Profile: The raw, unglamorized entrepreneur

Insecurities, Attention Deficit Disorder, and a hustler mentality. We’re going to get into all of it in this interview.

My guest today is Travis Jamison. He is the founder of Smash.vc where they buy minority stakes in bootstrapped online businesses.

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Travis Jamison

Travis Jamison

Smash.vc

Travis Jamison is the founder of Smash.vc where they buy minority stakes in bootstrapped online businesses.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew:   hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. Today’s guest is Travis Jamison. He created AMZ tracker. It’s a search engine optimization tool for, um, people who sell on Amazon and he sold it.

I’ve got the number here. I don’t know if he’s taught you talk about a publicly.

Travis: I don’t think so, but it’s not a big deal. So

Andrew: How much was it

Travis: like 11.6 million.

Andrew: Why, why? Like,

Travis: I’m not sure it was 11.6 or 11.8.

Andrew: How do you not know that I can just from a, I’m not confronting you on it. I’m curious. Why would you not know how much that is?

Travis: it’s been a few years. It’s been like five years. I split it with my cofounder.

And I have a lot of other like income streams coming in. So like, that was my only thing

Andrew: Even at the time

Travis: Yeah. Yeah. It was crazy and dumb, but yeah,

Andrew: until you never got to take some time off after that and celebrated or any of that.

Travis: I didn’t, I could have, but I was a dumb, dumb, and didn’t

in fact that started new companies after that.

Andrew: you had 5.5, roughly million coming into your bank account. Was that a check? A single check.

Travis: let’s say there was a big one. And then there was a, the rest of it was stripped out over two years or year and a half or something like that.

Andrew: Today, among other things, he is running smash VC, which apparently shouldn’t be called a venture capital firm because he’s not trying to invest a little bit of money in a company that will eventually sell it unicorn status. In fact, you have kind of a love, hate affair with, with unicorns. I see them all over your website, but you’re intentionally kind of making fun of them because you just want to invest.

In a company that’s run by a founder, wants to take a little money off the table and wants to get a little bit help from somebody who has some, skin in the game. And you’re comfortable with them paying out money over years  as they earn it. Right.

Travis: Yeah, I’m paying to become a partner.

Andrew: All right. We’re going to find out about, um, both of those businesses and some of the side businesses and maybe some of the supplement businesses. Uh, was it a couple of businesses that you did in supplements?

Travis: been three now.

Andrew: Three. So we’ll find out about all of it. Thanks. Two phenomenal sponsors.

The first, if you’re hosting a website, coach, check out hostgator.com/mixergy. The second, when you’re hiring developers, go to top towle.com/mixergy. Was there a moment like where you got to celebrate? Um, I’m not sure if it’s like part of the calmness that I’m getting from you is because he confronted you before the interview started.

I checked you out and like, is this like, you go. Dude. I don’t know what I’m in for. Andrew is a bit of a jerk and I’m protecting myself or is it just life has come for you

Travis: nothing, life is calm. Um,   all of that seems quite normal at this point. If you talked to me five years ago, I’ve been way more stoked

Andrew: when you are at your most stoked, how did life change? Because of all this hard work you put in.

Travis: uh, uh, it didn’t . Uh, when I sold, I went and bought 20 of my favorite teachers from. From Zuora at the time. And that was, that was what it had, like a bottle of champagne and type of thing, but like no major celebrations, no buying anything

Andrew: real estate.

Travis: Uh, I bought a house about a year and a half ago, but this was, you know, a solid five years ago. So no,

Andrew: Do you buy new underwear?

Travis: Uh, I had plenty of that, Tommy, John.

Andrew: Yeah. .

Jason Calacanis said that, uh, one of the things that he did after he finally got comfortable, was it got rid of all the old underwear and bought new Tommy John underwear. That was it.

Travis: Yeah.

Andrew: And why are you doing this? What saw the hard work for.

Travis: maybe trying to like, prove that I’m okay. I’m going to worth something to people who don’t really care , uh, if I’m worth something or not. So it’s a false belief there. That was part of it. I haven’t a lot of it. You never, everybody says freedom, but it was a big deal to me. Like, and when I say freedom, not it’s more just to like live a normal life without having to worry about the day to day stuff That’s all it was.

Andrew: Like, what, what do you mean by day to day stuff? You have to worry about.

Travis: Well, you know, I can go out to any normal restaurant now. I don’t wanna have to look at the price. Like I look at what I want to eat and that’s cool. Um, you know, I live in a nice house now, but it’s nothing crazy. And you know, don’t have to like, worry about what that is, what car I go get a car, but I’m not buying Lambos.

I’m just buying the nice normal car.

Andrew: Someone does your laundry for you?

Travis: uh, uh, we do have housekeepers.

Yeah. but I do my own laundry. They, they, they iron it.

Andrew: What was growing up like for you?

Travis: grew up in a. Kind of like American poor family, we have food and a place to live and all this stuff, like money was a big stressor in my family. Like I felt, and, you know, I grew up in like a trailer and I felt self conscious about that. Uh, and so that, that was one of the big motivations to like trying to accomplish things and like check, you know, solve that problem

Andrew: Did your family argue about money or argue about other things, but at the heart of it, it was money. Stress that led to those arguments.

Travis: Yeah, they argued about money and stuff like that. Like, I have a fantastic family, um, you know, super loving, very supportive, but yeah, it was, it was a stressor,

Andrew: and so what did you do about it growing up?

Travis: nothing, nothing.

Andrew: And still you’ve got this hustler mentality. You even told our producer I’m half entrepreneur, just half hustler. Did that express itself before college, before you worked at that movie theater?

Travis: Yeah, I’ve always kind of had, um, hustles, , but even in college I was like, find something to buy and sell on eBay  Ah, that’s that’s exactly it. Uh, so I was working at a movie theater and a Ugo movie came out, which I had no idea what that was.

It’s like a Pokemon type thing. And everybody that came through, they would get a free little pack of cards who see the movie. And we have a really small cinema. And so we have all these extra cards that we never used use, just a manager. Like, can I have a box of these? Yeah, sure. Throw them away. So I’ll go home and check them out on eBay and they’re worth something.

And so I start, uh, You know, selling these individual packs of cards on eBay and school. I had no idea maybe like 10 bucks or eight bucks or something like that for a pack. I had no clue. Um, but that wasn’t scaling very well. And so I started doing a little bit bigger, so I, um, would start buying boxes from other people who didn’t know what they had and reselling them.

And then by the end, I was. Buying selling an entire like boxes and cases of these from people. And they would ship it to the person I’d already sold it from on eBay, but this hustle only lasted a few months, but, uh, you know, it

made a meeting a couple of grand.

Andrew: It’s typical of what you were doing at the time.

the supplement business. Did you get into it because of Tim Ferriss’s book or was it just happenstance?

Travis: I absolutely got into it because of that book, And when I read it, like I just happened to be really into supplements anyway, like I just knew this stuff and read about it for fun ever since I was young. Um, so it was a blueprint for what I know on how to create freedom,

Andrew: And so he saw he’s selling supplements. I could sell supplements, he’s traveling, I’m going to travel. And you ended up in Thailand

working from there.

Travis: yeah, after the first business was making enough for me, like quit my bartending job, .  Thailand was my first stop and I ended up hanging out in this little Island for probably like six months

Andrew: And the internet was strong enough for you to get work done.

Travis: no, but so there’s the Island Kotel. If anybody’s been there and they have had a Island wide wifi that you would like by a little past four,

It was terrible. And then you had This is back before tethering on phones, you had a USB stick that had a SIM card and it had that. And then the hook, like a little hut I stayed at had its own wifi.

And usually between all three of those, you’d get one to kind of work enough.

Andrew: And how would you sell your supplements?

It was all you learning SEO on your own.

Travis: Yes.

