airplane and be like, so and so has this multi- million dollar business and whenever they started and stuff like that.

You know, you get so sucked into that and A, maybe they’re making that many million, but they’re not actually profiting. Who knows, maybe they are. And B, that’s only telling half the story. We do research right? So you have qualitative and then quantitative. And it’s really easy to get quantitative numbers that will justify. You can ask me, “What do you make? You turn three thousand dollars into seven figures over time. That’s impressive.” And that’s easy for me to qualify myself, but that completely leaves out much more complicated question which is, “Do you value your lifestyle? Do you enjoy your life?”

And I think too many people when they run businesses, live for tomorrow and they forget that they’re living today. And they just think about, “When am I going to sell it? When am I going to make my money and retire?” It’s almost a sin to want to have a company that runs long term. It’s like, “No, you have to sell and make all this money.” And we don’t value businesses that we can love daily.

Andrew: And that love is part of the benefit of balance. And that’s why I can see here, you’re enjoying your job. You’re enjoying the business that you have and you don’t seem agitated in this interview even though you had to go and set up a backdrop and you had to go home instead of the office. So a lot of things could have gone wrong, but you seem very happy with it. But there’s another benefit too. I’m looking, where is it? There it is in my notes.

You said that you heard a quote somewhere from a writer that said, “If you have time to coach your child’s team, then you’re not a true entrepreneur.” I actually misread that. I thought what it was, “If you have time to coach your child’s team, then you are an entrepreneur.” Because that means that the business is running without you. And if you don’t have time to coach your child’s team, then it means you’ve got a fancy job with a great title of CEO and founder. What do you think about that?

Allie: Yeah, actually that quote was, “If you have time to coach your child’s team, you are not an entrepreneur.”

Andrew: Yeah, I misread that. Do you agree with that?

Allie: No. I hate it. It’s a toxic attitude. It’s an attitude of if you’re not one hundred percent dedicated to your business above all else in this world, then you are not an entrepreneur and you do not care. And I think that at what point is enough enough? I try to ask myself, do you ever ask yourself that question? What is enough? That’s a really hard question to answer, but you have to ask yourself that question.

Andrew: For me, it’s always a little bit more.

Allie: It’s always that right?

Andrew: Always.

Allie: And that’s why, I can’t tell you how many times in the last month I’ve been interviewed and the focus question has been, “How many employees do you have? What has your growth over the last year? How much money do you make?” All these quantitative questions. Versus do you have time to do things that you enjoy?

Andrew: And it’s so easy for you to think, I don’t think for you. This isn’t going to happen for you. But for other people to think, “Everyone’s only impressed if I have more employees. I better hire more. So then…”

Allie: I actually talked to another entrepreneur a couple of months ago who said that there was a hiring decision made without really realizing it. She hired somebody to be bigger without realizing that she didn’t necessarily need to. And I’ve been there too actually. This spring I almost hired somebody full time when I didn’t really need to. I needed a contractor or part time. But I get asked that question a hundred to two hundred times. Probably five times a month somebody says, “How many employees do you have?” And I feel that is the quantitative justification of my value.

So I want to be like, we have basically two full time people, a couple of part time people, a couple of contractors. And I’ll be like, “Eight.” I totally depend on how you count it. And I find myself wanting to make that number bigger. I’m just finally becoming comfortable enough to say, “We basically have two full time people and then one part time person. And then we fill in the gaps with contractors.” That is great because you know what? That makes a profitable business and that’s all we need. And if we have capacity and we bring in more projects, then we can get them done.

Andrew: I’m so ashamed because I have until recently what people think is this is all you do? I do in a way, count all the contractors. And I say the contractors, but I do want them to be impressed with the number. And I’m thinking now, “For what?”

Allie: But here’s the thing. The more employees you have, the more expenses you have.

Andrew: It’s not the right business decision at all.

Allie: Right. So at the end of the day, your profitability…

Andrew: But I do want people to like me and I do want people to be impressed with what I’m doing. And I don’t want them to see me as just a guy in a room with an iMac that happens to have a good camera.

Allie: You totally understand, and I sure a lot of people do, that we want to have that number that’s impressive. Because those are the questions that will be asked again and again and again. And they get to you. They influence you. But you have to kind of stay true to who you are. It’s a constant struggle because I know that somebody will ask me that question again next week and I know that they’ll continue to ask me that question. And every time that I’m interviewed they’ll ask me those questions. I finally have to flip it on its head and say, “You know what? I’m proud that we essentially run this really profitable business on two and a half people.” That’s a good thing.

Andrew: Yeah. We talked about the bad way to deal with fear. Which is to take on all these side jobs that have nothing to do with your mission. You ended up finding the right way to deal with fear. What was it?

Allie: Maybe, right? Well, I think that ultimately…

Andrew: Yeah, you never know. We’ll find out. But it seems like it.