Uh, and I kind of had to, because I hired SEO companies and this is the normal outsource trash that, you know, Yeah. People should never use nothing works. I couldn’t afford PPC, especially cause I was doing it myself and had no idea how it worked.

And this is when SEO is a lot easier than it is now.

Andrew: And so you were doing a little bit of it. You got to $3,000 a month. You get any higher than that.

Travis: max, maybe four. I don’t really remember, but something like that.

Andrew: Okay. And then do you start buying now? AdWords weren’t working for you? SEO was the only thing that was working for you forums. Did you do anything there? No, it was just that. And then at what point did you sell that company?

Travis: it was like 2011 I sold it for like a hundred, $10,000.

Andrew: Wow. Was that exciting for you?

Travis: That was. That was very, very exciting for me, more money than I ever thought I would have my bank account.

Andrew: What’d you do differently?

Travis: it, let me make more longterm decisions. Like I was still scared of it kind of going away type of thing. Um, you know, getting a hundred thousand in your bank.  . It lets me invest in things. And when I say invest, like not in markets, but invest in business in a certain way that doesn’t have to have an immediate return because I don’t do my inventory next month, that type of thing.

Andrew: It’s the type of stuff that you want to do at smash VC, right? That you want to give people that kind of freedom. Give them a hundred, a couple of hundred thousand dollars. Allow them to not worry so much about money day to day and know that somebody’s got their back.

Travis: Exactly because most founders, like a hundred percent of their net worth is usually wrapped up in their startup.

Andrew: Are we calling it smash VC? Or am I just reading the URL smashed up VC? That’s what you call it. Right. Um, I saw your, your repost of David Heinemeier. Hansson saying maybe you shouldn’t be calling it. VC should take the VC out of the name, but it kind of makes sense, partially because you’re saying smash VC.

Right. You’re smashing the venture capital, uh, infrastructure and coming up with your own. Um, and also you’re signaling to people I’m investing. I’m not just

Travis: Yeah, we get lots of people doing the normal startup pitch too. So they haven’t read the site and it’s like, Oh, VC. I got to pitch them every single day. Those come through.

Andrew: and all you want to see is numbers. You want to see that as a real business, that it makes sense

Travis: Yeah. Yeah. You know, they’re like people like, Oh, we’re raising half a million dollars. It isn’t like that is that. It’s just not me.

Andrew: Why did you reach out to the people from tropical MBA?

Travis: So when I was, I guess I’m learning to be an entrepreneur. Like that was the main podcast that I listened to him to kind of grow with that.

Andrew: What attracted you to them? a big following. That’s why I ask.

Travis: I feel like they’ve usually been kind of like no BS kind of guys. Uh, and they were also living specifically the type of life that, that I wanted to live at the time. Um, you know, living tropical paradises you building businesses, a lot of freedom. That was great.

Andrew: And so you wanted to get to know them. You saw that they were trying to hire for position. What was the position?

Travis: Yeah, they, , they did like apprenticeship stuff and, you know, when I apply like, I knew I wasn’t that fit. I already had a business making money, but I just like the only way I could think to get into them and say, hi,

Andrew: by the way, are you like clicking a pen or something? I’m hearing something.

Are you, you are, I can’t tell you how many entrepreneurs I talk to who do that? Who click pens. And I usually tell them before the interview starts it’s because I know I do it. I do it with this stylist, with the Apple pencil.

that same issue?

Travis: Yeah, but I’m, I’m legit add. So

Andrew: And do you take medicine for it?

Travis: sometimes, um, I, when I take it, it helps, but I don’t like the person I am as much on

it

makes I think me and a lot of people, less empathetic.

Yeah. So I’m not as warm when I take it. Uh, like my add isn’t it dream. Like I can still function. And luckily I feel like with most people have add when they find something that they like that interests them. They can get absorbed into it.

And it’s when you’re like in a situation, I don’t know another situation you kind of like got a fiddle or just, you know, if I’m having dinner with somebody and there’s a TV on. Like I can’t concentrate because I just keep being distracted, but it works because with work and entrepreneurship and business and stuff, I can get absorbed in it.

So I can sit and crank on my computer for hours on end, because I’m not bored with it. For

Andrew: No, Travis. I wonder if I have add, I think every time that it’s come up, I’ve said there’s no way I could have add because I stay so focused on stuff that you won’t be able to. Like, you can come barging into this room and tell me. There’s a fire outside, in fact not. And you could, there’ve been times I’ve done this interview with alarms going off because the fire, the fire alarms are going off.

I hit mute and I quietly go on with the conversation. I paced it mentally. I know when it’s going to go off again, I wait and then I ask my question. I talk, and then I hit mute again. An anticipation has happened a few times and I’ve said, , that’s the reason that there’s no way I could have add I’m too focused, but.

I guess you’re showing me that people who have add could stay super focused, even if they need constant action. Do you feel it helps you to have add.

Travis: Well, I’ve thought about that. And I have, I have no idea. Uh, I do have a lot of friends who say that I can like out concentrate people with work. So maybe that’s a benefit there. You know, I, I don’t know if I have any like special skills and entrepreneurship, but I do think I, I out work like earlier on in my career.

Andrew: What do you mean? How many hours a day did you work all the time? You wake up and immediately started working.

Travis: I did.

Andrew: That’s what you did before.

So if you had a job, why did you apply to be an apprentice of Dan and Ian of tropical MBA?

Travis: It was the best way I could think of to like get in their scope, like to get on their radar.

Andrew: It was just, Hey, if I apply to be an apprentice, then they have to talk to me. And if I get to talk to them and through the application process, I’ll get to know them. And you did get to know them. You told them a little bit about your business and what did they say?

Travis: They said, man, just, you can’t do this, but just come on out and Bali and hang out with us. Uh, and so I was already nomadic at the time. And so I told him I’d already bought a ticket to Bali. So I was gonna be there in a couple of weeks. Anyway, I hadn’t, that was a lie. Uh, so I immediately bought a ticket and showed up a couple of weeks later on their porch and, um, which was hard to find by the way in Bali.

Um, and they had no idea who I was. They didn’t remember any of this conversation. Uh, but they were, they were really cool and became really good friends with them and also met who was now like one of my best friends in the world. Uh, David Heekin Berger from humans, fat cat apps and landing cube. Uh, he was on that porch as well.

He had no idea who I was, Sean Ogle. If you know him like this, this, all this like old school crew was there,

Andrew: Just hanging out with them.

And what did you get out of being there with them?

Travis: my. Entrepreneurial universe expanded. So like, all I knew was this a little bit of like what I’m hearing on podcasts. And there were like five podcasts at the time. Uh, you know, um, Pat Flanagan, Cass, I’m going to like internet businesses, money or something like that. I’m dropping BA. And so that was like the only thing I had.

And when I met these guys, I got introduced to so many other different things that people are doing. They had just started their private forum, the dynamite circle. It was the first time I was around others doing the same thing as me .

Andrew: All right. Let me take a moment. Talk about my first sponsor. And then we’ll get into that. You ended up with, uh, AMZ tracker. My first sponsor is HostGator. Let me ask you this is Travis. Someone who’s invested in companies, someone who’s been creating companies for years. If I gave you, you have nothing.

And I just gave you a hosting package with HostGator. What’s an idea that you would jump on and build a business for, to start from scratch.

Travis: if you want to give me 10 seconds to look at my notion, I can tell you.

Andrew: got something in your notion.

Really? Yeah. I’d love for you to go with your notion and tell me

Travis: Actually. All right. So I thought of this one the other day, when I was reading Dan Norris, his latest book, uh, this is the answer and he started WP curve, which was. Unlimited WordPress, small jobs, like $69 a month. I own an SEO agency and there’s a lot, a lot of these little tweaks that we need to make the client websites.

That’s a huge pain in the butt, but that type of WP curve thing wouldn’t work, who is unlimited SEO, small jobs. Somebody take that,

do it. And then I’ll be your customer. Yeah, I think link building or strategy, but just like, Hey, we need to fix this on a client site. You know how to do it and do it safely without messing it

up. Oh, you know, like fixing some title tags or some like redirect issues or

Andrew: Got it. Got it. So even you, as someone who runs a search engine optimization agency, you don’t want to do that. You’d want to just pass it to someone else and a business owner like me, definitely wouldn’t want to do that. I would pass it on to someone else. You said, look, Dan Moore, Dan Norris created this business model, or at least made it a big.

That’s an opportunity for anyone to jump bond and say, I’m going to take these small tasks, put them on a menu on a website. Anyone who wants to do that, it can pay me monthly. I will do unlimited number of these small tasks one at a time. So I don’t go crazy. And then eventually you start to hire people.

It seems like the Philippines is where people end up hiring to do this stuff. Right. And you build up this agency kind of copy him. That’s great. Whether it’s for search engine optimization or so many other services that are. Uh, um, almost cookie cutter, repetitive, the businesses money need you set that up and you’ve got yourself a business.

Take that idea or anything else over the whole.com/mixer. When you do, they’ll give you the lowest price possible. They’ll set you up with an easy way to get up and running like a website. I recommend going with WordPress. If you love them, you could be with them for years. They’ll scale with you. They’ve got so many more services at host Gator.

Then you see listed on their website and they will absolutely scale with you. But if, for some reason, a year from now or months from now, you say, I don’t like them. It’s your website. You take a new go somewhere else. I’m like some of these new services where they control your site and screw you. If you don’t like them.

hostgator.com/mixergy, great hosting company, inexpensive get you up and running and scale with you. And if you use that URL, you’ll be giving me credit for sending you over. Um, alright, where did you get the idea then to create a software company?

Travis: So this was several years down the road. I had started a, another eCommerce company again in supplements. Cause what I knew and we were selling on Amazon and Amazon is just another search engine, just like Google. So I was trying to rank for the keywords, my target keywords, but I had no rank tracker, like, you know, for Google, we have a rank tracker to see where you rank for it.

Yeah. Amazon was manually searching these keywords every day and like writing down my position really dumb. So I had worked with the guy a little bit. He was building a Google rank tracker and I had just giving him feedback. I didn’t know any of it. So I had this idea of reached out to him like, Hey, we should create this.

And he was, he was an amazing individual. And so we became partners when we started building it out. And so like the rank tracking for Amazon was like the very first feature and then just took off.

Andrew: And how long did it take you to get that? Or how long did it take him to get it up and running?

Travis: Oh, man, this guy is so fast, probably a couple of months knowing him.

Uh, he he’s, he’s one of those amazing developers who, you know, you tell him something, you come back the next day it’s live. Like, how did you do this? This is huge.

Andrew: And what was the capable of doing the very first version of AMZ tracker?

Travis: Very first version was just tracking where your product ranked for certain keywords

Andrew: And it would, it would search it for me and then tell me where it was today and then do the same search again tomorrow and the same search after that and so on, but it wouldn’t have a history of these search terms in Amazon, right.

Travis: Uh, not, not past history. Yeah. Just once you started tracking it, it would do it.

Andrew: That’s all it had. And your plan was to sell it on a monthly basis or to use it for yourself.

Travis: Uh, both. So now I really wanted for myself, but, you know, I figured other people had this problem

Andrew: Okay.

Travis: probably like 29 a month or something like that, something small. And I remember I was out to dinner one time and, uh, this was super early and I was talking to a friend of mine who was in the software game. And it’s like, yeah. You know, it’s always going to be like a side gig. You know, these others, my SEO company, this e-commerce, this is where it’s really at this it’s like month two, when we’re like $500 a month MRR.

He’s like, wait a minute, man. Like that’s, that’s not too bad to be month two. Like nobody knows about your product. You might be on to something. I was like, nah,

Andrew: Why do you think that wasn’t enough because of the world that you were coming from?

Because in your world, if you’re selling new supplements, how much could you make

Travis: Uh, so at its peak with that business was about 30,000 a month at the time was probably like

Andrew: God? It’s a, who needs another 500? It just doesn’t seem like it’s significant enough. But with software it’s different because.

Travis: It scales, uh, you know, it doesn’t, you don’t necessarily need a lot more effort and time to get exponentially. More customers. I was very much on, in touch with the software game, not the community, not the startup community in the least bit. I didn’t know that all this stuff.

Andrew: You told our producer that the way you got customers, I’ll look at this. I see the first version of the site, $10 a month to track 20 keywords. You started really cheap. Um, you told our producer, I went into forums and I started to tell people about it. How effective was that?

Travis: It was pretty effective for getting the ball rolling. Um, a lot of these forms, I already had a reputation in stuff like that, which helped. So then I said something, people listen, uh, and then the other forums were mostly like Amazon seller groups on like Facebook and whatnot. You just had to be helpful.

Like I wasn’t sitting there spamming our thing all day, but people would say something like, Hey, we saw this problem. Here you go. And then, you know, give good information five other times for saying something else.

Andrew: I feel like that would be where a big part of your day would go that, get up, check the forums, check it out throughout the day. It’s it’s almost like being on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, except it’s harder because those forms are pretty crappy.

Travis: Yes. Yes they are. Facebook groups are not good for this.

Andrew: What do you mean? I feel like Facebook groups are a step above, beyond what was the, I forget the old software that people were using

Travis: Cool. Yeah. Um, well with the software, you can, you can very easily see what the threads are. Um, with Facebook, that stuff kind of disappears the ether. It’s not necessarily showing you in perfect chronological order. So you have to search a lot. Use the search functions in there that search for, I don’t know, keywords or something like that

Andrew: Got it. Okay. And so you would go in there, you’d help people out, you’d get new customers. And that produced for you went to Facebook groups, you dealt with the BS of dealing with Facebook groups and that helped you. And that was like, what morning? You’d get up and you’d start checking this throughout the day.

You check

it

Travis: day long. Yeah. Yeah.

Andrew: And so in the middle of a conversation, would you be the type of person who on a date would just pull

Travis: Yeah, no, I had a, I had a girlfriend at the time, so you know, around all the time.

Andrew: I feel like with a girlfriend, it’s easier to do that. Cause now we’re together. You know how I work?

Travis: Yeah. Yeah. My wife now. Yeah, she’s totally used to it, thankfully.

No, no, not like that. Uh, we’re, we’re pretty good about it, but she’s used to me being like a workaholic and just like stopping and. Thinking up into the air and playing with my beard, which I actually do. And I think, uh, you can go off either and then come back, write something down and keep going.

Andrew: You do SEO, how effective a search engine optimization.

Travis: Uh, it was, it was very effective for that company insanely. That’s what I talk about this specific things, in example, a lot for how people should do SEO. So our very first keyword that we ranked number one for was, is either like Amazon rank tracker or Amazon keyword rank tracker. Like I did the data before and if something like a hundred searches a month, nothing, but we were the only solution.

So there’s a hundred searches a month converting like half of them or something like that. So, you know, you run the math on a SAS product, one recurring revenue, a hundred searches a month can make a bunch of money if you do it right.

Andrew: What did you, what did you do to rank for that? You’re still ranking by the way, for that, and for Amazon rank.

Travis: That’s amazing because that side hasn’t had anything done to it in a long time.

Andrew: a blog post that was written March 16th, 2015.

Travis: well, that’s not what used to rank and use the home page used to rank, I

Andrew: It was a homepage. And so you just, what did you do to rank for that word back then? Since you’re an SEO person?

Travis: optimize it. And I knew where to get good back links and whatnot.