Allie: Focus, I think, is probably the best way to deal with fear. And I think having that focus and coming to the point where I just finally had the confidence. But I still can’t tell you that I always have the focus because I get ideas all the time. And I really want to act on them. I feel guilty. It’s wrong, but it feels so good. So I do. So part of its experience and finally coming to the point where, I remember one day, I remember calling my sister. My sister is a realtor, and so she works for herself too. So, we’ll talk about the fear and the money. One day I called her and said, “I just realized I’m not afraid anymore. I know that I can make money.” My biggest fear is that I’ll have to work for someone else. If that’s my biggest fear I think that’s okay.

Andrew: But you could at least make money working for someone else because you have skills that are valued.

Allie: Right. I never fear being on the street. I never fear not being able to pay bills. I live completely debt free because that’s how I am. I don’t take [??] risks. I think maybe paying off all of our debt helps get over the fear. We drive this used car that we bought for $10,000. I have been told on multiple occasions that it’s not sexy. I think it’s the sexiest thing ever because I own it outright and it costs me very little to maintain. We have one car. I think living frugally is pretty fun for me. Some people adjust their lifestyles. There are things that were certainly done. We just lived in D.C. for eight months because we wanted to.

Andrew: In D.C.?

Allie: Yeah. That was an expense just to experience something new. Being responsible about that and not just taking on debt and debt and debt and not running a company that’s continued to take on debt has made it easier to come to this point where I’m over the fear. So, I think personal finance is very tied to the success of your business because if you have debt and you have your own personal issues and fears, then you’re more likely to make decisions in your business based on fear.

Andrew: Yeah.

Allie: So, now that we have much more money in the bank, we have a big enough cash buffer that we’ll be fine. I think that’s really helped. We’ve actually had multiple times when we’ve had people who wanted to come on as other partners or mortgagors and one of the first things that we’ll actually ask them is “How much do you need to live? Seriously, how much do you need? How much do you [??] ?” If they absolutely can’t survive in the city where expenses are higher, if they absolutely can’t survive on less than whatever amount and we know we can survive, we’re fine. That could cause some issues and that could cause us to make some decisions based on fear. That could cause us to take on projects we don’t want to take on. If your personal finances are in order you’re so much more likely to make the right decisions in your business.

Andrew: Did you happen to see the talk that I gave at World Domination Summit?

Allie: I did, yes.

Andrew: What did you think of that? The topic that was about the internal chatter that we have.

Allie: Yeah. I loved it. I loved everything about all of the talks because it was all about this kind of vulnerability. Remind me, it was?

Andrew: I was going to interview you, and on my way in here I had to get a haircut and the whole time I thought, “I don’t know Allie as well as other people who I’ve interviewed. I haven’t done enough research. I haven’t prepared. What if this is the interview where I totally screw up and say something bad. I don’t interview enough women and now if I interview a woman and I say something bad then everyone is going to say “No wonder. The guy was so sexist. He didn’t know how to handle.” All that stuff. So, my head didn’t know how to deal with it and I was talking about the beads and so on and how I use those.

Allie: That’s right! I’m totally with you there because I have those things too.

Andrew: Do you have some still to this day?

Allie: Oh yeah. Coming into this interview, I think the big thing is often that conflict of “Oh why would you want to interview me? I’m not big enough. All these other people who are running giant companies and I’m just content.” Sometimes being content is not good enough. Being content is very sinful as an entrepreneur.

Andrew: Is that what you bring it back to, that “I am content with where I am.”?

Allie: Yeah, and I feel vulnerable about that. I do. I come in with this internal chatter. Does anybody care that I’m content? Is that good enough? Is that sexy enough for an interview? Does anyone really want to know, do they care what I have to say if it’s not this thing? What would you title this interview? Usually I think titles are easier if they’re quantitative. I’m not giving you that. I definitely have that chatter. All the time.

Andrew: I call it counter mind thoughts. Everything I want to do, like this interview. The counter mind just starts going off. For me, it was bringing it back and saying, “Allie is the kind of guest you want to get. Someone who is doing well, who is under discovered, who could potentially blow people’s minds. Who could be really memorable. I think, “I finally have this opportunity instead of saying hey, because she’s not known, this is what you’ve been trying to find. I shouldn’t say not known, but you’re not on [SS] every week…

Allie: Well that’s fine. But I don’t…

Andrew: …you’re not at the parties.

Allie: Right.

Andrew: And this is who I want to have on here.

Allie: Right. And I made an intentional decision to move to an area that’s not as well known for entrepreneurship. You know I’m not at the parties, I’m not mixin’ and minglin’ in the same way. Because I found a study in a book that I read a couple of years ago, that kind of said in terms of happiness, the cultures that are more on the same level tend to be the happiest. Because you look around and you see your neighbors, and you’re all very much on the same level, and you’re not comparing yourself. But as soon as you get into this culture where you’re going like this, no matter where you are, you’re not as happy because there’s always somebody above you.