Andrew: Uh, okay. What type of places? I see a smile. As you’re talking about that,

Travis: So we didn’t do anything super sketchy with this one because, uh, trying to be a legitimate company, we don’t want to use like PBNs and stuff like that. That’s back when PBNs were more mainstream, you know, I wouldn’t really a private blog network. It’s a, it’s a site with some authority that you put up and hosts specifically for backlink purposes.

Totally against Google’s terms of service. Don’t recommend it, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing and I don’t use them anymore myself. Anyway.

Andrew: Okay. And so you didn’t do that. What did you do?

Travis: Just, you know, if you know a Forbes editor here or there you get some links or you reach out to a couple people just kind of

spread the links around.

Andrew: Andrew from eCommerce fuel seems to have been a friend too.

Travis: Maybe. So he is a very respected person in the eCommerce world. Uh, and we just, I think we. Gave them a free counts and check it out. He liked it and asked for a testimonial when he said, yes, I kind of feel bad because I think his face might still be on the website and you haven’t been to the website long time.

Um, and he, you know, he was nice and letting me put it up there, but like the new owners still probably use it and stuff like that.

Andrew: Even though it was because of a relationship I’m going to scroll through and see if he’s, I don’t see him on the site. Doesn’t mean that he’s not there, but. I don’t, I don’t see him promoted the way that you did when you were running the site. So then what else worked for you for getting more customers?

Oh, no, it’s still prominently on the site. Oh yeah. You know what? I just scrolled super low to where all the testimonials usually are, but no, he is like up there with the top, the top section of the site. Yeah. Amazon keyword tracking is a beautiful, beautifully, simple cleaned interface. Is that the way you guys refer to. Did you guys refer to it as Amazon keyword? Oh no. Wait, Amazon keyword tracking. Got it. Nevermind. Amazon keyword tracking in a beautifully simple and clean interface. That’s the quote that he gave you and you guys use that. Got it. Um, what else did you do to grow beyond that

Travis: Yes. So. There were, I didn’t have to do like certain growth hacking and stuff going on. It’s more, we just solved a big domain. So the next big feature that really changed the game was that. We realized we kind of broke down and how the Amazon search algorithm works. And so let’s take like Google SEO, you know, you, you just optimize your site for keywords and then you’d get back links, like good backlinks that are trustful and Google rewards.

That’s like social votes. And so your website goes up in the Amazon. It’s similar, you optimize your listing for the same keywords, but then there’s no such thing as backlinks for that. The equivalent are sales. So somebody searches your keyword on Amazon finds your product, clicks it and impresses purchase.

Amazon registers that as you know, a signal for ranking, we figured out how to kind of work around that. Uh, We created a two sided marketplace where sellers could give away their products for super cheap, say a dollar when it usually cost $20. And so you had all these people who were like, Oh, I get this stuff for super cheap.

All I have to do is purchase and leave a review with a nice disclaimer. I received this, you know, In exchange for a review. Um, and it, it worked, you know, people could give away several hundred units a day, give the week or two they’re ranking it’s top of Amazon. Everybody’s happy except for the customers longterm from Amazon.

Andrew: Because the customers get what

Travis: Well, the people who got the products were good. Uh, and at first it was no big deal, but then over time, uh, more and more people started doing this as so many of the reviews on Amazon. Were incentivized more or less, you know, they’re disclosing it, but it doesn’t change the fact that they were still there.

Andrew: Because the algorithm’s not reading the disclosure, the algorithm, just seeing somebody hit a key word bot and then reviewed it.

Okay. And then you kept this going. Let’s talk about the features. Were there features that added more?

Travis: We had all kinds of features, like, um, different on page optimization stuff for your keywords. Uh, we had some like keyword research stuff, but really like the rank tracking and the giveaway service. Like those, those were the main things

Andrew: You did that

Travis: Well, so I think we made it like an order of magnitude better than other companies.

Like there were a couple of companies doing it. Like the biggest was, was Snagshout at the time. And you would pay them per review. I don’t remember how much it was. We’ll just say like $10, $20 type of thing. Uh, so $20 for everything that you gave away. We came in and we said, Oh, if you’re a subscriber, you can do unlimited for 50 bucks a month or something like that.

And so it was just such a no brainer. So it was an order of magnitude, easier to do it, to give them away without having to scan manually do each one. And it was way cheaper. And, you know, if you knew anything like that order of magnitude better and cheaper, it’s easy sell.

Andrew: How did you, how did you end up finding your, your buyer?

Travis: They cold emailed us. They were a, a Chinese fund that had been put together and they had a thesis about Amazon was going to take over the world. They were right about that part and they wanted to own as much of the ecosystem as possible. So we were their first and biggest acquisition in the space for that.

Like they were, they were huge Amazon sellers themselves.

Andrew: Okay. And so they said, this is going to be, this is going to work out. Well, what type of people were they.

Travis: Very, well, I know this now. This is all in retrospect. Uh, very inexperienced people, uh, the, the main guy behind it now, I think he’s a, he’s a pretty nice guy. Um, he’s really good at raising money and like telling the story, but the company wasn’t really the best at knowing how to operate these things. And so I think they kind of got in over their head

with it.

Andrew: Well, you Bangkok at the time when you launched. Because you decided it’s what, why Bangkok?

Travis: Oh, when we sold were in Bangkok at first, we were in ho Chi Minh city. You know, I was living abroad, uh, when we started hiring, I just said, Oh, I think we had like eight or 10 people at one time. Cause it was crazy growth. And it’s like, Oh, you guys got to come and like, stay with me and, and hope you in city for three months.

And they worked out well. And then afterwards, everybody just kind of wanted to stay. And so we as a team, moved to Bangkok for months and it just kept staying there.

Andrew: Okay. And so they cold called you. They wanted to buy, I’m seeing a blog post here by Brian Rowe. He was one of the first employees.

Travis: Yeah,

no, no, we’re we’re good. Now. He, he was pretty angry when we sold

Andrew: Yeah, why he said you stood up one day and you made this announcement and he was dumbfounded after he moved out to be with you.

Travis: Yeah. Uh, So once, once we sold some of the people, we’d like to take a chunk of the cash that we were selling for and earmarked it for the employees who were staying to like receive a bonus. And it was, you know, typical exit stuff. Like they were going to receive it in a year or six months or something like that.

So they make sure that they stayed around. Um, and then after that, like once I no longer had any control. The new owners pushed it a little bit. Like they were like, you know, we’re a remote team with, you know, most people based in Bangkok and this, that stuff like, Oh, you have to move to China. that’s a very different place to move for a lot of people.

And then the, I think we had an amazing culture, like work culture. At first, I was really fun, very free. Uh, Very trusting. And the culture has kind of changed once it’s sold a little bit. It’s just different owners. You know, I don’t, I’m so far away from anything. Corporate never had a real job. I didn’t even know how that works.

Uh, and so it just, it just changed a lot. And then so some people felt mainly one person and, uh, felt kind of slighted by it. Yeah, culture change and it didn’t end up great for them, you know, trying to make them move to a new country. Like that’s, that’s a big deal. Like once you’ve already established something else, uh, I think most people still got their bonuses unless they’d like lift earlier type of thing, but it was, it was a really stressful thing.

And I really I’m sad at how that worked out because they were like family. So it sucked.

Andrew: This was what was the guy’s name? Jerry who made the acquisition? It was.

And what was Jerry’s background?

Travis: He was a big seller on Amazon. The, uh, one of the somewhat typical Chinese methods, which is sell lots of stuff at like very, very low margin.

Andrew: Okay. And it was, it was from where it was, he was getting it from China and then keeping it housed in the U S

Travis: Yeah. So he’s trying to ease, um, live in China, manufacturing it there because they can, they can get stuff made for way cheaper than then, you know, Westerners trying to do the same thing. They know how the system works. Uh, getting it made, selling it on FBA for, for very low margins, but they were going for huge revenue numbers.

You know, who’s playing a much bigger game trying to become a billionaire type of thing.

Yeah. And so his background, I don’t know. I think he’s like definitely studied English. His English was impeccable lived in Germany for awhile

Andrew: Apparently he loved Shakespeare or knew how to talk all the, all the us and Western

Travis: Yeah,

yeah, yeah, no, he was good at that. He was very good at telling stories of like big stuff of what could happen. Ah, SF VCs would probably love his stuff

Andrew: Okay. What’s he doing now? I should interview him.

Travis: I have no idea.

I think he’s still, I think so as far as I know, yeah,

Andrew: So he bought it 20% of the business and then came back afterwards and got 80%

the last 80%. And it was, was

Travis: Oh, no, it was no, I don’t think.

I think it was, they bought 80% of it at first and then bought the last 20%. And here’s the crazy thing. It was less than a year apart. And when they bought 80%, uh, they paid whatever amount it was. And the, the final amount ended up the last 20% they bought it for like, just as much or more what they paid for the 80%.

Andrew: Wow

because the

business had

grown that

Travis: sip. was insane. Growth, insane. I don’t know when, when I left, I think the biggest that I saw it, I don’t know if I still own part of it or not. Then it was like 860,000 a month,

Andrew: A month and we’re looking at about six 50 in profit a month.

Travis: Something like that. So again, clearly if I owned a car Wheatley at that point, my goodness, I would, uh, I would have sold for way more if that’s okay. But we were playing within Amazon’s terms of service, but we were like pushing it. We knew, and even we weren’t pushing it and we knew a change was going to have to happen.

There are so many reviews going on to Amazon and again, within terms of service, but it had to change. And so we were afraid that our platform would get shut down or something like that. So there was, there was fear. Um, we knew there was a lot of upside because the crazy growth rate, but we knew that the fear.

And so we decided to take the chips off the table while we had a life changing offer in front of us.

Andrew: And when you say we, this was you and then who else?

Travis: Yeah.

Andrew: What was your co background? I saw that also online. Um,

just can’t see it here in front of me. What was his

Travis: I gladly tell you he’s an amazing guy. So he, he was, um,

an optometrist.

Andrew: Yeah, that’s what it was. I saw that on Brian’s site and upon buttressed

Travis: Yeah. Yeah. So he would just code it for fun. He’s a really intriguing guy. He’s he literally is probably the best person I’ve ever met is like best human possible. Uh, he became an optometrist optometrist instead of a coder. Cause I keep getting no quite understand the careers of coding, you know, I didn’t know that was out there, but he’s from Australia.

Like the community was way, way smaller.

Andrew: Apparently an Australian Vietnamese guy.

Travis: yes. Yeah. Vietnamese heritage. What do you use Australian completely.

Andrew: Got it. And then what percentage of the company did he own? Half. Wow. We, um, I know our producer asked you what was the toughest time for you? And it was the hacking. I feel like you’ve talked about that so much, but since it is something that’s so painful, when we talk about that and then we’ll get into, uh, what you’re doing with smash w you know what, let me take a moment.

Talk about my second sponsor. It’s top tile for hiring developers. Do you have any advice for anyone who’s listening about how to hire a developer or what to look for? None really. You don’t hire developers at all.

Travis: I worked with him and now like all of the software projects I work on, I work with him.

Andrew: always with him. You guys

Travis: And then he finds them. Yes. We’re still co-founders on other things. Yeah,

Andrew: smash VC.

Okay. Got it. Well, because the way you work at smashes, you bring in a what? A hundred thousand dollars or so, and then if the company needs more money, you bring in other people.

Travis: Yeah, it’s part financial, but part, um, talent wise. So, you know, we’ve worked with some, some software companies and we actually bought them completely, but, you know, I don’t want to do that myself. So I would come with like, say on like, on you wanna go in on this. And so yeah, he does. So it’s just, whoever’s going to add the most value, the most value for the founders, for my investment, for everything kind of combined.

And we have a list of. I don’t know, probably 50 or so people who were interested in co-investing on any deals, but it very rarely to be tap

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Travis: Did you say

Andrew: that.

Yeah, I

know. Yeah. On this level, I, to be honest with you, that part people keep coming back to me and say, why do you blow past that? Why do you, but we’ll pass the, uh, the no risk trial period.

I don’t want, I don’t want the type of person who’s just going to sign up for that. I want the person who says, I know what a great developer can do for my business.

Travis: That is true. Yeah. Uh, on and I have, have worked with developers who haven’t been as good. And then I get to see what he does on his own and like the 10 X developer thing that everybody pokes fun of. One of it’s really true. Like it’s such a big deal. Well, he can accomplish in a weekend. You know what others can do in like months.

Andrew: I think people who know it know it and everyone else just feels like it’s ridiculous. Um, so talk a little bit about the hacking

Travis: Alright. So, uh, let’s see. Um, we trying to think so again, as I mentioned, like my cofounder was really good developers, but we were working at scale that we never had before. Um, you know, many, many thousands of customers, uh, hundreds of thousands of people on the other side of our platform, the like, uh, the marketplace side of the platform.

Um, and so we were trying to just keep up and wants here’s something else crazy during the entire business, he was the only developer.

Yeah, it wasn’t until we started selling that we started bringing on other people.

Andrew: wait, wait, wait, what about this whole didn’t you have a unicorn smash unicorn or something project that you built in addition to it? He did that by himself. Holy crap. Okay. There it is. Unicorn smasher. You guys created that during the sale process. That was just him. Okay. All right. Sorry. So you’re starting to say it’s him and get leading you to the hack.

Travis: Okay. So, yeah, but we, because he was at max capacity, I just like, I was, I couldn’t help on this. A couple of things had like security issues have been kind of left, open and hackers being hackers. They decided to like poke around our site and our databases and stuff like that. And they ended up getting a list of everybody’s email and password.

But, you know, the passwords were encrypted. So we, we did the responsible thing and, uh, told everybody like, Hey, uh, your, your passwords have been, you know, your account details have been hacked, but your passwords are safe. Uh, Put this out on Reddit, which was the place where most of the, the marketplace was at.

It was a big angry Reddit thread and turns out I was wrong. They weren’t properly encrypted. And so people’s passwords became open and vulnerable. If you just ran them through like a common. I’ll call it decryptor for lack of a better word. I forget what it’s called. Uh, and so that was a huge, massive hack with lots and lots of angry people.

And we were, and this was also during the process of, we were already working at the deals for the sale. And so I’m thinking this is over. This is really over. We’re going to get sued for Brazilians for all of our money. The sale’s not going to go through. It’s all going to go to zero.

Andrew: And so while this is happening, you have to figure out how to calm things down. I’m looking for all the complaints on Reddit. I, for some reason I can’t come up with it, but people are vocal about it and I’m pretty good at researching this stuff. Um, so I’m sure that it’s out there. What did you do to, to clear things up and go through with the sale?

Travis: The people buying. It didn’t even seem to notice. I don’t believe. Uh, I don’t know how, uh, and it’s, you know, as far as like the masses of people on, on Reddit, uh, you know, it’s kind of owned up to, it said exactly what was happening, uh, was, was being very honest. They all thought I was lying because I felt I had lied about their passwords being safe when they weren’t, but I’d actually didn’t know when I said it.

Um, Did you just kind of owned up to it, cleaned it up as we go. Luckily, our sellers were safe

know.

Andrew: What do you mean? Oh,

Travis: So the, we had two different sites like the marketplace where a few hundred thousand people who would just buy the stuff for a dollar, you know? And then we had our core group, a few thousand sellers, all their data and information in the app that was very valuable.

And as far as I know that that was kept safe.

Andrew: Okay. Um, but did you start writing like productivity hacks? Is, is that one way that you dealt with the SEO of AMZ tracker hack searches? No, uh, you know what, maybe this is after you. Cause if I do searches for AMZ tracker and, uh, a yeah. AMZ tracker hack, if I’m, if I do searches like that, I ended up coming up with a lot of productivity, hack, blog posts,

Travis: Nah. Nah, actually I don’t think I did write a reputation management for that.