And I see it with friends who live in the cities and go to more of these events. When I go to an event, I’ll come home and go, I don’t know, maybe I should do more. And I’ll find that I’m not as content. So it’s that decision, I guess, to not strive. Like I said I’m not applying for awards, and I don’t strive to mix and mingle, and necessarily be the most famous person on the internet. And that’s OK. We all have those moments, we’re like, oh, wouldn’t it be cool? I make an intentional decision to be at peace with what I am. And that’s hard to do and you have to remove yourself from things to do that.

Andrew: Wow, I’m really proud that you said yes to doing this interview here, and that you’re on the site. Um, as I say, you’re the kind of entrepreneur that I’m hunting for. But it’s not easy for us to find people like you. It just doesn’t exist out there. And thank you for doing this interview. Congratulations on the baby, when are you due?

Allie: November 28th. Thanksgiving Day.

Andrew: November 28th.

Allie: Yep.

Andrew: And if people want to follow up and say thank you for doing this interview, and I really hope that they do. I get a lot of emails from people, who the audience are most touched by, they for some reason are most afraid about contacting them, and they will email me instead of saying, the person wants to hear from you. Especially if it touched something in you. So if they want to say thank you, what’s a good way before them to do it?

Allie: Um, I’ll give you a couple. Twitter at allieo, A-L-L-I-E-O. I’ll just give you email, it’s allie@loudpixel,com, or you can go to loudpixel.com, and contact me there. And pretty much Google me and you’ll find me anywhere.

Andrew: And I’ve got to say, loudpixel.com the website just looks fantastic. I can see that the attention to detail that you brought into this recording here with me today, goes into the product, into the site. And frankly guys, even if Social Media Research Company isn’t what you’re in the market for right now, I’m not suggesting that you go over to sign up, I’m suggesting that you just go over to take a look at the site, it’s really well designed. And to take a look at the product. Loudpixel.com. Allie, thank you so much for doing this interview.

Allie: Thank you Andrew, it’s been fun.

Andrew: Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye guys.

  • DevM

    Truly enjoyed this interview. Thank you Allie for sharing all of your fears with us. I could really relate to so much of what you said; namely the fear of money and fear of risk.
    Loved how you started the company, and that you’ve grown it to a point where you are satisfied as opposed to a trying to fit the startup mold. Also, that you are able to run a successful business with your spouse is quite impressive (and could be a whole other topic).
    Best wishes to you and your new addition.

  • Arie at Mixergy

    Running a successful business with a spouse would be a great topic.

  • Allie Siarto

    So true – I can’t tell you how many people have asked us how we manage running the business together as a married couple. It’s worked out well for us, but it’s definitely not for everyone. My first bit of advice is to get an office to separate work from home life. Co-working kept us sane in the early days.

  • Allie, you may have successful entrepreneur friends who you may compare yourself to, but trust me when I say that your child will never compare you to anything when you devote the time and effort to be in their presence on a daily basis. I run a successful company & lifestyle in a way that’s very similar to yours. I also don’t need the millions or all the awards. I just want the freedom, the flexibility to take a nap in the middle of the day, and the joy of being with my child (and only having her in daycare 4-5 hours per day). I am far happier than any of my friends of family while still creating a great income and life. Loved the interview and you’re spot on. Congrats on the pregnancy.

  • Allie Siarto

    Thanks, Aaron! I love to hear this.

  • I’m three months into running a biz with my wife so that office separation is great advice.

  • Gonzalo Paternoster

    Allie great interview. My wife and I work together and our goal is to keep our company small and profitable. It’s nice to hear a founder being proud of not having alot of employees. And I agree with you true success is living for today. Congrats on the baby!

  • Allie Siarto

    Thanks for sharing! I love hearing all of these stories about people who have similar philosophies.

  • Chris

    Allie, what tools were you using to get the data when you worked at the PR company? and what tools do you use now?

  • Allie Siarto

    We were using listening tools like Radian6 and Syomos and exporting the posts to analyze in Excel. We still get our data from tools like these, but we built a tool that samples the data and gives our team an interface to tag the posts and look at trends/overlays in the data.

  • Allie I was running Green Lake in Seattle this weekend listening to your interview on Mixergy. Wow. You have reminded me why I am still an entrepreneur. And why I need to coach my daughters soccer team. Thank you for your honesty and for being so real.

  • This was a lovely interview. I really loved how open you were Allie and I loved that you always asked yourself ‘why you are doing what you are doing’.

    I had a little look at your photography too, very nice.

Who should we feature on Mixergy? Let us know who you think would make a great interviewee.