Andrew: all right, let’s talk then about now what you’re doing, you’ve decided you’re going to invest in companies at first. You did it more traditional way. Um, that you went to these different, what was it that, um, how’d you invest in my friend, uh, Justin’s company needles.

Travis: Oh, that was just through a seed invest, which is crowd funding platform,

Andrew: Why do

you use that?

like Kickstarter, but you get equity instead of the product.

Travis: they had that. Um, they also have one that’s basically just like an angel. Uh, so they have the version for nonaccredited investors, which, you know, we’ll have a few thousand people joining something and then others, which was just accredited. I assume this was accredited one, but I was just interested in angel investing, seemed like the cool thing to do.

That’s what, all the people who have had exits it’s like, you have to do it next, supposedly. So I got into it. Um, And, you know, I haven’t really used that platform in a while, but

Andrew: It was just you saying, this is what I’m supposed to do. I’ve got some money. I’m going to get into it somehow. I don’t know anyone in investment. I’m just going to go onto these platforms.

Travis: yes. And it’s a great way to learn. I also thought I knew a lot of stuff. Uh, and I feel like then I, now I know I didn’t, and hopefully, you know, five years from now, I’ll say the same thing about me right now. Oh, I thought I knew stuff, but I didn’t,

uh,

Andrew: were you wrong about with investing?

Travis: So I didn’t,

you know, like to lab’s work. And he talks about the barbell strategy and familiar with that, uh, to Lev talks about his investing strategy, which is 80% safe or like 90% safe or whatever. And then 10% is, um, Kind of like high risk, high reward type of thing. Uh, but you want to avoid, like, and he’s talking about like a barbell, like you’re bench pressing, but you want to avoid the middle ground, which is like, you know, not too high upside, but medium risks.

Cause that’s where you kind of people lose out. I feel like I was doing a lot of that in my angel investing and even make probably even like proudly proclaiming that like, Oh, I’m looking for businesses that probably aren’t going to fail type of thing as much. And I don’t. I look back now and I don’t know if that was really the best way to do it.

I think with angel investing, it really needs to be like, you have to have a case to be a billion dollar startup. Cause I look at some of the startups that sit in that have either closed down or ones that I just know aren’t going to be huge upsides. And, you know, I write a check cause they’re already making some revenue and it seems like, Oh, it’s be hard for them to really fail.

But then they put her around for years and that’s a huge option and that’s a huge, wow. I didn’t sleep much last night. I don’t remember the word I’m looking for. Um, Opportunity costs. Wow. Yeah. So huge opportunity cost, but then also more times than not, they will close. If these founders don’t have some massive exit in front of them where something really exciting, then they, they lose a focus on it.

What not. So I think with the traditional angel investing, it needs to be able to be a billion dollar company or at least a multi hundred million dollar company. And so I was playing that middle ground, which didn’t really work.

Andrew: And so that wasn’t working. Were you losing money on it?

Travis: no, um, whether it’s luck or skill or whatever. Uh, I think my angel portfolio will do pretty well now, of course, that was a span of several years of making these angel investments. And so they got better, but I look at the early ones and they were, they were not very good.

Andrew: I’m looking at your angel list profile to see the investments that you made card hook. Is that part of that? No, it’s not. That’s a good one. They’re doing really well. That’s not you trying to play it safe.

Travis: I could say that one might be slightly similar to what I described, but it still turned out to be a really good investment part of it because the founder Jordan’s amazing.

Andrew: Yeah. And he’s got your mentality where he’s, where he’s more like a bootstrap type of person. He’s got to figure out how to make everything work. He’s probably, I don’t know him super well, but I imagine that he’s not sleeping much. Um, You got parsley, you got lead fuse. Those are successful companies, right? Okay. I won’t get too deep into it because I don’t know how much, how much you can talk about it. You’ve got cafe X that’s, uh, Oh, but that’s via angel list. This was you parsley playing, figuring it out. At what point did you say? I think I got my new model. My new model is I’m going to find businesses like mine, where the guy needs a little bit of money.

The woman wants to take some off the table. The founding team needs a little bit of cash to give them some longterm view. I’m going to put that little cash

Travis: This was easy because it’s easy now. I saw so much of the traditional VC backed companies. There were just bullshit. They all were not all of them. Plenty of them are great, but so many of them were, these founders didn’t have the skill sets they needed, or it’s just planning the next round of funding game type of thing.

And it doesn’t, I think a lot of it’s bull crap, but also it doesn’t. Resonate with me. Like I’m a, bootstrapper at heart for sure. And so one day just kind of like Dawn on that. What am I doing? I’m trying to play this game of looking cool, doing this thing, trying to make some big money, but it’s not me. I wish that I had someone on offering me to take chips off the table for AMZ tracker.

I wish that had happened. Why don’t I just offer other founders that type of thing. Uh, and so just the light bulb moment where made all the sense in the world to try and offer that,

Andrew: And we talked before we got started about how you don’t have a portfolio listed on your site. You don’t want to talk about them. And I asked you why, and you said, you remember.

Travis: um, there’s no need inviting extra competition for some of these businesses, uh, especially with a lot of these businesses are smaller at scale. So competitors could pop up. Um, you know, I mentioned people doing, uh, listing revenue reports, you know, being very open about their finances and stuff like that.

And I think that invites a lot,

the

competitors. Yeah. Um, I’ll send him this link once it’s live. Uh, Dan Norris, a friend of mine, he founded WP curve and, uh, early on they were doing, you know, the revenue reports type of thing. Uh, And I think that was great. At first it created a lot of traction and people interested in following, along with the journey, but then by the end, there were like 30 other copycats.

And I he’s never said this, but I personally think it probably hurt the amount of money they were able to sell the company for, because there were so many competitors taking away market share, which if they kept that more private people would have never known and you know, probably been like 10 X, less competitors.

Andrew: Okay. And so when I asked you about this, you said, well, I’ve got an example of somebody who was on Amazon. If other people find out what they’re doing on Amazon, that’s working for him. They’re going to copy him and suddenly we’re going to end up with the lower margin and I don’t want to do that for him.

And then the question that I asked you afterwards is if it’s so fragile that somebody could come in and copy them, is it a real business or just a hit product or hit set of products?

Travis: So. Depends. What you classify as a business. A lot of the small businesses, they’re just hardest hacks. So you can look at my, my first supplement business. Was it a business or was it just an SEO site that happened to have a buy button? You know?

Um, so same type of thing,

Andrew: but you really want to invest in something like that. That’s that’s so, um,

Travis: I think so. I think the. The returns have already been very good and will continue to be. So when you invest in businesses of this size, uh, all right, so let’s say you’re doing do the traditional VC path. You’re going to raise, um, your pre-seed funding. You’re going to raise half a million dollars, $5 million cap, right?

That is insane in the small business for absolutely insane. Like in small business, you don’t raise anything, you sell at a multiple of your, um, you know, your free cash. Yeah. No, not revenue, your profit. So in small business world, you might sell Amazon business for say a little bit less than three years profit, right?

Yeah. So that’s totally different. So when we start running the math on that type of thing, 33% a year yield. That’s pretty good.

Andrew: And that’s, so that’s what you’re putting in. You’re putting in a hundred thousand dollars, you might get 33,000 every year for three years. And if you sell afterwards the bonus, and if you could just keep that going. Oh, and you still want to get your a hundred thousand dollars back.

Travis: No, if they sell, I like I’m very, and to whatever the founder wants to do, they want to sell cool. They want to hold it and just keep pumping out these dividends. I’m cool with that. Uh, I generally try and help them grow it whenever it’s appropriate, you know, have, uh, a good growth skillset, have a marketing company that kind of goes along with stuff.

So we try and help grow them.

Andrew: you do SEO on Amazon for them.

Travis: Uh, not on Amazon, it’s pretty public. How the Amazon search engine works now. It’s not all that complicated. We, I have no special skillsets that like, I can look at it and tell you stuff, but other people can too. But with like Google SEO, for example, it’s a much harder thing to get. Right. And so we have a marketing agency for that

Andrew: This is a, what is it called? Um, smash,

smash, digital public, whoever does your freaking design is amazing.

Travis: Thanks man. Uh, Mel Richards, didn’t the initial stuff. She kind of came up with the concept and then I have a full time designer

Andrew: the whole thing. It just feels so right. You know what I mean?

It doesn’t, it doesn’t feel heavily designed. It doesn’t feel at a touch. It doesn’t feel like a designer designed a company site. It’s your personality exemplified at its highest sense. And it goes throughout everything that I touch. Um, it gives you a ton of credibility, a ton of credibility.

Travis: I love that. And I’ll actually send you the, our new sales page. That’s about to go up that we’re changing. It’s now full of memes and like more real and raw and stuff like that. Like more close to our roots.

Andrew: It’s just really well done. Um, so, but the other problem with the, with that model where you take, if the owner takes a, um, takes a dividend, you take a dividend too. What about taxes on that? Taxes off profits that you take every year,

Travis: Just like it’s an LLC, so it’s just pass through stuff.

Andrew: but doesn’t that also suck that you’re now paying maybe 50% of the money that you’re taking in. So already you put up a hundred thousand dollars maybe next year you end up with $33,000. As we said earlier, comes back to you from profit. Half of that goes to taxes. Say, now you’re at 15,

Travis: You’re in California. I’m not sure.

Andrew: suck.

Travis: So what’s the LLC tax right now, like 25 or something like that. Um,

Andrew: all you have to pay. No, but that’s federal is even higher, basically taxes. Aren’t an issue for you.

Travis: Um, I mean, it doesn’t change the basic math form of that. Like where else are you going to put your money? Um, you know, before two weeks ago you could just say, well, you put in the stock market. It, it make more, um, you know, as of right now is the coronavirus stuff’s happening. Not as easy to say, but. Where else can you get comfortable returns that are like cashflow generating specifically like the angel VC stuff.

You’re not seeing any money for seven to 10 years. Um, bonds are laughable. Like, there’s just, there’s just no easy money anywhere. Like this is a good source of cashflow and I, I like cashflow first and then focusing on exits. Um, yeah, let’s make sure we’re making money day and day. And then we’ll focus on the big wind.

Andrew: Is there a company you can point to and say, this is an example of what I’m doing and be open about them.

Travis: Uh, probably, uh, yeah. So here is an example, um, a and Z Pathfinder. They are, and Amazon PPC management service,

uh, And a, uh, a guy who actually invested in the first time, uh, his name’s Nick Ginsburg, we did this exact same thing several years ago, before Smashbox even existed, just up like a private deal. I invested him and we ended up selling and then Nate became like an investor doing the same type of thing.

He brought AMZ Pathfinder to us. And so. You know, the, the business was doing a little bit, it’s doing okay. But again, with a lot of these businesses and these founders are making okay, money, just like me with my first supplement company, making three grand a month, my bank account was never bigger than $10,000.

Uh, you know, same type of thing. So we give them a bunch of cash. He gets to sleep better at night and then we help grow it.

quite a bit, actually.

Andrew: Because you do SEL.

Travis: Um, We’re just starting with this site. So there’s no SEO on this one yet.

Uh, uh, so this one was more organizational, so Nate gets most of the credit for this one.

Uh, he’s very good at processing out like what a company needs and like hiring specialty people for that type of stuff. And so he helped free the founder, um, to be able to focus on improving the business instead of working in the business.

So that was a big one.

Andrew: Ah, got it. So if, for example, I were to say, look, I’m not looking for the Mixergy is not a venture backable company, but I’d like to take some money off the table and have somebody else who cares as much about the business as I do, and maybe gives more of a rat’s ass about SEO than I do. You got, I would come to you.

I’d say, here are my profits. You’d give me a multiple profits, but a small, you take a small percentage of the business and then you do free work on the site.

Travis: Each deal is kind of, you know, changes. Uh, most of the time we will like the SEO company. We’ll do all the work at cost, like at our actual cost for like content and whatnot. Uh, but all the work done by the staff is it is free. So I just like my SEO company, we have a, we have a bunch of clients and probably like half of our work goes to that and the other half goes to, you know, my own portfolio of businesses.

And so the clients are paying for the staff to keep them up. And so they,

Andrew: So it’s not a profitable business for you.

Oh, so it’s a profitable business and it gives you enough staff to help your,

Travis: Yes.

Uh, this, this SEO company has allowed me to do half of the awesome business things I’ve done because I’ve always had stable income coming in enough for me to live off of comfortably.

Andrew: Alright. I think I got it. And the size companies that you’re looking for

Travis: keeps the upside.

Andrew: and you live off of that, off of the salary from the SEO company.

Travis: No from salary off of that. And then like, from a savings and stuff, like, I’m pretty much just investing. Like I’m not flashy or anything. I’m not driving a Lambo. I’m just, you know,

Andrew: what’s your more stable staff. What’s the other side of the,

Travis: Uh, gold. I like that one. Yeah. Yeah. Uh, like I’m not one of these crazy gold people, but I think,

um, if, you know, I mean, there’s ETFs that have a lot of it. And you know, there’s, there’s some physical stuff, like not at my house, it’s stored somewhere. Uh, but this is just like the old shit stuff. Hey, everything comes crashing down.

I got enough to restart.

It’s okay. see. So

I actually think, I don’t, I don’t have a lot of that. So, um, I’ve kind of been. If, you know the name irons he’s Twitter handles like both the Raven he’s a little bit nutty, but, um, he has a really good presentation on, um, why to buy gold. And I don’t want to become like a Goldman. I’m not pushing that, but in the presentation he talks about.

This whole system is kind of crazy about, you know, our economy is built on spending instead of saving on printing money with no downsides, that type of thing. And I think it just doesn’t make sense. Like eventually the reckoning will have to happen. And so I haven’t been super bullish on, on a lot of stocks in a long time.

So, so these high valuations and up until two weeks ago look stupid. And now I look okay, but I, I think, um, Owning small businesses is actually a really relatively safe thing to do, especially if it’s a diversified portfolio, you know, these things are generating cash. There’s not dramatic risk in any of them.

And because it’s a portfolio, you know, something happens to one of them. It’s not the end of the world.

Andrew: I just look more. I couldn’t help, but just go into my trading account right now, as you were saying how bad it was. Oh man. It is very painful. Wow. Do you have a different last name? You don’t have to say what it is, but in my research, I came across as someone who has a first name fits your profile.

Different last name.

Travis: Uh, yes, I go by a pin name online and it’s, it’s, it’s publicly known that I go up and name, uh,

actually dropped no, uh, drop Columbia, did a whole podcast and where I had a few minutes talking about it, like all of us, uh, several people go back and name just for like privacy reasons online, like, uh, Dan, um, From chocolate BA that’s not Andrew’s is not as real last name.

And he talks openly about that.

Andrew: But is his last name known publicly.

Okay. Has yours known publicly

Travis: no.

I mean,

Andrew: mine? Mine is, but I legally changed mine. I didn’t, uh, yes,

Travis: didn’t know this

Andrew: Warner.

Travis: man. So did you do this? Like, it was like a persona type thing.

Andrew: I was trying to make sales calls and people wouldn’t take me seriously. If I called with my, with my real name, uh, it was clearly, and I got the sense that there were even my first name was different people weren’t taking me seriously. I tried a bunch of different names suddenly, as soon as I went more American and a little familiar sounding, people really took me seriously.

And I said, all right, great. Then I’ll just go by that. And then I started meeting people in person. Who I’d done work with online. And it felt weird for me to say, look, we’re meeting in person because we need to strengthen this deal. And by the way, this name is fake, it became a distraction. So I changed it

Travis: I’ve thought I’ve thought about that. That’s, that’s totally fascinating. But the only thing is like, you know, I love my dad. That’s his family’s name? Um,

Andrew: thought my father would have a problem with it. My dad didn’t he didn’t bat an eye about any of it. It was shocking.

Travis: now did you mention my dad wouldn’t either? Um,

Andrew: Surprised. Yeah, but I think now the way that it works for you, where it’s, you’re known buy it online, but offline you’ve got something else. It’s it makes sense. I think that the, you don’t have to change your name legally anymore. The way that I did.

Travis: So kind of, but everyone who knows me, who I didn’t grow up with knows me as Travis Jameson. And so I meet people. Like I just, it depends on the setting. If I’m in a business setting, I just say Travis Jameson, because no one knows who this other guy is.

Andrew: I have a similar situation. The one, there are a couple of times that I have an issue with it. If people are inviting me to speak somewhere, they want to buy it. I mean, the flight surprise me with a nice, uh, with a nice flight and hotel room. And my assistant has to make sure that before they do anything like that, that they’ve got my actual name.

That’s on my passport. Otherwise you’re screwed. You can’t get a refund or switch that type of thing out. And then the other time that it comes up is. I’m calling to deal with something and I accidentally say the wrong last name. It feels a little suspicious. Well, don’t, you know, your last name? I do.

Here’s how it works. It’s not such a big deal.

Travis: Yeah. So at least have that podcast up. So now it just point people to it’s like, this is, this explains it.

Andrew: All right. Okay. I think we’ve got a lot over here. I appreciate you coming on here. I’m curious about what your, what, which companies you’ve invested in, but I understand why you can get deeper into it. Well, let me close with this. What do you think about Amazon as a, as a platform in general? I tend to not interview people whose whole business is done on Amazon, because I see that they’re not making much money.

They have big top line numbers, which amazes everybody, but very little profit, a lot of deep anxiety. They can go to sleep well.

Travis: You’re a hundred percent, right? Which is why in general, I don’t invest in Amazon companies anymore. And I won’t start another Amazon company. Uh, everything’s changed because you have really talented people and big funds and number crunchers coming in here, adding pressure the same time you have. All these Chinese manufacturers, these are speed.

The middleman manufacturer, they’re now going direct. So they’re undercutting. The markets margins are getting lower. E-commerce is a tough game. You know, it’s so capital intensive. I buy my products and I don’t sell it for another six months. And if you sell it at all, it’s a lot of risk. It’s just not a game.

I like, uh, I think FBA is a sinking ship for, uh, easy money entrepreneurs type of thing.

Andrew: And now Amazon doesn’t care so much about those sellers. And so the example that I’ve heard, that I think indicates how much they don’t care about them is people who buy costumes just before Halloween and then happened to return them because it’s not a good fit afterwards, and Amazon’s not standing by their seller.

They go, just give them a refund or else we boot you out of here and you better

Travis: yes.

Andrew: nicely, or else you’re going to get a lower rating.

Travis: You wanna hear a horror story?

It’s a very recent one. So, uh, I still own an eCommerce company. That’s selling supplements. We have a lot of products and we were using, um, say we have like 50 products or something like that. We were using a manufacturer for one of our 50 products. And we had stopped using them probably like a year and a half ago because they just weren’t playing game with their like, certifications that we were requiring for like safety reasons and stuff like that.

So we stopped, uh, then a few weeks ago. We hear that all the products that they’ve ever made had been recalled by the FDA. They just pissed off the FDA so much. And they were getting worse instead of better. So the FDA said you’re done recall everything. And so like, Oh, well that sucks. But then at the end, it’s say there’s no, um, nothing dangerous that we found.

That’s the key point. So we recall all of the products from this one product that we’ve made. Uh, turns out they had a Mae products for like 2000 different brands and they, I handed over their entire email list, even people who just has gotten quotes to the FDA and to Amazon. So Amazon came through and took down all of our listings, not just the one.

Oh. And it gets way worse. Then they decided to email every customer we’ve ever. Had. You said your product’s been recalled due to safety issues?

Andrew: Even the ones that weren’t recalled.

Travis: the products. Yes. Yes. Uh, and we, he had to lawyer up and it was a nightmare. Even getting the products reinstated. Cause they took down all of our listings, which, you know, hurts the rankings and Amazon sells now have tons of negative reviews of people saying this product was recalled and I’m like, it was not recalled.

No, we tell them the best we can, but it’s hard to do it. So, uh, it’s, it’s been a month now of dealing with Amazon sliders. Hopefully they will fix it and we just want them like. To email the customers and say, oops, we were wrong, my bad. And like take down the negative reviews. And we’ll just like all the revenue we lost.

Like we’ll just eat it, like fine. Was that just another example of just like, you don’t want to, a lot of people make a lot of money on Amazon, but it’s not a game I want to play anymore.

Andrew: It’s a tough platform. I’ll hold onto my Amazon stock because they clearly have an advantage that’s unfair at this point, but just, I’m so weary of talking to Andrea of interviewing entrepreneurs who were on the platform, because I know what the hell they’re going through. We can talk in five years when they could look back and say, give me more of the types of stories you just talked about.

Travis: Yeah, which is crazy. Like even three or four years ago, I would say is the easiest way to become a millionaire was like selling on Amazon

now.

Andrew: All right. The website is smash dot BC. Do you want people to actually apply if they’re interested in. In getting, do you look at that and you don’t want an introduction through a friend. You don’t want someone like, would you really want someone to go and hit the apply and contact button instead of saying, Hey Andrew, here’s what I’m working on.

Do you think it would make more sense for Travis

Travis: For example, there are like, I think back to me, my first business, I didn’t really know any other entrepreneurs

Andrew: when you would just fill out a button, you would press a button and filled out the application.

Travis: I don’t know if I would have at the time maybe, but I don’t know. I don’t think you need to know someone higher up that knows me in order to like, get that in there. Granted, I get a lot of trash, but you know, that’s how you make investments. So like you have to look at a few hundred before you pick one.

Andrew: I look at you. I’m looking at every detail, every freaking site. I love the design. I see that you’re even using Wu forms. site.

Travis: It’s only because I’ve had those accounts for so long that I can’t delete them. It’s a beautiful product.

Andrew: That’s exactly it. You can’t freaking delete it. It took me, do you know how much money I had to invest in somebody in the team going and finding all the forms, making sure we download all the data from it, making sure we reproduce the forms so that we can switch over to a form system that works. This is the beauty of software.

You do not get that with fricking supplements here. Your business breaks. If you cancel Woohoo, the founders have moved on a long time ago.

Travis: years. I

Andrew: but no, it would take so much time and money that it’s just not worth it. Alright. I really like getting to know you did, were you a little bit uncomfortable with the way that I introduced myself at the beginning before we started recording, I feel like I don’t make my guests comfortable in the beginning.

Travis: I don’t feel like I was uncomfortable. I had had a couple of warnings that like, he can, he’s very direct.

Andrew: Came across well, right. And I’m not looking like confront you and go look, I found this information about you, but I was looking to do my research and check in with people and say, do you really know this guy, Travis? Alright, I’m glad that I did too. Thanks so much for being on here. Um, it’s smash.vc. And even if you don’t want to raise money from them, there’s a button there that you can press.

If you want to just get some of their, uh, marketing help from his, uh, from his agency. I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen, who stand by me a year after year, even though they don’t know exactly where it’s going to go. What I’m going to say. When I, when I do ads for them, uh, there’s hostgator.com/mixergy and top tile.com/mixergy.

thanks

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